Juniors make their mark in Superprestige Diegem

John Francisco revels in bike-friendly Belgium

It’s Christmas Eve here at the Team USA house in Izegem, but that doesn’t mean a break from the racing and training routine. We got to sleep in until 9 this morning because we were up late from the Diegem Superprestige last night. That was an amazing race. Sign-in was in a castle with a real moat. The course was amazing, like nothing I’ve ever raced back in the States - half road, a lot of climbing, mud, sand, run-ups, little red gravel. Very fun, very Euro race.

Since Friday was the end of the Belgian work week, the promoters decided to move the start times back so more spectators could come. The junior race didn’t start until 4, when it was starting to get dark out. The whole US team was riding well, with Logan Owen placing 8th after briefly leading the race, Drew Dillman placing 12th (follow him on Twitter @DizzleDillman), and the rest of us all having a good race. It was really cool hearing the announcer talk about Logan and Drew the whole race. Special thanks to our 2 pit crews, each of which had to cover 7 riders a piece - not a very easy job in a muddy race. (Here’s a video of the race).

Christmas is different in Belgium than in America. The emphasis is on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day. It’s when people get together for dinner. Also, I have barely seen any Christmas lights except for some shops downtown. For dinner tonight Els pulled out all the stops. Two turkeys, salad, chicken, rolls, baked apples, cranberry sauce, and Coke, all preceded by the famous dinner call. Mitch Hoke and Troy Wells (ECXC alumni) even came.

The riding here is amazing. We can do training rides on endless narrow farm roads that snake through the countryside. On my typical ride I ride out of town, through the countryside, get lost, look for the church steeple, ride towards it, and make it back by lunch. Bakery/coffee shop stops are pretty routine, too. Something I really like about Belgium is how practically everyone here rides a bike. Even in horrible weather you will still see kids riding to school, old ladies riding around, people riding to work. There are still a lot of cars, but the relationship is different between cars and bikes than it is in America. In contrast to America, the cars here yield to pedestrians and bikes.

Tomorrow a group of us are going to a Christmas Day race in Balagem. It’s a smaller race, but it is still going to be fun. Monday some of the other guys are going to Zolder for a World Cup there. Wednesday is Loenhout, full team again. After that we are going to be wrapping it up with some local races before flying back to the States.

Thanks to everyone who has helped me get here - sponsors, my team Red Zone Cycling, family, and friends. I’m learning a lot about racing. I’m getting better at starts, moving through traffic, and aggressive riding. I’m pushing myself really hard, taking risks, and doing my best. I’m really glad to be here and I’m having a great time.

Gelukkig Kerstfeest! (Merry Christmas)

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