Friday, December 24, 2010

Scheldecross and Kalmthout World Cup report...

is now online!  See CYCLOCROSS's website for my story or CLICK HERE to go directly there.

My next race is Zolder World Cup this Sunday. I wish you could be there because i am having a cookie party after the race for all my supporters/friends, and fellow racers!  on the menu is toffee bars, tahini cookies, sugar cookies - all different shapes and colors, fudge with walnuts and my favorite - mexican chocolate cookies-hot, hot, hot!!!

Have a wonderful holiday season and have a glass of champagne for me please (since i am in the middle of racing season) !!

(photo by Ali Verleyen)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Racing with the Guys

Last weekend was US National Championships, but as i am Belgian-based, i opted to skip the arduous trip around the world to Portland.  Besides with Katie Compton on the start line, we'd all pretty much be racing for 2nd - or rather 3rd since Georgia Gould was also present. 

Instead i spent my weekend competing at a local race against the guys here in Belgium.  It was so incredibly worth it.  Not only did i get an excellent workout in, but i had a very entertaining day of it.

The race was Vlaamse Wieler Federatie's (Flemish Cycling Federation) "World Championships" held by De Morelgem Vrienden as a memorial/fundraiser race for Danny Vettenburg who died from cancer.  When i showed up at the start line, i could tell a few of the guys were confused. I am guessing the rest of them just thought i was a junior boy - as usual.

My start was fairly solid until we hit the dirt where our wheels sunk into the soggy ground.  The whole course in fact consisted of soggy ground so i was in for a real power workout.  Against guys, who naturally have more power, the only thing i could really do is race my own pace and hope it is good enough not to be too embarrassed. by the end of the race, i had passed enough to finish in a surprising 5th place.  Naturally i was elated considering my goal was to not come in last.

A few moments after i finished, i got called to the podium for the awards presentation - an impromtu one for their only woman rider.  I got a "Christmas Plant", a shirt, and 10€ prize money which i spent party on the post-race tombola (raffle where everyone wins.) As i stood up on the podium, i heard a loud roar from the beer tent - my cheering section that screamed for me, bringing a huge smile on my face every lap.

Once my post-race routine of trainer-riding, recovery shake and cleanup was complete, Jonas and i headed back to the race site for a relaxing drink while watching the womens category breeze by - some wearing belgian national jerseys and others with the european championship jersey.  There must be some sort of agreement between the Vlaamse Wieler Federatie and some other organizations where they win these jerseys. I havent figured that one out yet. 

while it could have been fun to be back in USA racing against friends, I made a few that day at my local race.  And the organizers were exceptional - friendly and extremely helpful.  Hopefully i can attend this race again next year.  Anyone want to join me??  If so, here is the link:

This foto came from the VWF's facebook page.  If i can find more photos from the race, i will surely post them.

My next races against the gals are this weekend - Scheldecross this Saturday and Kalmthout World Cup sunday.
Today was a hard motorpacing workout in preparation for the weekend.  The weather here is still unsavory so i equipped my bike with Challenge Grifo tires to combat the snow and ice and it really helped a lot. I felt very safe, even around the questionable turns.
Another bit of help i got to make my motorpacing a solid effort was from my Blueberry Fruition Bar  - the sports energy bar from PROBAR.  I ate one just before my workout, and a few bites during the effort and i really felt the difference!

Thanks again for reading!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Two Jobs Rolled into One Weekend

by Danny Zelck

Koksijde World Cup earned its fame through its extensive sand sections that take the riders up, down and through the sand dunes on Belgium’s coast. But this year they changed the course so it could exactly match how they plan to run it for next season’s Cyclo-Cross World Championships – which turned into even more sandy sections – a feat I didn’t believe possible until I saw it.

As usual, my husband Jonas and I arrived on Friday, the day before the race, to check out the course and collect race numbers. I did my first lap with [CXM regular contributor] Vicki Thomas and her countrymate. It was a fast track where slick tires were ideal. For my second lap, I traded riding partners for Hanka Kupfernagel. Just before we took off, it started to rain hard. Even before I stepped out into the rain, I knew it was going to be an unpleasant one since the temperature hovered at the freezing point. It seems I wasn’t alone in my thoughts; as we took off to ride the course in the bitterly cold rain, Hanka muttered the words, “This is definitely my last season.” I laughed, and so did she since there was not a thing we could do about the conditions. Within a minute we figured out that slicks were no longer wanted. A few laps of frozen riding later, we were sitting in her mobilehome to warm up.

showing my frustration -
By Danny Zelck

The next day we awoke to dry sunny skies. We parked our van alongside the mini BABOCO fleet and were ready for a great day. My pre-race preparation went well, I was feeling good and ready to take names … until about five seconds before the light turned green when I realized I was in the last row – just like in Plzen World Cup. How was I to move up from there? I’m no Daphny, Sanne, Bart or Niels. There is only so far I can move forward.

by Danny Zelck

Unfortunately, what you focus on is what you create. When they took off, I was slow off the start and never really moved up. I could tell that my fitness was solid since I rocked it every once in a while when I was able to get out of my own head. But for most of the race, I just couldn’t get out of my own way. I must have fudged every single sand and mud section. Considering I rode almost every one of those sections almost perfectly in the pre-ride I knew it was not my technical skills that had failed me.

Lesson learned the hard way – again. I have made this mistake as recently as Plzen, but it’s time I learn new lessons. From this point forward, I have made a promise to myself to give it everything I have for the full race no matter what. Period. Let’s see what comes of it.
speaking at Paris Vegan Day
After some good old American screaming for my favorite guys in the men’s race, we headed home. The weekend was only halfway over. The next morning Jonas and I were waiting on the Thalys train to Paris where I was scheduled to speak about “the benefits of a vegan diet for sports” at Paris Vegan Day. (I am a spokesperson for IDA – In Defense of Animals.) When our train was almost two hours delayed, I immediately realized that my strenuous exercising for the weekend was not yet over. Once the train arrived in Paris we had 20 minutes to sprint three miles. We showed up late, looking like two sweaty rats. Immediately I stripped my clothes, put the hair in a ponytail and stepped on stage to address a waiting audience.

Gentle Gourmet B&B Table by
Jonas Bruffaerts

With the idea that I had to make up time, I talked faster, which produced some confused faces in the crowd since I was speaking in English. But once I brought it down a few notches, it seemed everyone followed me nicely. I even got quite a few nods of agreement and some of surprise from the audience in reaction to what I said, which helped me to know that I was understood. And for those folks who didn’t follow the English, I had some help from a fellow athlete Christophe Berg who translated for me. Once my hour was over, I focused on recovery from the sprint by stuffing my face with all sorts of tasty cakes and brownies courtesy of The Gentle Gourmet – a vegan bed & breakfast.

famous falafel

That night we returned for a concert by three-year vegan rockstar Princess Superstar. I was really excited to see her since I expected her to perform my all-time favorite video, “Bad Babysitter.” It’s so stupid-funny that I must have watched it 20 times. But no such luck. Even so, I was glad I went.

Jonas as tour guide

The next morning we slept until noon, walked around Paris all afternoon, had the famous falafels at L’As du falafel. From the first bite to the last, I was teary-eyed, as it was simply incredible. We finished our sightseeing with a stroll down the Champs-Élysées, only seven months early to watch the Tour de France.

in Notre Dame

Since that weekend it has been snowing here in Belgium. While half of the peloton took off for a couple of weeks of sunny warm training in southern Spain, the rest of us are toughing it out. As for me, most of my training has been done indoors for safety’s sake. But yesterday, I finally cracked from all the trainer rides and bolted outside with running shoes. I quickly found that running in heavy snow is like sand running, but you have no idea where your feet will land. I slipped twice. And today Jonas and I took the ’cross bikes out, equipped with Grifos. Our timing was a little off as a snowstorm hit right in the middle of our two-hour ride – the third hour was done indoors. Now I know what it must feel like to live in Michigan or Canada. Brutal. My next big race isn’t until December 18th, so I have time. No Nationals for me – too expensive and too far.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Superprestige's Asper-Gavere - A Tough Day Out

Last sunday was supposed to be one of the most special racing memories of the whole season for me.  Partly because of the course design - stunningly gorgeous views with some technically demanding bits, some power climbs and speedy mud descents.   It is also one of the most famous races of the season which brings out tens of thousands of spectators; that always makes racing it more exciting!

But it was not meant to be for me as was determined by my crap first lap.  While hovering somewhere around top ten early in the race, my chain popped off on the outside due to a bump with another gal. Once on the bike again, i quickly moved through the field, but got nailed again. This time i was completely taken out by a nervous-nellie who got a bit too fidgety in the mud before taking herself out and knocking me under the course tape.  Once back on, i pedaled 500rpm until i realized that something was amiss, namely my chain which again fell off on the outside.

By the time i was back on track, the whole entire peloton was out of sight. For the first few minutes, my motivation flipped between giving up and digging deep. As i passed riders while hearing the crowds kindly cheering for me, my enthusiasm increased....but only for a bit before finally settling into frustration, knowing that i will never ever reach anywhere near the top ten by the end of the race.  Just before the finishing straight, I heard a stream of cheers for me which gave me one last bit of encouragement i needed to pass one more gal to finish 19th.   

Poor Dan Seaton, journalist for CYCLOCROSS Mag and VeloNews, had the unfortunate opportunity to be the first person i spoke to after crossing the line.  Immediately i dumped on him in my finest NYC slang exactly what i had gone through.  Once done, he pulled out his recorder and asked me to repeat it all but maybe make it more appropriate for family reading.  Oops. (you can read all about the race - and my quotes given to Dan by clicking HERE.)

As i turned the corner to the parking lot and spotted our van, i saw a group of people hovering about. And shortly after, more and more came by - all to say hello to me!  They dont know it but thanks to their visit, i went from feeling totally dejected to feeling like a real racer again.  You'd think after all these years of racing, i wouldnt be so fragile. I suppose that is just how i am wired - a blessing and a curse.

The next race up is Koksijde World Cup this saturday. It is most famously known for its extensive sand sections, where we are normally weaving in, out and over the coastal dunes.  But this year the course will be different. It is their trial run for next year's World Championship event.  And the difference from what i am hearing is that there will be even MORE sand. I dont see how that is possible, but i shall find out on Friday when i pre-ride the course.

Instead of sticking around after our race on Saturday, i have to go home to pack for Paris the next day.  I am speaking at Paris Vegan Day.  My speech is naturally about "A vegan diet for optimal health and performance."  Wanna come?

As always, thanks for reading!
ps photo courtesy of Danny Zelck - you can find him on facebook or flickr .

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Superprestige Zonhoven and GVA Koppenberg - back to back BABY!

After a week of the stomach flu that started in Plzen World Cup, ran through Nacht van Woerden (NED), and ended just before the powerhouse weekend of Zonhoven and Koppenbergcross, I had no idea what to expect of the weekend. 

read HERE to find out how it turned out.  It will bring you to CYCLOCROSS Magazine's online site where I am a columnist and writer.  I must warn you that the story you are about to read contains devastation and pitfalls but wraps up with a happy ending...or at least i am happy with it!

Next race is this thursday at Fidea's Niel in Belgium.

Thanks so much for reading!! 

Sand foto by Patricia Cristens
top foto by Dirk Verhelst
bottom foto by ronny de lange

Sunday, October 17, 2010

First Win in Baboco Cycling Team Kit

There's something special about winning in clothing that is attached to good people.  I have been lucky enough over the years to have that special feeling quite a few times.  And again i had that feeling yesterday, when  I won my first race for Baboco Cycling Team.  It was a small race but, as they say, a win is a win!

The course was a combination of long gradual uphill pavement, millions of muddy s-turns, a mini mud bump and sand pit, finishing on a fast grass descent. With the high winds, it seemed best to ride in a group but i knew that if i rode in a group i'd have no chance of winning and possibly not even podium thank to my (not so) glorious sprinting skills.  So when the gun announced our departure, I immediately worked hard to get to the front. After an ok start, i found myself in fourth place heading into the first set of S-turns.  I tried to already start making my way to the front but i found out the hard way  - - after having to slam on my brakes - those S's stand for "single file only."

Luckily the extended gravel descent was next up. There i passed the gals until I was in the lead, then slowly worked on building a gap.  At one point, they were looking like they were on top of me but i kept the pressure, extended the gap and it paid off with a win.

It may not have been a big race but it felt satisfying nonetheless. I got an excellent workout in, made a bit of pocket change, got a trophy and flowers (that I immediately handed over to Jonas' mom) and had the chance to finish ahead of gals who were kicking my ass this year.

On top of that, it was a very special feeling to work well with Jonas in our pre-race routine.  He is now at the point where he's wisely choosing my tires and tire pressure, and even my undergarments so i am best suited for the elements. 
Yesterday was also the first win i had on Concap nutrition supplements. I just started taking a couple of weeks ago.  Thanks Concap!

(podium shot by Jonas; other photos by Kris Claeyé)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Racing for BABOCO Cycling Team and LOVING IT!!

Yesterday, in one day i switched from the newly formed Champion System - LBS to Baboco Cycling Team. It was easily one of the best decisions I'd made in my life.  The atmosphere of the new team is friendly, kind, easy, respectful of me and of women in racing. I cannot be any happier!  I will surely miss my almost former teammates but look forward to flying the colors of the new Baboco kit!   More info soon.

My next race is tomorrow at the opening round of the GVA Trofee in Namen.  It is considered the first "real" race of the season.  I am so emotionally drained at the moment that i am not sure of my result for tomorrow. But i am hoping that my newfound enthusiasm turns out to be a driving force of sorts.

Thanks to you all for your support!! It means a lot to me.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Gearing up for CYCLO-CROSS

As of a few weeks ago I started racing on the road again to get my speedwork in for cyclo-cross season.  Motorpacing only gets me so far.  It also helps to get the racing rhythm dialed in, get my pre-race routine down and prepare my body for the pressure of racing - as my coach reminds me.

The first couple of races were a disaster in my opinion. Nothing clicked from my pre-race routine to the power in my legs.  But the last two thankfully went decisively better.  I even started to feel like a racer again, like i was part of the race instead of watching it happen around me.

There are a couple more road races to do before my first cross in Neerpelt, Belgium.  It is the first UCI race of the season for women so i expect most of the big gals to attend.  I may not be in cyclo-cross race shape (which i find to be completely different from road race shape) by this first one but at least I will have an idea of my starting point moving forward.

Even so, no matter the result, I expect it should be a lot of fun; not just the racing but the early season socializing!! It has been many months since I have seen most of the folks.  I'd bake cookies and hold a party for the first race but I'm trying to refrain from counting myself out before the race begins.  Knowing me, if i bake cookies, I'd eat about thirty cookies as my pre-race meal.  Sometimes i wish I sucked at baking...sometimes.

This weekend will be a full one for me.  Friday is my next race, then it's back home for a nap and out the door to the first of three party days in celebration of Nossegem's 900 year birthday.  This town is 5km from us and is where Jonas grew up.  Friday is the full-blown party, Saturday is a couple of concerts - one of Jonas' friends named UDO is performing, followed by one of my favorite belgian bands DE KREUNERS.  And on Sunday they are holding more parties, a tour of the town, and a parade where i get to heckle a few of my friends participating in it.

Stay tuned for details and photos from the weekend now that both Jonas and I now have cameras.

As always, thanks so much for reading!

Monday, August 30, 2010

My New Zannata Z45 Frames

Now that you know what frames I'll be riding, you can spot me easily at the races!
I am so excited!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My 2010-2011 Cyclo-Cross Season

Just in case you're in the neighborhood and want to cheer for me - or meet up after the race for a spot of Jenever, here's where I'll definitely be over the winter.  There are a few more events that are still up in the air.

Cyclo-Cross Schedule

26/09/10 Neerpelt

03/10/10 Namen

09/10/10 Sint Niklaas

26/10/10 Woerden NED

31/10/10 Zonhoven

01/11/10 Koppenbergcross Oudenaarde

06/11/10 Middelkerke

11/11/10 Niel

21/11/10 Asper-Gavere

27/11/10 Koksijde WORLD CUP

18/12/10 Antwerpen

19/12/10 Kalmthout WORLD CUP

21/12/10 Surhuisterveen NED

26/12/10 Heusden –Zolder WORLD CUP

29/12/10 Loenhout

01/01/11 Pétange LUX

02/01/11 Tervuren

15/01/11 Huijbergen NED

23/01/11 Hoogerheide NED WORLD CUP

05/02/11 Lille

13/02/11 Heerlen NED

19/02/11 Valkenburg aan de Geul

20/02/11 Oostmalle

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I am nominated for "Favorite Vegan Athlete" in 2010 VegNews Veggie Awards

Please help me win by voting for me!! Thanks ever so much!!
Click HERE for the link.
I am on page 5. you can skip the other categories, just vote for me then fill in the last bit of info for the survey.
Thanks again!

Marianne Vos article on CYCLOCROSS Magazine

My Article on Marianne Vos is now online at CX Magazine:

Its' title is: Marianne Vos to Focus on Olympic Track 2012

As for me, my first cross race is 26 September. Photos of the new frame to be posted shortly as well as more regular updates now that the season is here!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pool Parties

OK, well not yet but we're getting there. The last weeks we have had the worst heatwave here, with temps hitting the nineties (F, and in °C about 35) which is more than this country can usually handle. Heck, the houses arent even equipped with air conditioning.  Due to the piercing sun combined with the abnormally dry spell, the roads are falling apart, the whole country is sleep deprived and the farmers' crops are wasting away.  The crops are either dying or turning ripe way before their time.  The latest crop to get hit is wheat. It's now being harvested - way too early and way to small.  

Every time the weather gets too high, the rainstorms come.  Our last was a couple of days ago. It rained so hard and so fast that the streets were completely flooded.  After weeks of being hot no matter what you did, we were tempted to play in the flood - until we noticed a manhole in the middle of the street with water spewing out, sewer water to be exact.  While we didnt take our planned dip, it did get us determined to buy a pool. 

After two days of combing through all the stores and online, we realized every single pool in belgium is sold out! It is just never warm or sunny enough here to have a pool so the stores dont stock many of them. Just when we gave up all hope, we were handed a pool by Jonas' mom - a kiddy pool but beggers can't be choosers.

So this morning our priority has been to get the pool ready to go.  I wish i had a camera to show you how absurd it looks in the backyard. We have one of those traditional belgian backyards - thin and long. So we put the mini pool center square in the lawn. If you squint  - a lot - and use a little imagination it looks like a miniature backyard of one of those mansions where the pool is the highlight of the yard and the landscape is built around it.  (no, it's not the teeny tiny pool pictured at top. I just thought it was funny and had to unclude it in this post.) Now all we need are miniature friends to have a pool party.

Speaking of friends, one of my closest friends in the world has finally made it to belgium for a visit. We are like little kids when we hang out so now my jaw and abs are super sore from laughing so hard!

Gotta go ride now! Thanks for reading!!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tour de France and World Cup soccer on TV...

life couldnt be better! Well actually it could be, and it is! The weather has been fabulous, I've gotten to do some amazing rides and even took a little time out for playtime - fitting it in between the Tour and soccer of course.

The last week definitely had more than its share of playtime!  Last friday, the weekend started off with a trip on the scooter to Leuven for a night of jazz concerts.  It was already past 9pm but the weather held at 30°C so i was sporting my tiniest spaghetti strap sundress and 3" sandals - still plenty warm on the ride into town.  (I wish i had a camera so i could have taken a photo of myself. You would never have recognized me!)  Every Friday in July, there are mini concerts given in each of the six squares in the center of Leuven. We concert-hopped until coming across Pim Toscani & The Dixieland All Stars. They were playing more of the classical jazz style where half of the songs were winged. 

While Jonas and I sat at a table in front of the concert, with my glass of chardonnay in hand, I was instantly reminded of the magical evenings I've spent at Grant's Tomb in NYC watching the jazz concerts in the summer where the old-timers like Dizzy Gillespie would frequent. Chills ran down my spine as i replayed in my head all the wonderful memories I've had there.

The next night it was off for the concerts in Tervuren.  The town was having a weekend celebration in honor of the Tour de France which ran through their town that Monday.  But first I had to do my training ride of 3.5 hours on the MTB. Unluckily we were caught in the only rainstorm in a couple of weeks. It hit us ten minutes into our ride.  While the cold rain felt good on a day where temps were over 35°C, it totally sucked for the horseflies. For the next few hours, i was chased by various collections of horseflies who took bites at will.  By the time i was home i looked like the red polka dot jersey. That meant no sleep for a few days since I am fairly allergic to insect stings and bites.

But i didnt let that stop my evening out. Once showered, we were out the door again.  On the docket was Das Pop and Zornik, both Belgian bands.  We had a prime standing spot only fifteen feet from the stage, which I expected would be wasted on me since they were bands I'd never heard of.  Then in walked the Das Pop lead singer and i was mesmerized.  That guy spewed energy all over the audience. Watching the rest of the band was an entertaining experience as well. While i expected to stand at that spot for only two songs, we ended up planted firmy in place straight through to their second encore.   Another surprise was that I knew most of the Das Pop songs and even a few of Zornik's.  They play them a lot on Studio Brussels - the major pop radio station here which we have blaring in the backyard while we work on our bikes. 

With no sleep that night - no, not due to a late night out but rather thanks to the itching bug bites - our day on the bike was subdued. We rode first to visit our friends Ronny and Livy to wish Ronny a happy birthday.  Then we continued to Grimbergen to watch the Tour de France. What a spectacle - not the race but rather the caravane that passes about an hour before the riders arrive.  There were guys driving oddly shaped vehicles like oversized furry lions while people hung off the sides and out the windows throwing free stuff to the crowds. We scored a couple of buffs (cloth tubes that can be shaped into hats, neck warmers, etc), cookies, candy, water and some other stuff i can't remember.  But we didnt score nearly as much as the handful of cute little kids five meters in front of us who jumped up and down for the freebees - it worked. By the time the gift-givers re-loaded, they were already past us. 
(photo taken by Livy on our way to Stage 1 TdF)

Of all the giveaways, the one that painfully eluded us was that polka-dot cycling cap that you see dotting the sidelines during every stage of the tour. We went back the next day to try again, but this time on the scooter so we could find a spot void of all cute little kids.  We also brought backup in the form of our friend Jo.  He was on motorcycle so he could intimidate any little ones that might think to stand near us.  Mission accomplished.  We left with two coveted polka dot caps and even a few other treats that we didnt expect like a white Skoda bucket cap and some glow ankle bands among other goodies. Oh, and we also scored an official Tour de France course arrow which hangs proudly on our wall pointing below to the TV.

As for the racers, they go by so quickly that by the time you figure out who someone is, it's way to late to cheer. All you see - and hear - is woosh...  After that, we headed back to Tervuren for some more concerts. First we watched a kid band. The singer was so awful in both her singing and dancing that my eyes stayed glued on her as if watching a train wreck in slow motion. Pity because i think the other band members were possibly quite good.   Next was a band made up of previously famous Belgian musicians.  While the music may not have been my taste, I could appreciate their talent. They seemed to have had the most fun on stage of any band i'd seen in the last days. Their enthusiasm was easily contagious as it was the first time i saw Jonas dance outside of our house. 

By the end of the day, I was "social-life'd" out!  I expect it will be a while until i go out again.  But then again this is Belgium where there is an unusually large emphasis on quality of life.  Oops, come to think of it I have a wedding to attend Saturday.  It's Ronny and Livy, so I can be sure there will be some partying going on.  Better get some rest....but first I have a few trainings to do. Tomorrow is Begijnendijk.  Maybe i will see some other crossers on the ride like Sven Nys, Niels Albert, Helen Wyman, Vincent Bastaens. Always fun.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Best and Worst of Times in Girona & Mt Ventoux

I am finally back from a 3 1/2 week training period in Girona.  It was the most dreamy trip - aside from the tiny detail of being robbed. One week into our holiday, while traveling between campings, we stopped off in the little town of Angles (just west of Girona center) and parked our van square in front of the entrance to the sports center while we took off for a three-hour ride.  When we returned wet and frozen from an 18km descent in the rain, we found that the passenger-side window of our van was broken. My heart sunk.  Then it sunk even further when Jonas tried the doors and they were all unlocked.

We opened the doors to find that everything had been ransacked. They had gone through everything of ours and took a bunch of stuff like BOTH our laptops, our new fancy camera with both lenses (and all hookups, accessories, toys that went with all these electronics). All my articles including a super important one to me on women in cycling (that took 12 interviews and a bunch of research to complete and was in its final editing phase),  my book that i've been writing, and a bunch of other stuff that had not been backed up is all lost forever. Also, all our photos that we've collected over the years are lost. Jonas took a major hit as well with his Garmin stuff, saved favorites and a bunch of other stuff.  They even took my passport and my favorite pair of sunglasses. bugger. 

There is absolutely no way they will catch the thieves. When the cop asked around the sports center if anyone saw anything suspicious or even heard our car alarm blaring for a couple of hours, nobody saw nor heard anything. No surprise. Further reality is that when you're robbed, don't expect the CSI treatment. They take no fingerprints and do absolutey nothing to find the culprits. Nothing.

Sadly we probably could have avoided it by telling each other that we felt unsafe in the area BEFORE we left the van alone to go for a bike ride.  But neither one of us wanted to appear to be a "racist." Damn. From now on, we promised each other to express our concerns to each other no matter how insensitive it makes us look. I tried to ignore my instinct by replacing it with thoughts that i was just being a racist for thinking that way and that people who exercise are well-adjusted and don't steal.  That experience really made us feel like the naive tourists that we were - vulnerable and violated are horrible feelings to have.

Immediately after we opened the van doors, I sprinted the few meters to the police station and fell as i tried to dismount in sand and got bruised all over to add insult to injury! I tried to immediately open the door to the station to talk to the guy sitting just behind the desk but the door was LOCKED!  Even more strange was when he told me that nothing like that ever happens in Angles - then why was the door to his station locked, i asked.  And all this was said in Catalan.  The guy spoke NOT EVEN ONE WORD of Spanish. 

After Jonas and i attempted to file a police report in the neighboring town of Santa Coloma we drove to the nearest major store parking lot with shops like Media Markt, Decathlon and McDonalds to sit for the night. With a broken window on a Friday night we were not able to leave the van until Monday. Every time a slight wind would rattle the thin piece of plastic we taped over the absent window, the two of us would jump out of our chairs while adrenaline pumped through our veins.

By the next morning we were so shot.  No riding.  Instead we went to a luxury camp site in Platja d'Aro on the coast and layed out on the beach all day with our bottles of Sangria and Port. We spent almost the rest of our time in Spain at this campsite where you can get fresh bread daily and the support staff actually speaks Spanish. By the time we left, I was starting to get ever so slightly better in communicating in Spanish.  Catalan remained way out of my reach.

It took us quite a few days to get back into a routine after the robbery. Our riding definitely suffered
which is why we took a whole 3 1/2 weeks to get the training done - almost a full week longer than our intended trip...and it felt good to be under the warm sun the whole time! (Coincidentally, the only day it rained was when we were robbed) Most days it was almost 30°C and sunny - a real treat for me after having spent months and months in dark, dreary Belgium - aside of course for our mini stint in Cyprus for Tour of Cyprus which was also an amazing trip.

Once back into solid riding mode, we continued to conquor the mountains.  We traveled over all the famous roads such as Els Angels - Lance's favorite road, Puig d'en Carreres, Romanya de la Selva, Coll de la Ganga, through the Baix Emporda tiny medieval towns like Madremanya, and along the coast from Platja d'Aro to Tossa de Mar. Although Els Angels is gorgeous, I'd have to say my favorite of all the climbs was the one Sant Grau one from the coast to Llagostera.  Another ride that was spectactular was in the Montseny area where you can climb from 250m to over 1700m in one shot.

As for the food, I expect the flavors are fabulous but Spain doesn't exactly cater to vegetarians - except for one spot we found.  We celebrated Jonas' 37th birthday in B-12 Cafe, a full organic vegan restaurant in Girona. We dined on a collection of tapas, salads, wines and beers that were all exceptional - absolutely divine. Surprisingly the restaurant is co-owned by a Southern California native so they spoke perfect English - a rarity in Girona.  The only other restaurant we visited was Subway oddly enough.  Aside from B-12 it was the only place we could find vegan food.  The owners were British and were so sweet to us, especially after they heard our horror story of being robbed.  When she told me she knew what it felt like, at first i was sceptical...until she told me her story.  While she and her husband left with their two babies to attend her uncle's funeral, a couple of moving trucks completely cleared her house out.  The neighbors didnt think anything of it since the couple being robbed had just moved in a week ago.

But back to the food, the one item we couldnt get enough of was Allioli - literally translated to "garlic and oil".  They have a jarred vegan version made without eggs. It was so tasty that we ate a jar of it every day on fresh bread. As long as both Jonas and I BOTH ate it, all was OK.

To cut our thirteen-hour drive back home to Belgium, we spent a few days in a tiny town called Bedoin, located at the base of the infamous Tour de France climb of Mt. Ventoux.  When i checked out the town the evening we arrived, I was instantly in love.  All the cafes were filled with cyclists from all over the world. In a span of ten minutes, I heard accents from USA, UK, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, and of course France. Bikes everywhere. By the look of it, people rode just about anything up the mountain from clunker mountain bikes to fancy road bikes more tricked out than i knew were possible.

After a good night sleep, we had our coffee, pasta, fresh bread and allioli, then headed up the hill.  I was so incredibly excited to ascend it for the very first time. Unfortunately my ass and lower back didnt share in my enthusiasm. They finally hit their limit of mountain climbing. I found this out 300m into the 22.7km climb with over 1600m altitude. Jonas rode ahead so i could suffer in peace. Every few meters I had to manually shake the knots out of my lower back and ass so I could pedal a few more strokes before repeating the whole process.  I can't even tell you how long it took because I dared not to time it.  Once i got to the Chalet Reynard where you are emptied out of the woods and onto the white limestone section, I knew i had 6km to go to the top.

I didnt know at the time what it was - maybe the view of the limestone landscape, spotting the swarm of cyclists congregating at the cafe, not wanting Jonas to wait too long at the top for me, or possibly wanting to firmly hold onto my somewhat tenuous track record thus far of not being passed by anyone  - but i started flying up the hill. A surge of energy perhaps from some unknown source not questioned by me pushed me straight up to the top like a rocket.  Just as I am approaching the final turn only a handful of meters from the top, a guy jumps out at me from the side of the road yelling profusely, "Stop, pas op, attention, gevaarlijk!" I thanked him for his support - not - and continued on my way, writing him off as one of those crazies who doesn't believe a woman should be allowed to ride her bike to the top. Whatever.  So i turned the corner and was nailed by winds of over 200kph. Damn.  I forced the pedals to turn against the sidewind but didn't get very far before I was a centimeter from the wall.  Luckily I was able to get off the bike safely.

The wind was so intense that I couldnt help but laugh at myself as i tried to bring my bike back down around the bend.  My laughing while holding the bike by the top tube as the wheels hung in the sky must have been such a sight because a couple came over to help me safely down the hill. It was so incredibly strong even around the turn that if you didnt sit on the ground you'd be taking a chance that you'd be whisked off the mountain.  While sitting on the ground trying to put on my windbreaker/kite, I then realized how i flew up the hill for those last kilometers. 

Getting down was a whole other project not taken lightly. Jonas rode the first few of kilometers with both feet clipped out, while i felt safer clipped into both pedals so i could put more pressure on the bike to keep it on the ground. Most were not so brave, we realized as we weaved in and out of the cyclists walking their bikes down the hill.  Shortly after we departed, the top was closed down to the public.  We found this out while sitting at a cafe in Bedoin, eavesdropping on all the war stories of other cyclists who dared to conquer nature's obstacle. Bikes were blown around, helmets broken, skin scraped.  Of one group of eight cyclists, only a single soul made it to the top. The stories go on and on.

The next day we instead rode Gorges de la Nesque - a gorgeous road that weaves in and out of a very deep valley.  From there we continued on to Sault and ascended the mountain once more.  My ass and back were feeling better so I was able to fully focus on the scenery. If i lived in Bedoin, I can see myself riding the Gorges every day.

Inspired by the Provence flair, as soon as Jonas and I returned to Belgium we quickly got to work on transforming our backyard to match the Provence theme.  We got the paints already - the Provence creme and the Provence blue. Once the painting projects are complete, we will work on our lavendar, oleander, olive, grape garden.  If we get a new camera, I'll be sure to take lots of photos.

Now that my week of easy recovery riding is complete, it is back to training next week. At this point, it looks like I should be back to the racing scene first part of July. Now if the weather here in Belgium can do a better job of mimicking that of Southern France - sans the floods.

Thanks for reading - this was a long one!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cheers from Belgium!

As of today, the sun returned to Belgium. Jonas, Ronny and I decided to follow newly painted "figure 8" markings on the ground (one of a million bike-route markings on the streets of Belgium) so we didnt have to think about where to ride. Our plan went brilliantly until we passed a guy holding a spray can in one hand and a "figure 8" in the other. Even though we had to then decide for ourselves where to ride, it was great. I think everything is always better with a bit of sun.

With all my updates on twitter and facebook, I am sorry to admit that my blog has become the red-headed stepchild regarding my time management plan (if i could get around to making one, that is!)

Since Tour of Cyprus, I've been mainly just training and catching up on little projects. The weather hasnt been too good here in Belgium yet so there havent been too many super long "epic" rides.

After Cyprus, Jonas and I did get to go to the Ardennes for a week (courtesy of his parents) of riding and relaxing which was nice. But of all the days there, i think the sun only came out once. We made the best of it, though, by riding many of the famous Liege-Bastogne-Liege climbs with our two friends Angela and Doug from California.

Our next mini trip was to Houffalize World Cup to watch the 4x and Cross Country mountain bike races. We went as "press" for CYCLOCROSS Magazine (click HERE for the story) and also wrote a story for Dirt Rag Magazine - my first published article for them! (click HERE for the story).  (See passes above - The Rabobank pass was courtesy of Jan ten Tusscher - Manager of Rabobank Offroad Team, VIP courtesy of our friend Jo Croonenberghs)  It was super strange to watch a race without participating - especially when there are other girls riding. But i got over it after i witnessed the 30th crash.  But even though i didnt race, i still got a bunch of cheers, gave autographs, and had my picture taken. Clearly cyclocross fans were there to pass the time until cross season gets going.

As for my own racing this season, I've only done Tour of Cyprus (which i was thrilled to win), and three mountain bike races (1 win and 2 DNF's - my bike broke both times. The photo of Jonas above was taken by at the start of the one race i won.)  I think my next mtb races are in late june or early july.  But i surely wont be bored until then.  Jonas and i are currently packing for our training camp in Girona, Spain. We leave in a few days and will be gone for about three weeks.  It helps to have Jonas' mom down the block to collect our mail and check on the house when we go away! She is super woman!

We still have to find rides to do in the Girona area. I think we are also heading a little west from there towards the high mountains for a few days as well.  If anyone has any riding ideas...or even ideas where we can find Garmin tracks... We think we found a co-ed road race that we can do there which could be a lot of fun.

On the way back from Girona, we are planning to go to Bedoin to ride Mt Ventoux a few times. I've only seen it from afar when i was on training rides with my old Pruneaux d'Agen teammates Tiina and Sandrine in the Marsailles and Aix en provence area. They were awesome hosts to me!  I should have internet during part of the trip so I can post some photos and little stories about our trip.

Thanks for reading!!

Monday, April 19, 2010

TOUR OF CYPRUS stories published on CYCLOCROSS Magazine

Oops. I just realized i didnt list the links here on my blog. There are lots of fun stories and MANY PHOTOS!




Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tour of Cyprus a strange but magnificent experience

Jonas and I recently returned from Cyprus where we competed in the strangest but most fantastic road stage race of my life called Tour of Cyprus! The event was held from 25 to 28 March. It was a co-ed event with guys and gals racing elbow to elbow competing against each other. While we all challenge each other for the overall, the gals also had their own separate ranking which I obviously really appreciated.

But the co-ed aspect wasn’t the strangest part of the race. Instead it was the odd racing setup. Each day we would cover about 100 to 120 kilometers through the gorgeous mountains of Cyprus, but only a set portion of those kilometers were for actual racing. We’d ride some distance for a warmup, then race anywhere from 28 to 55 kilometers, and cool down afterwards for some more.

Before we arrived in Cyprus we didn’t really get the race setup so we assumed it was normal-style racing where you go full blast from the first to last kilometer, with some intermediate sprints along the way. On the first day, we quickly found out that we weren’t the only ones who didn’t realize the racing style. When we rolled out of Larnaca on our way to tackle 120km with 2700m altitude, the pace picked up to a ballistic level three minutes into the stage even though it was still another sixty kilometers before the actual race portion started. I remembered hearing something about a fifteen minute cutoff where if you don’t make it to the feedzones within fifteen minutes after the first guy arrives, you’d be relegated to the cyclotourist group that followed behind us on every stage. So we had no choice but to race the non-racing kilometers too even though it did nothing for our race result.
(photos: 1st - view from feed zone held at a winery, 2nd - Team Malta and Team Belgium, 3rd - me at the start of Stage 1, 4th - second feed zone on stage 1,  5th - Andy Hadjivasiliou at final awards ceremony wearing my Leaders Jersey signed by all riders and support crew with Thomas Wegmüller by his side, 6th - Motorcycle guys, 7th - Louis Princess Beach Hotel in Larnaca - our first and last hotel on the trip, 8th - local kids cheering us on. photos 1-4, 8 taken by Phil Saussus, photos 5-7 by Jonas Bruffaerts)
We arrived at the first feed zone within seconds of the leaders, but we weren’t so lucky getting to the next feed zone. We must have been within the time limit because we – and the many behind us – were able to continue on to the timing section that was immediately after our break. By then, though, all our legs were already toast. Getting up the last mountain pass was like a death march, carnage everywhere. When it was finally over and it was time to get off the bike, it took me about five minutes to muster up the courage to swing my leg over the bike knowing that there’s a good chance that I’ll have a full body cramp.

That evening, I heard some of the racers complaining about the race setup but by the second day every single one of them took full advantage of the unique style and even started to really enjoy it. Instead of racing the non-race sections, they joy-rode it, getting the kilometers in their legs while using the unique opportunity to socialize with the other riders from countries like Germany, Israel, Lebanon, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Poland, New Zealand, Greece, Cyprus and of course Belgium. By the end of the stage race, we were all bonded like one cohesive group – friends on a ride. That didn’t mean that they took it easy on each other during the timing sections. But when they ripped each other’s legs off, they did it with a smile.

Since it was only an hour or so of racing a day, it was perfect for me as a cyclo-cross racer. I was just getting back into riding after an especially long cross season. That combined with the crappy Belgian weather, I hadn’t ridden much in the last month. I needed the kilometers but racing all of them would have buried me, so it was as if the combination of “base” training with one-hour interval training was custom designed for me – or I guess for anyone who needs to build their fitness before summer race season.

I’m sure it was because the racing time block was similar to a cross race that I was able to be effective in the results, which was an exciting surprise for me. The leaders jersey was something I never expected so it was even more special for me. I was also part of the winning mixed team, “Team Belgium”, consisting of me, Jonas, Quentin Finné, and Phil Saussus. We surely earned it as we worked very well together during the event.

Overall, Tour of Cyprus was run perfectly. This was the first time it was run as an international event but you couldn’t really tell. We had seamless support the whole time thanks to Andy Hadjivasiliou – a certified cycling fanatic and supporter. He was also helped out by his wing man Thomas Wegmüller , a former Swiss top road racer in the ‘80s and ‘90s with an impressive palmares consisting of successes like 2nd in Paris-Roubaix, 2nd in Tour of Flanders, 4th in a stage of Tour de France and National Champion.

When on the bike, we had lead Volkswagens, support VW’s, video and camera VW’s, and a fleet of Harleys and one BMW bike (on a side note, the biker guys were too cool. On the last day they treated me to a shot of Ziverna (kind of like a Greek version of Italian Grappa liquor) at the last feed zone on the last day, just after I secured my leaders jersey). Off the bike, there must have been at least fifteen folks helping us out with anything we needed. This didn’t even include the people who gave talks and presentations during the event like Volunteer Doctors-Cyprus who travel the world offering help to those in need like in Haiti.

The meals were all buffet style so I swear I gained a few kilos on yummy Cyprus-specific treats as well as typical food for that region like hummus, potatoes prepared twenty ways, breads, rice dishes, Cyprus wine and vegan desserts. I also pigged out at the feed zones that served a variety of tasty regional treats in addition to the standard bananas and such.

If I have the opportunity to go to Tour of Cyprus again next year, I’ll definitely extend the trip by at least a week or two. Cyprus is absolutely the ideal place for training. The terrain is perfect. They have everything a cyclist could desire – long climbs, both steep and gradual, flat and undulating roads, and cobbled ones for the Belgian in all of us. Although there are no actual bike paths in Cyprus, I felt completely safe on the roads – even on the days before and after the race when we rode around without the group. The few cars that passed us gave us lots of room.

As for the weather, it is more reliable than most places that cyclists go for training. We wore short sleeve jerseys and shorts the whole time and was maybe chilly at most at the start and not too warm on the hottest moments under the sun during our hard efforts. I left with a nice suntan and fond memories of the most magical experience.

The only thing I didn’t get while I was there was that elusive umbrella drink on the beach. There is always next year.