A “professional amateur” in China…
Hugo has raced abroad on several occasions, even living in Belgium last winter under the expert guidance of the wonderful Wymans (Helen and Stef), but even the mullets and cookie sandwiches of the cyclocross motherland seemed ‘normal’ compared to the challenge that awaited him in China earlier this month!
Hugo was one of a handful of Brits who were invited to race in China’s first ever UCI-sanctioned cyclocross race.
We discussed this incredible experience, his goals for the coming season and why Zdenek Stybar is such an inspiration.
Hugo is a double junior cyclocross National Champion, a regular selection for Great Britain and, as it turns out, quite the funny fellow…
The questions were a starting point that required no elaboration. He was off!
What were your expectations for China, and were they realised?
“I had an open mind going to China, I didn’t really know what to expect knowing so little about it. However the people were super friendly and went above and beyond to accommodate our needs.
One thing I was really looking forward to was the food judging by how delicious my local Chinese takeaway is. A common stereotype that couldn’t have been further from the truth! Needless to say it was nothing like the Chinese I knew. Not being a fan of ‘exploded lamb’ or ‘donkey’, I settled for a rather unadventurous diet of watermelon for the week.
The Chinese also love their fake merchandise, from Epads to fake Rolexes. The best has to got be a large department store on the main high street which was posing as Nike however the ‘swoosh’ was upside down.”
What was the course like? Did it feel like a European track?
“The course was super fast and had a really nice flow to it, not too dissimilar to a UK course. I love tracks with high speed sweeping bends which you can really hang the bike out on, and this course had plenty so I felt right at home. But (there’s always a but!) it had to be taken with a pinch of salt: THE BUMPS!!
It was extremely bumpy – a real bone rattler – which made it hard to find a good rhythm with the bike bouncing everywhere!
I think it’s important that each country’s course design is unique and that they shouldn’t be influenced by other nations. It gives the sport a real diversity which is what cross is all about after all, none of this going around in circles on a track malarkey!!
So I’m glad that China did it their way, it was very refreshing and warmly received. Just a little less bumps next time please!”
How did your race pan out?
“It was a star studded field with multiple ex and current World Champions present, with riders from 16 different nations making it a more internationally diverse event than most World Cups! Which is pretty rad! My start was great, as I was eager to stay out of trouble knowing how messy the first lap can get especially with Americans present! (If you are American and reading this, I hope there is no love lost, you guys are still rock!)
After a rather uneventful first lap I was unscathed and just inside the top 10 with only a few dive bombers to fend off. The pace was way too high for me however so I involuntarily dropped back to a group competing for 20th which was a lot more manageable as I could actually breath again! The race was so quick it felt like it was all in fast forward, except ironically it couldn’t have felt any longer. The combination of the speed, bumps and heat (25 degrees celcius) was a big test and I seemed to be holding out. However I started getting a lot of tub roll and after clattering into a few bumps in a far-from-elegant fashion I flatted my rear tyre, rather frustratingly just past the pits. On a 3.5km circuit it was a very long way to limp back to the pits and on a course that rode so fast a lot of time was lost so I was pulled due to the 80% rule before I could make it back. Nonetheless, a really enjoyable race made exciting by close group racing.”
How were your preparations to race different from normal?
“Preparations for the race were turned on their head from day one and my standard routine was thrown out the window. I usually don’t get fazed by these kind of things so I wasn’t really bothered and just went with the flow. I don’t usually climb the Great Wall of China at 2am GMT two days before I race!
The evening before the race all riders attended a Banquet to celebrate the opening ceremony of the event. This was very grand and spectacular with many exotic dishes. However, the food was far from ideal the night before a race. Thankfully the watermelon made an appearance and saved the day! Then there was the weather which for race day was scorching. Never before in a cross race have I needed to cool down rather than try and warm up!”
Given the chance, would you do the race again?
“I would definitely go again if I had the chance. China is an amazing country and there is so much to explore on and off the bike. It was an honour to be invited to such an important event (China’s first ever UCI cyclocross race). It’s a good feeling knowing that you are helping to promote the sport and make it more globally recognised. Cross kicks ass and its our job to spread the love and make sure everybody knows! I have taken away great memories of the trip, some good and bad. Especially from the karaoke after party which was pretty wild to say the least! I think the less that’s said about that the better!”
What are your plans for the season?
“I’m currently cycling full time. Pursuing the accolade of ‘professional cyclist’ that every youngster dreams of. In the mean time I call myself a ‘professional amateur’ winging life on a student budget and limited resources. However instead of booze money I spend it all on cycling related products! I’m targeting a less intense UK based CX season this winter ending with the National Champs in January, although nothing’s set in stone for now. In the past I have had an intense European race calendar however for 2014 I really want to focus on the road with a much heavier race programme during the summer which is why I’m having a lighter load for the winter.”
What are your goals for this year?
“Having raced abroad so often in the last few years I’ve never been able to challenge for the National Trophy Series title, so for this year it’s a big goal of mine to win it and I’m super motivated!”
Now for the two questions I ask everyone –
What is your favourite cyclocross course?
“Favourite cyclocross course is a tricky one! Cross is so awesome and there are so many epic courses its really hard to pick one that stands out from the rest. If I had to chose I would go with the Superprestige at Asper-Gavere. I’ve always gone well there and the crowds turn out in their thousands.”
Who is your favourite cyclocross rider?
“Favourite cyclocross rider without a doubt is Stybar! The Belgians can be rather dull at times and he has so much passion and flare. He will always put on a show and is a real gutsy rider. It’s hard not to like him! I guess he doesn’t count though as he’s now a roadie so I’ll go with Jonathan Page, the ‘real JP’. I have so much respect for him as a rider and what he has achieved. You rock JP!”
Lastly, I asked Hugo if he would like to thank anyone.
“I’d like to give a shout out to my main bro Vincent for tolerating us Brits in China and being a kickass tour guide/translator. A big thank you to Simon Burney for giving me the opportunity to go to China, Elmy Cycles for lending me bikes for the trip and Song for organising such a successful event. Also big up Bruce Dalton ‘elite cyclist’ for being so ‘elite’ yo!”
It is difficult to follow a conclusion like that really, so I’ll just encourage everyone to get behind Hugo this season: follow him on Twitter @HugoRobinson_ and give him some decent banter as he whizzes round at the National Trophy events. I think this boy can take it!
And I think he has what it takes…