Belgium, January 5, 2008
Euro Cross Camp V is in the books. The bike room is empty, the mechanics are gone, the wash station is finally drying out and other than a few of us that are staying the final few weeks until the world championships, the house feels quite empty. Some 16 riders with twice as many bikes and a race schedule to rival a two week stage race, I'm sure most will sleep the entire flight home with no problems at all, while I'll be laying here listening to Ryan Trebon snore for a few more weeks.
This was my first 'Euro Cross Camp' experience and what I have learned in these two weeks of racing, riding, and living in Belgium will be carried through the rest of my career. I have been to Europe for other races, Elite CX Worlds in 2006 and U23 MTB Worlds in 2004, but neither time did I feel comfortable in my situation and for the most part, I felt thrown in to a tank filled with fish way bigger than I.
What this camp allows is for the riders to grow comfortable in a new country where the racing is different, the travel is different, the language is different, the food is different and the list goes on. For me, this camp allowed me to grow comfortable lining up behind the big stars, signing in on the stage with television cameras and 15,000 people watching, figuring out staging and registration protocol in another language, all while racing my heart out for a top 40 result and hoping to finish on the lead lap. This is all valuable experience for the future as each time it just gets more comfortable, until I'm sure there is a time when it's just standard and nothing is knew anymore.
I remember when I first started racing elite class in the United States of America and it was the very same thing. Star struck at the start line, scared of screwing up while racing with them, and riding to my limit while in over my head. Over time I became comfortable with the riders, racing, and speed of the higher class and that is when the confidence grew and the results started to come mostly without notice.
Coming here and experiencing the amount of racing and level of competition that we faced race after race is exactly the motivation and reminder we all need to constantly push the limits and not just let ourselves get comfortable in our own little race environment that we get used to week after week in the US. Racing your heart out for a top 40 is a humbling experience when a top 10 is normal and will quickly put things into an overall perspective of where you are truly at.
Other than racing, I think the juniors come away with some of the best stories of camp as they seem to have way more energy during the day for extracurricular activities, than say, Ryan and I. For instance, one day a few of the guys decided to play a pretty good joke on the people inside a restaurant by ghost riding a bike past the windows a few times for some good laughs as the puzzled customers came to the windows wondering where the riderless bikes were coming from. If I ventured outside the house, it was usually for a walk to the post office where the line was usually out to the door, amazingly, just like in the US.
Noel (USA Cycling National team director) has no patience for riders not dressing warm and staying on schedule, so when the van was full with two guys missing he went looking. It wasn't pretty when he found them standing in line at the frituur stand after a race, in sweatshirts with no coat or hat, waiting in line for the mayo.
Every time I travel to Europe there is always one thing that sticks out in my mind as 'totally Euro'. Last year it was seeing my first SmartCar and this year's might top that - outdoor urinals at all the races. Coming from America, we can go to the bathroom in nothing less than a cement building with individual stalls (although cyclists usually do exclude themselves from such inconveniences). So, imagine a race venue with 15,000 people milling around with handfuls of beer and frites in hand. Then imagine a line of port-a-potties lined up with two rather odd shaped ones at the end. Imagine the odd shaped one is a normal port-a-pottie with the center of each of the four walls pushed in to the middle until it meets the other four walls in the middle, forming four inward facing semi-circular stalls with walls only about chest hight with a toilet in the middle.
Luckily, I was standing in line for the real port-a-potties (in an all-women line, as I soon realized) for other reasons, (no mobile camper with private bathroom at 'cross camp) when it finally dawned on me what they were for. A few live demonstrations confirmed what I first thought improbable -another 'totally Euro' moment.
I think the highlight for many of us was after the last race in Sint Niklaas, Sven Nys stopped by the vans to say hello and give a little encouragement and praise to all for coming over and racing in Belgium, a nice gesture from the cannibal himself and a great way to finish the camp off.
Many of the riders will be back for worlds in few weeks and by then the experience will have settled in and each of us will have grown that much more. The hard racing and previous experiences at Euro Cross Camp V will no doubt help many to a better result in Treviso, Italy and Geoff Proctor, sponsors, and supporters should know that all his hard work putting the camp together is paying off, now and in the future.
Thanks for reading,