Traveling to Belgium for this block of training has been a new experience for me. This trip was my first time to travel overseas, and I was very excited to do so. The first race was the Namur World Cup and the course was very different from any cyclo-cross course in America. The course was muddy with deep ruts and long running sections that I rarely see in the US. On race day the first thing I learned was before the race even started. When we were being called to the start grid racers would squeeze into any empty spot they could find instead of lining up in their row. Everyone was making contact before we started the race which made the start difficult.
The pits become very useful during these muddy races, when your bike is heavy with mud. Pitting is almost mandatory in Belgium because of the conditions making it difficult to ride your bike. My first time to race in the snow and ice was at Diegem. I pre-rode the course hours before the start and soon learned that tire pressure is even more important over ice. Changing weather conditions was something as beneficial to me as a rider as being able to learn how to ride on different terrain.
During the races I noticed that racers are very aggressive compared to the US. They are not afraid to take their hands off the bars to give you a shove, push you with their bikes, or take some crazy line to get in front of you. This aggressive style of racing with little care of the other rider is different to me, but I soon learned that it is simply their way of racing.
Support at these races is also very important and something I greatly appreciated. The traveling and set up is all handled by the USAC support crew and makes things a lot easier for the riders, with parking and registration being hectic with many people and little space in these small Belgium towns. Our bikes are ready to go when we arrive to the venue for our morning course inspection before we warm up on the trainers. The pre-race process runs smoothly with a good support crew.
I have learned a lot from these past weeks of training and racing in Belgium, and feel I have ended it as a better racer. Awesome to have such great support from friends, family, and USA Cycling, this trip was made possible because of them. Looking forward to Nationals and the coming years of training and racing cyclo-cross, its been a great year!