We arrived on saturday to pre-ride the course and pick up race numbers - both accomplished rather successfully. I rode a bit with Elke Riedl of Austria - a very friendly gal! We ran into each other by chance on a muddy section and checked out the course together. Once completely transformed into rolling mudballs, we returned to the parking lot for a proper hose-down. Bikes were washed too but in one of the zillions of streams in Holland .
Back at the hotel, it felt like deja vu. It was a complete reenactment of my stay there last year. The French National Team parked in the same location and set up their bike wash in the same place - even same guys working on the bikes, the Italian National Team also parked in their usual spots as did the Brits. At breakfast, the racers and their support crew took over their normal turf in the dining room - Brits in the left corner, Belgians over to the right by the bar, French in the middle, Italians two tables away while the nondescript unidentifiable bike-racers and other foreigners filled the voids. I was so taken aback by the bizarrely familiar setup that when I walked over to the not surprisingly empty table where I was cosmically expected to sit, I just couldn't do it. Immediately I did a roundabout and took a different table possibly meant for someone else - maybe it was Stybar's spot. We got his hotel bill by accident which had breakfast listed but we never saw him. Maybe he had breakfast up in his room after finding his usual spot was taken.
The actual racing from last year didn't repeat itself, though. We parked on the Team Trailer strip and within a few minutes of arriving, the sun disappeared and the ice cold rain started again. An hour before the race, i headed out to check out the course. I figured it would have changed a bit from yesterday since the rain had drenched the course all night long, but I wasn't expecting it to be almost unrecognizable. All the scouting I did yesterday was a complete waste of time. There were no "best lines" left from the day previous. In many cases, there were no lines at all!
As we stood at the start line with a full eight minutes before we were to depart, the sky attacked us with rain pellets traveling at about 40kph, instantly turning us to wet icicles. Time to turn over my rain jacket and long sleeve jersey to Renatta and Monique - perfect timing. That must have been the longest eight minutes of our lives!
The beginning of the race was just as chaotic as the bone-chilling rain - girls crashing as early as the first mud bumps at the end of the pavement straightaway. I took that section a bit slow so i could safely navigate around the carnage. Then two turns later, another gal sprawled herself across a mud-pavement transition. It was Helen Wyman from Great Britain. It always sucks when you pass a fallen gal whom you know and like!
The next technical section was an extended stretch of deep sand-turned-mud. At this point I was in 16th. And in my determination to make my way closer to the front of the race, I opted to ride this section instead of running. It proved to be a detrimental move. Not only was I much slower, but my bike paid a high price of being dragged through the mud. It stopped working. If only i would have realized that it was effectively non-functional for speed, I would have grabbed my other Ahrens in the pit. Instead i trudged on in my tunnel-visioned focus of moving ahead.
One of the worst feelings in a cyclo-cross race must be when you are riding your hardest only to seemingly travel in slow motion as the swarms of sinewy lycra-clad creatures steadily pass you. Then you look behind only to find yourself at the back of the pack. Once I got a new bike, the field had spread out
so much that i only chased back to 27th position. It would have taken legs of God (or at least Helen Wyman's who chased back to 6th following her early race debacle) to make up much time on a such a heavy course. On another note, I was thrilled to see Gabby Day also of GB have her best world cup finish yet - 9th place.
The crowds were great to me though! Many of them had witnessed my first lap rendition of racing that they spent the rest of the race cheering me on to keep up the effort! "Allez VanderKatja!" I'll never get enough of the Dutch version of Vanderkitten!
While I was fighting my own personal battle out there on the course, Jonas was apparently at battle as well - but in the pit area! On a course where gals are changing their mud-clad machines twice a lap for a cleaner model of about 5kg lighter, the few high pressure hoses instantly become highly coveted treasures that can easily turn a mild mannered individual into a crazed maniac. Well, he encountered one of those maniacs on one of his trips to the bike washing area. When the standard maneuver of using the bike as a wall to block a guy from cutting the hose line didn't work, Jonas turned to him and said, "Don't be fooled by the pussy on my head (Vanderkitten head logo on his hat). The red spot on its tooth is BLOOD!" I wish i could have been there to see the look on that guy's face when he backed down to a guy covered in kitten heads. HAHAHAHA!
The best part of the day must have been hearing the USA National Anthem playing over the loudspeaker in Pijnacker, Netherlands while Katie Compton stood on the highest spot on the podium! Maybe I was thrilled to hear that song because i'm proud to be American or maybe it's partly because i'm happy for Katie or maybe I was just thrilled because it represented success related to hard work that people from USA (such as Geoff Proctor and Jonathan Page) have done to promote cyclo-cross on an international level has had real effect!
Photos were taken by my friend Krist Vanmelle. Thanks Krist!