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.

by Ivan Gallego

My name is Ivan Gallego of the Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld Devo team. I am a Junior cyclist racing in Belgium during the Christmas period of cyclocross. With me are eight dedicated Junior riders who are here to share the same experience. Accompanying and coaching us is the fantastic crew of Mr. Geoff Proctor who has been bringing riders to Belgium for several years.

This is my first journal entry of our adventure:

Riding and racing in Belgium has been a terrific experience. Since the moment we arrived, I’ve been convinced there is no better place to live and race than in this place.

One of the highlights has been observing the many cultural features that are unique to this region. The style of life here is significantly different from the life we flew away from, but in particular, a key difference stands out. It is not the abundance of waffles exhibited on two out of three shelves in Belgian markets, nor is it the aggressive and erratic driving of each and every individual with a steering wheel.

No, rather the most significant feature of daily life in Belgium is the wielrenner-to-wagen ratio. In no other location (with the obvious exception of races) have I ever seen such a high concentration of cyclists. So far, we have easily averaged seeing four to five cyclists per half-hour of riding.

Ivan Gallego is participating in the 2019 EuroCrossCamp program in Belgium. © Balint Hamvas

Ivan Gallego is participating in the 2019 EuroCrossCamp program in Belgium. © Balint Hamvas

When we explored the Magical Forest of Lichtaart (where all the pros train), we saw kids playing on their bikes like skaters skate at a skatepark. To see so many motivated young riders is absolutely astonishing. The sight of all these cyclists inspires an epic urge to participate.

In an environment where riders are everywhere, it seems inevitable that everyone would want to get involved. It’s no wonder why so many professional ’cross racers proliferate from this region.

In addition to this, what seems to be even more exceptional is the relationship between cyclists and their fellow automobile drivers. In my hometown of Missoula, Montana, I have seen cars swerve in front of cyclists, call them out for crossing the white line, and curse at them for no reason. The regularity of these occurrences is shocking.

However, upon arrival in Belgium, it quickly became apparent that the interaction between motor-vehicles and pedal-vehicles is far more courteous. Notably, it is the drivers who go out of their way to express themselves respectfully.

While cruising in the bike lane, cars who have stuck their noses over crosswalks graciously roll backward to allow enough space for the cyclists. Along tight roads, where passing a group of riders would be highly inconsiderate, Belgian drivers patiently wait for a safer opportunity. Unfortunately, they don’t create extra space when overtaking cyclists in the bike lane, but at least they dutifully pay taxes to have bike lanes at all!

These subtle civil services have taken place during 90 percent of our rides, all within a week of being here. Surely it’s not coincidental that these drivers are so nice.

Travelling over to Belgium has been a magnificent experience. Taking time to immerse oneself in the unique culture setting has been an incredibly eye-opening experience.

Now it is far easier to understand what makes Belgian cyclocross so great. The massive community of cyclists is a direct result of engagement from both cyclists and cars. Cyclists encourage outsiders to join them in this sport, and the drivers of motor vehicles gladly support the expansion.

Clearly the classic excuse that Europeans are just “better” and “stronger” cannot slide anymore. Belgians simply have taken greater initiative to bring everyone into the realm of cycling. Those of us on the other end of the Atlantic must realize that the progression of this sport doesn’t depend on finding a talented rider to challenge overseas opponents. It completely depends on the involvement and betterment of the cycling community as a whole.

Thanks for reading.

While the mud has been as challenging as always, Ivan Gallego has been impressed by the generosity of Belgian drivers. © Balint Hamvas

While the mud has been as challenging as always, Ivan Gallego has been impressed by the generosity of Belgian drivers. © Balint Hamvas