The European Cross Camp experience has been a wonderful opportunity to be immersed in the culture and lifestyle that has forged some of the worlds finest bike racers. After spending over a week in Belgium and having the opportunity to compete in three race so far, I've gained a better understanding of what it takes to continue to develop both mentally and physically.
Mental preparation is necessary to allow yourself to be ready to race in extreme conditions, which can consist of mud, rain, snow, and ice, along with courses that challenge and push you to the limit. Physically, you must be prepared to maneuver your bike in the on and off positions; riding, sliding, running, and sprinting to the finish.
The races here are watched by large crowds who brave the aforementioned (unfavorable) conditions to watch as their favorite hero's battle the elements for the right to stand on the top step. This is much different than what we're used to in the US. We're not familiar with having superfans who attend many of the races, going around to all the riders, taking pictures, asking for rider cards, and then cheering on their favorite athletes. One group of fans has been to the same races we've attended, over a time span of under a week (they seem to congregate near the EXC setup). That's dedication.
Having never raced outside the US, I wasn't quite sure what to anticipate and where my expectations should be set. My goal has been to go into each race prepared to not only do my best, but to also learn as much as possible in every situation. I want to soak it all in, so I can be a sponge full of muddy Belgian water, returning home to squeeze out all the acquired knowledge... then apply it to my racing. This approach has allowed me to learn a great deal from each race, gaining valuable experience to help me as I continue to develop.
With two races left on the agenda, I look forward to continuing the process of refining my skills and soaking it all in. The analogy of the sponge seemed fitting for the many days of rain that frequents the Belgian sky. I hope to finish the camp with a strong display of what I've learned so far, racing with tenacity and perseverance, being confident in the skills that I have and enjoying each moment.
As I finish writing this brief reflection, I can't help but think of the journey that I've personally undergone to get to where I am in my life, as well as my cycling. There have been countless numbers of people who have given their support and encouragement to me time and time again. I am extremely grateful for that and wouldn't be writing this if there weren't so many people who cared enough to invest in my life. If you are presented with the opportunity to help a young cyclist in their journey, do it – something small goes a long way.
Here's to the journey – Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed!