Cross Vegas, baby!

I'm writing this from the plane en route to Los Angeles. It's around 11am Melbourne time but almost 6pm Californian time, which makes it almost G&T o'clock. It's been a big week, and I've spent most of it looking forward to a complimentary in-flight G&T. The week leading up to an overseas racing trip is always action-packed, not just because of all the bike stuff to sort but also because it's a mission to get work to an acceptable level of chaos before leaving the country. I never forget how lucky I am in weeks like these. One of the reasons why I stepped back from road cycling, apart from pasta fatigue, was its incompatability with my real job; now, thanks to technology and an amazing boss, I can go to World Cups and check in with work between races.  I am travelling with The Amazing Paul, who has worked harder than I have this week, fuelled largely by the promise of burritos and file treads once we hit California. So far this morning T.A.P has managed to talk our way into the Express customs queue, magic 60kg of checked-in luggage into 45kg and have two short macchiatos lined up before I could say 'Tourist Refund Scheme'. 

Our race schedule looks like this:

  • 12 Sept: Sacramento GP, CA
  • 16 Sept: Cross Vegas World Cup, NA
  • 19 Sept: White Park CX, NH
  • 20 Sept: Sucker Brook CX, NH
  • 23 Sept: Midnight Ride of CX, NH
  • 26 & 27 Sept: Gloucester GP, MA

Both Sacramento and Cross Vegas we raced last year, and we're looking forward to coming back. I haven't raced in New England before, so all the races after Vegas will be a new experience. I'll do my best to keep you updated. Drop me a comment if there's anything in particular you'd be interested in hearing about, otherwise it'll be all craft beer and tyre pressure. 

Ride happy (race 'cross)

International Sluitingsprijs Oostmalle

It's been an awesome trip but today didn't continue the upward trajectory from yesterday's result at Heerlen. Oostmalle was quite different - twisty and mtb-y, with a lot of sand. I felt confident at practice but at race pace things just didn't click. Sanne Cant won, followed by Niki Harris, Loes Sels 3rd (she came in behind me yesterday in 7th), Ellen Van Loy then Helen Wyman. I was a fair way down the field - not what I was hoping for but a good lesson in the breadth of skills required to be a complete CX rider.

Today wasn't my day but I'm leaving Belgium with a heap of new skills, new friends and a heap of motivation for the next 12 months. Thank you to Christian & Hilde from Hof Ter Kammen -my new home away from home - Dirk & Leslie for all their help at races and everything in between, Maurice the masseur, Bruce my skills training partner, and all the rad people who have made my stay so enjoyable. And a special thank you to the Supercoach, who flew in to watch my last race and always has my back, no matter how crazy my ideas are.

Thank you everyone for your encouraging words and support from afar. Racing here is challenging- I'm always out of my depth, my body is covered in bruises (I mean COVERED) and each race is an exercise in resilience and humility. You don't have to tell me how big the job is to be competitive at this level - I'm well aware - but in two days' time I'll be back in the office and this whole caper will be another world away again, replaced by heels, power suits and early morning ergos, and I'll be dreaming of the next time I can come back and do it all again.

I'm lucky to be able to do what I love, both at work and on the bike, but it's only possible with a great team around me. So as always, thank you to all the A-team - you know who you are - and to Rapha, Focus,, Swiss Eye, FMB, SRAM, Kask, Perfect Pilates.

Ride happy.

*Photo by Jong de Jong

Boels International Classic Heerlen

Although I do love racing, today I had one of those days when I looked in the mirror and thought, why can't I be like those normal people who sleep in on the weekend and go have brunch? Why do I keep doing this?

My mum last week helpfully reminded me that there must be something about it I enjoy, because I keep doing it. And after every race I usually find that something. But before... That's when I have my brunch moments.

Today, despite the initial brunch moment, was a really good day. I finished 6th in a smoking field, won by Sanne Cant, followed by Niki Harris, Ellen Van Loy, Helen Wyman, Sanne Van Paassen, then me. All these girls are top-10 World Cup material so I'm super stoked. It's really encouraging to see steady improvement, and although I'm still a long way off getting my campervan it's a huge boost to be steadily working my way up the field. I've got a goal of a top 20 at worlds 2016 which I think just might be doable with a bit of hard work this year.

The course was slippery and muddy- it was forecast to snow but we got away with hail which thankfully cleared before race start. I got some advice from Stefan Wyman, Helen Wyman's husband and mechanic, on tyre pressure, and he recommended I go with 13/14 psi which worked really well. I was running FMB super muds on one bike and FMB slaloms on the other, and they were amazing.

A huge shout out to my pit crew, Christian and Dirk, who kept my bike changes smooth. shouted encouragement and generally worked a lot harder than I did today. And of course Focus - if you haven't tried their 2015 Mares do yourself a favour and test ride one. They are awesome. And finally Rapha- their winter collection has saved me from pneumonia many times over. I'll do a post a bit later about clothes and race wear, because it's a whole world of costume changes here on race day, and has to be seen to be believed.

Tomorrow- last race of 6- Oostmalle. Sandy and cold. And then like a good student after a set of exams I'm going to go and drink beer.

Ride happy.

The Belgian Study Tour Lesson #2: Never take a banana CX training

The lessons keep coming in Oudenaarde. In the past week since BPTrophee Lille and Superprestige Hoogstraten, Bruce and I have been hitting up mud drills at the Donk. The Donk, apart from being the sound I make when I miss a remount, is also the name of the small forest in Oudenaarde which has a heap of features useful for CX training: mud, singletrack, stairs, sand and ruts. This past week we've done a couple of great skills sessions. We've videotaped sand work and running mounts and dismounts, practised race starts and off-camber mud descents, and on Thursday I conquered a mud climb that had got the better of me on Tuesday. Skills drills tend to be physically and mentally demanding, so it helps to have good company and to keep the sessions short. Note to self: Make sure you eat your banana BEFORE doing bike shouldering drills, or at least put it in the non-bike side pocket of your jersey. Riding the Koppenberg post skills session


This week has had many highlights, the best of which has been the rides I've done with friends here. From skills sessions to coffee rides it's been great to hang out with cool people and talk rubbish. Most of the riders I am riding with here I met in China at the Qiansen Trophy in 13/14, and it's been great to catch up on everyone's news. The CX community is rad. Have I said that before?

On Wednesday, Christian from Hof Ter Kammen organised for me to join the Sunweb boys for training on the Superprestige Middlekerke course (home of tomorrow's race). Generally courses are not open to ride before the day of the race, so this was a special treat. It's made me a lot more relaxed to know what I'm in for tomorrow, but it's a challenging course. Lots of brutal pinch climbs that are of either the power sprint or shoulder'n'run variety. And two sandpits.  The Sunweb boys were little whippets, and made everything look easy. The team includes recent U23 world champion Michael Vanthourenhout, who rode almost everything on the course.


Course practice at Middlekerke


The weather has been kind to us this week, but rain is forecast tomorrow for Middlekerke. Sunday is another CX race in Eeklo, then on Monday I'm heading to London for a flying visit to see some friends. Then back to the mud!

Let me know if you have any questions or things you'd like to know about racing or training over here, and I'll do my best to answer them next post.

Ride happy.

*Main image courtesy of Kurt Van Hout



The Belgian Study Tour Begins

Wow, you just had a lucky escape, because I started writing this blog post and it was full of nostalgia about Belgium and about how my visits here had punctuated (nay, MILESTONED!)  my life, from my days as a lawyer in Brussels to racing with the Australian national road team, to CX worlds last year, blah blah... and then I deleted it all because no one likes nostalgia, really, unless you were there. Phew. You can thank me later. I'm here in Oudenaarde, Belgium, for 3 weeks on a Tour de Mud. The mission is to get a block of quality CX racing (6 races over 3 weekends) in the Belgian mud, to build some skills in preparation for 2016 world champs in Zolder, Belgium. We don't get mud like this in Australia, so Mohammed has to go to the mountain to get rad mud skills.

I have yet to get myself a campervan. Campervans, as the CX cognoscente will appreciate, are de rigeur for the serious CX racer. Indeed, the quality of the racer is directly proportional to the size and flamboyance of their campervan. Svenness, for example, has a small mobile village which follows him around to races. You can tell Svenness is in da hood by the size of the crowd assembled outside campervan #1 (next to the giant trailer emblazoned with 'Have a Nys Day' and a picture of Sven choking out the suggestion of a smile). The Telenet-Fidea team, surely the leading Belgian CX presence, has a fleet of identical campervans, each helpfully catelogued by huge photos of the rider promised within.

campervan photo

The Telenet-Fidea Fleet (part of)

Garry Milburn and Fiona soon-to-be-Milburn are the Aussie pioneers in CX campervan territory.  I've been enjoying Fiona's updates on the Australian CX Magazine blog, and those two roll like proper CX rockstars.  I did not see any giant pictures of Garry on the sides of their campervan, but that man lets his legs do the talking. Where was I? Ah yes, cyclocross...

Belgium pic 1

I'm staying at Hof Ter Kammen in Oudenaarde, home to the loveliest couple in the CX universe, Christian and Hilde, and their family. Christian and his friend Dirk have been my pit crew at races and I've been looked after extraordinarily well.

And the racing? The first 2 races - BPTrophee Lille on 7 Feb and Superprestige Hoogstraten on 8 Feb - were a matter of survival. I finished in 24th and 17th place respectively. Fresh off the plane, it was certainly a wake up call. Lille featured frozen sand, a bit of mud, and a generally hard and fast course (normally a bit better for me, were it not for my spectacular crashing). Hoogstraten had every single feature I could have thought of - lots of mud, a sandpit, stairs, flyovers, ditch crossings, barriers... It was a cram session extraordinaire for the Belgian Study Tour.

belgium pic 5

Hoogstraten: Pic courtesy Ladies On Wheels

This week after extensive counselling from SuperskillsCoach Neil Ross I'm working on getting out into the mud more, and using words like 'donkey-kicked' less. Today was a #skillsdoping session with a mate from CX China, Bruce Dalton, who's based in Britain but staying in Oudenaarde for some end of season racing like me. The CX community is pretty cool - already I've been riding with some supercool people who are based in Oudenaarde who have accommodated my strange accent and propensity to get lost with an air of friendliness you wouldn't see in a lot of other sports (or disciplines).

Belgium pic 3


I don't pretend to be a technical specialist, but dammit, this technical shit be HARD. It's what I'm here for, but it's surprising how mentally draining it is to ride in such different conditions. There's no quick win in sight. I finish a race or ride and it's hard to focus on anything requiring mental energy for a while. If you can understand when I say that racing is like sitting an exam, then racing in the Belgian mud is like sitting an exam when you haven't studied.

I'll sign off for now, but a quick thank you to the people who have made this trip - and my racing life in general - possible: Rapha, Focus,, FMB tubulars, SRAM, Neo Pro Imports, Kask, Perfect Pilates and the A-team of Donna Rae-Supercoach, Neil Ross, Paul Larkin, Pat Fitzpatrick, John Groves, Allister Payne, James Maebus who are the glue keeping this whole operation together. Thanks guys.

Belgium pic 4

Ride happy.

New year, new team

As I blow a thin layer of dust off the keyboard and retrieve forgotten login details, it occurs to me that it's been a while since I've last checked in with Ride Happy. Clearly, some things need updating… 2014 was a big year. It included some great adventures, professional opportunities and most importantly for me personally, some good results overseas. The challenge for Cross riders in Australia is that it's very hard to work out whether you're any good. World champs last January showed me what I already knew: that racing in the Belgian mud required a totally different skill set to Australian CX racing. It wasn't until I raced in China and the US in September that I got to race against an international field in familiar conditions, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I wasn't crap. Finishing 2nd in a C1 event (the Qiansen Trophy in Beijing) - C1 is the level below World Cup - was a career-best result out of any discipline I've raced. Cross Vegas wasn't the race I wanted it to be, but 17th in that field while sick was encouraging. I'm a long way from chucking in my day job and running away to Belgium, but I'm excited about stepping up some more and, hopefully, continuing to put distance between myself and crap.

2015 is looking really cool. I've signed with a new team, Rapha-Focus, which is a professional dedicated CX team and means I'll be able to spend more time doing what I love. Both Rapha and Focus have been great supporters of CX in Australia from the beginning and I'm excited about all the cool stuff we're going to do this year, including racing domestically and overseas, riding awesome bikes and and wearing lovely gear. I'm being coached by the best in the business, including the Supercoach Donna Rae-Szalinski, and skills gurus Neil Ross and Pat Fitzpatrick (trust me, I need all the help I can get). And the amazing Paul Larkin is back and we're planning all sorts of adventures, which makes me happy.

I'm not racing world champs this year. I'd have liked to, but work commitments had to win this time. Instead, I'm heading over to Belgium for 3 weeks in February to catch the end of the CX season and, importantly, to get 6 UCI races-worth of Belgian racing in the same mud that we'll get at 2016 world champs, which is a big target for me. The last couple of weeks have been challenging and I've been struggling with fatigue and health. I'm hoping that's behind me now, but the reality of my life now is that I cut things fine, and that every so often I don't get the balance right. When I get it wrong, I don't have the same recovery mechanisms that I'd have if I were a full-time athlete. I had a great block of training over Christmas but it was probably too good, and I went into road nationals carrying more fatigue than I expected. The result was that I pulled the pin pretty early, which was disappointing but a better option than riding around digging holes and making up numbers. It was really touching to get so many messages of support, so thank you, it means a lot. I got some tests done last week and things are looking up, although I need to recognise that coffee and retail therapy are not legitimate forms of recovery.

So, in case my vomit of enthusiasm hasn't spilled onto you yet, I'm excited. I never expected that my racing career could extend beyond road cycling and I feel super lucky to have found a sport that is unquestionably rad and brings me so much happiness. Most of this is due to the great people I have in my corner, so thank you to Rapha, Focus,, Neo Pro Imports, SRAM, FMBPerfect Pilates, Kask, Bike Gallery, and in no particular order to Donna Rae-Supercoach, Neil, Pat, Paul, Grover, Allister, Nadine, Pikey and Bowie. And thank you to my Mum, whose enthusiasm for cowbells is matched only by her bemusement at my pre-race warmups.

Finally, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to take a moment to share the radness of Cyclocross. If you haven't tried it, you should. There's something about riding around in the mud that unleashes your inner child and creates a happiness that I've not found in any other type of racing. It's family-friendly, time-friendly and regardless of your ability you will have fun. You will find it a great opportunity to bleed from your eyeballs if you are so inclined, but if you aren't, that's OK too. You may even win beer, and if you don't win you will probably be offered one during the race. The pros are nice. The bikes are cool. I promise you that you will like it.

Ride Happy.





Cross Vegas: not my day

20140911-073632.jpg It's hard to come halfway around the world for a race that doesn't go well. It's part of racing, and it's what makes the good times even better, but it still sucks.

I got sick straight after China and have been struggling to get better. No big deal, just a head cold, but in a sport like cross not having your legs and lungs coming to the party means race over, in the most unpleasant way. So both Sacramento and Cross Vegas were very tough races for me, mentally and physically.

It's been a great trip though- one of the best- and the result from China gives me a lot of confidence. At Cross Vegas I pulled my foot from the pedal at the start (bad) but by the end of the first 400m was back in 7th wheel (good) before my body said no (bad). It's encouraging to be able to come to a field like that, have a bad day, and still finish 17th in a world-class field of 80 riders. I can take a lot of confidence from that. This past year has been a huge step up for me and I'm really enjoying it. For now it's back to work and enjoying an off-season, because it's been a long season and my body needs a break. But the experiences of this year, from chasing down the back of the field at world champs to finishing 2nd in a UCI C1 in China, have encompassed a lot of change and development and I'm keen to keep that going.

Thanks to all the people who have made this season such a success for me: Donna the Supercoach, Neil Ross my skills coach, Paul Larkin my no.1 right-hand man, and to sponsors, SRAM (esp Rob Eva), Perfect Pilates, Swiss Eye, Kask, FMB, CCCC and now Rapha-Focus. I'm excited to be joining Rapha-Focus - being part of a CX-specific team is a great opportunity, and I'm looking forward to it. I've even joined Instagram especially!

So thank you everyone for watching, cheering, heckling and riding with me. Let's do it again soon.

Ride happy.

Cold beer and file treads

20140907-143744.jpg We're on the road again, this time driving from Sacramento to Las Vegas for Cross Vegas. Yesterday was the inaugural West Sacramento CX Grand Prix, and all three of us had a roll. Pete opened his international racing account in style, Paul put some guys into the tape, and I tried not to eat grass.

California has blown us away. From coffee in San Fran to trails in Tahoe and the friendliest people we've ever met in Sacramento. If you are going to Cross Vegas next year, drop past the West Sac CX Grand Prix. Do it.

This pic is from the Bike Dog Brewery, which hosted the launch today of Squid Bikes. Some of our Sacramento buddies who we met yesterday insisted that we couldn't leave without some jars of home made pickles and jalepeno jelly. I love California.