Azencross' sprint finish on the big screen - one fan is in disbelief. by Christine Vardaros

Azencross' sprint finish on the big screen leaves one fan in disbelief. By Christine Vardaros

by Christine Vardaros

December 30, 2008. Today I awoke in a real panic. I thought it was race day. When the races are so close together it is hard to keep track of what day it is. Memories all string together to form one big timeless blur.

Just as I was getting out of bed to grab my slippers, book and head downstairs to look at a calendar for some solace, one of Jonas’ eyes popped open with a simultaneous puckering of the lips in anticipation of his morning kiss. Instead he was handed an impromptu game of “20 Questions.” “Is it race day today? What day is it? What date is it? Are you sure I raced yesterday? But I was talking to my coach while having coffee. Oh, HE was having coffee in California. Are you sure we don’t have to leave for Luxembourg right now? Don’t you think we should leave now since we can only drive 90 kph due to the smog alert? Why am I so confused?”

I had this same confusion when traveling with pro teams. But at least when traveling with them it was almost always race day when you awoke, leaving no room for guessing. It was confusing sometimes to awake in a strange bed, in a strange room with a strange person.

It is race day tomorrow so I am ok…this time.

As for yesterday, it felt like a really long day. Funny how time doesn’t really fly when you’ve had a bad race. Yep, a bad start and an even worse finish. But aside from the racing it was a really amazing day. Jonas and I showed up early so he could pre-ride the course with me. The track was flat and fast but icy, making the turns a little tricky. The most spectacular part of the course was easily the roller section, more suited for bmx riding. While we were in the midst of riding it, Jonas and I sported matching kidlike grins. It is a lot of fun as long as you don’t take it too fast as some of the gals learned during the race. Thankfully I was spared this lesson. But if you can ride it just at your limit, you can gap some gals behind.

As we stood there at the start line, sporting our snuggly ear warmers, thick undershirts, leg warmers and fuzzy socks in an effort to combat the incredibly frigid weather, a gal turned to me and expressed her concern that the girl in front of her may ruin her start. I promptly put her at ease, confirming that the girl in front is one of the best starters and possibly the best bike handler in the field – I was referring to Rachel Lloyd. And Rachel didn’t make a liar out of me as she sprinted away when the gun sounded, leaving a gap between herself and us.

I rode as hard as I could but had a feeling it was all in vain. I was having a very bad asthma day, making it hard to put out any serious effort. But even so, I had a few races within the race which kept me entertained. I spent most of my time trying to bridge gaps to the rider in front, then the next and the next. Eventually my energy ran out and I started to focus on not losing any spaces.

On the start/finish straight, where I usually bridge gaps, girls were bridging to me! I was passed by a freight train of three riders – Austrian Champion Elke Reidl was the conductor. As they rode by, I noticed the middle one was my “arch enemy” Susanne Juraneck of Germany. (Our friendly competition goes back many years. Coincidentally we always seem to be at the same level – some years both strong, and others both struggling.) I knew at that moment that I would do anything within my power to stay with them.

I squeezed myself into 3rd position, behind Susanne, so I could conveniently talk “smack” to her. “I’ll beat you, you know, so you may as well quit now. You’re going down! Oh no you don’t!” She yelled similar smack back and we both chuckled. Moments later, Elke put in a threatening attack that dropped the fourth gal and, more importantly, broke up our smack talk session and got us to work together to bring her back.

I jumped in front of Susanne to lead the chase and once we both caught and passeElked her, Susanne edged ahead of me at the top of an extended bridge section. The three of us hit the bmx rollers together but at the exit there were only two left. Elke had dropped back. Turning onto the straightaway, Susanne had a three meter lead over me. As hard as I tried, she held it to the end. I think our “race within a race” competition this season is roughly even at the moment, so I look forward to our next chance to duke it out on January 18th at Roubaix World Cup in France.

The highlight of the day was easily the cheers I got from my very own fan club! Hearing them scream their heads off for me in their thick Belgian accents every lap made me feel like a rockstar! That was surely something special.

My next race is tomorrow in Luxemborg. It will be an extra long drive due to the smog alert here. When there is a long period of dry, windless days, they try to cut down on smog by limiting our highway speeds. According to a study conducted yesterday, 34% of the highway drivers in Belgium exceeded that limit. I bet it would be even worse in Germany where they are used to driving 160kph. Our highway speed limit is 120kph, 90kph with smog alert.

As always, thanks for reading!

Photo Gallery: