This is it. Our final rider diary from the racers in Sittard, The Netherlands and the USA Cycling Cyclocross Development Camp. This last submission is from Allison Arensman. Arensman podiumed at the Pan American Cyclocross Championships and won the MSG Cyclocross Series 6 and 7 races in the states before heading to Europe for her first cross camp.
We heard from Allison’s sister Hannah, yesterday. Today, Allison Arensman tells us what makes European racing so very different.
by Allison Arensman
As the final rider to do a journal entry for the USA Cycling Cyclocross Development Camp I’ve definitely had a lot of time to think over what I’d want to write about. This was my first trip to Europe and it has been packed with all sorts of learning experiences! If I had to choose, I would say what’s really hit home with me is the pursuit of excellence fostered by Geoff Proctor and the staff helping to run the camp. I love to be challenged physically, which has definitely happened here. These ‘cross courses are hectic!
But the purpose of this camp has been to challenge more than my physical aptitude, it has focused on character and mentality development as well. It has been a big learning curve to try developing these attributes while adapting to a different culture and a whole new style of racing.
Take, for instance, Friday’s race at the BPost Bank Trofee in Baal. This was my third race in Europe. Conditions were very muddy per my standards but apparently the course was not super sloppy this year. I’m still learning a great deal about starting, pacing and being aggressive.
Before I came to Europe I would have considered ‘being aggressive’ as simply not backing down when girls try to move you off your line, or just plain riding ‘elbows out,’ ready to bump around. In the heartland of ‘cross, aggressive is chopping competition at every chance, running full-tilt into each other, and, if all else fails, bodychecking the rider you are trying to pass. This happened to me on the opening lap of Baal and I was caught so unprepared that I lost control and went sprawling all over the muddy gravel. But again, thats all part of it. You just gotta shake it off and keep going.
Compared to US races it’s a totally different ball game here. For every race, all the chips are in and you’re pushing until you bleed out your eyeballs. Riders are slamming in to you from the sides and from behind, screaming in another language. Thousands of people toting beers, frites, cigarettes and collections of rider cards, are all screaming at you to push harder. And you do!
You start riding harder than you ever have in your life and push beyond the boundaries of your bike handling abilities. At any moment you might find yourself sprawling in the mud or gravel because you hit a rut weird or someone bodychecked you. It doesn’t matter though, you’re back up in half a second going harder than before trying to get back the spots you lost.
I know I mentioned this earlier, but the courses are at a completely different level here. Most courses have features which, before I came to this camp, I would have been sketched out to hit on a mountain bike. You still have to adapt though because there’s no disputing any feature here, get over it or don’t ride.
So why all the gushing about how different and difficult things are on this side of the pond? It goes back to the purpose of this camp: excellence.
Here, this is competing at the next level and in just three races (and a lot of training) I have learned that it’s going to take a lot of work to win at this ‘next level.’ It’s cool though. Throughout the camp we have been encouraged to really soak everything in and just use this trip as a way to find what we need to improve so that we can win. I’m excited to take what I’ve learned and apply it to Nationals in Asheville next weekend.
Huge thanks to my coach, Sonni Dyer, for the time and effort he’s put in to give me the legs to race here and much gratitude to USAC for the opportunity to race in Europe. I can’t wait to see this program expand in the future to give more young riders the chance to develop their full potential!