Here is my article for CycloCross Magazine published on Tuesday, December 24th 2013.
This is my 3rd trip in Belgium to race Cyclocross, and this place continues to throw curve balls at me. Last year I attended EuroCrossCamp as a rookie to the ways of Belgian racing and the camp taught me more than can be expressed in this post. My most recent trip was much longer and the opportunities to learn were even more so. As I said however, Belgium Cyclcross will always throw you a curve ball whether or not you're prepared.
I've been looking forward to Namur all season, especially since it was a Wold Cup for juniors this year and out of all the 'Cross courses I have done this is my favorite. Almost all Belgian courses are infamously brutal but Namur is, to quote Sven Nys himself, "Something special". It is a course so hard Sven regards it with wary respect, so hard that it pushes the limits of a sport that is about pushing limits. Why? well for one it only has two directions, straight up or straight down. Second there is very few places on the course where you aren't going all out. Thirdly the mud takes away what little control you have on the sheer drop-offs and off-cambers. And finally Namur boasts one of the longest and steepest run ups in 'Cross just to makes sure you're hurting enough. Doing EuroCamp for the second time is a great opportunity for me to do Belgian courses that I am familiar with. It is a big difference jumping on a course knowing what to expect, especially when what you expect is insanity on and off the bike.
The morning of Namur Geoff woke Gavin, Lance, Cooper, Peter, Austin, and myself up at 5:15 in order to make the half hour drive over to the course in time for pre-riding and warm up for our 10:00 race. Of course in Belgium, the sun doesn't rise until about 8:00, so we were pre-riding in the dark. Other than a few switch-backs added in and thinner, more slippery mud the course was pretty much the same as last year. It was really fun doing the course and being able to feel how much I have improved. both technically and physically from last year.
There was a rather large pile up just 100 meters into the race that affected all of the American juniors, some worse than others with Cooper getting the worst of it, breaking his front wheel. After being delayed for an agonizingly long ten seconds, I started to work my way back up through the ranks, going back and forth with my team mate Gavin. Two and a half laps in I was getting back in my groove other and picking off riders bit by bit when I made that one tiny mistake. A rider swept out my front wheel and I caught myself on my hands for a nice covering of slick mud... instead of wiping it off on my shorts, I shook the bulk of it off and resumed racing normally, leaving a slippery film on my hands. a few minutes later I took the same risky line down an already steep and dangerous hill that I had both laps before, only this time my hands slipped off my drops, throwing my weight forward violently and catapulting me into a front flip from which I land my left shoulder blade straight onto a root. I rolled several times down the hill bruising and cutting up my legs.
After the initial shock of the pain, my first thought was to grab my bike and pull it out any oncoming riders who might hit it and crash as well. Then I moved my shoulder and felt that something was definitely out of place. I moved my arm around to make sure that nothing was broken, jumped on my bike, and started riding the course with one arm on the bars and the other on my chest. It was one of the more painful races of my life and I'll be the first one to admit I cried a bit... but dropping out of a World cup willingly was out of the question. I made it till one to go before the officials pulled me.
On a much brighter note, today all the EuroCrossCamp kids and I had the honor of getting a Q & A session with the world champion Sven Nys. Meeting him in person was a great experience and all of of got to ask arguably the greatest 'Cross racer of all time any question we wanted. He is the embodiment of a true champion. Confident, Humble, and disciplined... I learned a lot from him in just half an hour. Big thanks goes out to Geoff for arranging this and Sven for taking the time out of a very busy schedule to talk to a bunch of aspiring American kids.
Despite the nasty crash (which I am healing up from very fast) ruining what would have been a great race for me, I feel more motivated than ever and very happy to be here. I will return to the next race, hungry for more...