Geoff Proctor is a man of many hats - first and foremost a husband and father who teaches high school English in Helena, Montana, but someone for whom competitive cycling, specifically cyclo-cross, has been a life passion as well. He's raced on the US national team at 'cross Worlds in the 1990s, but these days he's best know for his directorship of the Euro 'Cross Camp in Belgium (which just completed its 10th edition), for being US National Junior/U23 Cyclo-cross Coach and for his membership at the sport's highest level in the UCI Cyclo-cross Commission.
Proctor is a fan of the sport, has been engaged with it as a promoter, official, technical director - and now as a writer. The Montana high school teach is the author of "Behind the Stare", the culmination of 25 years of cycling experience told through the lens of the 2007-2008 'cross season. Proctor was granted a one-year sabbatical from work in which he stood as eyewitness both in Europe and the United States to an entire 'cross season.
The subtitle of the book is "The pulse and character of professional European cyclo-cross" and that is the primary focus of Proctor's tale, featuring unprecedented access to the sport's Belgian kings: Sven Nys, Erwin Vervecken and Bart Wellens. While those familiar with the sport will know the outcomes to races throughout the season, culminating with Lars Boom's world title in Treviso, Italy, the reader is provided insight into what makes riders like Nys and Vervecken tick on a day-to-day basis throughout the winter - whether it's details of their training plans, their psyches of the routine ups and downs that constitute a season.
As one might expect, Proctor's inner English teacher is on display as woven through his work are references to literati as James Joyce, Shakespeare, William Butler Yeats, Joseph Conrad, George Orwell, Richard Ford, Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Carlyle, Joseph Heller and Sherman Alexie. Also woven through the fabric of the season are the Americans making a name for themselves both domestically and in Europe - riders still very much at the forefront of the sport with a historic world championship imminent: Jonathan Page, Ryan Trebon, Jeremy Powers, Tim Johnson and Katie Compton.
While the action and plotlines in "Behind the Stare" may be five years in the past, the protagonists and their search for glory are very much universal tales each season, bolstered by the history, pageantry and detailed minutiae which make the sport so fascinating.
Sven Nys wrote the foreword, provided in both English and Flemish, in which he relates how important the Louisville, Kentucky-hosted cyclo-cross world championships are for the mondialisation of the sport. The sport of the people is now making its world championship debut on American soil, where a new chapter of the sport's rich history shall soon be written, perhaps by Nys himself. Geoff Proctor, too, will be in Louisville, as US National Junior/U23 Cyclo-cross Coach, as a UCI Cyclo-cross Commissioner and to bear witness to a US national team replete with EuroCross Camp alumni.
Excerpt from "Behind the Stare":
The arduousness of the sport was matched in Belgium by the treacheries of winter. The months are dark and nasty as North Sea winds swoop and spit. Finally, add in the Belgian role of the bicycle as the beloved EUV (earthen utility vehicle) and its exalted status as SAV (sport achievement vehicle) and you begin to understand the recipe for cyclo-cross's huge success.
Of all cycling disciplines, it still dwells closest to the plebian. Evan in all its beer-tented, JumboTron'd splendor, the sport isn't over the top. Modern cyclo-cross is just this side of extreme. Inside - not outside - the parameter of what's do-able on a bicycle. Within the scope and fathom of the hoi polloi. As American 'cross legend Laurence Malone once wrote, "Cyclo-cross entails all the movement and aerobics any bicycle commuter knows. It, as they say, is just like real life."
On the bike, off the bike, over the curb, through the slop - get where you want to go. The volk way.
But the volk need adrenaline, something to cut through the slog of winter. The cyclo-cross race season, perfectly timed, stretches from September to February, the most sun-starved days.
During the kerstperiode, the December blitzkrieg of the biggest cyclo-cross races on the planet, it's only light for some six hours a day. Our team's race departures - from Izegem in West Flanders - are always dark. Our returns - just as dim. It's bleak time.
When it's race day at Euro 'Cross Camp, the team members feel it, and sleep. On the road trips to the races, most of my passengers - many of them U.S. national cyclo-cross team members - have their eyes closed before they can even switch their iPods on.
Not me. I'm driving. I have to be on it.
And not because we're late. Not because the rain might be sideways or the slush hydroplane-able.
No, I have to watch out, as I drive, for kids going to school. For the postman delivering mail. For folks going to the bakery or the factory. In the dark.
On their bikes.
On any given weekend, in any given province across Flanders, from September to February, there's a cyclo-cross race.
These same schoolchildren, errand-goers factory workers will be there.
For one talismanic hour, mundanity is thrust aside and supporters and competitors merge. The cyclist rides for himself and his public. The supporter - no matter what denomination - breaks from the humdrum and froths to vicarious lather.
Even he - for brief moments - believes he can fly.
More information on "Behind the Stare" is available at this website (http://behindthestare.deedspublishing.com/)