Sand ©Danny Zelck
CXM columnist Christine Vardaros recently had a busy weekend, chasing after the best cyclocrossers in the world in Koksijde, Belgium, followed by a speaking engagement in Paris. Read along as Christine continues to bring us a glimpse of the life of the ’crosser in Europe.
by Christine Vardaros
Two Jobs Rolled into One Weekend
Koksijde World Cup earned its fame through its extensive sand sections that take the riders up, down and through the sand dunes on Belgium’s coast. But this year they changed the course so it could exactly match how they plan to run it for next season’s World Championships – which turned into even more sandy sections – a feat I didn’t believe possible until I saw it.
As usual, my husband Jonas and I arrived on Friday, the day before the race, to check out the course and collect race numbers. I did my first lap with [CXM regular contributor] Vicki Thomas and her countrymate. It was a fast track where slick tires were ideal. For my second lap, I traded riding partners for Hanka Kupfernagel. Just before we took off, it started to rain hard. Even before I stepped out into the rain, I knew it was going to be an unpleasant one since the temperature hovered at the freezing point. It seems I wasn’t alone in my thoughts; as we took off to ride the course in the bitterly cold rain, Hanka muttered the words, “This is definitely my last season.” I laughed, and so did she since there was not a thing we could do about the conditions. Within a minute we figured out that slicks were no longer wanted. A few laps of frozen riding later, we were sitting in her mobilehome to warm up.
Showing my frustration ©Danny Zelck
The next day we awoke to dry sunny skies. We parked our van alongside the mini BABOCO fleet and were ready for a great day. My pre-race preparation went well, I was feeling good and ready to take names … until about five seconds before the light turned green when I realized I was in the last row – just like in Plzen World Cup. How was I to move up from there? I’m no Daphny, Sanne, Bart or Niels. There is only so far I can move forward.
Unfortunately, what you focus on is what you create. When they took off, I was slow off the start and never really moved up. I could tell that my fitness was solid since I rocked it every once in a while when I was able to get out of my own head. But for most of the race, I just couldn’t get out of my own way. I must have fudged every single sand and mud section. Considering I rode almost every one of those sections almost perfectly in the pre-ride I knew it was not my technical skills that had failed me.
Lesson learned the hard way – again. I have made this mistake as recently as Plzen, but it’s time I learn new lessons. From this point forward, I have made a promise to myself to give it everything I have for the full race no matter what. Period. Let’s see what comes of it.
Onstage and talking vegan ©Christine Vardaros
After some good old American screaming for my favorite guys in the men’s race, we headed home. The weekend was only halfway over. The next morning Jonas and I were waiting on the Thalys train to Paris where I was scheduled to speak about “the benefits of a vegan diet for sports” at Paris Vegan Day. (I am a spokesperson for IDA – In Defense of Animals.) When our train was almost two hours delayed, I immediately realized that my strenuous exercising for the weekend was not yet over. Once the train arrived in Paris we had 20 minutes to sprint three miles. We showed up late, looking like two sweaty rats. Immediately I stripped my clothes, put the hair in a ponytail and stepped on stage to address a waiting audience.
With the idea that I had to make up time, I talked faster, which produced some confused faces in the crowd since I was speaking in English. But once I brought it down a few notches, it seemed everyone followed me nicely. I even got quite a few nods of agreement and some of surprise from the audience in reaction to what I said, which helped me to know that I was understood. And for those folks who didn’t follow the English, I had some help from a fellow athlete Christophe Berg who translated for me. Once my hour was over, I focused on recovery from the sprint by stuffing my face with all sorts of tasty cakes and brownies courtesy of The Gentle Gourmet – a vegan bed & breakfast.
That night we returned for a concert by three-year vegan rockstar Princess Superstar. I was really excited to see her since I expected her to perform my all-time favorite video, “Bad Babysitter.” It’s so stupid-funny that I must have watched it 20 times. But no such luck. Even so, I was glad I went.
Famous falafel ©Christine Vardaros
The next morning we slept until noon, walked around Paris all afternoon, had the famous falafels at L’As du falafel. From the first bite to the last, I was teary-eyed, as it was simply incredible. We finished our sightseeing with a stroll down the Champs-Élysées, only seven months early to watch the Tour de France.
Since that weekend it has been snowing here in Belgium. While half of the peloton took off for a couple of weeks of sunny warm training in southern Spain, the rest of us are toughing it out. As for me, most of my training has been done indoors for safety’s sake. But yesterday, I finally cracked from all the trainer rides and bolted outside with running shoes. I quickly found that running in heavy snow is like sand running, but you have no idea where your feet will land. I slipped twice. And today Jonas and I took the ’cross bikes out, equipped with Grifos. Our timing was a little off as a snowstorm hit right in the middle of our two-hour ride – the third hour was done indoors. Now I know what it must feel like to live in Michigan or Canada. Brutal. My next big race isn’t until December 18th, so I have time. No Nationals for me – too expensive and too far.
Thanks for reading!