By Jenn Jackson
Going to Belgium with the Canadian National Cyclocross team for Kerstperiod – the busiest, most competitive week of cross racing of the year, was on my mind long before I even raced cyclocross. A few years ago, I stumbled across the Instagram’s of now-teammate Brody Sanderson and Gunnar Holmgren, who at the time were juniors taking the world of cyclocross head-on.
I didn’t know what this sport was, why they’d forgone a beautiful snowy winter at home to slide around in the mud, or what they were trying to accomplish in these massive European races. But what I did know was that they lived nearby so I wanted to follow along and support my fellow Simcoe County locals. I also knew I needed to find out what this sport was, and what this experience was all about.
Fast forward to fall 2018. I just rolled through my first cyclocross season, discovering both what the CX Fever is all about and a little niche in cycling that advantages my transfer-athlete quirks. With a paltry three race weekends on my UCI profile, I soon found myself packing up not for holiday family visits, but a transatlantic flight to Belgium with only promises of mud, massive races, and memories I’d never forget.
For the first time since its inception, the Canadian Christmas Cross team was full – 12 athletes. As the only Elite of the five women, I was afforded the choice to race in either my club or National Team kit. While it might not seem like a big decision to make, I don’t like making decisions; and this was a bit of an uncomfortable one. After much contemplation of the risk that my AWI Racing teammates disown me (they did not, much obliged), I elected to race in National Team colours. As much as I wanted to rep the plaid abroad, for now it would have to wait – I knew the locals back home would be proud to see me racing for all of Canada.
There are a lot of psychological pieces on the positive reinforcement and confidence gained from being part of a team, of sharing an identity and common purpose. And being able to go to the start line with Ruby West, Magdeleine Vallieres, Dana Gilligan, and Sidney McGill looking and feeling like a team was important to me. We are all greenlings, traveling to the other side of the world to face enormous elite races like we’ve never experienced, on crazy courses we’ve never seen before… but we were representing our country, we were there together as Team Canada, and I found confidence and comfort in facing the races ahead with them.
As we lined up on the grid in Namur, Ruby smack in the middle of the 84 women-strong field and the rest of us towards or right at the back, with the rain teeming down, I realized I wasn’t scared. In past experiences at cross country ski and mountain bike World Cups, even just at other big UCI mountain bike races, I would feel sick with anxiety at the start line. But I didn’t have much time to contemplate why I wasn’t feeling sick or scared, because the lights quickly went from red to green and I knew I only had 45 minutes to pass as many people as possible.
Jenn Jackson is a mountain biker and cyclocross racer and former XC ski racer from Oro Medonte, Ont. In 2018 Jackson won Canada Cup XCO Women’s series overall title racing for AWI Racing. She then won a Silver medal at 2018 Canadian cyclocross national championships in Peterborough, Ont. and join Cycling Canada’s Christmas Cross program in Belgium.