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Cyclocross

EuroCrossAcademy: Finding calm in the CX chaos

US junior racer Ian Brown discovers the Europeans 'wake up and breathe just like all of us.'

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During the next few weeks, riders from the EuroCrossAcademy will be writing exclusive blog posts for VeloNews as they race in Europe.

ECA Journal No. 3
Rider: Ian Brown
Hometown: Bend, OR

The feeling I felt at the start straight in Loenhout on Friday is something that I will keep with me for a while.

Coming into this Euro trip, my bike racing had solely resided in the States. I had not been to Europe before. The stigma of European ‘cross racing is very intimidating. People in the U.S. love to highlight the harshness of European competition, and for good reason.

My first race in Europe was a humbling experience.

That first race in Europe, Superprestige Diegem, was a sharp introduction to the wavelength of European cyclocross.

Diegem SP is an interesting race as it is a night race held under the lights through an urban cyclocross arena. Diegem, in the northeast of Brussels, embodies the spirit of cyclocross.

Imagine 20,000 drunk fans crammed into tight smoky alleyways among a smattering of the world’s best cyclocross racers trying to perform. Mayhem.

I went into my junior men’s race shell-shocked. Nervous eyes under my clear lenses. I remember feeling so small and insignificant on the start line among the European kids that fill my Instagram with viral ‘cross videos.

My race followed the trend of chaos as I crashed myself out multiple times in the first lap. The moment I introduced the right side of my body to the shed alongside the course on the second lap, I knew something needed to change.

Looking for answers I asked experienced U.S. junior ‘cross racer Kaya Musgrave how she handles the chaotic nature of these cyclocross starts. Kaya said she found journaling the night before to be peaceful.

She suggested I write down adjectives, feelings, and objectives to look back at when things get stressful. The night before Loenhout, I wrote four words: “Calm in the chaos.”

Everyone knew the start of Loenhout (my second race) was going to be crazy as it was a long start straight full of feisty and aggressive juniors. From my third-row spot in the grid, I repeated to myself the message I had written the night before.

“Calm in the chaos, calm in the ch …. ”

The whistle blew and we set off. A massive crash spread from the center of the straight and ricocheted outwards. I saw this crash and remained calm as I skirted around the tangle of bodies and bikes up on the far left side of the grid against the barriers. I stayed on my course forward. I rode strong the rest of my race within my headspace.

I felt calm and powerful. Just another day on my bike. I ended up in 16th place, a 24-spot improvement from Diegem two days before.

I feel like I speak for a lot of junior cyclocross racers when I say that we go in expecting a slaughter. We talk ourselves out of the race before we’ve even toed the start line. But, as our EuroCrossAcademy (ECA) coaches emphasized at the beginning of the trip, all the European racers “wake up and breathe just like all of us.”

This mentality needs to become more widespread for aspiring U.S. ‘cross racers.

So far on this journey, choosing to handle challenging situations with an open mind and confident legs has been the most impactful. Everyone at these races is here to race their bike hard, united under a passion for the sport of cyclocross.

Everyone at the start line is an equal piece of the puzzle.

Ian Brown finding his way on the course at Exact Cross Loenhout Azencross.