International Pedal Strokes: Clara Crosses the Pond with USA Cycling & BikeFlights.com
U23 rider Clara Honsinger recently had her first European cyclocross experience, joining USA Cycling's 'Cross Camp for ten days of training, coaching, and racing. This trip was made possible by our friends and sponsor BikeFlights.com, and this recollection of her experiences is cross-posted on their blog. Thank you, BikeFlights! #packshipride #bikeflights
“Remember, it’s not that different over there.” This was a mantra that was given to me before departing on my first racing cyclocross racing experience in Europe. I had previously been to Europe a couple of times, but only as a tourist racing from museum to art gallery to cathedral and always longing to have brought a bicycle. For this trip, I was invited by USA Cycling to join them at the house in Sittard, NL with the sole purpose of racing bikes.
From a distant perspective, the women’s racing in Europe does not seem that far off from the racing at home. You see US women consistently taking top 15 results in World Cups and the DVV Trofee series. You see the same US women who win races over here standing on the steps of the podium over there. However, there are some major differences between US domestic racing and racing in Europe I personally discovered. The most prominent I noticed were with riding style and race culture. Watching from afar, it was hard to distinguish these differences because they do not appear in any race video stream or any page of results. It was not until I was on course and in the thick of the crowd until I was truly able to recognize them.
In the US, we put such an emphasis on technical skills that draw the loudest cheers from the crowd, such as hopping the barriers or riding a run-up. From the racing I witnessed in the Netherlands and Belgium, there seemed to be more focus on the fundamentals of cyclocross, such as maintaining speed through transitions and accelerating quickly out of corners. I initially discovered this difference at the Janet Memorial Race in Hilversum, NL. While chasing down the two leaders of the race through the wooded and flowy course, I was able to gain a second in the run-up and descent section. But through the rutted corners that spanned the rest of the course, it seemed that the leaders were able to get an extra pedal-stroke through every turn and easily take back the seconds I had worked so hard to make up. Over there, it seemed that races were not won with strength and flashy skills, but rather with subtle finesse and pedal strokes.
The culture around racing was also strikingly different in Europe. Although it lacked some of the friendly and goofy characteristics of US racing, riders and their staff were treated with an extraordinarily sense of professionalism both on and off the course. For instance, the city of Hamme essentially shut down a large commercial section of the town to allow for team parking and setup. The Team USA Cycling had the mechanic truck and team vehicles stationed outside the front doors of a large limestone cathedral and were wished good luck by church-goers on their way to a Sunday service. On the course, all riders were given the highest degree of respect: I was always given the right of way through the dense crowds, many strangers asked for a rider card and were politely disappointed when I told them I did not have one, and a fan was honored to hold my bike while I put my jacket on after the race. I see these subtle cues of respect as true signs of professionalism-- they elevate bike racing above a hobby or recreational activity and bring value to my personal investment of time and effort and that of my sponsors and supporters.
Before this trip, the mild idea of what racing was like in Europe was formed from the perspectives of others and race media reports. After my own experience, I have been able to verify some of these ideas, i.e. Belgian frites are better than US fries, and as well as eliminate some falsehoods, i.e. the sun does occasionally shine in Belgium. There are many aspects around each continental race scene that are unique and important: I value the professionalism around racing in Europe but also enjoy the amicability and inclusiveness of racing in America. I do realize, though, that my racing experience in both continents is really only dipping my toes just below the surface and I still have an immense depth to discover about each culture. Overall, I am truly grateful for the opportunity to race and the exceptional support from sponsors, especially that of USA Cycling, Team S&M Pro CX, and BikeFlights.com. I hope to someday get the opportunity to race over there again.