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The journey and the sponge

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The sprint to the top of the start hill in Namur

The sprint to the top of the start hill in Namur (Image credit: Tom Robertson)
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Belgium: Bikes & Bakeries

Belgium: Bikes & Bakeries (Image credit: Josh Johnson)
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There are huge crowds at every Belgian race

There are huge crowds at every Belgian race (Image credit: Tom Robertson)
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Josh Johnson on the home straight

Josh Johnson on the home straight (Image credit: Tom Robertson)
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The field of U23's before the gun in Zolder

The field of U23's before the gun in Zolder (Image credit: Tom Robertson)
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Riding a nearby circuit with some of the guys

Riding a nearby circuit with some of the guys (Image credit: Bruce Johnson)
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It was a very muddy race

It was a very muddy race (Image credit: Tom Robertson)
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Josh Johnson in action

Josh Johnson in action (Image credit: Tom Robertson)

The European Cross Camp experience has been a wonderful opportunity to be immersed in the culture and lifestyle that has forged some of the worlds finest bike racers. After spending over a week in Belgium and having the opportunity to compete in three race so far, I've gained a better understanding of what it takes to continue to develop both mentally and physically.

Mental preparation is necessary to allow yourself to be ready to race in extreme conditions, which can consist of mud, rain, snow, and ice, along with courses that challenge and push you to the limit. Physically, you must be prepared to maneuver your bike in the on and off positions; riding, sliding, running, and sprinting to the finish.

The races here are watched by large crowds who brave the aforementioned (unfavorable) conditions to watch as their favorite hero's battle the elements for the right to stand on the top step. This is much different than what we're used to in the US. We're not familiar with having superfans who attend many of the races, going around to all the riders, taking pictures, asking for rider cards, and then cheering on their favorite athletes. One group of fans has been to the same races we've attended, over a time span of under a week (they seem to congregate near the EXC setup). That's dedication.

Having never raced outside the US, I wasn't quite sure what to anticipate and where my expectations should be set. My goal has been to go into each race prepared to not only do my best, but to also learn as much as possible in every situation. I want to soak it all in, so I can be a sponge full of muddy Belgian water, returning home to squeeze out all the acquired knowledge... then apply it to my racing. This approach has allowed me to learn a great deal from each race, gaining valuable experience to help me as I continue to develop.

With two races left on the agenda, I look forward to continuing the process of refining my skills and soaking it all in. The analogy of the sponge seemed fitting for the many days of rain that frequents the Belgian sky. I hope to finish the camp with a strong display of what I've learned so far, racing with tenacity and perseverance, being confident in the skills that I have and enjoying each moment.

As I finish writing this brief reflection, I can't help but think of the journey that I've personally undergone to get to where I am in my life, as well as my cycling. There have been countless numbers of people who have given their support and encouragement to me time and time again. I am extremely grateful for that and wouldn't be writing this if there weren't so many people who cared enough to invest in my life. If you are presented with the opportunity to help a young cyclist in their journey, do it – something small goes a long way.

Here's to the journey – Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed!

Euro 'Cross Camp Director Geoff Proctor will lead the tenth annual cyclo-cross camp that will run through late December and early January. Nine juniors, six U23s and one elite rider will make the journey to Belgium to train and race over the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

What's new for this year is the location of the Euro 'Cross Camp, which will be in Vorselaar, Belgium. Racing for the campers will begin on December 23 at the Namur World Cup and run through the Baal Bpost Bank Trophee on January 1. A few of the Euro 'Cross Campers will stay a bit extra so that they can also compete in the Rome World Cup on January 6.

The camp has previously 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.

2012-2013 Euro 'Cross Camp X Roster

Justin Lindine (Redline Bicycles), 28, New Salem, MA

Under 23s
Manny Goguen (C.F. Racing P/B Trek Portsmouth), 21, Hopedale, MA
Danny Gerow (Wolverine Racing Elite CX, 21, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI
Josh Johnson (Bissell-ABG-Nuvo), 20, Fort Wayne, IN
Skyler Trujillo (Boo/Enve/Challenge), 20, Fort Collins, CO
Andrew Dillman (Bob’s Red Mill Cyclocross), 18, Fairdale, KY
Tobin Ortenblad (Cal Giant Berry Farms/Specialized), 18, Santa Cruz, CA

Logan Owen (Redline Bicycles), 17, Bremerton, WA
Curtis White (Hot Tubes Development Team), 17, Duanesburg, NY
Nate Morse (Hot Tubes Development Team), 17, Cohasset, MA
Stephen Bassett (Bob’s Red Mill Cyclocross), 17, Knoxville, TN
Nick Torraca (Mad Duck Cyclery), 17, Grapevine, TX
John Francisco (Red Zone Cycling) 17, Louisville, KY
Peter Goguen (C.F. Racing P/B Trek Portsmouth), 16, Hopedale, MA
David Lombardo (Verdigris-Village Cyclocross), 16, Crystal Lake, IL
Josey Weik (ISCorp), 16, Wrenshall, MN