In awe of Namur: EuroCross Academy blog

After a one-year hiatus, the Euro Cross Academy (ECA) returned to Belgium this week, with 10 junior riders from the United States embarking on a near three-week racing stint to get their first experience of European cyclo-cross.

As in previous years, Cyclingnews is running a blog from the camp, with riders contributing throughout their Belgian adventure. First up is 17-year-old AJ August, who was in awe of Namur as he placed 24th in the junior World Cup race on Sunday.

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My time racing bikes in Europe and my first time overseas were something that I knew would be a lot different than anything that I had ever done before. The experience so far has been amazing. Just in one race, it seems like I have learned so much, but I know there is still far more to learn. 

On the first training ride we did, one of the riders had a flat tire. Someone saw us from their house and decided to come out and help us. Although she was not able to give a tube or anything like that, it amazed me the kindness of strangers to cyclists in Belgium. 

We were also able to meet her son who happened to be on the Tormans cyclo-cross development team which is one of the best development teams in Belgium. It’s crazy how these types of things just happen here. In the US, this would be like running into someone who plays basketball or soccer. It goes to show how big of a sport cyclo-cross - and cycling in general - is here. 

The first race we did was the Namur World Cup, arguably the most iconic cyclo-cross race out there. The course was like nothing that you would ever see in the US. Everything was just far more intensified; the run-ups were steeper, the hills were bigger, and the mud was more slippery. Even some of the Dutch riders and coaches said that they have nothing like Namur. 

The race itself was even more of a change from US racing. It is just so much more aggressive and chaotic. No matter if you are fighting for the win or if you are fighting for 60th place, it’s a hard fought battle. 

If you wait to pass somebody, the person behind you will pass you. You have to be aggressive yourself or you will find yourself being passed by a crowd of riders. 

The spectating scene at the race was nothing short of crazy. There was not a part of the course where there were spectators who were not shouting. The smoke from the chainsaws and cigarettes filled your lungs. It was amazing to see people who are so passionate about this sport even if they don’t compete in it themselves. 

With all of this being said, it's now easy to understand how important the opportunities that Geoff Proctor gives us are. It just seems like if you want to experience what cyclo-cross really can be like, this is the place.

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