Danny Vervecken, brother to three-time world champion Erwin Vervecken, sits in the driver’s seat and I in the passenger seat as we travel through the countless towns in Belgium on the way back to Vorselaar after the GP Sven Nys in Baal.
We recall my race, and discuss how the racing here differs from the US. Here things are more primal, more aggressive. It’s as if there’s a battlefield laid out in front of each rider with no clear enemy besides the person right next to you. The conversation lulls and then picks up steam again as we make comments about the cyclo-cross schedule and the gap of racing between races in the United States starting before Christmas. We continue our journey home from the race as I lazily drift off to sleep in the passenger seat, still thinking of the day’s race.
I sit in my bed as I write this and I am brought back to reality after the day’s events in Baal. It was my first ever trip to Europe and the entire experience has been something out of my childhood dreams. Cyclo-cross has always been my passion, and my first love, but nothing could have put more fuel on my fire than this trip.
It is such a simple sport, yet it awakens so many emotions within people here. In the United States, the only people who come to the races are people involved with the people racing; spectating is minimal. But here, it is something more. Veldrijden, Field Riding, makes people go crazy in Belgium ... thousands of loud, drunken fans cheering for their favorite riders and getting lost in the moment of watching the riders, no, warriors do battle on the side of a muddy hill.
I remember waking up early on the weekends to watch cyclo-cross on untrustworthy Internet feeds, and thinking that it was beyond human what these racers do. And it truly is. Fans may only see the hour of racing and battle that we do, but what they don’t see is the countless hours put into the sport, the personal relationships left behind, the choices made between having a regular high school life, or being fully devoted to a sport where the person who can push themselves hardest, longest, to their very limits, over and over again, is the victor. It is masochistic to say the least.
This is often a joke between my girlfriend and I. But being a masochist is a very true reality of our sport. My trip to Europe has taught me that you have to be willing to bring your body to your very limit, have such focus, and race hard enough to the point where you get tunnel vision and you totally lose any sound of the crowd within your own pain and focus. Often times you don’t remember parts of the race, and you are literally slumped over on the handlebars after the race.
But I love that part of the sport. Running through ankle deep mud in Essen, sprinting up a cobbled street climb in Diegem, plowing forward in a lake of water and frozen ruts in Loenhout, or flying down a muddy and slippery descent in Baal. It’s those small things that make the sport special, and so exciting.
Thank you so much to USA Cycling for the opportunity and support on this trip. Thank you to Jim Miller and Mark Gullickson at USA Cycling, and huge thank you to all our mechanics and support, Dave, Jan-Willem, Hunter, Danny, Kristof, Gino, Bob, and countless others who have helped us. And of course a special thank you to Geoff Proctor, without him we wouldn’t have the great program that we have. It takes an army to achieve success, and that’s what we have available to us.
Happy New Year to all, see you in Austin, TX at Nationals.