We go to races all year long, races around the corner from our homes, throughout the U.S. and even all the way to Europe. Every race we go to, we focus on racing and doing everything possible to give our best effort once the gun goes off. But we very rarely get the chance to enjoy watching a professional race, let alone getting to watch the best of the best duke it out during the Holy Week of CX. Yesterday, after a tough race in Loenhout, I was fortunate enough to stay and watch those guys put the hammer down.
Our race had some "heavy" conditions that only became worse as it kept raining. But right before the start of the elite men's race the slight rain turned to pouring and the course became super-slick in the corners and extremely thick on the long "tractor pull" sections. Watching Sven and Stybar power through that course was impressive. I knew what it took to get around the track and they made it look so easy.
When we are back in the U.S. we get the ability to watch these races over the Internet, while listening to a Flemish guy rattle off words that sound like gibberish, and then possibly a name we recognize followed by some more Flemish. We don't get to listen and feel the vibe that the Euro fans put out at the races. From the Neil Diamond remixes to the wild dancing and massive amounts of beer, these fans know how to party. Getting to walk the course and interact with them was awesome.
The one thing that these races have that no "stick and ball" sport has, is the fan interaction with the athletes. During a baseball or football game you can't get onto the field and be right next to the players. In cyclo-cross you are at the edge of the course tape, if not reaching across the tape and cheering, screaming in the riders faces and feeling their effort as they go by. And, you can do so from anywhere on course. There are no VIP-only sections on the major parts of the course, there are no skyboxes or any of that. Anyone from anywhere can come and be a fan.
The whole experience became escalated because I was walking around with Drew Dillman dressed in an American Flag Morph Suit. We made sure to take a detour through the beer/disco tents and get the full fan experience from girls dancing on tables to guys barely able to hold the cigarette in their mouth. The more drunk the fans were, the more they loved him. Everyone wanted pictures with Dizzle and wanted to talk about the huge number of Americans that were racing today. Most, if not all of them, really enjoy seeing more of the U.S. riders making the trip across the pond to dive into the fray of European cyclo-cross.
I am so thankful to be a racer and have the opportunity to come and race in Europe but I really enjoyed being a fan for the afternoon and soaking in that experience.