Saturday, January 12, 2013

S4: E5: Juniors Day at #cxnats

Boys 13-14 Start
A few weeks ago during the Christmas to New Years week I found myself glued to streaming video from Europe watching the Christmas week races astounded at how fast the Belgians rode and how utterly ridiculous they make the rest of the world look, sans a select few. As I watched sketchy descents, slimy mud riddled uphills, and wicked off camber I came to the realization that if we want to be as fast as the Belgians we have to ride in those conditions - cold, wet, muddy, crazy disgusting days where it is way easier to pull up a Family Guy repeat on Netflix than it is to get on our bike and trash it riding laps at Kings in mud puddles. I even downloaded a preview of the Dutch Rosetta Stone thinking maybe I should dig in and listen to the announcers - that they would hold some secret to understanding how they do it.

Ed Fritzinger on his way to 3rd place
Today our juniors competed in arguably the toughest conditions I have personally witnessed on a cross course - and in recent years we have witnessed some crazy stuff. From 10 degrees and a foot of snow in Bend, mud puddles as big as a lake the following year in Bend, and mud to your ankles last year in Madison seemed really harsh - until this year.

We awoke to a hazy fog - that cool, damp, misty fog you get when the temperature warms up and the 12 foot piles of plowed snow start to evaporate. It had rained about 3/4" in the past 12 hours, putting more water on a frozen substrate, combined with the snow and black ice that was already on the course and basically turned the course into three courses. You could ride in slushy snow, black ice, or slushy half frozen mud - you had your choice. The only issue was that you didn't know where or when either of those existed.

This is the experience we need in America.
Boys 15-16 before pit #1

The trick to the course was knowing when to go fast. This is what I believe the Belgians know way better than America knows, and I am only beginning to understand. To ride the course this week you had to have a patience that surpassed your emotion. Time after time you would see guys power up big to go fast, only to end up on their backside kicking the bike back off them. The Belgians understand this - they understand that smooth is fast and that smooth is a matter of interpretation. And they have ridden that instance enough to know how to ride it again and again.

Spencer Petrov being interviewed
Practicing in these elements and repeating this for 11 days of insanely difficult races around Christmas has become their secret ingredient. For the US this is the second year of racing Nationals after the New Year and in line with the European Nationals calendar. For the sake of the future of our juniors we have to remain on this date. The experience they got today gives them a taste of what Christmas Week means in Belgium - our own little one-day EuroCrossCamp if you will. Each of the last two years it has been these elements.

It pains me to say that. I liked having it over before Christmas and being able to move on to road season. But the Belgians aren't going to change their ways - Christmas Week will live on, and we will continue to send our juniors and seniors over to compete against them. To compete on that stage we have to continue to build this skill, build this ability to ride on days when we don't want to ride - the days that take hours to clean up kits and bikes.

It is the only way.

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