Discipline. Sportsmanship. Integrity. Leadership. Every day Director Geoff Proctor focuses on a character skill for the eighteen riders at the EuroCrossCamp house in Belgium.
“Are you disciplined enough to be able to get your engine started before a race? Are you disciplined in how you eat? Are you disciplined in how you stick to your training goals?”
Discipline was the word to the day when I talked to Proctor prior to Christmas.
Seven juniors, eight U23 and three elite riders were picked to attend EuroCrossCamp VII where they live, eat and breathe cyclocross during the two-week blitzkrieg of racing.
“The idea is that you have this super compensation of race miles, race opportunities and then you rest and build back up for the World Championships.”
During his racing in the 90s, Proctor saw the huge gap between the US National Championships in mid-December and the World Championships in late January and created the camp to take advantage of the school break for most of his riders.
“It’s almost like cyclocross stage racing because there is racing every day. It’s timed perfectly for juniors who are in school. I’m a school teacher myself, this is my vacation,” laughed Proctor, “I teach high school english, that’s my real life.”
The camp has two missions: to prepare the rider for the World Championships and to gain international racing experience.
For Proctor, it is important to race in Europe. “In the broader picture of a cyclist’s development, whether it’s on the road, mountain bike, track, cross, you’re going to need to be comfortable here, for the time being this is where it’s at, you need to have that cultivate that, this is an opportunity to do that.”
The camp was a part of the development of many US riders that went on to professional teams, such as Jackson Stewart, Andy Jacques-Maynes, Ryan Trebon, Jamey Driscoll, Jeremy Powers and Bjorn Selander.
“All these guys I think for the most part got their first international racing experience at the cross camp so that helps make me feel honored that they’re continuing with their cycling and going to the next level.”
Selection and balance. Starting at the end of October, Proctor keeps tabs on on the results of certain riders at some of the bigger races such as the USGP and NACT events, but as Proctor said “they also pick the camp”. Riders must let him know that they are interested in attending and communicate with him.
Then a decision must be made.
“I just try to figure out who’s going to work out the best, who needs experience. I like to take new guys, I like to take veterans and then the ultimate goal, just like the road program, I try to get guys to the next level, try to get guys to the ProTour teams or the equivalent of that in cyclocross.”
As the national JR and U23 National coach, Proctor is also trying to figure out who might make the US World Championships team during the camp selection process. “But I have to pick this camp at Thanksgiving because I need to tell European organizers the exact names so I can negotiate travel money which helps out these guys, it helps out their costs. Whatever they make, it takes down how much they owe for the tuition, that’s a factor.”
Another factor is finding the right mix between newcomers and camp veterans.
“I’m looking for a balance of certain things, guys that I think would benefit from international exposure to culture and racing, it’s a totally different kind of racing here, conditions-wise, course, terrain-wise, race tactics.”
Proctor is also looking for riders to learn from each other. “One of the things we do here, before dinner on all non-racing days we have a round-table seminar and I love seeing the interfacing of the veterans and the newcomers.” On the day that we talked, the conversation topics were the breakthrough that translated into a top result and then the biggest mistake that cost results during the past year. And they also learn from alumni such as Powers and Driscoll who paid a visit on Christmas Eve to impart some wisdom.
The camp is also a melting pot of all the US regional programs as riders from Colorado, the Mid-West, North West and New England and other regions join together. “I really think that it’s a testament to all we have going on in the US, all these programs should take credit for the riders they are developing. They’ve been killing each other at all the US races and now all of a sudden they’re teammates in a sense, supporting each other, that’s a great process for me to see and watch.”
The seven juniors selected are Chris Wallace (KCCX/Navigators Ins./Verge), Skyler Trujillo (Black Sheep Jr. Cycling), Jeff Bahnson (Thule/Van Dessel), Matt Spinks (Team Plan C CX/Stevens), Yannick Eckmann (Clif Bar Development Team), David Kessler (Clif Bar Development Team) and Josh Lehmann (Sunapee/S&W/Continental Paving). The eight U23 riders are Danny Summerhill (Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin), Zach McDonald (Stevens/Classic Cycle), Jerome Townsend (BikeReg.com/Joe’s Garage/IF), Steve Fisher (Rad Racing NW/Hagens Berman), Travis Livermon (Champion System/Cannondale), Josh Berry (Unattached), Joe Dombrowski (Haymarket Bicycles/HomeVisit) and Joseph Schmalz (KCCX/Verge). The three Elite Men riders are Troy Wells (Team Clif Bar), Brian Matter (Team Gear Grinder) and Justin Lindine (BikeReg.com/Joe’s Garage/IF).
“We have a lot of good guys here and I think pound per pound we can measure up if things go right.”
But what about women? The riders attending the camp this year are all male, as where the riders the previous year, and the year before that…. Two women, Gina Hall and Carmen d’Aluisio, did participate the first year of the program in 2003, and Proctor hopes to repeat that experience.
“I’m really interested, I really want to bring some girls.”
One problem faced by female riders is that currently they only have three or four racing opportunities when they can have their own race during the two week period, otherwise they race with the junior men. But that should all change next year as the UCI is finally going to say that all Category 1 races must provide women’s races.
The new rule was discussed at the UCI Cross Commission were Proctor now sits for the next four years. “We discussed that new ruling at the last meeting, for those of us that are lucky enough to be in the US, our women’s team is striving and our women’s races are every bit as exciting as the men. It’s just fantastic at USGP or Nationals or wherever to see that kind of energy for the women’s racing. Europeans, more traditional so it’s more of a big deal to them to say that every Cat 1 has to have a women’s race.”
In the United States, Cat 1 races already provide women’s races.
The UCI Commission also discussed the possibility of having a Women JR World Championship. “They want to see the women’s number in the Elites grow before they do that and I think that the last several years at the World Championships, the women’s number have been around forty so that means that plenty of other nations need to be stepping up their women’s teams so then that grows so then it sort of dominoes.”
The ball is now in the female cross racer’s court for next year. “If somebody says ‘hey I really want to come to camp’ and they let me know then I keep an eye on the results and then I can’t take just one woman because it’s too much effort for separate race categories but a couple of them would be great.”
Challenges. Being away from family during the holidays, skills, level, terrain are some of the challenges faced by the riders.
“Once you get here and you’re surrounded by like minded riders, it helps ease the homesickness at holiday time. Also Belgium doesn’t celebrate Christmas like we do, in fact in you look at any holiday in Belgium that’s an opportunity to put on a bike race.” chuckled Proctor. “Some of my Belgian staff ‘oh you guys should have cross races on Thanksgiving’.”
The staff also makes sacrifices. “It’s not easy to have this vision of where American cyclocross should be, it’s hard for me too. I’ve spent the last eight Christmas eve at a manager’s meeting before a World Cup and I’ll do the same this year.” This year, Proctor was visited by his family including his two young sons.
Proctor named two areas that were the biggest adjustment for a rider to learn on his first racing experience in Europe: level and terrain.
“The skills are high, the level is high, it’s just several notches than the US right now.”
One skill that they must learn is to fight for position on every corner. “In the US you know who the riders are, you give each other a little space but here you get flicked and you have to be ready to play that game.”
The second area is the terrain. “I think that the courses here are a little bit more challenging in terms of terrain and conditions.”
One particular obstacle is what he calls the “dramatic vertical”. For example, in the US a barrier is often added before the uphill to force a runup otherwise the racers would ride it up. “Well here I’d say that 60% of the time there aren’t any barriers on the course at all because the course itself, the terrain itself is dramatically more vertical.”
A prime example of terrain was today’s World Cup in Zolder. “There’s a runup you’re literally you’re going to scrape your nose on the surface of the footholds you’re going to climb up because it’s that steep. We don’t see that and the death drops, like in the Roubaix World Cup there are some gnarly sketchy downhill spots.”
Another factor this year has been the weather conditions as Belgium was hit by major snowstorms in December. The snow not only made the racing more difficult but impacted the training on non-race days, so Proctor took them to the soccer complex.
“Just a network of paths around the soccer field, there’s some woops around the swimming pool so we figured out a hot lap today, we were charging past park benches and kids sledding” laughed Proctor, “but that was the safest place to go to get your heart rate up other than the trainer.”
Building skills, on and off the bike. Two things will make the camp a success. “Extrinsically good results and if we see some really good form out of this camp towards Worlds that’s a big one.”
But the school teacher is also looking to for what he calls an intrinsic success. “To see these guys talk later in their career how much this experience has helped them along in their riding career, the friendships and camaraderie that develops, all these guys they get to know each other really well, they get to see each other again at races and they become friends, I really like that.”
And that brings us back to the word of the day and building like skills.
“I was telling the guys this the other guy, they are not going to make huge fitness gains here but they can make hugh character gains here, that’s where you can make the improvement in two weeks time so that’s one of the reason I focus on those types of things too.”