Until the 6th of January 2019 I had never been to the United Kingdom in my life. As a Dutchman the people in the United Kingdom are kind of our neighbors, but I just never had a reason to go there. In the Netherlands we generally think that it is always raining. And because of the water in between of us, you either have to fly, take a boat or the train tunnel, but the tunnel goes from Northern France to the South of the UK.
So I never had a reason to go until the 6th of January 2019, when I flew in for the last round of the National Series Trophy in Shrewsbury. That day in early January will go down in the history books as the day I won my first professional cyclocross race in Europe!
In 2019 I made eight trips over to the UK, I tried every mode as I went with the boat to Schotland for the Dirty Reiver, a gravel event, and I went with the camper on the train tunnel for a race and I flew to all my other races.
On the 8th of February I flew in to the UK not for a bike race, but to pick up the trophy for my first ever general classification victory.
One year after my first visit to the UK I had to come back to pick up a trophy which had my name, as the first foreigner ever, engraved on it for winning the overall National Series Trophy! This classification is made up of six UCI cyclocross races which are held all over the United Kingdom.
One of my big sponsors, Hunt Bike Wheels, is based in the UK and after my success in Shrewsbury in January we hatched a plan to try and take the overall victory the next season. The end ranking is based on the five best races of the season, therefore we planned to only five races from the beginning.
There was a round in Scotland, which was more than an eight hour drive from the South where the people helping me were based. Also this race was being held on a weekend in the middle of my University exams, so we planned to skip this round.
The plan was to have my bikes picked up by a courier at my mechanic's house, together with some wheels, then I would fly in on Friday and would fly home on Monday morning again. This was the plan for every race, as you can image this was a logistic puzzle with all the moving pieces. On the weekends that I wasn’t racing in the UK I was racing elsewhere in Europe and often I would come home on Monday with my mechanic. Then there was just half a day to clean and check all the bikes and pack them in boxes before they were to be picked up again on Tuesday morning. After the race the bikes were shipped out on the Monday from the UK towards my mechanics again. The time pressure was on as the bikes arrive back on a Wednesday and if I had to race on Saturday in the Czech Republic or France we had to leave on Thursday afternoon with the camper.
As I said, a logistic puzzle.
The first round of the series was held in a town called Derby, and it was looking like it was going to be a criterium on grass. I kept a close eye on the weather forecast during the week and during the races on Saturday it was dusty and just like a criterium.
Then on Sunday, the Elite men’s race was at 14:30 and around 13:00 it started raining. It was insane, the dry and fast course turned into a crazy, slippery course. I had to decide which tires to ride on Tuesday morning and I only had file treads and medium threads, nothing to give me the grip I needed that day. I finished 19th out of 81 and straight away knew I would have to go to the race in Scotland, because I couldn’t afford such a result if I wanted to fight for the overall victory.
I came prepared for the second race, that was held in a town called Milnthorphe, in the lake district. The weather forecasts called for a lot of rain this time, so I left the file treads at home and brought my Limus tires, a heavy mud tires from Challenge. It was indeed a day for the heavy mud tires and after a slow hour with lots of running and plowing through deep mud I finished second.
The third race of the series was the one in Scotland. Normally I flew in to the UK every Friday and I flew from Amsterdam to London, in London I got picked up and then we drove further to wherever in the UK we needed to be. Unfortunately I had exams this Friday so I couldn’t catch the flights, lucky enough I found a flight from a small airport close by that went straight to Scotland. So on Saturday morning I flew from this former military airport in Germany to Edinburgh which is on the east side of Scotland. From there I took a bus over to Glasgow, which is in the west, from where I got picked to go even further west because the race was on the coast! On Saturday late in the afternoon I arrived at the AirBnB we rented. On Sunday it was race day with the start at 14:30 again, the course in Irvine was the nicest one of the entire series. It was a dry course but it went up and down the dunes many times, this in combination with a crazy hard wind made it a difficult day out on the bike. I managed to get away from the front group and I could hold it together until the final. The race we first planned to not go to was now the first one I managed to win in the series. During the podium ceremony the van got packed already and straight from the podium I stepped in the van because there was still a nine hour drive left to do.
I was less then 24 hours in Scotland but I did get away with a win so in the end it was worth the trip.
The chances for winning the overall were open again and I was back in the game.
At the fourth race I decided skip the flight and go with the camper. There is a tunnel between Calais in the north of France and Folkestone in the south fo the UK. The race was close to Folkestone so I preferred to take the camper because this race would be very important for the classification. Already in the first corner I wasn’t on my bike anymore… a big crash in the first corner forced me to run all the way to the tech zone because of all the damage on my bike it wasn’t rideable anymore. I gave it all I had but from the very last spot I finished 17th out of 78 riders.
It felt like everything was gone and my big goal was taken away with just one crash.
We already got the trips sorted for the last two races of the series and I didn’t want to let the guys down who went with me all over the UK. Therefore I flew in on Friday afternoon again and this time for a trip over to Wales. I didn’t get to see a dragon (where Wales is known for) but in the end we there for a bike race.
I didn’t think of the overall classification anymore so I just tried to sent it! Straight from the start we where in the front with five riders in total. It was me and four Belgian riders, but the current leader of the classification wasn’t there so I had to do some quick calculations. It was hard to do the math while also doing a cyclocross race but I knew that the more riders where between me and the current leader the better it was for me. The other riders in that front group also knew that and I had to play an all or nothing move. I kept riding all out and therefore not allowing anyone to come back but with the risk of getting dropped in the end. In the end there where just two riders left in my wheel and when they attacked I couldn’t react. There was one I could take back but in the end I was satisfied with my second place.
After the podium ceremony the commissaries from British cycling came up to me and the current leader. At that moment I was second in the overall going in to the last round which would be three weeks later. The commissaries where pretty stoked because it has never been so tight as this time… it turned out it all came down to the last race who would win the overall!
I will spare you all the calculations but basically if I would finish in front of the current leader the overall would be mine, and if he would finish in front of me he was the one that kept the jersey.
As we are going in to the last race which was being held in York I didn’t want to take any risks. An extra bike got flown in together with extra wheels, just for one race there where three bikes and 10 sets of wheels flown over to the UK. The weeks before I felt good and I felt I was in the right focus, the legs and the mind where in balance.
Everything around me was sorted out and I only had to get my mind and body ready for Sunday afternoon 14:30.
As I lined up for the race I felt good and I had a clear plan, I would go all in straight from the start, give it my all and then after one hour we would see how was the better rider that day.
My start was fine but I didn’t want to take risks in the first corner, I came out seventh of the first corner but when we passed the tech zone for the first time I was in the lead. My crew in the tech zone went crazy but they kept coaching me perfect to keep my head in the game.
After one lap I looked back for the first time, there was one rider in my wheel, a Belgian rider who did his first race in the UK that season. He wasn’t a threat for my general classification, there weren’t any other riders close by but there was still almost an hour of mud ahead of me in which a lot can happen.
I decided to stick to the plan and kept on riding full gas for a few more laps, halfway through the race the Belgian rider was still on my wheel but we were riding over a minute in front of the rest. I decided to not take any more risks and keep all the focus I had to keep riding every lap the same lines. In my mind this felt like giving away the victory that day but it also felt like the perfect execution of the plan. Where I would normally take a fresh bike every two laps I started now taking a new bike every lap, where I normally would keep riding a little bit further in the mud I started running now. All these little things every lap in combination with taking no risks whatsoever was an advantage for the Belgian rider Gianni Siebens who could ride away from me fairly easy because I just started to ride slower. The gap to my concurrents was big enough to allow me to do this.
For me this one of the first times I felt like a real professional athlete rather than a guy who is lucky enough to be fast on a bike. It has always felt strange to me being called a professional athlete because I am actually someone who loves to ride and race a bike. I get to do what I like to do the most every day and when I do a race I want give everything I have and if I have the smallest feeling that I can win a race then there isn’t any other result that will count anymore.
The weeks before this last race I spoke a lot about it with my trainer, and how important it was to stay close to the goal and the initial plan. I came to this last race in York to win the overall, we never spoke about winning the actual race only about what I had to do to win the overall. If my concurrent was riding second I had to finish in front of him, we never said that I had to win the race then, I just had to finish in front of him.
When I made the decision to start doing bike changes every lap to lower the risk a mechanical issue it felt like a very professional decision and there was a kind of relief coming over me. I was getting paid to ride a bike for a few years already but I never felt like being a professional athlete.
From that moment on I felt like a professional athlete, I came there to do my job and that day my task was to win the overall and that is what I did!
On the 7th of February I stepped in an airplane to the UK for the first time in my life without a bike waiting on me. This time there was a big trophy waiting for me to be picked up at the British Cycling Awards in Manchester a day later.
I can’t thank Ollie Gray enough for driving me all over the UK and making sure we had a good crew with good vibes only at every race!
Fun fact: During the long drive home from Scotland Ollie was so stoked that I won the race that he said he would get a tattoo if I would win the overall. And since the speakers at all the races called me Goose instead of Gosse, Ollie will now be forever remembered to a crazy winter in 2019 by a Goose with a mustache on his body…