Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I'm back from southern France...

surely happy to be home! I went to training camp expecting to be physically exhausted from hard work on the bike, but instead my head hurt most from trying to learn a whole language in a week! The only person i could count on for translation was my finnish teammate Tiina. Otherwise I was on my own. Once it was obvious that i came to france prepared with only five french words, the girls were very supportive. They all braved conversations with me using their limited english. My knowledge of spanish did come in handy. When i didn't know a word in French, i'd try using the spanish equivalent with a french accent (ie. avion=plane). It worked about 30% of the time. 70% of my attempts, though, were greeted with a puzzled look.

Sorry for not updating the blog sooner but for some unknown reason i was unable to update my blog from the computers we had access to at training camp. For the next few days, I will be making up for all the attempted posts! If you don't want to wait and are interested in giving your french a go, visit our TEAM WEBSITE for coverage of team presentation and training camp.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

My teammate has a blog!!

One of my Pruneaux D'Agen teammates just started a blog! She is Tiina Nieminen of Finland. Now you have TWO places to go to follow the life of a Prune!


Tomorrow I leave for Agen (southwest France) for Team Presentation and training camp! If i have internet access, I'll keep my blog updated with all the crazy stories that come out of putting a bunch of women together for an extended period of time! If the rest of the gals are as cool as tiina, I expect it will surely be a week to remember!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Cross Racing in VEGAS

Not more than two weeks after the Vegas Cross Race was announced, flyers started to appear in Belgium - AND in Dutch language! They may just get a large European contingent since it intentionally coincides with the Vegas Interbike Show.

The euro-racer mechanics will ESPECIALLY love that they will most likely be welcome to enter the event site WITHOUT having to pay entry fee to do their job. At many of the cyclo-cross races this season, the pro mechanics were forced to pay an entry fee as if they were attending the race as a spectator. Unfortunately, when you put hard-working mechanics who are trying to do their jobs together with untrained security goons with too much ego and not enough respect for cycling, you get a lot of conflict. I've personally witnessed a few of these hand-to-hand combats and it's unnerving and even scary!

This Sunday, at the last cyclo-cross race of the season to be held in Oostmalle, Belgium, there will be a group protest. All the mechanics will walk into the race site together, past the security goons without paying the "spectator entry fee".

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Last weekend i stood at the start line of my last CX race...

with a flat tire. I didn't realize it, though, until the second lap. I just figured i was having a bad day, bad legs, bad bike handling skills, unmotivated, out of shape, whatever. Nope, a rear flat. When i exchanged bikes in the third lap, I was already so worked from willing the bike forward and upright that I could do nothing but maintain my less than stellar position in the field. THe upside of it was that the course was so much fun. If you merged a BMX course with singletrack, you'd come up with this race - undulating terrain with power climbs, bermed turns.
After the race, I was called back to the start line. I was fearing the worst - drug testing. I wouldn't mind peeing in a cup in front of others if it took me less than three hours on average to get over stage fright. But no, they wanted me for a podium appearance. As soon as i showed, they gave me a congratulatory Primus Beer and strapped me into a bright orange jersey zipped from behind. A few minutes later, I was on the podium waving to the crowd. I still have no idea why they put me on the podium when i did not place top 3. Maybe a consolation prize?

It was a memorable season indeed. I just can't thank everyone enough who supported me in my effort to race my heart out! After the race, Serge and Christophe drove me home as usual, and for the last time. I'll miss them!

I'm now onto longer bike rides to prepare for road season. THis sunday, I board the train to Agen, France for Team Presentation and eight days of training camp - 6 hours of saddle time per day! maybe i ought to invest in those padded underwear to wear under my cycling shorts to give my butt time to acclimate to doing extended time on the bike.

The photos are of me on the podium for reason unknown and of me with my supporters Marc and Yannis.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Amgen Tour of California starts Sunday in San Francisco

Even though I spend more time in Belgium than my home town of Mill Valley, CA, I am really excited about the Amgen Tour of CA. If I weren't a pro cyclist myself, having conflicting obligations to be in Southern France at the Pruneaux D'Agen Team Presentation and Training Camp, I would have considered flying home just to watch some of the fastest cyclists on earth travel my local training roads at mach speed.

I know where I would have stood to watch them - along the first climb of stage 1 that runs through Marin County, at the intersection of Shoreline Highway and Erica Road as they make their way up Mt. Tamalpais. It is a pity they will bypass last year's stretch of Highway 1 between Muir Beach and Stinson Beach as it is postcard gorgeous! It undulates along a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

What i don't understand is why name brand euros such as current World and olympic Champion Paolo Bettini will travel for 15-25 hours on a plane for this race which is completely out of their way. For the views? Financial incentive? Maybe the weather? Team orders? Why are the teams willing to put in the time, effort, money to travel across the world for one early season bike race?

Post-Worlds Trip Home

Gary Noe just emailed me this foto he found on cyclingnews. Serge is the guy behind the bikes.

It had the caption below:

US Rider Christine Vardaros doesn't have the budget of some - her Rock Lobsters have to travel home on the roof.

Photo ©: Ben Atkins/Cyclingnews.com

Saturday, February 10, 2007

It ends tomorrow

I have been so busy focusing on the details of preparing for one to three races per week for almost five months straight that it has not hit me until today that the season is almost over.

Part of me is excited to complete the season and give my mind a rest. But I expect i will also go through a mourning, or withdrawal, of sorts. The heavy racing schedule combined with the emotional rollercoaster that i've ridden through these events can become addicting. My next fix is tomorrow in Kaserlee, Belgium.

Wish me luck!

Thanks so much for reading.

Friday, February 9, 2007

The Bug Explanation

I just got an email from my friend Johan Sevenants with whom I just had dinner at a Thai restaurant in Leuven. I told him I wrote about the Leuven Library on my blog so he was not only thoughtful enough to check it out but he gave me info on the spiked bug shown in front of the Library. Here's his email:

On your blog, you wonder about what you call "the fly". Actually, it's
a beetle. This is what I know about it:

The "beetle on the needle" was given to Leuven by the KUL for the
University's 575 birthday. The artist, Jan Fabre, has always been obsessed by bugs and insects. For example, aside from the needle artwork, he also covered
the ceiling of the royal palace's "mirror room" with thousands of beetles
painted in green.

If you look closely, you'll notice it's really a 400x enlarged version
of a needle (23 m high) on which the (3 m) beetle is stuck. The needle
itself "sticks" in the blue sky.

Several explanations exist:
- It represents the insect collection the artist made in childhood.
- It is a symbol of science and knowledge, thus representing the
- "Insect collection" as in "book collection" (of the library.)
- the beetle is a species that already exists 400 million years, so its
"memory of nature" clearly outspans man's "memory through book
printing" -
the library again.

Or you can make up any meaning you like, for example; "giant fallus
stuck too deep, poor bug"

Ok, maybe I'll get on your blog now and become world famous. (you just have,
Johan! And at some point I'll find a photo of you to go with your blog donation.)

Back when Americans had a good reputation...

A couple of weeks ago, I took Kerry Barnholt (US National Team) and her friends on a tour of my Little (but spectacular) town of Leuven. This was one of the sites on the tour:

The University Library in Leuven

As libraries go, the university library in Leuven has had an unusually turbulent history. Its beginnings, however, were normal enough. Established in 1636, it found its first home in the main University Hall on the Naamsestraat. Less than a century later, about 1725, it moved to its own separate wing of the University Hall building, where it had a magnificent late baroque reading-room facing the Old Market Square (Oude Markt).

In August of 1914 German troops set fire to the library building and to much of the city of Leuven. The destruction of the library aroused international indignation. Before the First World War had even ended, committees were formed in both Allied and neutral countries to collect money and books for the reconstruction of Leuven’s university library. The Americans took charge of building a new home for the library. As for Germany, it was required by Article 247 of the Treaty of Versailles to donate thirteen million marks’ worth of books in reparation. Books came pouring in in such numbers that by 1939 there were some 900,000 volumes on the shelves of the reconstructed library.

A new site was chosen for the library - the square called Mgr. Ladeuzeplein, and here the new building arose from 1921 to 1928. It was designed by the American architect Whitney Warren (1864-1943) in the style known as Flemish neo-renaissance. The library is still the most impressive university structure in Leuven.

From the outset the building was conceived as a monument, and has been classified as such since 1987. Its interior is also on the classified list. Its style is historicising and its decorative scheme is rich in iconography. Its recurrent decorative themes include: Belgian patriotism (busts of Cardinal Mercier, King Albert and Queen Elisabeth; wall-irons in the form of their monograms), the Allied victory (heraldic flora and fauna including the Japanese dragon and the English unicorn on the lateral facades; Our Lady of Victory, the famous helmeted Madonna who is piercing the head of the Prussian eagle with her sword) and American friendship (136 engraved stones, the American eagle, 48 bells (increased to 63 in 1983) in the belfry for the 48 states and 48 gilded stars on the tower clock’s faces). Thus, the building constitutes a war memorial, recalling the German terror of the First World War and Allied solidarity in the reconstruction years. As early as the 1930’s the new library attracted thousands of tourists and received visits from hundreds of emissaries from every part of the globe.

In 1940 when the Wehrmacht occupied Leuven, the library and its contents went up in flames once again. After the war the burnt-out shell was restored and the interior was somewhat modified. As the Central Library of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, it now houses more than a million volumes.

Photo above is of an outside stone wall engraved with one of the schools that contributed to the rebuilding of the Library.

It reads "The Public Schools of the State of New York."

BTW, did you happen to notice the pierced fly in the top photo? I have yet to find the story behind it!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Just call me "sir"

Yes, got it all chopped off this morning.

Before I left my apartment at 8am to get the dreaded hair cut, I noticed that it looked a little dark outside. No problem, I'll bring my lights. The second i exited the building, I was pummeled by the largest, densest snowflakes imaginable. The snow fall was so thick that i had to ride one handed so the other hand could shield my eyes from the white not-so-fluffy pellets. By the time i arrived at the salon - twenty minutes later, I was completely white, covered in a layer of snow from head to toe while my face was frozen white.

Instead of going to joke salon or hollywood salon, I opted for a salon for heren (men.) I figured they have lots of experience with short hair AND if i get a shaved face it wouldn't be as untoward. Well, he didn't shave my face but I did lose most of my hair. I now look like a little boy. At least the cut goes with my non-child-bearing boy hips.

As i was leaving the salon, the stylist told me to be careful on the roads. As he pointed to the front of his shop, he added, "When it snows, every single cyclist who turns this corner falls down." As much as I wanted to confirm his story, I didn't want to take the chance myself OR wait around in the cold to to see if others slide out on their asses. Sorry.

Here's a photo of my backyard mid-snowfall. I took it just after i got my haircut.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

I'm now famous for another reason...

crashing. My pre-ride crash two days before World Championships was caught on film and shown during the weekly TV show called Allez, Allez Zimbabwe last week. A few friends gave me the news after watching the episode. How embarrassing. It's especially embarrassing because i stood at the top of the technical drop-off watching and waiting, watching and waiting until finally i had enough courage to give it a go. I'd say about one out of every ten people were falling there while i watched. I soon became part of that statistic.

As I was peeling myself off the ground, i remember looking around to assess the spectatorship, but i didn't see a camera crew. But then again, all my other crashes this euro season have been caught on TV so why not this one too! Someone once told me bad publicity is better than no publicity. I'm not too sure if i agree with that one! Time will tell...

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

In front of the camera - a rarity for Krist

Krist is responsible for hundreds of photos I've shared with all my friends, family, sponsors over the past year while I raced for Lotto-Belisol Ladiesteam. He even took the action photo I used for my 2006 cyclo-cross trading cards. Since he is not used to posing for the camera and i'm not too thrilled with posing, we are sporting the semi-smiles. The photo was taken last weekend at Lille.

Krist was also part of my big 2006 post road season party at the Tom Boonen Invitational Criterium. I was off the front on the half-cobbled (casein in dutch) course until i got a FLAT (vlat in dutch) tire! Bugger. I pulled off the course and waved to the peloton as they passed. I then had to walk back to the wheel pit area which was too far away from where i flatted to get back into the race. But i did find it an odd experience having to explain to ten thousand fans why i went from first to dnf. I learned how to pronounce "Ik heb vlat" really well as i shimmied through the swaying crowds of inebriated fans.

Once cleaned up and changed, I joined them for my one yearly Kasteel Bier...or seven. A bunch of us who rarely get to say more than hello to each other during the season had the opportunity to sit down and talk while watching the parade of lycra'd pros promenade before us! The first few laps of the guys race consisted of select riders being driven around the course in the back of a while convertible flanked by podium women. The next few laps was "clowning around" laps where they showed off the details of their sinewy bodies to the crowd - something we rarely get to see since normally they are flying by us at 60kpm. Since it was an evening event, we partied until about 2am. The next morning i was on a plane to California, still happily buzzed.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Race report from Krawatencross in Lille, BEL

Sorry for the delay in writing about the race last weekend. It was another frustrating day at the office. I've taken the past few days to think about the events of the day.

Everything that went wrong:
  • My friend's planned arrival to my place was 1/2 hour later than I would have preferred. But without his help, I'd be taking the train! So I compromised, figuring i'll just have to be quick about getting ready once we arrive. It still made me nervous to go to a race with not enough time for proper preparation.
  • He arrived an additional 1/2 hour later than expected. OK, 1 hour late. I'm getting nervous, but I think i can remain calm. OK, no time for extracurricular activities like changing into dry clothes post warm-up before the race. And warmup time will be limited.
  • Against my advice, we drove the slow route there. OK, now i'm starting to freak out inside. I'm running out of pre-race activities that i can forgo to make up the time. No peeing before the race. Warmup time cut way short now.
  • We got lost on the way there. My heart is pounding out of my chest. I won't get any semblance of a cycling warmup, but the blood is surely pumping!
  • As I am almost at the start line - freaking out the whole way there because i was about to experience a very painful jolt when the gun sounds due to only enough of a warmup to unkink my legs from the drive, I notice that my rear tire is bottoming out on every pebble. With five minutes to start, there is not enough time to ride back to the car or to the pit (material post). Instead I ride down to one of the beer gardens and borrow a frame pump from a cyclotourist. Unfortunately, the pump allows what little air i had left in the tire to escape. Now three minutes to start and my tire is completely flat. Thankfully another racer, Hilde Quintens, scores a pump for me at the start line. Once the tire was pumped and warmup clothes stripped, I had ten seconds to calm myself down. According to scientific studies, I think it actually takes at least two or three days minimum to wind down after that much excitement, but i'm superwoman. I can defy science.
  • Three seconds into the race, I still can't clip in. In my hasty preparation, i forgot to clean the sand out of the pedals. I turned the first corner in second to last place. In a completely exhaustive and dejected state, I was only able to manage 8th place.
The next day, I called my coach for a pity party. Instead he told me, "You name one woman at the start who didn't have something go wrong before the race." He was right. It's not about the incidents or "excuses" but rather my reaction to them.

I was in fight-or-flight mode even before race day arrived! No wonder I was exhausted.

Instead of working on getting my friend to arrive on time or stop getting lost and take the shortest routes, because that may never happen, or trying to control all other random things that can go wrong, I am now working on my reaction to them. I wish i could back time, try it all again but in a more calm, relaxed (rustig in dutch) state and see how well i could have done.

My last cyclo-cross race is this weekend in Kasterlee, Belgium. You can bet i will have implemented this new approach - or at least i will have started to head in that direction. I suppose it may take some time to change who i am considering it probably took years to get good at freaking out about every little innocuous incident.

The real pity is that if i more tranquil before the race, I would have really enjoyed the course. It had a few challenging deep sand sections, some rollercoaster bmx bumps, a strip along the lake and the obligatory disco flyover.

The day wasn't a complete disaster, though. I had a great time with my buddies (two sisters ages 11 and 15) after the race. As we walked along the course watching the men, we played a game called find the red-haired boy with big eyes.

Two days before the race, i ran into someone who said he planned to spectate at the race. I heard his cheers during the race and figured if i saw him afterwards, i'd thank him for his support. The problem was I didn't know what he really looked like - i could only recognize his voice since we met while riding bikes. In a sea of 15.000 people, it turned out to be a challenging task! So for the next two hours, the girls and i played jokes on each other pointing out the most unlikely guys to ever ride a bike, like 75 year old guys with oversized beer guts double-fisting it - beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other! One of the gals even found an actual redhead, which i'd say is an anomaly here in Belgium!

I'll just go get a haircut today...

yeah, right. There is nothing easy about getting a haircut in Belgium. You'd think otherwise considering there are as many hair salons (kapsalon in dutch) as there are bars here. (oh, side note, do not call the cafes "bars" when you are here because a bar has a different meaning - it is another name for a girly-girl go-go joint.)

After swinging by a dozen kapsalon joints, I got the hint that they keep the same hours as museums in NYC. Closed monday. That dilemma is easily enough remedied. I'll return tomorrow.

BUT once i am strapped into the salon chair, the challenge begins. I must figure out a way to get the point across that I do NOT want a "belgian-style" haircut (no mullets which doesn't even look good on Tom Boonen, no one-side-longer-than-the-other-just-because-i-part-my-hair-to-one-side, and absolutely no beard trims.)

Last time - actually the ONLY time - I got my hair cut in Belgium, I paid 35 euros to leave with a mullet (aka shlong for short/long in NYC), lopsided trim and a beard shave. OK, the mullet and lopsided hair was somewhat tolerable because i can always shave my head and end the bad hair day, but when she took a straight edge to my face, causing blond dust to sprinkle my shirt, I was mortified. Apparently the beard trim is customary on all her women clients!

Girls are always told that if you shave unwanted hair, it will grow back darker and thicker. Now that half my face was shaved, the question remained. Do i have her continue the job or do i take the chance that the rumors are not true.

I was also shocked to find i had a beard. My brother made me aware of my moustache when i was 19 years old. As soon as my date arrived at the house to collect me, the first thing my 6-year old brother asked him was if he saw my moustache? Of course he had to take a closer look and found it sure enough!

To ensure that the haircut is not a repeat of last time, I'm choosing the kapsalon wisely. I narrowed it down to two places, theoretically the most unlikely places to end up with a bad mullet hair and shaved face. They are Joke Kapsalon and Hollywood Kapsalon. Voting poll is now open...

Saturday, February 3, 2007

My favorite show in the world!

few months ago, i watched a belgian show called Robland. The episode i saw was hilarious. Rob (host of Robland) barricaded a random small town in belgium (the land of small towns) so nobody can enter. As the residents pulled up to the barriers to get back home, Rob and his henchmen stopped them to inform them that their town was now called Robland and that they needed a passport to prove they lived in Robland. They actually turned away those without passports!

Next they went door to door to tell all the residents that their town was taken over and is now called robland. At the mandatory town meeting at noon that day, Rob gave a speech announcing he was their new leader. It just went on and on like this - completely over the top humor!!

Here is a photo of a Rob supporter i took at World Championships.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

This is Serge

He's been spending the last few months driving me to all the races, washing and fixing my bikes, working the pits, registering me, pinning my numbers, keeping me calm when i get too nervous, putting up with my bike racer mentality, cheering his ass off for me, and being my friend through it all.
I'm lucky to know him (and his family - twin brother christophe and his girlfriend Renatta, mom Monique)!

It turns out I AM famous!

As i was riding around town today, a guy waved at me as he yelled that i am that woman from Het Laatste Nieuws. Funny. It was good to know the article was read by at least one person in Belgium.

And here's a photo i "borrowed" IF Chicks. I just came across it yesterday - how exciting!