Vardaros takes on Koksidje. © Johan Pelgrims

Vardaros takes on Koksidje. © Johan Pelgrims

by Christine Vardaros

My goal these next few days is to crawl out of the hole I’ve buried myself in, hopefully in time for the Christmas period of racing where I have seven events in fourteen days. The mini-journey back to form is coming along but never quick enough. Patience is not particularly a virtue when it comes to athletes, as we all know!

It all started with an innocent trip to the osteopath two weeks before Koksijde World Cup. He had come highly recommended so I figured I would give it a try in hopes that I could gain a couple extra percentage points in the upcoming races. I walked out of there a happy camper with an unblocked back and for the first time in my life, I felt like I could wiggle my hips any which way! That should be handy in the sand and deep mud which riddles almost every race here in Belgium, I thought. My predictions were correct! For the next couple of races of Soudal Classics Niel and Superprestige Gavere my hips worked beautifully – it was as it if I were pedaling more effectively, using my full body instead of just my legs.

After two positive but very intense racing experiences, my hips suddenly shut off after a short run a couple of days following the Gavere event. By that evening, I was having troubles even doing the simplest of movements, such as walking. The next day we were off to the osteopath again so he could do his magic to get me walking again. I kept the training to almost nothing that week so as not to aggravate the work he had done.

His work held right up to the first lap of the Koksijde World Cup a few days later. With luscious hip wiggles replaced by intense pain that cut off the use of one of my legs, I was screwed. There was no chance of balancing in the sand and no power in the legs to make up for my makeshift attempts in the sand. The hole was dug and I had fallen right in. I was so screwed that I needed to be helped into the van after the race. A few X-Rays and sonograms later, it was discovered that my body had not been prepared for fully-functional hips. The result was hip bursitis and gluteus medius tendonitis.

The first few days after the race, I did nothing but lie on the couch. Even sitting in a chair brought unbearable pain. Riding was out of the question. I did attempt it a few times only to be greeted by intense pain that seemed to be laughing in my face. Determined to save my season, I finally peeled myself off the couch and headed over to the only guy I knew who could turn my situation around. He is Belgium’s version of House, MD for pro athletes. After I told him my story, the first thing he said was to never go an osteopath or any other type of body-worker you’ve never seen before in the middle of your season. Heck, don’t even go to a dentist unless absolutely necessary. Well, now I know. Next he pointed me in the right direction with my injuries and told me to get on the bike right away.

In an effort to fully heal and get a bit of my fitness level back, I took a weekend off of racing, unfortunately skipping the Roubaix World Cup. But by the following weekend, I felt like I had almost resurfaced from the hole I had dug and was motivated to get back at it again. The first event up was Soudal Classics Scheldecross, riddled with sand and mud. I was not sure how the hips would react but I was certain that my fitness was a bit under par. When the gun sounded, my body flew into action. I held ninth place for the first half a lap until the effects of little training smacked me in the face as a swarm of riders glided by me.

Undeterred, I kept going. I was going to finish this race at all costs. As long as my hips held solid, I needed to get the training in. By the last lap, I was fried, hanging onto my 16th place by sheer willpower. They say when you are riding above your limit, you make mistakes. Shortly into the last lap I found this out the hard way when running up the wooden stairs. Hitting the stair section as fast as I could, I made it up three stairs before just missing the fourth. This ever so slight calculation error caused my body to catapult into the step at rocket speed. As I tried to get back on my feet, I knew something was amiss. It was only after the race that I realized the extent of the damage.

Scheldecross post-race leg wrap © Llse Hendrickx

Scheldecross post-race leg wrap © Ilse Hendrickx

At the finish line, I delicately leaned my Stevens against the course fence and my body against a tree so I could take a moment to figure it all out. Over the time span of a few minutes, I realized I had cracked my helmet against the stair, badly bruised my legs and right butt cheek, and ripped through the skin right down to the bone on both my right wrist and left shin. Immediately, I sat down so I could elevate both my wrist and shin to keep the swelling down.

Considering the view of me sitting on the ground with elevated body parts starkly contrasted my normal post-race look of smiles and laughter, many people gathered to see if I was OK. One of those folks was Jonathan Page. He kindly interrupted his pre-race preparation to check on me and waited until my husband Jonas showed up. A few other kind souls who waited with me included Ernst van Looveren, Peter Meere, Linda Migchels, and Nancy van Peer. An hour later, as I was lying there in the hospital bed watching the doctor stitch up my body parts, it hit me that my hole just got deeper. At least the hips were healing nicely!

I don’t know if it was delusion, denial or determination to get the training in, but the next morning I was back at the start line again. This time around it was Vlaamse Druivencross in Overijse, a home race for me, since I live less than 10 miles from there. At the finish, I realized what had possessed me to race – denial. For the next week I was relegated once again to the couch. And at the end of that week, I tried again to race in yet another home race in Leuven. After less than a lap, I gave up. My body was simply too tired from all its energy expended on my injuries. At least this time I knew enough not to push it.

This weekend is a double-event with BPost Bank Trofee Essen and Namur World Cup. I am not sure how they will turn out but at least I finally feel like I am heading back out of the hole I buried myself in. And if it doesn’t go as planned this weekend, I still have the Christmas racing period where I’ll have plenty enough opportunities to shine. The plan is to have purely happy stories to share in my next Cyclocross Magazine online rider diary.

Vardaros had a rough week at the races but she'll come back strong! © Rony Roegiers

Vardaros had a rough week at the races but she’ll come back strong! © Rony Roegiers