After a one-year hiatus, the Euro Cross Academy (ECA) returned to Belgium this week, with 10 junior riders from the United States embarking on a near three-week racing stint to get their first experience of European cyclo-cross.
As in previous years, Cyclingnews is running a blog from the camp, with riders contributing throughout their Belgian adventure. Here, Frank O'Reilly shares his amazement at Belgium's cycling culture.
My first European cycling race experience is definitely, so far, one of the greatest experiences of my lifetime.
When I first arrived in Brussels, Belgium, I was so amazed by the popularity of cycling here compared to my home country: the United States of America. From all the billboards that feature cycling professionals to the endless bike paths and lanes, it has really opened my eyes to a whole new world that I have been partly missing out on.
On December 19, I raced my first cyclo-cross World Cup in Namur, Belgium. Many people say Namur is the toughest cyclo-cross course in the entire world due to its extremely technical descents and very challenging climbs.
The competition at this race was a lot different to American competition. The start was way more stressful, and all the competitors were super aggressive and would do anything to pass riders to move up in places. Meaning: a racer must stay aggressive and maintain extreme focus while still pushing their body to its maximum.
It felt amazing to represent my country and race in the red, white, and blue. The location of the race was unique as well, because it’s located on top of the Citadel of Namur - original fort site built in 937, present design built in the 1600’s - overlooking the cloudy city and the joining of two major rivers.
One thing that I really enjoy is seeing a lot of other cyclists on the roads - a lot of times there are more cyclists than walkers. It is very common to come into contact with well-known professional cyclists who can often be seen on live television, which I think is very cool.
Going out for a bike ride in Belgium is quite a different experience than going for one in the States. First off, the geography is almost completely flat where we are located (just east of Antwerp), with barely any elevation to be gained, while a lot of the USA geography consists of a variety of climbs and descents.
There are many bike paths that constantly change from cinder, to dirt, to cobblestones, and many flowy, rutty, exciting trails in the forests. I think it’s very cool to notice all the rutted tyre marks left in the woods and bike paths from previous cyclo-cross riders, prior to our group being there. This goes to show how popular the discipline of cyclo-cross is in Belgium.
Belgium is a very good place to be if one wants to succeed in the sport of cycling.
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