Europe in the Spring – Photo Essay
The air is thick with countryside in Ninove. Watching the clouds roll over the cow pasture from the kitchen window becomes a usual morning past time. It’s quiet in Ninove, Belgium. Just down the street from the green grocer and the old church is a small house with three levels and many bikes. The place is owned by the Belgium cycling club to which Hendrik Redant belonged his last year as an amateur. The history of previous renters fills the walls. Rider cards from Italian teams are framed and placed in random corners. Window stickers from races all over Europe plaster the wall on the ground floor staircase.
The quietness of the place has its benefits for a cycling team. Easy access to long country roads, markets within walking distance, and an escape from the crowds that line the street for the races that occur every few days. But, as quiet as it is in Ninove occasionally a super fan finds their way to the house and knocks on the front door seeking autographs. This tall house, and the roads around Ninove would be home base for the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling men’s team for about two months.
Bringing an American team to Europe might not seem like a big deal, after all this is 2018 and for years Americans have been on the European racing scene. But, when you are the only team in the peloton with more than one American rider, you begin to realize how rare it is to be there even today. UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling is kind of an anomaly, a specimen to be examined and inspected. The team went into the races with an expert at the helm, Hendrik Redant, who had competed in nearly all the races the team attended, and won almost half of them in his time as a sportsman. He knows the roads intimately, with each of their twists and turns as familiar as an old friend.
While racing is hard in general, the special nature of the spring Belgian races makes them especially difficult. Racing against teams who have been riding the same roads every day since they could pedal a bike, means that as outsiders we have a disadvantage. Crashing was a weekly occurrence, not because of lack of skills, but because of wet cobblestones, tiny roads, and large pelotons. Small injuries meant that each race started a bit harder than the last.
You can be the strongest rider in the world but if you’re 100 guys back and the group splits in a cross wind or cobbled climb that’s 3 meters wide, there is no chance you’re making the front group.
On and off the bike the men of the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling team learned about themselves. Like officers sent into a foreign theater, the team bonded over close quarters, cultural differences, and shared meals. The hurdles thrown at the team went beyond just being outsiders in the European peloton. Living together also means that if one person falls ill the rest often follow, as was what happened at the team house in Ninove. The damp Belgian spring was tempered by flurries of snow, and throughout the time in Europe everyone felt its effects at some point.
Pretty much everyone is sick and has had a cough for the last 2-3 weeks but we were all sitting around at dinner making up these ridiculous jokes, just laughing and coughing so hard that we were all crying.
Sending an American team to Europe for two months might sound crazy. But, we’re playing the long game. The improvements that both our riders, and our team gain from having the opportunity to compete at the hardest one-day races in the world is immeasurable. Mental toughness, pure opportunity, the glory of the fight, these are all the intangibles that keep us moving. Momentum Sports Group has been running a successful team across the globe for nearly twenty years, we know that building a strong program requires hard work. Pushing through the wet, the snow, and the cobbles of Europe is one way of improving our program, building a global legacy to last.