Thursday, November 29, 2007
with a boatload of pannekoeken (belgian pancakes!)
This morning i made a stack of yummy vegan pancakes - skinny belgian style and paired them with a dozen toppings such as maple syrup - of course, blueberry jam, cherry jam, brown sugar, powdered sugar, dark chocolate and vanilla soy pudding, sliced bananas, apples and plums, dark chocolate sprinkles. I sat there at the table for about an hour putting together every random combination imaginable. Rolling the pancakes up in traditional pannekoek style was half the fun.
I think the winner combo was vanilla soy pudding, banana slices, and maple syrup. Runner up was cherry jam with dark chocolate sprinkles. But frankly they were all incredible! And washing it all down with rich creamy french press coffee just about sent me "naar de maan.!" (to the moon.)
After filling my belly to the max, I went for my first ride in a few days. I knew it would be cold since it's been hovering around freezing the past days. But today I was in for a bonus - the second i stepped outside, the ice pellets arrived. They were the ones that hit your face like zings of ice but immediately turned into water upon impact.
I almost never mind riding in rain; it's the post-ride cleanup that really blows. It is especially inconvenient when you ride in Belgium because the roads are usually covered in mud, cow dung and random construction materials. Vanderkitten did a great job in designing the kits for this type of riding, though, since most of the material is brown. After today's ride, all you could see though the mud was the white of the kitty head and the pink plaid pattern. To keep the bright light of the sun (ok, i was being optimistic) away from my concussion-sensitive eyes, I sported a pair of huge-ass Jackie-O glasses. Sexy. Purr... hahaha!
Tomorrow is another day...thank GOD!
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The trip began quite pleasantly with a pre-ride on the Koksijde course. This was definitely the best part of the weekend! The course started off on a paved straightaway, as most courses do, then onto a twisty wet grass section. Once past the pits, the fun began - two extended sand sections that dump you off at the bottom of a steep, deep sand runup. Most of the gals ran part of the first sand pit before they got off and ran for another couple of minutes to and through the second sand pit and up the runup. At the top of the runup, you could either run down in the deep sand or try and glide down on two wheels - if you could initially get the bike moving. Following the sand, we were treated to more twisty turns on wet mud/grass and then back to a sand/mud runup. And again back on the grass.
The last runup on the course was my favorite - well, actually it was the steep sandy descent at the top i most enjoyed. Similar to the first sand descent, if you got enough speed in the deep sand, it was rideable. But based on the oohs and aahs of the crowd at that section, i suppose not everyone got enough speed. I always make fun of those people who congregate at the most technical sections of a course in hopes that they will witness a boatload of carnage, but i must admit it's a lot more fun to watch than a pavement straightaway!
What put my preride experience over the top was the people interaction i had during the ride. I spent most of the pre-ride with my former Prune teammate Christelle Ferrier-Bruneau and her countrymate Nadia Triquet-Claude. It's always a lot more fun to check out the course with other people so you can compare lines and get a sense of the racing rhythms of the track. And considering both gals normally finish near the top of the field in World Cups, it's always an honor to ride with them!
(photo to left is of the Koksijde boardwalk along the sea)
And if that wasn't exciting enough, midway through the ride I got advice on how to tackle a section of the course from Christian Heule of Stevens Racing. And when I found myself gapped from the French gals while talking to Christian, I caught a draft from Erwin Vervecken who just happened to pass by and easily bridged the gap. Only in a European race!
Race day began with an excellent parking spot as the first vehicle as you enter the main road to the course. Every spectator and racer had to pass the Vanderkitten-Mobile to get to the race. Just after we parked, a pre-race battle in my mind ensued. I tried to ward off all my untoward symptoms of a concussion with overt thoughts of unabashed optimism and other warm, fuzzy nonsense. But just as i started to bring the effort up in my warmup, reality hit me like a ton of Belgian bricks - well, actually it felt more like a blunt iron rod with protruding jagged spikes jammed through my head and repeatedly twisted. I felt like a caged dog - one who wears a special collar that sends a jolt of electricity through his body every time he tries to cross the invisible fence.
Needless to say, the start of the race was less than ideal. My decent third row callup was completely wasted on me within the first ten seconds. And to make matters worse, in the middle of the first steep sand descent on the first lap, a gal crashed right into me. It only took a few seconds to disassemble her bike enough to free mine, but that was all it took to put me in last place. While keeping my effort level just at the point below the pain threshold where i would pass out, I continued on. That was definitely a delicate balancing art of sorts, one that I have no designs on perfecting!
For the remaining minutes, I passed a few people but not enough to make it a heroic effort by any means. After the race, I went back to the mobilehome, unwound for about ten minutes then headed out for the ten hour drive to France.
Most of the drive to Britannia was in the dark but what little we did see reminded me of just how beautiful that country is! The rustic little towns, spectacular castles that date back a trillion years, and the perfectly undulating countryside is enough to get me to visit France - even though its residents only speak three languages - french, french, and french.
Aside from the views, another benefit of cyclo-cross courses located in France is that you can usually count on hills! With a somewhat fixed upper limit on my effort level, i really enjoyed the few opportunities the course went uphill. Uphill riding means no sprints out of turns so i can be more effective at moderate output.
Again, my start was crap. I had a great callup - even had the highly coveted #1 race plate! But again within the first few seconds, I had to back off the pedals for fear of passing out. But i stayed tough while carefully minding my effort limit. And by the end of the race i even passed over ten riders.
The crowds were great! I even had groups of kids cheering for the "cat head", while others cheered for me because they remembered me from road season earlier in the year when i raced for a French Team. One of my former teammates, Celine, was also out there screaming my name. I was so thankful for all those cheers. A hearty cheering section can really help the morale when you're having a tough day!
Mo Bruno, one of my favorite cross riders, was also out there for a weekend of racing. She rode like a superstar! It was great to watch her fe-malehandle (there had to be a better word for this) the other riders!!
Oddly enough, a myspace friend of Vanderkitten saw me racing there and took photos which he sent back to Vanderkitten! (here they are!)
After another ten hour drive, I finally arrived home. That was a hard weekend of driving - even as a passenger. I don't know how Jonas did it. I go crazy if i have to drive a car for more than ten minutes!
Lucky for me, my next races aren't until 8-9 December (World Cup and Superprestige) so I (better) have plenty of time to recover from the knocks on my head. This trip will also be driving heavy. I think it's about twelve hours to Italy, then another fourteen to Veghel, Holland the following day! But at least my head will be into it this time around - literally.
Thanks for reading!
Monday, November 19, 2007
Then it was on the trainer - inside the mobilehome. That was a funny experience. It felt like surfing on wheels - one hand on the handlebars and the other on a cabinet handle latched closed. The most trying part of the traveling warmup was the extended cobblestone road. It was bad enough to add a vertical dimension to the workout with the bumping of the uneven road, but hitting those twists and turns were almost amusing. Both sides of the trainer took turns to be completely airborne for a few seconds.
We got there just in time to get in a couple of pre-ride loops on the course before the first race of the day began.
Normally I preride on one of my race bikes, but this time i opted for my training bike. Fifteen minutes into the mud expedition, I hit the "chute" for a second time. The chute was a steep twisty descent covered in deep grooved mud - a section that ended up taking out many of the top men racers later in the day.
Halfway down the chute, I found myself in a groove that led directly to a tree - no way out. For the split second i had to think about the ensuing tree kiss, I gave some thought as to what part of my body i'd like to volunteer as the contact point. I narrowed it down between collarbone and head. Considering my head was probably stronger and more protected than my collarbone, i opted to go head first.
BAM! I must have looked like one of those tom and jerry cartoons where the impact is followed with the *@!?!@&*!. To make matters worse, some random guy continued the cartoon scene by coming to my rescue; he tried to get the bike upright while i was still wrapped around it.
Once standing, I assessed the damage - well, once my surroundings became light again! The crash left me with double vision, severe head pain, banged up quad and handlebar snapped in half. Even the tree suffered from my poor driving skills! (See photo.)
Somehow i made it back to the mobilehome. Moving in slow motion, I just made the start. It's amazing how long it takes to do menial tasks when you see everything in double.
Standing at the start line seemed like a dream - a bad one. The gun sounded and i took the right line up the side. But with less than vision and stellar sensations, i allowed myself to be forced off the good lines and into the deep mud ditch on the side of the course. It was in that few second time span that i was passed by almost the whole field.
During the race, my balance started to improve and I slowly moved through the field to eventually finish 12th. I even passed a gal who placed top ten in last week's World Cup. If only my sensations normalized a bit earlier in the race. Or better yet, if that tree hadn't have been there. I've often told people, "If you look at the tree, you'll hit it." I wonder if that's why i crashed. Maybe if i would have put my head down just before impact, somehow the tree would have eluded me...hahaha.
Anyway, although my result was not what i expected, I got a lot of cheers for spending the whole race passing gals! I even got cheers from my competitor's crew (winner Katie Compton and Helen Wyman's supporters threw me a few kind encouraging words!)
After the race, I headed back to the mobilehome for a shower and an impromptu lunch party. Reeve of Seattle and Gary and Betty of NorCal joined me and Jonas for some homemade organic Pumpkin, Leek and Potato soup served with fresh 10-grain bread from the local bakery to dip in the homemade rosemary olive oil with salt. And of course ProBars for appetizers, speculaas for dessert.
Later on, we watched the mens race. I hate to say it but i was almost thankful to see so many of the men crash on the chute. It made me feel like i wasn't as big of a loser as I had made myself out to be in my mind for biting it there.
We had two American men out there - Jonathan Baker and Jonathan Page. Both looked very strong. It seems Jonathan Baker is getting better and better throughout his european campaign. Unfortunately Page had a tough race with a bad crash. His bike was engulfed by the course marking tape causing him to waste valuable seconds trying to unravel it. His team situation must not help his racing much either.
As usual, it was amazing to watch Rabobank's Sven Nys massacre the field. Even with a string of Fideas on his wheel, he chose the exact moment he wanted to leave...and left. He attacked on the extended power climb on the last lap. By the time he got to the top, he had about ten seconds on 2nd position Erwin Vervecken.
But the real hero of the day had to have been Fidea's Bart Wellens. Knowing that the only way to beat Sven is to be proactive, Bart spent the full one hour attacking repeatedly - a real brave effort that takes a lot of strength and determination to execute! Even to the very last meters, he was fighting tough to successfully get a spot on the podium.
Just before we left the race site, I arranged an interview with Bart that is scheduled for this week. I'm writing it for a magazine. If you have any questions you'd like me to ask him, please let me know ASAP! He tends to make for a good interview, so I am really excited about it.
The photo is of him and his fiance, Lentel, to whom i gave a Vanderkitten/ProBar care package. I figured she'd enjoy Vanderkitten stuff more than he would. I could be wrong, though...
ps. B/W photo was taken by Krist Vanmelle and the pink one on top was taken by Ruben Verhaeghe. You can view the rest of his photos on his Gavere posting site or visit his personal website.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I found this out because I happen to know a buggy driver. When not occupied with hustling to get my bikes in order, drive me around to the bike races, and act as Euro team manager/mechanic, Jonas can be found behind the steering wheel of an airplane buggy.
A few days ago, as Jonas and I rode by the Brussels airport we passed a few small groups of folks sitting outside the airport fence with binoculars and cameras in hand to plane-watch.
Considering Jonas is practically inside the belly of a plane a couple of days a week for his part-time job, I wondered if he found it odd that people would drive many kilometers just to stand outside in freezing weather so they can catch a mere glimpse of a plane flying overhead. It turns out that many people would kill to have the close-up view of planes that just happens to be part of Jonas' job.
I'm not into planes, but I was curious to know what it is like to see airplanes from a buggy perspective. So I asked him to take a few photos with his cell phone next time he's at work.
Here are the photos he took:
I especially loved the one with his legs resting on the buggy window - a very cyclist thing to do!
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
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!
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Currently Katie Compton of USA is leading in the UCI World Ranking. She is absolutely amazing on a bike! If she continues to lead in rankings, the USA should get to send a total of 6 instead of 5 gals to Worlds in Italy January 2008.
Jonas and I leave Saturday to check out the course and pick up my race #. I always like to get the # the day before so i can spend the evening obsessing over the perfect pin job.
The Dutch selectors have released the selection for the first of the two world cup rounds that are to be held in Holland. An experienced team including two former world champions, Richard Groenendaal and Lars Boom will attempt to unsettle the Belgians with the hope of securing their first world cup win of the season. Boom finished a close third in the last round in Tabor, in what was only his second race of the season. Groenendaal and Wilant Van Gils are also coming into form just in time for the Dutch round after slow starts to the season. Both riders finished in the top five at the last round of the superprestige series in Hamme-Zogge after fighting most of the race for podium positions.
The USA has sent a depleted squad of just five riders to the third round of the cup, and will be pinning their hopes on the 2007 world's runner up, Jonathan Page who has been steadly improving since the start of the season.
Elite men: Lars Boom (Rabobank), Richard Groenendaal (AA Sport Drinks), Gerben de Knegt (Rabobank), Thijs Al (BeOne CRC Team), Wilant Van Gils (ZZPR.nl), Maarten Nijland, Jean-Pierre Leijten, Camiel van den Bergh.
Elite women: Daphny van den Brand, Sanne van Paassen (Team DSB Bank), Arenda Grimberg, Reza Hormes-Ravenstijn, Linda van Rijen (Team DSB Bank), Abke Francissen, Anouk Kesseler-Haarsma, Tessa van Nieuwpoort.
Elite men: Jonathan Page (Sunweb), Christopher Jones, Jonathan Baker.
Elite women: Katherine Compton, Christine Vardaros.
your trading cards are being auctioned on Ebay!!! Actually since they are only being auctioned off for 1.50 Euros it is not as flattering now that i know my worth is less than two bucks. Oh, that's right, it's in euros so it increases my value to $10,000 (uh...ok, maybe just a little OVER two dollars.)
And on another note, my friend M-Coco just emailed over a link to a YouTube video from kalmthout world cup in Belgium a couple of weeks ago. It shows me and a friend Gabby Day racing the switchbacks. She's the star of the 24-second video but I got a cameo.
I'd have the youtube video screen on my blog but i haven't learned how to do that yet so here is the LINK TO THE VIDEO!
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
It all started when we went upstairs to get his Belgian military belt he promised to me when i showed up one day last year with my pants hanging off my ass (i was having a super skinny period.) We found the belt - along with the rest of his military suit from 1983. We were both intrigued as to whether he could still fit the suit after 25 years. I don't know why it's always a point of pride to many of us that we still fit into our outfits from the 70's and 80's. In general, we ought to burn the clothes from those generations AND bury them to prevent anyone from leaving the house donning those outfits. Much of the 60' and even the 50's are ok for public viewing though.
He shimmied his body into the suit rather successfully - buttons and latches clasped. Then he pressed his luck with trying on another outfit - a Paris-made tuxedo from the 1800's when people were miniature. Not only did he slide right in but with quite a lot of breathing room - literally! The frame of the jacket and vest was svelte but the belly area was generously cut. Since it's a tux, i suppose he had extra room built into the tummy area so it can expand during those long festivities where they serve 39 courses of food! I guess our generation also dresses for the food parties - except our version of the expandable suit is called 'big jeans' since we really don't dress up as much as they used to.
My second outing was last night. I met Johan for our usual Tuesday evening of coffee and dinner. Except this time we ended it with a celebratory drink! A few months ago, when Johan and I passed a restaurant that specializes in umbrella drinks, I turned to him and said "When my cross season is underway at a Vanderkitten, we have to come back here and celebrate with an umbrella drink." Well that special drink finally happened last night. We didn't get the umbrella but we did get a glass of champagne! Oh, and did i mention i had some Eddy Merckx wine at Jan's that night? He also showed me a very cool antique Ekla jersey with the pocket on the front.
It's 10:39am now and i'm motivating to get out the door for yet another butt-cold ride, skies threatening to flood the area! MUST GO NOW!!! MUST GO NOW!!! Oops, i'm still here. guess it didn't work. OK, this time I'm going...
Monday, November 5, 2007
Sunday, November 4, 2007
What i didn't know until partway through my pre-ride (or rather pre-walk) was that it rained the night before the race as well, making most of the uphill of the womens course unrideable. (Part of our uphill is different from the mens' course.) We had almost five minutes of deep mud running per lap.
Again, Jonas and I parked the Vanderkitten Mobilehome on the main entranceway leading to the Koppenbergcross race site. We were alongside all the big pro mens trucks and RV's such as Fidea. OK, we lied to get there but we did it in the name of Vanderkitten - hahaha! The women were supposed to park somewhere far far away but since we wanted to be located where there was the highest quantity of foot traffic, we pretended i was a guy racer. My ultra short hair and little boy looks helped us to pull it off.
The course started off on a paved straightaway. At the end, we turned left into a thick mud stretch that lasted maybe about thirty seconds.
Next was a curvy paved section that got steeper and steeper until the left turn at the top where the uphill running through tacky slop began. This section was such a task that it even brought a few of the women racers to tears!
Once at the top, I grabbed a fresh bike at the pit (thanks to Jonas) for the treacherous descent that was more like a twisty ice chute. Fans crowded the downhill in hopes of witnessing firsthand the expected carnage. It was on this section that i heard the most cheers - a range of Allez Peanutje, kom aan Christineke, go christine, come on peanut. I didn't even realize that so many people knew me! Some of the voices i recognized such as Gary and Betty from California, Jonas' mom, Serge, Maaike's family and a few others. But if i weren't on the rivet trying to stay upright on the descent, it would have been fun to see who these people were who were cheering me on. Maybe most were people who collected my trading card earlier in the day.
Following the descent, there was a short pavement reprieve of about ten seconds before returning to more thick mud that was borderline unrideable. After collecting about 3kg (5lbs) of mud on the tires, frame, shoes, brakes, we entered the start/finish straightaway to do it all again, but with additional mud-weight in tow all the way up the Koppenberg.
I'd have to say of all the laps, my favorite was the last. I caught Laurence Leboucier on the start/finish straight and passed her midway through the first mud section. My adrenaline was running so high from seeing the former 2X world champion between my legs as i looked behind that i was able to stay away from her on the climb! And my trip down the chute was nearly textbook! By the finish, I had gained almost 30 seconds on her. It's funny what you can accomplish when you're running scared!
After crossing the line in 11th, I collected my jacket and drink from Jonas' mom, then headed to the Vanderkitten RV. Once showered and fed, I returned to watch the end of the mens race where Sven Nys took a solid win. Bart Wellens was hero of the day, though, by putting in a superhuman effort to get Nys' wheel late in the race. Too bad they don't have awards for most courageous.
Then it was back again to the Vanderkatje (i got a few of these cheers as well) mobile for some lentil soup (homemade by me), salad, pasta, belgian beer and wine. All the passerbys who were returning to their cars and bikes must have been very jealous as they watched our party spill out onto the main entrance straightaway. I can't say it enough how cool it is to have a mobilehome at a bike race!
The next race is Pijnacker World Cup in The Netherlands Sunday. Based on the course last year combined with the very wet weather forecast I expect it will be somewhat of a repeat of Koppenbergcross - minus the koppenberg climb!
Thanks for reading.