Monday, December 31, 2007

Tourist time

Just another sunny day in Belgium

Natasha enjoying her yummy waffles

We finally had a few days down time after 5 races in 8 days.  Barb was gimped out with her torn achilles in a cast, Natasha was favouring her swollen, black wrist (not yet X-rayed to confirm it was broken), Derrick was oozing out his nose with a sinus infection (now addicted to nasal spray) and I was pretty tired so I declared Sunday a day off. I figured since I was the last one standing I shouldn't flaunt it and push my luck. Otherwise bad karma might shove me down our ridiculously steep marble stairs (made for midgets) and crack my head open. Besides, with Nathan, Lesley and Kevin headed home, Derrick and Natasha on their way out Monday, we needed to socialize while we still had the opportunity. Barb and I hadn't run out of mindless chatter yet but it was possible, just like GM is convinced there is and end to the internet highway. To top it off, it was actually sunny and pretty warm - the Begians weren't sure what the hell had happened but everyone was outside enjoying the weather, squinting into the big yellow orb. So we headed into Brugge to play tourist. 

Derrick and Natasha were looking for presents to bring back home and I had told them about my favourite Belgian chocolates - Leonitas. Well, Bernard overheard me and told me that the BEST Belgian chocolate was Neuhaus. I called a chocolate tasting "choc-off" to make sure that Natasha and Derrick were bringing back only the best for their supporters. Am I not a good friend?? 

Apparently everyone in the area was headed to Brugge for the day so we had to park a bit out from the centrum. Barb had prepared her foot for the outing with a knee warmer toe cover and a ziplock. But she hadn't planned on using her gimp sticks over long distances so she started to sweat. After a few rest stops and a waffle stop we made it to the centrum. It was packed! They had a skating rink in the middle of the market square and as Nathan had mentioned, the Belgians might laugh at us in cyclocross but we don't have much to worry about them in the skating disciplines. Brugge (aka the Venice of the north) was beautiful with cobble roads and brick houses lining every street. Canals snaked through the town with brick bridges everywhere.  

But back to the important stuff - chocolate. We found Leonitas and prepared to order some individual chocolates BUT the lady proceeded to cough into her hand so we changed our minds and got a mixed sample bag of truffles and chocolates. Luckily Barb is "germ aware" just like me. She even has a UV toothbrush travel container and talks about investing in the $200 portable UV scanner for public surfaces. After catching the "plague" (an unknown mono-like virus that took her out for a year) in Belgium 2 years ago, she is pretty germ aware. Off we went to find Neuhaus. With the help of a chocolate assistant (wearing cloth gloves) I picked a few tasty treats to try and just about wet my pants. This Neuhaus chocolate made Leonitas taste like a Mars bar. WOW. It was amazing.....until we all had a MAJOR sugar crash at 4:43pm. 

We stumbled back to the Cycling Center in a sugar coma just in time to catch the Superprestige cyclocross race on TV. The entire race. No commercials. Sven Nys won. Then Barb made us  a yummy (even if it didn't have meat) coconut curry. A few  more chocolate to end on sweet. Trash North American magazines. Then off to bed. Life is good. 

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Timmy! fights J -j-j-jimmy! Who would win with Barb in the mix??? That is the question...

Ryan Trebon on the whoops at Azencross

The Belgian fans at the Hofstade world cup (note the big screen TV at the back!)

Me riding the sand (the poor man's mud) at the Hofstafe World Cup

Wendy and Barb helping Kevin Hazzard (Jet Fuel) get ready for the Hofstade world cup

Our Cycling Center pit crew: Noel, Ann, Bernard

Euro assault #2
Not your typical Christmas week. No turkey. No cookies. No carols. But we did manage to catch the Simpson's Xmas special on TV - in English, so we can't complain too much. Instead of the traditional family Christmas, ours was filled with a lot of  mud, sand, grit, fritturs with mayo, pain,  suffering, and unfortunately, a trip to the local hospital.

Hofstade World Cup
Christmas day we all slept in, did laundry and then went to Hofstade to pre-ride the World Cup course. We were all moving pretty slowly...a little tired from our 3 races in a row off the plane. The managers meeting was Christmas night. hmmm. I guess they value cyclocross more than family dinner here in Belgium. The course was one giant sand box. Really deep sand and then minimal recovery before the next sand section. I felt pretty good pre-riding but I would soon find out that although I consider myself a decent sand rider in North America, the euros put me to shame. 

It had poured all night so race day was a different story. The sand was heavy, the mud was slick and my legs were flat. I pre-rode the course and never got out of my granny ring. Bad sign. With all the big wigs on the line, I was third row. Not ideal but better than previous years. I had a decent start and made it through the bottlenecks in top 10. But once we got to the sand sections I just didnt have any power. My legs protested but I was stubborn. I should have gotten off and run the sand because it was faster than my riding. So stubborn. I should have taken a bike every lap because my bike weighed a ton. But I was so scribbled I wasn't thinking straight and it cost me a lot of spots. I lost 5 spots. Only 2 seconds but I had no fight in me and lost them all on the last lap to end up 18th. Maybe that third race on Sunday was a little too much before the world cup......

Broken Barbarella
So my travel buddy Barb Howe (Velo Bella - Kona) had a much worse day than me. She was riding well, moving up with 2 laps to go when she jumped off her bike to run a steep hill and heard "pop" . She tried to take a step and collapsed. Turns out she tore her achilles. Ouch. I went to the ambulance after my race but she was taken away to spend 2+ hours in a waiting room by herself, muddy, in her bike shammy, where everyone speaks Flemish. When we were packed up and called the hospital she was about to go into surgery. We finally got to see her at 10pm that night. She was pretty drugged up and groggy, with a big heavy old school cast on her leg but pretty happy to see us. She had taken notes after the surgery: where am I? who won the race? can someone bring me chapstick? and beer. and stroopenwaffels (tasty mini waffles filled with caramel, a yummy Dutch treat. mmmmmmmm). They released her the next day with some walking sticks so when she trips on them we call her TIMMY!!! Seriously though she is staying pretty positive all things considered. I am impressed. I am sure I would be a cow to live with after that.

I wasn't sure if I should even race after my pffflat Hofstade race and then spending hours in the car going back and forth to the hospital but it looked like a fun course with some BMX style whoop-de-doos, cobbles and mud. Unfortunately our CC buddy Natasha Elliott (Stevens) crashed in the warm up and her wrist was ballooning and darkening at an alarming rate so I was the last one standing for this event. I had a pretty slow start. The girls seemed excessively aggressive and I was losing spots fast in the opening corners. But we hit the sloppy thick mud that I had decided to run it (what I SHOULD have done at the world cup) so I went right when everyone else went left, and got back up with the lead group. Hell, I somehow found myself on Hanka Kupfernagels wheel at the end of the lap and I still don't know how that happened because I was suffering like a dog. She dropped me in the mud so I fell back to the big chase group. I was dangling off the back of the chase group in about 8th for a couple of laps wondering how long I could last. I was tired. But at some point we dropped Daphne van den Brand and the pace eased up a bit so I got a chance to pull myself together. Until the last lap when somehow I was leading the chase group. Saskia (Kona) tried to get us to attack and get away but she had more energy left than I did and got a small gap, without me. I fell back in behind Helen Wyman to let her lead me out for the 4th place sprint and managed to take it over her and the Belgian National champ who had the most cheers from the 20,000 Belgian fans, many of who were absolutely hammered throwing their beer cups at us on the course. 
Now I have a much deserved rest. 


Monday, December 24, 2007

The Cycling Center in Hertsberge

The Kona Queen Ann bikes MADE us stop at the bakery for a treat! Let me describe it to you: a pastry boat bottom, custard filling covered with chocolate. Ooooooh so tasty.

The SMOG. A mixture of fog and diesel pollution - everyone was afraid of it. Especially all the spiders that got killed off...

Returning the car we stumbled onto this crazy indoor "ski hill", a moving white carpet with a bar. Jen Tilley would say: Huh.

Down time. 

Today is rest day. I made a list of priorities: DONT GET SICK. Sleep. Water. Stretch. Laundry. Massage. Groceries. Bike wash and tune up. Inventory of the damage. 

The damage.
Three races in 3 days. One too many?? We shall see soon enough. If a cold takes hold then the answer will be yes. But I am drinking enough Vitamin C to kill a small donkey, sucking on cepacol's like they are candy canes, washing my hands raw, dik bleeking (bleaching) the hell out of the kitchen,  and wearing so many Helly Hansen thermal layers that I am starting to sweat. Barb spent 40euros on herbal remedies. Cross your fingers for us.

I almost had a heart attack when I saw a long skinny line on my Queen Ann (brand new frame after my simms2 frame was dented in transit on the way to Toronto). On closer inspection it looks like its just the paint that is cracked. Maybe because it was so frickin' cold  it froze?? 

Huijbergen CX
Day 2 of racing was outside of Antwerpen. After my slip on the ice at Schedecross yesterday my hip was pretty sore. We were in general, less giddy and  more sore and tired. But the course was super fun so you couldn't help but perk up after a preride. Lots of twisty trails through the woods, a sand run up, a steep run up (that some men could ride) and a couple uphills that most girls could ride. Oh yeah, and this horrible frozen cow pasture that you hit SO hard after a sand descent. I added 4psi more than normal to my tires so I wouldnt bottom out but you just had to hold on for dear life and pray not to crack a wheel for the 15sec you were crossing frozen divet, after divet, after divet. The Riverside girls had made it to europe so there were a few more familiar faces preriding.

I also met the new euro Kona CX rider, Saskia, just before the start and gave her a couple of skinsuits. I got called up to the start right beside her. She has been having a great season, closing in on Daphne. But I am pretty sure her friend was making fun of my long sox on the start line....

I had a great start and went into the dirt second, staring at the very same orange skinsuit I had just given Saskia...hmm. What do I do? I can't really chase down my new teammate, but we didn't talk about any strategy. I held back a little bit to see if she would try to go for it off the front. Eventually Daphne took second wheel, and the others swarmed so I ended up at the back of the lead group of 5. They race so aggresssively here you have to fight to hold your position, not just fight to move forward. I stayed with the group for the first half of the race but I was working hard catching up on the open sections. Daphne eventually went off the front and I popped out of my pedal on a frozen bumpy section and got dropped. I chased, just a few seconds off the group for the rest of the race but could not close the gap. 5th place.

GP Montferland, Zeddam
Zeddam was the site of the 2005 World Championships so it felt like we were going somewhere familiar when we left for our 3 hour drive at 7:30am. We were all pretty tired and sore after 2 days of racing. But I vowed to have a good warm up and race hard to make it 3 for 3. The course was pretty open and fast with a big stair run-up. I jumped on course after the junior race and happened to be riding behind wee Daphne van den Brand. She told me the run-up was 100steps, then turned to look at me and saw how tall I was and said "for you, 50 steps." FINALLY a course that requires some running. I have done more running this year and have been feeling pretty strong on foot but I haven't had much chance to pull it out of my bag of tricks.

I had another good start and went into the dirt 2nd. But I was swarmed right away and went through the pits with the lead group of 6-8. Reza H-R ( also known as "raging hormones" by some) went off the front right away and her teammate Daphne kept us at bay. We got to the steps and our chase group pulled away from the masses. Barb said there was an actual FIGHT on the steps behind us as 3 girls stopped dead and started going at it.  That maaaaay have contributed to us getting away.  

Brit Helen Wyman led the chase group for most of the race with Daphne second wheel. I got around Saskia after the steps and I battled with a tall skinny agro girl. She would chop me at a corner then I would snake in for third wheel after the figure 8 up and over monstrosity. Daphne attacked a few times and eventually got away and I was left with Helen pulling me around. Perfect. i was planning my sprint finale with 1/4 lap to go when I found myself in front after she screwed up a corner. Uh-oh. Change of plans. I couldnt lead out the long sprint so I decided to try to drop her on the twisty section. It was going well until I slipped out on a thawing corner and Helen passed me and then Saskia passed me. Dammit! I could have been on a european podium but lost my chance....instead, another 5th place and a dirty skinsuit.

-3 races and NO barriers. Interesting.....
-I got my picture taken with world champion Erwin Vervecken! Barb knew him from the New York race and was chatting with him before I punched her in the back and said innocently "who is your friend??"
-Poor Nathan broke a bone in his hand after some dude crashed right in front of him and he went down
-Jeremy Powers was LEADING the mens race at one point!
-Ryan Trebon's is still be having back problems after his spectacular Nationals crash....
-The North Americans chiquitas are taking euro cross by storm, 5 girls in the top 15 at Zeddam
-The local TV station interviewed me after the race! Barb, Natasha and I were running around ringing our cowbells so we were pretty obvious....
-A few Xmas tunes on the radio yesterday but we have not been BOMBARDED with Xmas like we usually are at home

Friday, December 21, 2007

Euro assault#1

Just returned from our first race of 3 in 3 days .....

The trip over here was pretty smooth - especially when I got bumped to FIRST CLASS on the Vancouver-London route. They kissed my butt with red wine and cheese platters, salmon frittatas and artichoke pesto pasta. Not too shabby!! Call me 5-star. I didnt really sleep but my elevated legs sure felt a hell of a lot better than if i had been crammed back in peon class. Great start to the trip. My bikes made it there (minus one broken spoke on my FSA wheels...guess i shouldnt have been so smug about Norm fitting an extra set of wheels into my bike case). Rented a small car but it got upgraded to a premium Passat wagon! Nice. I got all my luggage and made my way to the Cycling Center in Hertsberge near Brugge. I was feeling pretty good about it all. I have come a long way. I would have been terrified to do this solo journey a few years ago but I am starting to feel pretty comfortable here in Belgie.  Bernard and Ann from the Cycling Center were surprised to see me as they hadn't heard from me at all. I guess they are used to dealing with junior boys who end up in Paris by mistake.....true story

Cycling Center
This place kicks ass. It is a huge house set up for road teams to rent so it has every thing you could possibly need as a cyclist. Huge vans for hire along with mechanics and massage therapists. Trainers, steam room, sauna, HEATED garage to work on your bikes, a million laundry machines, internet, projector screen for movies, 3 kitchens, dinner after races if you so desire, a bakery around the corner etc etc. This place is awesome! I rented a room with Barb Howe (Velo Bella-Kona) but there are a few other North Americans here and we already feel pretty knit: Nathan Chown (Handlebars CC) and his wife Leslie, Natasha Elliott (Stevens), Derek St john (Cyclery) and Kevin Hazzard (JetFuel) who has been in a homestay in Holland for a month and I think was in desperate need of some North American culture. More on this place later.....

adventures on day 2 (fake ski hills, gratis knuffles (free hugs), and more) refer to Barb Howe's diary on

I hadn't switched my internal clock very smoothly this trip (maybe my first class flight made me soft??) so I wasn't sure how I would feel for this race. plus it was really really cold. -4C and foggy and wet. Although they call it "SMOG" here. warnings everywhere. Their SMOG seems pretty harmless compared to brown Toronto smog but they make everyone drive slower in smog. We rented a van from Bernard and hired him and Noel as mechanics for 6 of us. 20mins later he had a printed schedule of the day. The time HE was going to pack the van (sweet!), time to leave, travel time, race times, departure times, cost. Holy crap, I think this dude had done this once or twice (and with junior boys so it had to be very detailed). He even planned that his wife Ann cook for us so we could have dinner ready when we returned. 

The race was chaos at the start. It was quite possibly the worst false start I have ever seen because and it was slow motion and lasted about 30seconds. First off, the girls swarmed second line after I was called up (in my new thermal National Champ skinsuit - thanks Verge!) so we were about 14 people across (normally 8). The starter was yapping away in Flemish. No clue what he was saying but my excellent body language interpretation gave me the heads up when the gun should go soon. But the girls started to inch forward and forward and suddenly they did a feeble start (I guess the gun clicked - misfire). A few sprinted full boar, a few rolled forward a few stayed still and everything in between. It was stretched out and then, the gun went off. I had started winding up my start (after I realized I would be screwed if I didnt move) when the gun went, which I thought was calling us back so I braked but by then the race had started. Half the girls were at the first corner and the other half were stretched out back to the start line. Hmm. So I started racing. When you start near the back of the pack its easy to pick off girls. in the corners, in the sand traps. I was feeling pretty good then I found myself on Hanka Kupfernagel's wheel (previous world champion!). I saw Barb close behind and secretly wish she could see me on Hanka's  wheel! I thought I was about top ten but on a switchback I started counting and I was 4th! Hanka eventually time trialled away and I raced in 4th on my own getting colder and colder. My hands were useless and my running was wobbly but I held onto 4th. I crashed in the last corner and just about lost 4th but pulled it together just in time. Now I am icing my butt (left side - always..) hoping I will sleep soundly tonight. Gottah get my bikes organized and repeat tomorrow. 

maybe some photos tomorrow. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Portland US Gran Prix of cyclocross mudfest

The Portland scene
Portland is a pretty funky town. I really like it, although everytime I go to Portland its absolutely pissing down rain. But that doesn't seem to stop the locals. People still commute by bike in their tight little hipster jeans, with their recycled plastic courier bags on their old skool ten speeds. We stayed in the Ace Hotel right downtown so we got to do some solid post-race people watching. With a Stumptown coffee in the front lounge, a little library on floor 1.5, arsty minimalist rooms and styley people scattered everywhere it was a nice change from the carbon copy hotels where we normally stay (replace coffee lounge with smoking room, library with casino, artsy room with stuffy room, and styley people with fat people and thats pretty much the contrast). But as Norm and I were sitting in the lobby having a snack (we are so unhip we don't drink coffee), wearing gore-tex (soooo ten years ago), and sporting toques (instead of fedoras) he whispered to me "I don't think we are cool enough to stay at this hotel...." Hell, they probably don't even say cool anymore.

photo by Joe Sales

The Portland fans
Of course the best part about Portland for a cyclocross racer is the rabid fans. Even with severe storm warnings, 50mph winds, torrential downpours, snow, hail, floods and lots and lots of mud, the cross fans were out in full force. Now, I know you are probably picturing a bunch of people standing around cheering "nice work, way to go" and ringing their cow bells but its much more than that. They bring out a FULL ON 10+ piece marching band to their races (although the conditions were so bad they had to "march" under a big tent. Then the tent almost blew away so they had to disband). Imagine how fired up you get racing when you hear the drums and trumpets start wailing away. They also have the "Gentle Lovers" team that sets up a wood fire hot tub to the side of the course. They sit in teeny, weeny pink bikinis and speedos until one of their racers comes by, then their little bums run as fast as they can to yell and scream at their buddy, then they run back to the hot tub to warm up. They are the North American uberfans.

the gentle lovers uberfans

The Kona crew
Another great thing about Portland races is that its close enough to Kona headquarters in Bellingham that we have a bigger crew at the races. Our manager Mark Peterson and our mechanic Mark Matson played in the mud both mornings, then helped us all afternoon. Dale Plant (previously known as "slow Dale" but we have renamed him "cracker jack Dale" because he keeps us laughing) raced Masters and even Tonkin raced less than a week after his first newborn popped out. That, with the normal race crew, the west coast Kona fans, family and friends - the tent was hoppin'

Mark Peterson away from his desk. Please leave a message

Mark Matson at home in the Portland mud

Playing in the mud
I like to think of myself as a bit of a mudder so I was really hoping to have a podium performance and finish the USGP season strong. Saturday and Sunday were both wet and muddy but completely different races. Saturday it was cold and snowy and the mud was like peanut butter. Thick with lots of ruts so it was hard to ride. Sunday it was windy and wetter so there were lots of puddles and the mud was soupy, but you could ride through most of it......i am such a cross geek! Either way I was happy to have some crazy conditions to race in, it just makes the races more interesting. Unfortunately my favoured conditions didn't pan out into a podium which is what I was ultimately hoping for. Sat I had a great start and then crashed on some rutted out whoops the first lap so I lost the chase group and ended up 6th. Not horrible but not a podium. Sunday I had a great start but my legs were so cold from the rain and wind that I just couldn't punch it. I had one steady speed but couldn't respond when someone passed me so I slipped from 3rd place in the early laps to a 5th place finish. Again not horrible but not a podium for my team. So, teammate Ryan Trebon had to pick up my slack and take the win and the series for the elite men.

The after shock
At the after party in Portland (it was a prom night theme - waiting on photos of Norm and I dressed up), the USGP race organizer asked me "what happened to you this year Wendy, I thought you were going to be huge". I felt like I had been slapped in the face (and on my prom night too!). All those 4th place finishes noone remembers coming back to haunt me. I guess when you win a National Championship title they expect you to be winning all the time after that? But there is still a lot of cyclocross racing left for me in europe as I get ready for World Championships in Italy at the end of January. The racing will be fast, the courses tough and the chocolate tasty - keep you posted.