American Cody Kaiser (Cal Giant Berry Farms) is showing promise in only his first year in the Under-23 cyclo-cross category. A former Junior national champion in cyclo-cross, Kaiser placed sixth at the US cyclo-cross national championships in the U23 ranks against competitors mostly two years his senior and has been named to the National Team. But while his fitness may be finely tuned for the season's grand finale of the UCI World Cyclo-cross Championships this Saturday, his mental edge for European racing continues to be a work in progress.
"I never really have the best positive attitude when I'm here in Europe," Kaiser told Cyclingnews. Immediately his US teammate Danny Summerhill jumps in jokingly, "Yeah, he's a homebody. He's a single child, he's coddled." Laughter fills their mobile home. Kaiser corrects him, explaining, "I don't get homesick, but rather I think to myself, 'wow, these guys are not as cool as they are in the United States'. At the races, it feels like once they see that you're an American, they give you the cold shoulder.
"And when you're out pre-riding and checking the course out they have no problem with practically running you over. They can go around you but they tend to skim your shoulders. What's another foot gonna do for you. They simply don't respect your space."
Over the last three years that Kaiser has been traveling to Europe, he may still not completely understand the European style of playing with others, but he surely has made progress in dealing with it. "The very first time I came to camp three years ago, it was an eye-opener. [Their riding style] was definitely starting to affect my racing. I always tend to be tentative so I'd back off when they push.
"But every time I come back to Europe it gets better. I'm definitely getting over that. I learned that you have to push back and they'll ease off of you. When I came to [European-based US 'cross] camp this year, I rode aggressively - I asserted my position pretty well and they definitely backed off.
"In fact my race at Hoogerheide last weekend was definitely one of my best races. I was the second U23 American and finished 42nd, which isn't the best, but it was a good result."
In advance of this year's 'cross Worlds, Kaiser is feeling more prepared mentally than in years previous. Part of it could be due to his shorter trip to Europe this time around. "Between US 'cross camp over the Christmas period and just before Hoogerheide, I had a good week and a half at home. It was just what I needed to recover a bit from the Euro lifestyle before returning."
Staying outside the US team house in Belgium for the earlier part of his European trip may also prove to keep the stress low . "I'm staying with Meredith [Miller] and Danny [Summerhill]. When we first showed up I was curious to see how I'd like it. The US house is easy living, like washing bikes with pressure washers, and washing machines for your clothes. But I think I like the smaller style living arrangement better than the whole house community - less people, less bantering back and forth. And I got to make my own dinner - that's nice."
Kaiser concludes, "Mentally, I feel much better than I usually am. I'm getting into the Euro lifestyle and learning how I need to be to be a bike racer."