We are currently doing a race block with four of our FinKraft Junior Team riders in Europe.
This race block is run by Euro Cross Academy, which I also work with. I also serve as the head coach for 10 National team juniors on this trip.
Our program is the Tabor World Cup in Czech Republic, Maasmechelen World Cup in Belgium, and the iconic Koppenberg CX on November 1st. In addition to these races, Finley participates in the European championship in Namur, Belgium on November 5th.
We flew into Brussels last Wednesday with 2 bikes and 4 sets of wheels, plus other luggage, per rider. Then we transferred to Sittard, the USAC cycling center in the Netherlands, where we will stay the majority of the time here.
On Friday we made the 500-mile drive to Tabor with 2 vans, a box truck, and a team car. 10 junior riders and 7 staff members.
The World Cups are the highest level in cyclocross racing, but Tabor is one of the most iconic ones where the cyclocross world championships have taken place three times and where the 2024 worlds will be held. A long trip but super-valuable experience for these young riders.
Course practice/training on Saturday and preparation for the race on Sunday . A lot of planning, securing, and scoping out the perfect parking spot, preparing all the equipment and everything else needed on race day.
The course is not technical by Belgium standards, but definitely more than US races. Also more hilly than it looks on TV. Our riders were very comfortable and confident with the course, so a great mindset going into Sunday’s race. About 60 junior boys and 40 junior girls. The best in the world no doubt.
A false start in the junior men’s race added logistics and time to reset, a very rare occurrence. This time it was not the riders’ fault: the lights were not in sync for some reason.
Our FinKraft Team
We had David Thompson ranked number one in the world leading up to this race, so first call up. Ben Stokes on 2nd row and AJ August on 7th row, since this was his first CX race this season. He had no UCI points and just had to relay on a random draw behind the riders with points.
The start and first half lap is chaos in the junior men’s race. Every race is, and especially on this level. You have to be aggressive, protect your space, have skills, nerves and little bit of luck. Slick corners, uphill barriers and uphill after stairs makes for very tricky transitions and actually a very physically demanding course.
Crashes: Ben lost his battery off the rear derailleur, but got a bike change and everyone was racing full gas and fought for every spot. AJ had a phenomenal race moving up through the field, 2nd to last row start, 3 crashes, but still managed 10th, beating 4 riders still to the last corner. David was 23rd and Ben 44th.
The girls’ race is slightly calmer than the boys, but not much and still very aggressive and the same: being comfortable when uncomfortable. Finley started on the 2nd row and held her own in the first laps inside top 20, finishing 30th with no mishaps or mistakes, coming away with a super-valuable experience.
This is exactly the level our team is striving for, and we know where we stand after Tabor for sure. An experience they can only get by racing these races. It is not just racing but the whole logistics involved, which require a lot of planning, experience and support with every detail.
We made the drive back to the Netherlands last night to minimize the logistics and maximize the recovery for everyone. Recovery ride today to Valkenburg with a coffee stop and everyone is in good spirits and the motivation is high. Training with the Dutch team and their National Coach Gerben de Knegt on Wednesday and then onto the next World Cup this coming Sunday in Maasmechelen, Belgium.
Thank you all who make this possible and are part of this incredible journey with these young athletes.