I began the season with a goal. Make it across the ocean to race cyclo-cross in the motherland of the sport. Belgium. Rainy, muddy, brutally honest and terrifyingly revealing, this is where you go to race the best in the world. \
I didn't think I would actually make it. It was a long shot to qualify for EuroCrossCamp. Don't get me wrong. I knew I could do it, but I knew I would have to improve by leaps and bounds in order to reach the level to make it. Having a high goal to shoot for has always been good for me though, in order to achieve this I think I pushed myself farther and was more focused than I ever have been.
After the first few 'cross races I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, I could do it. I did a big fundraiser to make it out to the qualifying races in Cincinnati, Ohio and Louisville, Kentucky. Thanks to a ton of awesome people, I made it out, and shocked myself. I started to think that I could actually make it, then that I would make it.
On thanksgiving morning I got the e-mail, saying that I was invited to the tenth annual EuroCrossCamp. Thanks to a ton of very generous people, my team IScorp, HED cycling, WCJ Pilgrim, the Bonebell, Trek, Enzo's Button, and of course my parents, I was able to seize this amazing opportunity!
A few weeks later, I left from the airport in Chicago with my friend David Lombardo. Taking the plane to Belgium was surreal without my parents. I didn't really comprehend that I was going to another continent across the ocean, until we arrived in Brussels. The airport didn't look very different, but once Jim picked us up and we got on the road, it was immediately apparent that we were in a very different place.
The roads were tiny, so thin they looked like they were one-way. There were bike trails next to almost every major road and the ditches were incredibly steep and deep. Everything seemed close together and squeezed in. We got to the house relatively quickly, considering we traveled across half of Belgium. Of course, that is relative as Belgium is very small.
After we unpacked our bags, ate lunch and got settled into our room we went on a easy spin - our first ride in Belgium! I couldn't shake the impression that I was in a Harry Potter movie. There were so many hedges and all the yards were extremely well kept. I did not so much notice on the first day, but you almost never see the sun. In Belgium it really does rain all the time. When there is sun out though, it becomes a big deal.
The riding was fun. Close tight, windy roads, and bike paths with interesting sights and a fair amount of traffic kept us on our toes. Once we got back we settled into the routine that would define the rest of camp. If it is a non-race day we get up at eight 'o clock and eat breakfast. Then we get dressed and go on a ride. We come back and make sure our bikes are in working order, then take a shower, and eat lunch. After that, depending on the day, you're either responsible for the breakfast chores, the afternoon chores, the dinner chores, or it's your day off. After relaxing with your legs up, hanging out, napping, and playing pool for the rest of the day you eat dinner, attend the meeting, and go to bed.
After a few days at camp, getting adjusted and settling into the routine we did our first race, the Namur World Cup. Pretty much the craziest cyclo-cross course there is! Words cannot do this course justice, other than that it is vertical - when it's up, it is UP and when it's down, it is DOWN. Along with it simply being extreme, the course was muddy (of course). I don't think I have ever had so much fun in a race. Sure, my eyes were rolling back into my head the entire time, but the course was just so cool! I placed 11th out of 30, and fellow EuroCrossCampers Logan and Curtis placed a great 1st and 2nd.
The second race of EuroCrossCamp was the only double race. Four of our juniors, five of our U23's, and our elite rider did the Zolder World Cup. Myself and two others (it would have been four others but two were sick) did the smaller, provincial championships in Beernem. The small local races in Belgium are very brutal and straightforward. This one was tight, so much so that it reminded me of a mountain bike race. With it's narrow (only five riders instead of eight wide), long start stretch, twisty track, and actual single track with little passing opportunity. I started last row out of forty riders and placed a decent 15th right behind Nick, our top finisher at 14th. Logan placed a great 2nd place at the Zolder World Cup.
After Zolder/Beernem we started the race every other day schedule. This changed the routine a little bit, and made it quite a bit more difficult for our super staff, Geoff, Jim, and most of all our mechanic Dave. It made it extremely important to be on top of everything.
The next race we did was Loenhout. For me, this race was the most brutal with many long, straight, almost axle-deep-mud-power-sections, and interesting with BMX-style whoops, and a huge flyover. It was also the biggest race yet with about 60 starters and crowds... the crowds! Beer tents, Frite stands, people screaming everywhere! It was really amazing racing with such a big crowd.
The start was long, and starting from the second to last row with 60 some riders was tough, but really fun! I had by far my best start yet and moved past over half the pack on the first section. The rest of my race wasn't quite as good, I had a few issues with running into the course tape, but I pulled through for a very muddy 34th place. It was not a bad race by any means, but I was having a tough time in the long mud stretches. Some of the other kids had really great races though! Logan placed 2nd, Curtis 3rd, and Stephen 7th.
I'm now resting up for the race in Diegem tomorrow, and after that the final race in Baal. This camp has been a methodical whirlwind of experiences so far, and I am amazed by the level of racing and the dedication of the staff here keeping us together. Big shout out to all the people who have helped me get here and have this amazing experience! I will continue to post updates on my blog and my Twitter (Bikerboy_weiker) with race reports, pictures and more.