Only one day recovery after the Maasmechelen World Cup, but this was the day we all had been looking forward to—especially myself since I know the history of this race and the numerous times I have watched this race and road that is used in this race: the Koppenberg!
We had a slightly longer drive and a different race and logistics than the World Cups. The weather is windy, but dry. The inscription (registration, number pick up) is a few kilometers from the venue in a cement factory. Then parking is not close either and the boys race at 11:00 so we just get ready to pre-ride and then basically get ready to go to the start line while our pit crew climb Koppenberg, to the top. What a view and what a feeling.
There it is, the whole course on the Koppenberg hillside. The start is right in town at the bottom of the infamous cobble climb. A few hundred meters and then straight into the 20% legendary cobble climb. The cobbles are spaced far apart and a crown in the middle of a very narrow one lane road. The key is to keep pedaling and stay upright.
Then onto the grass, not a lawn by any means. it’s a cow field. Pretty sure the cows were still there last night. Nothing super technical, just up and down, but a tremendous number of holes, bumps and long grass. Probably one of the bumpiest courses I have ever ridden, which makes it even harder and very difficult to recover even when you are not pedaling.
The boys line up, about 80, and we have three FinKraft Juniors in the race again. David and Ben at the front and AJ not too far back either in this race. By the time they crest the climb they are all 3 within top 10.
AJ surges into the lead right away and immediately gets a gap. Race the course and ride your race, I told them. The gap is growing every lap and AJ seems comfortable in the lead position. David is still fighting for a top 10 and Ben is in top 15. It’s becoming more reality now that AJ will win. A one-minute lead and he is about to make history. Only two other American juniors have ever won a Belgian cyclocross race before. Everything comes together, and AJ crosses the finish line and he will be the first American male to win Koppenberg.
David is 8th with a steady performance the whole race, proving to himself that he is one of the best juniors in the world and not just ranked high. Ben has his best race in this block and crosses the line in 14th. Incredible success for our team.
Finley will experience a different type of dynamic race today, as she is racing with the elite women since Koppenberg does not offer a junior women’s category.
Just the experience to hear your name called up with all your idols in the sport. Pauline, Fem Van Empel, Betsema, Van Anroij, Van Alphen, Clara etc. Finley lines up on 4th row and gets a great start. She says one of the safest starts ever for her. Now there are 17,000 spectators and a big party. The race is of course televised and an insane atmosphere, people cheering and banging the board on the side of the course.
Finley is on the big stage now and getting an experience that a 16-year-old cross racer can only dream about. The pit is at the top of the course and we are following the race on the big screen. Finley makes it all the way to the end of her 4th lap as Fem van Empel passes her. They are side by side on TV and Fem wins the race.
What a monumental day for our team and the other five juniors from Euro Cross Academy.
The anticipation, the fight, the experience, the opportunity and the delivery. It all came together for Team FinKraft. A day we will never forget.