So you want to race in Europe (or at least you want to know about how I did it).
Step one: Listen to everything everyone says about it. This will make it easier.
Step two: Make sure you are surrounded by people who are concerned about you and your relative competency and thus will ensure that every single detail is accounted for.
Step three: Be able to be relaxed and go with the flow.
Step four: Just do it.
Why step one? Here are some things I have heard about what this would be like:
The weather is dreadful. Trust no one. People will take advantage of you. The food is bad. Nothing is ever open. The places to stay are terrible. The spectators are rude. The crowds will boo you and push the course tape (ropes) into you. There are a lot of creepy men. The courses are absolutely terrifying. The racers are cut-throat. The jet-lag and travel is exhausting.
Most people agreed I was ready for the trip over and some commented I would love it, but for the most part, these are things told to me by many people that formed my expectations. Who said this? Let’s just say that some are the most prominent in American cyclocross. And let me tell you what, if that is what you expect then the trip could go A) poorly and meet expectations or B) smoothly and highly exceed expectations. Guess what. I had experience B.
See Appendix for more detail.
How to accomplish step two: The Amy D Foundation currently doesn’t have a strong “base” for developing riders out in Belgium, so I enlisted the help of Gregg Germer at the Chainstay on the suggestion of my coach, Kyle Wolfe. Gregg runs a house in Oudenaarde that caters to cyclists. He supplied me with everything: Picked me up from the airport, took me to a grocery store (and helped me navigate the strange packaging), supplied me with a room, bed, linens, bathroom, kitchen, the whole deal. He also helped me figure out which races I should go to, how to register, and planned my days: when to leave, when pre-ride was, when my race was. He drove me to and from the races, and was my mechanic while I was there. He also kept everyone updated LIVE from the races via Twitter. When I podiumed, he even wiped my freaking legs clean and told me when to go up onto the stage. Shit. I better not harp on how much he did or he may raise his rates on me!!!
That covered pretty much all the bases, but just in case that wasn’t enough, Nick introduced me to Franky, Jon Page’s Belgian mechanic, who offered me his services as well while I was there. Drew (Stan’s NoTubes mechanic) also set me up with a goody-bag of supplies in case my bikes had a problem and introduced me to a few people who would be over there for Valkenburg just in case I needed more help. My mom paid to enable my cell phone over there so I had that kind little safety net. Oh, yea, and Nick managed to make it out for my last weekend there and was able to bring a few last-minute items I forgot and ended up needing for Boom and Valkenburg!
So yea, the support system is kind of invaluable, and mine is maybe the best.
Step three. People always ask me: what do you have to do before a race? I always answer the same: I prefer to never have something I must do. There is a basic structure that is necessary: eat, preride, pin numbers, warm-up. There is no special food, but I do prefer oatmeal. And I also love those bonus hotel pastries that I am sure I shouldn’t admit that I eat, but I usually eat one openly and then sneak a few more while no one is looking. (Shit. This explains the mid-season weight gains…). If I have raced the day before I like to do an hour spin in the morning before I ride the course. I like to go out onto the course for at least three laps, and I prefer to warm up on a trainer because that means I can do hard efforts in a controlled environment (not getting lost on the road or falling off of rollers).
Well, this trip, I did have my oatmeal, yay! I did 2 laps of Zonhoven, Ardooie, and Valkenburg and one of Niels Albert. I did no morning spin on any of these days, and for Zonhoven had to warm up on rollers (But then Gregg made a special adapter for my thru-axles so I could warm up on his (provided) trainers! THANKS SO MUCH!!!). So, for my first European world cup, I had to sit there and see everyone posting about preriding the course while I was lamenting my early morning to drive 2 hours to the course on the day of the race. If I didn’t have the glory of a podium to revel in, I may have let it get to me a little more, but for the most part I just tried to roll with it. We play the hand we are dealt, and my hand had been treating me pretty damn well this trip! No need for a routine meant I was able to roll with the flow.
Step four. Just do it. This one is self-explanatory, though now for me it is extending beyond the pulls of one race trip and towards the realm of focusing a season there. I can see why Amy became so infatuated.
The weather is dreadful. I was in Belgium for 10 days in mid-October. I had a few days of sun, a few of rain, and a few mixed. The damp is cold, but that’s why we wear layers, no?
Trust no one. People will take advantage of you. I had my support system and trusted vetted individuals. So far, I have not been burned.
The food is bad. I really only ate food from the grocery, which sold essentially everything I have ever wanted here in the US. I also ate some delicious sugary waffles, and some venue fries with mayo (these were underwhelming) and a weird looking Brat. It was venue food.
Nothing is ever open. This is true. It is a good thing I am a Hermit by nature.
The places to stay are terrible. Not the Chainstay!
The spectators are rude. Seriously, a ton knew my name, and they all cheered. Maybe not ALL, but there was a lot of cheering! And helpful comments as I was preriding (Okay I couldn’t understand them, but I just pretended they were being nice).
The crowds will boo you and push the course tape (ropes) into you. This literally didn’t happen. I did see one guy pull the ropes OUT though. OUT. Not IN.
There are a lot of creepy men. Agreed, but where are there not creepy men?
The courses are absolutely terrifying. This is true to some level. I only saw 4 courses and I know there are a few that are a lot gnarlier than what I saw, but I think the US is doing a good job of amping up the “oh-shit” factor of courses, and I have been preparing for this level of technical riding, so I hit everything with confidence (or at least I pretended I was).
The racers are cut-throat. Absolutely true, but they were mostly still smiles and hand shakes afterwards. But not before, like on our fun US start-lines.
The jet-lag and travel is exhausting. I am writing this blog on the plane ride home. So far it hasn’t been too bad, but the return is usually more brutal for me. Undecided here. (*update, I have slept ten hours for the past 2 nights and I think the jet-lag has been beat! Hooray!)