by Gavin Haley
The past three weeks spent in Belgium have been incredible. Being able to have this opportunity to come here and live, breathe, and sleep cyclocross has been crazy. Coming into this trip, I was focused just on the racing, spending all my time and energy thinking about how I could go faster and finish better. The more I stressed about it, the worse I would race. After my finish at Zonhoven (27th), I told myself I needed to stop worrying about racing so much and just have fun. I spent more time at races finding new people to meet, and having a good time. After my first three races here, I really started to enjoy my trip.
People believe the most difficult part of coming to Belgium is the racing. I now know this isn’t true. Although the racing is top notch, the best in the world, it’s the everyday part that is hard. Finding roads to train on, trying to get the right food, being homesick, and other details most people would overlook. Some guys can handle it, others can’t. For me, it’s been an adventure. I’ve loved exploring how to talk in Dutch, and living the life of a typical Belgian teen. I walk into the town of Oudenaarde, Belgium, at least once a day, usually at the time all the kids get out of school. I try to eat at the places they eat, shop at the same places, and meet new people at the same time. It’s been enlightening to meet so many people who all know about cyclocross. I haven’t had to explain the usual, “Well, it’s mostly a race in the grass, and sometimes there’s sand and mud… Oh yeah, and you run over these planks called barriers…” Every kid already knows the sport and even have favorite riders and courses. Crazy, right? Above all, the training in Belgium is one of the best things. Bike paths are on every road with cars passing safely, and the drivers even give you thumbs up occasionally. It’s just awesome to live in a place where cyclists are respected.
With my trip coming to a close, I’ve been racing better and enjoying it more and more with every race. American Juniors and others are having trouble because they expect coming to Belgium to be an easy transition. The truth is, it’s not. If you can handle being away from family and friends, you’ll excel here. Personally, it’s been fairly painless for me. I love the culture, rain, food and of course, the racing. I could live here one day for sure, and this is where I need to be if I want to be great. My time in Belgium has been stellar, and I hope I can come back in the near future. So when you hear people say “Belgium is an experience,” well, yes…yes, it is, but it’s up to you to make it amazing or terrible. My trip has been amazing.
Thanks for reading.