Now that the camp is nearly over and almost all of the races are done, I can definitely see how I have changed as a rider and where I can see I clearly need to make changes. The European races and experience have really shown to me what changes I need to make as both a rider and a racer to survive over here in the future.
The first few races did not at all go how I expected. I was definitely feeling the travel in my legs and my mental game for racing just wasn’t there. During the first race in Lichtervelde, I immediately saw the aggression and strength of these European riders. I had heard it many times before that these riders will chop you in a corner or put you into a wooden stake without thinking twice, but for some reason I just didn’t prepare to ride against that. This really freaked me out and put me outside of my comfort zone, leaving me frustrated yet motivated to do better.
The first race I really felt strong like I have during the season was the Diegem Superprestige. Despite the typical non-UCI point holding USA rider start position (the back) and the stuck brake under my rim in the first lap, I had good legs and really enjoyed the course. I was having fun hopping the barriers, riding the run-up, and moving up from the back throughout the race. I also did not leave the door open in corners like I had been doing in the previous races. Instead, I would be the one making the quick pass into the tight corner and fighting for my spot in the group. At the finish I was 52nd place. I was disappointed about the number, but I knew my strength was there and I was starting to learn how to race my bike.
The next race was in Balegem on Christmas day. It was a much smaller race than Diegem, but was bigger than the first two races. For any of my New England people, it was a lot like the size of the Shedd Park race. I knew this would be a perfect course for me with its steep and rutted drops, slippery corners, and short and muddy power sections. I just needed to have my mind in the right place for racing.
As usual, I took my place on the start line, well actually, quite a ways behind the start line, with my fellow countrymen. With a good start on the long uphill, I found myself near the top ten. I felt confidence not only in my personal riding as far as strength and bike handling, but also in riding in a group with these European riders. I no longer was intimidated by them and was racing like I need to in order to survive in these races.
On the last lap I was fighting for 11th place with two other riders, and in the final woods section I was able to attack into a set of three corners that I knew I was faster through than the other riders. Sure enough, I got the gap and rode in to 11th. I felt much better after this race and I now understand how I need to race to do well over here.
After Sunday’s race I definitely am a completely different racer. I may not be physically stronger than I was three days before, but mentally I am completely changed. The things I have learned in two weeks here are truly invaluable to my racing and I am very excited to come back and race in America with my newly acquired mindset.