After a one-year hiatus, the EuroCross 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. Magnus White is the current junior national champion. In the seventh installment from the ECA, he shares a first-person story about an encounter with his favourite cyclo-cross star.
Flemish cycling proverb: Soms ben je de hamer, soms de nagel.
Sometimes you are the hammer, sometimes you are the nail.
Racing in Belgium has taught me to be more aggressive and confident in races. The first race I did over here was the Namur World Cup and being the first race in these conditions, I was the nail. But as I moved through the week and learned from Namur, I became more confident, starting with my second race, the Dendermonde World Cup. And by the time Zolder came around the next day, I felt like I had shifted to the hammer.
The level of racing here and the way the race plays out are very different coming from any race in the States. The first lap is like a whole race in the US: everyone is aggressive and finds areas to pass where you would just sit in and ride in the US. People race for each position like it's for first place which is the mentality you must have if you want to do well. I put that into my mind, as well as trying to be the hammer and riding aggressively and confidently, which led me to much better results in Zolder and Dendermonde.
A major challenge not readily evident in the media is life when you are not between the tape and how challenging it can be to live the life of a pro cyclist. It consists of a lot of resting and staying off your feet as much as possible. As well as navigating in the age of a global pandemic where you can go from Namur where there were hundreds of spectators to Dendermonde and Zolder where there were none in under a week. Avoiding sickness is another component: for example, having to adapt to constant masking and other measures needed to be as safe as possible.
I've only been here a week and a half, training and racing, and I've already improved so much as a rider and racer. This experience will change the way I race going back to the States and having the opportunity to race the same juniors next year who have raced here as well. It will make US races much more competitive and more like a Belgian race, except for the mud of course.
The mud here is unlike anything we have in the US. With the mud of Namur and Dendermonde done and now with Loenhout and Baal coming, 90 per cent of the races here are muddy. A big change from U.S. racing which, this fall, was predominantly dry and dusty.
I am very excited to have this opportunity to race here in Belgium and have gained a lot of experience already. I am confident that lessons learned so far are necessary in order to take my cycling to the next level.
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