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An interview with Geoff Proctor, December 12, 2007
Euro 'Cross Camp readies for fifth year
For its fifth consecutive year, the Euro 'Cross Camp will travel to Belgium for two weeks with some of America's most promising cyclo-cross talent. Euro Cross Camp Director and US National Team Coach Geoff Proctor selected 16 male riders to take on some of the toughest courses and strongest riders abroad. He spoke to Cyclingnews' Sue George about the upcoming camp.
This year's camp takes on a more youthful feel with eight juniors and six espoirs joining elite riders like Ryan Trebon and Tristan Shouten. Campers will arrive in Izegem, near Brussels, on December 20 and stay through January 3.
"Each year, I try to choose as many riders as I can who are vying for worlds spots." In addition Proctor selects "those riders I see as hungry, motivated and who love cyclo-cross. These are the riders I want because it's a tremendous leap to move beyond our [American] nationals to international competition in late December. Both mentally and physically, you can't do it if you haven't the will to do it."
Proctor picks his athletes based on their performance at the USGP of Cyclo-cross, a series for which he also serves as technical director. The USGP events represent one of the few opportunities where the top 'cross racers of all categories come together in one place to compete against each other.
The Euro 'Cross Camp supports the mission of USA Cycling to develop medal capable and future medal capable athletes, which requires international experience. "European racing experience and preparation for the world championships are the core objectives. For cyclo-cross, the camp is a great vehicle for that."
As one of this year's two elite riders, Trebon is one of America's most talented 'crossers. "For Ryan, this is a crucial phase," said Proctor. "For him to achieve a spot in next year's European pool of top riders, he needs to have some consistency and strong results for the rest of the current season."
On the other hand Shouten is more of an up-and-coming rider looking to make the world's team. "Tristan has been a mountain bike guy, but he was sick for most of this mountain bike season, and he's had better results in 'cross. Because he had such a light season on the mountain bike, he's pretty fresh."
19 year-old Danny Summerhill may be the best known of the espoir camp riders. While Proctor acknowledges that every rider is different in preparation for the world's biggest races, he thinks that Summerhill, one of his loyal camp riders, would not have earned a silver medal at last year's World Championships in Hooglede-Gits, Belgium, without the benefit of two previous Euro Cross Camps.
"Some guys like to prepare for worlds by being at home and getting in solid training and rest. Other guys like Danny relish the competition and learning the other riders and races and the level. I'm not pressuring the younger guys either way. But ultimately, a rider needs experience at the international level. Worlds is not the best place for that, so that's one of the reasons for the camp."
"It's hard to live over there all season. Jon Page is the only guy who's been able to do it. It's a tough environment. USA Cycling will pick spots for the World Championships in mid-January, so our guys will have a chance at Euro Cross Camp to prove themselves internationally. The camp improves the comfort level of racing over there." This means riders don't have to show up at their first international competition at the World Championships. "I also see a need for riders to get some racing in between our US Nationals [which happen weeks ahead of the nationals of European nations] and the Worlds."
Proctor gets excited when one of his camp riders sees good results, but he said he is taking the six-year view and his main goal is to groom riders for the longer-term future. "I'm looking at the big picture for these guys."
"At the camp, these guys will see six or eight venues with different conditions, different courses, and different styles, so they get a lot of experience. Like with mountain biking, the 'cross courses in Europe are a more technical and just different."
While it might be more ideal for campers to go over the first part of January and stay over for Worlds, going during the two weeks around Christmas gives them an opportunity to race every day. The timing also corresponds with the winter class break for Proctor, a high school English teacher in Helena, Montana, and for his campers, many of whom are high school and college students.
"It's hard to come to Europe, go home and then turn around and come back later. Financially, the riders bear the burden for the camp and for Worlds. It's not a cheap endeavour, but it's also mentally tough. Summerhill has done it a few years and nothing is ideal, but if you have the right attitude and talent, you can do well."
Campers stay in Belgium at a house set up in 2000 by U23 Road Program director Noel Dejonckheere. "It's a modern home with beds - small and non-descript," said Proctor. One unanticipated side benefit of the Euro 'cross camp is that some riders get noticed by the road program and migrate from 'cross to the road. "Danny Summerhill and Bjorn Selander came through the Euro 'Cross Camp. The road guys noticed them and pick them up. Summerhill got seventh at Junior Worlds in Mexico. Bjorn is one of the best 20 year-olds out there.
Missing this year will be camp veterans Erik Tonkin, Barry Wicks, Troy Wells, and Jeremy Powers. "We'll miss these guys very much. Erik just became a first-time father. Barry planned this winter for his break period after many seasons of combining both cyclo-cross and mountain bike. Troy only recently made his decision for a break. Thankfully, Jeremy Powers (and Tim Johnson) will be based in Belgium at a private home so we'll see them at all the races." Chance Noble will stay home this year and try a different approach after attending the camp the previous two years.
No women are part of the Euro 'Cross Camp this year. Proctor said he's tried inviting women in the past, but they are often older and more mature than their male camper counterparts and most seem to be able to find and thrive in their own set-up in Europe.
Proctor said he "is proud of how his group comes together at a time when most Americans are enjoying the holidays." The campers draw collective strength in pursuit of strong performances. "We do try to create strong friendships and respect through the camp experience. Let's face it, it's a tough environment and to be 'all in it together' goes a long way towards improved results."
Ryan Trebon, 27, Kona-YourKey.com, Bend, Oregon
Jaimey Driscoll, 22, FiordiFrutta Elite, Jericho, Vermont
Steve Fisher, 18, Rad Racing NW, Lynnwood, Washington
December 22: Huijbergen, Holland (C1)
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for an upcoming diary detailing the experiences of the Euro 'Cross Camp riders. To read a previous feature from 2005 about Euro 'Cross Camp, click here.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Joe Sales