Getting ready for Diegem

Spencer Downing experiences local-level 'cross racing in Belgium

Everyone is starting to get settled in after a few days of life in Izegem despite the lack of racing this week. With Lichtervelde, Namur, and Maldegem behind us, we have four days to prepare for Diegem. I raced Diegem last year in the nieuwelingen category, or the 15-16 year old juniors as we call it in America. It's one of this biggest staple Christmas week races, along with Zolder and Loenhout, and everyone seems ready to race after some great results last weekend.

This will be my second time racing Christmas week in Europe, and looking towards the coming week of racing I find myself thinking about my experience last year in the nieuwelingen category. Last year when Europe was undergoing a major storm, the Belgians came out in numbers to watch some of the best racing all season in super-icy conditions. This year it looks like lots of mud will be present on the course, due to the warm weather and the rain every night. In preparation for the race we will all have a training race tomorrow, along the canal in Izegem.

There are so many differences between cyclo-cross in the US and cyclo-cross in Europe. For one the courses are much, much harder. Look at the World Cup in Namur, huge drops every lap with so much climbing as well. The toughest part of the big races for me is the size. The amount of spectators, vendors, and the hard courses make for such a spectacle.

One thing I discovered during this trip was the local-level races. The courses for those are much different than for the big events. They mostly consist of a few corners in a field, with barbed wire and sometimes electrical fence as the course tape. The race I did in Maldegem, for example, was all deep mud with nine or ten 90 degree corners, and a cobbled road section for the finish. From what I hear this is what most of the local races are like.

Mind you, the competition for these races is not slow for being a local race, the winners of the local races could get top five results in World Cups. The Belgian kids look a lot different than the American juniors. For some reason I feel like all of their kits are different, their sponsors are all things like construction companies and local car dealerships. I even saw some kid with “vliegende kat” on his jersey. After some Google translating, I found out that means “flying cat”. Sort of a weird thing to have on your kit. But hey, its Europe, what do you expect.

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