Thursday, February 29, 2024

EuroCrossAcademy: Experiencing the Dutch Way of Training

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In the second kerstperiode EuroCrossAcademy journal installment, New Canaan, Connecticut, native David Thompson provides an account of a special mid-week training session. David rode cyclocross domestically for the FinKraft Junior Cycling Team and, starting in January, will take up residence in Chambéry, France, where the Pan-Am and National cyclocross champion will ride road and cyclocross for the AG2R-Citroën U19 Team. 

On Wednesday, December 20, we had the opportunity to train in the legendary forest of Alphen, led by Dutch National Coach Gerben De Knegt. With so much history and endless stories of world-famous riders developing their skills, the forest is one of the best places in the world to train for cyclocross.

Coming from the U.S., sand is hard to find, but the first and only thing I saw as I stepped out of the van was sand. I’m not sure if it is because there is so little sand in the U.S. or because it is the most challenging, but sand has always been my favorite aspect of cyclocross. So you can imagine I was like a kid on Christmas when I saw so much of it in front of me.

Also read: EuroCrossAcademy: Celebrate the Team Wins, Even on Down Days

To start the session, we did a short warm-up incorporating technical aspects such as tight, rutted corners and barriers. After the warm-up, we went straight into short, explosive efforts out of a tight left-hand corner. These efforts seem standard, but when you have a group of hungry juniors nonchalantly fighting for position and, of course, the desire to outdo each other, a whole new aspect is added.

Being able to train with the USA National Team is something special: to be together with the best in the country. Every Wednesday, the Dutch hold a training session for their top riders to attend and help push each other to reach new limits. For us Americans, the only time we are all in the same place is at the national championship. If we wanted to train together outside of racing, it would be between a 6-hour drive and a 6-hour plane ride to connect.

Team USA doesn’t get to train together very much. This was one of those rare opportunities. (Photo: @cyclocrosss)

As we sprinted full gas in the one 20-minute segment, I could hear the gears of my teammates around me — all trying to beat each other to the small orange cone as if it were the finish line of the world championships. After seemingly endless sprints, we transitioned to a tight set of corners in the sand with deep ruts, my favorite. Dive-bombing and chopping front wheels with a smile from ear to ear is something I’ll never forget.

Being surrounded by the USA National Team reminds me of the importance of having fun and riding with friends. Not only does it make the training more enjoyable, but it also enables everyone to ride just a little bit harder than they would be able to on their own.

At the end of the training, we finished with a short practice race consisting of sand and fast trails. Not only was this an opportunity to push our limits at race pace, it was an opportunity to push each other in a fun environment with low stakes, all in preparation for this weekend’s Antwerp World Cup.

As we loaded up the vans to head home, the Dutch riders, such as Ryan Camp and Fem Van Empel, began arriving for their afternoon session (which Gerben told us was to be a carbon copy of the session we had just finished). Seeing these riders in person and not in a race scenario made me think about how amazing it would be to train with the best pro riders in the world every week!

Looking back on this experience, I am honored to take part in this training at the historic forest of Alphen. Witnessing firsthand the sport of cyclocross from inside the breeding grounds of some of the best riders in history is a dream come true for every American cyclocross racer.

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