Thursday, March 29, 2007

I'm OFF...

for almost three weeks away from home! Fun!!! Tomorrow morning I leave for Geneva, Switzerland for a nearby race on Sunday. Then I'm off to Saint Zacharie (Provence) to stay with my teammate Tiina. After we race in Pujols (French Cup in Aquitaine Region), I will relocate to Marsaille where I will stay with my other teammate Sandrine. And on the way back to Belgium, I'll take a detour for Ladies Berry Classics (2-day French Cup in the Orleannais Region.)

I've never been that far south in France. I've heard it's beautiful and a little warmer than here (we're currently having weather in the upper 50's F). It will also be nice to train with my teammates, explore new training routes, and of course check out the cafes (for just coffee, of course!)

Thanks for reading!

It's NOT what you think it is...

On one of my training rides, I passed a metal dispensing machine attached to the outside of a bike shop. My first thought was how convenient it is to have condoms available for cyclists to collect at any time. (They do say that exercise makes people randy!) But upon further inspection, i realized that it dispensed a different type of rubber - not for me but for the bike! What an innovative idea. I wish every bike shop would have those available for the times when the group ride starts at 9am but the bike shop opens at 10.

Usually the machine is in working order.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Carnage from Sunday's Crash

Last night, I again worked on the bike. Sunday's crash left me with two bent rims, a few bent spokes, and a broken handlebar. Thankfully the rest was OK.

As I was replacing the handlebar, I started thinking about all the bikes and bike parts i've destroyed over the years. BUT the one part i never broke was a stem. I've only heard of one person actually breaking a stem.

Aside from changing the frame, I think the most annoying broken part to change is the handlebar. I just wish there were an easier way to change it. Usually, one side of the bar is still perfectly fine. Very often even the bar tape is completely intact. It just makes no sense that all the work i put into setting up these bars go to waste. I wish they'd have clip-together bars where you can just remove the defective half of the bar and replace it with a new one so you don't have to re-do both sides.

Here are a couple of photos from Sunday's debacle. The gross body shot is the most PG-rated of them all. (The others are just too gruesome to inflict upon unsuspecting readers looking for some light internet perusing from the office while dining on their morning bagel and coffee.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Why did I choose to be a bike racer?

After a rather turbulent weekend, I gave a lot of thought to why I am a bike racer. I first ran though the stock answers I give others when asked - "I do it for the money, glory, babes, glamorous lifestyle." A sham, all of them. Those benefits only apply to (most) male pros and a handful of top female pros - not me. In reality, what I do is simply blue collar work which rarely pays the bills. No babes, no glory, no glamorous lifestyle.

The real reason? I do it for the socks and bottles. In what other sport or industry do they have such colorful fun accessories? Yeah, i guess I don't necessarily need to be a bike racer or even a rider to walk around with cool-ass socks and bottles. BUT it would just look wrong.


Monday, March 26, 2007

I'm told the second day is even worse!

Yesterday I competed in the first round of the French Cup with the Pruneaux's. It was a very cold day - maybe about 45 degrees F but at least the rain had stopped just before the race.

The 4.4km course consisted of rolling terrain and some tight turns. Eighteen laps totaling 80km should take us about two hours. But my race ended only after 45 minutes. Just as i was putting my hand back on the bars after taking a bite to eat, I was sideswiped like a perfect 7-10 split, giving its "bedposts" nickname a whole new meaning as i smacked the pavement in a tuck/cover fetal position. They say that people become religious just before they think they're going to die, but not me. Instead of thinking, "Holy S_ _ _" my thoughts were more like, "F_ _ _ ME! As i hung out in the fetal position, bodies and bikes piled on top of me like a roller derby. The screams of terror combined with the screeching sound of metal sliding on pavement was just awful.

When I thought it was over, I waited an extra five seconds with my head covered - just in case. Well, good thing i did that because there was a second wave of carnage upon me! (I learned this little five second rule from a Freshman year teacher in University. Since most of the other students who were attending school in NYC were not from NY, he taught us to wait five seconds AFTER the light turns green before crossing. I'm sure he saved a few lives in addition to mine yesterday. How did i apply it to bike crashes? I don't know. My mind is not quite normal i guess.)

I stood up and took a few seconds to assess the damage. Torn jersey, shoe covers, knickers, socks - oops, should check the helmet. Missing skin: ankle, knee, elbows, butt cheek. Painful areas: shoulder, ankle, knee, ego. I was ready to continue but my bike was not. A girl's handlebar lever was weaved into my wheel. A mechanic finally untangled it so I went to get on the bike only to find that one side of the handlebars was hanging out with my front wheel. Game over.

As i looked around me at the few women still on the ground writhing in pain, I wondered how this happened, hoping that i didn't somehow cause it. I found out later from a few witnesses that a girl on the left side of the peloton lost her balance when she threw her arm warmers to the side of the road, causing her to swerve into the girl to her side taking them both out. And as they were crashing to the ground, I was swept off my bike in the process.

After changing into civilian attire, I headed back out to cheer on the mates. Three were left in the dwindling peloton that was chasing a lead group of five. Soon after the five crossed the finish line with Cyclo-Cross superstar Laurence Leboucher leading the bunch, the peloton came into view. But about 50 meters before the finish, the Pruneaux's got their final blow of the day. Two more Prunes went down in a spectacular sprint.

I just happened to be standing there so I took a photo of the carnage not knowing which racers were involved. Within a second I noticed two of them were my teammates! One was OK physically. I quickly fixed her injured bike - straightened the brakes, put chain on but left the twisted shift lever as is - and gave her a push to the finish. But the other gal was in serious pain, on the ground grabbing her hip. I tried to relax her in my best non-French, repeating the phrase "tranquil" as i did that stupid yoga gesture where you get someone to relax their breathing by taking deep breaths. Surprisingly it seemed to work. They took her away to hospital for X-rays but thankfully they think she is fine.

A friend recently asked me when was the last time i cried. I had no idea - maybe it's the "forget pain" thing. But i now have a definitive answer. It was yesterday. I was in some random train station in France - feeling tired, dejected, in pain and hungry (the French cannot imagine that all foods don't need to be served with some form of dairy.) As i sat down on the ground somewhat hidden from the hordes of people, I held a pity party for myself.

But just as the party started, a random guy walked by, lifted his sunglasses and u-turned back towards me. He seemingly wanted to make small talk but since he spoke no English and my pity party by invitation only, I sent him on his way. His gesture was kind which postponed the party by two minutes. But then the eyes welled and a couple of tears escaped. It seems bad timing was the theme of the day because just as the salty dropltes hit the corner of my lips, the whole Belgian Chocolade Jacques Pro Cycling Team sat down across from my party. They all took turns checking out the gal traveling with the flash bike bag that only team members would posess.

Once in Paris, i stood on the impossibly long taxi line still obsessing about my crap day. I had two choices: I could either have a pity party all the way home or i could change my attitude (which is a lot easier than changing the situation!) So i danced - for 37 minutes on the taxi line - to the new tunes on my iPod. I recently told my mom that i cannot have a social life because of my lack of "going out" clothes. Her response to me was that I never cared what other people think - why start now. Dance, dance, dance.

My penultimate train was from paris to brussels - 1 1/2 hrs. And on that train, equipped with a new attitude adjustment, something amazing happened. The guy who sat across from me bought me wine and chips! It's amazing how something as trivial as an attitude can completely turn everything around. Tipsy and full, I was then able to handle the rest of the trip (one train and a taxi) with strength and dignity.

That night, I was barely able to sleep due to the pain. I heard it's even worse the second day! Just can't wait!

Friday, March 23, 2007

What did we do before the iPod?

Since I have a bad memory for pain, i cannot remember.

Many years ago, I interviewed a friend named Marla Streb (super mega talented pro mtb racer)for an article. I asked her to share her secret for staying motivated to race yet another year since she's been doing it a long time. Her response was, "I discovered the iPod." On today's ride, I knew exactly what she meant.

As i was riding along listening to all new tunes for the first time in over a year, one of my favorite songs started to play. I was so excited that bike-dancing (you know, when you bob your head to and fro in time with the alternating elbow bends) just wouldn't cut it. So i pulled to the side of the road, got off the bike and danced my heart out. I was smiling, laughing and singing at the top of my lungs so much that my jaw still hurts! I'm thinking i probably shouldn't make a habit of it in my "one-of-a-kind" Prune kit! There are enough people out there already who think I'm a wack factor!

For all you iPod geeks out there, check out the new iPod accessory that helps you to NEVER miss a mobile call again:

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The little things

I finally got some new tunes for my iPod! For the past year, I have been listening to the same 17 songs over and over and over again!!! So you can imagine just how excited i was to replace them.

I got the new tunes from a friend. I know it's somewhat illegal or at least a wee bit immoral to take other people's tunes, but I did it anyway. And now i just can't wait to go ride! The only problem is that it's only 11:38pm here. Must wait at least 8 more hours. It's all about the little things...

Oh, and speaking of the little things, in addition to the tunes, I got a compliment from him! He told me, "You look normal again. Not like the sickly looking, bloated round Michelin man you looked like two weeks ago when i saw you last."

Well, he was right. It surely took me a long time to recover from cross season, training camp, and my wild one week of off-season. But I think he's right. I can finally see veins and cheekbones again! Yippee!!
NOW i'm ready for road season! Off to France I go.

The next time someone asks me why I'm vegetarian...

i'm going to say it's because vegetarians smell better than meat-eaters. End of discussion.

A recent report published by the NIH (National Institute of Health) confirmed it!

It surely is a much easier reason to discuss than the others i could choose which challenge people's beliefs and morals.

I wonder how a peloton full of vegetarians would smell after three hours at a blistering pace?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Back from the trenches

Only 4 hrs 17min. I almost had to do the trek through rain/sleet/snow alone. It's so much easier to handle days like today when I have company. Otherwise I think too much. Every time a car breezes by, splashing muddy water in my face I'd question what the heck I'm doing out there freezing my ass off when i could easily throw the bike away and get a 'real' job, make 'real' money, live in a 'real' home, take 'real' vacations possibly without the bike. And then i start to analyze my definition of 'real', etc, etc.
Anyway, I'm glad that Big Eyes sucked it up and rode with me. And since he saved me from my thoughts, i didn't mind his many off-road excursions and extended cobble sections covered in mud. I hear it's much warmer in The Bay Area. I HATE YOU ALL for getting to work on your tans!!!

It's raining, it's pouring...

since the rest of the song WOULD bore me to tears, i'll skip it for the moment. (sorry to those jongens who missed the reference.) Today i have a 5 hour training ride in the friggin' rain...again and again and again!!! UGH. I just want the sun to shine if but only for a moment. No such luck thus far as i sit here alongside Tom (Boonen) on the loveseat as we peer out the window hoping against friggin' hope, darnit!

Normally i'm not this sour about foul weather but my tummy has been hurting since my attempt at Omloop Het Volk sans (see i'm getting fluent by the minute) food. Thankfully I have my mud-buddy (aka Big Eyes) to join me for today's outing. OH, WAIT A MINUTE, I SEE SUN. Here comes the sun, oops. Sorry, i won't finish that song either. Uh-oh. And there it goes. HUP - and there it is again! I hate this game. Did you ever have those days where you swear the universe or at least Zeus (or i suppose even Hermes the trickster or Demeter) is playing games with you? Well, I'm having one of those days right now. Sun, sun, sun, here it comes...

As i sit here watching the sun bob in and out of my windows, I'm realizing this is exactly what i requested a few sentences ago - for the sun to come out if but only for a moment. I guess there's some truth behind the overused phrase, "be careful what you wish for, because you always get it." I am now officially changing my wish to perma-sun all day long. HEY, guess what? The sun is holding steady now for almost a minute, two, three, four, five and gone. And the rain just turned to hail. Great.

I wish they made windshield wipers for bike computers. Or maybe if they could come equipped with weather sensors so I can read my kph, rph, alt, avg, max, tmp,tot, cal, pwr, int, grd at will. I'M not a geek.

A Who's HOT addition to Vanderhoot Blog

Yesterday i read about a couple of hotties on the infamous Vanderhoot blog. Since i can't add a hottie to his blog, I'm adding one to mine!

These photos of Flandria are just HOT! Love the tattoo/girly-girl skirt combo. And considering i am typing this from my apartment in Belgium, I am especially intrigued that she chose the Lion of Flanders.

Extra points for being vegan.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Want to help a bunch of sexy biker chicks???

Drink coffee. But not just any coffee...the Bella Blend from De La Paz Coffee. Founded by cyclists, De La Paz is a brand new San Francisco based micro coffee roaster that focuses on organic and fair trade coffee.

25% of every Bella Blend
purchase goes to Team Velo Bella.

Velo Bella uses this money to support women in cycling.
They are especially effective at getting women into the sport AND entering their first races. Velo Bella also has an impressive elite team who regularly displays their talents at the highest level of competition throughout USA.

One of the above photos is of me, the other is not.

Monday, March 19, 2007

When i've had a bad day, two songs cheer me up

They are both AntiProduct songs:


Then click on the right side to listen to:

Bungee Jumping People Die


Best day of your life


Time of Death...15:45

That was the exact moment when my Omloop Het Volk attempt was over. The race got underway at 13:30 yesterday. After almost two hours of hard racing, I hit a wall. That wall slowed my speed down by 20kph! I'm sure i bonked this hard in some past races but i can't remember. As you know, us cyclists have an innate ability to forget pain. There are legitimate excuses for bonking. Unfortunately mine is not one of them.

I was guest riding for Movingladies Team out of Nederlands - GREAT bunch of gals!! They gave me two jersey options - small or smaller. I chose small. I didn't pre-ride in it for fear of getting it wet, so i waited until just before the start to put it on. Thirty minutes into the race, when i reached for one of the ten bars and gels i stuffed in the pockets, i was quite perplexed. No pockets. Upon further inspection, i realized the pockets had migrated up my back, too high to reach and cinched closed from my broad upper body (OK, well too broad for this tiny-tot jersey!)

I must have attempted to get food out of those pockets at least a dozen times. No luck. Reverting back to cyclo-cross experience, I decided that food is overrated. The oatmeal and pasta I ate earlier that day would suffice. My body did not agree with this sentiment.

After one hour, i started to feel a little low in energy. No worries, this too shall pass. Yeah, it passed alright, as it morphed into full blown hunger a half hour later. The bonus interval training I got in after being caught behind three crashes surely didn't help the situation (a very nervous race indeed!) Oh and the speed of the race was not in my low-energy favor either - i glanced down at the iBike on a random climb to see that we were climbing at 48kph, jumping up to 52 just as we were nearing the top.
By 1 hr 45min, i was dangling off the back until the fireworks hit. The rumors are true. There really are fireworks. And the cheers of the crowd do go into slow motion mode. "Koooooommmmmm oooooooonnnnnnnn" "Aaaaaaaalllllllleeeeeeeezzzzzzzzz uuuuuuuuuup".

The rest of my race was relegated to riding with the cars, then riding with various chase groups until finally riding solo, giving me some time to think about the dumb-ass flub i just committed.

This week it's off to France for a French Cup in Cholet. You bet I'll NOT repeat that mistake again. Let's hope these are not famous last words...

Thanks again to the Moving Ladies squad for letting me race with them. It was a really fun, memorable experience!!

Thanks for reading.

A shout out to Bjorn Fox of Stinson Beach

Yesterday, my 13 yr old California riding buddy was hit by a car. Thankfully he is ok, but that must have been a scary experience.
Here's his email i just received from Bjorn:

"I had an accident yesterday when I was doing my training ride. I was heading north along the lagoon when a car came around a blind corner out of control.
I turned around and saw the car skidding side ways towards me. It was like a wave coming towards me and I tried to sprint away but he car hit my rear tire hard
and launched me into the ditch. I was air-lifted to the Childrens hospital in Oakland because of back pain but it looks like I’m is going to be fine. There was an article in the Marin IJ (San Francisco Bay Area Newspaper) today so I wanted to let you know that I’m alright."

Bjorn is one of USA's brightest stars of tomorrow. At the young age of 13, it is clear that his talents are extraordinary. I really look forward to watching him grow into one of the top World cyclists! He specializes in mtb, cyclo-cross and just started road racing. I wish i had a photo of him because he's also the cutest thing!


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Projects complete!

After a few days of fussing over the bike, I am just about there. I still have to learn all the various functions of the iBike. Maybe i should take a look at the manual. But even without looking at the directions, it was easy enough to figure out all the basic functions so it can be useful to me tomorrow at Het Volk. I must admit the bike does look a bit more attractive without the huge-ass saddle bag, lights, and random zip-ties.

Rumor has it that we should have our team bikes this month - just can't wait!!!

Even though the sky remained pale blue-grey all day, the cyclists were swarming about. I passed about twelve separate groups while i rode around this afternoon. I bet if i were to have been out there in the morning, I would have seen four times the amount! Oddly enough, I almost never see any women out training. The last time i saw a woman in race clothing was last year. I wonder where Belgium put them all?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Check out my first Pruneaux d'Agen article in PEZ!!!

Again, yippee!!
It is once again an honor to write for my favorite cycling website -

Check out the article if you want to read about my new team and our shenanigans during team presentation and training camp!

In search of a screw...

not just any screw, though. Of all the screws in existence, only one will work for me. Unfortunately it is a very unique one, hard to come by. I spent a lot of time yesterday searching and searching, but to no avail. BUT i was told by a few of the folks whom I approached that i am looking in all the wrong places. Since i desperately need this screw, this is now my project - my mission - for today. With better direction now, I may just get lucky! I'll be wearing those snazzy Specialized shoes in no time!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Got distracted...

Today is possibly our last nice day before rain and snow hits. As i'm diligently working on my projects in the living room I'm being hit by partial rays of sun. On a sunny day, this is not a good thing. I turned around to find that my windows are super dirty! It wasn't noticeable until the sun came out. OK. Projects halted. Must clean windows.

I never realized how scary and dangerous window cleaning can be. I live about three tall flights up and my windows are huge, requiring that i lean all the way out to clean all of it. While hanging out of the window, I lost my balance for a split second when the wind swung the window. It surely was a good test to see if my heart is in decent shape. And as i was stepping down onto the chair to get down, it flipped. Ugh. I bet more cyclists hurt themselves doing stupid stuff around the house than from riding their bikes. In fact, i think it was Jaja who broke three ribs while on a ladder changing a light bulb.

While i was up there, I also installed a simple curtain on one of the windows. Here's a photo of my finished window project. Now back to bike projects...but first, out for a ride!

The Glamorous Life of a Pro Cyclist

Today is bike project day. Here's a photo of everything i have to get done in preparation for Het Volk.

My friend Niels recently took one look at my bike and exclaimed that I have everything on it. I don't think it was a compliment considering the collection of parts - Veloce left shifter, Ultegra 9-spd right shifter, XTR rear deraileur, Campa 10-spd cranks, mix-and-match wheels and tires, etc.

I also think my oversized Deuter saddle bag, front and rear lights, seatpost attachment for race numbers, and handlebar rope (to hold my gloves) may cause the bike to look a bit cyclo-tourist. If only he would have seen it the day before with its platform pedals (Speedplay attachment).

Since my team bike has not yet arrived, he was looking at was my backup Scott bike equipped with anything i could find around the apartment combined with a few parts Serge lent me.

Today I will switch the shifters to veloce 10-spd, change all brake/shifting cables, housing, install veloce rear deraileur, change chain to 10-spd, switch wheels to silver American Classic 350's. Then i will see if it works.

Jan (not Big-Eyes) will arrive this afternoon to collect me and my hoopty bike to fix the expected damage I will have done. I'm so lucky!!

Just got my snazzy new Specialized shoes in a few days ago. Installing the cleats are always fun...not! It is especially hard when I've already stolen some of the screws I need to install the cleats for another pair of shoes. And since they are Speedplay X's - not a popular model here in Belgium - I am hard pressed to get screws that fit. I will first check with my drill neighbor then a hardware store.

It is frustrating that i can't wear them NOW, though, because they look so yummy - almost good enough to eat! Yes, they're vegetarian. (Specialized has really put in a lot of effort to switch their line over to non-animal products! Bravo! No more smelly shoes.)

I am about to join the watt-measuring craze. I wouldn't have done it if i hadn't discovered iBike. There is no fancy hub or cranks or any other funky gadget that would force me spend an exorbitant amount of money on extra parts or time on reading a complicated manual.

It's just like a normal handlebar mount computer but i get watts, calories burned, hill gradient, interval timer, altitude, wind speed, and everything else that your high tech bicycle computer will do. Since i have multiple bikes, I am sold on its versatility to easily move from one bike to another. I'll let you know how it goes once installed. It will be fun to compare results and experiences with Geoff (gewilli in the blogging world.)

Off to work now!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Yippidy Do Dah! Het Volk Here I Come!!!!!!

I just found out that i am confirmed to race Omloop Het Volk this Sunday! I am sooooooo thrilled! Since my team is focusing mainly on French races, they are not competing in Het Volk. But a team from Nederlands is allowing me to guest ride for them. I just got approval today from UCI that it is OK with them as well.
Well, gotta get to work on detailing the bike AND body for the big day. It's funny that this will be my first road race of the season. Wish me luck!!

Clean as a Whistle

What a weird expression. I wonder where it came from? Military reference perhaps?

Anyway, I showed up at Jan's house to find he was running late. As he pulled up on his bike, the first words he said was, "I need to wash my bike before we ride." HAHAHA. Someone's been reading my blog! For the whole ride, he took extra care to divert my delicate white prune kit and bike from harm's way - no mud, no fields, no streams, no forests. We did get to ride a bit of cobbles, though, which i quite enjoy!

Yesterday was our first truly warm day! It hit about 15 degrees C (i think 60 F) and the sun joined us for most of the 3 1/2 hour ride until the very end when it was time for it to retire. We first rode up and down the canal to get in some flat intervals, then we were off to the south into the French areas for hilly terrain. It still amazes me how a country can be completely divided into two languages with seemingly very little overlap (aside from Brussels which is located in the Flemish section but is French-only speaking.)

But even more exciting than the weather were my sensations on the bike. After a taxing cross season that lasted almost five months, I am finally excited to ride again - even excited to do intervals! This is such a difference from how i felt as recent as last week. I have to give my coach credit for turning me around in one week's time to get me ready for Het Volk! Genius. (God, i hope he doesn't read this entry for fear that he may suffer from dikkenek as a result!)

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I just can't wait to ride my bike...

but I must wait until 3pm so my cycling partner can join me. This is the soonest he can get free, since he has a real job AND is finishing up his PhD. But he's worth the wait - mostly.

NO, it's no judgement on his riding ability or style, or even on his personality. He's actually a great guy and we have fun on the bike while getting the job done. My single complaint about him is that he turns me completely brown by the end of every ride. Even on warm sunny days when all pavement is theoretically dry, he has this innate ability to suss out the location of those leftover patches of mud and string them all together to form a tour. On the days when he cannot find those mud patches, we somehow magically end up in the middle of the woods. On one ride, it was the Tervuren Forest near Brussels - well, ok, it was actually pouring that day so we would have been muddy anyway.

Normally i wouldn't mind getting a little dirty - heck, I started off as a mountain bike racer and transitioned to cyclo-cross, two very untidy sports. But since i do not have a hose or a washing machine at my apartment, cleaning up is a chore.

I have tried to preempt the mudfest on our last ride. As i was riding over to his place last week, I thought I'll just mention my request that we keep it a clean ride. But as i pulled up to his house, what i saw was a bit discouraging. Jan was perched on top of a mudpile attached to two wheels. He was on his dirty mountain bike complete with 2.1 knobby wheels. I meagerly spoke of my request in my tiniest mousy voice since i knew i was doomed. Within an hour, we were riding through farmlands, cobbles covered in thick mud and bike paths riddled with pothole puddles lined with mud.

Even though I'm bitching, I'm waiting. I'm waiting for 3pm to arrive so we can ride, possibly get muddy...again.

The photo is of Jan in one of his rare moments of cleanliness.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Name That Kid...

I'll give you a hint. He is riding on a custom colnago cyclo-cross bike kitted out in parts just as nice as his daddy. Oh, and another was taken just before 2007 Belgian National Championships.
Earlier in the day he was breezing around the parking lot practicing his mounts and dismounts. He looked smoother than most adults who race the sport!
Photo was taken at Asper-Gavere, BEL Superprestige Event back in November.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Woman with the Drill

A couple of folks have emailed me privately wondering who is this woman with a power drill. When i returned the drill yesterday morning to my neighbor Sharon, I brought my camera to take a photo of her. She was a good sport about it; she put on a jacket to spruce up her pajamas grabbed the drill and posed. By the way, the dainty black and white evening purse at her feet holds all the screws and drill bits. Love it!

Friday, March 9, 2007

I finally updated my "upcoming events"

Since so many of the races are far, far away from my Belgian home, it seems i will be spending a lot of time on the road - namely Provence and Marseille thanks to my teammates Tiina and Sandrine. This will be exciting!!

Shameless Self Promotion

Just in case you haven't gotten enough of me from this blog, I have been interviewed twice over the last week.

Here are the links:
(I have been reading this website before I was interviewed by them, so it was an honor that they approached me for an interview.)

Organic Athlete Podcast
I have been a pro-activist for Organic Athlete for a few years now. The organization promotes a healthful plant-based diet for optimal athletic performance. In the past couple of years, it has grown to the point where they have a worldwide following and just created the first ever elite-level cycling team. Very cool. (Do keep in mind as you listen to it that i was truly delirious from exhaustion. Bradley from OA interviewed me the same day i returned from Training Camp. It was also the first time i attempted to speak real english - as opposed to the simple talk you tend to do when around people whose first language is not english. OK. enough said. You have been warned!)

I have since replaced my group riding buddies...

with two younger, faster guys!

OK, well maybe only in my dreams. They are (right to left): Matt White (AUS) and Thomas Vaitkus (LTU) from Discovery Channel Team. They were in Belgium last weekend for Het Volk. I didn't get to ride with them or even get to watch them race but I was happy enough to have a coffee with them at the airport. It seems they have a thing for Speculaas as well!

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Busy day at the office...

My morning was spent doing work around the house - drilling, sawing, hammering - you know, the usual way a girl tidies up the place. Actually I was fixing a kitchen drawer that broke. I couldn't find the right piece to fix it, so i had to find a piece of wood from somewhere else around the apartment and carve it into the ideal size. And with the help of my neighbor, Sharon, I had the use of a power drill which made the job a lot easier! (In exchange for the power drill, I lent her my wire cutters and needle-nose pliers.)

And in the afternoon, I joined the old guys for a leisurely ride - or that was the plan, anyway! I normally wait on a street corner for the peloton to roll by. Once they pass, i tag onto the back. Tagging on today was actually an effort! Instead of their usual 30-32kph, they passed me doing 40! Even through the turns they hammered, sprinting out of every corner! I finally asked one of the guys for an explanation. It turned out that the 72 yr old ring leader was absent so the rest of the 60-80 yr olds celebrated. They turned their pedals in joy for almost an hour until one guy hit the ground. He did a full front wheelie before tipping over sideways onto the cobbles. That must have hurt!

After that, the pace backed down to a modest 35kph but the route did incorporate hills for the first time in my experience. I guess the ring leader was averse to hills as well.

Usually i join the rides without a fuss - nobody really notices me because i hang out in the back. But today was different. When we were stopped at a light, i happened to have stood next to a guy who threw his energy bar wrapper on the ground right in front of me. Instead of just ignoring his dirty habit as i have for the past two hours as he repeatedly littered, I picked up his trash and handed it to him. Instead of apologizing, he tried to defend his actions. Taking the drama queen route, I responded by telling him that I have to much respect for this country and its citizens to trash it. A few guys cheered me on - one of them even told me that i am welcome to stay in his country! Or at least that was my interpretation of what he said. I heard the words blijven, je and belgie. Any dutch translaters out there?

The rest of the ride consisted of two more crashes, some hills and cobbles. Oh, and i was almost dropped from the ride myself. Shortly after i gave the litterer a hard time I dropped my own candy wrapper on the ground. Obviously i had to stop for it, but it was a bitch to catch back onto the group when coach's orders were to ride piano!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Road Season Adjustments

I recently made the transition (can it be called a transition if it happened in one day?) from cyclo-cross to road season. Thanks to our mind's ability to forget pain and discomfort, I rediscovered that switching from cross to road bike while increasing ride time can cause untoward side effects such as butt pain, neck and shoulder pain and boredom.

Quickly i went to work in finding solutions.

I lowered the air pressure of the road tires from 7 bar (100psi) to 5-5 1/2 bar (70-80psi). Now i can sit on the bike and my body is cushioned!

To get rid of the boredom, I incorporated group rides to my training program. My few riding partners are not always available due to the dreaded three-letter word "job", so these group rides work well - they are always held the same time and day of the week. The group i joined last week rode for 3 hours at 30-32kph. Since many of these guys prefer to speak dutch, it also gives me an opportunity to stumble through dutch-only conversations in hopes of one day actually learning the language. I am still in search of a dutch course that fits into my training/racing schedule. But until then, at least I can get 3 hr dutch lessons two times a week from these guys!

Here are a few photos from my last ride with them. They are mostly retired guys ranging in age from 50 to 85. You can tell that they would be labeled as "old school" both from their choice of clothing and bike accessories such as the knee-high wool socks or the water bottle cage tool holder. Oh, and check out the weird handlebar (stuur in dutch) in the middle photo.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

I normally avoid bike-geek-speak, but...

here's a photo of my new bike! Rumor is that they will arrive mid-March. The frame is all carbon, top tube is short enough to fit my short-torso'd typical girl body and it only weighs 1.1kg! I have to admit that i love the prune pattern on the bike - just enough prune without being overbearing.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Training Camp with the Prunes of Agen

I attended training camp with a preconceived notion that i was going to be tortured on the bike for a minimum of six hours a day. AND i'd have to do it all on one dry piece of toast for breakfast (how was i supposed to know that petit dejeuner simply meant breakfast - i just saw the word petit!)

But i was pleasantly surprised. The first few days of riding were rather subdued and social. Our team manager Nicolas Coudrey even sent us out for play dates to "relaxation" seminars and girly-girl spas! It was great! The social time was great for working on my french - or lack of it! The teammates took turns teaching me new words.

The most challenging event at training camp was when we were subjected to Nicolas' variation on the term "early morning wake up call." Not only did we have to get out of bed at 7am (normally i wake up at the crack of 9) but we had to be downstairs by 7:05 ready to run - at tempo, yes on foot! The first morning I was a bit unprepared due to my misinterpretation of the event. I thought we were going for a leisurely walk around campus to loosen up the muscles - wake the body up. I wore no less than seven layers of clothes including my warmest hat and gloves but no sports bra. Big mistake. I sweated through all layers. The 200 meter sprint at the end was almost unbearable. I don't know what was worse - no sports bra or sweltering in my multiple layers of wet clothing. In comparison, all other events were easy - I think this was his plan!

By the next morning, though, i was prepared not only with a sports bra and fewer items of clothing but with a game plan to turn the run into a more pleasurable experience. As soon as we started to run, I immediately went to the front of the group to set the pace (i learned this from Musseauw when he won the World Champs in Lugano - he went to the front to set the pace on the climb to discourage the climbing specialist with whom he was riding to attack). I then turned to the girl who ran alongside me and ordered her to run "piano". The plan worked. And any time someone tried to scoot up alongside me, i casually swerved in that direction leaving no room for her. HAHAHAHA. I did this every morning for the rest of training camp.

The riding in southern france was quite beautiful. It was like a cross between Napa, California and Belgium's Fleche Wallone World Cup course. Its rolling hills were covered in vineyards while the pavement was as crappy as Belgium's infamous race.

When the training pace was easy, the girls rotated in the double paceline so that each of them got their english lesson in for the day. In exchange, I was handed a few more french words to add to my rapidly growing vocabulary! They even started to jokingly communicate with each other in English. I’d hear exchanges like “hello, and how are you today? I am fine, and how are you? Where do you come from? I come from France.” I have heard stories about the elitist french with their militant language pronunciation so i was very relieved and thrilled to have such supportive teammates who who all worked very hard to communicate in English and include me in conversations whenever possible.

But without my Finnish teammate Tiina, who took the time to translate for me, the camp would have been much more trying.

The meals were anything but petit! Breakfast consisted of french baguettes, various jams, butters, spreadable cheeses, cereals, yogurts, and fruits. Lunch and dinner consisted of more french bread, overcooked pasta or rice, overcooked vegetable (the overcooked thing seems to be very popular here in Europe), three types of meats or fish, cheese chunks, spreadable cheeses, pastry desserts, fruits, and yogurts. After a few of these meals, an image of Bob Roll popped into my head. In his book, he wrote about how he must have been the only guy to gain weight during the Tour de France since it was unlimited food at every meal - a pleasant sight to a starving, tight-budgeted bike racer! Since i wanted to avoid his fate, I started to curb my eating a bit. Thankfully my vegan diet helped keep me away from most of the calorie-intensive items! I almost wished french bread was made with lard! At least i now never want to see another piece of french bread for at least a year.

Since the brain has the talent to forget pain, I just remembered the second hardest part of training camp - the massages! I guess i have not been good about massaging my legs on a more regular basis, because I was tearing on that massage table. Instead of letting up on the pressure, he ordered me to breath deep and relax. I cannot imagine that childbirth would feel any more painful than those massages. Damn IT bands.

Training camp ended with a local bike race with the regional boys. The girls lined up in the front to intimidate the boys. Once the whistle blew, it took them about twelve seconds to catch on to our tactics and swarm around us at mach (is this correct) speed. I knew that if I didn't suffer then, it would be worse later on. So i suffered, and suffered, and suffered, ending up in the chase group to finish somewhere top 20. My teammate Angelique rode a phenomenal race to win the sprint in our group - ahead of all these guys with monster quads!

Overall, I am thrilled to be on the team. My mates are fabulous and the management is competent and professional. I just wish they weren't so far away from belgium. Since most of our races are in southern france, switzerland, and spain, I expect i will do a lot of traveling since i opted to keep my apartment in Leuven.

Thanks for reading this especially long entry - assuming you got this far!

Saturday, March 3, 2007

A "had to be there" post alert

Yesterday, as i was stopped at the light i watched a kid on a town bike (you know, the pre-Breezer European commuter bikes that weigh 50 lbs and come equipped with full wraparound chain guard, fenders, automatic lighting system and two semi-flat big wheel tires) hit a tight 90 degree (shoot, i forgot how to make that degree character) turn just as fast as the top pros. I just about peed in my chamois from laughing so hard. One of the most overused AND incorrectly used phrases in cycling - counter-steering - quickly came to mind when i saw his perfect riding style. Did i mention he was wearing a backpack?

Welcome to Team Presentation

Here is what i would have written about Pruneaux D'Agen team presentation if i were able to log into my blog account from Southern France:

After two car rides, three trains and a taxi, I arrived at Team Presentation location in Agen, France. I was sure we drove up to the correct building because Nicolas Coudrey, Team Manager, and I were greeted by a 20-foot tall maniacally enthusiastic inflatable prune swaying in the wind.

Once inside, I found the rest of the team all kitted up for photos. After a two second meet-and-greet, I got my "christine" duffel filled with team stuff, and changed into my matching kit.

Armed with our skimpiest jerseys and bibs, we braved the cold weather for team photos. I swear this must be part of the training camp hazing process. Now that I’ve experienced this tradition on numerous occasions, I have a true appreciation for the smiles donned on the faces of racers in other team photos! I recently saw a photo of team lipton taken in Connecticut in January. I just happen to know those women were braving serious snowstorm weather in their summer wear!

Immediately following the session, we were brought into a conference room with a large oval table. All the racers, support crew and management were present. One by one, we introduced ourselves to the group. When it came to my turn, I tried to be witty, intelligent, fun and thorough. As I looked around the room following my mini monologue, I was greeted with blank stares, half smiles, and inquisitive brows. It didn't take long for me to realize that only about 2 or 3 people in the room caught half of what i said. What?!? English is not as universal as they lead us to believe in good old USA, the presumed center of all existence?

Next we were whisked into a tiny room filled with tables and chairs. It was separated from the Team Presentation area by a somewhat troubled fan-syle panel curtain; the panels wouldn't lie in the same direction creating big gaps AND the two halves of the curtain did not reach each other.

Early in the presentation, we were individually called out of the room wearing our prune kit. After standing in front of the crowd for a few minutes, we were then ordered to return to the other side of the faulty curtain to change into our "casual wear." I wish it would have been appropriate to take a photo of the gals trying to duck for cover behind the tables and chairs in hopes of a little privacy! I'm sure it kept the presentation attendees amused!

After presentation, I expected some people would be interested in talking to the one American on a French Team. But instead only three people talked to me all evening. It didn't take long for me to figure out two things: 1. that the rumors are true - they really do only speak French in France, and 2. my five words of french are not going to get me very far. The third person to speak to me didn't realize i spoke no french until about 20 minutes into the one-way conversation. It wasn't until she asked me a question and my response was a confused facial expression, that she figured it out. But within ten seconds she found out i spoke spanish so after 20 more minutes in spanish, she had to leave.

Once the party was over, we went for Chinese food. All the gals had the buffet but since I’m a vegan, the chef made a special meal – or three – for me. I had so much food, it was comical. Yes, I ate it all – as if you had to ask! Oddly enough, I somehow managed to break my tooth while eating soft Chinese mush. At some point, in between our a.m. and p.m. rides I now must make a trip to the dentist.

It was after 11pm when we finally arrived at our sleeping quarters. As we practically sleep-walked into the house, we were hit with a serious dilemma – the house had no sheets, blankets or HEAT! After Nicolas put in a few minutes of quality phone time to the owner of the house, we were off to emergency housing for the night. The head of the regional cycling federation put us up on a moment’s notice – it was warm and comfy!