Belgium, December 28, 2007
Yesterday, we went on a nice ride to Kortrijk. The roads were wet and wind was present for the first time that we have been here. All of this did not matter to us, for we were on a mission to find some delicious Belgian pastries and coffee. Bakeries are easy to come by, but finding coffee is another thing around here. Coming from Seattle, it is definitely easy to find four places to buy coffee in a two block radius, but here in Belgium, you'll be lucky even to find one place that sells it.
After searching the town for about 15 minutes, we found a small, quiet bar with an espresso machine. The coffee was quite good and our ride group - consisting of Jeremy, Gavin, Ian, Steve, and I - conversed about this trip and watched the town outside. Many vendors had filled up this normally empty square with their frite, clothing, and jewelry stands.
The trip back outside to get our bikes to ride home was one of the hardest trips I've ever made. It seemed as if the toasty coffee shop was worlds away as soon as we stepped out of the front door.
Upon arriving back in Izegem, I started to think about my trip. Racing 'cross for the first time in Europe, I've noticed many things that are done differently here. First of all, the races are a different breed than the ones found in the United States. The average junior (what the Belgians call the 17-18 category) is much faster. The culture actually appreciates kids who dedicate their lives to working harder to becoming fast cyclo-cross racers. Even at small regional races, one can expect to see around fifty to sixty riders in the junior field. Back in the United States, I thought I was racing quite a large field of forty two riders at Nationals.
The starts are also nothing like I've ever seen before. In each race, we have started in the back row, if you can call it that since they don't use starting grids at the local races. The officials send the riders to the start line where they just clump up together. Working up through a field of this many riders from the back takes some finesse, and even some luck since holes open and close as soon as they appear.
Gavin [Mannion] is an incredible starter, he is able to find his way through the whole pack and get into the lead group in only the first lap; I personally prefer to use my size and technical ability to get my way through the crowds. Some of these Belgian kids have absolutely no technical skill. The mountain bike skills that I have acquired from living in the Northwest have definitely helped me in these situations.
Also, these Belgian kids are exceptionally vocal during the races. They shout out whenever someone crashes in front of them, cuts them off, or passes them. I wish I knew Flemish just so I could hear what they are saying. However, some will actually speak English to us if they recognize our American jerseys. It's almost a bit of a let down when they do this, for it takes all the fun out of guessing what they are saying to you.
Anyway, the mellow pace around the house is a luxury that I'll be missing when I leave. It is really nice to go for a ride, clean up, explore Izegem, and then catch up with everything that I am missing back home.
Hope the Holiday Season is treating everyone well.