"13-31-Mud-46, Hike!"

USA, January 10, 2007

For those who haven't grown up with American football, we Yanks like to invoke the playcalling lingo of the quarterback for everyday life situations--the ubiquity of the sport so ingrained in our nation's psyche that when you use the terminology in daily conversation, there's immediate familiarity.

Just back from Euro 'Cross Camp IV--from eight races in 12 days in the land of "field riding" (veldrijden)--and scanning the various sports pages I've collected (with Sven Nys headlining virtually every edition) along with the indelible images collected in my head, it's easy to make the following analogy: cyclo-cross racing in Belgium informs the lingua franca of that lowland country just as American football does in our country. Huge crowds, live television, beer on the tips of tongues. If my own children collect football cards; what do Belgian kids fancy? You know it.

So, what's up with the abovementioned numbers? My camp riders love to give me guff about the little notebooks I carry around to keep things straight. I have to explain to them that, for my small brain, I can't possibly keep track of it all--tire orders, commissaire names, email addresses, what tire pressure and tread worked best at the previous year's race etc. So, in perusing my notebooks this time around, I find those numbers above etched on various crinkled, stuck-together pages:

"13"--that's the number of times Erwin Vervecken has raced Loenhout. For my new guys at the camp, Rad Racing's Sean Worsech and Steve Fisher, Alan's Nick Weighall and Jerome Townsend, TIAA-CREF's Jim Lennon, FiordaFriutta's Jamey Driscoll, they can all now proudly notch a 1 next to Loenhout. Second-year campers Morgan Schmitt and Dan Neyens (Hagens-Berman) and California Giant Strawberries' Chance Noble, a 2. Hey, you gotta start somewhere! We don't need to divulge that Sven Nys holds the winningest record at Loenhout, taking the race twice as an espoir and four out of seven times as an elite. Nor might Sven need to be reminded that this year's elite winner, Niels Albert, is only 20 years old; a feat even the mighty Sven couldn't achieve in this, the highest profile race we do every year at the camp.

"31"--that's the number of years a Superprestige has been held in Diegem. I have only one guy out of the whole camp, 4-year camp stalwart Erik Tonkin (Kona), with that many birthday cakes. The rest hadn't even seen the light of day when the first Belgian 'crossers were inscribing at the Deigem castle, skipping Sunday services at the iconic church that frames the course, and battling around the suburban Brussels streets laced with bakeries and shoe stores. Were current Superprestige sponsor Karcher power washes even invented back in 1976? I don't know, but I'm sure the frite stands are the same.

"Mud"--remember the lore about native Alaskans having over 40 different words for the concept of snow? After all these years of standing in pit drool and cigarette smoke with the top riders' mechanics, I can vouch that these guys have as many Flemish descriptors for the texture of their beloved mud. What did victor Bart Wellens just say about today's quagmirish Belgian National's parcours in Hamme-Zogge? "This is why I became a cyclo-cross rider: for the rain, the coldness and the mud. For Tom Boonen this is too much, but not for a real cyclo-cross rider."

When Bart says that, I can only smile at the progress my elite camp guys have made as mudders in these big Belgian races--Jelly Belly's Jeremy Powers, Kona's Ryan Trebon, Barry Wicks and Erik Tonkin, and TIAA-CREF's Troy Wells. These guys have become incredibly adept at riding (and running) in the stuff.* Oftentimes we'll sit around the camp dinner table and try to describe how different, and more difficult, the mud is than in the US. Eventually, the task is too much and we move on to more important topics, like the paucity of safety pins at Belgian races.

"46"--that's the number of cross races Erwin Vervecken will race this season. Who can blame him? When you're reigning World Champion, you hay when it's sunny. That's Banking 101. For our top guys, the financial rewards are less stratospheric and the number of race starts is probably in the low 30's.

"Hike"--But you gotta start somewhere! Exhibit A: TIAA-CREF's Danny Summerhill: two third-place podiums (Diegem and Baal) and a 5th place (Loenhout) during the camp. Engine-for-engine, this kid can ride in any front group. Exhibit B: Alan's Bjorn Selander: an 11th in his first U-23 SuperPrestige in Deigem. Y'-know-what-I'm-sayin'?

"First and goal".

See you at Worlds,

Geoff Proctor
Director Euro Camp IV
National Team Coach
USA Cyclocross

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