It’s been a week since the 2018 Brompton World Championship Final in London, and as expected, it was an absolutely memorable small wheeled day once again.
However located on an island, it’s pretty easy for us Belgians to get to London. You can fly, or take a coach, but easiest is just take the train to Brussels, were there’s a direct connection between the two capitals by means of the Eurostar and it only takes a 2 hour train ride. So whether you want to go Christmas shopping in London or if you want to race your little bike while looking at Buckingham Palace… the Eurostar is the way we ride.
The heavy showers we experienced on Friday had us fear for the worst, but unlike last year, on Saturday the skies were crisp clear. The perfect condition to ride a Brompton 8 laps around St. James Park. Before heading over to the hospitality area, we cycled to Broadway to visit the lovely Saturday market – I could actually live in this neighborhood, it’s so cool – and we had our obligatory breakfast at the phenomenal E5 Bakehouse, something we’ve been doing for 3 years now on race day.
After a quick stop at the Ace hotel to change into our race kit, we parted for St James Park. Luckily for us, the ‘road to success’ was mainly traffic free thanks to the Prudential Ride. Aah, it’s always nice to ride a cosmopolitan city like London without having to worry about motorized numbskulls that just aren’t aware of their possible lethal maneuvers. That being said, I like to ride my bike in cities. Love it actually!
Once we arrived at the Mall, the first thing we obviously did was register, something we were eager to do so we would find out our starting position. A big cheers to us, we both got to start in wave A (Ann 93, Yves 37). We dropped our bikes at the tech stand to get them sorted – change pedals, correct gearing, inflate tires… – and then we were off to meet all our Brommie friends from all over the world.
While tension has been building for an entire day, I’m at my calmest right before the race. That moment when you cycle towards your starting position, fold your bike and take place at opposite site of the street, ready for the mad dash and intense race… Golden! I’m pretty confident I unfold my bake at a pretty fast pace. At the BWC competition in Antwerp, I even crowned myself as the fastest unfolder of the pack. Always an advantage when time is of the essence.
What just happened here?
5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Go! The start came as a surprise, but as expected I was one of the first to be on his bike. Last year I just missed the first group because of my poor starting position, now I was right where I needed to be, amongst the fastest riders. We were only 200 meters down the Mall when we noticed something was wrong. There were barriers all over the street, people were still crossing the road, forcing us to stop. We shouted in utter disbelief while everything got back together. And I mean hundreds of riders… A fresh start would have been the best option, but as soon as someone jumped the barriers, we all followed. The result was a large, nervous lead group of approximately 60 riders. In normal circumstances, that would have been 20 tops!
There were barriers all over the street, people were still crossing the road, forcing us to stop. We shouted in utter disbelief while everything got back together. And I mean hundreds of riders…
When you’re riding at a speed of 40 kilometers an hour and over, you definitely must keep your wits about you. I mean, it’s like a colony of ants, everybody’s moving so you always have to anticipate. The long stretches of the track were good to keep the pace going, to recuperate for a second or, as I did, hydrate properly. Since it was hot I had a bidon on the bike, something I didn’t regret. Unlike the race in Monza in 2017, this time I didn’t share my water with thirsty riders.
After a couple of laps taking corners on the outside, I tried the inside for once, right in front of Buckingham palace. To my own surprise I got a couple of meters – five or maybe ten – when I noticed none other than Emma Pooley joined me, shouting to keep it going. While my lead was nothing more than an accident, this star rider actually thought I was forcing a breakaway. Funny thing was that we had just passed Ann, so she saw it all happen, thinking I was totally bonkers.
When the frantic ringing of the bell announced the final lap it was all or nothing. Positioning was key, and errors would be punished immediately. The track was scattered with slower riders we all had to dodge. Preferably right, if needed left. And that’s where I made my only mistake. With less than a kilometer to go, just before the last corner I had was forced to overtake a rider on the left, taking all the headwind directly in the face. It took everything I had to join the train of sprinters – consider it my final punch – but I had nothing left in me to actually sprint. Maybe it was a good thing, ‘cause this way I could easily avoid the crash that occurred.
I crossed the finish line as the 28th rider (26th male out of 303), hence gaining 5 spots compared to last year. This probably means it’ll take me 6 more years to actually win this competition. My better half didn’t do all that bad either, she was the 17th lady to cross the finish (out of 91). Unfortunately ‘Team Hamburgfiets International’ didn’t win ‘the best female team’ this year, but they’ll be back with a vengeance next year.
After the race, friendly chitchats were had in the hospitality area, we enjoyed a nice cappuccino and some tea, mocked the Dutch beer – we’re Belgian after all – and ate a grilled cheese sandwich. Hell, I even got to share some of Ivo Petrous’ Bollinger champagne. My Czech buddy once again was the fastest one to fold his bike and the fastest male veteran. What a legend!
At nightfall we cycled back to the hotel. All in all it wasn’t that busy on the streets, but that’s only because I avoided heavy traffic by taking an alternative route. And as it turned out, there were not one but two Banksy pieces to be spotted on that route. Oh happy days!
Brompton World Championship Final, I would love to see you again next year! And because I can’t wait an entire year, I’ve registered for the race in Bern Switzerland in October. A man’s gotta race when a man’s gotta race! Now who’s joining me?