Elle Anderson is a professional cyclocross racer who spent the season racing in Belgium. She recaps the year, not through a race report, but highlighting the sensations of competing at the sport's highest level, far from home.

I’m not going to give you a race report about the Cyclocross World Championships in Bieles, Luxembourg. But I will tell you that I crossed the finish line with a massive smile.

What I do want to tell you about is my experience living in Europe these past five months. The races and results are important, naturally, and that’s why I am here. But I estimate I’ve spent only 25 hours racing my bike this winter. The 45 minutes between the start and the finish line in Bieles, what you might see on TV and glance at on the results page, is such a small part of the story. The rest of the story soaks up the hours around the races and the days between them. Morning trips to the bakery for fresh bread, trips to the local coffee places, feet up on the couch working for Strava or out playing on the trails in the sand dunes by the Sea.

The night before World Championships, I was hosted by my boyfriend’s aunt and uncle in a big house in the Wallonia countryside, just across the border from Luxembourg. We listened to classical music and tasted two amazing bottles of wine from Willem’s wine cellar (perks of knowing an ex-sommelier) over charcuterie, cheese and salad. We watched the Belgian TV special where the likes of Sven Nys and other past Champions discussed favorites and course conditions for Bieles. It was amazing, and it also doesn’t sound like a typical pre-race routine.

“Don’t chase numbers or results. Chase sensations” is a quote I recently came across.

The morning of the World Championships, I stayed calm even when we got lost and misdirected again and again trying to get to team parking. Knowing that the conditions were rapidly changing with the rise in temperature, I did my warm up early and then did two laps of the course right up until the moment I had to take my place at the staging for the start. It was also not my typical pre-race routine, but I have enough experience with the European races to go with the plan that feels right.

It was three years ago that I first came over to Europe to race in the World Championships, Hoogerheide 2014. It was no ‘mom & pop’ cyclocross race, no labor-of-love that rarely makes a profit, no chill U.S. vibe where it seems everyone drinks beer. Immediately inspired and curious, I was compelled to explore the inner and outer workings of this European version of the sport I thought I knew. Over the following years I dove into the full experience and became totally immersed in Belgian cyclocross and cycling culture. Slowly, I grew tentative roots in the Belgian mud and got used to the courses, the spectators, and the added pressure and intensity of racing the best in the world every race.

Back to the massive smile as I crossed the line last Sunday. It’s not the result I was smiling about, even though it was a career highlight for me. Instead the smile spanned 3 years of chasing sensations, not just in the race but also the sensations of the life that surrounds it.