Cyclocross Diaries: Get comfortable being uncomfortable

The sand of Mol taught Curtis White some valuable lessons.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

These weekly briefings, written by the team, will share the oddities and nuances of European racing, plus an inside perspective on the strangeness of this cyclocross season.

This installment is from Curtis White.

After a hectic Kerstperiode, we were finally able to take a deep breath. Eight races in fifteen days. That’s eight 12-hour days of focus, precision, and attention to detail. My teammates and I used this time to regroup, recover, and refocus on the upcoming goals. Two races remain on our 2020-2021 European campaign, and we have the time to give our full attention to every last opportunity that we have.

Coming into this unpredictable season, we had no idea what to expect. Would we be allowed into Belgium? Would we be allowed to start the races? What happens if the season is canceled halfway through? Will we actually have a World Championships?

All we can focus on is the opportunity in front of us, and getting the most out of it.

As we near the end of the season, it is clear that we will have a Cyclocross World Championship, and the efforts and policy to stay healthy and continue competing have worked.

A defining feature on the World Championship course in Ostend is the sand. Culturally, the Belgians are renowned for their ability to ride with consistent finesse through the sand. It’s a skill that I and my American compatriots and competitors try to emulate, but are continuously left in awe. The Belgians and Dutch are not born stronger or more gifted than everyone else, they have just been enrolled in the school of cyclocross for much longer and understand how to use their technique more efficiently. It is up to us, as foreigners competing in this European dominated sport, to place ourselves in uncomfortable situations in order to continue to learn and finetune our technique. Study the lines. Follow the wheel. Test the limits of the bike. It is in pushing those limits that define a cyclocross athlete; to stay where it is easy and comfortable will not allow for improvement or growth. To stand still is to fall behind.

Close to our home base in Sittard, my teammates (Clara Honsinger and Kaitie Keough) and I have found a forest in Brunssummerheide with miles of sand trails. At least once a week since starting our European campaign, with the exception of the Kerstperiode, we’ve been training in Brunssummerheide to focus on ruts, sand drills, and interval training on loose ground. The training is focused and intense, but always a fun atmosphere. It is there that we create challenging courses and ruts and test the limits with our equipment and mind. To get the most out of these training sessions, I have to be totally confident and comfortable on my bike and with my equipment. The level of professionalism of the Cannondale team and mechanics builds on that confidence.

This past weekend at the Zilvermeercross in Mol was a good test of our skills in the sand. I came into Mol feeling confident, sharp, and ready to test what I have been training.

After three laps of course recon, I dial in the tires to 18/19 psi. Standard warmup on the trainer, then to the start line.

The whistle goes, and instinct takes over in a state of flow. I start well, riding initially within the top-five around the likes of Lars van der Haar, Daan Soete, and Wout van Aert. In the first lap, in this full gas effort, I witness first hand the remarkable skill and technique put on display as we enter the sand. Poetry in motion. I try to follow suit, but I dab a foot in the next corner. I am under pressure.

After a couple laps, I settled into the 2nd group on course, fighting for the top 10 with Thibau Nys, Vincent Baestaens, and Felipe Oerts. I’m trying to study how other riders are pacing the lap, how they drive the bike through ruts going every which way, and how to beat them. The little dabs add up, and eventually they become gaps I have to burn matches to close. Constantly closing gaps chips away at the precious moments where I can recover and regroup. Even with piecing together some good laps, I make too many mistakes and fade in the final three laps. I finished 25th on the day, totally shattered.

Although I am disappointed in the result, I can honestly say I was able to take away more from Mol than almost any other race this season. True growth happens when we step into uncomfortable situations, and that is what I did. I placed myself near the front with the best in the world, saw firsthand how they handled some of the most challenging conditions in cyclocross, and found my physical limits. I never fear failure, I only fear not giving 100%.

My advice to my cyclocross friends back in the United States: Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Keep testing and pushing your technical limits. Go ride in the sand. Test the limits of your equipment. Don’t be afraid to fail, ride with people who are better than you. Take advantage of every opportunity afforded to you. Until the World Championships in Ostend, that’s what I will be doing.

Thank you to our incredible sponsors for supporting our efforts this season, and thank you for reading. You can follow me on Instagram for regular updates, my website for links to my weekly podcast “In The Red”, or on my Youtube channel for course preride videos, and behind the scenes “In The Red” video series.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.