Editor’s note: Dan Seaton has been literally crawling through the Belgian mud covering European cyclocross since 2008. Each week this season he’ll look ahead to the weekend’s races and answer your questions about ’cross on the other side of the Atlantic. Got a question for your favorite Euro star? Want to know the inside story about the legendary Flemish fields? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Emails to this address were being bounced earlier this fall, so if you tried to email and didn’t hear back, please do try again.
BRUSSELS (VN) — As if two of the most spectacular World Cup races in recent memory and perhaps the most exciting finish of any race this season, in Essen on Saturday, weren’t enough, in the next few days we’re going to go again, and again, and again. Friday brings us one of the most popular bike races in the world, a bpost Bank Trofee race in Loenhout, Sunday we get an urban night race on the outskirts of the Belgian capital of Brussels with the Superprestige in Diegem, and in Belgium we’ll ring in the new year with Sven Nys’ own race in his hometown of Baal.
Among the men, all of these races — with, perhaps, the exception of Baal, where he is nearly invincible — present new opportunities for riders to unseat Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony). The Belgian champ’s dominance ebbed in Essen and Namur last weekend, but he reestablished himself as the favorite with a dramatic win in a hard fought duel with the increasingly frustrated Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) on Wednesday at the Zolder World Cup.
Among the women, meanwhile, expect battles between recently returned Marianne Vos (Rabobank) and World Cup leader Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective), as the two face off in a punch-for-punch battle leading toward the world championships in Louisville, Kentucky, now barely more than a month away. In Zolder, Vos tapped Compton as the favorite for the world title, but she will certainly not sit back and let her American rival walk away with it, and sparks are likely to fly between the two in the days ahead.
With a troop of Americans in Belgium for training and as participants in the EuroCrossCamp, there will be plenty of familiar faces out on course. Among the names to watch in the coming week will be Jonathan Page, Meredith Miller (Cal Giant-Specialized), Crystal Anthony (Cyclocrossworld.com), Andrea Smith (Ladiesfirst), Christine Vardaros (Baboco), Logan Owen and Justin Lindine (Redline). There are plenty more among the juniors and U23 racers toeing the line this week.
And perhaps the presence of so many Americans in Belgium this week is the reason that I’ve gotten so many questions about why more Americans haven’t opted to follow Page, Vardaros and Amy Dombroski (Telenet-Fidea) and race full-time in Europe. I thought that the question might be best answered by a successful American that has opted to focus on racing at home, and so I put it to U.S. national champion Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus). Powers, in fact, spent considerable time in Belgium in 2003, 2004 and 2005 before deciding to focus primarily on racing at home, so he knows a thing or two about the European racing life.
Here’s what he told me.
That’s a big question with a big answer.
First, the money has to be there. You can’t do it on $10,000. I have to move my whole family to Europe, and they have to live with me in Belgium and then we have to have a second place in Spain, because you can’t train everyday here. So it’s resources.
So, first, it’s money, then it’s, “can my sponsor pay to do that?” and then it’s, “can I get the contracts to actually do the races?” That’s a lesser thing, but you don’t want to come over here and do races for zero dollars just to say you did it when everybody around you is getting paid a lot. So you have to look at that too.
But it’s also that U.S. cyclocross is growing a lot and if I leave, what does that do to U.S. cyclocross? If I leave, does U.S. cyclocross stop being popular? Do people stop paying attention because there’s not as good a show to go see?
The style in Europe is also different. I train all the time for American races, and so I’m good at those. And not that I couldn’t train, that I couldn’t develop a skillset, that I couldn’t just run starting in August, but I haven’t. It’s not what I need to do to win in August, September, October and November (in the U.S.) and so we’re going to focus on the things that make racing at home easier, because that’s what I’m good at.
But there’s a formula. There’s a (way to do it). There’ll be one kid that will come along from the States who will just kick everyone’s ass, and he’ll figure it out, and he’ll teach me some things that I don’t know. And that will be great. But I don’t know who that will be.
But Powers also said that he thought American racers could gain much experience abroad and, through programs like the EuroCrossCamp, have reached new levels of success while still being able to focus on racing most of the time in front of their diehard home fans. Let’s give him the final word on the subject.
If you look at what Tim (Johnson) and Ryan (Trebon) and I and Jonathan (Page) did (in coming to Europe for longer stays), what I’d call the older guard — I’m 29 but I’m part of them, I was the youngest of that generation — I think we paved a lot of roads. Jonathan certainly did it in a different way by being (based in Europe), but we did it together.
As an example, in 2003 (when I was based in Belgium) — yeah, Jonathan was here, but I was the first guy who stayed here and was like, ‘ok, I’ll go! I’ll just stay here through worlds.’ I think that’s now become the norm.
My first race here was when I was 18 and now we have guys coming over here at 14 or 15, and that’s where you’re seeing progress, that extra four or five years of experience, of knowing what’s going on. So they just have a lot more knowledge now.
So things have changed a lot, and the gap has come down quite a bit, and I’m happy. That’s a great thing. That’s a good step in internationalizing the sport. It’s great to see that.