Settling in

Belgium, December 24, 2008

I purposely came to Belgium with an open mind. I wanted to soak up as much European culture and as much of the Belgian 'cross scene as I could over the next two weeks. However, even more importantly, I wanted to progress as a cyclo-cross racer by racing against faster competition than I will ever see back in the United States.

Thus far camp has been a great experience: rolling through transitioning Belgian countryside and towns on training rides, enjoying the group camaraderie and racing against some of the tough Euro competition. Our first race was on Sunday in Uitbergen. Really, for the most part, the race was no different than a race in the United States. We started on pavement, flew in to a grass cow pasture, made a few turns and did it all over again. However, there were some differences that drew my attention before I even swung my leg over the saddle.

Naturally, as soon as all of us juniors piled out of the station wagon, we were ready to head to registration. But the registration here in Belgium is a little bit different from your race registration back home. We walked just a bit down the sidewalk and saw a bar door labeled in Flemish indicating that this is where we were to register. As soon as we opened the door I was confronted by the stench of alcohol and smoke which was billowing out the bar's front door. I stepped inside and was met by the stares of old Belgian men. It seemed as though they were about as curious about us as we were about them.

It was really quite an experience, totally different from the typical race format back in the U.S. The registration was just one of the many differences I have picked up on, though. The attitude towards life and racing seems to be totally different from the way Americans see things. Stores close early here, don't open on Sundays and there isn't such a sense of urgency here as in the U.S. Things are more settled; it's as though people in Belgium are enjoying what's happening now rather than constantly pushing ahead. I really like these kinds of qualities in people and it seems to be a recurring theme in Belgium.

Over the next two weeks I hope to continue to learn as much as I can about racing my bike as well as enjoying the cultural experience along the way.

Below is a complete roster and racing schedule for this year's camp.

Elite men
Brian Matter, 30
Matt Shriver, 28
Troy Wells, 24

U23 men
Will Dugan, 21
Jeremy Ferguson, 18
David Hackworthy, 19
Andrew Llewellyn, 18
Bjorn Selander, 20
Danny Summerhill, 19
Nick Weighall, 21

Junior men
Cody Cox, 17
Joe Dombrowski, 17
Eric Emsky, 17
Manny Goguen, 17
Cody Kaiser, 16
Gavin Mannion, 17
Zach McDonald, 17
Morgan Ryan, 18
Chris Wallace, 16

Racing schedule

December 21: Uitbergen
December 26: Heusden-Zolder World Cup (CDM)
December 28: Superprestige Diegem (C1)
December 30: Azencross / Cross des as, Loenhout / Wuustwezel (C1)
January 1: Grote Prijs Sven Nys, Baal (C1)
January 2: Grote Prijs De Ster, Sint-Niklaas (C1)

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For its sixth consecutive year, the Euro 'Cross Camp will travel to Izegem, Belgium for two weeks from December 20, 2008 to January 3, 2009, with some of America's most promising cyclo-cross talent. Euro 'Cross Camp Director and US National Team Coach Geoff Proctor selected 19 male riders to take on some of the toughest courses and strongest riders abroad and to prepare for the World Championships in late January. The camp has helped the careers of racers like current US National Champion Ryan Trebon, Jeremy Powers and Jamey Driscoll. Read these diaries for hints of who may emerge from this year's crop of three elite, eight U23 and eight junior racers as America's future 'cross stars? Coach Proctor and his riders will take turns contributing diary entries.