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 Jamie Williams
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Racing in Europe has been something I have strived to do since I started cycling. I used this goal to motivate me throughout my training and racing. I have gained a great deal of experience at EuroCrossCamp. I am very grateful for this opportunity and my goal was to learn as much as I could while at camp. I have gained knowledge from things as simple as our recovery rides, training, meetings with Geoff Proctor and my fellow athletes and of course, the races.
I live and train in the Cincinnati, Ohio area with the Lionhearts Junior Racing team. To say Ohio is vastly different than Belgium is an understatement. Everything is different. From the language, the money, the culture, and more, but what I have enjoyed most is how the cycling experience has been different.
Riding in Belgium is much different than most of the riding in America, no matter where you are located. While you might be riding on long gravel roads or just your local roads, in Belgium we rode through and around small towns on wide and dedicated bike paths. You are rarely riding in a straight line for more than a few minutes at a time and there are many different riding surfaces from cobbles to smooth pavement. There is a need to constantly pay attention to avoid a crash which adds to the adventure.
On our second day of camp we ventured out to the Magical Forest of Lichtaart. Many professional riders with impressive pedigrees regularly train in the forest. The most notable of which is Sven Nys. He rode here from when he was a young Junior rider to current when he trains with his son Thibau.
We were excited to train on the same ground as some of the greats. In one area of the forest we rode up a steep sandy climb and in an open area that looked like a two-acre sandbox. These features served to prepare us for the different race conditions and course features we experienced in our races in Belgium.
It didn’t take long to notice the major differences between the courses we raced on in Europe compared to most courses in America. It seems that there is a trend for courses in Belgium to have large features that most often can make or break a race for any rider.
Loenhout featured a multitude of ditches around the course that created an advantage for riders who could jump them. The course also contained a turf-covered pump track.
Diegem included decisive road sections and a famous off-camber under the lights. Baal had a mogul section that was made more difficult due to the large ruts that developed. The last race we did in Brussels was set up on the grounds of Brussels University with a grassy rolling uphill section that looked like closely-spaced moguls.
To mimic the race features from Belgium, when back in the States, one would need to find an area with steep muddy climbs and descents and ditches to practice hopping. Also, another good skill to hone would be pumping the bike which you could do by practicing at a local BMX track to learn how to unweight and weight the bike properly. Working on riding transitions to different surfaces and forced running sections would be beneficial as well.
These are all skills I hope to perfect going into my 2020 cyclocross season.
When Geoff Proctor introduced the EuroCrossCamp to us, he shared that after our experience in Belgium we would never look at a domestic course the same way again. I walked away with that feeling and thought about how to continue to keep that perspective by imitating some of the features into my training plan.
As I conclude, I want to thank Geoff, Nadia, Roger, Kristof, Sten, Dave, Alex, Bob, and the other 8 riders for a memorable and valuable experience. I also want to thank all those that supported me this season to help prepare me for this opportunity.