After a one-year hiatus, the Euro Cross Academy (ECA) returned to Belgium this week, with 10 junior riders from the United States embarking on a nearly three-week race to gain their first cyclo-cross experience. European.
Cyclingnews runs a blog from the camp, with runners contributing throughout their Belgian adventure and the ninth installment provided by 16-year-old Elsa Westenfelder. In the junior girls race in Namur, the teenager from Montana was the best of the United States in 26th place. For updates from the ECA, follow on Instagram: EuroCrossAcademyIG; Twitter: EuroCxAcademy and EuroCrossAcademy.com.
I imagine the cheers would have been deafening, like when Lucinda Brand’s name was originally called for the elite female Telenet Superprestige Heusden-Zolder. But with COVID regulations meaning no spectators, it was almost silent as 65 other names were called to the start line before mine in the junior race. As the UCI official announced two minutes before the start, the women around me slipped between the other riders, trying to climb as high as possible on the starting grid. I tensed, waiting for the lights to turn green.
And then we set off, fighting for position and trying not to fall as we flew into the first corner. A woman yelled at me in another language as I pushed her around, and it struck me again how different it is to run here than in the States. Two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have thought it necessary to touch her. But here in Belgium, especially in the elite peloton, every position counts, and friction is racing.
Racing with over 100 of the world’s fastest cyclocross racers has been one of the most surreal experiences of my cyclocross career so far. In the US I am used to racing in groups of 25 junior women or less, so moving to groups at least twice the size of the World Cups in Namur and Dendermonde was already a big change. . Running in the elite women’s peloton was another step, but having the opportunity to line up with the women I admired and watched on TV was unforgettable.
I can tell you these runners are even faster than they look on TV. The lessons are also a lot harder than they look, and I really enjoyed being able to test my skills on them against the best in the world. Being in Europe for the first time has been amazing, not to mention racing.
While it has been difficult and somewhat stressful to navigate the changing COVID regulations while trying to run, train and adjust to a new routine, I am very grateful to be here and to live this experience after the cancellation of the junior races in Europe last season.
In Zolder, I got shot with two laps to go. Here I learned that the results are not the most important part of the race, although they are a bonus. For my first trip to Belgium, I am here to learn and grow as a cyclocross racer, and I am very grateful that EuroCross Academy has given me the opportunity to do so and presents a vision that matches my goals. and my values.
I know my running experiences here will change the way I run in the US and my goals as the New Year approaches. I still have one race in Belgium (Baal, Sven Nys race) on New Year’s Day. I’m ready to give it my all and roll with what I’ve learned for next season.
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