When I stayed in Oudenaarde in 2010 to interview Ian Field for Rouleur Magazine we settled in a town square café for coffee to chat over his upcoming second season as a Belgium-based ‘cross rider. What quickly became apparent was that beneath that jocular and amiable personality lay an absolute determination to make the grade in an extremely competitive world of mud, freezing rain and cowbell-wielding supporter’s clubs.
What possessed Ian to try and make a professional career where no British rider has previously succeeded? He readily admitted to me that he was not even the best ‘cross rider in the UK when he left, let alone in a country where football plays second fiddle to the mighty cyclo-cross in the weekend TV schedules and in the hearts of its population.
That first season was pretty much sink or swim: Ian confessed to being almost overwhelmed by the information overload. Training, racing, technique, language – there was much to learn and little time to learn it.
But in true ‘cross rider fashion, he kept plugging away, so come the start of his second winter in Belgium, he was pushing hard for those all-important top-20 finishing positions and gaining a tenuous grip on the bottom rung of the ladder.
Now Ian is contracted to ride the Superprestige series, another step in the right direction and a useful indicator of how the Belgians are taking “Field de Brit” seriously.
A great little story Ian tells from his first season abroad has Czech rider Radomír Šimůnek Jr asking if Field is Belgian during a race at Namur. “No, English,” he replies. The Czech promptly attacks, not wishing to be seen in the company of a nation of ‘cross losers. Lesson learnt, Field now replies “Flandrian” if asked…
Cut to a fast and exceptionally dry Koppenbergcross this November and Ian is sitting pretty in the lead group when his tubular tyre parts company with its rim, ending his race and ruining what was set to be his best result yet.
A few more rides like that and he can proudly reclaim the moniker Belgian race commentators coined: Field de Brit.