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Bridging the gap between American and Euro 'cross

Joe Schmalz (KCCX/Verge/Challenge) making fast work of the steps.

Joe Schmalz (KCCX/Verge/Challenge) making fast work of the steps. (Image credit: Dave McElwaine/trailwatch.net)

As I near the end of my second Euro 'Cross Camp I quite often find myself pondering the differences between American 'cross and European 'cross and how I might be able to use them to make me faster.

What is the difference? That seems to be the going question around the house. The difference being what makes the Europeans so much better than us at cyclo-cross. Many would say the biggest difference is the level of the fields both in breadth and depth. For example both the Junior and U23 fields often have over 70 riders in the bigger races, where as in the States our national championships races, the biggest races of the year, will only have 40 riders.

Or maybe it's the courses and conditions which make for much more physically demanding as well as more technical races. These differences make for a much different racing environment that Americans are not accustomed to, making the transition to Europe that much tougher.

On the other hand you can think about the same question in a different way. For example, just thinking there is a difference can be the problem. If you only focus on what is different then you can focus on what makes you a good bike racer. For instance in 2007 Danny Summerhill, Katie Compton, and Jonathan Page all got silver medals at the World Championships. These results show that Americans are capable of racing against the world's best.

So now the better question becomes what do we need to do as Americans to become more consistent in our ability to race at the front of the biggest races in the world? Some would say the best way is to race in Europe as much as possible. Others would say finding the right coach that understands 'cross to help you find the right balance in your training, set goals and help guide and motivate you in the right way.

All of these take lots of time, energy, and resources to make the best 'cross racer possible. In the end I feel as a racer you have to find the right balance in all aspects of your cycling to prepare you for the highest level. If you can do so I feel it will give you the confidence needed to do make the jump to the next level.

It's not easy to figure out and I'm still in the beginning stages, but I feel like I'm on the right track.

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This year's Euro 'Cross Camp will feature a total of 20 riders including four elite, seven under 23 and nine junior cyclo-cross racers. Some of the riders are veterans of previous camps while others are new.

It is the eighth year that Camp Director Geoff Proctor is taking young (mostly) American cyclo-crossers over to Europe to gain more experience racing in and near Belgium. The opportunity gives them the chance to experience cyclo-cross at its highest level with races at two World Cups. They'll also get to compete in several national-level events.

"Domestic racing is great, but you still have to go to Europe for the highest levels. If you want to be the best in the world, you have to go race the best," said Proctor, who is a school teacher in Montana. He's also a member of the UCI's Cyclo-cross Commission.

Riders will arrive on Thursday or Friday, December 16 or 17 and depart just after the New Year. Expect daily blogs from the riders on their vacation adventures.

Euro Cross Camp VIII Roster

Elite men

Sean Babcock, 28, (Kona)
Ryan Knapp, 27, (BikeReg.com)
Ryan Iddings, 27, (Redline)
Mitchell Hoke, 23, (Cliff Bar Development Team)

U23 men

Danny Summerhill, 22, (Garmin-Holowesko)
Jerome Townsend, 22, (BikeReg.com/Joe’s Garage/Scott)
Steve Fisher, 21, (Rad Racing NW/Hagens-Berman)
Chris Hurst, 21, (Unattached)
Joe Schmalz, 21, (KCCX/Verge/Challenge)
Zach McDonald, 20, (Rapha/Focus Cyclocross Team)
Cody Kaiser, 19, (California Giant/Specialized)

Junior men

Yannick Eckmann, 18, (Hot Tubes Development Team)
Jeff Bahnson, 18, (Van Dessel Factory Team)
Gunnar Bergey, 18, (C3-Athletes Serving Athletes)
Bjorn Fox, 18, (Clif Bar Development Team)
Kolben Preble, 18, (Clif Bar Development Team)
Jeremiah Dyer, 18, (Champion Systems/Cannondale)
Zane Godby, 17, (Clif Bar Development Team)
Cypress Gorry, 17, (WEB-OP)
Andrew Dillman, 17, (Red Zone Cycling)

Euro Cross Camp VIII Race Program (subject to change)

Wednesday-Friday, December 15-17: Riders travel to camp
Saturday, December 18: Lichtervelde
Sunday, December 19: UCI World Cup-Kalmthout
Sunday, December 19: Maldegem
Wednesday, December 22: Team Training Race (Ardooieveld)
Saturday, December 25: Beernem
Sunday, December 26: UCI World Cup-Zolder
Sunday, December 26: Balagem
Monday, December 27: Super Prestige-Diegem
Wednesday, December 29: Azencross GVA-Loenhout
Thursday, December 30: Sylvester Cyclocross-Bredene
Saturday, January 1: GP Sven Nys GVA-Baal