The Belgian Cyclocross Binge

“I think we just accidentally bought 20 beers,” Mose said with a sheepish grin. “I mean how was I supposed to know that each one-euro ticket equaled one beer?” By Andrew Juiliano/Photos by Balint Hamvas Mose is a bear of a man who has been one of my best friends…

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“I think we just accidentally bought 20 beers,” Mose said with a sheepish grin. “I mean how was I supposed to know that each one-euro ticket equaled one beer?”

By Andrew Juiliano/Photos by Balint Hamvas

Mose is a bear of a man who has been one of my best friends for the past decade. He’s 6’2” and 220 pounds, the kind of dimensions that once landed him on the football field at the University of New Hampshire. Now, he works as a program manager for an adaptive sports organization in Sun Valley, Idaho. If he’s not taking veterans sit skiing or hand cycling, he’s driving vanloads of folks with cognitive disabilities to the nearest bouncy house two hours away.

Mose and Don. Image Annick Lamb.

We’d spent our young adult lives working at the Galena Lodge, a seasonal resort in the mountains 20 miles north of Sun Valley. We lived in a yurt, catered weddings, cooked lunches and rode bikes summer after summer. We bonded quickly over the stresses of the kitchen and big dumb MTB rides. It was a bond that has kept us close for the past ten years, even though we’ve lived thousands of miles apart. When Mose heard that I was moving to Belgium to race cyclocross, he promptly e-mailed me. The subject line made their intentions crystal clear: “Drinking Beer and Watching Drew Get His Ass Whooped.”

He’d included our former boss, Don, on that encouraging message. Don is the head chef and co-owner of the Galena Lodge, and a master of facial hair cultivation. He has also known Mose and I for the past ten years. He employed/put up with me during my early 20s, and my feisty nature in and out of the kitchen inspired him to nickname me Drewfus. As a chef, he took no shit and whipped me into shape. As a friend, he dragged Mose and I up alpine ridges before smashing down rocky descents on some epic mountain bike rides. Mose and Don had been there as I grew from a boy into a man, and they were coming to Flanders to watch their little Drewfus dive head first into the big Belgian cyclocross pond.

Eager to meet their expectations, I loaded up my race schedule for their visit. They’d watch me suffer through five events in 11 days across the fields of Flanders and Holland. However, this cyclocross binge was for more than their amusement. I’d quickly realized, after my first crosses in Zonhoven and Ardooie, that success in Belgium depended on maximum race time. Despite my unprecedented training amount during the offseason, I was still underprepared for the pace and skill of the Flanders fields. More European cyclocross experience was the only things that would beat me into proper form.

Early on, Mose and Don postponed their Belgian beer quest to help me in the pits. They stood faithfully in the box at the Koksijde World Cup, eyewitnesses as those fabled Flemish dunes thrashed me. After finishing 46th, I’ll be scrubbing those grains of sand out of my ego for quite some time. Three days later, we traveled north to the Netherlands for Nacht van Woerden. Under the neon carnival lights, and through the dark, dank Dutch alleyways, they shouted encouragement as I rolled to 27th place. By the Grote Prijs van Brabant, the following weekend, I clawed my way up to 22nd. I was making progress little by little. Don and Mose drank Jupiler and Duvel by the fistful. Race after race, the whoopings became slightly less whopping.

The day after that inspiring result at the GP van Brabant, we were back in Belgium, in the parking lot of the Superprestige Ruddervoorde. Mose, with his 20 beer tickets, and me sat a mere 200 meters away from the cyclocross circus in the heart of West Flanders. Twelve thousand fans crowded into the cow pasture, while lively techno blared from the red, white and blue party tent. I could feel those vibrations in my chest as I rolled to the start line, longing to dive into the tent and sing-along in Flemish to YMCA.

But I was there to race, not to butcher Village People lyrics. Mose and Don were there, along with the 11,998 other raucous fans, for those pursuits. They’d come to drink beer and witness the suffering of all us clowns in the cyclocross circus. They got what they had come for. Once the field sprinted around the perimeter of the pasture, it dove into the center of the horde, swopping mere meters from the raucous supporters. The fans roared and the field stretched thin as the leaders drifted into each corner and hammered out of each turn.

Mathieu van der Poel continued his current reign ass-kicker-in chief, and some of us received slightly swifter spankings than others. By the second lap, he had separated from Wout van Aert, Lars van der Haar and the rest of the chasers, with smooth handling and powerful pedal strokes. Wout and Lars went onto finish second and third respectively, relegated to “best of the rest” by the Dutchman’s dominance.  By Mathieu’s 7th lap, I was standing next to the finish chute, watching boy wonder cruise to his 11th victory of the season. I’d been pulled from the race in 31st place. I got shelled. No way around it. My creeping upward progress had taken a dive. But that was part of the game. I would have hated to disappoint Mose and Don, by coming out of that cow field smelling too rosy.

I rode back to the car, and stripped half-naked in the rain. The weather had rolled in halfway through the race, and I changed out of my skinsuit as quickly as I could. My two faithful companions rolled up, grinning. Their day had followed a slightly different trajectory.

“Did you guys drink all 20 beers?” I asked.

“Well, they were small beers…” Mose said with a hearty laugh.

“So 20 beers?”

“Small beers. We gave one away too.” Don clarified.

“But 20 beers…Sounds like you guys got what you came for.”

“Drew, you’ve far exceeded all of our expectations,” Don said and whacked me on the back.

I took it as a compliment. After that whooping in Ruddervoorde, I’d take whatever I could get.

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