If you’re one of the top American sub-23 riders one option is to win as many races as you can and get noticed by USAC so that they ask you to join the Belgium program. For many guys this just isn’t realistic. So, what are the other options?
One of the best options available is for students. Do a study abroad program and take your bike. Yes, you’ll have to do some schoolwork but let’s face it – study abroad is easy. You’ll learn language, very important to racing unless you go to England or Ireland, and you’ll get housing, meals, laundry service, etc. This will save you a lot of headaches trying to find a place to rent, etc.
If you’re not in college anymore, or don’t plan on going to college, there are still options. As an American, you can only legally visit Europe for three months with just a passport. That’s why I recommend the study abroad because you can get a one year student visa. No problem, you can still make this work, it will just have to be a shorter amount of time. You will also have to figure out your accommodations on your own but that isn’t too difficult these days with many people offering information over the internet about apartments for rent. One recommendation though, don’t go running off to a country where you don’t understand the language very well, that could possibly ruin your entire adventure.
Ok, so, you’ve made your plans and you’ve got a place to sleep, cook, shower, etc. What’s next? In order to be able to race you’re going to need an international license issued by USA Cycling. This is often referred to as a UCI license. Along with this license, you’ll need a foreign permission letter from USAC that states you are in good standing with USAC and you have their permission to race outside of the U.S. The next part may vary from country to country, but in Spain you need too have some kind of health and accidental insurance to be able to race. The paper work for this can be found at the local delegation office of the national cycling federation. You get a form that must be filled out by a doctor; you have to get a physical, and some other documents to apply for the insurance. This will cost about 60Ђ plus whatever the doctor charges you. Turn your papers in and get copies that you are approved. These will be important on race day.
Find A Team
You’ve made it to Europe; you’ve got your license and insurance, now what? The best thing to do is to hit up a couple of bike shops and ask for the fastest club in town. Where do they meet, what time, what day, etc. Go to their next group ride, introduce yourself, and ask about riding/training with them. Most likely just riding with the club you’ll learn more than you already know about cycling. They’ll be able to fill you in on the race scene, etc. Other ways to get info about races are through the local cycling fed delegation or on the cycling fed’s web page.
What About The Racing?
Next, what you should expect when you begin racing in Europe. Forget about crits, they don’t exist, or at least they don’t here in Spain. It’s mostly long road races with some kind of climb if possible. Depending on the difficulty of the route the distance may vary between 110km and 170km. The first year is the toughest. You won’t know anyone in the peloton and they probably won’t care that they don’t know you. You’ll have to work for a spot in the peloton, especially when it’s windy. This is on top of the fact that as a solo rider you won’t have a team car to support you with water and wheels. You’re on your own. If you can’t make it, there is a broom wagon. Don’t let this get you down though. Just don’t jump into these races before you are ready. Ride with the local club for a while and get accustomed to the terrain and style of riding/racing.
Things I’ve Learned
If all goes right, theoretically, you’re racing in Europe. Before you run off and buy plane tickets though, here are some recommendations based on experience. Don’t expect too much of yourself. These races are tough and you should be either a very strong CAT 3 or a good CAT 2 racer if you plan to try this. Even then, you’ll find it tough as the style and attitude of racing here is very different from back in the States. When you do go to the races, if you get a few decent results, top third or so, introduce yourself to the directors of the more modest teams. That’s where you’ll have the best chance of finding a spot. They’ll probably want to watch you race a few times before they consider giving you a jersey or whatever, but you may have just scored yourself support during a race. In addition, when deciding where to go, as I said before go somewhere where you have a basic understanding of the language or will learn some and try to stay away from big cities, as it will make training rides very difficult. For example, here in Spain I’d say stay away from Madrid and Barcelona. Sevilla, Salamanca, Granada and maybe Valencia would be better choices.
Well, there you have it, your pocket guide to racing in Europe. Be advised that this is much more difficult than it may appear. So, you can keep dreaming or you can try to make your dreams come true. No matter how it works out, you’ll always look back at as one of the best experiences you’ve had. Good luck!
Nathan Deibert is a 28 year old young American in southern Spain racing for the new Citroлn Martos Tobalo / Escayolas Alvaro Elite-Sub23 team, and living the dream every day. Drop him an email at Nathan@pezcyclingnews.com
Gratuitous Sponsor Plug Thanks to:
Citroлn Martos Tobalo and Escayolas Alvaro: My new team sponsors. Citroлn Martos Tobalo is a local Citroлn dealer and Escayolas Alvaro is a molded plaster decoration company, both of which are in Carmona, Spain.
Mike Kuhn: My coach for the last 4 years and counting. If you’re looking for a great coach in the central PA area or around the world, send him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org,
or take a look at the website: www.endurancenetwork.com
Holmes Cycling and Fitness: The best bike shop in all of central PA. They’ve got everything you need from serious race equipment to great recreational equipment. Check them out at: www.holmescycling.com
My Parents: for never telling me I was crazy through all the years of chasing this dream.