Sint Michielgestel has a picturesque setting for a 'cross race.

Sint Michielgestel has a picturesque setting for a 'cross race. by Eric Emsky

This is Part II of Eric Emsky‘s debut column on Cyclocross and life in Belgium. You can read Part I here.

Another big difference between being a racer in the U.S. and in Belgium is just the support the racers receive. I feel as if I am the black sheep as I roam the halls of my school. A lot of the kids don’t understand what cyclocross is and when it is described to them, I just end up looking like a fool. Stand back for a second. Wipe all your knowledge of cyclocross and what know about it away. When you first heard of cyclocross what was your initial expression? You thought that everybody who participated was raving mad. Am I right? How does riding your bike around on a muddy, wet, and cold 3 km circuit with barriers you need to dismount in order to run over and run-ups really sound to you? What about when your family, friends, or relatives wish you good luck in “the thing you do”? What I am getting is that it is mentally tough to dedicate so much of your life towards something your peers don’t really understand. To make matters worse, when cyclocross is described in detail, it is even more confusing!

But here in Belgium, everybody here knows what cyclocross is. If you are fast, you will get respect. That is the way it is. I know there are national champions in the States who will never be recognized in the grocery store for their accomplishments, whereas over here, national champions probably do not do their own shopping and would be awkward in a grocery store just because of the attention they’ll garner. They are celebrities. They have their faces in the Belgian version of People and similar magazines. Also, the kids here grow up to be groomed into racers; they have the right conditions to allow for them to develop in faster racers, the support of their community, and other racers to inspire them to get faster if they want to reach the next step. The kids start off young…I’m not kidding. When I go to the races, there are a lot of kids riding to the venue from their houses. They are all kitted up in the Lycra of their favorite team, simply pumped to see their heroes battle. The community as a whole just embraces the sport.

Now let me illustrate another misconception many people in the States harbor about cyclocross. While the Belgians may take all the glory, the Dutch have just as fast or even faster racers. Take for example Lars Boom and Thijs Al for the elite men; Boy van Poppel for the Under 23’s; Lars van der Haar, Tijmen Eising for the Juniors; and Daphny van den Brand for the Elite Women. When any of these riders shows up to the start line of their respected race, there is a large chance they are to podium. Maybe in the upcoming years this will become more prevalent, we’ll just have to wait and see.

So this is only for starters. I am here for your questions and I hope I may be able to provide some more information about the life, the racing, and the training of those who race at the sport’s highest tier.

Thanks for reading!


Eric is open to questions and suggestions on topics for his column. Drop a comment below, or drop him a comment on his Cyclocross Magazine profile. To read more about his Euro Cross Camp experiences, visit the Rad Racing Team Blog.