From Bike to Podium – A Column by Christine Vardaros – UPDATED: Photos

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Christine Vardaros preps for Krawatencross © Christine Vardaros

Christine Vardaros preps for Krawatencross © Christine Vardaros

by Christine Vardaros

From bike to podum – that is, from the Krawatencross race in Lille, Belgium last weekend to the podium at the ECOPOP fair for a speaking engagement the following day.

Krawatencross is one of the few races I look forward to every year – or at least for the past three years that I’ve been racing it. The course contains so much sand that it makes the Koksijde World Cup, held on the Belgian beach dunes, seem like a fully paved course.

The day started off great. I pre-rode the course with Helen and Stefan Wyman. They often take me along on their pre-rides, which is really cool! After the warm-up, Stefan told me that I looked really strong and, if I could ride my pre-ride pace, I’d come in top fifteen in all the races. I took his kind compliment as a sign that my last couple of weeks of solid training may have paid off!

Vos leads through the sandy corners © Dan Seaton

Vos leads through the sandy corners, en route to her win © Dan Seaton

At the start line, I was just behind the repeat World Champion Marianne Vos. When the light turned green, she was gone before I even clipped in. Well, then again, everyone was gone before I clipped in. Turns out there was something wrong with my pedals – namely, wet sand. I spent the first few laps smacking the pedals with my shoes in the hopes something would click, literally.

With 1 ½ laps to go, I finally realized that I might have better luck clicking into my pit bike. After I collected the clean machine, life was good again. And off I went. Right before entering the last lap, Jonas yelled to me, “The rider ahead of you is the last money spot!” By the end of the race I caught and passed her, finishing ahead of her by forty seconds. Shoot. If only I could have ridden that fast the whole race! I wouldn’t have won the race, or even placed top five, but it would have felt nice to finish in the position my fitness level warranted. But that’s racing.

That evening, instead of relaxing with a glass of wine, maybe reading a book or watching a movie on television like the other gals, I had to finish writing a speech and memorizing it for the following day’s talk at the ECOPOP Fair held in Kortrijk, Belgium. The event was in celebration of everything organic and ecologically-friendly.

Before the day, I expected it would be something like I’d find in San Francisco, where most the attendees are vegetarian and everyone is sporting tie-dyed hemp-made clothes and recycled plastic shoes. How wrong was I. Shortly after Jonas and I arrived, we saw booth after booth that made me a little unsure of my purpose there. A few booths in particular that threw me off were one selling cheese, another selling mulch for breaking down animal bones in the backyard and a third selling organic poison to kill moles and rodents – all things that go against my notion of “environmentally-friendly” living.

Five minutes after realizing I may have written the wrong speech for this type of event, I was standing on the podium ready to deliver my mistake in front of a bunch of people. Usually public speaking doesn’t make me terribly nervous, but I was sweating bullets trying to cater my speech a bit more towards the audience. Nobody walked out midway through, but I think that had more to do with the nationality of the audience – thankfully Belgians tend to be more polite than Americans that way. Heck, I would have walked out on me.

The speech would have been more of a disaster if I weren’t so lucky as to have a few friendly faces in the audience. One such person was Jürgen Bruynooghe ,who is head of Belgium’s Chapter of Organic Athlete. He even wore his Organic Athlete cycling jersey in show of support. Also in the audience were Holly and Gregg Germer, who run The Chainstay, a Belgian cycling house that is similar to the USA version but not such a rip-off, and of course, Jonas. After the talk, Holly, Gregg, Jonas and I sat at the bio beer booth to unwind. It worked.

Two days later I was back to solid training, starting with the Begijnendijk ride usually attended by many pros and retired pros. I heard they keep the speed down during the winter, so I wasn’t too worried about getting dropped. Whoever started that rumor ought to be shot because ,after I did my four kilometers of work at the front, I was fried – just in time for the group to hit the heaviest climb of the day. After the first ten pedal strokes up the hill, my legs turned to jelly while my ass was given a few pushes by the guys. Chivalry is not dead.

Sven Nys leads here at Krawatencross before spinning with the locals 2 days later © Christine Vardaros

Sven Nys leads here at Krawatencross before spinning with the locals 2 days later © Christine Vardaros

It turned out that the group broke in two from that climb, and Jonas was split off behind. I found that out about one hour later, when I soft-pedaled to check out the group behind. Instead of spotting Jonas, another friendly face rode by with his fist pumped in the air cheering me on. It was no other than Sven Nys. I love that he hangs out with the guys only two days after one of his best weekends of the season.

There was supposed to be a turnoff somewhere ,so Jonas and I could cut a few kilometers off the loop on our way home. But without him telling me where to go, I continued with the ride and ended up at our starting point in Begijnendijk. After standing there for a few minutes while my mistake sunk in, I set off for home, only getting lost three times. As I reached the home stretch within three kilometers of the house, Jonas showed up in the van. He feared the worst since I had been out there already almost five hours with no water, no phone and no sense of direction. Again, chivalry is not dead.

With only two more races left of the season, my focus has partly turned to the “offseason,” racing road and mountain bikes. My first mountain bike race is March 21st, and my first road race is the Tour of Cyprus March 25th-28th, where I will be lining up with pro cyclists mostly from countries like Turkey and Greece. It will be nice to work on my pasty white Belgianized skin under the sunny skies of Cyprus.

As for my last ‘cross races, they are Kleicross in Lebbeke, Belgium, on February 20th and the last round of the GVA Trofee in Oostmalle the following day. My last unofficial race is Erwin Vervecken’s “Erwin Bolt Uit” event on February 27th. I will be riding it for fun while covering it for Cyclocross Magazine. Vervecken is holding it on a Saturday so the party can last well into the night. He wants me to bake cookies for it – any suggestions?

For those of you who are in the area, our team will be having a post-season pre-party at our van following the race in Oostmalle. On the menu are desserts and drinks only, my two favorite food groups. Afterwards we will be party-hopping well into the evening. Keep tuned to Cyclocross Mag’s website and magazine for all the gossip and photos we’ll collect throughout the evening!

Thanks for reading!

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