Now that I am back to the United States, I wanted to take a look back on my travels and reflect on some of the things that I encountered while I was there.
When people heard that I was going to Belgium, they warned me about how mentally taxing it would be and assured me that I’d get lapped at every single race. Now that I’m back, I can say with 100% certainty that I never got mentally down on myself to the point that I wanted to stop racing. I know what my level of racing is in the U.S. and I now fully understand how far away the top of the field is from my current abilities. I can also say that without the support system that I have in Western Massachusetts, my experience over there would not have been as positive. Jeremy Powers, Alec Donahue and Mukunda Feldman have been the best support team I could have asked for.
These guys have so much experience in understanding what it takes to go over to Belgium and compete. Jeremy gave me countless tips on how to prepare and what to expect. I also talked to Adam Myerson about what it takes, because he was one of the first to go to Europe and compete. All of the knowledge passed on to me was stuff that these guys had to figure out through trial and error. Without going into great detail, these helpful details included equipment prep, airport travel, information about everyday life in Belgium, mental preparation (this was the biggest), specifics on how to race and the list goes on and on and on. Long story short, this trip never would have happened without my support system.
It was interesting to have the experiences and stories from people who had raced in Europe to compare to my own. My first experience in Europe was a lot different than Adam Myerson’s first experience there. In fact, I think it was the complete opposite. I was as prepared as I possibly could have been heading over to compete. I had all of the equipment, the logistics were all set and I had friendly people to stay with while I was over there in a foreign country. Through the connections that Powers and all of the other Americans had worked to make over the past 20 years, I was incredibly comfortable in what would normally be an uncomfortable environment!
Now that it’s over, I can say that traveling to Europe to race was the best decision I have ever made. Not only did racing the hardest courses in the world make me a better bike rider, it was most definitely the coolest life experience I have had in my 23 years on this earth. For two months of my life I got to live 100% like a professional cyclist. The only thing I had to worry about was getting 8 hours of sleep, training hard and eating properly. This was all made relatively easy by the fact that you’re completely focused on training and racing. You don’t have to set an alarm and head to work every morning. While traveling I only had to set an alarm on race days, and that was to just make sure that I got into the van in time to drive an easy hour to the races. It’s not until you are 100% focused on something that you realize how much better you can be.
EATING properly was very difficult. There were waffles, frites, Speculoos on everything, croquettes, endless pastries and cappuccinos, copious amounts of beer and wine, etc., etc. Luckily, I didn’t gain much weight. Maybe 1 kilo at the most, but that is pretty good considering all the new tasty treats that were all around me!
Racing was obviously the main event for me over there, and man did I learn a thing or two racing with the best! The starts are way faster, the courses scarier and more technical, the riders are more aggressive and the pressure is high with the crowds watching. The first two races I did had to be the two hardest races I have ever done in my life, Scheldacross and Overijse. I learned at Scheldacross that Belgian style races are unrelenting. From the start you are shooting through slippery off camber mud sections, then going through a super hard power section that goes straight into the most technical sand you have ever seen. I could barely ride half of the distance in the sand that the top guys were, and they were riding sections that I didn’t even think possible. After the sand, you fly into pavement and then you have a 25 step run up to a sandy descent. Next you are coming straight back up that same hill in the sand. It was the most physically demanding experience I could ever have imagined. I learned very quickly how to ride the sand better, run faster, control myself in slick off camber mud, and then do it all over again the next day at the “mother of cross races”, Overijse.
Now that I have “been there, done that,” I can look back on what I need to improve on and think about my future plans. The number one thing that I’ve noticed is that I need to work on my core fitness and running. These races are so much more physically demanding than the U.S. races, and at the end of a race weekend in Belgium I had to take Monday to fully recuperate from what felt like getting punched in the lower back and abdominal region a thousand times! Conserving energy is another big thing to work on. I realize I don’t have the same power as the top guys do, so learning to be faster through corners by carrying more speed, and knowing when to go hard and when to go easy is very important if you want to be competitive. Also, a huge improvement to my results in Europe would come from having a full time mechanic making sure that everything was working properly at every race!! The conditions absolutely KILL your bike by ruining your shifting, the bottom brackets and the brakes. My mechanic skills are very limited, and that’s an understatement!
The plan for me and my cyclocross career is to come into the 2012-2013 U.S. season swinging hard. I will be getting on the cross bike earlier this year and really practicing my skills and working on technique. After racing the hardest courses and becoming aware of my weaknesses, I know what I need to work on. My core will be ready for next season, my fitness will be the best it’s ever been, my technique will be better than ever and I will be hungrier than ever to show New England that I’m here to throw down and win races. I am confident that I will take a step up this next season and consistently be competing for podium spots.
So basically, this trip was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had in my life. The people that I stayed with became some good friends of mine; Andy Hargroves, Luke Grey, Craig Richey, James Spragg, Margriet Kloppenburg and of course Gabby Day. We had a lot of fun times together during training rides, cafe hangouts, visits to other cities, bowling nights and movie nights. I had the best time ever with these people. I had the pleasure of hosting Craig Richey and Gabby Day, of The Chainstay team, while they were racing in the U.S. Gabby and I got along really well while she was in the U.S. and I was really excited to spend more time with her in Belgium. Turns out we get along swimmingly and she will now be coming to visit me in the US in March and I couldn’t be more excited. So if all else failed while in Belgium, at least I was able to get the girl! And it’s pretty awesome because as it turns out, she is a British Cyclocross Rock Star and had the best season of her life. So we will now commence superstar Cyclocross couple, except I just have to get a little faster!
So with that, 2 months have gone by. I have visited 5 new countries, learned a lot about bike racing, learned a lot about myself, and I am very excited for the year to come. Things are good now, and I have a lot more fun life experiences under my belt. There have been so many people that have helped me along the way to make this trip happen and I want to thank you all very much! Look for my road race blogs to come. The season starts in about 6 weeks and team camp is coming up soon. Lots of exciting things happening!
Here are a few pics from my trip: