Thomas Frischknecht describes the Houffalize World Cup as the “Paris Roubaix” of mountain biking, most likely because the World Cup was first held there some time back in the early 90s making it a classic venue. The town has approximately 5000 inhabitants making it logistically a bit of a nightmare… the World Cup has now really outgrown the small town; when your support crew has to be shuttle bussed up to the pits more than 30mins before the start, the venue probably needs to be reassessed.
The town was in fact a strategic location during the Second World War Battle of the Bulge; arguably the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the Americans with 89,000 casualties and 19,000 deaths. Houffalize was where British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, who had assumed command of the American First and Ninth Armies under the approval of Eisenhower, from the north met up with American General George Patton (a 1912 Olympic pentathlete) and his U.S. Third Army from the south.
Its British twin town is Sherbourne, Gloucestershire “famous for its historic buildings” apparently.
The World Cup course had been compacted into a small, highly spectator friendly area and excluded the usual road climb at the start, which meant riders could no longer claim to have raced on part of the famous Liège-Bastogne-Liège classics route. The climbs were as usual super steep, and the descents were… super steep. This is what we like. You can always expect the German riders to do well on a course like this and Seb hoped to be included among them onboard the German designed ROTWILD R2.
Packing the Family Truckster requires skill.
The U23 race kicked off at 14.00 on the Saturday in single figure temperatures, but dry course conditions.
Seb Batchelor lined up for Fluid Fin Race Team in 51st of 109 starters. He got off the line well and made up several places in the frantic pace. Onto the wall of a climb on the start loop and the field bunched leaving anyone outside of the top few places running, including Seb after some random Euro rider forced him into the motocross netting. Having untangled his bike he took off relying on his running prowess to take him back past other riders not so light of foot. This is why you add running to your winter training and do XC/ track races when you’re at school (he has a 2nd place at the U13 National Schools 400m on his palmarès).
Back on the bike he gradually worked his way through the field on the remaining laps by powering the climbs and staying smooth down hill (this helps). He got as high as 19th before a couple of riders storming the last lap pipped him into 21st.
Steep up and down at Houffalize.
A World Cup Series ranking of 30th (and grid position for the next round) is a good launch pad to achieve another top result. As Brian Lopes accurately summed up, “if you haven’t raced XC mountain bike before, you can’t comprehend what a difference having a higher start position makes” – nearly all of the time difference between 15th and 21st was lost on the start loop/ first lap (due to queuing etc).
Thanks has to go out to Steve James and his father with whom Seb hitched a lift, stayed with in their camper, and was pitted by on the trip to Belgium. And also to the Hard Rock Race Team support crew who correctly shouted out positions twice a lap – this information helps.
Bunk up in the bow.