As I write this I’m sitting on an airplane on route to Belgium. Heading to Europe is always a daunting prospect. On top of the logistical challenges, the travel, the cost, there’s also the knowledge that you need to be riding at your absolute best to make an impact on the races. Racing in Europe takes everything from you. You can go from challenging for the podium in North America to struggling to finish on the lead lap overseas. Not only are the courses more challenging, but the level of competition is so much greater.
It can be difficult to find your place in that world. It seems that far too often the story of the Belgian bound North American goes something like this:
You decided to go to Europe, you’re jet legged, you’re racing against people you’ve only ever seen before on TV, you’re racing twice per weekend on the most physically and technically challenging tracks you’ve ever seen, you’re tired, you get pulled over and over again before the race is done, you get sad and doubt your abilities, you eat too much Belgium chocolate and don’t train enough, you go slower, you go home sad and disappointed about your trip. Maybe you go back, maybe not.
That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the rather of it is that Belgium is hard. Being away from home and in a different timezone is hard. Being in a new culture is hard. Being away from friends and family is hard. Racing on these heavy tracks against the best rides in the world is hard.
With that in mind, my strategy for this trip as been to make it as easy as possible for myself. One way Im doing that is by staying at the Chainstay in Oudenaarde. While their might be cheaper or fancier places out there, I’m familiar with the Chainstay, comfortable with the Gregg and Holly who run it, have fond memories there from last year, and know the road in the area. The other way I’m try to make this trip easy on myself is by doing a race schedule that gives me time to rest, train and, most importantly, is light on travel. It’s as follows:
January 14- Rapencross (B Race)
January 22 - Hoogerheide (WC)
January 29 - Bieles (WK)
February 1 - Maldegem (C2)
February 5- Lille (C1)
February 6 - Hoogstraten (C1)
The noticeable omissions is the Fiuggi World Cup in Italy on January 14th. While racing a World Cup is tempting, Fiuggi is 1600km away from my Belgian base in Oudenaarde. Could I have raced the Italian World Cup and been fine? I don’t know, but I do know that I didn’t feel it was worth the risk. To get sick or even having a bad experience in Rome because of jet leg would have completely set my trip off on the wrong foot. As bizarre as it sounds to call a World Cup insignificant, compared to my ambitions at the World Championships it is just that. After a lot of humming and hawing, I decided it simply wasn’t worth the logistical stress, missing more training because of travel, the risk of getting sick, and the extra cost to do Fiuggi World Cup.
Instead, I’ve opted to race a local ‘B’ race on the 14th called Rapencross. On top of being only a 40 minute drive from where I’m staying, the level of competition will be significantly lower than a World Cup and, with that, give me a chance to get over jetleg, ease back into racing, and build my confidence after a month without pinning number onto my skinsuit.
The rest of my schedule is fairly self explanatory. I’ve opted to stay the week following the World Championships to race Maldegem on Wednesday, Lille on Saturday, and Hoogstraten on Sunday. More than anything else, staying a little later is a really cost effective way to get some more Belgian racing in. Not only can I race three times in a week, but I was able to get start money for Lille and Hoogstraten. While I’m certainly not going to get rich (or make money once my bills are paid), a couple hundred euros certainly helps pay for accommodations, gas, and mechanics and racing another weekend seems like a good way to make use of the form I’ll have after peaking for Worlds.
Thanks for reading! I’ll be posting another one of these following my race this weekend. In the meantime, feel free to follow along on my day-to-to adventures by following me @mvdhcyclocross on Instagram and Facebook.