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 Trevor August
My name is Trevor August and I’m a Junior cyclocross racer from Rochester, New York. I have been racing cyclocross for most of my life and all my racing and training has culminated in the EuroCrossCamp racing block during the Christmas period of Belgian cyclocross racing.
On the start line of the Loenhout DVV Trofee race, I hardly could believe that I was racing in Belgium. I had always heard that the racing was aggressive in Europe, but I still thought it would mostly be the same as racing in the Sates.
That comforting thought was abandoned about 10 seconds into my 1st race when a Belgian rider put his handlebars in a gap that didn’t exist between myself and the racer next to me. Almost being sent to the pavement was a true epiphany. I realized that Belgian cyclocross was a whole new thing compared to racing in the U.S.
Back home, everyone is friends, or you are at least familiar with the people in your race, and that shows on the course. In Belgium, there is no acting like friends while racing. This definitely kept me on my toes compared to back home, where positions don’t really change after the first lap or two. European racers exhibit a constant urge to pass you and move up, which is super fun to dish back.
Another difference I noticed in Belgium was the attitude towards cyclists from the Belgians. When the cashier at the market heard we were here for veldrijden, her face lit up and she asked us about our favorite racers and what races we were doing.
At the airport, we had a similar encounter with the officer at customs. When we told him we were here to race, his next security question was, “Are you going to beat the Dutch?”
A similar thing happened when riding back to our van after racing Loenhout. Everyone was making room for Ivan Gallego and me in the crowd of spectators. They even pushed us across the course crossings to allow us to keep our feet in the pedals. After our first course crossing, Ivan and I realized the respect towards cyclists is comparable to the stardom that football players experience in the U.S.
Since then, the positive attitude towards cyclists has started to feel more normal by the day. I’m sure that when I come home, I’ll get a nice reminder that American drivers aren’t so courteous on one of my first rides back.
Finally, the riding conditions in Belgium are very different. The weather is somewhat similar to my hometown, Rochester, in the fall, about 40 degrees and always a little wet.
However, the similarities stop there. There is almost always a bike path, so cars are less of a concern. Additionally, the road conditions and surfaces are always changing. You can’t put your head down and pedal for miles before a turn or stop sign like in the U.S. If you aren’t alert, you will find yourself running into a sign or median. Road furniture seems to jump out on you in Belgium.
There are also dedicated areas for practicing cyclocross skills.
Before coming over here, I was dumbfounded at how the European cyclocross pros and Juniors were on another level than the rest of the world. It is a little easier for me to understand how they got to that level after spending some time in Belgium.
Everything here seems to favor cyclists because of the sport’s popularity. There are advertisements with cyclists on television and cycling-themed cafés. People want their kids to be cyclists like Americans want their kids to be in the NFL or MLB. Overall, European cycling is on top of the world because of its high place in society in Europe.
On my trip to Belgium, I think I have gained a full domestic season’s worth of knowledge and experience. My race routine got dialed by learning from the other racers on the block, and after experiencing European racing aggression firsthand, there’s not much back home that will faze me.
This trip has been a life-changing experience for me on and off the bike, and hopefully, I can make the trip over again!