Saturday, December 29, 2007

MId-pack never felt so good!

Yesterday's race in Loenhout, Belgium was my second race back since my forced time in darkness - literally - for concussion recuperation. I went into it with the goal of beating only three racers - none in particular, any three would do. Well i more than succeeded. I finished the race exactly midpack! I placed 28 out of 56.

But more importantly than the placing was how I felt. And compared to the World Cup only two days previous, I felt GREAT! In fact, midway through the race, as i was following a small group of racers through a singletrack section, I thought to myself, "this is a very comfortable pace." If i would have tried a pace like that even two days ago, not only would i have failed in achieving it, my body would have completely cursed me out before shutting down! I had forgotten what a great feeling it is to race in a body that allows you to push the effort a little. Yippidy-friggin-doo-dah!

And on a side note, we once again succeeded in getting the absolute best parking spot in the whole venue - first spot as you enter the race site - right on the start/finish strip. This was especially cool considering the popularity of this event! I think it's always well attended because it's during the holiday week, is conveniently located just above antwerpen AND has the infamous washboard section. A few of the photos were taken on this section. One is of Ryan Trebon who had an excellent race and the other two are of Wellens, Groenendaal and Nys on the penultimate lap.

My next time up to bat is New Year's Day at Petange, Luxembourg. It's a mountain bike style course. Fireroad and singletrack straight up the hill, then a technical singletrack through the woods all the way down. When the course is wet, it's really treacherous. Let's hope they pad the trees! hahaha - ok, that's not really funny i suppose. Jonas and I will be staying with fellow racer Suzie Godart and her family, so we will be among friends bringing in the new year. It still counts as a new year's eve party even if we are all in bed by 10pm to prepare for the race, right?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Photos from Hofstade

Today was a great unwinding day. I just took it easy. In the morning, I unpacked from yesterday's race. Then Jonas and I went over to Leuven to get a soup from one of the restaurants we tried to visit a few days ago when everything was closed. We had broccoli soup with a thick slice of toasted bread for dipping.

The weather was not too bad for the ride - about 4 degrees C. I wore only a sports bra, thick undershirt, windproof long sleeve jacket, two long sleeve jerseys, windvest, windbreaker, heavy winter jacket, neck gator, ski mask, ear warmers, winter cap, two pairs of heavy gloves, thick socks, toe warmers, oversocks, heavy duty booties and full wrap glasses. Just right.

Once back home, I did the laundry. Then I repacked for the race tomorrow. It is near Antwerpen which is a bit over an hour drive north of here. Since it is one of the "holiday races" I expect the crowds to be close to 15-20,000. Crazy.

Here are some photos from Hofstade - probably even more to come!
I especially love the one of the two kids. I thought they were just MY fans but it turns out i share them with Bart Wellens. If you can read their cheeks, the boy has "WELLENS" and the girl has "BAT" written on them.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hofstade course was lots of fun...

and i even had a lot of fun racing it. Unfortunately when you take that much time off the bike doing nothing but waiting to heal your fitness suffers. My start was relatively OK but then i spent the rest of the day drifting back through the field. But even so, I had one of the largest - AND LOUDEST cheering sections!!!! I LOVE FANS!!! They can really make a tough day feel a little better. And their cheers came in especially handy after I heard the announcer name me as one of the lucky random racers for doping control.

Oh, and the post-race Vanderkitten party at the mobilehome was a HIT! There must have been about 30 friends and family rotating through our trailer. We ate and drank until the traffic dissipated. From our mobilehome, we were able to watch the crowd around Sven Nys' mobilehome. Sven showed up about 1 hour after the race and people were still there in the dark patiently awaiting his arrival.

Anyway, rest, rest, rest is in order so i must go now. Photos to come shortly!
On a side note, I heard that fellow USA racer Barb Howe was sent immediately to hospital from the race with a possible torn achilles tendon. I hope this is not the case and that i just misunderstood what people were saying in Flemish.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Funny, i forgot it was Christmas until I swung by my favorite bakery for 16-grain bread only to find it was GESLOTEN (closed.) When you spend any time here in the Flemish speaking part of belgium you quickly learn this word.

I checked out the Hofstade World Cup Course and it is a blast! Two extended sandpits - one through the pits requiring the ever-so-rare suspended-bike change, a few inverted bridges where you ride down into them and come up the other side, a bunch of singletrack (or one good line anyway), two small stair sections, some switchbacks and a couple of short powerclimbs, one of which is immediately after the start.

I took these photo on the path that follows the lake that runs alongside the course. The course is way in the distance of the bottom photo but just out of sight on the right side on the top photo.

The weather was just under 40 degrees F (5 deg. C) i think, very little sun, and humid - the kind of dampness that just cuts through to your bones.

I made the warmup brief since i am still unsure of my health. But in that brief period of time, I spotted a few americans - Wendy Simms of Canada, Rebecca Wellons of the East Coast, Barb Howe of California, and Sue Butler of I think maybe Washington State. There were also a couple of others (i think jeremy powers) but it's so hard to recognize people when you don't see them every weekend like i would have had i have stayed put in USA for the season.

Well, I'm off for dinner - big bowl of whole wheat pasta with mushroom sauce, grilled eggplant, onions and zucchini, lentil soup, and salad. And for dessert, I made a sugar pumpkin. I just cut it in half, removed the seeds, placed it on a cookie tray face-down, and poured a little water in the tray. After cooking it for 35 min at 200 degrees C, it's ready. you can even eat the skin so be sure to wash the pumpkin before cooking it. I guess if i wanted to be a little fancy, i could caramelize some walnuts, and sprinkle them on top along with a little maple syrup and nutmeg.

OK, gotta go!!!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Out on the Town - Leuven, that is!

Yesterday I tested my slowly improving health by taking a stroll around Leuven - my third favorite town in the whole world - or at least out of those i've visited. My first is, and always will be Manhattan while my second is Mill Valley, California.

Jonas and I took turns being tour guide for each other. I was up first so i got us lost about twelve times in search of little cafes i wanted to try. Unfortunately each time we found one of them, it was closed. I forgot Sundays are never good days for roaming around town. Well, we made the best of it once Jonas took over in guiding. We first visited the "Studio Brussel - Music for Life" which was set up in the square in front of the train station. It was a fundraiser set up by a popular radio station (studio brussel) and Red Cross to help small towns with limited resources gain access to fresh clean water supplies. What was unique about this fundraiser is that their whole broadcasting setup - including the dj's were relocated from their main office in Brussels to a temporary glass house where they lived (without ever coming outside) for six whole days.

In addition to the stunt of living in that house for days without stepping foot outside AND without food (only juices), they raised money by using some other interesting methods. One was by asking for donations every time someone requested a song. They also got funds was by random belgians pulling stunts like building a pool in the back of a truck, then having a bunch of guys taking turns swimming in the back for a 100km drive to the glass house in Leuven. Even Johan Museeuw even took part by donating a frame to be raffled. I didn't realize he was making his own frames. Apparently he is not only making frames but using a material that is a combination of carbon fiber with the stalk of a flax plant.

Today was their last day. Over 3,350,000 euros was raised (one million of which was donated by the Belgian government who offered up this money if Studio Brussels was able to raise over one million - which they far surpassed! It's amazing that such a tiny country can come up with so much spare change for this cause.

Even so, within a minute of staring into the glass house along with a few dozen other folks, we got bored and headed to Grote Markt in search of any festive events. All we found were two booths. One was a tiny manger complete with a mary, jesus, three wise kings display. But the other was a bit more exciting. They served waffles, pancakes, and smoutebollen. A smoutebol (aka oliebol - literally translated as oil ball) is a deep fried dough ball served in a paper bag filled with powdered sugar. You shake the bag to cover the balls with sugar before eating them. They are incredibly tasty BUT must contain at least 500 grams of fat per serving! We Americans know these treats under the name of Zeppole served at the little Italian Festivals that periodically come into town with games, rides and food. By the way, did you know that i was a Carny? Yes, i worked at one of those Italian Festivals when i was a kid.

Lastly, we hit a bagel shop that i was dying to try. It is called "Nosh" - located on Naamsestraat and prides themselves on having NY-style bagels. If i had to name one thing i miss most about NY i'd have to say a bagel!
As vegans, we had little - ok, NO option to choose from on the menu so we made up our own. Toasted onion bagels with tomato, red onion, arugula and mustard.

When they arrived I quickly grabbed it with both hands and immediately smacked it against my nose. I was expecting it to be as dense as a NY bagel but instead the bagel was actually white bread reshaped into a circle . It was so light that i miscalculated the effort it would take to lift it to my mouth. I must have looked like the biggest dumbass to Jonas as i stood there with mustard and tomato bits all over my face. Anyway, I will never ever go back there again. Instead next time when i want a bagel, I will make it myself - the old fashioned way - boiled and baked.

It is finally above freezing here so now the grounds are wet and i bet Hofstade world cup course is one big mudstrip. I plan to head over there tomorrow to check out the course. If it goes ok, then maybe i will consider standing at the start line Wednesday. Considering i've done just about nothing for two weeks now, I'm not expecting much. But even if the race is a bust, I have a post-race Vanderkitten Mobilehome party to look forward to!!! If any of you are around, do stop by! You can easily find us - our trailer will be the one with the huge-ass kitten head and the "Vanderkitten" banner across the side. Maybe the other American gals will stop by - hope so! That would be very cool!!! The gals expected at the start line with me (if i can make it) are Barb Howe, Rebecca Wellons, Wendy Williams and Sue Butler. The last two i don't know so i'm looking forward to meeting them.

Thanks for reading and THANKS again for the well wishes. It all helps!!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Found another 'Vardaros misses Nat'ls' announcement

I think i now officially got more press than Katie Compton who actually won the event! haha.
Here's the link from

(on another note, my concussion is still healing steadily. Tomorrow I will venture over to the Hofstade World Cup course to get a preview. I was supposed to be racing at Scheldecross near Antwerpen but since it will be trying enough just to step out into the sunlight, I figured i'd wait at least another day before considering to race. THANKS SO MUCH for all your emails and comments of well wishes. It really means a lot!!!)

Vardaros Misses US National Cyclo-Cross Championships
Christine "Peanut" Vardaros, pro cyclist for Vanderkitten - a company who makes clothing for women who kick ass, was unable to make the trip back from Belgium due to a severe concussion. She sustained the concussion many weeks ago in the same manner most cyclists injure themselves - in the privacy of their own home! She hit her head on a low wooden beam in the attic, knocking herself out cold.

Just as she was starting to recover, Vardaros re-injured her head again at the Asper-Gavere Superprestige race 18 November. She rode directly into a tree, headfirst, on the race's infamous muddy chute.

"Peanut" in action. Photo c. Krist Vanmelle

Unable to manage the pain any longer, Vardaros was driven directly by European Vanderkitten Manager Jonas Bruffaerts to hospital following last weekend's Frankfurter Rad-Cross event where she was forced to abandon.

According to her Neurologist, she must stay off the bike until all symptoms are gone. Through it all, Vardaros remains optimistic, explaining "It's been rough sitting in a dark, silent room the past days. And i can't even do sit-ups to pass time! But if this is what it takes to race again soon, then I'm somewhat happy to do it!"

Luckily "Peanut" is under no pressure from Vanderkitten to get back on the saddle too quickly. When Vardaros notified Dave Verrecchia of Vanderkitten of her inability to attend US Nationals, he emailed her a note stating, "There is no pressure from us to get you back on the bike! Please take your time and heal yourself. Whenever you feel better and can safely compete again we will be looking forward to it!"

Assuming recovery goes well, she can be expected to resume racing as early as 21 December at Scheldecross in Belgium. Vardaros, top cyclo-cross racer and part of US National Team for World Championships the past two years, has been based in Belgium for the full cyclo-cross season, contesting the World Cup Circuit and other UCI events. She is expected to race straight through to the last event of the season at Sluitingprijs (Cat. 1) in Belgium. For updates on Vardaros' health, visit her site at:

Monday, December 17, 2007


So...I figured i'd share with you some of my favorite items!!!

My new favorite is the animal-friendly faux leather jacket - totally stylish! Actually, i take it back. I think cats would actually prefer real leather. They sometimes have a habit of tearing apart leather items in their attempt to kill it! About 20 years ago, i lost a pair of leather shoes this way.

And I gotta get one of these Tranquility suits! How cool would that look for hanging out after the races.

I'm also in love with their Lioness Tee!
The Lion of Limburg - Jennie's home province - reminds me of the cyclo-cross races here in Belgium where you see that flag everywhere!

All proceeds from this MANderkitten World Tour Destroyed Vintage Tee goes to the Vanderkitten Womens Cycling Programs.

By the way, here's the sweater I have been living in for the past months! Like all their clothes, it is super soft that i even sleep in it!

To visit the store, click HERE!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Concussion for Vardaros on

Someone just forwarded this to me from

Concussion for Vardaros

Vanderkitten's Christine Vardaros will miss the US Cyclo-cross championships after suffering a severe concussion from an accident sustained at her home in Belgium. Vardaros hit her head on a low wooden beam in the attic of her house, and then re-injured her head again at the Asper-Gavere Superprestige race on November 18, and was unable to make the trip back to the USA.

After consulting with a neurologist Vardaros was told to spend time off the bike. "It's been rough sitting in a dark, silent room the past days," Vardaros said. "And I can't even do sit-ups to pass time! But if this is what it takes to race again soon, then I'm somewhat happy to do it!"

Assuming recovery goes well, Vardaros may resume racing as early as December 21 at Scheldecross in Belgium.

Health update: still in the dark aside from my online play for about two minutes a day now.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pizza in Italy was just as i expected...

scrumptious! I've been to Italy two times before but never had the chance to eat pizza. The first trip was with the US National Team for World Championships in Monopoli (southern Italy near Bari.) We stayed at a hotel remotely located at the top of a hill and reserved for just us Americans. It may have been renamed "Hotel America" since we didn't really get to eat traditional Italian food or have much interaction with Italians other than the hotel staff. OK, that's not entirely true. At every meal, we were given a bowl of those hard circular breadsticks and on special days there was a tiny bit of pasta laid out in the buffet which was enough to feed 1.5 racers.

HAHA - i just remembered our first few meals there. The wait staff served us as if we were a bunch of high class sedentary folk. The food came in multiple-course style and each course was so miniscule we were afraid to eat it for fear that it will make us even more hungry because it was just a tease! Eventually the National Team staff got them to agree to half-buffet/half course we half starved!

And my second trip to Italy was last year in an attempt to race Treviso World Cup. My supporters and i left a bit late for Treviso due to work obligations on their part. The trip should have taken only 12 hours but it was extended by an additional 20 since we took the long way to avoid the Swiss toll AND the car broke down! I arrived at the start line 5 minutes too late. Immediately after the race, we headed back home. No pizza.

But on my last trip, I was determined - if nothing else - to have my pizza! The night before the race, Jonas and I walked down the block (he walked and i rode because the jostling from walking hurt my head) to the one of three stores in town - a pizza place. We were so excited to eat italian food that we ordered every vegan item on the menu!

The meal started off with 1/2 liter of Chianti of course. Then onto the toasted bread, one with olive spread and the other with tomatoes. The olive spread tasted so fresh as if they just pulled the olives off the tree, cured them (or whatever process is done to olives) and spread it on our bread while we waited.

Next was the pasta. We had penne arrabiata and linguine with tomatoes and mushrooms. The flavors were so rich compared to what i'd expect to eat in Belgium where the food is usually bland. Most meals don't even have salt!

We at the pasta with simple salad to which we added olive oil and vinegar.

The pizzas were so good that we had almost eaten the first one with capers before i remembered to take a photo! The other pizza had various veggies like zucchini, mushrooms, red leaf lettuce (i'm still trying to figure out this last ingredient!)

They had some incredible-looking desserts but i doubted they were vegan.

One other food treat we had on the trip was something I also always wanted to eat - a pretzel in Germany. On our way out of Germany, on route to the Hospital in Belgium, we stopped off at a gas station/convenience store. As we were entering, there was a kid walking out holding an extended hot dog that was teetering on a mini-bun. I took this as a good sign that we may be in luck. And there they were, in their traditional glass case on the tabletop. With pretzels in hand, I was overwhelmed with fright - do they have mustard? How do you even say mustard in German? Then out of nowhere, Jonas opens his mouth and asks the cashier in perfect German, "Haben sie senf, bitte?" The guy pointed to two giant pumps, one labeled senf and the other ketchup. SCORE!!!

At this very moment, I was scheduled to be in the air en route to Kansas City. Although i am still highly disappointed, my perma-headache reminds me that i made the right decision. Thanks ALL for your supportive comments. They really help to lift my spirits! And thanks LIZ-Kitten for your kind words as well.

According to the many emails i received, Kansas City is getting hit with harsh winter weather. When i raced in Kansas City a few years ago, many riders were treated with hypothermia. I hope it's not as bad this time around! Their weather makes our slightly below freezing weather seem like mid-summer.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Trip to Milan World Cup

Sorry i haven't posted in a while but this time i have a decent excuse - or rather two of them!

First is that i have been in Italy for many days where the internet connection was intermittent at best. I'd write a blog entry only for it to be erased due to the loss of internet connection when i try to post it. So i'd write it again a few times until finally coming to the realization it just isn't going to happen.

Second excuse is that I have had a concussion for many weeks now which has made sitting in front of the bright light of a computer AND having to string words together to form coherent sentences a tall order. In fact, the symptoms of the concussion have become increasingly worse the more i ignored it. Funny how that happens. In hindsight, i suppose racing in extreme pain where it feels my head is going to explode combined with the excruciating ear pressure and funky vision problems was not the wisest move.

Anyway, after a rather uncomfortable 40 minutes at the Milan World Cup where i only placed 21st and a dnf at Frankfurt (while i was in top 10 BUT in a world of pain to do it) we drove directly to the Emergency Room. After putting me through a series of tests, the neurologist handed me strict orders to stay away from hard efforts on the bike until all symptoms go away. He then added that under no circumstances am i to get on a plane to contest US Nationals this weekend. You guessed it...I cannot be any more disappointed than i am right now.

But on a positive note, the doctor said that if i do the twelve items on his "recovery protocol" list that i could be ready to race again as soon as 21 December. I really really look forward to racing hard again without having pain force me to lay off the power as i've had to do for the past weeks! I will be able to GO, GO, GO!!!

They always say you can tell who your friends are when times are tough. I learned a couple of days ago when i broke the news to Vanderkitten that they are behind me 100%!!! I received the sweetest, MOST SUPPORTIVE email from them that brought me to tears. Just like Jonathan Page, I know exactly what it's like to race for big pro teams and i can assure you that you can never expect an email like the one i got from Vanderkitten! The incredible support that Vanderkitten gave me makes me even that much more inspired to return to racing with a vengeance and snag those top results I know i'm capable of. And if i didn't already have the full Vanderkitten collection, their note would have also inspired me to order their clothes in a show of return support! THANKS VANDERKITTEN!!!

Even though last weekend's event are far in the past, below is the one entry of many lost in italy's intermittent connection that i managed to somehow save. Since i already typed it, I figured i'd post it anyway. More Milan stories and photos to come in the following days!!


The drive from Belgium to Milan took us 12 hours - a very long haul! Or rather it was long for Jonas. To me it felt more like seven since I slept for the first five hours - from 5 to 10am. Unfortunately my first experience upon waking was using a toilet in a rest stop - in France!

For the most part, the French seem like civilized people, but somehow their toilet apparatus was overlooked. French toilets vary from a severely pared down version of a modern toilet (no toilet cover or rim for sitting) to a simple hole in the ground with feet outlines showing you where to squat over it. I've never really mastered the art of squatting since I grew up in civilized America where it's not necessary - unless you become a mtb racer, so these French holes are always cause for concern. I have no aim. (I just remembered a joke I’ve heard many times - why do the French use a plural noun for the word "toilet"? Because you have to go through many to find a clean, functional one.)

Once pee'd, I was ready to take in the views of driving through France, Switzerland and Italy. In Belgium we have not seen the sun in quite a few weeks so you can imagine how incredible it felt when we finally drove south enough to find where the sun's been hiding. It felt so good to have a warm face that I couldn't bring myself to wear sunglasses for fear that a few rays would be deflected. Considering my eyes are super-sensitive these days because of my concussion, my lack of lenses prove just how sun deprived we’ve been here lately!

As we drove through Switzerland, we had matching perma-grins checking out the snowcapped mountains with little towns and lakes scattered about. I tried to take as many photos through the window but in a huge-ass van it's not really possible to hang your head out the window without the wind pulling you completely out and onto the pavement. Needless to say, most of my shots were instead taken through the windshield.

We arrived at the hotel just as the sun was setting. After a long trip, we were thrilled to find that our hotel was on the nicer side. The rooms even come equipped with something I’ve had on my Christmas list for years – a bidet.

The next morning, we arrived at breakfast just before closing time. When you're vegan, you never have to show up early for buffet breakfast because all the plant-based stuff will surely be there. And we were right. It was a huge 'American Buffet' with various sausages, cheese, ham, bacon, beef, scrambled eggs, hard boiled eggs, croissants, cheese and cream filled pastries, apple pie, apple crumble, apple tart with cheese, apple tart with cream, cheesecake and 12 variations of yogurt - all items almost gone. But found in ample supply was the Italian rolls, fruit, jam, muesli, focaccia, tomato slices, water and espresso. The biggest score had to have been the individually packed wholemeal rye bread - you know the mealy dense moist bread found in Germany, Scandinavia, etc. Yum!

Shortly after breakfast we rode around our miniature town of Novegro (20km outside of Milan center) to check out the stores - all three of them. There was a pizza place (photos to come of our pizza, etc), a cafe and a mini clothing store for geriatric women. Our location sucked for touristy stuff but we were across the street from the World Cup course, which is where we headed directly from our brief outing through town.

I wasn't sure what to expect this course to be like before arriving. The only bit of it I saw was on a youtube video taken last year where heavy rains turned the course into one big bowl of soup. We were thrilled to see that the trails were bone dry.

It starts off on pavement, then bends to the right onto a wide trail. Within a minute, we will all form a pile-up on the narrow, short steep runup. Then it's back to wide open bumpy trails until the "bowl" where you ride down into it, making sure you take enough speed with you to get back out on two wheels. Again, more wide open bumpy trails until a tricky tight right hand bend into a very short steep uphill - rideable if you pick the line just right. Then more open trails, back into the bowl two more times, over to the down, stair runup, down, up, down, up section, more wide bumpy trails, double barrier, and onto pavement straightaway.

I pray for dry trails tomorrow so post-race cleanup is minimal since we drive directly to Frankfurt from here for another UCI race Sunday. We were originally going to make the trek to Holland for a Sunday race but when the men’s event was canceled here in Milan, the organizers moved the women from 11am to 2:30pm start, which would have put us in Holland at 4am. Frankfurt is 3 hours closer and the start time is not until 1pm - as opposed to the Holland start at 11am. From what I heard so far, many women made the same practical decision as I so Frankfurt may just be more star-studded than Holland. That surely helped to solidify our decision to go to Frankfurt as well as the free hotel accommodations that the Frankfurt race organizer arranged for us!!