Christine Vardaros in Azencross ©Krist Vanmelle

Christine Vardaros had fire in her eyes early in Azencross ©Krist Vanmelle

Zolder World Cup, GVA Trofee Azencross and Hotel Threeland Petange, Luxembourg

Christine Vardaros races for the Baboco cyclocross team, based in Belgium, and regularly contributes her accounts of Euro racing to Cyclocross Magazine.

by Christine Vardaros

As I write this, there is a party going on without me. This has to be one of the worst feelings for a cyclist – a race you’ve been looking forward to all year, only minutes from home, and you can’t be there. But I knew I made the right decision when I rolled out of bed and onto the floor this morning. Happy New Year, you big fat invalid. Like all racers, I am not immune to self-abuse, both the physical and mental varieties.

The injuries that kicked me to the curb occurred in the Zolder World Cup last Sunday. Early in the first lap, despite jumping and riding over a total of three bikes and two riders, I was solidly in mid-peloton position, feeling very good about the race. That feeling lasted about two minutes until I found myself smacked to the icy ground below on a pavement turn. I got up, put the chain back on, and started up again from dead last place, just like my call-up position. (On a side note, it was amusing to read all the other racer reports where they too claimed to be in last place. Strange, considering I had not seen any of them while I sat in the one last place available in this race.)

My optimism to return to mid-peloton didn’t last long as I quickly noticed that my right hip was tweaked from the fall, giving me power in only my left leg. For the rest of the race I felt like I was pedaling myself in circles – similar to the feeling I had when Jonas let me paddle the kayak last summer. Even with my alternating paddle strokes on both sides of the kayak we whipped around in perfect circles for 20 minutes straight until he relieved me of paddle duty.

In addition, without the full use of my hips for steering on a heavily-snowed course riddled with ice grooves, I was useless even in straight lines. The whole race I continued to veer off to the right, into an ice groove, into the barriers, into the fencing. Possibly the only good that came out of the race is that I am now known as a “tough cookie” since most photos of me from the race showed bare hands in freezing temps. I had to ditch the gloves in the first lap when they turned to ice from my fall on the wet ground.

Veering off to the right in Zolder, as usual ©Cindy Nagels

Veering off to the right in Zolder, as usual ©Cindy Nagels

The race may have been a bust, but I still managed to amuse myself and some others that day. The most entertaining moment had to have been when Anton Vos, brother of Marianne, came over to me while I was talking to three Junior USA riders who will go unnamed. For fun, I asked the kids if they’d ever heard of Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit). All three of them were clearly stumped, having never heard the name before. I have never seen Anton laugh so hard. She is only a three-time cyclocross world champion, road and track world champion and even Olympic champion on the track. But to kids, cycling is clearly viewed from a completely different perspective outside cycling-crazed countries, I suppose.

After the race, Jonas and I had a cookie party for our supporters and fellow racers. We made sugar cookies, toffee bars with hazelnuts, Mexican chocolate cookies (with cayenne pepper), tahini cookies and fudge with walnuts. All were vegan but so tasty that nobody would have guessed. Some of our testers were Hanka Kupfernagel (Stevens Racing Team), Ellen van Looy (Emversport), Thijs Al and Thijs van Amerongen (AA-Drink), Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) and a handful of other Americans.

The next race of GvA Trofee Azencross was three days later, so I had very little time for recovery but made the best of it. I treated my body to multiple massages, ice and heat baths, light stretching and even a visit to the osteopath. It may have helped my start because again I had a solid first lap sitting in 15th position until my right leg ran out of its limited supply of power. Shortly after I pulled myself off the race course. The race organizers who I contacted on my way off the course thought I was crazy to stop, considering I wasn’t anywhere near last place, but I knew better. Give it another lap and I’d be there.

Too little power to ride the bike ©Mieke de Cnodder

Too little power to ride the bike ©Mieke de Cnodder

By the evening, my lower back began to tighten into a compact ball and stayed that way until now. Even so, in my usual optimistic ways, three days later my husband Jonas and I headed off for Luxembourg to contest the Hotel Threeland Petange race. When I hit the top of the extended paved start climb in second to last place, I knew it was not to be. Since I quit the last race, this one I rode – or rather joy-rode – the rest of the race, although there was nothing joyful about it! On the flipside, there were two other USA gals who represented well. Amy Dombroski (Crank Brothers) and Mo Bruno (Bob’s Red Mill) both cracked top 10, finishing in eighth and ninth respectively.

Today is Fidea’s Tervuren event, only five miles from my home here in Belgium but an eternity away for me to the start line. Hmmm…five miles is not too far to spectate, so I think I will head out the door now to attend that party going on without me – although mine will not come with wheels.

Thanks for all your kind comments and emails this season. I will keep them in mind during my current rough spot.

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