Saturday, December 2, 2006

I'm baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack in California - sunny but COLD!

I did it!!! I actually have my own place in Belgium! I signed the lease a week ago. I live two floors down from my old apartment - but NO roommates in my new place!! Right after i moved my few possessions down two flights and started to unpack, I realized that my household possessions consist of an apple knife, plastic spoon, two little bowls, one pillow and a spatula – oh, and a borrowed towel from my neighbor Sharon. Not much to live on. Oops. Luckily within an hour, Hilde and Marc arrived bearing gifts such as bedding, dishes, towels, and other necessities. My neighbors Walter and Sandy from down the hall donated a bunch of stuff as well. And I found an abandoned bed in the hallway. Home is complete.

The next morning, Serge collected me and we drove four hours north to Gieten (NED) for yet another Superprestige. Every time I drive through Netherlands, I’m always amazed by its comically pannekoek flat terrain. And I still get goose pimples every time I see the swarms of windmills – they're little reminders that I'm living my dream of being a Euro bike racer.

That afternoon, I pre-rode the course with fellow racer, Suzie Godart of Luxembourg, her husband and two kids. Her kids are about 16 & 17 yrs old – both racing the next day. I spent the first half hour riding with the gal. It was such a kick to hear her speak english. She had a VERY strong british accent while her parents spoke a more relaxed american style. It was as if she were from another family! For the second half of the pre-ride, I played rough with her brother. We attacked the course, bullying each other out of every turn. It was so much fun that couldn't wipe the perma-smile off my face.

Even though I’m a pro bike racer, it is always exciting to have breakfast with the big stars like bart wellens. The first time I saw him in person (as opposed to the dozens of bike videos I've memorized), we were on the same flight from Italy to Belgium after he had just won the Monopoli World Championships. As he got off the plane, he was wearing his team jersey, decorating it with his new gold necklace. I thought it was odd to be wearing such things at an airport...until i spotted the crowds of fans awaiting his arrival. There was even a full band to receive their new World Champion. He really amazed me as i watched him transform from a kid goofing around with his buddies to a complete professional the moment he stepped off the plane and into the spotlight - a true professional.

Anyway, back to breakfast. As I was sipping coffee, Bart asked Serge in Flemish if I was that American woman (immediately I’m thinking, “wow, it’s so cool that bart knows who I am!”) who missed the start at Treviso World Cup. My heart sank. I turned to bart to let him know that i had finally forgotten the whole debacle only yesterday! As I got up to leave, I told bart that must get going so I can be on time. Everyone laughed. I better make the start!

My confidence was high for the race up until about three seconds into the start. I went to pull up on the pedal only to realize I wasn’t clipped in. As the bike wobbled, I bumped a DBS gal who went crashing into the barriers. I felt awful…so awful that I slowed down. The moral dilemma – do I stay or do I go? As the hoards of gals passed (ok, well only about 40), I finally chose to continue. (I did find her after the race to apologize profusely. She suffered only a dirty jersey.)

After about 45 minutes, I crossed the finish line expecting the race to be over. But no Marianne Vos in sight. Usually she’s standing on the sidelines doing her post-race interviews by the time i cross the line. Uh-oh, better get going – the race isn’t over! Again, I slowed down as I crossed the finish line but STILL no sign of Vos. Shoot – must keep riding. Maybe I’m missing something. Finally after one more lap - 55 minutes into the race, I spot her. The race is over. Five minutes later, my legs are on fire – glad I used the heating oil to prevent my legs from getting cold AFTER the race. Ugh. Once i started eating my post-race meal of a ProBar and a few Belgian renditions of pbj (jam with Belgian chocolate spread), i forgot all about my flaming legs. Oh, i placed 11th.

Our original plan was to head home immediately after the last race, but that was not to be. We found out at the last second that Joachim Parbo - danish nat'l champ - had no support. It was worth it to see my favorites racing for the last time before I head back to USA for three weeks. I got to yell at Sven Nijs, Bart Wellons, and obviously Joachim. I ran into Sven earlier in the day at Inscription (registration). I am happy to note that he fully remembers me even though we have only said hello in passing over the years. I originally met him on that same Bart-Wellens-Italy-Belgium flight. I sat next to him and the team doctor and we chatted the whole flight. (yes, i am aware that i am name-dropping, but you must admit he is the BEST name to drop in the world of cyclo-cross (or Veldrijden as it is called in dutch - pronounced VELDraiden.)

The next day, I ran a bunch of errands to prepare for tomorrow's departure to USA for three weeks. (1 week in CA and 2 in Rhode Island.) Packing took the rest of the day. At about 7:30pm, it was time to start cooking for my housewarming party that was to start at 8pm.
As i laid the food on the counter, i quickly realized that I was not still not ready for company!

Thankfully all my guests anticipated my situation and came armed with chairs, bowls, cutting boards, utensils, plates and even candles to liven up the joint. Their show of support was incredible.

I made Bruschetta, pasta with sundried tomatoes and basil in a garlic infused olive oil sauce, rosemary broccoli, and an endive salad with carrots, cucumbers, avocado, tomatoes. My secret ingredient in the homemade dressing was olive pate - yum!

The most intriguing part of the evening was observing the flow of conversation amongst the guests. Since there were a mixture of nationalities present - belgian, lithuanian, swiss, mexican, and me - the conversation went back and forth between flemish and english. When a topic was initiated in flemish, all responses would be in flemish until someone responded in english. At that point, the conversation would seamlessly switch to english until the next flemish response. I've never witnessed anything like it outside of Belgium. On a side note, do NOT expect this type of linguistic prowess to be found in the french-speaking sections of belgium where they typically speak nothing but french.

I am now back in Mill Valley, California - two towns north of San Francisco - on the other side of the infamous Golden Gate Bridge. When i am in California, I live with my friend Don whose house is part way up a mountain. The road leading to it is 12-23% grade for about 6 minutes on bike. It may not be the best way to end a ride, but it surely helps to work on power climbing!

Thanks for reading and for all the fabulous emails!! It's comforting to know that I'm joined by others on my journey - even if it's just vicariously through emails and posts!


Echelon said...

awesome post. see you at nationals!

Anonymous said...

that's how conversation is with my swiss in-laws, except not everyone speaks all the languages. i understand enough german and french to get my foot in the door, but when they switch gears to swiss german i'm completely lost. either way the interesting thing is watching who speaks what language and who shifts to another language. the multiplicity of languages is mostly because my bro-in-law's brother has a german wife and then where they live a lot of french is spoken... fun stuff.

Anonymous said...

Great Blog! Champ! I am all caught up now! You are a great writer.

Kat Carroll said...

We had a great time riding today. GOod luck in RI but let us know if you want to come to yoga tomorrow night!