Today's menu: Mud. © Nathan Phillips
Montana State Junior Nathan Phillips has embedded himself in EuroCrossCamp to document the inner workings of the camp that has had a pivotal role in developing American cyclocross talent. Nathan’s second entry, explores the chaos of a cyclocross-race-laden week in Belgium and gives a taste of life in the pits. Missed day one? Read about traveling with the team to the Zolder World Cup.
As clichéd as it is in cyclocross, the winter day began and ended with rain. At ten in the morning, the team Saab fills up with Geoff Proctor, David Kessler, two other guests and me as we steer onto the Belgian motorway towards Diegem, a suburb of Brussels complete with a church and small castle. Proctor and Kessler discuss how many layers Kessler is wearing and the passing sites, familiar to Kessler from the time he spent in Belgium last summer at the USAC Junior 15-16 road camp.
The conversation switches to music, as Kessler explains his pre-race fascination with the group U2, and how it has recently carried over into a school project. As the Saab gets closer to urban Diegem, the tone gets serious and switches to racing. Quick snippets slip between Geoff and Kessler about attitude and motivation for the day.
Chris Fox, an affable soigneur, keeps the riders in good spirits. © Nathan Phillips
The Camp’s vans form their own fencing around the mechanic’s tents, a buffer against the surrounding chaos. The mechanics work arduously to wash and adjust each spare bike in the time between the pre-ride and the actual race. Parked next to the Fidea armada, the Camp is surrounded by spectators moving from the Expo-Schwag Fidea motorhome, gawking at the rider’s lined up bikes awaiting their mechanics to carry them to the pits.
Josh Lehmann, a very inviting and approachable Junior, spins on his trainer after a pre-ride around the course. I ask why he is warming up without legwarmers. “Embrocation, Leg Salsa. Good stuff, but may be hard to find.” Lehmann’s relaxed tone is welcomed under the tent as he warms up next to fellow Juniors Matt Spinks and Yannick Eckmann. Adjacent to these three riders is David Kessler, more serious in his warm up, spinning in silence, a complete opposite to his openness and geniality off the bike. Kessler mentions feeling tired, as the Camp Soigneur Chris Fox cheers him up, providing many smiles throughout the tent. Always upbeat and concerned for the riders, the “Fox,” as he is known around the camp, is a valuable piece of the camp’s staff.
Race time. Juniors head to the start, and the decision to hold all spare bikes in the “lower” of the two race pits is made. I get a pass to the pits, a bike to carry, and we’re off. Snaking through sections of the course, we reach the pits to find a total quagmire. One to two inches of water over at least the same thickness of clay, mud and grass, with only two pressure washers. The race ensues, and as each rider comes around for his last lap, a Camp mechanic makes his way out of the pits with a shouldered bike and wheels before the race has even finished. Time to concentrate on the next race, no time for watching the finish.
It begins all over again, but with less time. While some mechanics and I worked in the pit during the race, others worked under the Camp’s tents to prepare the U23 riders for their race, shortly following the Juniors. The theme in European cyclocross is efficiency, and the way the riders and staff function together proves it. No time for interviews with riders, only enough for a bike drop off, pick up, and off to the pits again. The rain kicks up only a few seconds into the first lap of the U23 race, and the mud begins to deepen. Riders are changing bikes every lap. Two pressure washers just can’t carry the load of so many bikes.
Proctor shouts over the noise of the pressure washers, after a clean bike exchange with Zach McDonald, to run back to the Camp’s site and grab a wash bucket so we can clean the bikes faster each lap. I duck across three sections of the course, find the proper bucket and make my way back across to the pit. With no access to water because of the pandemonium breaking out as each team is waiting in line for the pressure washers, I duck across the course again and into the riders’ showers to fill the bucket. Two riders watch in horror as I storm into the shower room covered in mud to fill the Camp’s wash bucket. In Euro racing, you have to be resourceful.
Things at the mobile EuroCrossCamp quiet down after the end of the U23 race, as all but the three Elite riders are chauffeured back to Izegem to begin immediate recovery for their next race on Tuesday. In the darkness and rain after the finish of the Elite race, we squeeze back into the Saab and vans to make our way back to Izegem. Tomorrow is a rest day, a day to spend under the care of the house and staff. It will also be the first day spent inside the house without a race going on, so more time available for speaking with riders. Check back in tomorrow for more!