While the American calendar is in full swing Europe is still in the early season. The Nacht van Woerden holds a unique spot. Unique in being at night, middle of the week and just before the start of the true cross season. I've been several times to spectate but this year added an extra bonus-a chance to race. In Europe racing the same day/course as the pros is rare so not to be missed.
The highlight of race night? Following the pros during warmups. A certain bike geek factor on the romance of racing as a day job with spectators pointing and naming the popular riders as they go by with masters and sport riders in tow. Being on course, seeing the lines they take and having the same vantage point only makes you realize the talent they have. At the same time you also see the drive which makes them champions. Being passed by Marianne not once, but twice, on the same section as she looks to find that extra second at full speed makes one realize what most of us are capable of. Even at speed they still find a second to chat, Katie said the course "is so American" as we rode past the VIP tent.
Reality sets in during call ups-no points in the Netherlands and last on the grid. Which means waiting five or so seconds for the 70 odd masters in front of me to roll off the line. Lots of traffic on lap one, a few stop and waits. The lone difficult section, a quick 5 meter drop down a bank caused a major traffic jam and lots of full sprinting just to find the back of the large group at 50th place. Most of the course was as "American" as Katie described, lots of turns back and forth around the kermis rides just off the city center. I hear a few shouts from people I know-my first time racing with spectators lining the full course was unique experience. You see them as a blur of shapes but don't really hear what is going on just meters away. Once clear of the my little group in the back I did slow for a moment soaking in being part of the show rather than just watching it. And then remember the goal on the night is not to be lapped. Which I did. Barely.
After my race the women went on course, a battle between Katie and Marianne with the happy ending going to the home crowd on the night. Certainly a race which is likely to be repeated many times in the coming weeks. Then the men were up, the speeds kept increasing even as the rain came down. Marcel Meisen proved fastest on the night. The traveling show of brightly colored caravans has one more weekend until the Koppenberg Cross, the start of "proper" season on this side of the pond.