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.