David Hackworthy gets his first taste of European cyclo-crossFour short years after taking up bicycle racing, 19-year-old David Hackworthy is getting the impression that he might have a future in the sport.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
Four short years after taking up bicycle racing, 19-year-old David Hackworthy is getting the impression that he might have a future in the sport.
He spent two weeks at the Euro Cyclo-cross Camp in Belgium in late December and early January at the invitation of U.S. National Team Coach Geoff Proctor.
The camp gives up-and-coming American cyclo-cross racers a chance to compete with the more ruthless Europeans.
The camp’s 19 riders, who also included Hudson’s Bjorn Selander, were selected based on their performances at top American cyclo-cross races over the past season.
Hackworthy has surprised a lot of people since entering his first cyclo-cross race in the fall of 2007.
He won the B race of the Boom Island competition in Minneapolis in just his fourth or fifth outing. After that, the 2008 Hudson High School graduate moved up to the elite riders’ A races and started competing in major cyclo-cross races around the region and country.
He placed seventh in the Men’s Under 23 category at the 2007 Cyclo-cross National Championships in Kansas City. Selander, who along with his father, Dag, introduced Hackworthy to cyclo-cross, was the U23 national champion in 2007.
This year, the competition at the national championships was a little tougher. Selander placed fifth, and Hackworthy, 13th.
Cyclo-cross is a sport invented by European cyclists to pass the time during the winter lull in road races. The participants race around a circular course, sometimes through mud and over obstacles that require them to dismount and carry their bicycles.
The European experience
Hackworthy and Selander, along with two bicycles apiece, flew together to Belgium. They left on Dec. 19 and because of a bad snowstorm on the east coast of the U.S. arrived at the USA Cycling house in Izegem, Belgium, a day late.
USA Cycling maintains the house year-round as a place for National Team riders and prospects to stay while training and racing in Europe.
The male group participating in this Euro Camp included three elite racers, seven U23 racers (ages 19-22) and nine junior racers (ages 16-18).
The flight delay caused Hackworthy and Selander to miss the first race scheduled for them. But they participated in five other top-level races, including the Heusden-Zolder World Cup race the day after Christmas.
Europeans take their bicycle racing very seriously, Hackworthy learned.
“Cycling over there is like football here,” he said. “You get a hundred times more spectators, and they actually have to pay to see the event.”
No one cheered for the Americans though.
“It’s a big crowd, but they’re not loud when you come by,” Hackworthy said. “They cheer for the Belgians and all the Euro guys.”
The warnings he received about the aggressiveness of European racers were well-founded.
“The guys over there are not afraid to hit you with their bikes. It’s a lot more physical,” Hackworthy said. “Over there, you can be in a group of the last 10 guys and they’ll attack you and try to beat you like you are in the front crew. They’re racing like it’s for the win all the way in the back. It’s a lot tougher.”
That tougher European competition is the reason USA Cycling maintains the house in Izegem and invites promising American cyclists to spend some time there.
“If you are a cyclist in Europe, it’s serious,” Proctor was quoted as saying by www.cyclingnews.com. “…I think our riders are sometimes too nice. It’s more cut-throat over there. I think it takes our riders by surprise.”
Living like a pro
Hackworthy enjoyed the perks that came along with the European experience.
“For two weeks in that house, it is almost like you’re a professional cyclist,” he said.
The director of the USA Cycling program in Belgium runs the house along with his wife.
Hackworthy and Selander didn’t have to worry about race arrangements. And when they returned from a race, the house’s masseuse would massage their legs.
The race director’s wife prepared a large group dinner in the evenings.
On the days where there wasn’t a race, Hackworthy and Selander took to the narrow city streets and country roads of Belgium.
Unlike in the United States where cyclists are viewed as pests by some motorists, they are celebrated in Belgium.
“It’s really cool riding through the cities because you have the right of way,” Hackworthy said. “So you just ride down the middle of the streets.”
The 20-year-old Selander, a past resident of the USA Cycling house in Izegem, was his tour guide.
“That’s what was so nice about being with Bjorn,” Hackworthy said. “He basically taught me all I know about cyclo-cross racing – him and Dag. He showed me the ropes because he’s been over there countless times.
As a member of the U.S. National U23 Cycling Team, Selander was already well acquainted with the roads of Belgium and competing in European cyclo-cross races.
Selander returned to the United States with Hackworthy on Jan. 4, but is back in Europe again to compete in the Cyclo-cross World Championships.
Hackworthy said he did “all right” in the races, considering that it was his first exposure to European racing. He usually finished fifth out of the seven American U23 riders competing.
Selander was in the top two among the Americans, and consistently in the top 25 overall.
“Most of the time he was ahead of me. I mean, Bjorn, he’s super fast,” Hackworthy said.
Back to school
Hackworthy is returning to classes at UW-River Falls this week. A freshman, he plans to major in economics and business administration.
His father, C.R. Hackworthy, is a well-known local real estate developer.
“I’m kind of seeing where it’s taking me,” the younger Hackworthy said of his bicycle racing. “I’m taking classes locally so I can try to get the best of both worlds – knock out some school and continue to do my racing.”
He and Selander both compete with the Ridley Factory Team, based in the Twin Cities.
They had to pay much of their own way to participate in the Euro Camp. Anyone wishing to help them cover their expenses can contribute online at www.sportsbaseonline.com/Donation/SitePage.aspx?id=630.