The Transylvania Times -

A Blur Of World Champs In The Netherlands


March 12, 2018

Lights out. Go! Clip in, pedal, don't forget to breathe. Survive the first turn. Narrowly avoid the rider in front of you, hear the grind and snap as your wheels make contact with another bike. Breathe. Relax. Pedal harder. Don't settle in. The need to brake is lost as your bike gains five pounds of mud. Pit and swap bikes. Clean bikes feel amazing, must figure out a way to keep it clean. Whoops, landed in a mud puddle. Keep moving forward. Catch that group ahead of you. Almost there.

Twenty-seven thousand spectators scream and ring their bells as I complete a lap in the World Cyclocross Championships in Vaulkenberg Netherlands. But let me back up two weeks.

After my best finish at a U.S. National Championship, I was driving to the airport to start the journey back to Western North Carolina from Reno, Nev. I had mentally checked out from the season, finally done with the travel and long weekends of racing and ready for a break. One quick email changed everything: the announcement that I had been selected as one of 31 to represent the U.S. on the World Cyclocross stage. I was proud and excited to represent the country, but there was an overwhelming amount of logistical planning to be done: booking flights, securing hotel rooms, finalizing plans for transportation and deciding what equipment to take on the 4,000 mile journey.

Just two weeks later, after sorting through tickets, hotels and packing bikes for the Trans-Atlantic flight, we (my wife Emily and I) arrived slightly sleep-deprived in Sittard, Netherlands. I explored the local roads and slowly worked the travel out of my legs in time to pre-ride the course. Built on the side of a large hill, the lap used all of the available elevation, meaning there was plenty of climbing. In typical Dutch fashion, the recent rains soaked the ground and slowly turned the entire park into a mud bog. The sticky mud and soft ground would certainly add up to a grueling race of attrition. I reminded myself to stay calm and remember to keep moving forward. The race would reward riders who could make the least number of mistakes.

Race day dawned and there was a different feel to the air. While I would love to say I stayed calm and relaxed, this was not just any race, it was the World Championships. We arrived early and squeezed in a few last-minute laps. The hard work was already done, it was more about figuring out how sticky and slippery the mud was and where it made the most sense to get off and run. As I rode up the Cauburg, the road that lead to the course, it felt like any other race. Some spectators wandering around, muffled noise of the loudspeaker, a slight flurry of snow in the air. However, when I turned the corner on to the start/finish straight, I saw the crowds of people five deep lining the course and it felt like every single one of them was staring at me. Gulp. With goosebumps, I started my practice lap and then thought to myself: "I am the luckiest guy in the world." I proceeded to grin nonstop for the rest of the lap.

The support USA Cycling gave us was unrivaled with a massive staff of mechanics, soigneurs, managers and other support staff. With 31 athletes, there was close to a one-to-one ratio of athletes to staff. Myself and the rest of Team USA crept up the Cauburg and rolled to the start. After a final air check and fist bump from our mechanics, we were on our own, crouched in the start box, trying to suppress the nerves while the announcer energized the fans. Thirty seconds to go and I slowly breathed and kept steady, watching and waiting for the lights to go out.

During cyclocross races, if you fall outside of 80 percent of the leader's lap time you are pulled from the race, insuring a clear track for the leaders. For the riders pulled, it is an unceremonious, embarrassing, end to the race. You're riding as hard as you can, expecting another lap and the official waves you off the course. Your number is pulled, the transponder is cut out and you're finished. The first emotion is failure; you put everything on the line and came up short.

Courtesy photo

But I quickly I reminded myself that I was racing the very best in the world. I made the team and completed over half of the race. Forty-fourth place and three laps down on the winner Wout van Aert. They say you're only as good as your last race, but beyond that I will always have the memories and experience of racing at the very highest level.

Words can only do so much to express my gratitude to all the support I have received. Thanks to everyone who has helped, encouraged, listened and assisted throughout the way. I am extremely proud to call Brevard home. Thanks for joining my ride.  

Cowie works at Carmichael Training Systems in Pisgah Forest. He is a 2011 graduate of Brevard College.


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