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Change is epitome of 'cross: EuroCross Academy blog

Vaughn Veenendaal competes for EuroCross Academy at a race in Belgium
Vaughn Veenendaal competes for EuroCross Academy at a race in Belgium (Image credit: EuroCross Academy/ @cyclephotos)

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.

Cyclingnews is running a blog from the camp, with riders contributing throughout their Belgian adventure. Vaughn Veenendaal, a lanky 17-year-old from Colorado who has now completed three European races, provides the eighth segment of the series, sharing his perspective of endless adjustments to life and racing in Belgium. For updates from the ECA, follow on Instagram: EuroCrossAcademyIG; Twitter: EuroCxAcademy and EuroCrossAcademy.com.

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Veldrijden, or cyclocross, is the epitome of change. The course is always changing and how you feel is fluctuating. This is exaggerated when you travel to Europe to race. The sheer amount of skilled riders means the course gets thrashed in minutes and there's no hope in racing the same way you pre-ride. And always be ready to run. 

And the change isn't just between the tape. 

Your normal routine isn’t quite the same, yet you still want to perform at the highest level. For starters, when my teammate Magnus White, from Boulder Junior Cycling, and I stepped off the plane and into Brussels International Airport, we had already been through an ordeal. Our original flights had been canceled due to a Colorado wind storm. This sent us into a spiral, scrambling to find new flights and make sure things lined up in time for us to race that weekend. We also had to work around the added protocols for both getting into Belgium and being able to race Namur. 

Thus, our Euro ‘cross experience had just begun. While our bus ride to the team house in Vorselaar was relaxing, we were still squished around our gear in our small Deschacht team van. It was at that point that I came to the realization that nothing was going to be perfect, and I would have few moments to myself for the next 18 days. 

Initially, the jet lag and constant social stimulus was fatiguing. On top of that, there was a creeping sense of unpreparedness. My openers were sub-par and my pre-race meal was different. How was I going to race when I was warming up and it was still so dark I could barely see the team across from us? 

Yet, I suffered my way across the finish line, relieved that it was over. I had made it through Namur, my first-ever European ‘cross race. Soon after, there was speculation that it might be my last, with the Belgian government meeting to decide if the juniors could continue to race despite the spike in Covid-19 cases.

Luckily, this did not happen, but there was a whole new set of obstacles standing between me and my next race. Staying healthy and strong for the races to come became the priority. After coming to the conclusion that it was in our best interest to stay in our bubble, the days between races seemed to crawl, with little to do except train, eat, sleep and hunt for the hidden Nutella and prep our Secret Santa gifts. 

As time passed, I began to adapt to the new circumstances and things began to change. Being so close to not being able to race put this great opportunity to grow and develop into sharp perspective for me. As my new mentor and camp leader, Geoff, wrote to me in his Secret Santa poem, “It’s not everyday a Veenendaal gets to take it to the wall”. 

This trip has been an amazing opportunity to learn and race, and now that I have a few races under my belt and I am more relaxed in the unknown, with the support from the great mechanics, Dave and Andi, and two experienced coaches, Roger and Geoff, who take the time to meet with each rider one-on-one for however long it takes to pinpoint what's next and what we can do to get there. Not to mention our nightly group meetings, where the precise plan for the next day is laid out each night after dinner. 

I am ready for my last races – Loenhout and Baal – of this block. We’ve studied the courses and I am ready to leave it all out there.

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2021 member of EuroCross Academy