The plan has always been to return to Belgium for another season. I have a couple of good reasons why a third season makes sense for me.

It’s year two of being coached by Helen Wyman. I believe it often takes more than a year to adjust to a new coach. Additionally, last year, I still had some residual fatigue from the “Before Helen” days of overtraining. After making a coaching switch, I knew I wanted to give myself time to see the fruition of my hard work.

As I recounted last year, learning to live in Belgium has been a progression. Year one, I was, in a couple of words: “totally and completely overwhelmed.” Year two was smoother. All of a sudden near the end of the season, it occurred to me: “I am finally comfortable here.”

I feel this year I can go back and just focus on racing without all the drama of adjusting to a new place. I have, I think, culturally adapted.

With Year 2 done, Coogan Cisek now feels comfortable in Europe. Corey Coogan Cisek Rider Diary. © Kristel Van Gilst

With Year 2 done, Coogan Cisek now feels comfortable in Europe. Corey Coogan Cisek Rider Diary. © Kristel Van Gilst

Thus, a third season was a given in my mind. The questions remained: when would I go and for how long?

Naturally, me being me, with a “live my best life” philosophy, I wanted to go over earlier and stay longer.

The initial draw was the early season races. Koppenberg and Ronse are bucket list races, and Zonhoven, a favorite of mine, was rumored to be moving back to October.

By the time I left Belgium last season, my schedule was set in my head. I’d go over after Jingle Cross and Trek Cup. I was so confident in my desire to spend just a few weeks of the season in the U.S., I even left my trainer and a wheelset in Belgium.

There was a time this summer when my “Hey, let’s live in Belgium for five months” nerve started to waiver. It seemed like it would be great to have more of the season at home with my husband and dog.

I started to piece together a schedule that would keep me in the U.S. until late November, my customary departure date. As is the American experience, getting from venue to venue across our large country would mean lots of flying and/or long drives.

I started to sketch out a budget, and it took just a couple of race weekends of calculations to see a pattern—costs added up quickly! Last year at this time, I had a full-time job. This year I don’t. The more time I spend in the U.S., the quicker I run out of money.

Then I thought more about unbuilding bikes, shipping bikes, flying with bikes, building bikes and asking strangers to help me in the pits. Life might be a bit easier if I based oneself out East and drove New England. Yet, at that point, I would not be home anymore, anyway.

Then there was this moment when I realized my support network lives on the other side of the ocean. It seems impossible that I could have come to this point, but I have. My mechanics are a perfectly-dialed machine when it comes to a race support. They are also great friends, a sort of “family” to me.

The Wymans, including Alonso, have become an important part of my friendship network, my “team.” The Wymans also introduced me to Gregg and Holly Germer who own the Chainstay Cycling House. It didn’t take me long to realize I’d be very comfortable living at the Chainstay among the many English speakers they host.

I have a lot going for me east of the Atlantic! Thus, even though bucket list race Ronse moved to December, and Zonhoven remains in December as well, my plan is to go over Mid-October.

I’ll be in the U.S. for GO Cross, Jingle Cross, Trek Cup, and will cap off my U.S. season with FayetteCross.

Visa Woes

The last two seasons I went to Belgium for 87 and 90 days, respectively. Belgium (and most of the EU) is in the “Schengen Area.” Americans are allowed to visit for 90 days within a 6-month period without a visa. Since I planned to stay for five months, I started working towards getting a Belgian visa.

Getting a visa to an EU country would have been easier if I had a contract with a European team, as that would make me an employee. Without this, I investigated getting a “professional card” and temporary residence permit (visa) to work as a freelancer in Belgium.

I invested a good deal of time and effort working towards the professional card. I got my doctor to attest to my lack of disease, including having the Secretary of State provide me an “apostille” to authenticate the form. I got myself fingerprinted and had the FBI provide me an “Identity History Summary,” in other words: a background check. I filled out several Dutch forms with my mechanic providing translation assistance via Facebook Messenger. I even made my appointment at the consulate in New York City to submit documents (and more fingerprints) in person, as required.

However, the paperwork was overwhelming and directions inconsistent. The process involved both the Belgian government and the government of Flanders, further confusing matters. It seemed the likelihood of “getting it right” was slim. Between fees and a flight and hotel in New York City, my out-of-pocket costs would have been nearly $1,000. That would be a lot to spend to ultimately fail and have my application denied!

Shortly before booking a NYC ticket, I learned that Belgium was “cracking down” on professional cards and they had become much harder to get. Accordingly, I reached out to several Belgian immigration attorneys. Each assured me their firm could get me the professional card/residence permit and quoted me a fee … that I could never afford to pay (on top of the abovementioned fees).

Google searches make it clear that there are easier-to-get visas to other EU countries, but I was keen on staying in Belgium and not much for trying the many underhanded approaches.

A friend made an off-handed comment that I could always go back to the States for a bit. I rolled my eyes at this. I mean, sure, go back to Minnesota in January to train for cyclocross. Can I count the snowbanks?

On a complete lark, I looked up ticket prices from Belgium to Florida in January. My mom recently moved to central Florida, and they have fewer snowbanks than Minnesota! In a stroke of good luck, Delta routes most of its flights through Atlanta, making Brussels to Atlanta to Florida a good deal!

Many, many spreadsheets later, with days added and subtracted here and there, I had a plan!

I will be in Belgium from Mid-October to end-of-January save two weeks in England in November and four in Florida in January. (Completely unrelated to Brexit, Great Britain is not part of the Schengen Area. While most of Europe is at European Champs, I’ll be training in England and banking “Schengen days.”)

Is this plan crazy? Um, actually, it works out quite well. I know from the last two seasons that January is quite grim in Belgium. I’m shattered post-Kerstperiode, there are relatively few races in January and then there’s the rain.

The idea of “getting out” of Belgium in January seems like a good one. I’ll get some rest, some family time, and a chance to refresh my training to hit the end of the season hard.

Those are my travel plans, but there have been some pretty significant team and life changes as well.

Triple C Racing p/b Cyclocross Custom

I’ve started a privateer team: Triple C Racing p/b Cyclocross Custom.

The catalyst for this was receiving key support from my mechanics at Cyclocross Custom. Owner Denis Dhont is a very hard worker, driven to build his business of providing mechanical and soigneur support. It’s no surprise that he would light a fire in me to start my own team, while providing his backing.

Cyclocross Custom has proven a good partner during Coogan Cisek's Euro adventures. Corey Coogan Cisek Rider Diary. © C. Coogan Cisek

Cyclocross Custom has proven a good partner during Coogan Cisek’s Euro adventures. Corey Coogan Cisek Rider Diary. © C. Coogan Cisek

It’s been an effort to build my own team from the ground up, but there are some huge plusses. One is being able to choose sponsors. No, I can’t control who “wants me,” but I can control who I reach out to and with whom I make agreements. It’s been a pleasure to partner with companies I really believe in!

I’m very excited to be supported by Cyclocross Custom, Steen Wear, Lazer Sport, WickWerks, Mad Alchemy, Challenge Tires, Shimano, SockGuy, and One Stop Map.

My former team, Amy D. Foundation, remains very much a part of my heart. Fortunately, as a development organization, they are thrilled to see riders “graduate” to other opportunities. However, I haven’t left entirely, as I am now a member of their staff as Social Media/Press Coordinator. I feel very lucky to do work that I like towards a mission I love.

I formed Triple C LLC with the dual purpose of supporting my team, Triple C Racing and my coaching business, Triple C Coaching.

Triple C Racing is Corey Coogan Cisek's new cyclocross program

Triple C Racing is Corey Coogan Cisek’s new cyclocross program

Triple C Coaching is definitely in its infancy stages, but I am starting to do a little coaching. I am a USA Cycling Level 2 certified coach and provide customized coaching delivered via Training Peaks.

The biggest achievement of Triple C Coaching thus far was a women’s cyclocross clinic we ran in Minneapolis last weekend. We had nearly 30 women in attendance, 9 of whom purchased one-day licenses. That means they were not just new to the discipline, but also to bike racing!

By providing instruction in a supportive environment, we made a small contribution to growing the sport.

Corey Coogan Cisek hosted a Women's clinic in Minnesota last weekend. photo: Kim Pearce

Corey Coogan Cisek hosted a Women’s clinic in Minnesota last weekend. photo: Kim Pearce

The Season Begins in Roanoke

I start my season in Roanoke this weekend.

Am I ready? As ready as I can be!

I am planning a relaxed build into racing and the season. I’m looking at Roanoke as openers. With a season extending through February, I definitely cannot afford to come in too hot. (Although, I know Roanoke will be hot)

Physically, when I look at the numbers, I am in the best place I have ever been. However, we don’t race on numbers! I also realize there’s an adaptation phase where I figure out what I am currently capable of.

Corey Coogan Cisek returns to racing this weekend in Roanoke. 2018 Pan-American Cyclocross Championships, Midland, Ontario. © Z. Schuster / Cyclocross Magazine

Corey Coogan Cisek returns to racing this weekend in Roanoke. 2018 Pan-American Cyclocross Championships, Midland, Ontario. © Z. Schuster / Cyclocross Magazine

Logistically speaking, heck no, I am so not ready!

Managing my own team has been a kick in the pants. While I pride myself on being a competent project manager, I am whirling into Roanoke with more “undone” than I’d like.

I recognize, however, that everyone is in the same boat. The number of riders on teams where details are managed for them is few. The vast majority of us are privateers or riders with full-time jobs, managing racing around careers. All of us are sliding into the season with components or kits shipping overnight, or worse yet, not at all.

Ready or not, let the season begin.

Featured image: Kim Pearce