After a storming ride at the last round of the NPS (Catton Hall), Steve Farmer’s 9th place in the Pro-Elite class was enough to secure him 2 vital UCI points enabling him to race the World Cup at Houffalize. Steve got straight onto Ryanair to book his flight to Belgium and here’s his account of his ride.
“Sam Gardner, Phil Cooper, Dave Collins and I turned up at Stanstead airport at 5am with plenty of time to catch our 6.45am flight, but at every stage of the check in process their was a man called “Mr inconvenience” waiting for us, which meant that we did not make this flight, but Phil’s kit bag did! Seven hours later we were taxiing out of Stanstead airport. On ‘touchdown’ the weather was really wet and windy, but things started to pick up as soon as Phil was reunited with his bag. It seemed to coincide with us getting the keys to our hire cars, and then we were off – to the nearest motorway hotel.
Next morning, another early start and clement weather yet again. We drove through torrential rain and wind towards Houffalize. As we approached this scenic town the weather cleared to give warm sunshine. Houffalize is in a valley with steep sides, with a steep road climb out of the cobbled streets. All along the valley you could see race tape lining the zig zag climbs out towards the pinewood singletrack. This is not like any NPS race around a farmers field. I was eager to get my bike built, slap a number on the front and ride this famous course, and what a treat it was, a steep road climb, lots of steep technical descents, a long hard zig zag climb, burmbed singletrack all that a true Mountain Bike race should have.
That night we where a bit stuck for accommodation as this was a last minute trip, and all hotels in the area had been booked out for months, and it was just luck that we asked a stranger if he knew of anywhere we could stay. As it happened, he rans an outdoor centre that was not being used and so we paid him 70 euro’s for a night in a run down youth hostel that stank off cabage, but it had beds and a kitchen so we where sorted.
Another early start for breakfast, then the short drive to five star GB World Class Performance Plan hotel (not quite the Hotel cabage) to pick up the bikes that we’d left with them. The race rules were so much stricter than an NPS race. You had to get your wheels and frame marked, and also have a small transponder is fitted to your forks so that each lap is recorded and your position and time is put up on the result board. I made sure that I was fully warmed-up and ready for the explosion up the first climb, and then it was time to get penned up. I was number 217 out of 255 (210 started), when you are this far back you cant even see Green, Meirhaeghe and Brentjens at the front of the grid. As the gun went it was about 10 seconds before I moved. Straight away riders where falling all over the place, but I managed to get through OK. Then we hit the road climb and seeing 200 riders in front of me bobbing up and down was an overwhelming sight, so I just put my head down and hammered it hard – making up some places. Then we hit the off-road and it all got a bit messy, as lots of riders were going down or jumping tape. A little bit further on there was a fire road which bottle necked into a singletrack climb. At this point about 150 riders stopped dead. I had seen a lot of people get off and run all over the place, so I thought “I’ll have a bit of that”, so it was every man for himself barging to get through. For that first lap it was stop-start all the way with loads of bottlenecking, but as the race progressed I started to find a rhythm and was making up places each lap until the finish. 108th was my final position and I think 7th GB rider home. This was my first world cup race and I have got a real taste for it now, so am currently checking out prices for flights to Canada.”
I’ve asked Steve to keep us posted with his World Cup diary, so log-on, keep a check on his progress and give him a shout for us if you happen to be out there.
Words by Matt Hart/Steve Farmer