European Championships, Namur

The continental championships were this past weekend. Finley races for Finland so we planned on staying the extra few days after Koppenberg for her junior women’s race on Saturday. Another iconic course and one of the most technical courses in Belgium.

Wednesday was of course a well-deserved recovery day, and we did a recovery ride and coffee at Cafe Mundo in Sittard. Then it was time to focus on Namur.

We drive down to Namur, the capital of Wallonie, on Thursday to check out the course and get familiar with the layout. Namur is a big, super cool, old city and the race is at the most interesting place and setting. On Citadel by the castles, and of course on top of a big hill.

It’s dry and a slightly different variation on the course from last year’s World Cup, which I did with EuroCross Academy in December. Well-planned and balanced, but very technical. You can only imagine what will happen if it rains. Three flyovers, two run-ups, several steep drops, and then of course the famous off-camber. Everything is ridable and seems relatively easy compared to what I remember from last year.

We do four laps and have it pretty dialed. We go back on Friday for me to race the masters race. Now it’s raining, and yes very slick and sticky mud. Finley gets two more laps in and a totally different experience. Also very valuable maybe for tomorrow, or the future.

Saturday we’re back again. Now we have Geoff Proctor from ECA and Noah from Cyclocross Social with us, and Finland is providing mechanical support via Cyclocross Custom with Dennis. Rain has stopped and the course is more tacky and very manageable compared to yesterday. We do two laps again and Finley gains a lot of confidence and really knows this course well by now, which is critical to be able to race at full capacity.

The pit is on top and center near the amphitheater. We are ready to battle.

Noah takes Finley down to the start. A long drag on cobbles up to dirt, rocks and finally to a small bridge. Also one of the most difficult starts. Then over a flyover and down a rocky/rooty descent. Plenty of rocks, gravel, and curbs. Finley comes around to the first pit in 14th place. A super start and amazing beginning to an epic race. Down the big drop onto another huge flyover and to the off-cambers. This is the most technical part and then going back up is the physical part. Short laps and not much recovery; you have to stay super focused the whole time.

Still in 18th place halfway into the race. Finley loses a few more spots as the race goes on, but rides well. Even with a flat near the pit she holds her position 28th-30th. Bike change every lap and she finishes with a smile. Another qualifying ride and rider for the World Championships on our team FinKraft.

Super happy to be able give her this opportunity along the other races she did with our boys in Tabor, Maasmechelen and Koppenberg.

Thanks again for reading and your continued support. Our riders are making us really proud and they are getting these life-changing experiences as top athletes and human beings no doubt.


Only one day recovery after the Maasmechelen World Cup, but this was the day we all had been looking forward to—especially myself since I know the history of this race and the numerous times I have watched this race and road that is used in this race: the Koppenberg!

We had a slightly longer drive and a different race and logistics than the World Cups. The weather is windy, but dry. The inscription (registration, number pick up) is a few kilometers from the venue in a cement factory. Then parking is not close either and the boys race at 11:00 so we just get ready to pre-ride and then basically get ready to go to the start line while our pit crew climb Koppenberg, to the top. What a view and what a feeling.

There it is, the whole course on the Koppenberg hillside. The start is right in town at the bottom of the infamous cobble climb. A few hundred meters and then straight into the 20% legendary cobble climb. The cobbles are spaced far apart and a crown in the middle of a very narrow one lane road. The key is to keep pedaling and stay upright.

Then onto the grass, not a lawn by any means. it’s a cow field. Pretty sure the cows were still there last night. Nothing super technical, just up and down, but a tremendous number of holes, bumps and long grass. Probably one of the bumpiest courses I have ever ridden, which makes it even harder and very difficult to recover even when you are not pedaling.

The boys line up, about 80, and we have three FinKraft Juniors in the race again. David and Ben at the front and AJ not too far back either in this race. By the time they crest the climb they are all 3 within top 10.

AJ surges into the lead right away and immediately gets a gap. Race the course and ride your race, I told them. The gap is growing every lap and AJ seems comfortable in the lead position. David is still fighting for a top 10 and Ben is in top 15. It’s becoming more reality now that AJ will win. A one-minute lead and he is about to make history. Only two other American juniors have ever won a Belgian cyclocross race before. Everything comes together, and AJ crosses the finish line and he will be the first American male to win Koppenberg.

David is 8th with a steady performance the whole race, proving to himself that he is one of the best juniors in the world and not just ranked high. Ben has his best race in this block and crosses the line in 14th. Incredible success for our team.

Finley will experience a different type of dynamic race today, as she is racing with the elite women since Koppenberg does not offer a junior women’s category.

Just the experience to hear your name called up with all your idols in the sport. Pauline, Fem Van Empel, Betsema, Van Anroij, Van Alphen, Clara etc. Finley lines up on 4th row and gets a great start. She says one of the safest starts ever for her. Now there are 17,000 spectators and a big party. The race is of course televised and an insane atmosphere, people cheering and banging the board on the side of the course.

Finley is on the big stage now and getting an experience that a 16-year-old cross racer can only dream about. The pit is at the top of the course and we are following the race on the big screen. Finley makes it all the way to the end of her 4th lap as Fem van Empel passes her. They are side by side on TV and Fem wins the race.

What a monumental day for our team and the other five juniors from Euro Cross Academy.

The anticipation, the fight, the experience, the opportunity and the delivery. It all came together for Team FinKraft. A day we will never forget.

Finley Aspholm: Riding with the Best at Koppenbergcross

Team rider Finley Aspholm rode the Koppenbergcross Elite women’s race as part of EuroCross Academy. She writes about the experience:

Every muscle in my body shakes with nerves, as I anticipate the blow of the whistle. The high pitched sound sends all of us off, surprisingly, in one of the safest starts I have experienced. It is full gas all the way up to the top of the Koppenberg. I can hear loud thuds in the distance, from fans pounding their fists onto the barriers that outline the very top of the legendary climb. Riders yell at each other left and right as they rub wheels and arms, determined to stay clipped into their pedals. I try to weave my way around others, to be in a good position at the first turn onto the field. 

Read Finley’s whole post on Velonews.

AJ August: When the Plan Works Out

Team rider AJ August has published a post on Velonews about his race at the Maasmechelen World Cup, where he finished 4th:

The course was made up of many tight, rocky, and bumpy sections which meant overtaking would be difficult. As this was only my second cyclocross race of the season, I knew that with my start position on the sixth row of the grid my work was cut out for me.

As I spun my legs on the trainer before the race, I began to plan how I would make my way through the field. I thought of the sections where I could pass my competition and the ones where I would rest and reset. Then I got off the trainer and headed over towards the start line.

Read the whole post on Velonews.

Maasmechelen: UCI World Cup

AJ August comes from behind once again all the way to take 4th place on a very tight and technical course. Now in 5th place overall in the World Cup standings. Chapeau to an amazing performance.

Our second race and World Cup here in Europe for our junior riders. We had a week to recover, train and get more adjusted to everything culturally.

Watersley happens to be a 20 minute drive to Maasmechelen, so quite the contrasts from last week and what we are normally used to in the US.

Everything is tight about this course. Short pavement start loop and then the rest of the way mostly one line and sharp stones and corners, steep ups and downs, tedious to say the least. Dry and unseasonably warm, but still somewhat slick. A Grifo type of day, but not super low pressure due to the very high risk of punctures.

We of course expected wet and muddy courses so the tire choice is limited when traveling over seas. At the end of the day the rolling resistance did not end up being all that critical and AJ for example rode the race on mud tires. It was more about handling skills, where to pass, transitions and making smart decisions what to ride or run. First half lap is very critical with a very difficult obstacle less then a minute into the race.

The boys race gets strung out and single file, very few places to pace and no room for any mistakes.

David unfortunately hit a metal tab on a fence with his knee and really put a damper on his race but finished, spun it out and he will be ok to start Koppenberg tomorrow.

Ben was also in the top 20’s, but after a minor mistake slides back a few spots.

The girls race was bigger than Tabor and same dynamic as boys, needed to get a good start and just stay super focused on every inch of the course.

Finley got a somewhat slow start, but used her technical ability to advance into the top 20’s, then on the last lap, maybe less then 2 minutes before the finish she hit a spectator standing/crossing the course. Luckily not too hurt and was able to get going again and finish.

Every race is different in so many different ways. Organization, parking, course, rider safety, over all quality and level. Some are great, some are ok. We can only control the controllable.

Koppenberg CX tomorrow, one of the most iconic races in one of the most iconic cycling places. Finley races with Elite women tomorrow, so we might get some TV time.

Stay tuned.

David Thompson: Coffee, Chocolate Croissants, and Bike Culture

Team rider David Thompson has published a post about his experience as part of Euro Cross Academy:

The crisp fall air hits me as soon as I step off the train and set foot into Maastricht, the capital of south Limburg, here in the Netherlands. We are here for a quick afternoon of urban site-seeing and a short break from bike racing.

I’m immediately stunned by the people commuting on bikes and the vast pool of pedestrians crowding the nearby streets. We pass countless different shops filled with amazing European foods and goods before crossing the bridge over the Meuse and into the heart of the city. At the exact moment that we cross the bridge into the inner workings of the city, it starts rising to let a cargo ship pass underneath.

As we crest the top of the ramp, a perfect view of the breathtaking city comes into view, swamped with bikes and people. Crossing over the bridge for the first time is something I’ll never forget.

Read the whole post on Velonews.

Tabor: UCI World Cup

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.

Ben Stokes: Tabor World Cup

Team rider Ben Stokes has published a post on Velonews about racing the World Cup in Tabor, Czech Republic:

The flowing rivers of spectators go silent as the race commissaire calls 30 seconds to go. Obnoxiously loud Euro-techno music, coming to a climax, captures the tense feeling within the group of poised riders. But they aren’t listening to it. Each one is ready to begin their first World Cup of the season.

From the right side of the start straight, the sharp sound of a whistle is heard. Chaos erupts as the right half of the field launches with all of their might, jockeying for positions and using every muscle in their body to accelerate as fast as they possibly can.

Read the whole post at Velonews.

Charm City CX, Day 2

Muddy Sundays are what our team likes! Day 2 of Charm City CX was a great success for our team with challenging conditions off and on the bike.

Finley Aspholm excelled in the mud to take the win in the UCI 17-18 junior women! Haylee Johnson finished strong to get another podium spot for the weekend in 3rd!

Alyssa White had a great race and moved up one step on the podium in 2nd!

David Thompson and Ben Stokes had a battle for the top spot the whole race, but David sealed the deal with a sprint finish and took the win. Dillon Cosper had one of his best races all season finishing in 7th!

Jack Bernhard took a dominating win in the cat 2 men and is still undefeated!

Lewis Morris H2H MTB Race

Such a cool MTB race put on by Marty’s Cycle on a really fun course. Super fast with plenty of punchy climbs and fast twisty decent. A course that offers everything and you have to be good at everything to do well.

Team FinKraft did well , Roger 3rd , Frank O’Reilly Sr 7th after suffering a flat in the very competitive Pro 1 field .Frank junior also raced with Roger and Frank to get the speed workout in preparation for MTB Nationals. He hung on a full lap in the top 5 , so mission accomplished.

Finley raced the Cat 2 15-18 juniors women ( 1st place ) but raced with the open cat 2 women at the same time and would have placed 2nd ( over all ) to another other fast young lady Zoe Eckman.

Great to see everyone and thanks to our Team FinKraft support crew , Lido , Annabel and Lianna coming out to cheer on and take pictures and Adam and Alex riding the course cheering the riders on as well. Great day and thanks everyone involved putting this great race on every year.