Sunday, February 10, 2013

Junior Cyclist Magazine Jan/Feb: "Battling it out in Belgium"

Jan/Feb 2013, Cover Stories, Life Cycles: Your Stories

Battling it out in Belgium at the 2012 EuroCrossCamp

By Josey Weik   Thu, Feb 07, 2013
Josey Weik describes his experience at the prestigious EuroCrossCamp.
Battling it out in Belgium at the 2012 EuroCrossCamp
"Please fasten your seat belts, we are approaching Brussels" said our Pilot. I looked over at my friend David and said excitedly; "We're almost there!". He grinned back at me as I looked out the tiny little plane window. The air is foggy, but I could see rows upon rows of little brick houses dotting windy streets. We're in Belgium, the motherland of CycloCross. David Lombardo and I were there for the tenth annual EuroCrossCamp. This camp takes the best of the U.S. over to Belgium to race against the best of the world and learn what it really takes to become a professional 'Cross racer. Besides World Championships, there is little higher honor than this for an aspiring Junior. 

The foggy, slightly drizzling weather as we landed was a testament to the rest of our stay. Of the entire two weeks I was there, it rained everyday but three, and I only saw the sun twice. That may sound morose and depressing but it made great 'Cross weather. Out of the five races we did, all were muddy and three were the muddiest races I have ever done. As David and I worked our way through the Airport we ran into a surprising number of familiar faces. Other U.S. Juniors, fellow EuroCampers, and even Jeremy Powers himself! We met up with Jim (one of the EuroCrossCamp staff) and drove out to the facility everyone would be staying at. At the House I started to recognize faces, other Juniors I had competed with, and people I had met at races. 

To open up our legs after the long plane ride we pulled on our raincoats and went on a spin. The riding was fun, consisting of close, tight, windy roads, and bike paths with interesting sights and a fair amount of traffic. After we got back and dried off we settled into the routine that would define the rest of camp. If it was a non-race day we got up at eight 'o clock and ate breakfast. Then we got dressed and went on a ride. We came back and made sure our bikes were in working order, then took a shower, and ate lunch. After that, depending on the day, you're either responsible for the breakfast chores, the afternoon chores, the dinner chores, or it's your day off. After relaxing with your legs up, hanging out, napping, and playing pool for the rest of the day we ate dinner, attended the evening meeting, and went to bed.
On our first race day, Namur, the Juniors had to wake up at 5:15 AM in order to get to the race course -which was two hours away- with time to spare for pre-riding. Thank goodness, we got the opportunity to pre-ride! I don't think I can actually explain how utterly intense and terrifying the course at Namur was! The ground was almost always either pointing up, or straight down, and the mud was thick. Drops steep and muddy with corners at the bottom, one of the hills you would run (really it was more of a crawl because it was so steep) up one side, have a few feet to remount and then go back down the other side on an equally steep downhill. In addition to all of this, the mud was so deep and wet that we had hardly any brakes.

 I'll admit, when I lined up at the starting line I was pretty shaky. Between this being my first race in Belgium, not knowing how fast the compitition would be, starting last row, and wondering how fast I would have to go down the hills to keep up in the race I was pretty scared. My start suffered from this, and I was dead last off the gun. Soon however, the nerves melted away and I was just racing my bike in the mud. Once I got over how steep the downhills were I realized that if you just let go of your brakes and rode they really were not that bad. I started to really have fun as I figured out how to ride (and run) the course and moved up more and more. I ended up finishing 11th place, just a dropped chain away from the top ten. If you look at the results, Namur had the smallest field of any the races we did. Only 18 finishers, but what the results don't show is that 32 kids started the race. The race was so tough, half the people DNF'd.
Each race I did was totally different. While none of the courses quite had the fear factor of Namur, each was intense in it's own way. Beernem (15th out of 45) was tight and twisty, Loenhout (34th out of 60) was axle deep mud, Diegem (53rd out of 73) was the hilliest cross race I have ever done, and Baal (35th out of 60) was just pure brutality. I made many mistakes and learned something new each time I raced. I am very gratefull for what Geoff has done in providing American Cyclists with such a great opportunity. I had the time of my life in Belgium!

Photo credits to Tom Robertson

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