Belgium, December 30, 2007
My first cyclo-cross World Cup was very interesting and different than anything I had ever done before. The day started off at 6:00 am with breakfast then the one hour drive in the dark to Hofstade. While driving there I noticed many billboards on the roadside advertising local cyclo-cross races, such as the Belgian National Championships. Although I have been in Belgium for a week it still surprises me when I see a billboard of Sven Nys. If these billboards were in the US, nobody would know who Sven Nys is or what a cyclo-cross race is, but in Belgium cyclo-cross is huge and all racers are well respected.
When we arrived at the venue around 7:30 am, it was still dark. Coming from the US, I am used to awakening to sunlight, even in the winter. In Belgium there is a lot less daylight, each morning after breakfast I find myself waiting until almost 9:00 am for the sun to some up before I can go for a ride. As I was riding the trainer waiting for the sun to rise I began to realize that I was actually at a World Cup. I began to notice the crowds of Belgian fans arriving and RVs belonging to names such as Sven Nys and Bart Wellens, names I had only heard of or seen on TV.
Next, the rest of the juniors and I previewed the Hofstade course. The course was very fast with two extremely long sand beach sections, some parts of the course were also slick due to light rain in the morning.
The next part of my World Cup experience was the call-up and race. Due to our high national ranking in the junior category, I was given a front row starting position. I tried to tell myself that this was just another race, but it wasn't. This was different than almost any other race I had ever done.
One difference was that I was the only one speaking English on the front row. Another difference between this race and any other was that as we were getting our final instructions, a person with a video camera was walking back and forth. I tried to block it out and focus at the task at hand.
Then the whistle blew. I had a good start making it into third position into the first corner. My position quickly changed as the rider in front of me slipped on the first uphill forcing me to dismount. As I dismounted about 30 screaming riders piled into me and getting stuck on my bike. When I remounted at the top of the climb I had lost almost 20 places. As I continued the first lap, I noticed pain in my stomach which was taking away all of my power. I continued to slip back throughout the race, without out power there is no way to compete with the best in the world. Anyway I continued the race and finished my first World Cup in a disappointing 41st.
At the conclusion of my race I got changed and ready to watch the Under 23s tackle the same course. I stood in a massive crowd of Belgian fans and watched the American riders put in a good effort against the outstanding Under 23 field. Neils Albert won.
As I stood in the smoke-filled crowd among the drunk, frite-eating Belgian fans, I noticed many differences between the crowd at a US race and at a World Cup. One difference is although almost 20,000 people were attending the Hofstade World Cup the crowd is remarkably quiet, unless of course someone falls. Another difference is that unlike the US where people cheer for each rider, these spectators only cheer for the one rider they support.
After the race finished we packed up the vans and headed home to Izegem. My first World Cup was over.
Thanks for reading,