Koppenbergcross – Racing Is Only Half the Fun! – A Column by Christine Vardaros
If I were allowed to put only one race on my “to-do list”, Koppenbergcross would be the one! It has all the elements of my theoretically perfect cross event. The course contains a climb on the world’s most famous cobbles, plows down a technical switchback descent, and comes lined with 20,000 screaming, cowbell-ringing, horn-blowing fans to take the enthusiasm way past any imaginable level. It also has a long, colorful history (see my profile of Koppenbergcross and its promoters).
But now that the race is over, I can’t stop running the day’s events through my head to make sense of my botched start to the race. For the first two laps, I pedaled solidly backwards at mach speed, straight into 25th place. I know it wasn’t my tire pressure since that was approved by none other than Richard Groenendaal just before the race!
But then something clicked and I started to ride – in the forward direction! For the last four laps, I got faster and faster, gradually passing gals, one by one. As I crossed the finish line with two laps to go, I heard the announcer talking about me. He said that my motto was “Ik kan het doen” which means “I can do it”. “Yeah, why not,” I thought to myself.
By the end, I crossed the finish line in 16th. Not a stellar result, but I must admit that the sensations I had on the last lap – it felt like I had wings – made it all worthwhile. People are always surprised when I tell them that, aside from alcohol, I’ve never taken any recreational drugs. Frankly I can’t imagine any drug could compare to the feeling of dancing on the pedals.
Racing at Koppenbergcross is only half the excitement. The other half is watching the men race and, of course, socializing. Before my race, two Americans living in Paris came by for a visit. It’s always fun to meet Americans across the world. Even when there is nothing else in common, just speaking American can be enough of a treat for me. And directly after the race I was given an extra serving of America-speak when Dan Seaton and his wife Mindi Wisman swung by our van while I was cooling down on the trainer.
After my little spin and a rinse-off, Jonas and I headed over to watch the men’s event. Luckily we arrived when Sven Nys was in the front group, since the lap previous he was a few seconds behind the leaders. It would have broken my heart to see that. Like most of the spectators, I was there to cheer Sven on for his seventh Koppenbergcross victory. Every lap, I yelled for my favorites including Sven, Zdenek Stybar, Erwin Vervecken, Jonathan Page, Eddy van Ijzendoorn, Bart Aernauts, Christian Heule, Tom van den Bosch, and Rob Peeters. There were others I didn’t get to cheer for as much as I’d like since they all came by me so fast, I could only get one or two names out per group of riders before they were out of earshot.
Of all my loud American-accented cheers, the one that got the most attention from the other spectators was my custom one “Allez Chickendis” for Holland’s Eddy van Ijzendoorn who races for AA Drink. I started calling him that after reading all his Chickendis Restaurant posts on facebook.
Chickendis is his favorite food joint in Spain. And every time he’s in the country, he reports back to his Facebook friends on every one of his three square meals a day – with photos. A bunch of us who are Facebook friends with him got such a kick out of his updates that we started looking forward to them, like a cult following. They really showed a “fun personality” side of him that fans never see. Once I explain this story to the various groups of inquiring spectators, they always laugh and instantly adore him, becoming fans themselves.
After witnessing Sven pull into the finishing strip for his sixth straight victory in a row, we were swept up by the thick wave of fans and deposited at Jonathan Page’s post-race party. There we ran into Dan and Mandi again for more Amerikaanse -speak. It was the first time I saw JP’s wife Cori in about a year. Seeing her again reminded me of the first time I met her. Many years ago, I showed up at a restaurant to meet Jonathan, Cori and VeloNews’ Charles Pelkey the night before a World Cup. Only I was three hours late, showing up looking like a wet rat – red eyes, tear-drenched face and hair. It was my first time in Europe AND my first time trying to drive a stick shift so it took me three hours to drive what should have been ten minutes away – on the same road as my hotel actually. That night Cori and Jonathan drove me and my car back down the block. The next morning Cori jogged to my hotel to take me and my car to the race. To top it off, Jonathan lent me a spare bike for the pits. Somehow I managed to come in 10th that day. It never would have been possible without them. (On a side note, did you know that Cori won Koppenbergcross many years ago?)
While I was telling this story to a collection of folks at JP’s party, a man walked up to me, gave me a kiss and walked away. I love Belgium. I suppose if we were in France that would have turned into as much as three kisses as France’s kissing etiquette varies from one to three kisses per greeting!
Our little gathering was next to Jonathan’s bikes which were decked out with the latest and coolest stuff, like the Edge handlebars that come with their own built-in bar end plugs and the non-slip handlebar tape, to name a few. I did find out that his bar tape comes from Belgium’s VDB Parts – the makers of my Zannata bikes. Maybe within the next few races I’ll be using it too. Feeling his tires, it seems he ran about the same pressure as I did, about 1.6 bar. He ran full mud tires for the race, front and rear, but towards the end of the race, when the course was drying up a bit, he switched bikes in the pit so he’d have a front mud and rear Challenge Grifo 32.
To finish up the evening, we first sat in the usual race traffic for thirty minutes to travel two kilometers to the roundabout in Oudenaarde, then drove to Jonas’ parents house on the way home for homemade ballekes (soy meatballs) in tomato sauce, fries, broccoli soup, salad and soy ice cream with caramel sauce.
The next big race is Nommay World Cup in France on November 8th and I am already jonesing for another fix of dancing on the pedals! Thanks for reading.
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