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EuroCrossAcademy: Soaking up the Belgian ambiance

US junior racer Haylee Johnson feels the adrenaline of racing in front of the supportive Belgian fans.

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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. 2
Rider: Haylee Johnson
Hometown: West Sand Lake, NY

Two days ago, sitting on the start line of my first European race, the Diegem SuperPrestige, was a feeling like none other.

There I was, on the start line with women I had only watched on TV, and it felt unreal to know I was about to race with them.

Once inside the minute mark, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest and the intense build to the race start, aided by music, slowly grew louder and louder.

Finally, the lights turned green and the race started.

Almost immediately, I was off the bike running, surrounded by my competitors, trying to hold my place.

Although I knew I was losing spots, once I got back on the bike, I knew I was going to have to work hard to get by people, but my adrenalin, accompanied by the rowdy crowd cheering at every straight-away and turn, only fueled my desire to move up.

Prior to Diegem, I had never raced in the dark so, as I entered a long stretch that was not well-lit, I underestimated how slippery it was and started to lose control over the bike and I bobbled around toward the sidelines.

Once I regained control of the bike, I could hear people cheering in excitement. This made me realize that the spectators didn’t care whether I was the best or worst racer there. They had come to cheer for everyone racing.

In today’s race, I had a much different environment and experience. Unlike Diegem, Kerniel-Borgloon was a B (or national) event, and we raced during the day in a much more rural environment.

In this more relaxed setting, I was reminded of races back home.

During the third lap, I had a mechanical after running into a post. After a smooth bike change (thanks to our excellent pit crew), undeterred, I was able to get back some spots.

Although fewer people came to spectate in this small town (near Liége and French-speaking Wallonia ), the people who did come still had a good time. I was greeted by their cheers when I approached the final straight to the finish.

I found it very interesting that unlike races in the United States, a small local race like Kerniel-Borgloon had such a good turn-out on a weekday during the infamous kerstperiode.

Even when bigger races like Loenhout were happening on the same day, at the same time, just 60 miles away.

ECA Coach Roger Aspholm leads pre-ride with Elsa Westenfelder and Haylee Johnson. (Photo: @toelen_wouter)