“Just to be prepared to do almost anything.” is the advice that Chris Wallace gave his KCCX/Verge teammate Joseph Schmalz to get him ready for his first racing experience in Europe.
The 17-year old continued, “In a race, be prepared to throw elbows, to do some pushing and stuff like that. Don’t be afraid to do it.”
“It’s a lot harder, it’s definitely different racing over there, it’s crazier.” said Wallace about racing cross in Belgium. “Trying to adjust to a different country is tough and then just riding there is even different. The roads are different, it’s easy to get lost, everything looks the same.”
One thing that Wallace had to learn last year in his first experience racing in Europe was to race more aggressively.
“The speeds are a lot faster. Here there would only be a few guys up front, over there there’s a lot of people up front, it’s consistent, not many people drop back. It’s a straight line of people. It’s tough.”
It’s not just the speed but the size of the field. In tomorrow’s GVA Cup Loenhout, the Junior 17-18 race has 117 riders registered, a huge number compared to the under 20 count in the USGPs and 32 riders at US National Championships.
“There are so many people crammed at the start you have to hold your position, here there’s only five of us up front.”
Was he surprised he had to throw elbows? “Yeah” drawled Wallace when we chatted prior to flying off the Belgium. “I’m not a very aggressive racer in the first place so it was tough to learn.” But he did learn by watching others.
He had, in his own words, an “off-on season” this year in the domestic cross scene. “I don’t know what brought that on. Came on suddenly, I didn’t have a very long or hard road season so I’m not sure what’s going on.”
Wallace had three top 3 finishes in the USGP series, in the two races in Louisville and the Saturday race in Portland. But he also had not such good days, crashing out in the Sunday race in Portland for example.
In his final race of the domestic season, the US Cross Men Jr 17-18 National Championships, a flat took him out of the lead four-man group early on. He fought back – “I just rode as hard as I could until the end” – picking off riders to make his way to fourth place finish overall.
Improving is the goal this year for his trip to Europe. “Get some better results and try to ride closer to the front. Maybe top 20 or top 10 a few times would be nice. Last year I didn’t do so well but I’m hoping to improve and get good places this year and have a good ride at Worlds.”
The Kansas-native was named as a discretionary nomination to the US team for the World Cross Championships to he held at the end of January in the Czech Republic.
Wallace joined seventeen other riders, including Schmalz, at EuroCrossCamp in the heart of Belgian cyclocross country in order to gain more international racing experience and to get ready for Worlds.
In his second time around at the camp, Wallace is hopeful that he can adjust more quickly to the different style of racing.
As a self-described power rider who prefers courses “where you have to lay it down and go fast”, Wallace finds the courses in Europe more demanding, with more obstacles and typically muddier conditions. “You have to adjust when you get there.”
Wallace does bring some comfort from home to make his stay easier. “I bring American food that I really like.” Some riders do coffee shop rides, Wallace has been known to do Taco Bell rides.
“You can’t bring Taco Bell which is disappointing, they have McDonalds which is tough to find sometimes.” he laughed. The plan was to bring “normal everyday food, bagels, peanut butter which is something I eat every day, granola bars,…”
On his sixth year of racing on the road, and fourth year racing cross, Wallace is facing a decision as to his future. He is going to college in the fall, studying pre-med and must make a choice between Colorado State or Arkansas.
“It’s Colorado and it has a cycling team but Arkansas is a lot cheaper and I like the South.” laughed Wallace who refers to himself as a “European hick.”
He is still unsure at to whether he wants to pursue Collegiate Cycling.
But before all that, there’s racing in Europe to be had. After finishing 43rd at the UCI World Cup in Zolder last week, Wallace is now embarking on the second week of racing starting with the GVA Loenhout tomorrow.
We’ll catch up with Wallace on his return from Europe to get his thoughts.