Zonhoven is one of the farthest race in the calendar, it is a two hour drive from my Belgian base in Kortrijk and it takes almost three hours on the way home to reach Calais.
However, Zonhoven is always a treat, because it has one of the most difficult course features around, a massive sand pit. The sand is shin-deep and the slope is very steep, so an average cyclist would be very cautious to roll down the hill.
Not the pros, though. Some just coast but many actually pedal on the way down, which is an impressive feat, looks great but it’s a feat I’d never try myself.
The crowd was massive and even the torrential rain during the U23s race couldn’t deter the fans. It was good day for me, managed find great angles, cocked up a few others, nothing unusual. The icing on the cake was the rain during the U23s race: finally, I could use my waterproof camera covers. I was sitting in the rain and I was laughing. I invested over £400 in waterproof camera covers last September and this far I hadn’t had the chance to use them.
Having driven over seven hours today, I’m absolutely knackered, so without further ado, enjoy the photos – and I’ll be back on Saturday from Niel, with the Jaarmarktcross.
Amy Dombroski descends into the famous sand pit.
For quite a few riders, this race was the first one in the season. One of those riders were Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (2)
The famous sand pit of the Zonhoven course.
Descents in ‘cross are not too bad in general. However, the sand pit in Zonhoven looks difficult, very difficult. I just sat there today and watched in awe how the top 10 of all categories tackled this short but steep and sandy downhill bit.
My one and only shot of Wout van Aerts, the U23 winner.
I really liked one of the corners, so I set up both flashes…
… and this is how the shot looks like. This spot was a bit tricky because it was straight after a corner and I couldn’t see when was someone coming. A few friendly spectators helped me out, though and alerted me whenever someone approached the corner.
This is the problem with iconic race features: it can be tricky to find new angles. Sometimes the organizers re-arrange them, like they did with the long, sandy bit at Koksijde – the famous Zonhoven descent, however, remained the same. I didn’t want to go for the same shot as last year, so I started with this vantage point.
After the first lap, I wandered up on the sandy slope.
NIels Albert starts the descent with Tom Meeusen in tow.
One for the canine lovers.
Rob Peeters coasts over a small bump in the third lap.
After watching the latest ‘Walking Dead’ episode, Philipp Walsleben’s face reminds me of a hungry zombie.
This is the same corner as the one I used during the U23’s race. As the sun came out in the meantime, I didn’t use a key light, just a fill.
Sven Nys was once again the force to be reckoned with. In 2009, at the beginning of my first season, he had a pretty bad season start after an intense summer MTB campaign. Everybody was happy to write him off, that he was too old, that Nys was over. That was three seasons ago and he is still one of the strongest in the field.
Tom Meeusen has yet to find good form this season, this race was yet another write-off, unfortunately.
‘Laatste ronde’ – the dreaded words that mean I should head back to the finish line ASAP. Two girls in front of me started walking towards the same direction, so I followed them back to the finish line. We were an unusual trio, the two, nicely dressed girls and me, muddy from head to toe.
This was my favourite angle today, it was a shame, though that the tree in the foreground fooled the autofocus and only a fraction of the photos were sharp.
Julien Taramarcaz cleans his face after the race.
Niels Albert admits defeat.