...the cows, they are so big in Belgium, they MUST be on something…
Now back to what I was originally going to write about, my trip to Europe with the US Junior National team. I set off to Europe on a Monday morning. The travel day went as smoothly and hassle-free as possible. All was good as I arrived in beautiful, sunny, warm Brussels. It even said gullible on the ceiling of the airport! In all seriousness, it was a typical Belgian day, cold, wet and cloudy. I met up with other juniors that had been invited on the trip. Dean Haas, my friend and teammate from Team Specialized, Ben Wolfe from one of the states on the east coast that isn’t New York so I could never remember it, Austin Boswell from a place where they shoot animals to feed themselves (Bend OR), Eric Volotzky from one of those small cities by LA that isn’t LA and where there are always wildfires, and Kristo Jorgenson from that place up north where they grow potatoes (Boise ID).
Now that we know who I spent nearly three weeks living and sleeping with, let me tell you how the actual trip was. Racing in Europe is literally having someone else’s’ handlebars brushing up your hind side and a crash/some kind of traffic furniture/attack/150 guys in front of you at all times. Sounds fun!
The first race we started was “3 Ettapen de Rundfarht”. This was started off with an 8km time trial through a park near Frankfurt. With 3 turnarounds and 5 turns, this sure seemed like a tough little course. I finished around 50th on the day. Not very satisfied, I was greatly looking forward to the next day, a 113km road race with approximately 5,000 feet of climbing. (I must have overlooked the climbing part to be so excited about it). Unfortunately that was not a fantastic day for me either; I got dropped going over the cat. 1 climb around half way through and rolled into the finish with a gruppetto. Now would again be a good time to state that gruppettos are not really easy. In order to make time cut, we non-climbers still have to go pretty hard throughout the remainder of the stage. Now to the final stage, a 100km or so out and back road race with only two cat. 3 climbs, not too bad, except for the rain. By that time, I started to get acclimated to the feeling of racing in Europe I sat pretty well that day and finished with the pack.
The second race we did was “Driedegaase van Axel”. Another 3 day race, this time in Holland, with testing factors such as cobbles, massive crosswinds and extremely narrow roads. Excited about racing in such conditions that would suite my strengths more as a “rouleur”, I readied myself for stage one, a hectic 120 kilometers with six sections of cobblestones, the first one coming just within 8 kilometers of the beginning. I finished in the top 60 on that day, unsatisfied again but it was an improvement. Unfortunately, that day had taken a lot out of me and I never felt as sharp or fresh the remainder of the stages.
In the end I was proud of being able to race at such high level races in Europe and being given the opportunity to do so was exceptional. The amount you are forced to self-teach while racing in such tough, fast and arduous races is second to none. I am able to bring all the knowledge back here to the United States, and with nationals just around the corner, I could not feel anymore ready to succeed. Hopefully I will be given more opportunities to keep moving up in the cycling scene and return to my home continent in the near future.
Finally, I would like to give a huge thank you to everyone who helped make this trip possible and ran it as smooth as possible. Ben Sharp for giving me the opportunity to race in Europe, Viggo (soigneur) for always being there at the races and around the house for just about anything we needed including massages! Aaron Fairley and Andrew Haggerty for being great mechanics and van drivers, and Nicole for making us some incredible meals while we were at the house! At last but not least, I would like to recognize Billy Innes. The amount of work and time he put in the make sure everything went perfectly and all of us need not to worry about a thing was amazing. Even when we ran into trouble that was out of everyone’s control (top secret story, will divulge in return for money) he kept his cool and still managed to get us to the race almost seamlessly.
Thanks for reading!