Friday, August 31, 2007

Suntan in a day...

Wow, it's an actual heat wave here in The Bay Area! In the past two days, i got more of a tan than i did all summer in Belgium!
Two days ago, I rode in the marin headlands offroad with my cyclo-cross bike. I had forgotten just how exciting it is to ride those trails. The views are just exquisite!

But what excited me almost as much as the scenery is the fact that i actually made it up all the climbs!!! The gradient alone of the steep climbs in the Headlands which hit about 20% would have been challenge enough for me considering i hadn't been on anything this steep in a long, long time - although there was the ride up the Koppenberg last month! But added to it was the dustball quotient on the trails due to the few-month drought and the recent re-grading of the trails. Wow, it was a real balancing act to stay on the bike at 5kph (3mph) for 15-20 minutes at at time.
I was also glad to have survived the tricep pain of having to tug on the bars with the arms ever so slightly bent in order to scoot back far enough on the bike to keep the rear wheel on the ground!! Note to self: next time, be sure to replace the bald tires.

I started my ride from the Tennessee Valley Parking lot in Mill Valley and headed up Coastal Trail, down to Muir Beach, up Highway 1 overlooking the Pacific Ocean, continued up Coast View Trail which has the most breathtaking views of the area, back down the trail, up it again, back down all the way to Muir Beach, up Green Gulch Trail, along Coyote Ridge, and back down the trail to the house. For those of you who've never ridden in this area, I HIGHLY recommend it!! It's definitely one of my most favorite places to ride. It is even more picturesque than la Roche en Ardenne (except for the castle) and most of Switzerland - if i dare say so!

Yesterday, I was kinder to the cross bike and kept it on pavement. We went up north through the little towns to Pt. Reyes so i could visit my favorite bakery - the Bovine. But don't let the name fool you - they have quite a few vegan pastries! My favorite is the morning bun. But since it is only offered on weekends, i had the maple oat cookie instead - YUM!! Then we headed back towards San Francisco via Highway 1. Again, i was treated to the most amazing views. Even though the ride was a little challenging due to the exhorbitant amount of climbing, i was like a little kid in a candy shop (OK, i guess i would be just as excited to be in a candy shop at my age!) Anyway, it was a blast to ride through familiar territory. I even got to pee behind my favorite bush.

Right now i am just finishing up this Sunday's article for the Marin Independent Journal (I am a columnist for them.) It's on "Don't ever lend your bike stuff to others." I recently lent my fixed gear - which i thought was indestructible - to my best friend. Turns out i was wrong - it was destroyed in more ways than i thought possible! Hopefully my experience - along with my tips to avoid uncomfortable situations like these - will prove useful to others.

And after that, I am meeting with my #1 sponsor - VANDERKITTEN! Hope they bring me one of those cool jerseys they sell on their site! It will be the first time we meet in person. It almost feels like a date - nervousness, not sure what to wear, etc! How exciting! Actually - now that i think of it - dates are a lot easier; you just have to show up in any old clothes, bring your popcorn and watch him perform for you. And if you like what you see, you can stay for the encore!

Above is a photo of me on my way to get my haircut by Maniche in Bon Air Beauty Salon. I was so afraid to go to a haircutter in Belgium where they straight-blade your invisible beard and send you off with a mullet, that i waited until i returned to CA. I guess the photo would have been more dramatic if i weren't wearing a head scarf.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Yes, back in the good old US of A. For the few days leading up to my departure, I was mixed with emotions: sorrow because i am leaving my Belgian crew of Johan, Jonas, Pannekoek, Ronny, Jenny, Peter the Kid, Sharon, Hilde, Mark, Jan, J-Rocket, Reyad, Serge, Juris, and a bunch of other folks with whom I've become friends - I am also leaving my little shoebox apartment (sans Tommeke whom I folded and put in my bike box), excitement because i will get to see my good friends and train in one of the most beautiful mountainous locations in the world, confusion because i will be out of my normal daily routine that i've set up in Belgium, all mixed with a drop of fear because i don't know how it will feel to live in the USA again after spending almost nine whole months abroad.

My first flight from Brussels to Philly proved to be a nice transition. I sat next to a Dutch guy who was also a transplant in Belgium so we talked about Belgian culture from our outsider perspectives. We also engaged in the usual Flemish conversations such as ganging up on the French and the French-speaking Belgians. My favorite of his comment was his response to my confusion about all the unemployed French-speaking Belgians who live just next to flemish towns where there are plenty of positions needing to be filled. He said, "They don't want the jobs, just the money." Harsh. I would guess his conclusion is based on their apparent lack of interest in learning Flemish, their country's other official language which is usually needed if you work in the Flemish-speaking section of the country.

Back in America, I was quickly aware that Americans slur their words! I never really noticed it before, but we are really hard to understand if you don't pay attention. Since i was out of practice, I had to ask the waiter in the airport restaurant three times to repeat what he said. It took me a few hours to adjust, but i am happy to announce that i am back among the ranks of the slurrers!

My first few rides quickly reminded me why I came back to train for the upcoming cyclo-cross season. Marin County has to be one of the best places to train. The mountains, open roads, temperate climate, and somewhat bicycle-friendly environment - among many other assets - make riding a bike here incredibly ideal!!!

My housing situation also adds a lot to the ultimate training experience. I live with my friend Don in Mill Valley when i am back here in California. He eats just like me (vegan and mostly organic) so our meals are superb. He also has a hot tub in the backyard and lives part way up the mountain so i get a bonus workout at the end of each ride - the street leading up to his house is almost seven minutes of climbing at 15% average gradient, reaching 23% in some places!!! I have been training myself to love the hill so it doesn't hurt so much - i'm not there yet.

Two months of this should get me in perfect shape to go back to Europe to face the strongest women cyclo-cross racers in the world! And the support of Vanderkitten, my new sponsor who treats me like a mud-princess, is the "cherry on the tart" - as they say in Flemish.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mr. Darcy does it AGAIN !!!

I just found out that Mr. Darcy (AKA Kirk O'Bee of Health Net/Maxxis) won the highly coveted Stars and Strips jersey at the US Pro Criterium Championships!! I always get excited when well-deserving (and nice) people have moments of glory. This is his second time winning the jersey - first was in 2001. I have trained with him quite a few times when he's visited Marin (California.) He has always been the epitome of professionalism. (By the way, if you're interested in knowing how his nickname came to be, I discussed it with him when i interviewed him two years ago for my most favorite cycling website,

From reading the race report, it sounded like the harsh weather conditions turned the race into a live video game - bodies and bike parts flying everywhere! Brutal.

1. Martin Gilbert (Can), Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast

2. Kirk O'Bee, Health Net-Maxxis

3. Shawn Milne, Health Net-Maxxis

4. Alex Candelario, Jelly Belly

5. Tony Cruz, Discovery Channel

On another note, I just had a crash of my own. bugger. For the past few rides, I have felt fabulous - both my body AND mind have been motivated to ride, which is not always the case. Unfortunately in the middle of my ride last Saturday, as I was powering out of a turn while simultaneously hopping onto the bike path, the chain decided to teeter on top of the big chain ring. When i put a bit of pressure on the pedal, the cranks spun freely while the chain sat in place, causing me to violently twist the bike. Within a millisecond, I was on the pavement assessing the damage. Luckily it was just superficial - some missing skin patches on the ass, knee, ankle, and know, the usual spots.

What bugged me most about the crash was not the bike damage or even the handfuls of dough it is costing me in bandaids, but that it felt like I was being kicked when I'm up!! I really do believe that this feels far worse than being kicked when you're down. If you are kicked when you're already down, it's not like there is far to fall. But when you are kicked when you're flying high, the landing sucks.

After taking coach Elmo's obligatory two days off of exercising, I returned to it yesterday with a run. When you have road rash, you know to take it easy for a bit to give the body time to get over the shock and heal. But what I forgot was the other, seemingly more important reason to take it easy - the discomfort of road rash!!! While running, I was painfully aware that i had a right butt cheek - with every stride, my right butt bobbed up and down like a dead weight dropping on my raw skin. Note to self: when suffering from road rash, wear shorts that have a pocket anywhere other than on top of the bruise so the house key doesn't jab it with every step.

Oh, and another complication of road rash I quickly remembered is the required time re-calculation when trying to plan my day. I now have to budget in an additional 35 minutes when getting ready to leave the house - time to unravel all the stickers and bandages, delicately shower the afflicted areas, thoroughly dry them, apply anti-this-that-the-other ointment and re-wrap it all. Again, bugger.

This Friday, I am back to California. After spending so much time here in Belgium, I have really come to love it here. It feels like home. It's going to be strange to go back there.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Proud to be a Vanderkitten !!!

Yippidy-friggin-doo-dah...I am officially part of the infamous Vanderkittens for the upcoming Cyclo-Cross season. What an honor!!!

I am so excited to start racing in the hot new VDK kit that i have been counting down the days; exactly 57 until my first race - Gloucester, MA on 13 October!!!

And as a bonus, their femininely stylish line of casual clothing will surely prevent my being called 'sir' ever again!!! Be sure to also check back with their site periodically to view their lingerie line coming soon. Until then, you can see it modeled by Mandy - my new VDK teammate and rockstar athlete.

Photos of the new team kit will be posted on my blog shortly. I have already seen it - smokin' hot!!!

OK, enough ranting - please visit VDK Site to see what I will be wearing this winter and visit their VDK blog to follow our travels!

I want to thank you ALL for your superb support over the years. Throughout my successes AND failures, I have never felt alone. Knowing that people are out there wishing me well makes what i do, including all the sacrifices I make, that much easier ...even bearable when it gets tough!!

If you want to read the press release announcing my addition to the Vanderkittens, you can click on one of these links or just read it below:

Vanderkitten Blog

Vanderhoot Blog

GeWilli Blog


Daily Peloton

Vanderkitten Signs Christine Vardaros to 2007 Women’s Cyclocross Team

Vanderkitten, Clothing for Women Who Kick Ass, announces the signing of UCI Elite cyclocross athlete Christine “Peanut” Vardaros to lead its newly-established women’s cyclocross team. Christine will fly the flashy new Vanderkitten colors—a standout pink-plaid team kit, while piloting a Vanderkitten team-edition Ahrens Whole Shot cyclocross frame in World Cup, Superprestige, and US National Series races. The Mill Valley, CA native who spends much of her season based in Leuven, Belgium finished last season ranked 22nd in the world, earning herself a spot on the US National Team for the 2007 World Championships.

"We are thrilled with the opportunity to work with Christine,” says Vanderkitten co-founder Dave Verrecchia. “Having a top-level racer who’s dedicated to sharing her knowledge and experience with her teammates and other female cyclists of all ability levels is invaluable to our growing cyclocross team. Christine doesn’t just race—she’s a journalist, a cycling rights advocate, and an animal rights advocate as well. Her community involvement lines up with Vanderkitten’s goals to do some good in the world while having fun on bikes.”

Christine will provide mentorship and support to the women of Vanderkitten’s cyclocross team, which is a grassroots team open to cyclocross racers of any ability level. With Christine’s help, Vanderkitten hopes to bring more women into the sport of cyclocross—whether they come from road-riding, mountain-biking, or non-cycling backgrounds.

Says Christine, “I chose to ride for Vanderkitten particularly because of what it stands for; permission for women to be athletic while retaining their femininity. Vanderkitten not only encourages women like me to play rough and dirty, but also provides us with feminine clothing so we look sexy as we sprint through the mud. Vanderkitten sends the message to women around the world that it is possible to be powerful and athletic while maintaining poise and grace.”

Vanderkitten is currently looking for US riders of all levels to race in the team kit, and take advantage of stellar team pricing on the hand-built Ahrens Whole Shot frames. Complete bikes are also available at team pricing for a limited time, thanks to Vanderkitten sponsors FSA and Reynolds. More information can be found at

To join Christine on the Vanderkitten cyclocross team, or to inquire about frames and team kits, email Dave Verrecchia at To learn more about Christine, visit

Future World Champion

His name is Lukas. He lives in Everberg, Belgium - a real hardass Flandrien. One day he will be a World Champion. His cycling career started off with a shiny red Scott mountain bike given to him earlier this year. He was so thrilled with his new two-wheeled machine that, like any 6 year old future World Champ, he immediately created a loop adjoining the front yard with the farmland in the backyard and rode it fifty times nonstop. Upon completing the 50th lap, he fell to the ground, completely drenched in sweat with the hugest comically oversized grin on his face.
Photos of Lukas in action to come...

Friday, August 10, 2007

A member of the cross family in need of help

Back in 1998, I had my first introduction to cyclo-cross in the form of local San Francisco outlaw races put on by the DFL Cycling Team. The events were held in September, just before the "official" season started. They attracted some really wacky creatures, most of whom were cross-dressed in some rather odd combinations; maybe one guy would combine a mary poppins top with a full nightcrawler fishnetted bottom, while another guy would be dressed in a full-boobed bikini top and schoolgirl skirt complete with matching wig and makeup.
The "official" season in Northern California was very similar to the DFL races, but bigger and more organized; the events were just as lively and lighthearted but with fewer cross dressers. With this type of atmosphere, all newcomers like me felt instantly welcome! Back then, only a few of the racers had cross bikes. The rest of us showed up with our mountain bikes. Luckily, Joe Breeze - my sponsor at the time, helped me to equip one of my Breezers with a rigid fork so I had one of the coolest, lightest rigs on the local circuit!

After a season of fumbling around the NorCal courses, doing the two-step remounts and smacking the barriers due to intimely dismounts, I felt i was ready for the National Cyclo-Cross series called The Super Cup. With two lessons from Coach Elmo where he replaced all my previous knowledge of the sport with correct info, I was on a plane - with my tiny borrowed cross bike - to the first Super Cup race in Philadelphia.

As you can imagine, the whole season was a humbling experience! Thankfully, I had a lot of support along the way. Coach Elmo continued to give me absolutely priceless lessons while other top cross racers helped me out with tips and advice so my learning curve was expedited. Among the many folks with much-appreciated advice were Mark McCormack, Tim Johnson, Mary McConneloug, Mike Broderick, Ronnie Pires, Ann Knapp, Dale Knapp, Mark Gullickson.

But the two who stick out the most are the Jacques Maynes brothers - twins Andy and Ben. Over the years, they have both taken the time to help me with my riding style, technique, and even mental approach to riding the course. Whatever information they had that would benefit me they shared freely. By helping me out, they were also letting me know that they believed in me!

Just yesterday, I heard that Andy had a bad crash during the last corner of the Memorial Day Criterium held May 31. From reading his "get well blog", it was a VERY NASTY smack directly into a lamp pole that left him with some serious body damage. Since I live in Belgium, I just heard about this!

Anyway, he is on a slow road to recovery so I want to publicly send get-well-vibes his way!!! Even though I'm on the other side of the world, I still think of him as part of my original cyclo-cross family!! I also heard that they are holding a raffle to help offset his exorbitantly high medical bills.
Thanks in advance for visiting his blogs and showing your support!!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

How ignorant am I...

For the past month I've patiently watched the billions of corn fields in Belgium get thick and high with the thought that I will soon be pigging out on some fresh corn. Every time I'd pass a field, I'd think about how I will prepare my flagship ear.

Now that the corn is finally as high as an elephant's eye, I figured it's time to visit the local market and get cooking; I finally settled on oven-roasted style with rosemary, olive oil, sea salt, pepper and a little bit of lemon to tie the flavors together. YUMMY!!!

Last night, as i stood in the vegetable aisle of my local market, I came across a glitch in the plan - no corn. What a disappointment. This evening, as i shared my story with Johan during our usual tuesday night coffee, I got a response I was not prepared for. He basically told me, "Silly girl, the corn is not eaten by Belgians." Just as I'm trying to figure out to what countries it is exported - maybe it is sent to EVERY country since it seems to be enough to wipe out world hunger, he adds, "It is for the animals." WHAT!?! Horror, confusion, and dismay simultaneously overloaded my head. FRIG!!!! Apparently they grow all that corn as winter feed for the livestock. Johan clearly got a kick out of my shock.

According to Johan, Belgians do not enjoy corn like we do in USA - in fact they rarely eat corn at all. He followed it up with his mimick of an American eating an ear of corn, wielding it like an old typewriter.

Another vegetable that is coming into 'season' now is the turnip. In the photo you can see turnip fields planted next to the corn. I suppose they are for livestock too. bugger.

Monday, August 6, 2007

I am not easily impressed...

but last year I watched a cyclist over twice my age attack the others on the old guys ride. As we approached an overpass, he jumped the field and gained a bunch of meters within five seconds. Once he crossed the virtual sprint line at the top of the overpass with a huge-ass gap on the field, he slowed down so the peloton could swallow him up. My hero.

Unfortunately just as the riders caught up, the "ring leader" ripped him a new a_ _-hole for disrupting the steady 28-30kph pace they always keep. As the guilty party passed me on his way to the back of the pack, i jokingly mimicked the ring leader's berating. He turned to me and said, "I was feeling good so i gave it a go." Again, my hero.

Last Tuesday, towards the end of the old guys' ride as the riders were peeling off one by one, a rider attacked the field, got a gap, then pulled up to a cafe, dismounted and walked in (surely for a beer) just as we passed. For a split second I wondered if he was my long lost hero of last year.

It turns out it was the same guy! Now that the ring leader retired from the ride since he could no longer keep up with the pace or continue to slow the riders down to accomodate his gradually slowing pace, the rest of the riders were free to have fun! And that was exactly what this feisty rider did.

Two days later, I saw him again on the ride. He was everthing I imagined him to be - total stud!! His nickname is Bonaventure (good adventure), 74 years old and in fabulous shape! Just before I snapped these photos, he turned to Eye Candy and firmly professed, "I am strong as iron - strong as a lion." My hero.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Who needs nightclubs when there are post-Tour crits?

Last Monday - the day after the Tour de France, I was lucky enough to see one of the many post-Tour criteriums. Even though the winner is pretty much not a surprise it is still just as fun to watch my heroes go round and round. Two heroes in particular I enjoyed watching were Bart Wellens - one of the World's top Cyclo-Cross racer and Frankie Vandenbroucke, one of cycling's infamous bad boys!

I have followed VDB's career for years - partly because he is VERY HOT but also because he is an immensely talented rider. I look forward to the day that he reaches his potential - from what i've read, mental issues have held him back. But he must be doing something right because every year he continues to secure a cycling contract even with no proven ability to show up at races. His proven talent as a media magnet (most likely due to his looks, charm, and sordid life) must be enough to keep the sponsors interested.

It was amazing to see so many folks show up for a local race - there must have been at least 30,000 spectators. The riders spent the first few laps riding at about 15kph so we could all identify our favorites, take photos and profess our undying love to VDB (OK, well maybe i was the only one!) For the remaining 50 laps, the guys took turns getting into breaks. I would have almost believed i was watching a spontaneous event if it weren't for the breaks of five guys with thirty seconds up the road getting caught in the distance of 2k on a very twisty course.

But i still had fun watching Danilo DiLuca (Giro d'Italia champion who donned his full pink kit), Bart Wellens, Axel Merckx and the rest of my favorites get into small breaks! But we all knew that DiLuca would win and yes, no surprises.

The street party surely continued into the wee hours of the morning but I left immediately after the finish to prepare for my own training the following morning!

By the way, we are finally having wonderful weather here in Belgium - 29° today! Next week they predict rain every day, though. That's belgium.