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EuroCrossAcademy: Under the lights at Diegem

US junior racer Leif Bryan shares his experiences of his European cyclocross debut on the famous course in Belgium.

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

ECA Journal No. 1

Rider: Leif Bryan

Race: Superprestige Diegem, 29th in men’s juniors

Date: December 29, 2022

Hometown: Boulder, Colorado

Photos: @thefergdog

The skies were dark, the rain was falling, and the jets were thundering overhead as we came into Diegem, a Brussels suburb, near Zaventem airport.

We drove about an hour in our team RV’s to get from EuroCrossAcademy (ECA) team’s house to the sixth round of the Superprestige cyclocross series.

Ever since we landed, it has been crazy to experience firsthand what I have experienced on TV hundreds of times. From the fans and frites to the incredible depth of talent in the junior fields, European cyclocross is truly unique.

My first cyclocross race in Europe was Diegem on December 28.

Diegem is a historic course that has been held for most years since 1975. 2022 is the first time the venue has been used since 2019 because the event’s use of roads and bike paths in the town made holding the event impossible during the pandemic.

Diegem is one of a few night races on the calendar and super unique with its use of many city streets, paths, and alleys.

One of the hardest parts of the whole European race program is finding the number pickup and places to exit/enter the course. We had originally looked for the registration on the wrong side of the event and needed direction from some British racers to find it.

The complicated pre-race prep meant that I had a relatively short time to warm up and make my final adjustments before we needed to go to staging.

The support we receive from ECA’s European and U.S. mechanics and soigneurs makes the racing environment much more friendly and enjoyable, too.

One ECA staff member who stands out to me is our soigneur Kristof Van Campenhout, who helped us with all the little issues and details involved with the race like taking kit at the start line and helping us communicate with race officials.

Seeing a familiar face amongst the hordes of drunk fans was also super comforting and helped me be calm and focused before my race.

It was also super special to see a family friend Fergus Tanaka from California who happened to be in Belgium, too. I had visited him a few times in the Bay area and it was super cool to have another familiar face amidst the sea of spectators. (Big thanks to Fergus for the photos!)

Leif Bryan racing under the lights in Diegem. (Photo: Fergus Tanaka)

My favorite part of the trip so far was the ride we did today on the local trails near our house.

It is the training ground for many of the top pros, and our coach Roger Aspholm made sure to point out the special tree where Wout van Aert hangs his coat.

The course we rode in the infamous Lichtaart forest was largely sand and very different from the U.S. soil. The sand here in Flanders has a similar texture to clay in the sense that it isn’t as fine and is often pretty wet.

From the mechanics and staff who come to the venue hours early to support ECA’s riders to our fellow North American teams that helped us in pre-ride.

More than anything, my first race here in Europe has illustrated how cyclocross is as much a group effort as it is an individual pursuit.