Sunday, June 29, 2008

Great Day at the Races

Today was the last day of National Championship road races for most countries (except USA).
After I finished my race today in Zolder, Belgium today i quickly rushed back to the van to catch the last 80km of the mens Belgian championships. Since the course was fairly flat, it was expected to come down to a sprint finish. Tom Boonen was the pre-race favorite.

I arrived home to watch the last 30km. Within thirty seconds of turning on the TV I saw one of my cyclo-cross heroes Sven Nys attack the field. I've been so accustomed to seeing him in his orange Rabobank kit that i almost didn't recognize him. Oddly enough i knew it was he based on his riding style. His break didn't stay off the front for long but it was exciting to see him with good form nonetheless.

The sprint was easily the most exciting part of the race. Quick Step had a leadout train started from 10km before the finish. For the most part, powerhouse and outgoing Belgian Champion Stijn Devolder did the work at the front with Tom Boonen on his wheel. Just as it looked like Boonen may take it, his train was engulfed by riders on both sides at the 1km mark. As the other riders passed, Boonen tried to find a hole to get through. But in the process, he moved a little to the right and took out his teammate who was on his wheel. That shakeup combined with another guy to the right of Tommeke swerving across the field cost him the title. He ended up fifth and fist-poundingly disappointed.

The surprise of the race was SunWeb ProJob's cyclo-cross star Sven Vanthourenhout. He placed 2nd.

A couple of other cyclo-cross specialists who had a great day was Lars Boom and Marianne Vos who won the Netherlands Championship.

As i was scouring the results I saw that my friend and former Lotto-Belisol teammate Siobhan Dervan of Fenix won the Irish National Champion jersey, crossing the finish line over two minutes ahead of 2nd place.

As for my day on the bike, it was a snappy race (about 39kph) with lots of twists and turns and mini undulations but i stayed strong throughout. My sprint is still not quite ideal yet so i finished far back at 50th place of 65 finishers out of 95 starters. When i picked up my prize money, the guy handed me the 5 euro prize money in an envelope and said, "you're lucky." I expect he was referring to my placing 50th, the last place to receive prize money. But when i replied "thanks" i was thinking about my luck in recovering from such a bad head injury over the winter to be able to stick with the peloton. My goal for the next race is to infiltrate a successful break so i can sprint for the win against a maximum of ten gals versus the usual 70-100. Wish me luck!

Thanks for reading!*^%&

Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Day: Doctor's, Motorpacing, Coffee, Sangria, Voetbal

It started off with a trip to the doctor for an appointment at 8-friggin-a.m.. What a shock. I never wake up before 9am so needless to day it was a trying morning - trying to wake up was how i spent the first two hours after the alarm sounded. Luckily, Jonas was kind enough to drive me there so I at least was able to sleep in until a whopping 7am.

Thanks to Jonas, our hour of waiting time in the reception area was entertaining. As we sat there in a semiconscious state, Jonas asked me for a piece of gum. I handed him a cardboard gum packet then immediately went back sleep mode. Twenty seconds later, Jonas turned to me, looking quite perturbed, and said, "I think there is something wrong with this gum. I think it went bad." He opened his mouth and revealed not a piece of gum but a chewed vitamin C tablet - the huge 1000 mg size. Clearly he was still sleeping too. I totally forgot that i put some vitamin C in my gum packet for emergencies. Oops.

As he quickly ran to the toilet to spit out the partly digested tablet, I sat in the waiting room, doubled over, in absolute stitches. But since i was in a doctor's office, I sat there doing a poor rendition of silent film laughing while tears streamed down my face. When Jonas came back a minute later and declared that he just realized he could have simply swallowed the vitamin, I started silent laughing again. And once Jonas got over himself, he joined in. We must have looked so idiotic to the other patients as we howled in silence so hard our shirts were soaked with tears.

Once home, I had a strong cup of french press coffee with a homemade hummus tortilla wrap, switched into cycling clothes and headed back out for motorpacing. Usually i don't particularly enjoy these sessions but today was different. It was the first time where i actually felt comfortable riding at 55kph behind the scooter - yet another triumph in my slow recovery process.

At one of the recent races, I was told that i had won the "World's Whitest Legs in the Peloton" recognition so on the ride today i dared to do something about it - i left the house with bare legs. Yep, no SPF30 for me. And whaddya know...I got a slight tan line. Not sure if i will have the courage to do that a few more times but we'll see.

After elevating the legs, eating, and semi-napping, I headed back out for downtown Leuven to meet up with Johan for our usual Tuesday night out (moved to Wednesday this week to accomodate my motorpacing prep.) To get the evening started we had a coffee at Cafe Onan on Parijsstraat. It's the only place in all of Leuven that has really rich coffee. They serve it with dark chocolate which makes it a real treat.

Then we had dinner at a nondescript Italian restaurant on Muntstraat (Leuven's version of restaurant row.) To finish up the evening, we headed over to Grote Markt to sit outside and enjoy the great weather we've been having here. While we were sipping/eating Sangrias, we watched the European Championships soccer game on TV. Many of the cafes had extra large tv screens set up outside so the cafe-goers can enjoy the game. Great way to get people to choose your cafe over the twenty others on the square.

At the end of the evening, as Johan and I waited at the bus stop, we had our first flemish (Belgian version of Dutch language) conversation. I've known him for over five years and we've never spoken a single word in flemish to each other. (All in flemish) he said "hello christine," I said "hello Johan." He then said, "Have you had enough sangria?" My reply was, "Never." Although I only uttered two words in dutch to him, his impression was enormous. He said, "Once you can joke in a foreign language, you've mastered it." Nice compliment even though I knew it was far from the truth in this case. Heck, if only he knew how thrilled I was that he picked the one question I can understand.

p.s. You may notice that no exclamation points were used in the writing of this post. Chr15 and E.C. Chamberlain will be proud.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My legs are coming back!!!

Last weekend was just what i needed - two solid racing experiences! I'm feeling like a bike racer again! Yippidy-friggin-doo-dah! I was part of the race; in breaks, bridged gaps, had fun.

The photo was taken on Sunday in Tielt-Winge (Belgium) moments after we killed ourselves single file for a few minutes at 50kph. Again, it felt great to be strong enough again to stay in the race long enough to experience the pain of hard efforts!

The next photo is of my support crew - Jonas' mom Godelieve. She is master bottle-handoff-er.

And the last photo is of my treat for racing decently two days in a row. Homemade chocolate chip cookies with Belgian chocolate of course!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Scott Road Race in Zaventem

I can't believe i completely forgot to report on the race i saw the other day. I guess I was so distracted by witnessing a car parked partly on a staircase and partly in a lake and later spotting the crashed plane that broke in half.

It was a mens "open category" event so of course the average speed was about the equivalent of my sprint effort. The course had just about everything you'd expect of a Belgian criterium. It had tight turns on cobbles, steep power climbs on crappy pavement, and fast descents - also on crappy pavement.

We went to watch Dries Dewit of Scott Racing (love the shoes) and Olivier (left) of Fietsen Goeman. Last year he spent the whole race in a break of about six guys but this year his teammate beat him to the break. His teammate and another random guy took off on a 2-man break that lasted until the finish. Luckily for the race sponsor (Scott) the Scott racer won. Dries did a lot of work in the chase group to make sure that his teammate stayed away.

It was fun to watch these guys fly around the course but even more entertaining to watch the action at the start/finish. Every round, before the guys came through, the announcers would encourage the spectators to give euros for premies. Lots of the contributors got creative in specifying to whom the prize money should be awarded. Among many strange requests, I heard "20 euros to the guy who crosses the line 5th from last place", "7 euros to the first guy crossing the line with orange in his jersey", "10 euros to the first guy wearing gold shoes."

I just finished watching Tour of Switzerland so I gotta get moving on dinner. I think i'm going to make spelt pasta (a gift from someone who thinks vegans eat expensive wierdo foods) with sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, and garlic sauteed in Greek olive oil.

One last note...I raced last Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday and made a whole 15 euros. But at least i'm now starting to get good enough to be in the newspapers again! Being humbled at these events until i'm back up to normal speed again is fine - i accept it. But i really do look forward to getting solidly to the point where I can stand there at the start line knowing my chances of winning are once again pretty darn good. What's the expression that i hate but live by? Oh yeah, practice makes perfect. There are two more "practice" events this weekend. I'm just not sure how they will turn out, but you can bet I'll be standing at the starts as prepared as possible in hopes that I am perfect.

The "disappeared" poster to the right that was posted on a pole on the race course was a cruel joke played on the guy by his friends. I didn't find out if he was a racer in the event but I'm sure his buddies made sure he saw the poster that evening! Gosh, i've taken thousands of unflattering photos. Now i'm wondering if any of my friends had a good time with them!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

If you ever thought Belgium was dangerous...

As I was watching the news yesterday, I got to see a bit of a Belgian military training camp held in the Ardennes woods of Belgium. Upon first glance, it looked like something we'd see on American television if we were watching a camp on US Military guys. But then something went amiss - when the "guns" were supposed to shoot, the guys yelled "Pang, pang, pang!" Turns out that Belgium doesn't have enough guns to go around to supply the military for training. They had to use fake guns and make "bang" sounds so the others would know guns were shot. Too funny.

What the Belgians are saying about Boonen

As you can imagine, the jokes have been flying around here in Belgium. Don't get me wrong, i do love Boonen. Heck, i even have a life-size cardboard cutout of him in my bedroom! But these are funny!

The top one is called "The new sponsor of Tom". (Het nieuwe truitje van Tom = the new jersey of Tom)
De Lijn (the line) is Belgian's Flemish bus company - probably because he's off the bike and probably without a driver's license due to his DWI.

The one below was sent to me as "Promotie in den ALDI." Translated into "Promotion in ALDI" - a supermarket chain.
Vordeel Pack = Promo Pack
Boonen = beans

The third i just got from Johan. It's called Tommecoke. Below his tommeke nickname, it is slang for "What are you doing now."

I hope they're still funny after my lengthy botched explanations.

And here are some one-liners as well:

- English class... Tommeke, how do you say hello to your team mates? Tommeke: "High!"
- This year, Tommeke will not ride the Tour de France, he prefers the Tour of Colombia.
- Who is the new sponsor of Tommeke? Coca Cola Company: "Taste the coke side of life"
- Boonen and Lore in Thaland. Says Tommeke to Lore: "I want a coke-o-nut."
- After being caught by the police, Tommeke drinks no alcohol anymore, he sticks to alcohol free coke-tails.
- Despite his recent drug problem, Tommeke is still an official citizen of Monacoke.
- How come Tommeke doesn't gain weight in the off-race season? He only wants diet-coke.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Nature Valley Grand Prix - as seen from my sofa

I just read the report on cyclingnews. Unbelievable. Cancel a criterium race because of a little rain? WAAAAAA. BOO-HOOOOO! Again, unbelievable. It's a real pity. Either don't let the race start or let them finish if they want. It wasn't a tornado or a hurricaine. It was rain with maybe some strong wind. So what. A few years ago, when i raced this event, they tried to stop our race as well. They finally decided that anyone who rides for a lap or so, gets the same finishing time as the winner. But at least they gave us the rules before we took off AND they let those of us who wanted to commit for the full distance of the criterium to go for it.

But what they did to the racers this year is just not right. For the guys, they stopped the race before it finished WHILE there was a break up the road. They interviewed the guy off the front - Kirk "Mr. Darcy" O'Bee of Healthnet pb Maxxis - and he said: "It's disappointing because I made a big effort to be out there and everyone had to deal with the rain." Mr. Darcy gained the first intermediate time bonus after initiating a breakaway and wanted to pursue the stage win and overall race lead.

He added, "I don't think the course was that unsafe. What made it unsafe was that there were too many motos on course that were trying to get through the field. The officials also didn't do a good job in pulling lapped riders quick enough as we were coming up on them – so the motos were trying to wave them off. Personally I had no problem with the course." Luckily he had something left to win the stage the following day.

The women's race was even more unfortunate. The organizers let them race to the finish! Only after the race did they tell the racers that their exhausting efforts were for nothing. Kristin Armstrong of Cervelo-Lifeforce lapped the whole entire field while other racers were killing themselves to make a good showing - all for nothing. Armstrong gave some good quotes to cyclingnews:

"I would understand if the officials had to neutralize the race in the beginning or before the start due to unsafe conditions," said Armstrong, who was disappointed that in the end her effort to lap the field provided no advantage in the overall classification.

"When you start the race and finish it in its entirety and then they decide the condition were unsafe, I think it needs to be counted for GC. There are a lot of teams that put a lot of effort into this race including Tibco," continued Armstrong, who fought off three chasing Tibco riders.

"I feel like we should go into tomorrow with the GC in place. Yes, a lot of girls got dropped or went down. Unfortunately that's bike racing and that same sort of bad luck could happen to me out there tomorrow."

I agree with both O'Bee and Armstrong's sentiments. So what if a bunch of racers fall on their asses. That's racing. Crashes happen on dry days too. I do hope that the organizers of Nature Valley Grand Prix learn from this experience. The folks who run this event as well as the crowds there in MN are amazing so i do look forward to many years more of this event!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Should Tommeke be banned from Tour de France?

I'm torn when i try to answer this question. My first thought is that he should surely be denied TdF entry. Cocaine is illegal, unhealthful, dangerous when operating motorized vehicles, and very addictive which can lead to a whole collection of undesirable outcomes.

But my second thought is that he tested positive out of competition for a "recreational" drug, which then categorizes it as part of his personal life. If he tested positive for it during competition or just before competition, close enough to the event where it would still solidly be in his body while competing, then that would be different.

Another thought to consider is that when he chose to be a professional cyclist, he took on the responsibility to be a role model. Role models should not take illegal drugs.

Here in belgium it seems that for the most part Belgians are in support of Boonen. It does not mean that they condone his behavior, though. I think that people here are understanding that athletes are just like everyone else.

I am curious to see what people think. And feel free to vote in my poll to the left.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Innovative Interval Workout Gone Awry

My first experience of group riding was in New York. I lived in Manhattan (St. Mark's Place in the East Village) and periodically joined the Saturday ride that headed north to Nyack, NY with a pit stop at the Runcible Spoon Bakery. I think it took us maybe 1.5-2 hours each way. When we would almost reach the bakery, there was always a group sprint to the New Jersey state line. Even though i never won the sprint against the guys, I really enjoyed getting keyed up for the jump.

And when i lived in California, group rides there also had pre-set sprint spots (such as the funny-looking mailbox or the top of a climb) to give the ride a little flair.

But in Belgium I haven't found any rides that incorporate that little bit of mid-ride competition. In an effort to re-live those mini-sprint thrills, Jonas and I made an effort to sprint each other at every "finish line" that crosses the road during our ride.

Within the first five minutes, the score was 4-1 in my favor. Within ten minutes, it was 5-4 with Jonas taking the lead. And within twenty minutes, we were both dead! Before making plans to have this little sprinting game, I should have taken into consideration where I am. In just about every little tiny town here in Belgium (aka the country made of little towns) there are at least 2-3 permanent start/finish lines that are used for yearly road races.

Even so, we kept at it for another 2 1/2 hours. It's funny how creative people can become when they are tired and losing the "race" - or desperate to win! We became sprint-line hoes, sprinting for any random line that could fall under the category of a line. If it was white and spanned most or all of the road, then it counted. If one of us started sprinting, the other would sprint too whether or not a sprint line was spotted. At one point, I scored six lines in a row (three sets of two) in a distance of only 200 meters. I won the first two because Jonas wasn't quick enough to figure out that they could be considered sprint lines. The next two were won because he mis-shifted and the last I got by holding onto his jersey as he sped towards the lines and flung myself - track-racing style - to cross them first!

After a few more sprints, we decided not to keep track of the score any longer (I won - 27 to 24.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What's wrong with this kickstand?

As I was walking through Grote Markt in Leuven (the world's longest string of cafes) I noticed the front wheel of this bike completely off the ground. This can't be normal.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Post-Race Picnic on Highway

It may not have been the highlight of the day to sit on the highway - at a standstill for one hour - but it didn't seem that bad after having a decent day on the bike.

Yesterday i raced at Beveren-Prosperpolder in Belgium (near Antwerpen) and for the first time this road season the whole race felt easy. We did 90km at 2:12 (slightly over 40kph) so theoretically since we were moving about the same speed as all the other races, I should have been suffering again ( just the day before I only lasted five minutes in the race). But i really shouldn't question it. Rather i should be thankful that i actually had fun on the bike in a race again!

There were even a couple of times I found myself at the front of the peloton to help chase down breaks. But since i was really not sure of my fitness I let the others finish the job for fear that i'd spend 30 seconds at the front then immediately pedal backwards through the peloton and be spit out like an orange seed. One of those breaks that went off the front actually stuck so i was in the chasing peloton. I was fine with that. Hopefully the day will come really soon where i am ready to test the body out by going with a break or even initiate breaks again - something i really miss.

When the end of the race came, I did a semi-sprint and finished 26th overall which earned me a whopping 10 euros. I call it a semi-sprint because i was slightly overgeared and found myself having to push the bike forward with my arms! Quite comical looking actually. Again, fine for the day.

But the next race is another day which can mean two things, 1. I will immediately get dropped like what happened two days ago OR my body will be back to normal and i'll start playing on the bike a bit more! I'm praying to the bike racing gods that it will be the latter.

By the way, Sanne Cant was in yesterday's race as well. She looked good and even made it into the break that finished under a minute ahead of our peloton.

Usually after every race Jonas and i will have a picnic somewhere. This time an unexpected traffic jam decided for us. According to TomTom, the delay was supposed to be two minutes but it turned out to be an hour! We had pasta with garlic and olive oil, oranges, pistachios, grilled tomatoes and red onions with basil and avocado, and even a glass of wine.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Time off to play at the Kermis

Last monday, I did something I hadn't done in years and years and years...since my days as a carny. I went on a carnival ride.

We were in Zaventem (brussels airport town) to check out the Jaarmarkt (yearly market) in hopes of finding some treasures. I got a few girlie headbands, some birthday cards, a falafel sandwich, and anise. As we left jaarmarkt we took a stroll through the kermis that happened to be in town, set up just next to the market.

I got to relive some memories of when i worked at a carnival. My job was to run the balloon-popping game. Even though it was a game where everyone wins a prize, I especially enjoyed pointing out the "large prize" balloons to the cute boys or to the kid who seemed never to win anything.

What i found most intriguing about the Belgian version of a carnival is that their games and rides all have some American Theme and contain some english words or phrases.

After checking out all the rides, I gave Jonas three to choose from.

The first was a "Caterpillar" ride where a top covers the "caterpillar" midway through the duration of the ride.

The second was a crazy-scary looking ride that had two long arms and has four seats at the end of each arm. The arms turn like hands on a clock at a snappy clip, sending the riders upside down and spinning.

And the third ride option was semi-circle seats that twist and turn at mach speed, but don't go upside down.

He opted for the third one, probably because he was too scared to go on the second one and was afraid i'd try something on him when the caterpillar top enclosed us.

The ride was only about five minutes but my jaw and eyes hurt so much from simultaneously laughing and crying so hard. Luckily, I remembered my ride experiences from the carny days and opted NOT to close my eyes.

It may not have been the thrill I had from free-falling when i jumped out of an airplane but it was enough to make the rest of my day pale in comparison.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Third Time's a Charm...

Last weekend I entered my third race of the season.

As you may recall, my first one was a self-inflicted bust before it even began since i entered it with the grand idea that I would spend the whole race at the back of the peloton and just "sit in." Well, the accordion effect that's worst at the back snapped me loose after only one hour into the race.

My second race was an "open" mens criterium attended by world champions, belgian champions, U-23 studs and others with impressive legs suited for thoroughbred horses.

The third took place in Holland. It was a criterium event - 42 twisty, turny laps totaling 60km. This time I was smart enough to start near the middle of the field of over 60 riders. My plan worked for the first two minutes. But thanks to my lack of timing, lack of racing rhythm, lack of time spent at the top end of my heart limit, I was back in last place by the end of the first lap.

In addition to the exaggerated accordion effect after every turn, I had to deal with riders in front of me losing contact with the peloton. Every time this happened, i had to sprint around them to re-claim my last place in the peloton.

One of these attempts to reattach to the peloton just about killed my race! I had to chase for a whole lap. Even though each lap was only a couple of minutes, in those two minutes I went through intense HELL! While cruising behind the peloton at an average race speed of 39kph, my body was in pain, my mind was in shock - it was so easy - and so tempting - to quit at that moment.

But then i thought about how i'd feel if i quit AND how much gas money would be wasted (keep in mind, our automobile fuel is not subsidized by the government. It costs 1.58 euros per liter here.) I never worked so hard for last place in my life!!

While I was in the back praying to the criterium gods to keep me in contact with the peloton while my body adjusts to racing again, a group of ten gals went off the front. This group contained the eventual winner - Cyclo-Cross Extraordinaire Reza Holmes-Ravenstijn.

Finally after about twenty laps solidly in last place, my racing sensations returned. My timing out of turns improved, I started to look for opportunities to move up in the pack. Even my legs recovered from the racing shock and started to feel spunky again. I made the switch from reacting to moves to anticipating the race. As my coach puts it, I raced the race i was in. I felt like a bike racer again.

On the last lap, I moved to the front of what was left of the peloton so I could enter the technical S-turns safely. Well the gals let me hang out in the front for almost the rest of the last lap. Going into the final straightaway they all swarmed around me. Last again. I finished 21st out of 21 finishers. (the other 40+ racers were dropped and pulled out of the race.)

I may not have won the race but i did get some valuable racing rhythm which will prepare me for this weekend's back-to-back racing. As goofy as it sounds, I just can't wait to race again!

Afterwards, we drove over to the Westerschelde (a really wide river that empties into the North Sea) for a picnic. While enjoying our pasta, salad and wine we watched the birds play in the wind and even saw what looked like a pirate sailboat.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Just after i passed the plane the other day, I saw this unfortunate parking job. The guy pacing back and forth behind the car with cell phone in hand definitely appeared more perturbed than the ducks in the pond. Maybe this poor park job happens often...