Friday, November 17, 2006

Update through Pijnacker World Cup

I am part way into my cyclo-cross season and i've already had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster ride. And I'm not talking about the mini bumps of Coney Island's cyclone!

After a short rest from a full European road racing season, I started cyclo-cross off at the end of September with a handful of events on the East Coast for the sole purpose of accumulating valuable International UCI points to improve my starting grid position for the big races in Europe. I did just that. I scored a 2nd, 4th, 5th, 5th, and 10th. My host housing, courtesy of fellow racers Noah Taylor, Brian Bigelow, Don Sheff AND my dad, spared my wallet so I could afford to put those UCI points to use overseas.

Right after the last of the east coast races, I flew into Brussels. I waited patiently at the airport for my friend to arrive. He was the same guy who I was relying on for housing, travel and support for the European cyclo-cross season. It took two hours before I could admit to myself that I was on my own.

Luckily I had two telephone numbers with me – one was for a woman named Brandy whom I’d met briefly at a bike shop and the other was for a “roommate wanted” ad I found on the internet – to be used “just in case.” I called Brandy who met me at the airport straight away. After squeezing me and my oversized Tri All 3 bike boxes into her tiny euro car, we headed to the address on the wanted ad.

Again, luck was on my side. The roommates were home and took me in on the spot!

I now live on the fifth floor of a huge converted monestary in Leuven – my favorite town. My room is enormous as well! It has comically high ceilings and enough room to ride my bike in a little circle, although I have been using the space more often to ride the trainer and stretch. My new roommates – siblings Piet and Karin – are really cool – very artsy folks. Karin works in a museum and does prop work for TV and movies.

The tale of being stranded at the airport spread through my building so fast that offers of support were pouring in almost immediately! Neighbors offered me everything from a car to borrow and support at the races to motorpacing and bike mechanic help.

My first few races went smoothly – 14th at Kalmthout World Cup, 8th at another international event in France, and 10th at the infamous Koppenbergcross in Belgium. I was finally starting to feel like my fitness was coming on after getting off to a slow start to the season due to lingering lower back pain from road season. The crowd of supporters (some of which were there for ME! – it seems I have a supporter group of sorts – yippee!) definitely helped to move me along during the races!

The next race on the schedule was the Treviso World Cup in Italy. Unfortunately I will never know how well I would have done in the race because I missed the start. The journey which should have been 11 hours turned into the 27 hour trip from hell – not including the 10 hours spent at a garage when the car died 12 hours into the drive. In hindsight, I should have flown – although that may not have proven to be any better considering the whole Belgian team was stranded at the airport due to the wicked snowstorm somewhere between Belgium and Italy. On a positive note, I saw some amazing mountain views as we passed through Austria during a snowstorm AND the vegan pizza in Italy was scrumptious!

After another nineteen hours in the car, we arrived (fairly late but early enough to make the start) at the Vlaamse Witloof race site in Belgium. Surprisingly, my stiff body was vying for 10th position when the rear derailleur decided to mimic my body’s sensations. With no more shifting options, I held onto 12th.

The highlight of that crazy weekend was spending quality girl time with Marianne Vos (World Champion) and my teammate, An Van Rie. Immediately following the Belgium race, we headed over to a deserted parking lot to give bike mounting/dismounting instruction to An. We laughed, joked, and goofed off the whole time – not just at An’s expense!

I spent the next few days both recovering from the 45 hour odyssey and getting ready for the next World Cup in Pijnacker, Netherlands.

In preparation for the race, I borrowed a car from my neighbors Joris and Sharon and immediately drove it to the gas station. After filling it to the rim 60 euros worth - with regular gas, I read the words “DIESEL” on the gas flap while screwing the gas cap into place. Great.

My roommate Piet met me at the gas station to get me out of this mess. Using a 10-foot rope, he attached my oversized Renault to his tiny two-seater and pulled me to a garage. I’ve seen other people do this and it looks rather easy but I can tell you I must have lost at least a pound of water weight as I sweated bullets trying to keep the car within rope distance. If I hit the brakes too hard, his car leaped backwards and if I didn’t break enough, I’d rear end him.

Our only real disaster was when we attempted a tight corner. With no power steering, I didn’t quite make it into the correct lane. Dozens of cars were backed up in both directions. Most of the drivers got out of their cars to help me – the damsel in distress!

When we got to the garage, I found out that removing the gas from a Renault is tricky business due to its snazzy anti-theft gas tanks. After yet another five hours in a garage and many more euros later, I was on my way. I should have gone straight home since I was in a frazzled state, but instead I pressed my luck to fetch some bottled water. As I was pulling out of the supermarket parking lot, I rubbed the car up against a wall, leaving a trail of green paint on the car to remind me of the crappy day I had!

The next day I drove to Pijnacker to pre-ride the race course. Mapquest pinned the drive time at two hours, my time was four. I got to the general vicinity within two but circled around for two trying to find the tiny town where the race was taking place! I rode two laps of the course in the semi dark, washed the bike in a nearby stream (my lube is bio-friendly, btw) and headed to the hotel 5km away which only took one hour to locate.

I woke up the next day to frigid, stormy weather complete with rain pellets. I arrived early so my warm-up went well. I was even ok with my fourth row starting position (as opposed to the front row call-ups I had been accustomed to prior to the Italy debacle.)

The start of the race was quite nervous. As soon as the gun went off, a gal tried to hip-check me out of the way. When I didn’t budge, she bounced into the wall and crashed. Within a minute, I was back in top ten feeling okay…until I was mowed down by an Italian gal who slid back down one of the wooden “flyover” overpasses. She trapped my bike under hers. It took some time to unravel my bike from both her bike and her flailing body parts. Once free, I began the too familiar game of catch-up when you try to pass those who got by you during your dilemma.

I spent the next minutes frantically trying to get around numerous racers whose seemingly self-appointed callings in life were to not let me pass. By the time I cleared the masses, I was wiped. (note to self – must not be frantic when trying to pass people. Only leads to frustration and wasted energy. ) I then passed a few more people and settled into 18th place. Thankfully I had an amazing pit crew, twin brothers serge and christophe, who handed me a fresh clean bike every lap. This was priceless on a ridiculously muddy course where the bike almost doubles in weight if you ride it too long! I am also glad to note that my running has improved thanks to the fifth floor walkup!

I have two more big events here in Europe before heading home to USA for three races, one of which is the National Championships 17 December in Rhode Island. I would LOVE to return to Europe the next day with the Stars and Stripes jersey. We shall see…

Thanks for all the support and thanks for reading this super-mega-ridiculously long email!! That in itself shows a lot of support!!!

Best,

Peanut

PS. I am currently ranked 19th in the World.

PPS There’s been a ton of coverage on me, but since I’m short on time, here are a few links to amuse you. I also attached another photo from the race in France just in case you want to see what I look like when I’m suffering!

http://www.lottoladiescycling.be/forum/viewforum.php?f=3&sid=c8e941189fb3292fd0dc3e7fb01214cb – you can find photos of me from most of the Euro races

http://www.cyclingnews.com/cross.php?id=photos/2006/nov06/koppenberg06/kop_bd_20061101_152346 - photo from the infamous koppenbergcross in Belgium

http://race.cx/2006/11/02/cpq-4-christine-vardaros/ - interview I just did for a cyclo-cross website in USA

http://www.chrismilliman.com/hillshots/?m=200511 – just found this photo – scroll to the bottom of the page to see a photo of me, or rather seven photos morphed into one.

http://www.yogajournal.com/health/2285_1.cfm - link to another interview I did for Yoga Journal Mag. Unfortunately it doesn’t show the photo of me that appeared in the Mag.

3 comments:

Adeline said...

Lol a lot of things ...
Now I Know something ... I never must to give you my car Lol
But congratulations for your results (when you do not miss the start :-D )

Chris said...

Go Peanut!

gewilli said...

hmmm... which is worse... fillin a diesel with gasoline or rubbing the side of the car...

;)

nice to hear of ya adventures in Euro-land!

See ya stateside soon!