Christine in Scheldecross ©Marc van Est

Christine in Scheldecross ©Marc van Est

by Christine Vardaros

It’s been exactly one year since I last raced on snow and ice. Funny how much I can forget in a year. I found this out the hard way last weekend at back-to-back races: Fidea’s Scheldecross and the Kalmthout World Cup. With that said, last weekend was all about waiting for the click to come – the click in my head that reminds me of the proper technique to ride in these conditions.

The first race of the weekend was Fidea’s Scheldecross. It was very similar to last year, minus the bomb scare when a WWII grenade was discovered just before the men’s event. Normally the course is riddled with sandy sections, but this year, same as last, the sand was more like fields of frozen grooves – you switch grooves midway and you’re on the ground.

Scheldecross, by the Schelde River ©Ali Verleyen

Scheldecross, by the Schelde River ©Ali Verleyen

A good start was key on the course since there were few places for safe passing. While I may not have scored one of those coveted hole shots, my name did. Just after the light turned green, I heard over the loudspeaker that Hanka Kupfernagel and I shared the holeshot. Understanding what the announcer is saying in Flemish is not always a good thing, I thought to myself as my mind wandered to thoughts of how he came to think I was at the front. Maybe a similar-colored jersey up the road? But sometimes it’s fun to follow the announcer’s comments as I get to hear what’s happening at the front of the race if I can’t actually be there to see it for myself. With what was actually a bad start, I had the opportunity to pass a few riders every lap before rolling in for a 15th place, just behind 14th. If the race were only 20 minutes longer, as I say too often. And if only that snow/ice click would hit already.

Instead of staying for the men’s event, I changed into dry cycling clothes, took my post-workout Concap pills, ate a PROBAR and headed directly to Kalmthout to pre-ride the course. It was definitely worth the trip. I easily had more fun riding on the Kalmthout course than I did at the race two hours earlier. While Scheldecross is on a wide-open course (albeit often with only one good line) right along the Schelde River, Kalmthout is more like a mountain bike race where we weave in and out of the woods on a semi-singletrack course complete with berms and bumps.

After changing into warm clothes, I joined my husband Jonas and our friend/helper Ernst van Looveren for a short walk to pick up our passes and race numbers. I was next in line behind Belgian Coach Rudy de Bie who collected over 20 packets for the whole Belgian contingent. When it was my turn, I kindly asked for my individual packet and was told that I have to wait for the USA Team Coach. We went back and forth for a while as I patiently explained how USA doesn’t work that way. (Maybe if our country weren’t located across the world we too would have national coaches at every race, but that is not the case.) As he repeatedly refused all variations of my explanation on how I was different, a scene in one of those Monty Python movies popped into mind. It was the scene when a crowd, looking up at whom they believe to be Jesus, chants in unison, “We are all individuals.” That scene didn’t leave my mind until I finally got the nod of approval thanks to his UCI buddies who are familiar with the USA’s ways. As I walked away from the desk, I was beaming from ear to ear. Not because I got my packet, but because it was the first in-depth discussion I have had with the UCI World Cup officials fully in Flemish.

We passed lots of team mobile homes on the snowy roads after Kalmthout ©Christine Vardaros

We passed lots of team mobile homes on the snowy roads after Kalmthout ©Christine Vardaros

That night we drove back home – in snow traffic that doubled our one-hour trip. The forecasts of more snow for that evening were indeed correct. The next morning we headed out an hour early – a necessity for Belgium, a country that doesn’t function well with ice and snow. Even the Brussels airport ran out of de-icing fluid for airplane wings, grounding dozens of flights and preventing many more from landing in Brussels since they’d be trapped there. This is surely the reason why a few of the US Camp guys unfortunately missed this race. Chances are high that their bikes are still stuck in neighboring countries.

Most of my pre-ride was done, alone although I did run into Niels Albert a couple of times – or rather he ran into me. Coincidentally on the two times as I was slowing down on a section to take a better look, Niels came up from behind and attempted to pass. Unlucky for him, it was always on the side I was drifting towards as I slowed down. By the second run-in, I reminded him that it is better for this to happen now than couple of hours later. He agreed as we both laughed.

Getting re-accustomed to ice in Kalmthout ©Danny Zelck

Getting re-accustomed to ice in Kalmthout ©Danny Zelck

At the start, I was one of the last to be called up. On a course like this where it is single-file from the moment we hit the snowy white dirt, a great start is the goal. (On a side note, I was amazed by Marianne Vos’ ride. She started in the LAST row since she had no UCI points yet in the season and had to pass almost 50 gals on her way to second place.) Again my start sucked. I almost always line up on one end or the other, so I’m thinking maybe I should try the middle of the row next time. Just a thought. A little over a minute into the race, we hit a double u-turn bump section that is normally half rideable. But with the traffic, those of us in the back were forced to run the whole thing. I don’t mind running, but I do mind when there is a hand firmly planted on my rear wheel directing it along. It really amazes me how the women are much more physically interactive on the course than the guys. After she kindly released the wheel – following my polite request, of course – I was once again underway.

Still trying to figure out the ice riding thing, I fudged many sections, pretty much eliminating any chances I had left for a solid result.E ven so, I forged ahead, even passing a few along the way. On the final lap, the click finally arrived! I figured out how to ride on ice and snow. Shortly after, a small group of riders became visible up the road. The only thing standing in my way was one single solitary rider. I tried a couple of times to pass, but to no avail. She was a feisty one, even running into me with her bike, completely bullying me off the road. I was embarrassingly “womanhandled,” if that could be a word. On the last mini- technical u-turn berm, she stalled right in the middle, then gassed it. I don’t know if it was on purpose, but it worked. Going into the finishing straight, she had a gap on me – one that I couldn’t close. Well, if it weren’t for the races within the races, I wouldn’t have as much fun I suppose.

My mid-30s result may not have been bragging-worthy, but I did get my click, which I will hold on to for the upcoming races. The weather forecast says -6°C for the Zolder World Cup this Sunday, followed by a week of sub-freezing conditions. I will have lots of snow and ice to ride on. Now if only it could disappear mid-week so I could train outdoors.

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