by Jamie Mack
There are a lot of different paths that lead racers to discover cyclocross, but coming from downhill mountain biking may make David Kessler unique. The Littleton, Colorado resident was taking advantage of his surroundings and enjoying the freedom of flying down mountains. But, Kessler’s father had added a condition that would lead David to discover a very different course–if Kessler wanted to ride down mountains, he was going to ride up. After gaining fitness through the uphill part of the downhiller’s bargain, David jumped into a local road race and saw the light. Apparently the excitement of going head to head with a pack of other riders on pavement was greater than flying down the side of a mountain solo.
OK, so the “local” road race was actually the Colorado State Championship and Kessler lapped nearly the entire field, so maybe the taste of that success had something to do with his move to the road. But it was those same road riders that Kessler, who races on the road for the Slipstream Sports development squad Team 5280, was training and racing with that lead him to ‘cross. At the end of the road season all the riders around Kessler were hyped for “this thing called cyclocross,” recalls Kessler. Kessler followed the other racers around him into the cross scene and found another discipline that he both enjoyed and excelled at, eventually getting the attention of Ben Turner and a spot on the Clif-Bar Development Team.
“It’s amazing to be back,” said Kessler when asked about how it was to return to the USA Cycling house in Izegem, Belgium. Kessler was in the house this summer, also under the guidance of Geoff Proctor, as part of a road development camp. Kessler’s experience this summer was marked with success including a sprint win and time in the green jersey in the West Vlaandaren Cycling Tour. The current 15-16 year old National Road Race Champion makes no illusions about his primary focus being road racing, but he sees ‘cross becoming a more important discipline and couldn’t turn down the chance to return to Izegem for Proctor’s EuroCrossCamp.
Like many riders, Kessler seems to find appeal in the more laid back atmosphere of ‘cross, something that’s reflected in the atmosphere of EuroCrossCamp. That’s not to say that riders in the house are not taking racing seriously–Kessler told us that the US racers in the house are among the most motivated and driven racers he has seen–but the atmosphere outside of competition is more laid back when compared to Kessler’s time in the house as a road racer. For his part, Kessler is just enjoying himself, relishing both the camaraderie of the US riders in the house and the chance to face the best juniors in the world when they venture out.
And not only are the other racers some of the best in the world, but there are a lot more of them than Kessler is used to. The fields in Europe, frequently including more than 100 highly motivated racers, are much larger than what Kessler experiences in Colorado races. The courses themselves are also more intensive than the US courses that he’s seen this year. Kessler says they’re more elaborate with a variety of features, not simply the tape strung throughout a field that we sometimes see here in the US. The course at Loenhout was an intricate layout in a flat pasture, but an added rhythm section and other features made for a great course.
Since Kessler described the camp so far as a “ton of fun,” it’s safe to say that he’s making the best of the experience, both on and off the race course. Whether he chooses to stay focused on the road or makes ‘cross a important part of his season, it’s safe to say that this won’t be the last time that we see Kessler riding with the best the world has to offer.