This Kerstperiode, nine U.S. Junior cyclocross racers are in Europe to race with the EuroCrossCamp program run by Geoff Proctor. During the next few weeks, the young athletes will be sharing their stories and experiences in rider diaries written while they are in Belgium.
The differences are immense.
The foliage is much greener, and the weather is much wetter here overseas, unlike the dry, brown and bitter cold landscape I call home in Maineville, Ohio. It’s the mud-loving crossers dream to ride here in Belgium since it’s always muddy and raining. You can explore the woods or the brick towns and easily get lost taking in the views and the amazing trails.
There is so much history and a lot to see, especially around Vorselaar. Down the street from the team house stands a castle that was built in the 1270s!
Motorists are way friendlier as well, as cycling is a part of the culture and an accepted and common form of transportation. Riding in Belgium and Europe is so amazing; it’s fun and easy to ride for hours.
But the racing, the racing is much more surreal. The fields are not only bigger, they also have some of the best Juniors in the world, and all aspects of the courses seem more demanding.
The straightaways are more draining and bogged down with slow mud. The uphills are steeper and more frequent. The drops are gnarlier and require caution; they’re almost like riding downhill mountain biking on a cross bike with roots, rocks and mud as you descend. And then the running wears on you physically and mentally as you trudge through deep mud.
Aggressive racing is another aspect that can be surprising to first-time American racers in Europe. The battles fought during the race between the riders are constant and persistent. Despite the challenges on the course, I absolutely love racing here. Finishing some of the toughest and most ambitious cyclocross courses in the world is immensely rewarding.
And, despite all the differences in culture, language, and racing, everyone I race against is bound by a common love of cyclocross. ’Cross is such an amazing sport that brings so many different people together from so many different backgrounds. The other campers and I here at EuroCrossCamp are from all over the United States, yet have become best friends.
This passion for cyclocross is so niched and intense, you don’t find something like it in many other sports. Young or old, experienced or new, we all love getting our feet muddy as we ride our bikes through the course.
My goals here aren’t only to race World Cups or have Big Fun cruising around the brick-and-cobblestone towns, it’s to learn more about improving myself, my racing and teaching the next generation of American racers. I want to pass my knowledge and experiences to the up-and-coming riders who want to take that next step and want to pursue the intense European racing. Many Juniors want to, at some point, fly over to race against the best, and I know personally that this is possible to do.
The community, especially in the Ohio Valley area, has given me so much and I want to give as much support that I’ve gotten over the years back into the sport and community. I feel like we as cyclists want our sport to become more mainstream, and especially to help grow American cyclocross.
I’m soaking up all of my experiences here so I can give back as much as I’ve gotten. Thanks to everyone for joining along for my journey and helping me grow as a person and rider as I find my way. I’m so grateful to be in Europe again and to represent my country and team while participating in something I love. Special thanks to my Aether Family for all of the support!