Christine Vardaros at the Citadelle de Namur

Christine Vardaros descends the steep hill at the Citadelle de Namur GVA cyclocross race. by Marc Van Est

by Christine Vardaros

My racing season here in Belgium is now fully underway. I have so far competed in the first round of the World Cup circuit in Treviso and the GVA Trofee Series opener in Namen.  Both races could not have been any more different in every way.

Treviso was a staggering fourteen hour drive from home.  When we arrived in the evening, we were treated to a “welcome drink” by the hotel which we leisurely sipped on the patio in 24°C weather.  Race day was even warmer.  I love high temperatures, but racing in it is another thing altogether, especially when combined with a dusty course.  By the time I was at the top of the starting hill – no more than fifteen seconds from the start, I was in full asthma attack attempting to breathe through a pencil hole.   After driving forever to get there, I was determined to finish it out so I lowered my effort level to a sustainable limit where I could almost breathe comfortably and pushed forward.   My wheezing got a lot of stares from the crowd but at least I finished the race.

The highlights of the day were getting to hang out with a lot of gals I haven’t seen in months.  As usual, no bike talk.  Only gossip and silly stuff.  I also had the opportunity to spend a little time with Erwin Vervecken.  We were parked next to him so of course I had to introduce myself as the Cyclocross Magazine journalist (I interviewed him just before Vegas). He not only knew who I was but he graciously invited me into his mobile home (don’t get any ideas, we’re both married!).  This was the first time I ever said more than two words to him and was thrilled to find that he is a very unassuming humble guy.  If I didn’t know otherwise, I would have never guessed that he was a three-time World Champion and super-celebrity.

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Venice - Some think it's romantic, but the crowds were a turn-off for Christine

The day after the race, Jonas and I headed off to Venice to unwind.  That place was unreal.  As the train pulled up to Venice, I was already freaking out.  All the buildings were submerged in water.  Within three minutes of walking around I quickly realized why no cars were allowed on the island. Every fifty feet or so there was a bridge to cross.

Of all the stories I heard about the place, the one that didn’t make sense was that it is a romantic hotspot. Romantic my ass!  It was way past tourist season and most places were still so riddled with tourists making it nearly impossible to walk a straight line without being pushed or shoved or inadvertently ending up in someone’s photo album.  As for the gondolas, the little canals were like highways during rush hour with the boats lined up one after another.   One hundred Euros is too much to sit in traffic. Instead we sat by the water and watched the traffic go by, making up stories about the passengers in the boats – much more entertaining.

On the drive home to Belgium, we stopped for two tasks.  Once for my trainer workout which I did at a truck stop between 18-wheelers for privacy, and five times for German pretzels, mit senf of course!

Second race of the season was GVA Trofee’s Citadel de Namur.  We pre-rode it the day before the race and it was super fun and heavy. The first half of the course was a string of downhills and the second half was one big uphill interrupted only once by a steep run-up.  Overnight the course was soaked by heavy rains, turning the whole course into greasy mud.  Usually it would have been a good course for me but halfway through the downhill on the first lap, my rims got wet and the brakes stopped working.  I planned to have wheels with real braking surface by now but all my wheelsets (courtesy of Echappe Equipment) are stuck in customs. With no brakes, on the steepest of the descents, I couldn’t slow down and hit the next descent super hot, went only slightly off course but enough to hit a wet root which catapulted me to the ground.  I really can’t complain considering the last time I fell in a cross race was two years ago when I knocked my head against a tree in Superprestige’s Gavere.  I was also lucky not to have been run over while I sat on the ground assessing the damage before I got up.  By the end of the race, I passed a few gals – only on the climbs as I crawled every descent.  I would have loved to have done better for Johan, my Zannata sponsor who was watching from the sidelines but I know I’ll have many more chances since our season here is about five months long.

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Nys chases Albert in his quick return to top-level racing. by Christine Vardaros

Watching the men whip through the course was amazing.  It was shocking to see how fast the leaders took the technical descents. Even Niels Albert, the self-proclaimed non-mountain-biker, totally railed it! Of course watching Sven Nys come back to top form so soon after dropping out of Treviso the week previous was a magical moment for the crowd and for me.

This week is going to be dedicated to catching up on little projects and chores, getting the bikes back in order and hoping those race wheels with a great braking surface come.

Today was my first hard training ride since Namur.  The morning was spent riding behind the scooter and in the afternoon I joined the group ride in Begijnendijk, the one that is often attended by pro road and cross racers like Sven Nys.  While no big names were on the ride, we did pass Niels Albert with a couple of his BKCP-Powerplus teammates. Sightings like these remind me that I am living in a very special place for cyclists.  Now if only the winters wouldn’t be so cold and wet. But then again, it wouldn’t be real ‘cross – as they say.

My next race is October 20 at Nacht Van Woerden, a night race in Holland. Then five days later is the infamous Koppenbergcross.  I’ll be thinking of these races as I hit the trails tomorrow.  Maybe I will run into the Belgian junior and beloften (U23) national team. It is also their workout day in my woods.

Thanks for reading and for your continued support!

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