Promising American cyclo-crossers head to Europe
By Sue George The Euro 'Cross camp is headed into its sixth year over the winter holidays. Each...
The Euro 'Cross camp is headed into its sixth year over the winter holidays. Each year, Camp Director and US National Team Coach Geoff Proctor gives some of America's most promising young cyclo-cross talent the chance to gain European racing experience. Proctor spoke to Cyclingnews about this year's camp.
Euro 'Cross camp has helped create the careers of stars like current US National Champion Ryan Trebon and top riders like Jeremy Powers and Jamey Driscoll. A crop of 19 promising racers, the largest ever - including eight juniors, eight U23s and three elite riders - are headed to the Cycling Center in Belgium this year.
Proctor explained why his protégés travel away from their families over the holidays. "The level of competition is much higher there. It will be deeper, too. We have maybe 40 or 50 juniors at nationals, but a week later, our guys will be attending Superprestige and GvA races with 100 riders on the start grid. The courses themselves and the terrain, especially the technical aspects, are significantly more difficult, and so is the weather."
The camp's riders were selected for the camp based on their performances at national-caliber races, such as USGP & NACT events. Proctor whittled his choices down from 35 candidates. "I selected the team earlier this year - in mid-November. I had to get specific names to the European organizers, plus with the economy, I wanted to let the riders know sooner."
"In past years, I waited until the last USGP, but this year, I cut off the selection earlier. Some guys were interested in August, and then they realized they're not interested in November because they're either too fried or have other mountain bike or road goals. Who comes also depends on who has the financial means to do so." Many of his riders get assistance- friends and family donate frequent flier miles and sometimes help pay the costs.
A different world
The young talent will have the chance to experience a different culture of racing - both within the race and from the sidelines.
"If you are a cyclist in Europe, it's serious," said Proctor. "You learn young, and it's so competitive. If you don't learn how to shut the door or chop someone at a young age, you're not going to last."
"I think our riders are sometimes too nice. It's more cut-throat over there. I think it takes our riders by surprise. It's tougher and tougher and tougher to get a top 10. The level keeps going up."
Those in the camp who are new to the Euro scene may be surprised by the make-up and size of the crowds. "I'm expecting a massively big crowd at the World Cup we'll do. That will be jaw-dropping for some of our guys. In Belgium, it's beyond over the top - in terms of exposure, the money, etc."
"We have a participatory culture here in the US," said Proctor. "There are 2,000 racers at nationals, and everyone on the sideline has already raced or is going to race. The people who go to the races are participants themselves."
"In Europe, it's more of a spectator sport. Spectators come out and cheer on their favorite rider and they are members of fan clubs for their favorite riders or maybe they are just general sports fans watching," said Proctor.
"There is more of a separation between being a rider and being a pro rider. There is more reverence. The spectators are less presumptuous about their own abilities. They wouldn't dream of riding through the mud like the guys they are cheering."
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.