Eric Emsky (Rad Racing) at the 2009 Cyclocross World Championships, by Joe Sales

Eric Emsky leads his chase group up the dirt climb at Worlds. © Joe Sales

U.S. Worlds Team and Rad Racing member Eric Emsky has finally recovered from his European campaign and has caught back up after his school-approved month-long absence from class. He’s checked back in with another column, this time giving his perspective on his weekend at Worlds and few words of wisdom. (You can view his previous three columns here.)

Cyclocross Worlds 2009

The season is done. While some riders finished up in December, the lucky ones like myself have pushed our racing all the way into February with the World Championships.

Each year’s Worlds brings a new feel. Last year in Treviso, Italy was relatively quiet, but this year was an absolute zoo. Seas of people mobbed the small Dutch town of Hoogerheide to witness the races. It probably helped that Hoogerheide is only a stone’s throw from Belgium, but nonetheless there were an estimated 30,000+ fans who showed up to witness the spectacle.

During the month running up to the event, all of Central Europe had been experiencing a massive cold snap. At night temperatures dropped way below freezing, but every day the sun came out and thawed the ground. Conditions like these make racing and tire choice interesting. I’ve seen how much a course can change in only one lap with weather like this. For the first lap, the race may be fast and tacky, but by the second lap it has changed into a complete mud fest. Thankfully, the course stayed frozen for the Junior’s race.

On the morning of races, some people tend to get extremely nervous. I used to be one of these people, but as more time goes on, the more races I participate in, and the more experience I garner, the less nervous I get. I have seen pre-race jitters get the best of some people, but having some is ideal. Upon arriving on the line, I was still a little nervous. But I knew what to expect and it was time to shine.

The call-up’s for the start positions are determined by how your country did at the previous year’s Worlds. Needless to say, while our racers are fast, our call-up’s weren’t so hot. When starting close to the back row, it feels like the race has already left without you. It was a bummer because Luke Keough and Zach McDonald were putting out some lap times that were just as fast as the leaders, but due to their poor start positions, they never had the chance to duke it out in the front of the race.

The start was absolutely nuts. World Cup starts are crazy, but this being Worlds, everybody was gunning for the gold. A long start strung the riders out going into the first holeshot. Somewhere in the chaos, a rider crashed on the left hand side barriers and he and his bike created a big bottleneck. Seeing a hole of opportunity, I bunnyhopped his bike and made up five positions. It was such a glorious move that I felt like a certified badass. I know there is a photo of it somewhere out there and I’d pay good money to see it.

Eric Emsky (Rad Racing) at the 2009 Cyclocross World Championships, by Joe Sales

Eric Emsky (Rad Racing) at the 2009 Cyclocross World Championships, by Joe Sales

I put all that I possibly could into this race. The season had been long and I wanted to make absolutely sure got the most out of it. I never thought that hearing people cheer me on would make me go harder, but after a month of slugging it out without any supporters, I was gracious to hear anything that I could get. Upon crossing the finish line, I was spent. I left a part of me out there in Hoogerheide and it feels good. A 38th place finish may not seem like much, but when I look back upon it in the future, I know that I’ll be proud. From that point on, it was finally time to be a spectator and not a racer!

The Elite Men’s event was insane to say the very least. Every single inch of the track’s perimeter was four to six people deep – an absolute mess. I found myself standing on a small rise in the upper field, 40 feet away from any section of the course, and still not being able to see the race because the Jumbotron was blocked by a man standing on top of a garbage can. A garbage can of all things! The only time that I was able get a glimpse of the riders was when they hit the large flyover. As the race progressed, however, fans climbed on top of that too and there was nowhere to really see the riders.

But it’s not like I didn’t get to see anything. I’d heard stories about the massive scale of inebriation during World Cups and Worlds, but it wasn’t until then that I was able to witness first hand. Never in my life have I dreamed of seeing drunkenness on such a large scale. I witnessed one man holding two beer glasses in his hand and as he drained the second, he had to pull the glass away from his face so slowly that a long line of drool trailed from the cup’s rim to his lips. Upon accomplishing this feat, he pulled a 180 and stumbled into the bar behind his buddy. This was only 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Thankfully, I secured a spot behind the finish line and witnessed Niels crossing it in triumph. As the crowd cheered for him, I experienced the pure essence of cyclocross. It’s unlike any other professional sport. The fans feel as if they personally know the racers. They can get up and close, see them hurt, see them in their greatness, their misery, and most of all, see who they are on the inside. There are no hidden identities in cyclocross. A racer is stripped naked in front of the crowd and they can see the pain and the effort on the rider’s face. No other sport can allow one to get so close to a player as this. Not one.

Now that things have settled down, I realize it was an honor to have experienced what I did at such a young age. There aren’t many other kids who have the opportunities to live their dreams and see the world at the same time. Most see their lives as centered around high school and getting into college, but I now see my life in a different light. All of my material goods will disappear with time, but my experiences will stay with me and define me for the rest of my life. After all, what good is a fancy new television when you can see the world with the same amount of money?

Sure, I’m just a teenager, but allow me to offer a few recommendations: Travel the World. Simplify your life. See how other people live. Push your boundaries. Step outside of your everyday life and experience new things. See what is really necessary in your life and find out what is not. Realize there are different paths to take in life and don’t be afraid to take one just because nobody else is.

Enough with the reading, go ride!

-Eric Emsky

Photo Gallery, by Joe Sales: