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Cyclingcenter - A home away from home for American riders

Oostende, Belgium


By Anita van Crey and Celine Tytgadt  


The town: Knokke-Heist. The weather: typical Belgian coast-like. The setting: one kermesse. The peloton: about 40 Belgian racers and...one American.... One American in a red-blue-white-ish teamkit... Seeing this makes one wonder about the story behind all this. As for the race, things are clear; the Tour of Belgium for pro-riders finishes in Knokke that afternoon and the kermesse is part of the programme that comes with it... But what brings an American cyclist there to compete?


Tracing back the traces of this particular rider, named Brian Adams, brings one to Bernard Moerman, founding father of the Belgian Cyclingcenter in Oostende, Belgium, who for several years has his heart and house and everything else opened for US-riders who want to give it a try in European cycling.


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Brian Adams


Meeting him, you go with the flow of inspiration.

"This whole thing started about 10 years ago. I was inspired by the MTV-show ‘Real World’, where they put young guys with a same goal together in one house. A question, asked by Paul Naessens of the company New Holland and bike-enthusiastic, made the snowball run. He asked me if I was able to host a rider from the States. Coming from professional soccer I discovered, after actually hosting one, that cycling is a much tougher and harder sport than soccer is. In soccer you can party some days before the game and then play, in cycling this is not possible. I knew not that much about it, but the interest was born."



Hosting a rider and watching him compete had Bernard notice that there could be much work to accomplish in the training area.

"In my opinion they did not train right.. In America you have about one race a week, while in Belgium there are up to three a day. They acted like kids in a candystore, wanted to taste everything but did not eat one candy complete, they entered races, but hardly finished them."

One thing led to another, Bernard rebuilt the downstairs of his home in Oostende and started Cyclingcenter. "Me and my wife Ann want to provide a homefeeling for the riders. It is difficult and different for those riders who actually come to Europe. The adjustment the first year takes over a month...everything is different: a long way away from home, another language, another food, another people, another style and type of racing, another weather, even the water tastes different. When you help them with adjusting to all of it, you somehow make their head clear just for racing...and when the head’s clear, they can perform."

"Racing in the US is sometimes more a festivity, here in Europe it’s hard business, it’s fun but not always funny... Brian Adams once explained it like this: in the US you drive 3 hours to get to a race, ride the crit and drive back 3 hours. Here you ride your bike to the kermesse, ride the race for 3 hours and ride your bike back home. Races are also longer here, 80 km in the US compared to 120 km here. The UCI-races are between 140 and 190 km."



Bernard tells: "I started building a network of trustworthy people around me to provide as good circumstances as possible for the riders who came over. The image most people here have of American riders is that they are not disciplined and not coachable. In my opinion that’s not true, people from the States are brought up slightly different and that requires a different approach; simple as that. In the 10 years we now host riders, we had hardly any disappointing experiences, due to what we expected and learned about American people......We have been in the US over 15 times and we love it over there."

The reason Bernard founded his own team had to do with the UCI regulation of teams allowing only 1 foreign rider in a team. "Instead of trying to let ‘my’ riders ride in different teams (which were also not that easy to be found...) and make them then always be the ‘foreigner’ there, now the all come from the same background....which fits in with that home-feeling...they all know what they are talking about...."

"This is the first year there is no rider in the Cyclingcenter riding for Gerard Bulens Landbouwkrediet-Colnago-Tönissteiner pro-team...in the early years our team was called the ABC-Tönissteiner team and we worked very close with Bulens. He is, I think, one of the only team directors in pro cyling who allows a neo-pro to develop and not to expect immediately big results of them. Look how he let develop Jeff Louder, our rookie from 1998." (Read the interview with Jeff Louder here.)



"The team is now named ABC-Aitos, we wear Aitos clothing and we ride Quattro Assi bycicles, we have an own UCI qualified team doctor (Dr. Dag van Elslande), who does our bloodtests, our lactate tests, etc. We also have our own physiotherapist, our own mechanic...... all to help those who are willing to give it a try in Europe. They first see only the glitter, all want to become the next Lance Armstrong or Greg Lemond. And things turn out much harder than they expected. Not to forget the most important person for me and the team, my wife Ann, the team-mum. She is the most vital part of the cycling center. Mum in the real sense of the word, providing that familiar feeling....that human atmosphere..."

One by one the riders appear at the breakfast table, quickly finding their way through bread, cakes and suikerbrood... Jed Schneider tells: "When we first came here, we were amazed by almost everything. For instance the bread. When you buy those loafs in America, it will cost you heaps...here it’s so great being able to buy such differents sorts!" (While he willingly takes the last slice of suikerbrood and puts it in his mouth.) The others admit and tell stories about big chocolate Easter bunnies, they have never seen that at home. Or training in the middle of rain and storm, passing by some older woman on a bike, with two kids in the front and shoppingbag on the back of her bike. Pete Barlin says: "Here everybody rides a bike, they use it for transportation. Where I come from, you can ride for hours and not see another cyclist...they probably all think your four-wheels have broken down."



"How we turned to cycling?" Pete explains: "I worked in a bike shop, I liked the mechanics. I was working to ride my bike, and after a while I decided to ride my bike as work." Jed admits: "My dad was a triathlete, always hoping I would follow his footsteps. But no, little Jed would rather ride his motorcycle. But one day I accompanied dad to a duathlon, heard Greg Lemond talk there about racing in Europe and that gave me the punch to start riding. First I started to do mountainbike, raced some major races but than turned to roadracing.....and here I am now, in Oostende... ."

"There are some other differences between European and US-cycling. In the USA a race rolls out, it’s quiet, while in Belgium, you have to give it your everything from the beginning. It’s a strong line....until it breaks. The mentality is also completely different. Here, the guys have been racing since they were 10 years old. It’s like playing basketball in America. The level is a lot higher."


This season a licenced American coach (Corey Hart, 27) started at the Cyclingcenter. "I met him through Barney King, another licenced US-coach, well known of the Jelly-Belly team," Bernard explains. "I told him i was looking for an American coach, he knew Corey and now he is here..." Corey himself raced in France: "The first time I stayed there the first two years for about 8 months, the third year came back for 4 months. Due to personal circumstances there, that last visit was cut short."

Bernard: "They all want to do the Tour de France.....but we somewhat have to hold the horses..." and smiles.

"Everybody must do what he or she is best in..."I’m not ‘result-driven’, I let them find out their limits.They need to be proud of the level they achieved and when they go back to the States, back home, they have to go back with as few "If’s" as possible."

Cyclingcenter works closely together with the national team of Noel De Jonckheere. "We exchange riders for different races...sometimes he needs one or two more, sometimes we do...all seen in the light to let them riders grow and learn as much as possible. Learn in their own pace, on the grounds most suitable for them."

Being the only one of the 13 riders in the house, Brian Adams is in Oostende for the second year in a row. For Bernard it’s important to have someone there who has already been there before, for backup and reference and backbone of the team. "The team of over 10 riders provide some competition between those riders, helping again to reach a higher level..."



Brian: "My level of racing now is already much higher than it was last year. One of the main reasons for that are Bernard and Ann. They are taking away as much variables as possible, let us concentrate on racing and racing alone. Being that far away from home, some home-feeling is great. And we find that here. What comes to mind when being asked how I feel about racing I can truely say I love it !!!

My family at home knows I’m doing the right things, they understand and via the internet I can easily keep in touch with them. Due to a tendinitis problem with my achilles heel/ankle I did not race for a while, but start again today, in Knokke-Heist, with a kermesse."

The kermesse in Knokke-Heist, the Cyclingcenter story came full circle....

If you would like to contact Bernard or one of the Cyclingcenter riders, here's the email.

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The Cyclingcenter crew


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