I began today in one of the best ways possible: to a smiling Geoff Proctor letting me know it was 8 am. It was another gray day and we were going to pretend to race each other on nearby trails. I had been told that the location of our practice race would be the famous “Sven Hill.” It is called Sven Hill because, like King Arthur removing Excalibur from the stone, it is rumored that only the great Sven Nys has been able ride all the way up the steep, sandy chute. When I saw the actual hill I was shocked it had ever crossed anyone’s mind to ride up it. Picture the steepest run-up in the American ‘cross scene. Now make it sandier, steeper, and longer. Also, add a swamp and a few pre-pubescent amateur-pro Belgian cyclo-cross racers at the bottom. That is Sven Hill.
As soon as we arrived, many of the guys tried to dethrone Sven. Two riders ended up being successful in their endeavors: Gage Hecht and Brannan Fix. What I enjoyed most was seeing the young Belgians try to ride up the hill. They were riding as far as some of our best riders. Now I understood why many of the European ‘cross racers were better than Americans: they were born on bikes and raised practicing impeccable bike-handling skills.
To further practice our skills, we determined a quick lap in the woods for our “race.” It was like a ‘cross racer’s dream: fast swoopy corners, a few dirt jumps, a log prime for bunny-jumping, and good friends elbow-to-elbow. The race was twenty minutes long and began with a sprint on pavement that ended abruptly in a sharp corner onto dirt (a fun way to practice the dreaded bottleneck).
The race was a fun way to practice skills, but, like the insanely technical Namur World Cup, it was a stark reminder of my need to do more practice of shouldering, cornering, and bunny-hopping. Already a bit embarrassed about my bike-handling, I was made even more timid by a filming crew taking video of our mini-World Cup. They had been taking some great footage of us riding, washing our bikes, chatting, and just hanging out at the camp. After our ride, the film crew made sure to pay homage to all the amazing people that made this camp possible with a few shots of the mechanics wrenching and Geoff providing valuable advice, corrections, and encouragement.
Over dinner Geoff told us two character features that were crucial in a successful athlete. They were coach-ability and educational excellence. In terms of coach-ability, I’d like to think I incorporated most of the constructive criticism I received into my riding. I now know exactly what is wrong with my riding and how to make my riding evolve. As for educational excellence, while I do strive for greatness in my studies, some of my greatest education has come from the amazing experiences I have gotten through cycling. This camp has already been an incredible educational experience in terms of learning about European ‘cross racing, expanding my bike-handling skills, and where I, as a young female cyclist, can take my career from here. I already can't wait to return to Belgium in future years to apply all I have already learned.