Kerstperiode 2023/24 Recap

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

2023 Cyclocross World Championships

Our CX season comes to a conclusion with the Cyclocross World Championships this past weekend in Hoogerheide, Netherlands.

What an exciting weekend and an incredible atmosphere with 50,000 spectators on Sunday. Cross was definitely there.

3 of our junior boys (AJ August, Ben Stokes, and David Thompson) were selected for the USA team and had a great chance to cap off the season with a great result. Unfortunately, those dreams basically got crushed in the first 10 seconds, with a major crash right at the start involving both AJ August and David Thompson. They got up off the pavement and soldiered on, posting some of the fastest lap times there. Proving their resilience and peak form they had, going into this final race. Ben Stokes escaped the crash and was in 14th place after lap one with some TV time. David was in the 51st spot after the first lap and managed to move up all the way to 16th place. AJ was 69th after lap one, running to pit 1 for a bike exchange, P22 at the end. Ben P29 at the end of an incredible day, but we got left wondering what could have been…

I am incredibly proud of all these young athletes and how far they have come and who they have become. As the Belgian National Coach, Sven Vanthourenhout said, “Champions are not only the ones who always win races. […] Champion is a state of mind.”

photos: @thepenultimatestage & on IG

Besançon, France World Cup

Last World Cup for the 2022-2023 cyclocross season. The overall standings in all the categories were already sawn up before this final race. Still, a very prestigious race to win and a perfect last tune-up before the World Championships the following weekend. 

All our 3 boys lined up and AJ still had a good chance to move up in the final standings and get a front-row start in the Hoogerheide CX World Championship. 

AJ crashed again on the first lap and was in the back of the field. He made it up to 9th at the end. David once again, had a solid race with another 14th place, and as a first-year junior, setting himself up for being one of the top riders next year with these incredible experiences and consistency. Ben was 31st, on a good path to having a great World Championships. 

Benidorm, Spain World Cup

AJ August stayed in Europe after the Christmas race block. He went to Mallorca for a training camp. 

Quality training, motivation, and great company in great weather. 

Benidorm is next up on the World Cup schedule and directly inland from Mallorca, so a convenient transition. 

AJ is the only USA junior racing here. His program is slightly different from the rest and focuses on the overall World Cup, the USA Nationals, and then finally the World Championships in Hoogerheide, NL on February 5th. Slightly fewer races, but quality over quantity. 

After a first lap crash, luckily in the pit corner so straight in and a bike and shoe change. Made it back to the front after posting the fastest laps in the race. Still leading up the final dirt climb, but finished 4th on the day. A technical course, a lot of gravel/sand on concrete. Transitions from a lot of different surfaces and stairs, a different race, in a different climate, and a ton of fans out. A special race for sure. AJ is now 9th place overall in the Junior World Cup standings. 

Next stop Besancon, France.

Kerstperiode Recap

6 riders from FinKraft Junior Cycling Team made the trip across the pond to Belgium for the “Kerstperiode” or Christmas block. A two-week action-packed race block.

A race every other day. Race, rinse, and repeat. All the famous races and courses you have watched on TV for years. 

AJ August and David Thompson are with the USA National Team and Ben Stokes, Finley Aspholm, and Haylee Johnson are with EuroCrossAcademy. Dillon is the privateer and is supported by his family and Cyclocross Custom. Separate programs, but all at the same place and all together in several races. 

The first race on the schedule was Exact Zilvermeercross Mol. David and Dillon started their block here. A great classic sand race and venue around a Belgium resort. The location for Masters CX World-championships many times in the past. 

Lot’s of running and tricky sand to navigate, definitely diving into the deep end to start off the block for our two boys. David P10 and Dillon P43.

Next up was Gavere (non-World Cup for juniors). Super muddy and classic tricky, rutted descents. 

Dillon was the only rider who took part in this race from our team. Quite the contrast from Mol and this was true Belgium mud. Dillon P30.

Superprestige Heusden-Zolder, the iconic course around the motorsport race track, is again very different from any other. Fast, somewhat dry, and sandy. Now we have AJ and David with the US National Team and Dillon with Cyclocross Custom. AJ crashes in the first turn but comes back to finish 5th. David has a clean race and also finishes in the top 10, P8. Dillon P39, a solid race for our team. 

2 days later, Diegem. A special night race and an incredible atmosphere. 20,000 spectators with the race course snaking through streets and grassy/muddy areas in the town of Diegem. Ben has a great start and a very good race just having arrived in Belgium the day before. P18 in a very stacked junior men’s race. 

Finley and Haylee lined up with the elites. What an incredible experience to race with all their idols. They are moving smoothly through the chaos and big smiles finishing without any problems. Haylee P54 and Finley P74. 

One of the most unique races they will ever do. 

We have a day between races, so recovery is key. Ride, organize, clean, fix, and prepare for the next battle. The magical forest of Lichtaart is near Vorselaar so we always find a way to go through it on our recovery rides.

Loenhout is next for the boys, a legendary course behind the town on a muddy field. A few ditches and several man-made dirt hills, and a lot of transitions off and on the bike with some longer runs. AJ is out due to a stomach bug and not taking the start today. Big crash at the start of the junior men’s race. Ben, unfortunately, went down hard and could not continue. David escaped the crash and after a very strong race on his part he finished P7. Ben had to get a few stitches and some medical attention, but luckily was ok after all. 

The girls took part in a National race in Kerniel Borgloon. 

Great course and a more low-key type of venue and race. Still, a very good experience to see a different level of racing. If the girls had raced in Loenhout they would have once again, raced with the elites. Finley was 10th and Haylee 11th. They even won some money, 7 euros each. 

Two muddy races so a lot of work was required to keep things running smoothly for the mechanics and riders with their equipment, both during the races and after, to get ready for Sven Nys GP, Baal. 

Baal is always the first CX race of the year on New Year’s Day and a special race for any CX rider. That means an early wake-up and drive to the Baalenberg. Very little time to prepare due to a 9:30 am start for the boys, so really only time to do two laps as a pre-ride and then a few minutes on the trainers before heading to the start line. Parking is sometimes difficult and far away, especially at this race, and still dark at 8:30 am. 

AJ has unfortunately not recovered fully yet from his stomach bug, so still not racing today. David, Ben, and Dillon are on the start line. Ben has done this race before, so slightly more familiar with the course and venue. Not as muddy as some of the previous years and minor changes in the course. Hilly and somewhat technical and zero grass, since a permanent course at the Sven Nys Cycling Center. 

Close battle for the podium and David is not far off. Finished P6, Ben P15, and Dillon P39.

The girls raced right after the boys, Haylee P19 and Finley P26. Back to Vorselaar by 1:00 pm to recover and watch the elite races on TV, which is a very cool thing especially since they had just raced on the same exact course a few hours ago. 

Only one-day recovery again and Herentals up next. Vorselaar is about 5K from the race so we ride over on Monday to check things out. Wout had the same idea since he lives in Herentals, even closer to the venue. Erwin Vervecken is a big part of these races and courses run by Galazo. Erwin also lives in Herentals as well. 

A Crazy “ski hill” long, steep run-up, then straight down, and then a switchback climb back up and down a steep switchback descent. That is the main feature and definitely a decisive part of the course. 

Dillon and Haylee are racing and both have a great race. A few really muddy spots and once again, more running. Haylee P19 and Dillon P30. 

Next up, Koksjide. A little more logistics than Herentals. 2.5 hour drive and we planned on going the day before to be able to see the course and also to not have to drive in the morning.

This is one of the most incredible and amazing cyclocross courses in the world. Duinencross is the name and it sure lives up to that. Sand, soft sand, and incredible amounts of sand. It’s at an old airbase, still active, and has a lot of history in the area. 

The sand sections are long, technical, and very difficult, but the more we pre-ride, the better we get at the sections. One of the best-balanced layouts of a course.

The boys race at 11:00 am. All 4 are in the mix. AJ at one point in 2nd, but makes a few mistakes in the closing laps and David makes a big charge on the last 1/2 lap all the way to the podium. What a race. David P3, AJ P5, Ben P26, and Dillon P33.

David Thompson 3rd at Koksijde

Finley races with the elites again and all the big hitters are here. She finishes P55. Only 21 women make it on the lead lap, which tells you the level of difficulty. 

An incredible experience and another sand skills session/race in the books. 

Gullegem next on Saturday and back to the traditional Belgium mud. This is the last race in the block for Haylee and it all comes together when she takes the 3rd step on the podium after a steady progression in the race and took that opportunity on the last 1/2 lap, just like David in Koksjide. 

This was also Dillon’s final race in Belgium. Number 8 in 16 days. What an incredible achievement and accomplishment. A learning experience that will pay huge dividends in the years to come. P28 at the end. A very nice finish to a very big season for Dillon. 

One race left. Zonhoven, UCI Wold Cup. 

Another course like no other. The infamous sand pit “De Kuil” preride/training on Saturday for the 4 of our riders selected to ride this World Cup. 

Not the sand like in Koksjide. It is heavy and has 2 very steep, technical downhills into the bowl. The famous long sand run-up has been replaced with an extremely difficult off-camber downhill. 50/50 chance that you can ride this clean and not crash or go over the handlebars. 

On race day, AJ crashes during pre-ride and is unable to start. Very unfortunate and valuable World Cup points will not be his today. David has a 2nd-row start and Ben 4th row. A very critical first lap with these technical sand sections early in the race. 

David moves into top 15 after lap 1 and then pretty much stays there and finishes P14. Solid performance on a very technical track. His best World Cup result to date. Ben P29. Probably the most technical race they will do, so to be able to experience all these incredible courses is priceless. Sand is not something you get good at overnight; practice, practice, practice. This was the first time and next year we are already one step ahead. 

Finley lines up with the junior women and handled the course very well technically, P33 in her 3rd World Cup this season. 

That’s a wrap for our Kerstperiode and now time to pack our bikes and get ready for our Monday morning flight back to the US. Two bikes, 5 sets of wheels and race gear, etc. Also a skill and experience to be able to travel and move this kind of equipment relatively stress-free. 

When it’s this busy and racing almost every other day, training/recovering on the days in between races, time really flies. I am incredibly proud of all of our FinKraft riders who battled through this racing block in Belgium, something you can not do anywhere else in the world if you are a cyclocross rider. 

A small break and then onto the preparations for the World Championships. 

Koksijde and Superprestige Gullegem


David Thompson gets in on the podium, after a steady race in the top five, moving into third place on the last half-lap. A fantastic result on an iconic race course that requires a tremendous amount of skill in the sand.

It was a great race for AJ as well, placing fifth after being in second at one point of the race. A few mistakes cost him the podium.

Ben finished a solid 26th.

Finley raced with the elite women and once again got some TV time, finished 55th.

Superprestige Gulligem

This seems to always be a muddy one. Haylee Johnson scores another European podium in a similar fashion to David’s race in Koksjide, moving onto the podium in the last half-lap.

Fantastic progress for Haylee in the Kerstperiode, and this was definitely the icing on the cake to cap off her cyclocross season.

Finley Aspholm: Learning from Experience

Team rider Finley Aspholm has published a post on Velonews about her time racing as part of EuroCrossAcademy during the “kerstperiode”:

This kerstperiode block of cyclocross racing is my second time being with EuroCrossAcademy (ECA) in Europe. I had the opportunity to dive into the deep end for the first time this past fall. I have seen growth in myself as a rider and a person from those experiences in late October. Being here for the second time, so many things have become easier for me.

Read the whole post at Velonews.

What a Year

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. What a year we had with our FinKraft team.

After numerous wins in the early season, we managed to get the Pan American jersey with David Thompson, and then at the US Cyclocross Nationals, AJ August took the Stars and Stripes.

We are now heading into the Kerstperiode (Christmas race block). David and Dillon already raced Mol last Friday (December 23). Dillon raced in Gavere December 26 and AJ and David will join him at Zolder. Finley, Haylee, and Ben are with Euro Cross Academy this block and start racing in Diegem on December 28. Loenhout, Baal, Herentals, Koksijde, Gullegem and Zonhoven are all to follow.

Six of our juniors are in Belgium. Jack and Alyssa, after solid podium finishes at the nationals, are ready to move up into the UCI 17-18 category and start their European experience next season.

We have achieved many goals this season, on and off the bike. First, we have created the most powerful team dynamics with riders, partners, staff, parents, ECA programs, and a European race block as well as a US race block. We have basically been able to follow our plan and our vision. Looking back, what an incredible experience and achievement by everyone who is part of this team and journey. This of course comes with a lot of work, support, and determination.

The riders have all performed exceptionally well and have consistently been improving and learning as athletes and human beings. We have a balanced race program for everyone. We are managing the race stress, travel, pressures, logistics, plans, equipment requirements, and infrastructure like a professional team in many ways. The results are not the only thing that shows. Finkraft is one of the best junior teams in the US right now, maybe the best, and also getting noticed in Europe, which is a big part of our long-term plans for our riders, creating a pathway and more opportunities.

We are now starting a very busy second part to the season with the Christmas block, then two more World Cups, and finally the World Championships in Hoogerheide on February 4-5. We have three riders already automatically qualified for the worlds, which is a tremendous achievement alone. Obviously this part of the season we are moving into is super hard, but we are prepared and we are in a good place with everything.

Moving forward into the next year and beyond we have proved that this is a highly successful team and everyone is 100% committed. We are talking to more sponsors and donors continuously. We have accomplished a lot of infrastructure goals this year so our goal is to improve on more financial support, have a team bike brand next year, and keep building our team brand.

Thank you for reading. I will give everyone an update again as we proceed with racing in Belgium these next two weeks.

Haylee Johnson: Soaking Up the Belgian Ambiance

Team rider Haylee Johnson has published a post on Velonews about her experience at the Diegem SuperPrestige and Kerniel-Borgloon races in Belgium:

There I was, on the start line with women I had only watched on TV, and it felt unreal to know I was about to race with them.

Once inside the minute mark, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest and the intense build to the race start, aided by music, slowly grew louder and louder.

Finally, the lights turned green and the race started.

Read the whole post at Velonews.

AJ August Wins US National Championship

Andrew “AJ” August (Finkraft Junior Cycling) dominated the men’s junior 17-18 contest by riding solo for the second half of the race and took the victory at the US Cyclocross National Championships.

The silver medalist from last year broke away from defending champion Magnus White (Boulder Junior Cycling) on the third lap and sailed to the finish, leaving White with the silver medal this time out. David Thompson (Finkraft Junior Cycling), riding in the white Pan-American champion’s jersey, finished third to complete the podium.

Read the full story at Cyclingnews.