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Euro 'Cross Camp VIII

Mitch Hoke gives an interview about Business Time

Business time in Belgium

Mitch Hoke
January 02, 2011, 23:29 GMT,
January 02, 2011, 23:42 GMT

It's Sunday. It's Belgium. It's business time in Tervuren.

It is Sunday, Jan 2nd, and you know that it can only mean one thing, we are going to race bikes, it is business time. How do you know when it is business time, well because it is Sunday, and that is usually the time when we go to bike races. There is nothing good on Belgium TV, none of your friends want to Skype because it is too early in America, and Geoff has written your schedule on the business. Ah yeah, it's business time.

You wake up and go downstairs to eat some breakfast. This is very important for business time. Then Els tells you that you need to take out the recycling, this is not part of business time but is also very important. You come back in and Sean says some thing very sexy like, "I don't think you are going to get lapped today". He is wearing his cx camp shirt, "EURO CROSS CAMP NUMBER EIGHT!".

You stumble towards the truck and you trip, nobody notices, so you turn it in to a dance move. Glen then finds the keys and you turn your dance party to the road. It is business time Tervuren. You find yourself only wearing a skin suit and business socks. You know those socks mean business, that is why they call them business socks.

We take to the start line and wait for the stop light to send us into the muddy woods, wonder what Robert Frost would say about this. You look up and see you are running right behind Sven Nys. Then he gets down to business. Sucking wheel for two, sucking wheel for two seconds. When you are sitting on Sven's wheel you only need two seconds because he is so intense.

Its business time, ooh, yeah, next thing you know you are riding in the woods when you sink your front wheel in the deepest rut, endo and slide face first down the course. The crowd is silent, ah yeah, business time. You get up and say "Is that it?" Ah yeah that's it. You say, "I want some more", well I am not surprised, but I am quite tired. Two weeks in Belgium is better then one week in Belgium.

'Cross campers gathering for Izegem Canal GP.

The simple pleasures of Belgium

Sean Babcock
December 31, 2010, 19:24 GMT,
December 31, 2010, 19:29 GMT

Sean Babcock feels at home

It’s cold, harsh, and unforgiving here in Belgium. It’s hard to feel comfortable in this environment. The tile floors are cold, as are the toilet seats. The bare gray bedroom walls are as depressing as the dark gloomy clouds. The propane heater at the course warms my backside, while my front is sacrificed to endure the freezing winds. It would be easier to remain in my down jacket, to stay in the heated van. Suiting up to ride the trainer in preparation for the race requires a mental effort.

But I like it. It feels like my parents’ house. Working a day in the wet Willamette Valley shoveling manure from the barn. Awakening to the site of my breath, wondering if anyone has stoked the wood stove.

I run from my warm blankets to huddle around the wood stove until the bathtub's open. If I've risen early enough, I'm rewarded with being the first to reuse the bath water. There’s not enough hot water for all my seven siblings to have their own shower or bath.

To survive in Belgium, like my home, one must find satisfaction in the simple things, whether it’s bumping into teammates while getting dressed in the muddy van trying to find dry floor space to stand, or washing the pots and pans while dancing to Euro techno. However, my favorite simple pleasure of Belgium is driving in the diesel-fumed vans with the mechanics, staff, and fellow riders.

Upon arrival to Belgium, a large white-haired man loaded our five bike cases and additional wheelsets into a battered, blue van. Settling into the front bucket seat, I noted the worn anterior and broken knobs on the dashboard. Diesel fumes penetrated my down jacket and wool hat, which were worn to accommodate for the insufficient heater.

As the Flemish-speaking man drove us down the highway through the rotten-smelling farm fields, I fought to hold back a smile. The smells, temperature, and images stimulated memories of driving in silence with my dad in his rickety gray pickup truck on a rainy day, peering out the foggy windows. All that was missing was some Van Morrison.

Back in the blue cycling van, I welcomed the fumes, the rough anterior, and the dreary conditions. I instantly felt comfortable in my new environment.

After the World Cup race in Zolder, I found myself again reminiscing about early memories of driving home after soccer games. I was sitting in the back seat of the old smelly van with three 'cross camp staff members, two Belgium spectators, and a pile of bicycle equipment. As I stared out the window, I laughed silently to myself, remembering being curled up in the back seat of the old three-speed Suburban packed to the ceiling with wet soccer equipment and seven teammates after a weekend tournament.

I'm sweaty, hungry, and tired. My mind is too spent to keep up with the conversations. I'm content to simply wipe a circle in the foggy window and stare into the distance - completely relaxed. As I sat in the back of the cycling van tuning out the Flemish conversation and unconcerned with our destination, I revisited this comfortable place.

It’s fascinating how familiar smells, images, textures, temperatures, and colors can stimulate old memories. The similarities between Belgium and my home have enabled me to rediscover these memorable moments, these simple pleasures. I feel comfortable here in Belgium. There are parts I wish I could bring home.

Kolben Preble warms up.

Sleep, eat, race, recover, repeat

Kolben Preble
December 30, 2010, 22:44 GMT,
December 30, 2010, 22:49 GMT

A typical day in Belgium for Kolben Preble

This story takes place in a small, sleepy, industrial town somewhere in Belgium called Izegem. In this town there is a house - a medium-sized brick house situated on the corner across from the Mazda dealership. Every year around Christmas time, much to the amusement and dismay of the locals, about 20 crazy American cyclo-cross riders come here and invade the house and parts of the town. I am one of those riders and today, ladies and gentlemen, I am going to try and convey to you the day-to-day antics that take place here.

5:30 AM: The alarm sounds on my phone and I groggily fumble around to shut it off. Is it time to get up already? It seems like I just went to sleep. It's race day today and the juniors have an early start. In addition, there is a two-hour drive, plus the three hours it takes to sign in, pin numbers and fumble around the course.

5:45 AM: After falling down the stairs on my way to the kitchen I am ready to get going on the first challenge of the day - breakfast. This morning for the sake of time I keep it simple with toast, a yogurt with cornflakes, and to top it all off a banana.

6:25 AM: Hoping I remembered everything I pack into the IVECO van along with all the other juniors. Dang it! I end up with a middle seat. That means no sleep for me for the next two hours while everyone else around me is snoring.

8:30 AM: As the sun comes up over the countryside we arrive at the race. Geoff shows us the way to registration and we all wait for a painstakingly long time for the old Belgian dude in charge of registration to figure out how to use his computer.

10:30 AM: we all have our numbers now and were able to go pre-ride the course, or as they call it here parcours. The course is fairly straight forward - weave through some old cow pasture, mixed with a few fly-overs and a trip across a cement pump track. Of course it’s muddy like every other race so far but this course is far less technical than some others we have already raced.

11:23 AM: As I go to pass a juiced Belgian, in what seems like a totally legitimate place, he sticks his bars into mine and we both go down. As I go to get up I feel the repeated smack of a front tire on my head. I look up and the same guy who just crashed me is slamming his front wheel into me and yelling in a foreign language. Chuckling to myself, I ride off.

12:01 PM: Finished with my race I feel much better, but suddenly I am hit with the urge to eat everything in sight. I wolf down my sandwich and franticly weave my way through the sea of fans and team RVs looking for something edible.

3:07 PM: We arrive back at the house and untangle ourselves from the cramped van. Tomorrow is yet another race, so it’s a rush to hit the showers and get our stuff in the wash, all before the U23s get back.

4:00 PM: We all sit down to watch the pro race on TV. Some of us eat the most commonly consumed food in the house, yogurt, and others look like they're about to fall into a coma. It’s been a long day but it has been an even longer day for the mechanics. In a few hours we will all go to bed and start the process all over again. Just another day racing in Belgium!

Joe Schmalz (KCCX/Verge/Challenge) making fast work of the steps.

Bridging the gap between American and Euro 'cross

Joseph Schmalz
December 30, 2010, 18:39 GMT,
December 30, 2010, 18:44 GMT

Joe Schmalz ponders his Euro 'cross experience

As I near the end of my second Euro 'Cross Camp I quite often find myself pondering the differences between American 'cross and European 'cross and how I might be able to use them to make me faster.

What is the difference? That seems to be the going question around the house. The difference being what makes the Europeans so much better than us at cyclo-cross. Many would say the biggest difference is the level of the fields both in breadth and depth. For example both the Junior and U23 fields often have over 70 riders in the bigger races, where as in the States our national championships races, the biggest races of the year, will only have 40 riders.

Or maybe it's the courses and conditions which make for much more physically demanding as well as more technical races. These differences make for a much different racing environment that Americans are not accustomed to, making the transition to Europe that much tougher.

On the other hand you can think about the same question in a different way. For example, just thinking there is a difference can be the problem. If you only focus on what is different then you can focus on what makes you a good bike racer. For instance in 2007 Danny Summerhill, Katie Compton, and Jonathan Page all got silver medals at the World Championships. These results show that Americans are capable of racing against the world's best.

So now the better question becomes what do we need to do as Americans to become more consistent in our ability to race at the front of the biggest races in the world? Some would say the best way is to race in Europe as much as possible. Others would say finding the right coach that understands 'cross to help you find the right balance in your training, set goals and help guide and motivate you in the right way.

All of these take lots of time, energy, and resources to make the best 'cross racer possible. In the end I feel as a racer you have to find the right balance in all aspects of your cycling to prepare you for the highest level. If you can do so I feel it will give you the confidence needed to do make the jump to the next level.

It's not easy to figure out and I'm still in the beginning stages, but I feel like I'm on the right track.

Herman gives Rider X a massage.

Taking it easy today to make it harder tomorrow

Steve Fisher
December 28, 2010, 20:34 GMT,
December 28, 2010, 21:27 GMT

A day in the life of Steve Fisher

Rider: "Life is relatively easy for us here at Euro 'Cross Camp VIII."
Reader: "I thought Belgium hosted the hardest cyclo-cross races in the world! How can this be?"
Rider: "Perhaps the bike racing in Belgium is about as hard as it gets, but, in all honesty, the rest of life here is made to be pretty easy for us."

Let me take you through a typical day of easiness here in Izegem. I woke up this morning and stumbled my way down the stairs knowing plenty of food was awaiting me for breakfast. The fridge is always well stocked with a variety of food choices.

After a leisurely breakfast it was time to head out for some training, although you could hardly call it that since we are right in the heart of the Christmas racing period here in Belgium. With multiple races over this past weekend for everyone and another one coming up tomorrow a restful day was on the agenda for most. Photographer Matt Clark accompanied us on our ride by car to capture some photos as well as some video footage.

After the nice easy spin I hung up my bike knowing that our excellent mechanical staff here at the house will prepare it for tomorrow's race in Loenhout. I quickly headed upstairs and into a hot shower to warm back up.

Next up on the rest day docket was a massage from Herman here at the house. Now we arrive at my present location, relaxing in bed and writing this entry. Soon will be a wonderfully prepared dinner from Els and Bridgette. While we are dining the mechanics will have loaded all of our freshly tuned bikes into the van for tomorrow's race. Really all that is left for the riders is getting to bed on time.

So if you look at things as a whole, life here in the house is easy thanks to all of our supporters. I suppose a vacation on the beach in Mexico might be easier, but where would the fun in that be? There certainly wouldn't be any guys in spandex yelling at each other in foreign languages while fighting for position in a bike race. I can't wait for that tomorrow!

The bottom line is that there are so many people pouring their energy into helping all of us here at EuroCrossCamp race to the best of our abilities, far too many people to name. There are those that are working with us here on a daily basis as well as those who have supported us throughout our racing careers. I think the best way to thank all of them is to race harder than we have ever raced before.

The start line in Diegem.

Bikes but no bags

Cody Kaiser
December 28, 2010, 18:01 GMT,
December 28, 2010, 18:07 GMT

Cody Kaiser makes the best of a frustrating situation

I have been to Europe three times now and this has been the best, I mean worst, trip yet. Not because of the racing or because of the weather. No, it is because I have been in Belgium without my bags for 11 days now. Thank you so much British Airways.

I still cannot figure out why it has taken this long to get my bags from London Heathrow to Brussels when it is less than an hour by plane and only two hours by train. I have almost thought about getting on the train and going to the airport, getting my bags and then coming back. It has been a bit of a struggle just because they don't really have everything that I am used too.

So, in order for me to combat the situation here in Belgium, I had some support from back home. I had my parents FedEx some clean clothes over to me. They were supposed to be shipped via second day air, which was awesome because they got to Belgium in two days but then they sat in customs at Brussels Airport for a day and then it was too late on a Friday to deliver. So here is the weekend and no clothes, but since it was the weekend they wouldn't get delivered until Monday.

So now Monday rolls around and it's time to go racing, I don't have any of my riding gear or skinsuits from Cal Giant so I have to race in my USA skinsuit which was not a problem other than the fact that it drew attention from all of the spectators at the race today in Diegem.

The race was awesome because it was right downtown and there is a huge crowd base. Fans lined the course three-deep with a few of them yelling "Go Americans" to me in their Belgian way.

It is interesting to me how the fan base works here. In most of the European countries, the fans go crazy for the top riders but when anyone comes by outside of the top 15, you can hear crickets chirping, no excitement. Back home the fans cheer for everyone from first to last and are so enthusiastic, while here they just cheer for the guys that they know.

Moving past all of the disruption of having no bags, I am looking forward to the week of racing ahead of us and learning as much as possible in the process.

Euro 'Cross Camp VIII

This year's Euro 'Cross Camp will feature a total of 20 riders including four elite, seven under 23 and nine junior cyclo-cross racers. Some of the riders are veterans of previous camps while others are new.

It is the eighth year that Camp Director Geoff Proctor is taking young (mostly) American cyclo-crossers over to Europe to gain more experience racing in and near Belgium. The opportunity gives them the chance to experience cyclo-cross at its highest level with races at two World Cups. They'll also get to compete in several national-level events.

"Domestic racing is great, but you still have to go to Europe for the highest levels. If you want to be the best in the world, you have to go race the best," said Proctor, who is a school teacher in Montana. He's also a member of the UCI's Cyclo-cross Commission.

Riders will arrive on Thursday or Friday, December 16 or 17 and depart just after the New Year. Expect daily blogs from the riders on their vacation adventures.

Euro Cross Camp VIII Roster

Elite men

Sean Babcock, 28, (Kona)
Ryan Knapp, 27, (
Ryan Iddings, 27, (Redline)
Mitchell Hoke, 23, (Cliff Bar Development Team)

U23 men

Danny Summerhill, 22, (Garmin-Holowesko)
Jerome Townsend, 22, (’s Garage/Scott)
Steve Fisher, 21, (Rad Racing NW/Hagens-Berman)
Chris Hurst, 21, (Unattached)
Joe Schmalz, 21, (KCCX/Verge/Challenge)
Zach McDonald, 20, (Rapha/Focus Cyclocross Team)
Cody Kaiser, 19, (California Giant/Specialized)

Junior men

Yannick Eckmann, 18, (Hot Tubes Development Team)
Jeff Bahnson, 18, (Van Dessel Factory Team)
Gunnar Bergey, 18, (C3-Athletes Serving Athletes)
Bjorn Fox, 18, (Clif Bar Development Team)
Kolben Preble, 18, (Clif Bar Development Team)
Jeremiah Dyer, 18, (Champion Systems/Cannondale)
Zane Godby, 17, (Clif Bar Development Team)
Cypress Gorry, 17, (WEB-OP)
Andrew Dillman, 17, (Red Zone Cycling)

Euro Cross Camp VIII Race Program (subject to change)

Wednesday-Friday, December 15-17: Riders travel to camp
Saturday, December 18: Lichtervelde
Sunday, December 19: UCI World Cup-Kalmthout
Sunday, December 19: Maldegem
Wednesday, December 22: Team Training Race (Ardooieveld)
Saturday, December 25: Beernem
Sunday, December 26: UCI World Cup-Zolder
Sunday, December 26: Balagem
Monday, December 27: Super Prestige-Diegem
Wednesday, December 29: Azencross GVA-Loenhout
Thursday, December 30: Sylvester Cyclocross-Bredene
Saturday, January 1: GP Sven Nys GVA-Baal