This month marks the 10th year running that Geoff Proctor will lead a group of talented, young U.S. racers into the proverbial lion’s den that is elite-level cyclocross in Europe. Starting with the World Cup in Namur, Belgium, on December 23, EuroCrossCamp X will send nine promising juniors, six U23 riders and elite Justin Lindine on a whirlwind race slate that culminates with the World Cup in Rome on January 6.
Not all the riders will do all the races. But no matter the exact schedule, all the campers will glean valuable experience about what life is like at the sport’s highest level. And for the nine juniors, the camp will provide a chance to perform under pressure in hopes of earning one of the five start spots for the U.S. team that will host early February’s world cyclocross championship in Louisville, Kentucky.
VeloNews caught up with Proctor (whose other job is teaching high school English in Helena, Montana) just after the Trek U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross event in Bend, Oregon, to find out more about the upcoming camp, the campers, and his take on junior cyclocross development in the U.S.
VeloNews: How difficult is it to identify and then cultivate America’s best junior cyclocross racers?
Geoff Proctor: It’s very tough. We live in a big country. It’s not like everything is an hour-and-a-half away like Belgium to Switzerland. That makes it hard to get a lot of head-to-head information because not everyone can travel to places like Bend, which obviously is hard to get to for a lot of people. Then you have a situation where the kid from Boulder [Garrett Gerchar (Boulder Junior Cycling)] gets second and third in Bend and also did well at the Fort Collins USGP. But neither of those races are among the three that USA Cycling earmarked as the three weekends for worlds team selection. And he’s not going to the Europe camp. So we’ll just have to see how he goes at nationals. You get that a lot, where kids won’t race out of their region much and then show up at nationals.
VN: So where do things stand right now with the juniors vying for a worlds spot? Who is in? How many others are in the mix?
GP: Right now only two of the five spots are taken. That’s Logan Owen and Curtis White. Logan is a multi-time national champion in ’cross and he’s had three top fives this year in World Cup races already. So he’s automatically qualified for the team and is legitimately one of the stronger juniors in the world. Curtis has been 13th and 10th at World Cups, so he’s also one of the best guys. After that it’s really wide open. There are lots of guys I haven’t seen or who haven’t done all the selection races and aren’t headed to Europe. But they still deserve a fair shake. So I’d say there are probably 15 contenders that have at least a small shot at one of those last three worlds team spots.
VN: What are the economics involved with attending the camp? Is it subsidized at all? If not, what’s the cost?
GP: The camp is completely rider-funded so they have to come up with the funds to get themselves over there and come to my camp. Cost is $2,000 not including airfare, so it’s obviously not a cheap endeavor. But if you look at other summer camps it’s very comparable. And I am always amazed at the way money gets raised to help support these kids. There always seem to be some great fundraising efforts to back them. It’s all part of what I like to call the American ’cross ethos where we all try to help each other out.
VN: Besides the obvious race results what do you learn about these kids during the Europe camp?
GP: It’s all about seeing how they handle the conditions, the rubbing shoulders with the top guys in Europe. You really need to indoctrinate them and show them that this is where it’s at. You are exposing them to the conditions they will see at worlds, because you don’t want to just select kids for worlds so they get the experience. You want them to get that experience elsewhere so they are ready to perform when it comes time for worlds. Take someone like Danny Summerhill. He and I spent many a Christmas in Europe doing cyclocross. It’s not rocket science. It’s all about hard work and getting exposure to that level of racing.
VN: Talk about your role as it relates to selecting riders, be it for worlds or the upcoming World Cup in Zolder?
GP: I talk with [USA Cycling cyclocross director] Marc Gullickson all the time. We talked [the day after the Bend USGP]. He can take six juniors, but we’ll have a total of 12 in Europe at that time [Proctor’s nine, plus three Clif Bar Development team riders]. I sent Marc a spreadsheet with results, but otherwise I don’t play a huge role. I just say, here are the guys I have in Europe and Marc looks at it and then he communicates with a selection committee to decide.
VN: Give us a rundown of this year’s camp itinerary?
GP: This year we do five races in Belgium. We’ll take the full team of 12 juniors to Namur because it’s not a World Cup for juniors or U23s, but they still have a race that’s very competitive. Then for Zolder, because it does have a Junior World Cup race, only six juniors can go. I’ll send the guys who don’t make it to a provincial race in Belgium, which will still get them some good experience.
After that there is another Belgian series race, then the Diegem Superprestige, then another Belgian series race. Then most of them will go back home, save for a small group that is going to Rome with me for the World Cup.
VN: How do you quantify camp success?
GP: The biggest thing is that these kids come back to the U.S. with that experiential confidence. For instance, last year at [the U.S. national championships] I had 14 juniors in the Europe camp and the 13 who went to nationals after camp all finished top 13. That’s a pretty direct correlation. It’s so important to get them over there where there are races with 60-80 juniors, not the 20-25 that you saw in Bend. It’s harder conditions, higher level competition, and tougher courses. It’s pretty clear that if you can perform well in a World Cup, that is a good barometer of overall potential.
VN: What are some of the major differences between junior development in the U.S. and in the sport’s bellwether countries such as Belgium?
GP: That’s a long conversation, but some of the things I’d point to are things like the fact that in Belgium every province has a winter developmental camp for all kids that are good in the province. Another glaring difference is what happens once these kids reach the U23 ranks (after turning 19).
In Belgium, just about every pro team also has a U23 team and maybe even a junior squad. So you probably have around 40 under-23s that are on legit teams racing every weekend in Europe in U23-only races. We don’t have any true U23 teams and we don’t have any U23-only races here except for nationals. That’s the only time our U23s race only against each other.
So it’s not surprising that kids over here, once they leave the junior ranks, start looking at the bigger picture of life, like going to school. Long story short, we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. There is still so much potential for growth.
EuroCrossCamp X Race Schedule
Dec. 23: Namur World Cup
Dec. 26: Zolder World Cup
Dec. 26: Beernem (for those not selected for Zolder)
Dec. 28: Loenhout Bpost Bank Trophee
Dec. 30: Diegem Superprestige
Jan. 1: Baal Bpost Bank Trophee
Jan. 6: Rome World Cup (small group)
EuroCrossCamp X Junior Roster
Logan Owen (Bremerton, Wash.), Redline Bicycles
Curtis White (Duanesburg, New York), Hot Tubes Development Team
Nate Morse (Cohasset, Mass.), Hot Tubes Development Team
Stephen Bassett (Knoxville, Tenn.), Bob’s Red Mill Cyclocross
Nick Torraca (Grapevine, Texas), Mad Duck Cyclery
John Francisco (Louisville, Kentucky), Red Zone Cycling
Peter Goguen (Hopedale, Mass.), C.F. Racing-Trek Portsmouth
David Lombardo (Crystal Lake, Ill.), Verdigris-Village Cyclocross
Josey Weik (Wrenshall, Minn.), ISCorp