Thursday, May 31, 2007

and it isn't even my birthday

As I write this entry, the Tuesday-Thursday retired guy's group ride is underway - without me. I had all intentions on doing it until 11:11 this morning when i woke up to an achy body and groggy head. Still not recovered from Tuesday's outing with the guys - darn. It's probably better that way anyway, because I don't think I'm ready to kill the memories from the last ride!

While standing in my friends' doorway last Tuesday waiting for the group ride to arrive, I bitched for five whole minutes about my lack of excitement to mount the bike. I'm still perpetually tired (although it is getting better) which squashes any motivation I attempt to conjure to voluntarily ride farther than to the nearest cafe. In the middle of the bitch-fest to my friends who were seeing me off, I asked the universe for some help in keeping my interest on riding all day. Hey, miracles do happen to those who believe!

As the tail end of the group passed, I got on the bike, said "joep" (pronounced yo) to my friends and off i begrudgingly went. The first three minutes were torture. In my mind, i struggled with staying on the bike. At 30kph, it was physically a breeze. But turning those pedals in my mind was a struggle. Just as i'm having the thought to bail, go back to bed and curl up in a ball, this masked man donning super wide oversized dark glasses and dressed completely in black pulled up alongside me. Intrigued, I slyly checked him out - hmmm... looks fabulous in lycra, pedals elegantly, great bone structure AND is under 40!! I have never seen anyone under 60 on this ride - truly a gift intended for me. THANK YOU universe! And it got even better, My gift rode alongside me for two hours straight without uttering a single word! Silent Eye Candy - every woman's dream!! That's like bon-bons without calories.

I wasn't sure if it was sheer coincidence that we spent the whole ride partnered up, surviving all shake-ups in the group dynamic due to traffic lights, road construction and single file paths. We even magically re-partnered after an extended group pee stop. (The guys took a little extra time to properly tease me about the plethora of pruimen (prunes) on my bike and body, clearly alluding to the other dutch meaning of the word based on all their mischievous grins.) Either way, I wasn't complaining. I had gotten my motivation to ride. What can i say, I'm a visual kind of gal!

In the middle of my 'Erica Jong' fantasy, Eye Candy spoke to me. "Sunshine" was all he said. Wow, either he's reading my mind and joining in on my fantasy by giving me a pet name OR the sun just came out and i hadn't noticed. What i also hadn't noticed until the last moment was that after three hours of riding, the group had dwindled down from thirty to two - me and EC. We rode for another 1 1/2 hours before parting ways - not even names exchanged.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

"I want to ride hills today"

...were the words that flew out of my mouth before i remembered where i was in the universe. Naturally, Ronny called me on it by responding, "There are no hills in Belgium." What i meant to say was that I was keen on avoiding a pannekoek ride. At a piano pace, pancake flat rides are not terribly satisfying. At least if i go a little vertical, i'll feel like i've accomplished something from the outing.

Ronny did not disappoint. During the ride, he showed me two small hills that are perfect for hill intervals. They are only 3-4 minutes in length but are steep enough to get a good workout when done multiple times. AND they are right by my home!

We also passed some other small hills that were familiar to me. One was named Pottery Hill. It got its name from the building made completely out of pottery pieces that's located half way up the hill. We ended our ride on Strawberry Hill which I am proud to announce was MY name for it. THe first time i rode up it with Ronny, I told him it was just like a hill located in the Strawberry area of Mill Valley, California. Funny enough, the name stuck; now all the locals refer to it as Strawberry Hill!

Today is was 21 degrees C (about 70 degrees F?). At least that's what the digital sign in front of the bank read. I doubt it though. It felt more like 17 C (60ish F) BUT no rain. It just started an hour ago - at around 9pm. I hear that North Bay (SF, California area) is getting some viscous winds the past few days. I wonder how many cyclist have been blown off the cliffs on Highway 1 or Shoreline Highway...maybe it is best not to know.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Today was the BEST DAY of my LIFE!!!

OK, well maybe not the best day. I think that honor still goes to the first time I saw my last boyfriend's abs! WOW! Back to the was a very special day because I finally felt frisky on the bike. I have not felt this way in months, so it was such a relief to be not only excited to be on a bike again but to be interested in applying a bit of pressure to the pedals.

Today I rode with Jan. Even though we have had a string of warm sunny days, he amazed me with his ability to once again find the one extended patch of mud in all of Belgium. He even located torn up roads so we can put in quality time riding through dust balls 15cm high. I can always rely on him for a dirty ride! I can also rely on him as a solid supportive training partner. When we ride together, he never half-wheels me or makes me feel uncomfortable in any way - always a positive experience. Even when he has intervals to complete, he does them without affecting my ride.

Well, thanks to his intervals today I got a taste of what it's like to be alive on the bike again. As he took off up a hill, I had the urge to not only jump on his wheel but to kick the living shit out of him up the hill, zipping my jersey at the top just before raising my hands in the air - Gianni Bugno style. But since i know coach's (and doctor's) orders are to be subdued, I only jumped on his wheel for a few moments to get a quick taste of excitement - to feel the blood rush through my veins like a fine crack-cocaine addiction. YUM! It was just enough to get me hungry for my next fix.

After a huge-ass salad, some rice stuffed eggplant and homemade garlic bread, I treated myself to a large glass of Austrailian wine (Yellowtail Merlot) and a sizeable piece of extra dark belgian chocolate (my version of a post-interval cigarette.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

It's gonna be a GREAT DAY!!

The sun finally arrived. It is a perfectly sunny warm day here in Leuven. I never would have guessed it from last night's weather, though. As my friend Johan and I sat at the bus stop waiting for a bus to take us back to my place so we can have some red bean buns for dessert (my first time attempting to make them), I took my mind off of the possible culinary disaster by watching cyclists - or rather two-wheeled commuters roll by.

It reminded me of my first time sitting at this same bus stop three years ago. I was living in Grote Markt (Leuven center) above what used to be Confrateur Cafe (my friend owned the bar - pictured in photo next to cathedral) and needed to visit a friend outside of town. It must have been no warmer than 0 degrees C but you couldn't tell by how the bike riders were dressed. For twenty minutes while i froze my ass off waiting for a bus, I spotted not one pair of gloves and only one hat. That is when i realized that Belgians are crazy! How could they ride without gloves? What i also vividly remember from that evening is that quite a few of them were holding a cigarette in one hand while steering with the other. Even though I am fully aware that they are using the bike as a means of transportation, it still threw me off to see someone on a bike holding a cigarette as if it were perfectly normal to mix cycling with smoking!

Today I am meeting up with Adri my neighbor to visit the bike shop where Peter's collector's item came from. I will try to remember the camera just in case there are more treasures to document.

By the way, the red bean buns were fabulous - not quite traditional taiwanese style but tasty nonetheless. After johan left, i took the rest of the buns out into the hallway of my apartment building and shared them with my neighbors. Next time i will make them with different stuffings. For stuffings, I'm thinking: spinach and pureed garlic, tofu and scallions, banana and maple syrup, and chocolate (belgian of course) and pecans. YUMMY!!!!!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Anatomy of a Legendary Fiets

His name is Peter the Kid, my token American friend. His other nickname is Peter the Gimp. Although there is seemingly nothing gimpy about him, his bike is like a tractor trailer which keeps him from cruising along at supersonic speed when we ride together. This has proven to be a good thing these past couple of weeks since rest and recovery has been my number one priority. Every ride at piano (super mega slow - langzaam, lent, αργός (for my greek relatives)) pace.

But even with this lug of a bike (no pun intended), he is still able to ditch me at times. On our last ride, he just about gave me a heart attack. As i was riding up a long (for belgium standards) gradual hill - solo, because Peter took off ahead, I turned behind to check out the traffic situation. Instead of autos, i spot some helmetless yahoo chasing me down.

You can always tell the difference between those chasing you down versus those who are just riding at a clip (apace, snel, rapide, γρήγορα.) This guy was clearly intent on catching me. Sh_ _!! Just as I'm thinking, "WHERE ARE YOU PETER???" in hopes that he would act as a decoy so that i wouldn't have to engage in conversation on a day when i'm feeling particularly unsocial, the guy pulls up alongside me. As i muster all energy to turn to this guy and say hello, i hear a snicker - It's Peter! That fucker!!! Oops, i mean That f_ _ _ er!!!

Here are detailed shots of his antique bike more fit for a museum. I love that the bike is older than he!!

The bike supposedly dates back to early 1980's.

The rear deraileur is the first rendition of the shimano 600 (ultegra) group. According to my source, the same applies to the Dura-Ace cranks. And the brakes are apparently the first made by Campagnolo.

The handlebars are wrapped in its original leather sewn onto the bar.

I'm sure there are people out there who can tell me more about the bike and/or correct my information!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Team Trading Cards

A while ago each racer was given a stack of team trading cards (see photos) to distribute to fans, press, media, etc. (Individual cards are said to be in the works!)

Like a good little racer, I dispensed them all. Of the numerous french races i attended, I handed out one (to a press guy.) And the rest were given out at one single Belgian event (Roeselare UCI Road Race.)

It's amazing how many people collect cards in Belgium. Everyone from press/media to old ladies and little kids were asking me for a card. In fact these cards are so highly sought after that i even had guys approaching me after hearing a rumor that I had new cards - they wanted in! And to confirm the rumor, they'd describe my two previous cards to ensure that this card, yet unseen, is indeed different. After i ran out of cards, the requests continued - but in the form of self-addressed stamped envelopes. Fans/press/media handed me these envelopes in hopes that i fill them with trading cards.

Water bottles are serious collector business as well. At the same Belgian race, I gave away two water bottles (signed, of course) to collectors - 1 kid and 1 adult. The kid showed me his bottle collecting photo booklet - he had thousands!!!

Similar to many blue collar jobs, pro female bike racers get very little glory, respect, money, and recognition for all our hard work and sacrifices. BUT the fans more than make up for it!!! I am both honored and humbled every time I'm asked for a trading card, or for my autograph. Heck, I'm simply moved by the fans' presence at our events!! When people are lining the roads to clap and cheer, it's easy to feel like what we do is glamorous!

THANKS to all you fans out there!!!! We so appreciate it - more than you know!

Friday, May 18, 2007

A day at the races

Last Sunday, I piano'd a few towns over to watch Jan race. For a devout mountain bike racer, he sure has been doing a lot of "sissy roadie" events!! It was a 90km - 11-lap race. I showed up 1/2 hour into it so the race was in full action! Races here are like parades, first the road clearing guy goes past, then the advertisement autos, following is the lead moto or auto, finally the racers, and behind them the support vehicles.

As I watched them ride around in circles - while standing in warm sunshine i might add, I was painfully reminded that spectating is hard work. It took a lot of energy to keep focus on supporting Jan instead of obsessing about my designs of racing the damn thing myself. What if i just jumped in for a lap? Would they notice? I'll make myself really small by riding in the drops next to the burliest guys i can find. Can i really pull it off while keeping my heart rate under coach's orders of 120bpm? Since i'm sick right now, i thought spectating would be a breeze. Not so. Frig!

Ten seconds after the field passed me for the last lap, the sky came down in the form of clear liquid pellets. But on the way home, the weather morphed back to a sunshiney day, instantly cheering me up! The mood-altering power of sun - amazing. While meandering through Leuven, I spotted the coolest old-ass bike (see photos) and what i thought were more 24-hour tube dispensers. I was right about the bike but not about the dispensers. Turns out they are the traditional types serving up old-style rubbers - or is it new-style? I wonder which rubbers came first - the ones for bikes or for boys.

Earlier in the race, he was kicking his owBTW, Jan is the one farthest on the left of the photo - in orange with blue helmet.n ass by going with anything that jumped off the front. By the end of the race, he was licked! This photo was taken on the 8e of 11 laps.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

You may not be able to judge a guy by his friends...

but i bet you can surely judge him by the apartment he keeps! I found this out when i followed a guy back to his apartment.

OK, let me back up a bit. Yesterday, as i was sitting in the windowsill of the laundromat waiting for my clothes to run its cycle, a guy pops in to say hello. I met him a month ago at a salsa party and have been successfully avoiding him ever since.

Even though my friend and I are quite the crappy salsa dancers, we thought it would be a lot of fun to people watch. While we were doing what we do best, Mr. wonderful made a b-line towards me in an effort to chat me up. Following his "3 steps to score" presentation, he handed over his telephone number, pre-written - i might add - on a tiny sheet of paper, and walked away. I was so moved by his show of affection that i immediately buried it under an umbrella of a random expired drink.

About twenty minutes later, he was again buzzing around me like a gnat. This time he wanted to dance. I repeatedly told him that I cannot dance but it didn't deter him. Maybe he's into torture? His persistence combined with my friend's egging finally won me over. Within two seconds of reaching the dance floor, my dance partner exclaimed, "difficile, difficile!!" and walked away, leaving me solo on the dance floor. I looked over at my friend for consolation, but she was too busy focusing on NOT peeing in her pants from her gut-busting howl session. Yeah, whatever. Thanks. But at least i got rid of him...or so i thought. Another ten minutes later, there he was - in my face to make sure i didn't forget to call him.

Well i guess i forgot and now he was in the laundromat to find out why i didn't call. I told him i don't have a phone, so I couldn't call. Yeah, it's lame, but so what! He gave me his contact info again and left. Just when i shook the memories of his rank breath and ugly behavior, he was BACK! Unfortunately he caught me in the middle of sending an sms - yes on my phone - to a friend. "Oh, I thought you didn't have a phone," he exclaimed! "Yeah, well it doesn't really work. I only use it to send sms's." Good one christine. Let's hope he's a dumbass so you get away with that one. Yes, wish granted.

BUT my conscience got in the way and i fessed up. I told him exactly what i thought of his "difficile" exit from the dance floor and that i could never have anything to do with someone who would display such untoward behavior. After a bit of begging and pleading, he wore me down. I compromised. I told him i'd THINK ABOUT contacting him. Then he pointed to his apartment across the street and said that there is a very inexpensive apartment for rent in his building. Hmmmm... Right now i live just outside the Leuven ring. If i lived in his area, i could more easily walk to town instead of ride my bike or take the bus. So naturally, within two minutes we were entering his building. That is when i bore witness to the real him!!! GROSSSS!!! The apartment was dirty, decrepit, skank, and slimy. I 'd have even more descriptive words for it if i saw more of it, but his soiled clothing and old pizza cartons covered almost every single centimeter of the floor making it a little tricky to navigate through the apartment. And do i really want him as a neighbor? I don't think i want him or his rats, mice and other furry/shelly creatures coming over for playtime. As Tom and I sit on the couch looking out the window, we give thanks for what we DON'T have in this case.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Evy Van Damme Retires

I just found this in today's

Evy Van Damme Retires

The Belgian cyclist Evy Van Damme has announced her retirement from the sport. The 27 year-old, who last rode for Caprisonne-Vlaanderen-T-Interm

Team, said that she just didn't enjoy it any more.

She announced her decision on the website of her husband, Nick Nuyens, who rides for Cofidis. "The circumstances for women are not always optimal and that led to my decision, too," she said on "I will now have more time to follow and support Nick."

Van Damme was twice Belgian road champion, one time national time trial champion, and second in the European championship in Bergamo. She plans to now become a fingernail stylist.

A very talented cyclist! Pity she's retiring. On a side note, my favorite line of the press release is clearly the last one!!! I just about fell off the couch when i read it! What an unlikely profession for a former pro cyclist. Or maybe it's just an unlikely profession for me.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

In a perfect cycling world

This was the title of today's column in the Marin Independent Journal - a San Francisco Bay Area Newspaper. I bet many of you didn't know that i have been a regular columnist for this newspaper for about 4 1/2 years now.

Anyway, here's the link to the article. CLICK HERE Hope you enjoy the reading!! It is in honor of Bike To Work Week.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Peanut Baby!

Oh humble peanut, how I love thee
Thy goodness never overstated.
I love thee in so many guises
My favorite mode cannot be rated.
Soup, sauces, pies or off the spoon
Thy flavor nearly makes me swoon.

If peanut butter be the food of gods,
Eat on!

I just came across this sonnet in my vegnews magazine newsletter. It was written by Christy Grecsek "with many apologies to Mr. Shakespeare." She was the "Passsion for Peanut Butter"
contest winner.

By the way, Peter showed up on time for the ride yesterday. We dodged the rain for most of the ride and even spotted our shadows for a whole three minutes!

It's 10:49am and Tom (boonen, my cardboard lover) and i are sitting in the living room on my couch on the stage waiting for the rain to stop. It sounds like Northern California's weather is not much better. That is truly a pity - for all you folks who are there as well as for me; i liked knowing I theoretically had a place to go where the grass was brown.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Yet another dark day in Belgium

My cravings have officially veered away from chocolate, garlic bread, bananas fried in maple syrup and homemade lentil soup. All are refocused on finding sun (zon in dutch.) For the past two weeks, the only dancing around here has been the rain droplets against pavement...and soon against my back as i head out for another dark day of riding.

It wouldn't be so bad if i wasn't painfully aware of the gorgeous weather back in California - daily reports of six hour rides beneath smiling skies spreading rays of warmth on cyclists' paths. There is nothing quite like the sensation of the sun toasting my bare quads on a bike ride. According to, the sun does not plan to make an appearance for the next ten days.

To cheer myself up, I sometimes go to a site that shows many of my favorite American TV shows - without commercials. Veronica Mars has been my show of choice lately.

In 52 minutes, I am to meet up with Peter for a ride. I know the Belgians are hard core regarding their innate ability to mount the bike even in the worst weather conditions. But i wonder if this applies to cyclotourists - those who are riding for fun, not for training or for commuting. The proof will be in the banana with maple syrup soy pudding I'll make in a few minutes while I wait for the cancellation sms (text message.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Heaven... I'm in Heaven,

and my heart beats so that i can hardly speak.
And I seem to find the happiness I seek,
When we're out together...


You may THINK that i just ruined one of the most fabulous tunes of all time (Top Hat, 1935 with Fred Astaire - TOTAL HEARTTHROB - and Ginger Rogers, oh and Ella Fitzgerald did a popular remake of it in 1958), BUT you'll quickly change your mind once you've experienced the culinary mastery at this vegan organic restaurant located just outside the inner ring of Brussels.

Last week, Johan and I made the trek to La Saga knowing that it could quite possibly be a bust. Too often, vegan restaurant food=bland flavor. We made our way through the organic vegetarian retail shop to the back where the restaurant was hidden. Since the weather was cooperating, we planted ourselves in the beautiful garden terrace.

For lunch, La Saga offers two "dishes of the day" - one warm and one cold (raw.) Johan got the warm and i got a combination of the two. We were both blown away with the rich flavors, textures, and choices of veggies and grains. Even the multigrain bread served with the meal was worth a trip back.

It is now officially my favorite non-USA restaurant and my second favorite restaurant worldwide. My first is and always will be Avatar's Punjabi Burrito located in Mill Valley, CA -just north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

By the way, if you forgot the rest of that tune, here are the words:

"Cheek to Cheek" - Irving Berlin

Heaven... I'm in heaven,
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak.
And I seem to find the happiness I seek,
When we're out together dancing cheek to cheek.

Heaven... I'm in heaven,
And the cares that hung around me through the week,
Seem to vanish like a gambler's lucky streak,
When we're out together dancing cheek to cheek.

Oh, I love to climb a mountain,
And to reach the highest peak.
But it doesn't thrill me half as much
As dancing cheek to cheek.

Oh, I love to go out fishing
In a river or a creek.
But I don't enjoy it half as much
As dancing cheek to cheek.

Dance with me! I want my arms about you.
The charms about you
Will carry me through to...

Heaven... I'm in heaven,
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak.
And I seem to find the happiness I seek,
When we're out together dancing cheek to cheek.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

OK, you want the truth???

Here it is...I'm a cheater. Fruits, veggies and whole grains do not completely make up my diet. I have a weakness for cookies. When you live in a land that is known for their tasty treats, it is hard - even for me - to be a good girl.

AND when the cookies come nicely packaged like this one, it is very hard to resist, again even for me - the queen of resistance to temptation. The packaging just screams EAT ME!!!

I got this delectable number - a speculaas (vegan, of course), to be specific - with my coffee at a random cafe named Orient located in the infamous oude markt - the world's longest cafe. Photo of oude markt is from here.

Every coffee in Belgium (and in the surrounding countries based on my personal experience) comes with a cookie or a piece of chocolate. I was told that it started with the top hotels as a way to keep their clients from spending their money inside the hotel. But soon enough the surrounding cafes started doing it to lure the customers. Some places like my favorite cafe located on Parijsstraat in Leuven even offer both a chocolate AND cookie.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Gimps only need apply...

For the past week, I've been relegated to strictly piano rides thanks to a forced break from racing. My twelve days off from racing between cyclo-cross and road seasons (7 of which were spent at road team training camp with the Pruneaux's while 4 were spent preparing for camp) apparently was not enough of a break between seasons and now I am paying for it! Even my blood tests came back with the same conclusion - STEP AWAY from the bike races. Both my doctor AND coach are enforcing this break from racing.

Sure i'm upset and disappointed, mostly because i am letting my team down. But there is clearly nothing i can do. If i continue a heavy racing schedule I will only be showing up to be pack-fill at best. This does nothing for the team but waste their time and money.

Last weekend was my latest of a string of pack-fill races - UCI event at Roeselare, Belgium. Even though I had a legitimate excuse for my mediocre performance (my left shift lever came loose ten minutes into the race making it impossible to safely shift, break or even hold onto the handlebars), I'm nearly certain I would have ended up pack-fill anyway. I was fatigued before the gun even sounded.

I race to be a part of the event - to initiate attacks, block for the team, even raise my hands high crossing the line! I REALLY LOOK FORWARD returning to full health so i can once again experience the high of being an active part of the races!!!

But until then, my rides must be rustig, piano, facile, calm, easy. To ensure that I stick to the recovery plan, all riding partners must have some sort of overwhelmingly obvious handicap. My latest partner, Peter, is a prime example - you can tell not only by his DIM outline, but by his antiquated, rusty bike with wide, nearly flat cyclo-tourist tires and only one functioning gear. Perfect.

Oh, and I may have found another cyclist who fits the description. He's older than I, wears a camelback AND his only bike is equipped with 2.6" tires. I'll keep you updated on the gimp-factor I accumulate over the next couple of weeks while relegated to piano-ing all over town. And, of course, photos to come!!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Multinational Leuven

I just helped my friend Reyad from Syria set up a blog for his Kurdish music and dance group based out of Leuven. Here is the link:
He plans to have music and dance photos up shortly!

Friday, May 4, 2007

Here's my bit in Bicycling Magazine

My mom scanned it for me!!! Since it's the largest distribution cycling magazine in the USA I bet they'd have it in the international magazine shops here. The only problem with my buying it here is that all magazines cost over twice their already exorbitant price due to "import fees." So...THANKS MOM!! I will use that money instead for a veggie wrap and soup at the vegetarian fast food store. YUM!

Thursday, May 3, 2007


I just discovered my next sport once I'm done with cycling. I owe it all to Bjorn Fox for sending this youtube link to me:

WOW, this is SO HOT - oh, and so is the BODY on this guy!

Every once in a while...

i think about my rides in california. This is a photo my friend Don just sent to me. It is a photo taken from Mt Tamalpais, looking down. Mooi!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

THE most famous showroom in Belgium

Yes, the Eddy Merckx Showroom located in a little town called Meise in Belgium. Eddy Merckx is, by far, the most famous Belgian of all time. (Yes, belgian, not just belgian bike racer.) Checking out Eddy Merckx showroom was a bit like the first time I got to see Joe Breeze's garage filled with all the random mountain bike parts and trinkets that were museum-worthy as part of cycling history.

Rumor has it that Eddy himself often walks the floor offering coffee to his guests. Unfortunately, when I was there he was off somewhere - i think it was Austrailia - watching his son Axel race.

BUT i did meet Eddy's wife. Before she surfaced, a random guy in the showroom forewarned me of her adimant stand on never talking to strangers. His words were something like, "don't even bother trying." Since I am a sucker for a challeng, the second she popped up on the floor, I b-lined right to her - which gave me all of about one second to think of an intriguing opening line. "In America, we LLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOVVVVVVEEEEE your SON!!" Well, it was worth a one-way ticket to open conversation! Easy as that. She was great. And from what she told me, her son is not only a cutie but a really superb creature.