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In a routine

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The later afternoon sun beats down on the riders at Diegem. Chris Key leads out a fellow American early on in the race.

The later afternoon sun beats down on the riders at Diegem. Chris Key leads out a fellow American early on in the race. (Image credit: Dennis Crane/www.dbcphoto.com)
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The race within the race - Chris Key leads a small chase group trying to catch the next couple of riders. In the big races like Diegem, the fight is on for every place.

The race within the race - Chris Key leads a small chase group trying to catch the next couple of riders. In the big races like Diegem, the fight is on for every place. (Image credit: Dennis Crane/www.dbcphoto.com)
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The Junior riders prepare for the race at Diegem and for once, they aren't doing it in the early morning twilight. Diegem is an evening race allowing the Juniors to start after noon. Riders from left to right Chris Key (Boulder Cyclo Sport Devo p/b BJC), Grant Ellwood( Boulder Cyclo Sport Devo p/b BJC), Ian McShane (Sophisticated Living p/b Bob's Red Mill) , Cooper Willsey (Cyclocrossworld.com) and Ethan Reynolds (Hot Tubes Development Racing Team)

The Junior riders prepare for the race at Diegem and for once, they aren't doing it in the early morning twilight. Diegem is an evening race allowing the Juniors to start after noon. Riders from left to right Chris Key (Boulder Cyclo Sport Devo p/b BJC), Grant Ellwood( Boulder Cyclo Sport Devo p/b BJC), Ian McShane (Sophisticated Living p/b Bob's Red Mill) , Cooper Willsey (Cyclocrossworld.com) and Ethan Reynolds (Hot Tubes Development Racing Team) (Image credit: Dennis Crane/www.dbcphoto.com)
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The first lap fight commences from the get go. Chris Key jockies for postion in the fray of the juniors race at Diegem.

The first lap fight commences from the get go. Chris Key jockies for postion in the fray of the juniors race at Diegem. (Image credit: Dennis Crane/www.dbcphoto.com)
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In the early morning hours in Loenhout, Chris Key warms up on the trainer avoiding the rain.

In the early morning hours in Loenhout, Chris Key warms up on the trainer avoiding the rain. (Image credit: Dennis Crane/www.dbcphoto.com)
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In the early morning hours in Loenhout, Chris Key warms up on the trainer avoiding the rain.

In the early morning hours in Loenhout, Chris Key warms up on the trainer avoiding the rain. (Image credit: Dennis Crane/www.dbcphoto.com)

When I first read Geoff’s book "Behind the Stare" I wondered why more Americans hadn’t followed in Jonathan Page’s footsteps by moving to Belgium to race. Now I know how hard it is to adjust to the races and lifestyle here. The courses and competition will chew you up and spit you out even if you are off your game the slightest amount.

The weather conditions make everything slick or muddy, and although it hasn’t rained much there is no lack of mud. My body and bikes have taken a beating throughout the camp. I have already had more mechanicals here than in my whole season back home. However, with the mechanicals and suffering I have gained indispensable experience.

We aren’t only learning how to race harder and more aggressively, but also how to adapt to any situation. From outside the camp it may seem like a two week vacation in Belgium with some occasional races thrown in. But we have daily chores, riding, cooking, and bikes to take care of.

The daily routine starts off with an eight a.m. wake up, usually consisting of a fellow camp member running into the room and yelling. Next is a quick breakfast where we plan the riding for the day. My personal favorite is to ride in the woods about one kilometer from the house. It is the site of a former SuperPrestige course and has some super fun trails. I use them to do openers the day before a race.

After riding we almost always have to wash our bikes. Even if it hadn’t rained on the ride, it is still fairly muddy. The rest of the day is doing laundry, eating, and playing pool. Everyone is fairly laid back and even though it is far from relaxing it is fun.

Come race day the atmosphere of the camp changes completely. We almost always get up before sunrise to leave enough time to get out the door for the race. Everything has the feeling of being rushed even though there is plenty of time. There is just a sense of urgency in the air. Everyone has their headphones on, and are focused on their personal racing goals.

Registration is always easy, yet getting past the language barrier can be a challenge. We start the pre-ride while the sun rises over the horizon on our pit bikes to keep our race bikes clean. The whole day goes by in the blink of an eye. The races are a blur of mud and pain. The start is an explosion with elbows and sketchy passes. Its a cluster of bodies and bikes, and it gets worse the further back you are. Everyone is jockeying for position and will cut anyone off if it means they can get past.

The rest of the race isn’t anymore relaxed. It is full gas to the finish, slow down or give up and you will be lapped pretty quick. No matter where any of us finish we have accomplished something. That doesn’t mean we should be satisfied with our result, but we should be proud to have the opportunity to suffer alongside the best.

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EuroCrossCamp Director Geoff Proctor will lead the eleventh annual cyclo-cross camp that will run through late December and early January. 10 juniors, four U23s and two elite women will make the journey to Belgium to train and race over the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Racing for the campers will begin on December 22 at the Namur World Cup and run through the Baal Bpost Bank Trophee on January 1. A few of the EuroCrossCampers will stay a bit extra so that they can also compete in the Rome World Cup on January 5.

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 racers as America's future 'cross stars. Coach Proctor and his riders will take turns contributing diary entries.

2013-2014 EuroCrossCamp XI Roster

Elite Women
Elle Anderson, San Francisco, CA, Cal Giant Berry p/b Specialized
Courtenay McFadden, Bellingham, WA, Bicycle Bluebook/Rock Lobster

U23
Andrew Dillman, Fairdale, KY, Sophisticated Living p/b Bob's Red Mill
Cody Kaiser, El Dorado Hills, CA, Cal Giant Berry p/b Specialized
Tobin Ortenblad, Santa Cruz, CA, Cal Giant Berry p/b Specialized
Logan Owen, Bremerton, WA, Cal Giant Berry p/b Specialized

Junior
Grant Ellwood, Boulder, CO, Boulder Cyclo Sport Devo p/b BJC
Peter Goguen, Hopedale, MA, RACE CF | racecf.org @racecf
Lance Haidet, Bend, OR, Bear Development Team
Gavin Haley, Louisville, KY, Red Zone Cycling Elite
Chris Key, Boulder, CO, Boulder Cyclo Sport Devo p/b BJC
Ian McShane, Louisville, KY, Sophisticated Living p/b Bob's Red Mill
Ethan Reynolds, Boise, ID, Hot Tubes Development Cycling Team
Austin Vincent, Simsbury, CT, RACE CF | racecf.org @racecf
Josey Weik, Wrenshall, MN, Red Zone Cycling Elite
Cooper Willsey, Hinesburg, VT, Cyclocrossworld.com/Cannondale

EuroCrossCamp schedule:
Thursday, 19 December – Riders arrive in Belgium (fly in to Brussels)
Sunday, 22 December - Namur WC
Sunday, 22 December - Waremme (for racers not racing in Namur)
Thursday, 26 December - Zolder WC
Thursday, 26 December - Beernem (for racers not racing in Zolder)
Friday, 27 December - Loenhout bPost bank trofee
Sunday, 29 December - Diegem SuperPrestige
Wednesday, 1 January - Baal bPost GP Sven Nys
Thursday, 2 January – Riders depart for U.S. (fly out of Brussels)
Friday, 3 January – USAC Selected riders fly to Rome
Sunday, 5 January - Rome WC
Monday, 6 Jan – Riders depart for U.S. from Rome