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It seems like every day in Belgium brings a new awesome experience. This is by far the best trip across the pond. A huge thanks goes out to Elicia and Matt for being awesome and making all this possible! Racing cross in Belgium is almost surreal. The fans are so into it…asking for autographs, taking photos, and cheering for their favorite riders. Living in the Belgian countryside for 10 days is just as exciting.

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Beer and Frites to celebrate a great trip to Belgium

 

My last post left off just before my radio interview w/ Antwerpen FM. This definitely doesn’t happen in the US. My friend Geert who was a fan from 2010 made it happen. We talked about my Belgian race schedule, what I had done in the US for the last 5 years, and of course the cross beard. He called me a cross ‘culthero’ in Belgium! Ha! As of now I haven’t heard the broadcast. When listening to Belgian radio it just kind of blends into a white noise until all the sudden you here ‘Come On Eileen’ while you are grocery shopping, ‘Back To The Future’ as you are driving to the race, or the race recap as you are driving home. Whenever you hear something you understand on the radio it definitely feels like a Belgian Moment.

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Geert from Antwerpen FM Radio!

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Denis and Jo – My hired Belgie help for Valkenburg and Zonhoven were dialed!

 

The Valkenburg World Cup was the 2nd race on my schedule and it was a tough one. The course is set up on the hill side of the legendary Cauberg Climb which is the finish of the Amstel Gold Race. It’s also been featured at the Tour, the Vuelta, and World Champs. The track was steep and the prior weeks rain had made it slippery. The most challenging feature was a 100meter run up. I suffered on the day and didn’t feel good. I struggled technically in riding the deep mud ruts and had no legs for the climbs. As a coach I’m always trying to analyze why things happen, travel? hydration? jet lag? confidence? but in the end you just need to chalk it up to a bad day and go back to training.  It was so impressive that fellow Wisconsinite Kaitie Antonneau. scored a 2nd place!!! I’m so happy for her. I remember when Katie and Andrea battled it out in WORS many years ago.

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I had a great start in Valkenburg and went backwards the rest of the day.

Making the trainings has been just as cool as racing over here. Enjoying the process….and when you get to go train w/ the best in the world its pretty enjoyable! Shriver has been getting the invite to go train w/ Sven Nys and Sven Vanthourenhout for the past few weeks and finally we took advantage of it…..what an experience. Sven’s coach Paul and manager Jan were on hand as well. At one point after 5 ‘running’ repeats up a long sandy grade Sven turned and smiled and said ‘this is what I do for 20 years!’ It wasn’t actually ‘running’ it was a full on sprint w/ bikes on the shoulder, kinda like when Gordy is running away from Chopper in the junkyard scene in the movie Stand By Me…sprinting like your life is on the line! It was a great day of ripping around on the Boones like they were Top Fuel and doing race specific cross training. The next day Shriver and I were so sore from running, but we did manage a nice 3 hours down to Oudenaarde to hit the Koppenburg and enjoy the fall colors.

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Sven, Matt, Myself, and Sven – After a great day of cross practice and some classic American/Belgian moments!

 

Next up was Zonhoven, the race I was looking forward to the most, and the famous sand pit! 40,000 spectators in a natural amphitheater of sand! The pit was actually dug to construct a nearby HWY. Less than one minute into the race you made a left hand turn, did a 2 foot drop off into the sand and then shot down the famous dune. Only to ride straight across the bottom and go up the other side. You made a right turn coming up out of the bowl pedaled across the top and ‘dropped’ in again. Dropped in equals another 2ft drop into a huge sand rut….then you surf down make a 90 degree left and run straight back up. The 2nd run is so steep you need to use the rope from the banner to help you climb! I did a full warm up lap w/ the GoPro, Check it out…..not only is there sand in the pit but virtually the entire way around the track. I finished 26th and had a much better race than Valkenburg, but it was the experience I was after….and the roar of the crowd on the first lap thru the pit was something I’ll never forget.

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Riding ‘De Kuil’ in Zonhoven was unlike anything else. Experience of a lifetime. Photo Credit: Dan Seaton – Velonews

Belgian cross fun fact….I did three races, one I felt good, one bad, and one normal. I used all three options of tire tread. Mediums for the high speed bumpy course in Ardooie, Mud’s for the slippery off cambers in Valkenburg, and File Treads aka Sand Tires for Zonhoven. In all 3 races there was not a single set of barriers yet I ran more than I’ll run for the entire season in the US.

We finished the trip last night was a really cool World War 1 history trip to the small village of Ypres. We watched the Last Post memorial ceremony at the Menin Gate. Honoring those who died in the war, but who have no known grave. It was pretty somber, and had me feeling pretty lucky that my battles in the field are just in circles on my bike.

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Cloth Hall was one of the few buildings that remained standing during the First War in the many battles in Ypres. Now it acts as the In Flanders Fields Museum

Time for one more ride and then a trip home. Pumped to see Elmer!