Nikki Harris - blog 2


After recovering well from Plzen and at the end of a week’s tough CX training, I was back on the grid again on both Sunday and Monday. The first would be at Zonhoven (Super Prestige Series) and the following day The Koppenberg Cyclo Cross race (GVA series).  I woke up an hour later than planned on Saturday morning due to slight miss hap with the clocks going back. Thankfully I’m still keen as ever and had everything sorted the night before, so I was out the door in half an hour!


We arrived in Zonhoven pretty early (we being myself and Matt, my mechanic/general run around, for the next 2 days). The bikes were unloaded, I was changed and took a quick look at the course. On one side it was a quarry/sandpit and with thick loose sand.  If you were going to fall off down the descents it wasn’t going to hurt, but coming out the quarry each time would - the two huge run ups that took the race out the quarry, promised to sting the legs with every step. The other side of the course was fast, still sand based but all rideable. I liked the course and after a good warm up on the rollers, it was time to go.


Nikki Harris


I had enough UCI points to start on the front row, which makes a huge difference. Instead of fighting to pass girls through the first 400m, I was now fighting for a top three into the sandpit. As I went down the first decent in third place, I could hear crashes behind me - it sounded like complete chaos and I was happy to be out the way of it.  However, on to the next decent it was me falling off, as I got caught up with two other riders and went over the bars.  I had to run, dragging my bike down the decent, then clamber back up the other side to get out of the quarry, fighting to stay with the top three girls.


I made a few little mistakes over the second lap, which caused me to lose the front group of riders and by end of the race, after five laps, I finished in sixth position - my best placing so far this season.  I spent the rest of the day with my feet up, so I that was as recovered and as fresh as possible for the next day’s race.


Nikki Harris Cyclo Cross


I had heard a lot about the “Koppenberg Cross” and had seen the men’s race on TV.  People had said to me ‘it’s a very heavy course…there’s a lot of mud…a lot of running’.  I thought ‘it can’t be that bad!’  My opinion soon changed and I realised all the rumours were true!


I put my Rhino tubs on and went out on the course. After going round a lap, I had came to a few different conclusions;


1. The Koppenberg climb was actually the easiest thing to deal with on the whole course!


2. By the time the race had finished I wouldn’t need to do any upper body work for a while (my bike became a weight training device with the amount of mud stuck to it) 


3. This race was probably going to feel one of the longest 40 minute races I had ever done.


The start was fast, down a road which was already splattered in mud from the races before ours. The course then turns right and left up a road, then up the Koppenberg and this is where the race really began.  From there you made your way up to the top of the course, backward and forwards on a field thick with the stickiest heaviest mud you’ve ever seen in your life.  You had to constantly get on and off your bike, and the bike became heavier and heavier, with mud stuck to every part of it.  By the time you got to the top of the course, you could only hope that you hadn’t picked up too much mud and that your wheels would turn down the switch back decent, which was unbelievably slippery.


Again it was more on/off work, but now running with a bike around 10kg heavier than you normally have. At the end of the decent, the course went along a road, back on another field of mud and from there just a scoot into the finish on tarmac.


The course had two pit areas on different parts of the course, normally in a cross race the pits are together but this had one at the top of the course and one at the bottom. As a consequence, you really needed three bikes.  I only had the option of two and this meant I had to do some quick decision making - not normally an area I’m gifted in! - I had to decide if  I needed Matt with my spare bike in the  pit at the top of the course, meaning I could get a clean bike to come down the decent and also having some brakes and clearance to get through that part of the circuit.  Or, option 2, I could change my bike at the bottom pit, which would mean I could have a lighter bike climbing up the course.  After chatting with a few people, I made the decision to go with the top pit… a few minutes later it was the bottom pit and eventually that’s what I went with.


I started on the second row, but got another good start - up until I had to get off my bike, I was in third place. When I hit the real mud and found my running skills taking over, I lost places.  On the bike it was a fight to try and keep your wheels going round, while on foot it was all about trying to find the best route to run up, where you wouldn’t lose your shoes in the mud.  I was actually second two years in a row for cross country running at the county championships at school, but eight years had passed since then and those skills have long gone.


I really struggled the first two laps and the only thought which got me through each lap was that I would soon get a clean light bike to put on my shoulder. On the third lap I started to find the best lines; where I needed to run, where I could ride and where I could stop to take some of the mud off my bike.  I went from 13th to 8th position and was happy to finish my first ever Koppenberg Cross. 


My next race will be the European Championships in Frankfurt (Germany) next weekend! I'll let you know how that goes!



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