I came into this trip not knowing what to expect. I wanted to take away as much as possible from this experience. I am in my early thirties and and have a family, so it is safe to say that I am not the typical demographic for Euro Cross Camp. However, this camp is not only beneficial to someone that wants to experience cyclocross at the highest level but it is also helpful in learning life lessons. Cycling is a tough sport, and it is as much about perseverance as personal fitness. If you are looking for an excuse, you can always find a reason for not doing well in a race. It takes mental fortitude to overcome this and keep lifting yourself back up. Racing in Belgium requires this kind of fortitude over and over again. Being a foreigner in Belgium teaches you that everything isn’t always going to be perfect on race day. You are always rushed for time. Getting parked, setup for warmup and finding the registration can be like embarking on a scavenger hunt. Things may not be perfect, but if you learn how to deal with it, you can make it into a positive. The stress level is high and your race day preparation may not be ideal, but the race is still going to happen, and you can either make the most of it and put on your battle gear or watch from the sidelines.
So, is there something magical about Belgium? Are you automatically going to be transformed into some kind of cyclocross powerhouse based on the fact that you make the trip over and race on legendary courses? Absolutely not. It’s about broadening you perspective. It’s about the experience and the knowledge that you gain. You get to catch a glimpse first hand at what it takes to be the best in the World. Not only do you race against the most talented fields on difficult courses, but you see the sacrifice needed to make it at this level. These guys are machines. They eat, breath and sleep cyclocross. Yes, it is about passion and the love of the sport, but it is also about livelihood. Either you choose to learn a skill or work in a factory or become a farmer and work in the fields. In Belgium, racing bikes is a skill.
It is a way out of the factory or the field. The kids race against each other every weekend and they take it very serious. The bash each other’s head in because it is serious, as if it’s their job. Even as a junior its a job, and you can make a good living here. When 25,000 people are willing to pay 10 euro each to come watch the race you can see how promoters can afford to get the top talent to show up.
As for the future of cyclocross in the US, the list of selected riders for EuroCross Camp IX was exceptional. Not only due to the talent level of some of the selected riders but also to the sheer number, 20 riders total and 14 being juniors. A handful of these guys have come to the camp in previous years, but for some like myself, this was their first introduction to european racing. For these young riders to be exposed to this lifestyle at this stage in the game is going to be huge for their development. I am grateful to have had this opportunity and to gain this experience. As an ambassador, I hope to pass a long as much of this knowledge as possible. A special thanks to Stan’s No Tubes, Dogma Athletica, Ridley Bikes and all of my sponsors for helping make this trip possible.