As you know I recently returned from a 12 day trip to Europe to race in the Aigle and Plzen World Cup races. I was fortunate to have my dad along with me to do the driving, race day support and just to generally take in this life experience. Well, this was my dad’s first introduction to the European cyclo-cross scene – so I thought it would be interesting for you to read about his experience. Thanks dad – the trip and the racing wouldn’t have been the same without you there:
A Novice in a New World
My cyclo-cross experience is limited to two visits to the Canadian Nationals in Edmonton, Alberta, and to Burlington, Vermont, earlier this year, so I can’t even claim to be an experienced spectator. I am, of course, a fan. Who wouldn’t be with a daughter and son-in-law so heavily involved? Thus, when the opportunity arose to be Vicki’s driver and general factotum for races in Aigle and Plzen, I jumped at it. No second bidding required.
I knew enough, thanks to Vicki, to expect a very different experience in Europe, but even so, I must confess to being genuinely amazed by what I saw and learned, and by the many very friendly people whom I met.
My job, if I may call it that, was to drive and to be in the pits. The driving was easy; the thought of being in the pits was, well, the pits! Why? I can ride a bike. But could I work a bike change? Could I fix anything that may need fixing during the race? It’s an over-statement to say that I was racked with misgivings, but I was certainly nervous. The fear of not being up to the task.
All of which provides a neat segue back to those friendly people I met. It became obvious quite quickly that should I need specialized help, there were many to call on. There were those who collected warm-up clothing at the start; there were those who explained how to clean the tires without getting myself soaking wet. (It didn’t work, by the way!); there were those who explained the expectations in the pits. Suddenly, my life became easier.
Vicki’s friends were many; the number of fans was huge. What a difference from the North American fan base. Cyclo-cross in Europe must be close to being as all consuming as ice hockey and football are in Canada. That fans drove happily from all over the continent to support their favourite riders stands in stark contrast to the few hundred family members and friends in Edmonton. It was heart-warming to realize that although most had their own special favourites, they would also shout encouragement to the other riders. Isn’t this what sport is supposed to be about?
On a more mundane level, the national and international television coverage blew my mind. Even parking those huge trucks in the narrow streets of Plzen was an accomplishment. Let’s not forget the race commentators who switched effortlessly from French to German to Czech to English. We North Americans can learn a lot from this. If you are a European reader of these thoughts, please remember that what is “normal” to you, is quite abnormal to me.
We traveled in an RV/camper van. Quite splendid, I thought, but then I saw the fleets of vehicles that some teams used. You know what I mean, the ones with images of the riders on the outside, the ones with the amazing paintjobs. They reminded me of the way pop stars travel. And then there were those who arrived alone, in a small, rented car barely big enough to change in. To my eyes, they were seen as no less important.
And the actual course and races: I hesitate to comment because my real knowledge is so slight, but I will say that the skill of the riders, their strength, their determination, and their support for each other did impress me, and my impression of both the Aigle and the Plzen circuits is that they were a good deal more demanding than those I’ve seen here in N.A.
I came home with the feeling that if I were lucky enough to return next year, there would be friends to greet me. Good people whom I would look forward to seeing again. No names are mentioned here because I don’t want to risk missing somebody out, but if we met, I mean you! And thanks to you, my knowledge has increased dramatically.