Why we do what we do the way we do it
Belgium is the mecca for cycling. Yes, I know there’s the Tour de France, and that’s the biggest race in the world. Yes, I know the tifosi in Italy are incredibly passionate, and the great Italian cyclists are artists on the bike (and off, too, Cippollini). In Belgium, though, it is in their blood and bones.
It isn’t the pretty roads and countryside that moves them. It isn’t the long climbs and sexy curves of the descents. In Belgium, it is a blue collar sport, and they have lots of it. Cycling to them is like American football is in the States. Nearly everyone plays it as a kid. And, like most towns in the U.S. have a stadium and facilities, every town in Belgium hosts multiple races per year. Like high school football in the states, where you can drive 15 miles and see two stadiums lit up for a game, in Belgium, there is a bike race every day of the year. Not only that, you can have three or four junior races on the same day. And each of those races will routinely have 60-100 riders. And those races are all within an hour or so of each other. The same goes for elite racing.
Even those who didn’t play organized football in the States have played football at recess and in intramurals and in countless pickup games. Even those Belgians who don’t race still understand an echelon. They understand when a rider is sitting on a break and why. They understand why a rider will continue to pull when another is sitting on. They understand counterattacks and why you don’t want to be on the front of a group at 1k to go. This is as common knowledge to them as knowing a touchdown is 6 points to us. Racing is at a higher level there, because it is what they grow up doing. It is their normal.
Also like American football, as you get up in the junior ranks (like high school), it gets more and more competitive. It is even more selective at the next level, which are the elites there. That is akin to college football. Out of that elite racing, the best will shine, and those are the ones who make it to the pros, just like the best football players get through college to the NFL.
If you are talented in the U.S., and if you shine in the age group racing coming up through the juniors, you can start working your way into the inner circle of the USAC Development Program-- the national team. From there, the best of the best juniors can make their way to the U23 program.
In a given year, there are about 20 juniors who will get a good look at European racing through the USAC program. They will pick from the most talented riders that they can find. From there, even fewer get to ride for the national team in the U23’s.
I’m very familiar with the program. I’ve directed for Team USA at the Pan Am Games, and I’ve coached and been head coach at more than 10 USAC Talent ID camps. I directed a world level competitive junior development program for Slipstream Sports (Garmin, Cannondale) for many years. I’ve had riders in my program go on to represent USA at the World Championships every year since 2007.
And I truly enjoyed that experience.
But what I’ve found along the way is that I enjoy working with the guys who aren’t necessarily in that talent pool already. It doesn’t matter to me why they aren’t there. Maybe they started racing later. Maybe they just aren’t that talented naturally. Maybe they couldn’t afford to go to all of the qualifying races or nationals. Maybe they didn’t have the proper guidance in terms of coaching or advisors. Maybe they lacked discipline or maturity, but they’ve since grown. It doesn’t matter to me why they aren’t on the national team or in that program. I will give them a chance if they are willing to work to be successful.
My enthusiasm comes from working with athletes who are willing to go for it anyway. We’re looking for athletes who aren’t making excuses. We’re looking for athletes who are actively eliminating excuses. Some come live with us in Wimberley at our residence program. Some work full time and train when they can at home. Some are in school and train around that. And some are taking a couple of years to go all in with cycling. The point of our program is to help guys get to the highest level that they can, and we use the experience of racing the junior and elite races in Belgium to get us there.
Racing the elite races in western Belgium is similar to doing an NRC race in the P,1’s. Racing the junior (17-18’s) races can be as hard or harder than our nationals, but it is usually on the level of a cat 1,2 race at home. The point isn’t to categorize these things. As a program, we’ve found that being able to do multiple races at this level each week accelerates development. It is in Belgium where we can find more of these races more often. In the states, races like these are once or twice a month, and they are spread out across the country. We lose days just getting to and from races in the States, whereas in Belgium, we can almost always stay at home, because we can get across the entire country in about two hours.
We’ve made a home in Belgium. And while it is still very much Belgium, our home environment is supportive to help you get used to living in Europe. With having Chloé as house Mom, and having other athletes who have been with us on multiple trips, the comfort level is better. When you are more comfortable, you can get more out of the racing.
Sure, there’s something to be said for sleeping on a cot in the attic above the bakery and living on bread and beans while you ride to and from the races…we get it. There’s some romance to that, in a way. But, why? Why create obstacles when we’re there to help you develop on and off of the bike. We’re there to minimize how much learning you have to do the hard way. The races are hard enough!
Our Belgian residence is an old 17th century farm house in the beautiful Flemish countryside, and we’re also right in the middle of the cobbled climbs used in the Tour of Flanders. We’ll train, eat, sleep, rest, and recover like elite cyclists. We’ll also make sure you are immersed in the culture and lifestyle. I have a proven record internationally as a coach and director, and we’ll make sure that whether you are a coaching client of Williams Racing Academy, another coach, or self-coached, that we’re all making the best of your abilities to develop as a racer. I’ve worked seamlessly with other coaches on these trips. I am happy to communicate with your coach before, during and after the trip to make sure they can help make the most of your experience with us.
If you feel you are a fit for our program, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or Chloé to discuss it further. Our program exists primarily for the guys who aren’t getting invited over already. This is a door to opportunity that you can open yourself.