There's this catch phrase in cycling right now, popularized by the Tour de France-crushing Team Sky. The phrase is about how cycling is all about "marginal gains" - small details that add up to create superior performance. Whether it's ice vests in the heat or, more 'cross relevant, one-psi pressure increments, the theory is that by adding up all these seemingly minor pieces of the puzzle that is victory, we can hope to maximize the potential of our performances come race-day. This idea, while designed to be something that relates the miniscule details, can also be used as a lens to view the "macro" of our cycling goals.
Sometimes, success comes in a wave, like some sort of proverbial manna from heaven, we get results or see improvement that catapults us to a different level. These moments, while being the ones we all dream and long for when we are looking to our season, are exceedingly rare.
More often success comes out of series of "marginal gains". Each season, each day, each race we stubbornly put our selves out there to try and claw our way up through the ranks, one hard-fought step at a time.
Where, you might be asking, am I going with all this jingoistic psycho-babble in this Euro 'Cross Camp journal? Well, the point all this is that today was the Zolder World Cup - a place of legend in the pantheon of cyclo-cross lore. When Worlds were held here, the crowd was estimated at 50,000 - 60,000 people. That's a lot of beer and frites in case you were wondering.
I was here at camp during the 2008-09 season and despite some of those dramatic waves of growing success that I was talking about earlier, I came over still somewhat of a late comer-newbie to the 'cross scene. Long story short, the trip was an amazing learning experience, and helped make me a better racer, but the other truth is that I got pretty beat down in these races - failing to finish on the lead lap in any of the World Cups or Super Prestiges that I started. This year's journey didn't start with much better, with a 48th place (at two laps down) in the Namur World Cup the other day, so I was really feeling the pressure to show that I was in fact a better and stronger racer then when I came here three years ago.
So today, when I made it through eight laps of brutal sand and mud and speed without getting pulled, and crossed the finish line to find Geoff [Proctor] waiting to congratulate me, it was a moment I probably won't forget anytime in the near future. Surrounded by thousands and thousands of people, my bike a grinding mess of grit and mud, my hands stiff enough with cold that I could only manage rudimentary tasks, I was proud of my marginal gain today.
It might not be the stuff of headlines, or job offers - I'll leave that to my younger, and incredibly talented teammate Logan Owen, who got second in the junior race today. But as the token "old guy" here at camp, I'll take the steady approach, and along with all my US compatriots here in this foreign country in the middle of the holidays, away from friends and family, chasing a dream and our chance to hopefully meld ourselves into better bike races in the heartland of the sport.
Today I am proud of proving to myself that hard work pays off, if only in marginal gains.