Thursday, November 27, 2008

My Thanksgiving Day gift to you

I am not really a holiday kind of gal - aside from my birthday - but in the spirit of giving, i am giving you all a good laugh. This photo was taken in my teens when i went through that ill-advised permed hairdo phase.

Tomorrow morning I leave for Koksijde, Belgium for the next round of the World Cup circuit. We will see if my hard training lately will pay off so quickly. There is probably some truth, though, to Jonas' comment yesterday that if all it took was a month of hard work to be at the top level of racing, then everyone would be a pro. He may be right but still my fingers are crossed and my motivation is high.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Superprestige #4, Hamme-Zogge (BEL)

Today’s event, Superprestige #4, Hamme-Zogge (BEL), was yet another real cross race with freezing temperatures, thick snow and heavy winds that got progressively worse during the event. In one hour’s time the mud-heavy course was covered with a sizeable layer of frozen snow. Missing from today’s race was Lars Boom who is out due to fever from a urinary tract infection.

At the advice of their manager, the Sunweb-Projob team took yesterday off from racing so they could be fresh for today’s event sponsored by their team. It definitely helped since Klaas Vantornout and teammate Sven Vanthourenhout got 2nd and 4th place respectively. Hard man Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner ) took the win after he shook Klaas off his wheel midway through the race. Bart Wellens (Fidea) rounded out the podium in 3rd.

‘Rider of the Day’ awards go to:
Bart Wellens – for his spectacular ride from 20th position due to a poor start to a podium spot.
Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) – for his strong ride from 21st (on Bart’s wheel) to an impressive 12th place.
Sven Nys – for winning the race with only one shake of the hands for warmth!

From the first lap, Sven and Klaas took the lead with two Sunweb-Projobs leading the chase.
Going into the third lap, Sven and Klaas built their lead to almost 30 seconds. With five rounds left, the leading duo’s lead dropped slightly 20 seconds partly due to the perceived bickering between Klaas and Sven regarding who should be riding in front on the pavement sections. Maybe they were waiting for their teammates? Doubtful since they mainly all ride for themselves. Sven V’s attack on the chase group also helped to minimize the gap to the leaders. His effort eventually managed to pull Fideas Bart and Erwin Vervecken out of the chase group.

The wind and snow has really picked up during the race changing the good lines every lap.
With three rounds left, Nys accelerated and dropped Klaas. Thirty seconds behind was Wellens, Sven V and Vervecken. As soon as the leading duo split, Sven was gone – gapping Klaas by nearly 15 seconds in a two minute period.

By now, the sky has turned dark and the temperature was quickly dropping. I bet the icy-cold water under their tires didn’t help the situation much. Thankfully most were fully legged, covered ears and some sporting hats with bills to keep the snow out of their eyes.
The course had been completely covered in snow where these guys couldn’t even see any lines - good or bad. By the time Klaas would come through a section on the course, Sven's tire line was already gone. Some seemed to be affected by the ‘inclement’ weather while others like Sven didn’t seem to notice.

Coming across the pavement with two laps to go, Sven V slapped his hands against his hips in an effort to warm them up. A bit behind him was a line of guys riding the pavement section all shaking their hands in unison.

The mud was now so thick that Sven seemed to be pushing the bike forward mainly with his arms for most of the course. As the race went on, the increased number of near-catastrophes, especially in the turns, was proof of how dangerous the course had become.

Going into the last round at 51:41 Sven crossed the line with a 30 second gap on Klaas. Having shaken Sven V off his wheel, Wellens puts in a last ditch effort to bridge to Klaas 15 seconds up the road.

Sven crossed the line with hands raised, while Klaas and Bart crossed the line with hands shaking.

In the finish line tent, the first thing Sven did was put his hands in a bucket of warm water.
It was painful to watch the racers suffer after they crossed the finish line. Even though I expected the racers to be suffering badly from the tough weather, I was in pain watching them. It was only one hour before their race that I, too, was doing the hand shake.

Photo is of my backyard earlier today. The other is of my homemade pumpkin soup topped with Jonas' enthusiastic decoration using hot sauce.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Niels Albert Update

Niels Albert Update
Saturday, 22 November 3pm - Belgium time
As seen on Belgian TV
Photo credit: Victor Zandbergen

Right before the start of today's GVA Hasselt race, Palmans Cras Team Manager Christoph Roodhooft gave an update on Niels Albert. He said that Niels went home today from hospital in Herentals where they also found a fractured rib and the beginning of a lung infection which was caught in time to treat it effectively.
The rib fracture gives him the most pain.
He had to lie flat in bed for one more week, but then next Sunday he can start with aqua jogging - the only form of exercise he can do.
If everything goes well, he can go outside in four weeks at earliest. They don't know when he can compete. But when he does, he won't be in the shape he left the racing.
Sven Nys also had a few words to say about Niels. He said he contacted him a few times for moral support since this is an important time of the season to miss. He then added that it is always nice when Niels is there since it adds more tension.

Gazet Van Antwerpen (GVA) Hasselt Cross Race

Today was GVA (Gazet Van Antwerpen) series’ third event held in Hasselt, Belgium. Due to temperatures hovering just above freezing, the riders were treated to heavy rain, hail and snow throughout the race. It was a real hard mans race with the course covered mostly with thick mud and sand. Real cross.

In an atypical style, Bart Wellens (Fidea) gets the hole shot. But after a couple of minutes, he drops back to the chasing group while Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner ), Thijs Al (Be-One Team) and Kevin Pauwels (Fidea) continued at the front. Shortly after, in a thick mud section lasting only about 20 seconds Nys picks up the pace and puts 5 seconds on the rest. Only Pauwels and Zdenek Stybar (Fidea) are able to bridge up to Nys.

After the first round, Nys and Pauwels are alone in front by a few seconds. Ten minutes later, Wellens seems to have gotten his second wind and broke away from the chase group with Stybar on his wheel. Once they get within striking range, Stybar jumps over Wellens and onto the wheels of Nys and Pauwels.
For the next few minutes, the three of them (Nys, Pauwels and Stybar) lead the race with Wellens yo-yo’ing behind.

OH NO! Nys and Stybar are wrapped around the course ribbon! While Stybar quickly remounts, Nys' bike is stuck and he can’t get it free. Finally a supporter comes over to help. The two Fideas – Wellens and Pauwels – take advantage and quickly gain valuable seconds over the other chasers. Behind them is a group of about ten chasers hovering 10 seconds back. It takes Nys a few minutes but he is finally on the tail end of the group going into the third lap with 4 laps to go. He is in 12th place - 22 seconds behind the Fideas.

Wellens is using his amazing running skills to keep the pressure on at the front. Nys is slowly moving up from the back of the group while his teammate Rob Peeters (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner ) pushes the pace at the front.
Nearing the end of the third lap, Peeters is in third position, 11 seconds behind Wellens and Pauwels, and five seconds ahead of the chase group of nine.

Going into lap 4 (3 laps to go), Nys has already moved up to 5th. Peeters trails the Fideas by six seconds. Richard Groenendaal (AA Drink) is next to cross the finish at 15 seconds behind the leaders, and Nys is behind him at 20 seconds with a group of riders strung out on his wheel. A moment later, Nys puts a gap on the group with a nice acceleration in the mud.

In front, Pauwels attacked Wellens and got a few seconds between them. It didn’t last long though thanks to Pauwels’ semi-endo while getting of his bike, giving Wellens, and eventually Peeters a chance to get back on. Meanwhile, Nys is trying to get by Groenendaal for fourth position who is putting up a good elbow fight.

Nys finally passes Groenendaal through deep mud while groenendaal chooses the parallel smooth grassy supposedly faster path. Very impressive. Instantly Nys was gone! He appears to be gliding over thick deep mud and sand!

Amazingly two minutes after he left Groenendaal he closed the 15 second gap to the leaders. The lead group going into lap 5, with two to go, is now Wellens, Peeters, Pauwels, and Nys. They have 15 seconds on the chasing group of 8.
Wellens is repeatedly attacking the group now to put Nys in difficulty since he is in 4th position. And it worked but not in the way he probably intended. Nys tripped over his own bike when his front wheel hit Pauwels' while running in a tight turn.

These guys are now completely covered in Mud. I guess the hail and snow is the least of their concerns at the moment. Just as I am screaming at the TV for Nys to pass Pauwels who is being gapped by Wellens and Peeters, he does it. My screaming worked!
They are really riding at their limits because they are all slipping out in all the muddy turns - every single one! The pressure is surely on. I wonder what Wellens is thinking as he gives a glance backwards on a long muddy stretch only to see Nys expediently closing the gap.

The group of four are now passing a flurry of lapped riders. Nys just passed Peeters in a sand section and is flying towards Wellens!!!

Uh-OH! Nys just came into view in 4th position. What happened? OH NO - a FLAT TIRE!!! He still has another ½ kilometer to the pit. They pass the start line with one lap to go and Nys is already 14 seconds behind. Bad timing to flat. That flat really cost him the race…or maybe not.

Rob Peeters just ran into the course banner on a slick deep mud descent and the Fideas are gone. Worst yet, Peeters is almost run into from behind by a lapped rider.

My guess is that Wellens will win, Pauwels second and Peeters third. But this is a real (echt in dutch) cross race so anything can happen. Nys is running, and running, and running. He is still riding on the flat for some sections though.
Pauwels just crashed again at the same section as a few laps ago.
Nys just got new bike at the same moment the chase group reached him. If he rides all out, he can still manage a 4th.
Thanks to Wellens’ repeated accelerations, the gap between Wellens, Pauwels and Peeters is many seconds. Wellens is on fire, riding like a man with a real mission. While many seconds behind, Nys again is working on shaking the chase group off his wheel. And he is doing it. Gerben De Knegt (Rabobank), Bart Aernouts (Rabobank), two Fideas and Groenendaal desperately try to keep on Nys’ wheel but he seems to have shaken them all.

For all those who wrote Wellens off earlier in the season, this is his answer directly from his legs.
Splattered in mud from helmet to shoes, Wellens gives a heavy sigh of relief as he wipes the mud chunks off his jersey and crosses the line, helmet slightly tipped and hands raised high.

Pauwels 2nd, Peeters 3rd, Erwin Vervecken (Fidea) outsprints Nys for 4th, Nys 5th.
Bart Aernouts 6th
Gerben de Knegt 7th
Petr Dlask (Fidea) 8th
Richard Groenendaal 9th
Wilant van Gils (Pro Cycling Team 10th
Zdenek Stybar 11th
Radomir Simunek (Palmans-Cras) 12th

Friday, November 21, 2008

Where is our global warming damn it!?!

Everyone is talking about their unusually warm weather while here in Belgium it has been cold, rainy and incredibly windy. I rode for 3 hours today and came home drenched, frozen so badly my fingers tingled, and with a kink in my neck from riding sideways the whole time thanks to the hurricaine-level winds. Wind is fine, as long as it's predictable. But this wind whips around every which way, perpetually keeping me wondering at what moment i will be thrown off my bike.

The next days are supposed to be even worse, hovering at the 3°C mark during the day. We are even expecting snow. I have only seen snow twice in all the time i've spent here.

The last days Jonas has been threatening to switch his pump toiletries to spray can style, take them all outside and go ape-shit in an effort to help bring a bit of global warming our way. Sure, it's not politically correct but it's a nice thought nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sven Nys on TV last night

Last night, as i was zapping I came across the local news. They were interviewing Sven Nys. Even with his logo'd digs traded in for a blue cardigan with white T poking out, he's very easy to recognize.

They talked about his recent win at Gavere, asking him if it was a fluke where he replied that winning it five times in a row disqualifies it as an accident.

Of all the topics discussed, there was one that shouldn't have surprised me, but did. The interviewer asked Sven if he was nervous about not winning since November 1st.

This question proves just how quickly the Belgian fans are to judge. Before Sven got his answer out, I said to Jonas - "But he just won a race last weekend at Vlaamse Houtlandcross in Eernegem." I expected Sven to respond with that but instead he told the interviewer that there is only one weekend between Novermber 1st and now. That is hardly enough time to cause concern.

In hindsight, i now realize that Sven would have looked silly to have mentioned that win last week since it was not one of the blockbuster events like a Superprestige, GVA or World Cup. And i suspect they would have called him on this.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that the press, media and fans were writing Bart Wellens off only for him to come back with a heroic Pijnacker World Cup followed by a strong 2nd place in Gavere Superprestige. Maybe next time they will all listen to him when he says not to count him out yet.

Another pleasant surprise of last weekend was Erwin Vervecken - another cyclist who has not been treated kindly by onlookers. Watching him cross the line for 4th at Gavere was wonderful.

I wrote a personal update on my race that is now posted on . It will give you a better picture of how I scored my top 10 finish at Gavere Superprestige. Yippee!

(Photo taken by Krist Vanmelle)


Monday, November 17, 2008

Update on Niels Albert's Crash at Gavere Superprestige

Belgian TV teletext news coverage of Niels Albert's Torn Spleen

(photo of Albert at bottom left of article. Nice photo of Sven Nys, i must add!)

Immediately after Niels Albert crashed while warming up for Gavere Superprestige, a doctor at the race site did an initial exam and said that he will be ready to start the race.But then they called the team doctor and when he heard that Niels had a hard spot under his ribs, he said for him not to race and to bring him to hospital for a checkup.In the university hospital of Gent they saw that he tore his spleen.

He was to spend the next 24 hours in intensive care where they keep an eye on the bleeding to see if it stops. Albert was good this morning but then the pain became worse and by 4:30pm today he felt bad. There is still fluid and that gives pressure in his diaphragm and a lot of pain in his chest and his back. The spleen still has to recover which takes a few days. His stay in the Intensive Care Unit will be extended a little more. His state of mind is not too bad according to the manager. Of course this is a devastation to his season plans but he is already making new goals. Today he said he will aim for the championships.

After his stay in ICU, he will be five more days in hospital closer to his home for observation.Then he is off his bike for at least one week. After those two weeks, he will need another two weeks to get his fitness level back up.

Palmans Cras Team Manager Christoph Roodhooft said, "All this is a serious glitch in his racing plans. He can give up all the rankings GVA, Superprestige, and World Cup. I think Niels doesn t realize so far that everything is lost for this season but at this moment we focus on the next 24 hours and we hope that nothing untoward happens. We want to avoid, in every case, a surgery. Best case it will take four weeks before he can ride another race. we will have to change our plans and aim for the championships."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Just in case you wanted to know...

Toilet water is not for drinking, according to the sign above the German toilet which reads, "not drinkwater" (translated literally.)

And not all flowers are easily digested.

On another note, Niels Albert was quoted today as saying that road racing is easy. They dont have to deal with mud or dirt. With nicely pumped up tired and good condition, anyone can make it to paris in the tour de france. But you cant win it without good products.

I'd say those are fighting words. haha.

He went on to say that most of the cyclocross peloton is clean. That you dont need drugs to ride only one hour at your maximum.

As for me, the flu is finally gone. Only a couple of remnants remain - slight cough and stuffy/runny nose.

This weekend is Gavere Superprestige and i have never been more excited to race this season than i am for this event. I don't really have an explanation for it, other than I am simply feeling ready to suffer to the fullest of my ability. I look forward to the burn in my lungs and the throbbing of my legs. My goal Sunday is to ride so hard that I pass out just after I cross the finish line.

Jonas just set up my stationary trainer with a super duper mackdaddy trainer gizmo that measures watts, cadence, heart rate, speed and a bunch of other stuff. It has definitely added a bit of entertainment to my indoor riding. I havent figured out yet how to work the "average" and "max" buttons yet which is proving to be a real challenge, especially when i try to record numbers in the middle of hard efforts.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Quick update on Germany and Pijnacker

Sorry for disappearing for the last days. I have been working hard to battle a flu. Bad timing considering i was in the middle of a mini-overload training period to get the fitness back up to a decent level. That will have to wait for the moment. On a side note, my guess is that the flu is awarded to dumbasses who drive 32 hours in 9 days while racing and training hard.

But luckily (or rather unluckily in some cases) the worst of the flu fell on weekdays, leaving me with deluded ambitions of racing well on the weekends.

Two weeks ago, i raced in Germany - Magstadt and Lorsch.
The first race was a rather unpleasant experience. It would have felt worse if i were fully awake for it. To get to the race on time, we had to leave at 4am for the 6-hour trek. I spent most of the drive in and out of consciousness, possibly not the best way to start a race. When i keep this in mind, i am thankful for my 8th place finish!

Afterwards, we drove 1.5 hours directly to our hotel in Lorsch. After two hours of washing the mud out of all my clothes, shoes, helmet, orifices, the rest of the evening was focused completely on recovery. I rested, ate, drank, ate, rested, rode the trainer, stretched, rested, drank and slept.

The next morning was spent doing exactly the same. I was determined to make something of the weekend.

As I waited patiently for my callup to the starting line, I realized that I would have no idea when i am called. They do it by numbers, not names. So if it doesnt sound like english, dutch (not deutsch), french, or spanish I am screwed. And screwed i almost was if it wasnt for a couple of gals next to me who nudged me forward after my number was called. Good thing "one minute" sounds similar to dutch so i knew how much time before the gun. This was especially important considering there was no gun fire. The guy tried two times but couldnt get it to pop.

He finally gave us the nod to go without him and off i went. Down the extended false flat straightaway I went, with the whole field in tow. Yep, i got the whole shot - oops, that too thanks to Ahrens. The lead lasted only a few minutes since i didnt know the course. Every time i tried to pre-ride the course, the course patrol kicked me off. By the second lap I was pushed back to 6th position. But once i knew the course, i picked up the pace and got back to 3rd position. I wish i had a camera to capture the look on Jonas' face when i turned the corner into his sight in 3rd. He was surprised. Heck, i was surprised. By the last lap, I had put about 40 seconds on 4th place and even got within ten seconds to 2nd place.

After the race, one of the girls asked me "What happened to you today?" That was a good feeling since it was only a day ago that many of these same girls kicked my butt and now they are minutes behind. I guess it is true that (most) anything can happen in a day. Even though the race was not a high profile one, it felt good to be on the podium again.

By Sunday night, the flu fully kicked in. The next days until Saturday were spent exclusively on the couch and in the bed. On saturday, we drove up to Pijnacker, Holland to pre-ride the World Cup course. I was feeling slightly better saturday I figured I'd give it a go. At least I'd be fully rested. The course was slightly muddy which was good for me since the flu usually sucks power right out of your legs. The next morning was a completely different situation. It went from slightly muddy to slightly dry.

My callup was right next to Katie Compton. When the gun sounded, she moved forward while I moved back and out of the field. Last place. It was even worse in the muddy, grassy sections where I was only strong enough to push a "nieuwelingen" (newbie or AKA granny) gear, making the gaps bigger and bigger. I only managed to pass a few racers before the finish.

Now i am back on the couch. I will be turning in an update to shortly so keep an eye out for it if you want to read hopefully a more entertaining version of my travels. There will also be an interview of Helen Wyman up there shortly.

Thanks for reading!