Rebecca Gross has spent the better part of two months living and racing cyclocross at the highest levels in Belgium – the motherland of the sport. Documentarian Ryan Le Garrec spent a day with the American at De Lilse Bergen, near Lille, Belgium for the last race of the 2018/2019 DVV Trofee series to capture the essence of what it's like for an American racing in Belgium. Ritchey is proud to support Rebecca and her cyclocross endeavors with WCS handlebars, stem and seatpost.
Words and photos by Ryan Le Garrec.
"This is the motherland where 'cross was born and where the best riders are. I figured if I was going to consider myself a serious racer, I needed to come out here and see what it's all about.
I've been here for about fifty days, since December 18th. CX racers are amazing. They're like rockstars here, and there's a huge fanbase. It's a sport that people put a lot of credibility into. It's not quite as obscure as it is in the U.S., so it's really, really special to be part of that. And the courses are much more tricky than they are back home, so you kind of hone your skills. It's a really good skill to bring back home when you leave here."
What kind of support do you have over here?
"Hmmm, I'm kind of on the 'no plan game plan.' I show up and make friends. I've had a couple of instances of walking my bike to the pit, and someone's like, 'Are you just walking your bike to the pit?' And then they'd say, 'Let me take it.' I like that because it's a bit more disorganised. You tend to meet a lot of people and make friends often. The Cyclocross Custom guys (local technical support crew on hire for the U.S. Cycling team) are really a great support for the American team. I'm on a pretty tight budget...like I can't really give them my bikes and expect them to work on them or clean them, but hey still help me out if there is space in the tent and if they don't have too many riders that day. They'll let me hang out like today...it was raining when we warmed up and they were like, 'Come on in!' and that's really cool!"
Ruts and Corners
Tell us a bit about the course.
"It was a very mentally intense course, a lot of sand, a lot of ruts and most of the ruts and technical bits are behind corners. So the first lap on the pre-ride...you know, this is my first time racing here, and there is a lot of, 'What the heck just happened?!' and walking around and feeling kind of dumb. But once you get a couple laps and get it dialed in...I think probably my fourth lap during the race...I had a really great lap where I rode every single technical bit. Then I got tired, and the last lap I was really trying to chase down the girl in front of me and made a couple mistakes. There is a lot of sand so it changes. It moves as you go. Sometimes a rut will get wider and sometimes it gets narrower. Or sometimes someone ran through it and it's gone. It's a whole lot of sand and it's deep. If it's fluffy, it takes a lot of effort to get through it if you pick a line wrong. I like that. It's a really good challenge and it keeps you busy. But I definitely had a moment during the race where I was like, 'Where am I? What is going on?' Because every single corner is tricky and there are so many of them that at some point I was just like, "OK I don't know where I am, so just take what's coming!"
What's the attraction of the CX experience and why do it?
"I really like how focused you have to be for such a short period of time. And I like just getting out there and railing on some corner, and it's way more fun for me to be challenged technically on a bike. I love riding on the dirt like mountain biking. But MTB can get long and you're often in the woods by yourself. 'Cross offers way more interactions with spectators. It's not like I'm talking to them, although sometimes if I'm having a bad race I might just do that! They will cheer for you, and it's busy and it's like, "Go Go Go Go!" I like that kind of less thought-provoking aspect of it. In MTB, everything is like, 'Go hard here. Go easy there,' and in road racing you know it's all about the pack and what the pack is doing. But 'cross is just about, 'Go as hard as you can!'"
"The first big race I did over here, it was just mind-blowing. There were so many people screaming, and I was just in awe with being a part of it. That hasn't really changed. I'm just a bit more used to it now, but that was really special to me."
How did you get into cycling?
"I've always kind of been a pretty independent person, and cycling is that kind of sport that get you out there. And I love being outdoors. I just want to always be outside, and the bike is just one of these tools that can allow you to go outside and just go and play for hours. I think as an adult it's not socially acceptable to go out and play in the sand pit for hours, but if you have a bike you can kind of do that...or in the mud. My mom is always like, 'Why do you like getting into that mud? It's so gross!' Well as an adult it becomes socially acceptable to play in the sand and mud, and it's called Cyclocross!"
Be sure to see the gallery below for a whole lot more images from the day.