Rebecca Gross has spent the cyclocross season in Belgium - motherland of the sport - where she recently wrapped up her campaign and can now reflect back upon her adventure.
Kerstperiode was my intro to euro cyclocross last season. This year it’s my closing act.
Once I decided that cyclocross was something I wanted to throw all in for, my year begins to evolve around it: taking an end of season break, base training, building, cross training, peaking, racing, repeating. The years go by faster, the next fall seems like it’s tomorrow when the winter solstice is barely past.
I had a strength and fitness that came to a head years back, I’ve been trying to regain it ever since though coaching, injury, motivations, and explorations. I’ve turned this racing into a lifestyle but I’m not certain that’s been the best thing for the racing, for everything else it’s been beyond incredible.
My focus has gone from riding the never changing American courses more perfect each lap to being the most adaptable version of myself I can handle. I’ve changed my dialed race preparation in the van with any tool I can possibly need to carrying only the essentials, leaving time for longer trips to the pit, waiting to squeak through thousands of fans, signing rider cards, or more power washings. I’ve learned to leave the mud at the course, no longer is there an easily accessible spot to clean up once I drive away. I’ve learned to arrive at the course dressed and ready to go, while carrying my own toilet paper and hand sani everywhere I go in a pocket of my jacket.
I rarely get nervous on the start line, I’ve reserved nerves for course features that might land me violently in a pile of spectators… or the mud. Fear comes from the unpredictability of the other racers, being the one making an embarrassing move on national telecast, desperately needing a bathroom and being unable to find one, or following the GPS to end up in the wrong town on the wrong side of the country on race day.
I’ve discovered a respect for the adventurous from others, a willingness of strangers to share their knowledge, their home, and their time. I’ve seen the sites of chapters in my high school history books first hand, I’ve learned how to navigate the intricacies of different societies and restrictions of different governments, all in the name of cyclocross.
It makes sense that the Olympics were created to bring the countries together, something else that seems to be getting lost along so much commercialism. Sport is the underlying commonality that helps us compare our differences on a level playing field, to share respect for each other when we don’t have the language to see all the other similarities.
I tried that concept this year; the one that I am told repeatedly is what is wrong with my athletic planning and consequent performance. I raced less, I chose more, I valued my opportunities to train. Still it didn’t go better. I feel wiser, smarter, more in control, happier to skip a few events I know didn’t suit my style at all. I am still learning, absorbing information and experience in that self-taught way that has and will continue to define my life. I am happy, I am more aware. I know where I am lacking, I still want to try.
I’ll leave Europe with a few pilfered course signs, a number of 30th place finishes, a couple new injuries, a whole bunch of worn out bearings, and a small collection of pictures. If I were gauging my happiness on my results, on my quantifiable progress, or on my ability to make this a responsible return on financial investments I would be missing the bigger picture. Beyond the experiences, the travel, the lifestyle, I find satisfaction in putting myself out there, purpose in the respect of fellow racers, and the admiration of the fan base I’m somehow starting to build.
The thought always transpires to the tune of “how to I do this differently?” “How do I do this better?” “At what point do I do something else?” but the reality is if I’m content to be forever learning and pushing my limits, why stop?