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Hard yards and locals smoking cigars

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Ryan Iddings handles the barriers.

Ryan Iddings handles the barriers. (Image credit: Mike Hone)
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An intense Ryan Iddings pre-race.

An intense Ryan Iddings pre-race. (Image credit: Mike Hone)
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Ryan Iddings in the mud.

Ryan Iddings in the mud. (Image credit: Mike Hone)
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Euro 'cross camper Ryan Iddings.

Euro 'cross camper Ryan Iddings. (Image credit: Mike Hone)
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Ryan Iddings races hard at the front of the field.

Ryan Iddings races hard at the front of the field. (Image credit: Mike Hone)

Currently, Mitch, Sean, Charlyn and I are heading back from the Diegem Super Prestige race listening to 'The Best of Super Prestige' sound track (Yes, the series has its own soundtrack). Here's something you don't have to worry about in the US - traffic getting out of a race.

In Belgium you finish (or get pulled) then rush back to the car to avoid the bulk of traffic and people. Diegem is the only night race here plus it's over the holiday break so there is a very large spectator turnout, hence the blog writing in the car.

The American contingent started the race in the back as usual. I'm not complaining - realistically, it's where we belong at the moment. The start straight was a long uphill to a left hand turn, which shot you down a hill straight into the snow, of which there was one good line. I spent the first 2/3 of the first lap just waiting around trying to pass guys, crashing, getting yelled at or pushed over.

I won't bore you with a play by play of my entire race but I will say it was very technical. This race had a bit of everything; a long sand run, deep mud, hard-paved climbs plus snow and ice. I had a couple of brutally hard crashes. Every time I would start to feel comfortable on the bike I'd take myself out.

Usually this was on the same turn each lap; apparently every line was the wrong line, at least for me. It looked like an easy turn, just a slight right hand bend with a few snowy ruts but for some reason I kept screwing it up. It was pretty tough to see the lines out there as some areas weren't lit very well. One time I slid out of the course into some spectators. I got back in but my chain was off, so I tried to put it back on and had a guy veer off course and collide into me. This was the theme of the night for me.

I managed to keep it going until I was pulled. Not that I'm superstitious but I did have number 13; it's going upside down next time just to be safe. These are the days that make bike racing, especially cyclo-cross, so difficult. Granted, I didn't have a great race but I am learning, slowly. I signed a Belgian guy's little notebook at the start - he collects autographs, apparently; I'm hoping he didn't scribble my name out just yet.

It's tough to describe the racing here, it's brutally fast and much more technical than back in the States. The fans line the whole course but don't really cheer unless you're doing well or you crash - in any case it all sounds the same in Flemish.

It's pretty weird because you'll be in the pain cave riding a line next to the rope and screw up. You look over and there's 40 people quietly staring at you, drinking beer and smoking cigars. I usually break the awkward silence by saying hello; it seems to go along way as I've managed to turn a few people into Ryan Iddings fans for the duration of the race. It's all a good experience - the learning curve is tough here and it's difficult to not let results get you down but you just keep on racing and trying to get better and that's really what it's about for now.

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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