Wrench Report: Going to Europe
You'll typically find Drew Esherick somewhere on the East Coast providing event support for Stan’s NoTubes. But as the 2017-2018 domestic cyclocross season wound down, Esherick found himself on not just one but two trips to Europe. Here we share his account of recent travels to cyclocross races across the pond.
I think I'm lucky, and I can’t express my gratitude enough for the things that I get to do. That might sound a little strange coming from someone who missed spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family, but my job gives me some amazing opportunities to travel and interact with folks from all corners of the sport. This winter has been extra special, giving me the chance to travel to Europe and work at some of the biggest cyclocross races in the world.
Most of the time, being at a race in Europe is not that much different from being at a race in the States except you’re surrounded by hundreds of years of history. No big deal, right? And yes, at a certain level, a bike race is still a bike race, but being in Europe just makes it feel different.
My first trip took me to Denmark and Germany with my initial European race experience coming at the World Cup in Bogense. The race’s setting was incredible, with the start/finish in the middle of a small town, team areas hidden between sailboats in the boatyard and the course coming so close to the sea that racers could feel the spray from the waves.
I teamed up with Gary Wolff of Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld. Much of what I did would not have been possible without his help and infrastructure. I was there working with Stan’s NoTubes racer Becca Fahringer, and I also helped out fellow Americans Stephen Hyde and Katie Keough and Canadian Julie van der Hoop.
Van der Hoop played host to Becca and me while in Denmark, and she showed us around the city she currently calls home: Aarhus. Wandering around the streets of such an old city was incredible. It has everything you dream about in a European city: shopping, great coffee, interesting restaurants, cobbled streets and very friendly people.
Speaking of friendly people, one of the best things about the bike industry is its people. I can't forget to mention the generosity of Joachim Parbo. Not only did Parbo hook us up with some awesome housing at the velodrome, he also trained with Becca, put on a clinic, raced a World Cup, cooked and ate with us, all while still working his day job as a distributor for various cycling brands.
There are too many highlights to cover them all, but overall Denmark was a truly unforgettable experience, and all too soon it was time to head to Zeven, Germany for the World Cup.
Zeven was muddy. Really, really muddy. Racing to the wash area in the pits and standing in ankle-deep water and mud made for a tough day on us mechanics. I can’t even imagine how hard it was for the racers, but brutal days of racing always make for great spectating, and Becca came away with one of her best-ever World Cup results: 12th.
After cleaning everything up post-race, we checked out the Christmas market in Hamburg on the way “home.” Europeans love holidays, and wandering around the market was fantastic. Rows and rows of booths had everything from small gifts and ornaments to toys to beautiful pieces of art. But the highlight was the food stalls. There were too many options to try them all, but I recommend the gluhwein (mulled wine).
Not long after getting back home from Denmark and Germany, I was back on a plane headed to Brussels to work for the Canadian National team over Christmas. While that’s not exactly in my job description, I did put a lot of sealant in a lot of flatted tubulars.
It was a whirlwind trip of five races including the Zolder World Cup. Our team was spearheaded by Scott Kelly, a provincial coach for Ontario who has run the Christmas ‘Cross program for the last three years. We were joined by Aaron Schooler, a former elite racer and current team manager, and Lisa Holmgren, a physio and accomplished racer. And while we had a ton of work getting 20+ bikes ready each day, I wouldn’t trade the experience.
It was fantastic to work with the young Canadians. A lot of talent comes from a country that is cold for so much of the year. And the riders weren’t just talented; they were also humble, helpful and generally fun to be around.
As for racing in Belgium, wow, it’s a whole different animal! Fans line the courses five to six people deep in some places, and they all are crazy about the sport, even getting bussed in to some races. Lines form to get into the race even though it costs 12 Euros per person.
Fans cheer, sing and chant. The atmosphere is crazy - one giant party. The beer tents take it to 11, brimming with fans dancing and singing while watching the race and enjoy a few (okay, well maybe more than a few!) Jupilers.
All of the racers were amazing. Zolder was every bit as iconic as you imagine it is after watching it on TV. Loenhout was packed with fans. The weather at Bredene was absolutely brutal. The mud was crazy at GP Sven Nys.
But I think Diegem was most memorable. You can’t beat racing under the lights right in the center of town. When you’re standing in a pit box next to Niels Albert and Bart Wellens, watching Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert fly by, it's hard not to get a little caught up.
Although I was in Belgium over Christmas and New Year’s, it was too busy to celebrate. Nonetheless, I consider it to have been an amazing opportunity to volunteer my time with these athletes.