The US will field 26 riders in the upcoming Namur World Cup on Sunday, one of the largest group's the States has sent across the Atlantic for cyclo-cross at one time. USA Cycling cyclo-cross development coach Geoff Proctor told Cyclingnews this week that he's confident the group will add to its success during this third block of European racing.
“I think we honestly have riders that can finish in the top five now in every category: in the juniors, the U23, in our Elite women and in the Elite men,” Proctor said form his home in Helena, Montana, where he was preparing to leave for Europe on Friday.
“I think [US champion] Jeremy [Powers] is capable of a top five. We saw that in Vegas. We saw that in Valkenburg last year when he finished ninth. Everything has to go right at the highest level, but to say that we have potentially a rider that can finish in the top five in each category is a real demarcation of a juncture in a program over time to be able to get to that level. I feel like we're on a certain sort of crest, and of course there's always undertow, but I'm pretty proud of that and excited for that.”
This will be the 14th consecutive Christmas in Belgium for Proctor, who started the private Euro Cross Camps in 2002 as an attempt to build valuable European experience for US riders. He merged the program with USA Cycling last year to form the fledgling USA Cycling Cyclo-cross Development Program he currently runs.
This current trip to Europe will be the third block of European racing this season for his program and for the majority of US racers there now. The racing will start with the Namur World Cup on Sunday, followed by five days of rest and training before the official Christmas Day training program in Zolder for the World Cup race there on December 26. The Zolder race will provide an early preview of the course that will be used for the World Championships on January 30.
“Then the very next day we go to (Super Prestige) Diegem, where it's a night race so it's a later start,” Proctor said. “The Elite men start at six, so it's a pretty festive, suburban Brussels race on that Sunday.”
The riders have a day off after Diegem, then will tackle the Bpost Bank Trophy Loenhout on December 29. Proctor said the race is a staple of the holiday races in Belgium.
“It's kind of the biggest race in terms of the promoter getting all kinds of pros there like Philippe Gilbert. He goes all out to get all kinds of riders there. I'm pretty sure Lars Boom will be there. That's the 29th, and then most of the group goes home the next day.”
Some riders will stay for the Bpost Bank Trophy Sven Nys, which is Nys' home race in Baal, Belgium. Most riders, however, will prefer to get home sooner so they can start preparing for the US national championships January 5-10 in North Carolina.
After the national champions are crowned, the fourth block of Euro racing will feature the Hoogerheide World Cup on January 24 and the World Championships the following weekend.
Proctor believes the US could field its largest-ever contingent at the 2016 World Championships in Zolder, where the addition of a women's U23 category and a best-ever six riders per category could mean as many as 30 US athletes competing.
Proctor acknowledged the growth in international competitors is in line with the growth of the sport in the US domestically.
“It's kind of symbiotic,” he said. “You have to have the US domestic scene as a nice base, and you need that support. I still think that European racing is more expeditious in terms of development. You just see a lot more in terms of the three Cs: the conditions, the courses, and the competition. So these blocks are really important in terms of our riders' development. You might not necessarily see it right away, but pretty much every elite rider I've worked with in Europe is now at the top of the pyramid domestically.”
The World Championships in Zolder will carry extra meaning for Proctor, who attended his first Worlds as a manager in Zolder back in 2002.
“So now 15 years later to be going back to Zolder is a real special moment for me,” he said. “In 2002 there were 50,000 in Zolder. In 2012 there were 60,000 in Koksijde. We could see 70,000 or 80,000 this year. It's going to be a monumental experience to be at Worlds this year.”
US Starters for Namur World Cup: