Yannick Eckmann races to second in Baal. © Nathan Phillips

Yannick Eckmann races to second in Baal. © Nathan Phillips

by Nathan Phillips

“He was fairly happy, except that, like many people living in Europe, he would rather have been in America.” – Ernest Hemingway

At the GP Sven Nys in Baal, I witnessed a new look in the eyes of a couple of random riders as they finished their pre-ride of the course. Defeat. The course in Baal is heavy, difficult, and relentless every lap, no breaks. Run-ups are arrhythmic, and there are two steps in the middle of a field leading to nowhere. This is a course that can mentally beat you before riders ever have a chance to.

Not all riders falter under the weight though, for example, Yannick Eckmann took a commanding lead for his second place, and both Skyler Trujillo and Jeff Bahnson finished in the top ten.

Baal is just the warm up for the last weekend of the Camp, and to make things even more mentally challenging, the racing is not even close to over if you dream of Worlds in Tabor. It is however, in these last few days of Camp, that things begin to clarify themselves, and more is learned off the bike perhaps, then on it.

The last team meeting I have the honor of attending before I must end my stay at the camp is after the race in Baal. It is here, that all riders sit for the last time together, as each rider has his own departure time. Unlike the first few unfamiliar meetings, riders now sit together discussing previous races, making jokes and asking for advice from the three Pro members of the Camp – Brian Matter, Justin Lindine, and Troy Wells. It is the normal reaction for most to begin to wind down at the end of anything so strenuous, but it is the topic of this meeting that demands otherwise.

Troy Wells tones down his comedic personality long enough to give his last suggestion to riders leaving after the race on Saturday. “If this is your last race, remember you can put everything you have into it. Or as least that’s what I’m telling myself.” It is this “Last Push” that has each rider trying to rally one another, when it seems only natural to slow down.

Geoff Proctor adds another word, or phrase to the “word of the day” list – making good choices. As the list becomes closer to being complete, you can see how planned out each word is for the particular race it follows, or leads up to. Perseverance, mental toughness, and making good choices, are only three on a longer list. Geoff explains that missing even one, you won’t make it in Europe. “If you aspire to Pro-level cyclocross, then you can’t have two or three balls in the air. Cyclocross has to be it.” Proctor’s tone is serious, as he tries to reinforce the commitment a rider needs to find success abroad.

Post meeting, Troy Wells and Zach McDonald plan their quick training trip to Mallorca, Spain, while others discuss how to convince airline employees that a bike is a piece of sports equipment, and should be charged the same as a soccer ball or hockey stick. The consensus is that no employee knows the same set of rules, so it is better to fly from an airport that has never seen someone bring a bike on a plane, therefore knows nothing of which rules apply.

Sitting awake in my bunk on my last night in the team house, I think back on the week of experiences I had, as well as the ones riders have had. A line from Ernest Hemingway’s book, The Sun Also Rises, comes to mind. “He was fairly happy, except that, like many people living in Europe, he would rather have been in America.” Hemingway describes his character Robert Cohn, as he struggles to find success as a writer in Europe.

Looking at the list of eighteen riders attending the camp, I believe it is Hemingway’s line that can explain what I’ve taken away from EuroCrossCamp VII. If you don’t absolutely want to be in Europe racing your bike around muddy pastures, getting your face kicked in, then stay home. I’ve heard Geoff Proctor say it many times, “Cyclocross is like boxing, you’ve got to take your hits, you’ve got to be willing to get your face kicked in.”