Een Engelsman in Vlaanderen: Setting Sail
Bruce Dalton; An English cyclocross racer spending a season competing in Belgium
These pro cyclists have it all: the money, the sun, the supermodel girlfriend, the adoring fans. However, I have chosen to be a cyclocross rider. Do not be fooled that celebrity riders like Sven Nys are ten a penny.
I’ve ridden cyclocross since I was 10, and I have some uniquely interesting connections to the sport. Growing up in the Peak District meant that I first came to the sport with wider tyres and slightly more bounce in the forks: through mountain bikes, of course. Although after racing in the UK’s Nottingham and Derby Cyclocross League, I’ve never looked back. Over the last eleven seasons, I’ve learnt an enormous amount about how to race cyclocross, both from friends in high places (I grew up in the same village as Annie Last – an Olympian, no less), and from my fair share of first-hand experiences, both in the UK and across the continent. This year I am lucky enough to be riding for the Kinesis Morvélo Project again, a UK-based, multi-discipline team that sees a collaboration between Kinesis Bikes and Morvélo Apparel.
I remember arriving at my first international race; it was dark and pouring with rain, but warming up near to none other than Lars Boom made it feel completely worthwhile. Following all I’d learnt from the great Dan Alexander (great in a ‘British cross’ sense and to a young Bruce anyway), I rigorously applied as much hot rub as my skinny 14 year-old legs could hold, put on my Belgian racing cap provided by Dan and my Matlock Cycling Club skinsuit, and I was ready for my first race: the Azencross, Loenhout. It might sound like a cliché, but this was my first experience of the rough and tumble of youth category racing on one of the world’s most well-regarded courses, and I absolutely loved it. This is what has lead me to the point where I am now: chasing the dream with heavy legs after a busy week of training at home in Derbyshire.
By the time you read this, I’ll be heading to Belgium, the home and heartland of cyclocross, with my Kinesis Morvélo Project teammate Hannah Payton. This great opportunity allows me to race a full season on the continent with the massed ranks of elite and professional U23 riders. I’ll be racing the slop, sand and sludge of Flanders and other regions of the Low Countries, and I can’t wait to get stuck in. I’ve decided to move to the Chainstay, a cycling-specific hostel of sorts, owned and operated by Gregg and Holly Germer in Oudenaarde. It’s somewhere I know I’ll be comfortable.
I’m now in the process of organizing everything for my season, which includes a lot of emails being sent along the lines of: “Please give me this, I’m really smiley and have very brown legs and look fast.” Obviously this is running alongside the training that I am doing to raise my game physically and mentally, making for a pretty busy schedule, although I thoroughly enjoy and relish the challenge. Over the next few weeks I’ll be getting the bikes and kit ready for the pre-season so that, fingers crossed, it’ll be plain sailing come October. Every day another piece of the plan clicks into place. I may never be a Sven or a Niels, but I’ll give it a good shot!