The long trip to Belgium

My trip to Belgium has been quite an interesting experience. I will start at the beginning of my...

Belgium, December 28, 2008

My trip to Belgium has been quite an interesting experience. I will start at the beginning of my adventure with the travelling portion because the plane ride itself was an adventure. I found out about the camp a few days before I was scheduled to leave and, unfortunately, I could only find one flight that got me there within the day, and it was on American Airlines.

American Airlines

I have never flown American Airlines and I must say their service at the check-in counter seemed alright, even during the holidays. I expected delays to a certain extent because of weather and the amount of people travelling.

My view of them changes rather quickly. I had not even left Los Angeles Airport and I was looking at a three-hour delay to New York's John F Kennedy Airport. When the airline finally let us on the plane for the second time, I expected to leave almost immediately. But no, we sat at the gate for almost an hour before we were rolled out onto the runway. Then the airplane taxied for about another 45 minutes because John F Kennedy Airport was completely shut down, no planes in or out.

"This Belgian race was bigger than US Nationals in Kansas this year." - Ryan on the popularity of 'cross in Belgium

The plane ride was not much better. I sat in the middle of two enormous men, whose guts decided to spill onto each armrest, giving me no room to move about. And I did not know that American Airlines charged for their food. So I was starving for the four-hour flight because I did not want to pay six dollars for a tiny bag of pretzels.

I got off the flight worried if I was going to be able to book one of the later flights to Brussels because of all the people on my plane missing their connections as well, some by only a few minutes. I hurried off the plane and immediately went to the counter to find that the lady told me to go to the check in counter outside the security checkpoint, "this can't be good" I thought to myself.

I go to the check-in line and it takes me two hours to get to the counter. I get there only to find that the only two flights that were leaving after my flight that night had been cancelled and I was booked for the next flight there which left at 18:00 the next day.

Since I am 17 years old and still a minor, I could not book a hotel even if not all of them had been booked already. That was it; I was spending the night in the terminal. Luckily, after sleeping on the floor for two hours, a lady had brought me and probably about 50 other people a cot and a fleece blanket. It was still very uncomfortable, but I was at least off the floor. The next day I spent wandering from shop to shop in the airport, which was exciting.

Then it came time for my flight, but it was delayed from 18:00 to 23:53 because of mechanical issues. They had to bring out another plane. As soon as I got on the plane I passed out and woke up right after breakfast, that pissed me off, but at least we were almost to Brussels. We landed and went through customs, the lady asked me why I was here and I said for cyclo-cross racing. She stamped my passport and said "good luck" with a smile.

When I went out to get my bike, it was not there. I expected that with all of the gate changes. I found out later that they sent it to Dallas, Texas, then to Vail, Colorado, and to Chicago, Illinois, before sending it to Brussels. Apparently that was the quickest way it could get there.

Belgium, finally

My first impression of Belgium was awesome. I woke up, ate a delicious breakfast with real, fresh baked bread from a bakery down the street. I went for a ride to another town through winding farm roads. People driving didn't try to run me off the road.

I ate more delicious, freshly made pastries in Kortrijk and checked out the scenery and all of the old style brick buildings. I then ate lunch, hopped on the cruiser/town bikes to go ride around town and found some sweet trails and I jumped the hell out of that 40+ pound [18kg] cruisers. I then came back to the house and ate dinner, socialised a bit and went to bed. It was a great day in my book.

The same happened for the next three days. The not so great parts were the stinky cow pastures and the cold weather, but other than that, I love Belgium.

Race day arrived. Since I had signed up for the camp so late, I was the ninth junior and only six could race the Zolder World Cup. I went with two other juniors to Beergem along with an Under 23 rider. It was a smaller race than Zolder, but there were 50 juniors there.

I was surprised that it was not that different from our races. However, this Belgian race that was on the same day as a World Cup race was bigger than US Nationals in Kansas this year.

The started was fairly fast, but I was not ready. I was easily moving up through the field from my bad starting position. I made it through the first turn in about 30th. We raced through a cornfield, hopped off a curb and into the trees, twisting and turning on a single-track trail. Streaking past peoples backyards with people lining the fence and then getting back on a main path only to go right back into the trees on the single track.

I made it to the other side of the course and was in 20th. I was feeling great. We then proceeded to go down these "chutes" which were single-track trails that went down an incredibly steep hill with all kinds of roots sticking out. We then almost immediately ramp right back up to the main trail doing four chutes per lap. Next, there was a small road section that switch-backed down the hill to a marina and it went right by a restaurant that was full of people watching the race. It then went into another single track through the trees alongside the marina, before going straight up the side of the hill for the run-up that was about at a 60-degree angle.

On the second lap however, I did not ride around the tree root on the first chute and that pitched my back wheel in the air causing me to endo and grind my face on the rest of the tree roots – that was painful. I managed to chase back up to about 15th, but I flatted just past the pit in the last lap. I had to run almost the entire last lap with my bike finishing 33rd.

It was quite a race and I have not had one that extreme in a while. I am looking forward to the upcoming races and the rest of the trip here in Belgium.

Below is a complete roster and racing schedule for this year's camp.

Elite men
Brian Matter, 30
Matt Shriver, 28
Troy Wells, 24

U23 men
Will Dugan, 21
Jeremy Ferguson, 18
David Hackworthy, 19
Andrew Llewellyn, 18
Bjorn Selander, 20
Danny Summerhill, 19
Nick Weighall, 21

Junior men
Cody Cox, 17
Joe Dombrowski, 17
Eric Emsky, 17
Manny Goguen, 17
Cody Kaiser, 16
Gavin Mannion, 17
Zach McDonald, 17
Morgan Ryan, 18
Chris Wallace, 16

Racing schedule

December 21: Uitbergen
December 26: Heusden-Zolder World Cup (CDM)
December 28: Superprestige Diegem (C1)
December 30: Azencross / Cross des as, Loenhout / Wuustwezel (C1)
January 1: Grote Prijs Sven Nys, Baal (C1)
January 2: Grote Prijs De Ster, Sint-Niklaas (C1)

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