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Cyclocross

EuroCrossAcademy: The lessons are never-ending in Europe

Racing against the elite women, Jorja Bond learns that being comfortable with the uncomfortable is an important milestone.

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During the holiday racing window, riders from the EuroCrossAcademy will be writing exclusive blog posts for VeloNews as they race the “kerstperiode” in Belgium.

ECA VeloNews Rider Journal 8
Rider: Jorja Bond
Hometown: Louisville, CO

Learning how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable is a challenge everyone faces throughout their lives.

When I learned I was going to be racing the famed sand at Koksijde, I was nervous. In Boulder, we have very little sand to practice on, leaving me feeling ill-prepared for the race.

Racing with the women’s elite, behind the stars you see on TV, makes you feel dropped in the deep end, discomfort swirling around you as if it was in the air.

On Tuesday two days before Koksijde, our group went to practice in the Lichtaart Forest. We rode around this hilly sand pit, testing our balance in the dozens of ruts and riding in deep sand. We challenged each other to ride what we thought we couldn’t.

I left this practice feeling slightly more confident in myself than I was before, gradually becoming comfortable surfing the sand.

On Wednesday, everyone piled into our ECA Camper and drove out to Koksijde, getting lost many times along the way to pre-ride the course. Once there, I don’t think I will ever forget the moment I looked up and saw the big run up for the first time.

You turn the corner and see a towering wall of sand in front of you. As I made my way around the course, I familiarized myself with the ruts and turns and hills of Koksijde.

One of the most uncomfortable parts of the course was the downhill sand and I struggled not being clipped into the pedals. ECA coach Roger Aspholm told us to play around with different tire pressures and somehow I let too much air out and ended up with about 8 psi.

I was folding my tire around every corner and hitting my rim on every bump. Eventually, we made our way back to the camper and headed out. As we got lost a few more times, we finally got to our hotel for the night, ate some dinner, and prepared for the racing the next day.

Fast forward, and race morning comes.

In keeping with EuroCrossAcademy tradition, we all take a walk down to the beach at seven in the morning. We then head to the course, ride a lap, and get on the trainers.

Finally it’s time to head to the start. My name is called and I roll to the grid.

It feels like I have crammed for an exam and it’s time to test my knowledge. Time to remember the hundreds of things I’ve learned in the past two days. I keep reminding myself to keep my weight back and my eyes up, to have light hands, to get off before I need to, and to not let mistakes affect me.

The whistle blows. The exam starts.

I weave my way around a crash at the start, I hear the screeching of brakes, and find myself running up the hill. I look down the first hill and panic a little. It somehow looks steeper than it did in pre-ride. The whole race happens in a blur, like I’m stuck in a dream, and, in the end, I’m pulled with two laps to go.

Rewinding the race in my mind, sometimes I was sending it down the hills with no feet on my pedals. Sometimes I was getting on my bike just to get right back off.

And I made mistake after mistake after mistake. The course didn’t get any more comfortable. It just became more familiar. I started to remember which ruts were better than the others, and which lines I liked more.

The best take-away is that every time I race here is that I learn something new.

In Europe, there are endless lessons to learn.

Sometimes an almost an overwhelming number of lessons. Koksijde has taught me to be comfortable with the uncomfortable and sometimes the best way to become comfortable is to embrace the fear.

Jorja Bond learned some invaluable lessons at Koksijde. (Photo: @toelen_wouter)