Saturday, April 28, 2007

More shameless self promotion

I just got an email from "John from VT" telling me he just read about me in the current Bicycling Magazine. I think it just included a few quotes from me. From what John wrote, it sounds to me that i gave tips on how to lose weight without diet or exercise - sounds like me! HAHAHA.

Since i don't think we get that magazine here in Europe, I cannot tell you exactly what was written. But even so, I'm very excited to be in Bicycling Magazine!!

Now i am off to bed with visions of Roeselare Road Race cycling in my head.

Snow during a heat wave

For the past two weeks, we've had snow - but not the normal "melt in your mouth" variety! Instead, the flakes get lodged up my nose, down my throat and make a white paste when mixed with my sweaty, suncreened body.

Summer weather came so quickly here that all the foliage is blooming at once, releasing random flyaways into the air. The sky is so thick with this stuff. Very odd. Not a problem if i conducted my training rides from behind the steering wheel of a car. But on the bike, I have a dilemma. Do i breathe through my nose in hopes that the nose hairs will catch them as they attempt to set up camp in my lungs? Or do i breathe through my mouth knowing full well that i will spend much of the ride coughing them out of my lungs? Since both options suck based on recent personal experience, tomorrow i will go with plan C - the handkerchief.

I will wrap the Pruneaux d'Agen team issue handkerchief around my face like a bandit to prevent the buggers from gaining entry to my air passages. Surely all the other gals in the race will be jealous!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Two sure ways to get me excited...

Warm sunny weather and a fabulous bike ride. Yesterday I experienced both simultaneously! For the past couple of weeks, most of Western Europe has had extraordinary weather. In Leuven (BEL), it's been holding at a steady 27 degrees (about 81F.)

When it's warm and sunny, I'm definitely more inspired to leave the house. Almost always I will hit the top end of my training allowance for that day. Yesterday I was allotted 3-3 1/2 hours by my coach. My total ride time was 3:29:57. Another perk of sunny days is that suntan is finally coming along; the style of gloves i wear is now apparent based on the odd dark circle on the upper section of my hands.

When it is warm and sunny, I allow myself to get "lost" in Belgium. It is quite a difficult feat to accomplish since Belgium is made of small villages all containing a multitude of signs pointing you to the neighboring villages as well as to the larger surrounding towns. Even so, I tried my best and ended up in the French-speaking section in a town called Wavre. Any time us Flemish-based riders want hills, we head south to the French section where the roads are more vertical.

Wavre was a very cute town with a lot of charm and character similar to the Flemish towns I frequent, but had a few noticeable differences. The obvious was that everything was in French and the people only spoke French. The other difference, probably only evident to cyclists was the abbreviated version of a bike path network. Many areas were completely devoid of them, while others included the paths almost as an afterthought or as a way to just barely appease the goverment who enforced the inclusion of paths on certain roads.

In many places, the paths were too narrow to fit a bike. And if i were able to ride in a perfectly straight line to fit, my right pedal would not have enough room to clear the curb. The paths circling the roundabouts were a little wider, but you must take them at low speeds in order to nail the narrow path once you've exited. I'd like to think that they were not intended for cyclists but they were all in the same slate red hue as the bike paths throughout the rest of Belgium.

While riding through town at low speed, I was able to window shop from the comforts of my own saddle. The town had everything - organic food stores, lively cafes, bookstores and a bunch of clothing shops that all seem to carry the style of shirt i've been looking for - lightweight, tailored style with abbreviated sleeves and a flowy bottom. It would have been fun to try the clothing on, but i was in the middle of my ride. Also, most shop owners don't appreciate their clothes donned by customers sporting a prominent layer of street grime on their bodies, firmly glued in place using a mixture of sunscreen and sweat.

By the way, my next race is this Sunday at a UCI (international) race called Roeselare. It is located in West Flanders, Belgium. I'm sooo excited!!! I've been wanting to race this event ever since i heard of its inception back in the winter.

My friend Serge and his family live near the course, so I hope they can come. But since Serge and his Brother Christophe work for Mavic driving the neutral support vehicles at the races, they are not always free. It's apparently going to be such a huge race that even the "concierge" of my building is coming to watch! When he told me of his plans, he confirmed that i will indeed be wearing the pruim bodysuit. Yes i will - head to toe! Can't miss me. He agreed.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My hour in Avignon

A few weeks ago, Sandrine and I had the pleasure of being tourists in the infamous town of Avignon, France. It was a convenient visit because we needed to pass time while waiting to rendezvous with our team support crew in a neighboring town to collect our team bikes.

It was amazing to walk around a town with so
much history - and a rather turbulent one at that! Since i've had an american education, I relied instead on an internet site to supply you with a summary of Avignon (see below.) I pulled this info from Sacred Destinations travel guide. All photos but the top one were taken by me, though.

The Pont St-Benezet on the Rhône River, Avignon.

The site of Avignon was settled early; the rocky outcrop (le Rocher les Doms) at the north end of town overlooking the Rhône may have been the site of a Celtic oppidum or hill fort. During the Roman Empire the city was a major center of Gallia Narbonensis, but very little from this period remains (there are a few fragments of the forum near Rue Molière).

Avignon was badly damaged by the barbarian invasions of the 5th century and was destroyed in 737 by the Franks under Charles Martel, after it had sided with the Arabs against him. Avignon passed successively to the kingdom of the Burgundians and the Kingdom of Arles. At the end of the 12th century, its commune declared itself an independent republic, but independence was crushed in 1226 when Avignon was taken and dismantled by forces of Louis VIII and its fortification demolished as punishment for its support of the Cathars. Avignon was given to the counts of Provence and then the counts of Toulouse.

The town had significant religious status from ancient times. It was the seat of a bishop as early as the year 70 AD, and became an archbishopric in 1476. Several synods of minor importance were held there, and its university, founded by Pope Boniface VIII in 1303 and famed as a seat of legal studies, flourished until the French Revolution.

In 1309 the city was chosen by Pope Clement V as his residence, and from that time till 1377 was the seat of the Papacy, in the "Babylonian Captivity." In 1348 the city was sold by its owner, Joanna, countess of Provence, to Pope Clement VI and, though it was later the seat of more than one antipope Avignon belonged to the Papacy until the French Revolution.

Avignon became the residence of the Pope in 1309, at which time the town and the surrounding Comtat Venaissin was under the rule of the kings of Sicily (the house of Anjou). In 1348 Pope Clement VI bought it from Queen Joanna I of Sicily for 80,000 gold gulden, and it remained a papal possession until 1791, when, during the disorder of the French Revolution, it was incorporated into France.

Seven popes resided in Avignon:

  1. Pope Clement V
  2. Pope John XXII
  3. Pope Benedict XII
  4. Pope Clement VI
  5. Pope Innocent VI
  6. Pope Urban V
  7. Pope Gregory XI

The period of Avignon popes from 1309 to 1377 was also called the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, in reference to the Israelites' enslavement in biblical times. The analogy fitted Avignon in another sense - the venality of the papal court caused the city to become infamously corrupt, on the levels of Babylon herself. The poet Petrarch condemned the city's corruption, contributing to the papacy's return to Rome out of sheer embarrassment as much as anything else.

The return to Rome prompted the Great Schism, during which the antipopes Clement VII and Benedict XIII continued to reside at Avignon. The former lived there during his entire pontificate (1378-1394), the latter until 1408, when he fled to Aragon.

The walls built by the popes in the years immediately succeeding the acquisition of Avignon as papal territory are well preserved. They were not, however, particularly strong fortifications; the Popes relied instead on the immensely strong fortifications of their palace, known as the Palais des Papes (Palace of Popes). This lofty Gothic building, with walls 17-18 feet thick, was built 1335-1364 on a natural spur of rock, rendering it all but impregnable to attack. After being expropriated following the French Revolution, it was used as a barracks for many years. It is now restored and open to visitors as a museum.

After the departure of the popes, Avignon continued to be ruled by legates as papal territory. Its existence was, however, somewhat precarious, as the French crown maintained a large standing garrison at Villeneuve-les-Avignon just across the river. In 1663 and 1688 the French King Louis XIV occupied the surrounding Comtat Venaissin. The papacy finally lost the town and the Comtat in 1791, when it was incorporated into France after the French Revolution.

The only photo above which is not self-explanatory, is the one of a guy and a girl. They were making a shadow of a heart using their arms. But by the time I got the camera out and hit the button, the moment was gone. Too bad i will never see those kids again to watch their relationship flourish as magically as the heart they expertly created. (is that a bit more optimistic?)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Pictures are worth a thousand words...

These photos should then cover me for 8k.
My weekend to Pelussin, France (near St. Etienne - below Lyon):

I just got back from a little mountain town called Pelussin, located near St. Etienne, in the middle of France. What a beautiful region! I am quickly understanding why France is a destination hotspot for so many people! I left saturday for the ten-hour journey and returned sunday after the race, arriving in Belgium monday very early morning.

I was picked up at the station by Sabrina, massage queen and master organizer of the team. Every time we see each other, she works on my french while I work on her english - very symbiotic. It's especially effective because we clown around a lot, removing all stresses of learning a new language.

Once we were settled in the car, we talked about what we've done for the past four days since our last get-together. Then we talked about our travel to get to the race. She had already driven for 6 hours in hot humid weather with NO air conditioning when she collected me which explained why she looked as if she just stepped out of a sauna. Next I talked about my 9 hours of multiple trains, taxis, and buses and the people I met that day - a South African family and a French guy.

After telling Sabrina that i talked with the french guy, Christophe, for a couple of hours, she asked me if it was all in french? So of course the two of us laughed maniacally, turning the car even more into a mobile oven. Ten minutes into our gut-busting marathon, I took a break long enough to inform her that her question wasn't funny, which got us rolling for yet another ten minutes! If her car wasn't so low to the ground making the inside viewable to every passerby, i would have stripped down to my skivvies in a rather futile attempt to escape the sweltering heat.

We drove for an hour through the countryside, up and over mountain passes until finally arriving in Pelussin. I now have four favorite mountain cities - Pelussin, St. martigny (suiss), Gap, France and of course Mill Valley, California.

We were served a typical french five course meal, with various slabs of meat and cheese in every course, finishing off the meal with a cheese custard and crepes filled with homemade blueberry jam. Once it was obvious that there was absolutely nothing for me to eat, our DS Nicolas helped me out by asking our host to make some salad, veggies and vegan pasta for me. For dessert, she served me bread, fruit with that delicious jam. Yum!

After trying to sleep at altitude on a bed so soft that my body folded on itself, causing my boobs to smooch with my thighs all night, I "awoke" to a sunshine-filled sky! It was race day - yippee! Although I was happy about it, my shifting and my legs were not. At the end of lap 2 of 5, of course at a critical moment when the pressure on the pedals was high, the chain decided to dance around the sprockets waiting for the music to stop so it could pick one and settle down - a bike's version of of the childhood game of "musicial chairs". No such luck. And when i finally got one going, a few seconds later it would jump up again as if the music started to play again.

From the jerking of the chain, i pulled a muscle in my left quad causing it to cramp up. The team car pulled up to me in the middle of the debacle and tried to help me with the gears. Nope - a no-go. So i rode in no-mans-land, time-trialling until the group behind caught up. Since there was no way i could catch the group in front, I finished the race anyway to get a good workout in to prepare for upcoming races AND to give the people who were cheering for "pruneaux" someone to cheer for in my group. Even though i may not have won the race or have come even close, i did appreciate those frequent "pruneaux" cheers I received for the rest of the race!

Thankfully my teammates rode better than I. Christel placed 6th and tiina 11th in the sprint finish, while Angelique came in just behind. Christel and Angelique were on strict orders to ride easy to save themselves for Fleche Wallonne World Cup tomorrow. BONNE FLECHE Christel et Angelique, allez fort!!!

Top photo is of Christine, who works in the Belgian Railways. I have visited so often over the last couple of months that we are now buddies. She asks about my last travels and I ask about her visits with friends and upcoming holidays

The next photo is of the South African family who was returning home after a visit to a relative in Belgium. I just recently learned a bit about the differences between afrikaans and dutch from friends visiting from South Africa, so it was fun to sit next to this family and hear their take on it. Just as i suspected, they spoke exclusively in english while in Belgium. They said the languages are too different to communicate effectively. Based on the confused expression on the waiter's face when my South African friends tried to order their drinks in afrikaans a few days ago, I would have to agree with this family.

Apparently in south africa, the kids are taught three languages in school - english, afrikaans, and regional dialect. The kids in the photo are attending a school taught in english, so they are just now starting to learn afrikaans. I suppose shortly thereafter they will begin lessons in dialect.

AND on the same train I met a French guy who spoke perfect english! He enlightened me a bit about french culture, history, language, etc. It was enjoyable to hear it from an actual French person's point of view considering most of what i hear comes from outsiders from Belgium or USA. If you look closely at the South African family photo, you will see two people in the reflection of the window behind them - me and Christophe - the french guy.

Tangent alert: When i was at hottie Sandrine's parents house, I met her nephews. The seven year old was so excited to hear I spoke english that he wanted to join right in. He started with hello and goodbye, quickly working his way up to numbers. Here was his rendition of 1-10: 1,2,3,4,5,6,13,8,9,10. Sooooo cute!!!!!!! Good thing he is a native french (from France) speaker because their numbering system is much more difficult! Oh, and i also just learned that belgian-french speakers and france-french speakers have different methods for counting. In france, 1-16 is straightforward. But once you hit 17, it starts to get funky. Seventeen is "ten-seven", 18 is "ten-eight", 19 is "ten-nine". Then it goes back to being normal for a while until you hit 70 "sixty-ten", 80 "four-twenty", 90 "four-twenty-ten (quatre-vingt-dix)". That sure is a mouthful just to say ninety. Very strange indeed. I guess if you think about Latin language it's not so strange - but then again, latin is no longer a spoken language except for the odd Oxford parties and satanic cults.

The third photo is of my bedroom in Pelussin. The hotel was almost 1500 meters up in the mountains with gorgeous views (fourth photo is the view from my bedroom.) The building was old and rustic but very charming, sort of like the woman who ran it. And just like the building, i suppose, she too had a history. She was a former beer connoisseur, traveling the world and winning competitions! Even though I had no idea what a woman beer connoisseur would look like, I never imagined it would come in the form of this little old lady. Very cool.

Next couple of photos are of the gals waiting for the start. We waited in the scorching sun for about 1/2 hour before the race got underway. One of the photos is of me hiding in the shade dancing to the "so many men, so little time" tune by, i think, diana ross or the pointer sisters? that they played over the loudspeaker.

Bottom photo is of our team post-race sporting our "nice weather" bibs. As you notice, no pamper effect when we wear the all-white ones!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

I know i'm in a good mood when...

i get a bunch of free stuff...unsolicited!!!

The past few days i have received:
5 zip-ties
1 headset adjustment
3 coffees
2 iced teas
1 ethopian dinner
4 glasses of wine
1 jelly bean gift bag
1 sugary treat gift bag
1 bikini bottom
1 raisin-sesame bread
1 t-shirt
1 train ride from leuven to brussels (only because union was on strike that afternoon, but still free)

Funny, most people believe that free things put them in a good mood but i'm thinking the complete opposite is true. Free things come to those with good attitudes. Hey, if i keep it up, I wonder how long it will take before i get the free apartment, scooter, new cell phone (mine died from sweat - must remember not to keep phone in back pocket.) hahaha.

Apparently we have some geeks in the crowd...

Info below supplied by Don (original source:

Since Rh negative people may produce anti-Rh antibodies, Rh positive blood should not be given to an Rh negative recipient. Based upon the above table, Rh positive recipients can theoretically receive positive or negative blood, and Rh negative donors can theoretically give to Rh positive and Rh negative recipients. Therefore, the "universal donor" is O Negative, while the "universal recipient" is AB Positive.
Anti-Rh (immune-type) antibodies can readily pass through the placental capillary membranes. A serious potential problem called maternal-fetal blood incompatibility or Rh Disease could occur with a pregnant Rh negative mother who carries an Rh positive fetus. Leakage of fetal red blood cells (RBCs) into the mother's system through minute lesions in the placenta may cause her to produce anti-Rh antibodies. This could occur during the latter months of pregnancy or when the baby is delivered. Because of the time interval involved in producing a concentration (titre) of antibodies, the first Rh positive child may not be adversely affected. However, a subsequent Rh positive child may be at risk because the mother's anti-Rh can pass through the placenta, thus entering the fetal circulatory system and clumping fetal RBCs.

The medical term for this maternal-fetal condition is "erythroblastosis fetalis" because of the presence of nucleated, immature RBCs called erythrobasts in the fetal circulatory system. The fetus bone marrow releases immature erythroblasts because of the destruction of mature RBCs (erythrocytes) by the mother's anti-Rh antibodies. RhoGam®, a serum containing anti-Rh antibodies, is now given to Rh negative woman within 72 hours after giving birth to their Rh positive baby. The RhoGam® enters the mother's circulatory system and destroys any residual fetal positive RBCs that may be present in her system. This prevents her from producing anti-Rh antibodies. RhoGam® must be given after each Rh positive baby. In this scenario of erythroblastosis fetalis, the fetus must be Rh positive, the mother Rh negative and the father Rh positive. You can easily determine the exact genotype of the mother and fetus, but the father's genotype could be homozygous or heterozygous Rh positive.

Rh incompatibility is summarized in the following table:
Rh Pos Father
+ +
or + -
Rh Neg Mother
- -
1st Rh Pos Child
Rh positive RBCs from the fetus enter the mother's circulatory system.
After several days, the mother begins to produce anti-Rh antibodies.
2nd Rh Pos Child
Anti-Rh antibodies from mother pass through placenta and enter fetal
circulatory system. The antibodies begin clumping fetal positive RBCs.

There are also reported cases of maternal-fetal blood incompatibility with the A-B-O blood groups; however, the Rh factor appears to be much more common. The larger anti-A and anti-B antibodies (IgM type) with molecular weights of 950,000, apparently don't penetrate the placental membranes as readily. In the case of A-B-O blood incompatibility, the anti-A and anti-B antibodies of a type O mother may enter the circulatory system of a Type A or Type B fetus, thus causing agglutination of the fetal RBCs. If the fetal blood cells just happened to be Rh positive and entered the mother's circulatory system, they would be destroyed by the mother's anti-A or anti-B antibodies before her system began to produce anti-Rh immune-type (IgG) antibodies. In this latter case, the anti-A or anti-B antibodies would actually serve as a natural immunity to Rh maternal-fetal blood incompatibility.

Like most topics in biology, the true life explanation is a lot more complicated. Rh inheritance is no exception. It actually involves three different pairs of genes at three different loci on homologous chromosome pair #1. The gene pairs are C & c, D & d and E & e. The terms "positive" and "negative" essentially refer to the D factor, so homozygous DD and heterozygous Dd are positive, while homozygous recessive dd is negative.

There are some good reasons for a husband to not donate Blood to his wife during her childbearing years. During this time, a women who plans to become pregnant, receiving Blood from her husband may pose a small risk to the infants born of these pregnancies. If, after the Blood transfusion the woman develops an antibody to an antigen on the father's red Blood cells, and the subsequently born fetus inherits the father's red cell antigen, the antibody from the mother may enter the Bloodstream of the fetus causing destruction of fetal red Blood cells. This may cause serious anemia in the fetus and excessive jaundice in the infant after birth. This is a known major cause of brain damage. Special Blood transfusions, using selected red Blood cells that do not have the particular in-compatible and offending antigen, are available when this condition is pre-diagnosed. Of course, we suggest autologous Blood donation for the mother. However, for those mothers who are unable to make an autologous donation, the decision to select her husband as a donor should always take this risk under consideration, and specific consultation with your pediatrician on this subject is essential.

Blood Type
of Recipient
Donor Can Be for.....
Red Cells
Whole Blood
O + O +; O - O +; O - any O; A; B or AB
O - O - O - any O; A; B or AB
A + any
A +; A -;
O + or O -
any A + or A - any A or AB
A - any
A - or O -
A - any A or AB
B + any
B +; B -;
O + or O -
any B + or B - any B or AB
B - any
B - or O -
B - any B or AB
AB + any
AB +; AB -;
A +; A -;
B +; B -;
O +; or O-
any AB + or AB - any AB
AB - any AB -;
A -; B -, or
O -

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

My New Toy!!!

This is, by far, the coolest looking bike i ever owned!!! They are made by a French company called YCone. The frames/forks are made of full carbon WITH replaceable aluminum deraileur hanger. If i were to buy a bike, this tiny detail would make or break the deal for me!
(frame weight: 1100g - size M)

Another plus is that there is enough clearance in the fork and chainstays that i can run my oversized cyclotourist tires. The extra room also makes for easy cleaning when you're too lazy to remove the wheels.

Speaking of wheels...our trick new carbon racing wheels arrive today. What you are looking at on the bike are our training wheels which are extremely durable (not that i've extensively tested them today on cobbled road and rocky dirt paths). They are also heavy enough to get in good training rides yet light enough to race on - I've already used them for both!

Our team wheels are called Carbon Diva (see photo). They are Deep Dish (50mm) carbon wheels with aluminum breaking surface so they are reliable in inclement weather.

My favorite detail is definitely the blood type noted on the inside chainstays. Some people may think of it as morbid, but it brings a bit of reality to the glamorous sport of bike racing. Racers crash. It's the chance you take when you step up to the start line.

Total weight: 8.0kg with race wheels

With my oversized saddle bag, full lights, and picnic basket, the weight increases to about 12kg.

I'm off again Saturday

Back to France. This time near St Etienne. I'm really excited because it will be yet another area i haven't seen. I'm still just amazed by the beautiful views in that country.

I heard the course will have some hills which makes me very happy. I need all the hill riding I can get in preparation for Tour d'Laude in May - a mountainous stage race of about 11 days. Today I'll get some more hill climbing in during my 3-hour ride.

The weather is back down at about 15-16 degrees again here, and cloudy, so the suntan that i started down in france will have to wait until the weekend. My goal is to go a whole summer without someone telling me they have to wear their sunglasses in order to protect themselves from the glare bouncing off my super white skin!

Here are photos of my new bike and my lunch I just ate. By tomorrow i will have detailed bike photos up on the blog. I rode it in last weekend's races and it is great. It's super light, super cute and handles really well! AND it has my blood type printed on it - hahahahaha. Love it!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Back home again...for the moment

Sorry it took so long to update the blog. I just returned from France yesterday after an almost three week stint there. It was yet another humbling time there since i don't know french yet. Even though i am getting better at understanding it, it is still slow going to learn how to pronounce the words and string them together to form sentences.

When i am with the gals of the team, I use what i call block talk. I put nouns and verbs together to get my point across - not pretty, but it works. And in the races, i now know enough french to communicate with my teammates to make sure i can be an active part of the team effort. Luckily my team managers (nicolas and cathy) understand english so they are spared my version of french communication.

But even though i can now do small talk, I still miss out on the fun stories that are told at mealtime. I will continue to try and learn french as quickly as possible, if for no other reason than to understand Melodie's tall tales. Every time she tells a story, the other gals are overwhelmingly amused! I look forward to being affected by them too!

Saturday's race went a bit better than last weekend. I finished with the lead group. Thanks to all of you who helped me to keep the faith. I guess in hindsight it was only my third race completed this season so i shouldn't have been so hard on myself. I am mostly thrilled by the sensations i had. I am finally feeling like a bike racer again. I can easily tell that i am not up to form yet, but that I am close. A few more races and i will be at my normal level again.

Sunday's race was good and bad. Good because again my sensations were better. All the climbs felt easy, the pace felt fine (it may also be partly because i opted for the much lighter wheelset for this race as opposed to the ones i used on saturday which were .7kg heavier.) But with 20k to go, on the finishing circuits, I had a five minute shutdown. For five minutes, the body just didn't want to go. I willed it forward but only for four of the five minutes. The last one minute my mind just couldn't fight the body any longer and i got dropped from the lead group. But once the minute was over, i got back on the job and time trialed for 15km, losing only about three minutes or so to the charging lead group.

Now that i have had time to think about what happened, i think i was just tired from saturday's race. Since i am normally better on the second day of racing, it is perfectly clear to me that even though i am improving with every race, i am not yet there. A few more races and i should be back to normal level again - playing and having fun on the bike!!

As for my teammates, they rode their hearts out!! In saturday's race, angelique and marianne finished in the front group and in sunday's race, celine, angelique and marianne finished in the front group. Celine had a mechanical saturday. Melodie and Aurelie put in fine performances as well - toughing it out to finish strong. Aurore is still seriously injured from the Cholet race (same one that took me out!) so she worked through as much pain as possible both races until finally pulling out to save herself for upcoming events. Although Tiina was racing in her club colors, she too finished in the front group both days. And Christel placed 7th in the first French Cup MTB race saturday and got caught behind a crash on sunday, splitting her from the lead group just towards the end of the race.

Gotta stretch and do my abs now! Thanks for reading.

P.S. As of now, i am not sure where i will race this weekend but i will keep you posted!

Friday, April 13, 2007

After TEN hours in the car...

the life of a nomadic bike racer is oh so glorious. hahaha. I bet those who know me well are laughing at all the car travel I am doing lately. Heck, i never even owned a car for fear that i would have to travel in it (that and I promote bikes as transportation.)


The drive here was exceptional. NOW i can fully appreciate why people choose to live in France. It is now my favorite country in terms of breathtaking views. I am also privately in love with Gap. It is a combination of Leuven (where i live in belgium) with its quaint cafes and downtown area, and Mill Valley, my other 'home' in CA where I have spectacular views everywhere i turn.

Anyway, mimi and I arrived at the Ligue Du Centre De Football for the night. Her team is staying here for the duration of the race while i meet my team this evening.

I LOVE where i am staying at the moment, though. This huge complex hosts visiting teams, offering them housing, meals, fields to play in. AND the rooms are warm. Mimi has no heat in her apartment so that was a bit tough for me considering anything under 23 degrees C (about 70 F) is butt cold for me. Staying in this complex with us is the National Football Team from a French Island called Reunion. The girls are all 16 and absolutely adorable. As soon as they found out i spoke english, they used their finest english on me - hello, enjoy your meal, have a nice day, can we help you.

My first ride here was rather perfunctory. I just rode the local roads to loosen up the legs after a long trip in the car. Mimi opted to sit this one out, so i was alone - just me and my new ipod tunes. The best part of the ride was how i was received by the locals. Everyone waved hi and the cars really made an active effort to give me room and/or right of way.

We leave in a few minutes for our training ride. Then it is back to the room for showering, leg elevation and my favorite time of the day - EATING!!!!

My next posting will be Monday.

Thanks again to all those who have been sending your kind and amusing thoughts to my blog and to my personal email.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Third time is a charm

To celebrate my last day here in Gap, I really lived it up. First I went to the bike shop to get my bike looked at, then I went for a three-hour ride in the mountains. Since Gap is literally surrounded by mountains I wasn't sure where to go. I was supposed to have Mimi as a guide but due to her tight schedule it didn't work out. Anyway, i chose a direction and headed up the roads that seemed to head up the mountain.

The first was a nice 8 % grade for a little over 20 minutes with a few short steep jags of 14-20%. Unfortunately the road turned to rocky dirt. Although i was riding the team issue training wheelset, I still didn't want to take the chance of possibly showing up this weekend with folded wheels. So i turned around and chose another direction.

The next hill proved more worthy than the first. It lasted about 35 minutes, but still dead-ended before the summit. again, it was a nice climb of about 8-12% average gradient with gorgeous views. I would post photos that i took but my camera is in the room where Mimi is fast asleep. She goes to bed at 8pm (1/2 hour later than my usual bedtime. Today is an exception, of course.)

But the third was a winner!!! I rode and rode and rode for about an hour up a beautiful windy road with lots of switchbacks. The gradient was about 7-14% average with some extended 14-22% pitches. When i neared the top, i was determined to get to the summit. I must admit, i did have to ride some questionable pavement to make it happen. I was careful not to damage the wheels or tires, though, especially on the descent. It was exciting, but quite cold, to climb so high that i reached snow. My vest, ear warmers, knee warmers, and long fingered gloves came in handy for the never-ending descent.

After the ride, I headed back over to the bike shop to get my bike problem looked at again. They needed some time with the bike, so I took the advice I found in the comment section of my last posting and really put myself out there. I went to a cafe for an hour. (OK, i must admit that i brought my laptop to write my Marin Independent Journal column due for this Sunday's publication: But still I was in public!!) The best part of the cafe experience was the trip there! The bike shop "bouti cycle" lent me a bike to get to the cafe. It was an electric bike! What a friggin blast! After i turned it on, i started to pedal. At first i didn't notice anything. But once i put a tiny bit more force on the pedals, I shot like a rocket! What a bizarre feeling to do 40kph while theoretically smoking cigarettes and eating bon bons.

Within seconds of pulling up to the cafe, I was swarmed with folks inquiring about the bike. I hope that my alternating "oui", "d' accord" et "absolument" with the periodic eyebrow raise appeased their curiosity. hahahaha. They probably just thought i was wacko.

Tomorrow morning we leave for Ladies Berry Classic, a 2-day stage race located in some town i cannot remember. i do know that it is a 10 hour drive. Most likely my next posting will be Monday when i am back home in Belgium. At that time I will have lots more photos to post - including those of my new GORGEOUS bike and of the electric bike!

By the way, they finally figured out what was wrong with the bike - a defective chain. At least it was an easy problem to fix. Prepared with a superb bike and a fresh outlook, I am excited to race again.

Thanks for all your posts on the blog. It is always fun to hear what others have to say about what i write.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Humility Sucks

I finally made my way to Marseille center and immediately knew I would never return. It was mostly a dirty run down city with one little touristy section that looked like any other touristy section of a harbor town. Now i see why Sandrine and Olivier live 5km above town. Their house is in a beautiful picturesque area where I must fight the urge to take out the camera after every turn in the road. Not once did i think to pull out the camera while riding around the city streets. BUT aside from the actual city, that region of France is absolutely divine.

Last saturday, I tagged along with the Wojcik Club out of the Marseille Region for a short drive to Pujols (near Agen) for another French Cup. After six hours, we were there. I am still amazed by how large France is. It reminds me of my first ignorant thoughts of Belgium. I couldn't believe that a country could be so small that a three-hour drive could take you from one end to the other.

After a pre-ride with the Wojciks, my teammate Christel retrieved me and brought me back to the Pruneaux D'Agen sleeping quarters. They were dormitory style accommodations that house traveling athletic teams. Within two minutes of arriving, i noticed that i was the only one without my team race bike (it needed a some mechanical work so i opted to bring the training bike instead.) When i saw how upset my team manager was, i immediately realized i must have misread one of the french emails that must have said the team will all ride on the new bikes this weekend. I couldn't have felt any worse...or so i thought until the race the next day.

The Pujols French Cup consisted of 5 laps of about 17km each with one extended climb that starts off semi-gradual at a 7-8% gradient, then steps up to about 13% towards the top. The race started off a bit nervous, everyone fighting for the first few rows. When there are 115 starters, not everyone can fit. Clearly there were a lot of people who didn't ace math.

Unfortunately since i did ace math, I was a little too far back on the climb. When it split, I was on the wrong end. Normally this would not be too much of a problem because on the climbs i can do a decent job of working my way up the field. But not yesterday. I had no power. Nothing. Not on the climbs, not on the flats. Just like last week's race. Only on the descents could i fly - but that only has to do with my sinewy body's aerodynamic position - no fitness needed. There are few experiences more frustrating than to watch obvious non-climbers kick my ass on the climbs and non-flatlanders make me hurt on the flats.

And just when i am thinking the day cannot get any worse, my chain falls off at the base of the climb. A couple of gals tried to push me while i got it back on but to no avail. So I got off the bike to fix it. Yeah, chasing back onto the group was not the most pleasurable experience but at least it took my mind off of the dejection I was feeling.

After the race, I rode over to a secluded lookout point to take a few moments to reflect on what the _ _ _ _ just happened. I do know that my injuries are not healed yet from the nasty crash two weeks ago(ie. my calf still hangs over my sock like a beer gut over a belt buckle and a few of the wounds have still not closed. The tweaked back is better but not normal yet.) But since i am a cyclist, i am in denial about how something as trivial as an injury can slow me down. So i spent the next few moments thinking of every rare ailment I could possibly have. Since i've done a lot of research on the body and nutrition, my thoughts are instantly filled with about twenty various debilitating viruses, diseases and abnormalities I could have. Knowledge is not always a good thing.

In reality, though, I know that i just need to relax about it and I will be back to myself soon enough. In the meantime I will continue to do everything right - eat well, train hard yet effectively, clean my bike, no socializing and stay off my feet.

What upsets me most is not that I let myself down or embarrassed myself out there but that I let my team down. I have always been a team player, sacrificing myself for the benefit of the team, making things happen for the team. And when i cannot do this, it breaks my heart. Yeah, call me a sap but there is nothing finer than to be part of a team that accomplishes great feats through working together. Even in my off-the-back little group, i worked with my teammate Melodie at the front to keep it moving, while offering her food and water periodically.

I am writing you now from Gap, France _ a quaint mountain town in the middle of nowhere. A gal named Mimi (FYI Paul, geWilli, et al - she too is a hottie) from the Wocjik club is hosting me. I was originally supposed to go back to Tiina's house this week but her boyfriend Jussi came back from Pays Basque early since he was sick. And with tiina also hosting another gal from Finland there was not enough room for me. Thankfully Mimi took me in. We will stay here until Thursday when we drive to Ladies Berry Classic (2-day stage race) on the other side of France. The highway tolls are so high here that we are extending our trip by six hours - 12 hours instead of 6 - so that we can take the local roads and save money. Yes, brutal. But I chose this life - for better and for worse.

My first ride here was great. I slowly piano'd up a hill to get a better view of the town. Gorgeous. Then i rode around the center to suss out the location of bio (organic) shops, vegetarian restaurants, and bike shops. This evening i will take the bike to the shop to get it fixed for this weekend's races.

I have dial-up internet here so i should be able to start posting again regularly.

Top photo is of a typical house in the Marseille region, second is house of sandrine's parents who grow grapes for a living, next is of mont vontoux (i am sure i completely misspelled it. The mountain is not really visible in the photo but use your imagination. It is the white dot at top of photo.) Then there is Marseille's drinking water and a random lady walking her fru-fru dog while holding an orange handbag ornamented with an oversized plastic flower. Our travel-mobiles, deep thoughts by 'peanut handy' and the ubiquitous action shot.

Thanks again for reading!!!!!