This is my first ‘over the pond’ experience, traveling to Belgium with a group of juniors to race cyclocross at the highest level of competition. While here to race, I notice cultural differences everywhere. The differences between Belgian culture and the USA are fascinating.
Minimalism is a common way of life here, compared to the USA. The houses are much smaller, most of them are long and narrow; built with bricks and cobblestones. Inside the houses, there are few pictures on the walls – mostly plain white walls. The portions of food on a plate are smaller. In the USA we have ‘super sized’ servings, but here it is a small plate and a small serving. The majority of cars in Belgium are compact, similar to a VW bug or a Mini [Cooper].
We are in a small town east of Antwerp, Belgium. As we drive through cities and small towns there are no big box stores and few chain stores, very different from the USA where you would pass a Walmart, Target, Home Depot, McDonald’s or five Starbucks during an average 30-minute drive.
In the USA, litter seems to be everywhere and we produce lots of waste. Here in Belgium, they recycle most of their waste. All the trash bins are smaller in size and recycling is a priority. Recyclables are sorted into specific bins and if not sorted properly, the homeowner can face hefty fines. Trash day is an organized event. For instance, on recycling day only clear blue trash bags line every street. Litter is not seen on the ground here like it is in the USA. On our training rides we cover a lot of ground and never see litter.
Cycling is a common mode of transportation here and bike racing is very popular. While in Belgium for this block, we race five cyclocross races. Namur was my first World Cup race. The crowds were rowdy and the start was more chaotic than any race in the USA, like a group of wild dogs at the start line! In the USA, everyone lines up in an orderly fashion, but at Namur, everyone was aggressive and crossing wheels. The girl next to me crossed halfway into the next row before the green light. The courses are so much more demanding and technical, with lots of hairy ups and downs, sharp corners and some serious mud. I will never look at a USA race the same.
EuroCross Academy (ECA) is a great opportunity to experience a whole different level of racing while experiencing Belgian culture. From the kindness of the people, to seeing a castle for the first time, to riding on cobblestones, to being more disciplined in every aspect of my life, I am here to soak it all up. I am enjoying every step, and pedal stroke, of the way!!!