It’s Like America, but Different

  • The trip: December 13 – December 29
  • The races: World Cup Namur (pl 34), Waaslandcross (pl 17), World Cup Zolder (pl 31), Azencross at Loenhout (pl. 18)
  • The conclusion: Not quite what I had hoped, yet more than I expected.

One of my biggest failings this season is that I did not set any goals. The only rule I set for myself was that I would not do the Christmas block. When I saw how the season was going, I went for broke and did just that with my only rule: broke it. In fairness, I didn’t do ALL of the races, I am leaving with enough time to be home for a week before I leave again (to go to US Nationals in Reno, NV).

After a great race in Zeven I had proven to myself that I can ride where I want to  in the race (towards the front), it just took a freak start crash to get me there. This time over, my world cup results don’t look stellar, but I am so happy I made the trip. I keep learning new skills, conquering new fears, and when looking at results I realize that we have added about 5 women to the front of the group including Voss, Prevot, Neff, Brand. This women know how to bike race.

But here, I want to less make excuses and more walk you through what the logistics are like for a racer like me in Europe. It’s just like in America, only different.

Sunshine at Loenhout. Photo by Hans van der Maarel

Getting There. First and foremost, let me tell you how absolutely disgusted I am that I have flown SO MUCH this past year and have no status to show for it. I have no airline loyalty, and I always get the cheapest ticket level so they never award any points. For this trip, however, I spent so much on my new team credit card this season that I got the bonus points so this ticket was FREE, BABY! (Note, that if I had exchanged my points for cash I would have $1300. Instead I have a round trip flight that includes this 5 hour layover in Dublin where I am writing this from – at a crowded bar where despite being 10AM there is a table of men with 2-3 pints of Guinness each.) I’ve learned the important layovers to leave long, the best day to leave, and how to work baggage to the best of my advantage.

So, USAC must help a ton, right? Wrong. USA Cycling only provides support to those who pay for the camp experience, mostly Juniors and U23s. I literally don’t even know if elites can do it. Granted, taking on a potential 16 extra people would be a huge undertaking even if they charged $$, so it is not surprising it is a hard no. The only thing USAC provides for elites in Europe is supplying someone for number pickup at select World Cup races (in addition to registration). Though this year I have had more pleasurable experiences when encountering USAC at the venues. They have been willing to offer tools  I have forgotten, and Geoff Proctor even noticed my bike was not in the pits for Zolder and held some worry. He also said hello on multiple occasions, and I also got some smiles from the mechanics. I wanted to set the record straight for all of those people thinking this is plug and chug.

What does one do for mechanic support!? Cannondale and Aspire teams fly out (or locally contract) a whole crew. Katie Compton has Mark and her support system developed over her essential decades of racing there (or just the one). Last year I relied on Gregg Germer and the Chainstay. My last trip over I brought Drew. I was a total Diva, being able to fly an extra body across the ocean and house him so that he could stand in the pits for 2 hours. Holy shit now that I think about it…..

Something tells me I need a professional bike cleaner.

This trip, I could not afford TWO $1300 tickets, so I had to look for ground support there. Gregg was able to be at Namur and Waaslandcross to pit for me-Yay; I did not want to trust a total stranger with my bikes, especially at a World Cup. Though this trip showed me that a lot of these total stranger Belgies are not men in vans with tinted windows offering candy, but instead, are weirdos who don’t mind being cold and dirty in the name of cyclocross. For Zolder and Loenhout, I had an interesting situation. Team Canada (that’s right, America’s hat.) had flown out MY MECHANIC to wrench for THEIR national team. In true Canadian hospitality, they allowed for Drew to wrench my bike as well! Which meant that for the world cup, my bike was in the Canadian pits, and for Loenhout, I parked with Canada. Regarding parking: there are always areas for athlete parking, but most times you need a pass to get in, and often my pass is INSIDE of the gate. Insert skills here.

Sleeping (not around). A lot of air bnbs. Only one logistical fail in which I was left without lodging for a night. Again, I really need to fire this team manager.

Living out of small air bnbs and having to clean up after this is not fun.
Photo by Hans van der Maarel

Interesting turn of events! Before I left, I was contacted by American Classic rider Jen Malik who was inquiring how this whole Europe thing works and asked for floor space. I was happy to not have to be completely alone for over two weeks, and my air bnbs all had adequate room for another body, but my car did not have room for more bikes. In the name of cheapness (my team manager is a real tight-ass) we decided to stay with the Opel and not double the rental cost for a larger car. Tetris championships, here we come. To get around all of our stuff not fitting in the car, our 1st air bnb owner stored our bike boxes for us while we moved uptown in Namur. After the race at Namur, we picked up the cases and drove them to Hasselt where they would be stored until Jen left after Zolder. A bonus on that trip was the two of getting to see Star Wars! Despite the ever-distracting subtitles and overindulgence of popcorn and candy, it was a great choice. And best of all, from then on, we just had to fit 2-3 bikes and 2-4 sets of wheels in the car for the rest of the trip! It was nice to split costs and have a companion for most of the trip.

This was Jen’s first time over to Euroland, so I got to show her what little bit of the ropes that I know: navigating grocery stores, registering for non world cup events, navigating venues and forcing your way in when you don’t yet have your pass, and how to do nothing but your rides, grocery shop, and lay around.

While I was able to help someone new, in turn I needed help myself. Despite using the pre-reg site multiple times that trip, I somehow spaced on registering for Loenhout, until 4AM the day before the race. I awoke with a start, checked the site, and found registration locked. Though, Katie Compton and Helen Wyman both reassured me that there was an avenue to register day-of. Praise be. I am happy that fellow racers/cross family are so willing to help out and are understanding. You don’t need to run a development team to help development, guys. You just need to be understanding human beings, helping people when they drop the ball figuring out something new (or even helping them to keep the ball afloat when you see a snafu coming!)

Photo by Hans van der Maarel

With all of this drama of logistics, we still have to race. In the US I have a great support network and am able to test a lot of elements leading up to the race. In Europe, however, not only do I lack dedicated mechanics, but I don’t even have a uniform method of transporting or storing equipment. Or even registering, as just shown. I showed up to Waaslandcross with no extra tires. I would have loved to have run the Maxxis Speed Terranes, but they were in a van that was not at the race, so I raced the All Terranes; a lot of tread through deep, soggy sand. I thought far enough ahead to get my bikes from two different places to the race, but I didn’t think to grab my spare tires. The one down side to tubeless: traveling light makes it easy to forget the small bag of tires as opposed to huge bags of spare wheels!

This year I made the travel work for my budget and experience, but next year I will need a more uniform method of transporting and storing equipment. I need to eliminate the fear of forgetting something squirreled away in a place I don’t have access to. I need to streamline getting equipment from race to race. I need to get a tool roll to travel with and be willing to pay the overweight charge instead of literally stripping down everything I own to cut kgs just for baggage weight!

With each trip over to Europe I learn more about the courses and logistics themselves. I know what I need to do to push to that higher level, I just need to do it! Maybe it will require being a little more demanding at the venue, risking putting someone out, and maybe just carrying more with me in my personal vehicle and checking more luggage.

This is sport not done for the glitz and glamour, but for the love of sport. Hopefully one day we will have glamour, but until then I will let the sponsors be my glitz, and take the time to do it right.

Take solace in the pavement.
Photo by Hans van der Maarel

BUT NOW THE SHIT YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW – OMG NAMUR IS CRAZY! The start straight. It looks like a hill on TV, right? It is literally a mountain. My 36 – 28 gearing was not enough. I was looking down hoping for more gears. While I was still in shock as to what was happening to me, 30 seconds into the race, I get passed by the 2 mountain bikers we are all so impressed with, Pauline and Jolanda. After the hell of the hill I had to run most elements in that first lap: the left-hand turn up the curb, the steep drop after the run-up, and the well-known off camber ruts section. (Fun fact. I did an impressive superman over TWO ROWS of fencing when my wheel went awry on this iconic section in preride). That course is up, and then it is down. Then it goes up again just to be sure. When I found I was well outside of the top 20, I lost my fight. It was all I could do just to ride! I didn’t know how hard I could push on the ups and still have my wits about me to survive the downs. I had some battles, but I never perform well off the plane and the course bested me, so I rolled in a deep 34th with no crashes worthy of the live feed – a win on a course that may would say “is not a course for me”. Whatever that means.

The offcamber ruts of Namur. Photo by Peter Geelen

World Cup Zolder is a lot harder than it looks on TV. The sand is tricky, there are a lot of roots, and everything is a bit steeper than it looks. And the damp but not muddy conditions allowed for HELLA brake bumps to form on the descents. I ran about 22 PSI on the Maxxis All Terranes. I needed the tread to make the climbs (that actually ended up being runs come race-time anyways. Thanks, traffic) and stick the fast turns, and the higher pressure guarded against flats in the very rooty course that held a lot of pavement and transitions. The first lap was riddled with crashes, and instead of charging when I saw a gap, I took moments to be happy I was still upright. I think I think too much. But, the course flowed well, and I tried to race when I could, even if it led to me being much less smooth than I would have hoped. I need to stop staring at roots and ruts and just looking THROUGH them. Shout out to Helen Wyman who stayed back with me just to make me feel like a dick when I sprinted passed only to screw up the next element and have her float back passed me.

In contrast to Namur and Zolder were Waaslandcross and Loenhout. The first was a wet sand course, very simple, and the latter is a fun course that was sloppy muddy. I ran as low at 18 PSI at Loenhout, again on the All Terrane tires.

You think Waaslandcross had some sand?
Photo by Hans van der Maarel

Most of these photos were provided by Hans van der Maarel of Red Geographics, the mapping company that is a sponsor this season! Happy to catch up with him face-to-face! I also love that he is not an industry sponsor, because it is proof that good sponsorship is often about good people, and belief in the sport. Hashtag sponsorship. Hashtag if you need a mapping project or otherwise, reach out to Hans.

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