BRUSSELS (VN) — A decade of cold, dark Decembers spent knee deep in Belgian mud has netted him a list of former pupils that could just as well be the who’s who of American cyclists: Jeremy Powers and Zach McDonald of Rapha-Focus, Ryan Trebon of Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com, Danny Summerhill of K-Edge-Felt and UnitedHealthcare, Joe Dombrowski of Sky, to name a few, and many influential coaches and industry leaders as well. It’s an impressive list for an otherwise unassuming high school English teacher from Helena, Montana, and, as his EuroCrossCamp enters its eleventh year at the end of this week, it’s proof that the crusade Geoff Proctor started in 2003 is working.
That long decade ago Proctor worked out a solution to the dilemma he himself had faced as a member of the U.S. National Team in the early 1990s: American racers lacked the experience needed to compete at the highest levels of the sport, and, with the American cyclocross calendar largely blank after mid-December, there was simply no way to gain that experience at home. The answer, he realized, was to bring American racers to Europe during the busiest weeks of racing, Belgium’s Kerstperiode, a period that will afford this year’s class five big race opportunities, including two World Cups, in just eleven days.
And now Proctor, who was also recently appointed to a second four-year term on the UCI’s Cyclocross Commission, has more than a list of distinguished alumni and a nice title. He has real empirical evidence behind him. Consider Powers’ seventh place in the Tabor World Cup last year, the best ever by an elite American man in a World Cup race, or Logan Owen’s third-place finish in the final World Cup juniors standings last season and his fourth place at the world championships, one of the best ever by an American junior racer. Then there is the rising profile of American cyclocross in general, an American world championships and a Clif Bar CrossVegas race successful enough to attract the best of European racers. All of these owe something, at least in some small part, to Geoff Proctor.
Whether or not tangible results have been enough to dispel a decade of northern European gloom — or the long list of holidays shared with a dozen adolescent bike racers instead of his family — Proctor says he remains motivated to keep the program going.
“I’m always motivated by the goal of trying to do better,” he told VeloNews on the eve of his European departure this year. “Both for the athletes and for myself. Striving, aspiring to the highest level. That’s what it’s all about. Helping riders to be the best they can be as athletes, as students, as people. Directing the camp, coaching the summer [USA Cycling] camp, the summer UCI camp, representing the sport on the UCI Cyclocross Commission, it’s all part of the same motivation.”
And, in some sense, his goal of doing better is already met. Relocated last year to newer, brighter, and more centrally located accommodations in Bart Wellens’ hometown, Vorselaar, the program continues to grow. For the first time since the camp’s inaugural season, Proctor will bring women, Cal Giant-Specialized’s Elle Anderson and Bicycle Bluebook-Rock Lobster’s Courtenay McFadden, to Belgium. Of course, American women, led by 2012 World Cup winner Katie Compton, have enjoyed plenty of success in Europe on their own, but growing the American presence among both women and men has been a long-stated goal for the program.
“This will be my first year racing in Belgium — and first time ever leaving this continent,” McFadden told VeloNews. ”I’m super excited, but also incredibly nervous. It’s an experience I never thought would happen this year. Of course every racer has dreams of racing in Europe, but it came as such a surprise to have it happen this year. I’m still really new to the sport, so this experience is going to be so huge for me. I have heard so much about the racing over there, how the courses are tough and technical, the mud is like something you have never experienced, and the aggressive riding styles. I have been told to sharpen my elbows.”
The camp also returns four strong under-23 riders — Andrew Dillman (Sophisticated Living-Bob’s Red Mill) and a trio of Cal Giant riders in Cody Kaiser, Tobin Ortenblad, and Owen — and 10 juniors. Owen told VeloNews he looked forward to playing a new role at the camp as a mentor for the younger riders.
“It’s awesome to be going for the third year in a row,” said Owen. “EuroCrossCamp has helped give me the opportunities to get great results over in Europe in the past and I’m hoping to get a few top 10s at the World Cups and a top five in Loenhout this year. It will also be a great opportunity to help some of the younger juniors with becoming better racers on and off the bike.”
Proctor, meanwhile, has embraced the opportunity to mentor young and upcoming riders himself. Reflecting on the significance of starting the second decade of a program that some of his youngest riders have barely outlived, Proctor told VeloNews he saw the program’s continued growth and success as a part of a now year-round effort to help develop new talent in cyclocross. Among his other efforts, he now runs a USA Cycling summer cyclocross program for young riders to complement the race experiences in Europe in the winter.
“In recent years, the camp has taken probably a more developmental aspect with younger riders filling the bulk of the roster, but the objectives are the same,” he said. “I enjoy the change from my everyday teaching responsibilities. I always chuckle to myself as I stand in calf-deep mud in the Diegem pit, muttering something like, ‘Well, this is a refreshing change from endless weekends of grading essays.’ My family will be with me at this year’s camp. It’s always special when we can make it work for them to come.”
This year’s program features five Belgian stops, with World Cups in Namur on December 22 and Zolder on December 26, as well as races in Loenhout, Diegem, and Baal, before the sixth round of the World Cup, in Rome, on January 5.
EuroCrossCamp 11 roster
Elle Anderson, Cal Giant-Specialized (San Francisco, Calif.)
Courtenay McFadden, Bicycle Bluebook-Rock Lobster (Bellingham, Wash.)
Andrew Dillman, Sophisticated Living-Bob’s Red Mill (Fairdale, Ky.)
Cody Kaiser, Cal Giant-Specialized (El Dorado Hills, Calif.)
Tobin Ortenblad, Cal Giant-Specialized (Santa Cruz, Calif)
Logan Owen, Cal Giant-Specialized (Bremerton, Wash.)
Grant Ellwood, Boulder Cycle Sport Devo-BJC (Boulder, Colo.)
Peter Goguen, Race CF (Hopedale, Mass.)
Lance Haidet, Bear Development (Bend, Ore.)
Gavin Haley, Red Zone Elite (Louisville, Ky.)
Chris Key, Boulder Cycle Sport-BJC (Boulder, Colo.)
Ian McShane, Sophisticated Living-Bob’s Red Mill (Louisville, Ky.)
Ethan Reynolds, Hot Tubes Development (Boise, Idaho)
Austin Vincent, Race CF (Simsbury, Conn.)
Josey Weik, Red Zone Elite (Wrenshall, Minn.)
Cooper Willsey, Cyclocrossworld.com-Cannondale (Hinesburg, Vt.)