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Words: Ian Cleverly | Photos: Marthein Smit
Extract from Rouleur 22
If there is such a thing as motor home envy among the cyclo-cross fraternity, then Ian Field is guilty as charged. Wandering the competitor’s parking area at this year’s Koppenbergcross near Oudenaarde in search of “Field de Brit”, as race commentators now refer to the slightly-built man from Kent, the pecking order becomes apparent.
The stars riding for major teams are ensconced in almighty wagons, keeping warm before stepping out to prepare for the race on rollers beneath retractable awnings. Sponsor’s names and truly awful, larger-than-life, gurning images of the riders adorn each mobile home. Local residents with the honour of hosting Sven Nys’ or Niels Albert’s vehicles in their driveway are privileged indeed.
Step outside the top 30 or so sponsored riders and the motor homes become slightly more compact: less storage space for bikes, little room to move around inside, but still perfectly serviceable. Step down again and you find guys like Ian Field, doing their damnedest to break into this world of luxury cruisers and the six-figure salaries that come with them.
Our photographer, Marthein, being Dutch and well versed in all things cyclo-cross, and having attended practically every big race on the calendar last season, asks if we’ll be meeting at our subject’s camper van. “Field de Brit”, I point out, drives a Citroen Berlingo, so we’d be meeting there.
Welcome to the glamorous life of a pro ‘cross rider in Belgium. As branches of cycle sport go, cyclo-cross is about as ludicrous a way to make a living as they come – on a par, perhaps, with Six Day racing in hardship terms, but with added cold, mud and misery. Yet the likes of Stybar, Wellens, Nys and Albert earn very good money indeed. Thousands pay to watch their heroes in action, drinking copious quantities of Belgian beer from plastic cups in muddy fields. Millions more tune in on the TV at home every weekend throughout the winter. It is, in many respects, a hugely unlikely major sport, but the Belgians love it to bits. An hour of flat-out racing where anything can happen – and often does – is perfect Sunday lunchtime entertainment for the average Leffe-fuelled Flandrian couch potato.
Bart Wellens has starred in his own reality TV show, Wellens en Wee, and the weekend before our arrival in Oudenaarde had appeared on The Last Show, “Belgium’s equivalent to Friday Night with Jonathan Ross,” according to Field. “It was a cyclo-cross special, with Nys, Alberts, Wellens and Stybar. And Wellens’ wife. That shows how big it is. A primetime TV show, dedicated to ‘cross racing. They had mud from different places and the riders had to smell it and identify where it was from…”
- Last week was a great one for Rapha Condor JLT, all the action and images now up on the team site: http://t.co/ftBejPnnCJ
- RT @alainrumpf: Well done @mike_cuming and @raphacondorjlt winner of #TdK2013 under the scrutiny of latest drone… http://t.co/gv81uP9mHP
- In their attempt to cross the US in 24 days, @michaeltabtabai & Andrew Hudon will ‘Leave It On The Road’. → http://t.co/Per6QsCAtt
- We are delighted to announce the opening of a one-month, pop-up @RaphaCycleClub in Tokyo this summer from 22/6–21/7 → http://t.co/Jrc0EKZ9ky
- Huge congratulations to @raphacondorjlt’s @mike_cuming for winning the @TourdeKorea2013 and to @tomsoutham for best DS. #TdK2013
- @danfromnam in Corsica — outtake from our 2013 Spring/Summer shoot #corsica #beningstagram http://t.co/03A7pT9mtj
- Winner Winner Chicken Dinner ! The most important jersey of #TdK2013 hot off the press. http://t.co/Pflx0eUfdv”
- What a day... The boys keep Mike Cuming in yellow, after having to chase all day. Great performance by all.
- Just rehearsing the whole of Pacino's speech from Any Given Sunday to recite to the boys...
- UK: Thanks to all who came to to tonight’s Rapha Étape Evening in London with @CyclefitUK — one of our biggest turnouts yet.