After a one-year hiatus, the EuroCross 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. Third in the series is 16-year-old David Thompson, who won the Men's Junior 15-16 title at the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships earlier in DuPage County, Illinois.
As soon as I walked out of the Brussels airport, the differences between Belgium and United States instantly hit me. Everywhere I looked there were people riding bikes. Already this was nothing like America. Once we arrived at the house, I immediately wanted to walk into town and experience Belgian culture.
The first thing I noticed was the architecture. All of the buildings were made of brick and the roads made of cobblestones. On almost every road there is a bike path, and they are always filled with cyclists. On my first ride I stumbled across a permanent cyclocross course. This is one of the many amazing things that you would never see in America.
Every Wednesday, many of the pro Belgian teams go to train in a nearby forest near the town of Lichtaart. This first Wednesday of the camp, we were able to join in on some of the pros training. It was amazing to see where the Belgians train and just how good their technical skills are.
Once we arrived at the forest, the first team we came across was Deschacht - Group Hens - Maes Containers. Seeing Daan Soete and Tom Meeusen in person and not through a TV is something I will never forget. The speed that they were going up and down the technical hills and through the ruts was incredible. After connecting with Deschacht-Hens-Maes, the next team we ran into was the Baloise Trek Lions. After watching them fly through, I decided to leap onto the back of their group. After following them for just one lap around the uniquely "Belgian sand" course, I felt like I was in the middle of a race. In hindsight, they probably weren’t going all out.
To top off all of the legendary cyclocross racers I had seen, Sven Nys rode past me riding on his flashy Trek Boone. Almost instinctively, I sprinted to get on his wheel. For those who don’t know, Sven Nys is one of the most legendary riders in cyclocross history. Seeing Sven with my own eyes is a dream come true. Riding behind him is something I couldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams.
Riding here, in the historical country of Belgium, is massively contrasting to riding in America. The opportunity I have to be able to live and ride here makes for an unforgettable memory. I am so grateful to be a part of what EuroCross Academy has become and what it is continuing to do for young riders like me.
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