The look of concentration © Cindy Nagels
by Christine Vardaros
Have you ever felt the sensation of having a small fire burning deep inside your soul? Every time I get so frustrated that I feel like giving up on this sport, that small fire shines bright. It’s what tells me that I am not done yet with the fight. If I never knew what it felt like to race strongly and successfully, maybe I’d be satisfied with my racing results. Or maybe not. Either way, I keep waiting for something to give while pushing through the training and racing in the meantime.
Vardaros on the move © Marc van Est
The last two races were no exceptions. I pushed right through the Zolder World Cup and Azencross with no miracles awaiting me at the finish line. In Zolder, with my usual fourth row call-up due to limited UCI points, I was again stuck behind the traffic jams. Once free to ride, all went fine until the long flat sections where fistfuls of gals passed by. It felt like a bad dream. Instead of letting it get to me at that moment, I focused on gaining seconds here and there on the more technical sections. It turned out to be a big mistake.
Midway through the race, I attempted to rail the death drop which landed me face first on the ground. In addition to my many pancake-sized blue and black bruises (silver dollars excluded), I again tweaked my back and shoulder and tore a rib muscle.
Three days later, there I stood at the start line of GVA Trofee’s Azencross, the race famous for its washboard section that is truly as fun as it looks. I had no idea how cooperative my rib muscle would be during the race, but my test efforts beforehand weren’t good. Any time I brought the heart rate up, it felt like I was having a heart attack. Good thing the pain was on the other side of my chest!
Azencross washboard © Francois Buyssens
My start was actually not too bad. I hit the mud in top 20, but it was at that moment I knew the race was going to be a long one. Without a way to push the bike forward with my arms or even steer in that stuff, I was forced to run through most heavy mud sections. Even so, I kept positive…until midway through the first lap when a gal sat on my rear wheel and stayed there. I had to kindly ask her a few times to please remove herself from my wheel before she acquiesced. Actually, in hindsight I think my bike was actually pulled from under her thanks to another rider who hooked my saddle with her rear wheel and kept running.
Once free, I continuously passed riders up until the finish line, but it wasn’t enough for redemption in my mind. Just past the finish line, once the race was over, the chest pain kicked in all at once! I hadn’t felt that horrible in a long time. Damn fire in my soul.
Brandon opening Xmas gifts © Christine Vardaros
Aside from the racing, it’s actually been a pleasant holiday season so far! Jonas and I hosted U-23 rider Brandon Mart (Specialized rider from California) for Christmas. I wasn’t sure how it would be to have someone over in our tiny house that is equipped with only one bathroom, but he was a really easy guest. As it was Brandon’s first Christmas away from home, Jonas and I did our best to get into the holiday spirit. I decorated the house with candy canes and Jonas vacuumed. We even hung on the wall (where the fireplace used to be fifty years ago) a “Christmas stocking” for him filled with little things like Speculaas, a Euro hat/neck warmer and a BikePure bracelet. He seemed very appreciative, so we couldn’t tell if he noticed that we’re not Christmas people. At least we hope he didn’t notice that the stocking we used was from my days of working in the sex toy industry.
For New Year’s eve, we popped open a bottle of Meerdael Chardonnay–a sparkling wine made in a neighboring town. It has more significance to us than plain Champagne since it is what we served at our wedding reception. Then it was to bed by 10pm to get ready for GP Hotel Threeland held in Pètange, Luxembourg. The course is straight up and straight down like a mountain bike short track event. It ought to be interesting with the recent rains and snowfalls. Last year Georgia Gould won it. Pity she can’t be here again this year, but I guess it does mean I automatically move one spot up in the placings!
If it is true that January 1st sets the tone for the rest of the year, then how will you choose to spend the day?
Happy New Year!
Azencross Photo Gallery:
Zolder and Diegem Photo Gallery: