FinKraft had 3 riders in Belgium and the Netherlands this year for the Kerstperiode. Alyssa White with the USA Cycling National Team, Finley Aspholm, and Jack Bernhard with Euro Cross Academy.
The “Kerstperiode” or the Christmas Period involves a packed schedule of cyclocross racing in a short time from the end of December to New Year’s. Some of the biggest stars toe the line, race registrations are filled and thousands of spectators come to watch at some of the most famous race venues ever.
Alyssa and Finley arrived on the 14th to prepare for their first race: the Namur World Cup. Not a bad race to start with. Known for the Citadelle Castle and its infamous off-camber, our girls were very excited to dial in the course for race day. Finley got to race here in 2022 for the European Cyclocross Championships as a first-year junior. Alyssa got a front-row call-up after getting some World Cup points from France and Ireland in November. Finley was on the 5th row. They both had great starts up the first lung-burning cobbled climb but bad legs didn’t allow them to have their best day. Alyssa 21st and Finley 44th.
The second and final Junior World Cup of the block for Alyssa and Finley was Antwerp. Some sand sections tested their skills coming from a sand training the Wednesday before, with Dutch National Team Coach, Gerben De Knegt. Alyssa now on the 3rd row and Finley in the 6th, had to do their best to move up in the critical start. They both were having great races moving through the field. Alyssa fought in the top 15 finishing 14th. Finley took advantage of her strengths riding sand and was on track to having her best personal place finish in a World Cup. Around the 25th, she unfortunately flatted after the pit 2 exit with one lap to go. A long run to the next pit to still finish on the lead lap.
Next up was a smaller Dutch “B” race. This was Jack’s first-ever race in Europe and it was true-typical Euro conditions. Mud, mud, and more mud. Finley raced with the elite women and was lucky to get a front-row start. She placed 5th after some battles at the front. Jack also got a front-row start in the junior men, on a bit of an altered course because of the mud puddles getting deeper and deeper. He placed 35th.
Beernem the next day was another small B race but in Belgium. Also a very unique course with steep chutes and narrow-twisty paths through people’s backyards! Finley raced again with the elite women but this time starting in the back row because all locals got to be in the front to compete for the provincial championships title. She tried to make it up as far as she could after a tight start, finishing 9th. Jack in the junior boys got 33rd.
One day of rest and then one of the biggest races on the old F1 track in Zolder. With full categories, we knew how lucky we were to get into this race. As coming to be usual, no separate junior girls categories in Belgium. This meant Alyssa and Finley had to race with the elite women. 88 starters and racing against the best, Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado and Fem van Empel at the front. Alyssa finished 23rd overall and 2nd junior. She had one of her best races so far this season. Finley starting from the last row finished 71st overall and 21st junior. Jack also raced with 88 junior boys in his first big euro race and finished 45th having a good day.
Loenhout. Finley woke up sick after Zolder so decided to sit out Loenhout. Jack got to experience an epic European mud bath. Didn’t seem too muddy in pre-ride, but as the lights were ready to turn green a massive rainstorm rolled in. Lots of running, he finished 53rd. He had a lot of fun on the infamous rollers!
Hulst. Only a World Cup for the elites but just regular junior races in the morning. One of the more scarier courses, but our riders thought it was the most fun! Alyssa got 9th and Finley not feeling 100% healthy yet, 33rd. Jack had a crash in the first corner and had to run to the pit for a bike change and 54th in the junior boys.
Baal. Last race of the Euro Block. No grass here. The muddiest race of the season. Alyssa woke up sick, deciding to not race. No junior race for the girls again so Finley raced with the elites finishing 51st and making it ¾ laps. Bad luck for Jack again as he snapped his chain right at the start. But he kept fighting to come across the line in 41st.
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Photo credit: Ethan Glading