Whether it should be considered an epic or simply an experience, I do know that it was the adventure of a lifetime. After having time to reflect on the two months of Belgian and European road racing, which I embarked on from the end of June to the beginning of August, I have found myself constantly returning to thoughts about the phenomenal European culture. The time that I spent overseas is a trip that will be remembered for the remainder of my life.
The roller-coaster ride began with “Team Rokform Junior Development,” which is based out of Orange County. Supported by generous sponsors and selfless management, Team Rokform offers a European bike racing trip every summer. Our living arrangements involved spending time at the Chainstay in Oudenaarde, Belgium, while touring Brugge, Ghent, and watching a stage of the Tour de France. In between, kermesse road racing was frequent and a rapid learning curve was in store for all seven Team Rokform competitors.
The warm and dry climate of sunny Southern California did not prepare me for what I was about to face. Belgium, which is known for being a wet-weather country, continued to support its wild reputation. Driving rain, horrendous wind, fierce competitors, narrow roads, brutal cobblestones, high speeds and the glory of racing contributed to numerous high and low points. However, day after day it was important to realize that seven foreigners had been given the opportunity to race their bicycles in Belgium. Realistically, training, racing and results were important, but the friendships, bonding and memories were even more important.
After three weeks of racing with Team Rokform and living at the Chainstay, I was faced with a difficult decision. I had been offered the opportunity to race with “Sport en Steun - Leopoldsburg,” a junior cycling team based in Belgium. In an attempt to continue living out a dream, I accepted the offer and was set to spend time in Rijmenam, Belgium, with an extremely generous host family and one teammate. Transitioning from an American team to a Belgian team proved simple. I was treated well and was always included in the affairs, except for when Dutch was spoken. However, a translation would typically be uttered within moments.
Four more weeks in Belgium allowed for tremendous racing, including competing against the United States National Team, and a trip to Mechelen. Mechelen confirmed the fact that Europe is filled with bountiful history, beautiful styling, and good eats. As my time in Europe was coming to a close, the travel had to end on a high note.
Throughout my final week in Belgium, I had the opportunity to take a step back from racing and cherish time with my host family, friends, and teammates. Taking advantage of the mouth-watering friets (fries), rice pudding, pannekoken (pancakes), and chocolate left me joyous. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, at least temporarily. I shared one last meal — with my Belgian team manager — and we exchanged thoughts, memories and words of advice.
Overall, I am blessed to have had the opportunity to race and spend time in Europe. I would not have changed a single thing about the trip. Ultimately, everything from the outstanding results and great friendships to the sickness and crashing, added to experience of a lifetime.
SEAN BIRD is a La Cañada Flintridge resident who recently graduated from St. Francis High School. This fall he will attend California Polytechnic San Luis Obispo, where he plans to major in journalism. He maintains Sean Bird’s Cycling Blog, which can be found at seanbirdcycling.blogspot.com.