When I first read Geoff’s book "Behind the Stare" I wondered why more Americans hadn’t followed in Jonathan Page’s footsteps by moving to Belgium to race. Now I know how hard it is to adjust to the races and lifestyle here. The courses and competition will chew you up and spit you out even if you are off your game the slightest amount.
The weather conditions make everything slick or muddy, and although it hasn’t rained much there is no lack of mud. My body and bikes have taken a beating throughout the camp. I have already had more mechanicals here than in my whole season back home. However, with the mechanicals and suffering I have gained indispensable experience.
We aren’t only learning how to race harder and more aggressively, but also how to adapt to any situation. From outside the camp it may seem like a two week vacation in Belgium with some occasional races thrown in. But we have daily chores, riding, cooking, and bikes to take care of.
The daily routine starts off with an eight a.m. wake up, usually consisting of a fellow camp member running into the room and yelling. Next is a quick breakfast where we plan the riding for the day. My personal favorite is to ride in the woods about one kilometer from the house. It is the site of a former SuperPrestige course and has some super fun trails. I use them to do openers the day before a race.
After riding we almost always have to wash our bikes. Even if it hadn’t rained on the ride, it is still fairly muddy. The rest of the day is doing laundry, eating, and playing pool. Everyone is fairly laid back and even though it is far from relaxing it is fun.
Come race day the atmosphere of the camp changes completely. We almost always get up before sunrise to leave enough time to get out the door for the race. Everything has the feeling of being rushed even though there is plenty of time. There is just a sense of urgency in the air. Everyone has their headphones on, and are focused on their personal racing goals.
Registration is always easy, yet getting past the language barrier can be a challenge. We start the pre-ride while the sun rises over the horizon on our pit bikes to keep our race bikes clean. The whole day goes by in the blink of an eye. The races are a blur of mud and pain. The start is an explosion with elbows and sketchy passes. Its a cluster of bodies and bikes, and it gets worse the further back you are. Everyone is jockeying for position and will cut anyone off if it means they can get past.
The rest of the race isn’t anymore relaxed. It is full gas to the finish, slow down or give up and you will be lapped pretty quick. No matter where any of us finish we have accomplished something. That doesn’t mean we should be satisfied with our result, but we should be proud to have the opportunity to suffer alongside the best.