Vicki Thomas at the Canadian Cyclocross National Championships in Edmonton. by Paul Thomas
Funny, typically these columns flow from my fingers so freely. But this one is a struggle, perhaps because I feel like I’ve lived so much in the last few weeks. I want to capture every moment of it for you, but at the same time I don’t want to bore you with mundane details. But really, the last few weeks have been pretty intense. Good intense. Crazy intense. Kind of like a ferris wheel. Nothing too scary or unknown, but just enough uncertainty to test me and take me through a range of emotions.
At the start of the ‘cross season, I did not plan on flying to Italy for the Treviso World Cup and then hopping a plane the next day to fly to Edmonton to prepare for the Canadian National Cyclocross Championships. But it happened. At times during the last minute planning of this trip, I thought I was a bit crazy. I was kind of unsure about traveling to Italy and racing a World Cup alone.
The flying part wasn’t a big deal. Rather it was the driving in Italy. And putting the bikes together. And racing of a World Cup. Packing up the bikes. This was the stuff that had me wondering. But I told myself I’m only going to live once and if I have to go through some tough situations to reach my goals, then so be it.
As for the driving in Italy? Well I rationalized by telling myself and others “if I had been born in Italy, I’d be driving there. So what is the big deal?” Well, speed is the big deal. Italians drive fast and aggressively, and it took me a bit but I quickly found my pointy elbows and the accelerator. Luckily, putting the bikes together wasn’t as bad as I anticipated – thanks to the miracles of cellular communication and a very, very patient man on the other end of the phone. My friend and owner of The Cyclery, Vince Caceres, walked me through a tricky headset situation – thanks Vince.
The World Cup itself was awesome. Really awesome. I went into the race with absolutely no expectations. I’d never raced the course before, but I watched a video from the World Championships so I knew it would be fast and grassy. I also had no idea how I would stack up against the elite field of women; I just knew that I wanted to have a good ride. I did have a few personal goals: don’t get lapped and don’t be last.
Well, I’m pleased to report that I was in no danger of this happening to me. Typically my starts are the weakest part of my race, but on the day, I was able to pull out a good start and moved up from my last row start position to latch onto the end of the lead train. The race started fast with dust and dirt flying from the word go. My goal was to just keep passing girls and to hopefully get in a group. Well, I passed a bunch of girls but ended up riding alone. I had my eyes set on the rider in front of me and just focused on trying to catch her.
I have to say that even though the Treviso course is not considered to be “technical” it is still one challenging course. There is one real leg burner of a run-up, a set of stairs, lots of tight turns followed by little climbs, and a long hill that doesn’t seem so gradual after 40 minutes of racing. And let’s not forget the heat. It was practically tropical (well, to a Canadian anyway) – 26 Celsius made it a bit warm for the ‘cross racing. But I wasn’t complaining – soon enough I’d be back in Canada.
I finished off the day in 28th position, good enough to net me 34 UCI points and 3 World Cup points. Cool, very cool– a great day on the bike. I finished ahead of some girls who I had been chasing for the past couple of years. I even kept my head about me when I discovered a flat tire a mere 30 minutes before the race. Many thanks to Christine Vardaros and her husband Jonas for helping me out on the day – Jonas repaired my flat in lightening fast time and took my bike to the pit for me. Also, thanks to Christine for hooking me up with the hotel in Villorba – it was nice to hang out with some friendly people and to have someone to talk to before the race. Jonas was a massive help with checking over my bikes and making sure everything was tightened down. Thanks guys!
If you’ve never been to a World Cup or even an elite cyclocross race in Europe, it really is something else. I had kind of forgotten about the spectacle that comes along with cyclocross racing in Europe. I was parked across from the Fidea motor homes. (Really, I was in a sea of motor homes. Hmm, next race I’ll have to look into getting myself one…) My little Fiat wagon looked a bit pathetic when faced with Zdenek Stybar’s face on the side of his motor home. I had also forgotten how accessible the stars of the sport are. I exchanged pleasantries with Danny de Bie and stood so close to Erwin Vervecken that I could have hugged him. (I didn’t – don’t think that would have made a very good first impression. I’ll save the hugging for the Nommay World Cup!) One of the best things about the trip to Italy apart from the racing was seeing my cyclocross friends. Over the last couple of winters I’ve met a lot of people and it is nice to know that these friendships will be rekindled once ‘cross season starts.
Then I went from one extreme to another, the very next day. The day after the World Cup, I hopped on a plane (well, three planes) and finally landed in Edmonton, Alberta. As tempting as it was to stay in Italy for an extra day and be a tourist, I knew that the smartest thing to do was to get to Edmonton as soon as possible to ensure that I was well rested and recovered from the travel to be ready for the two days of racing on the weekend. That 26 Celsius? Lets just say it didn’t follow me to Edmonton. Nope, it was darn cold. In fact it was so cold that it snowed! This is why we Canadians have our national championships so early in the season. October 10 and we were racing in below zero temperatures with snow and ice on the ground.
I had a good five days prior to the racing to find my legs again and get caught up on sleep. Have to say many, many thanks to my hosts in St. Albert for welcoming into their home and letting me crash for a few days. It made a big difference in my trip to not be in a hotel room for the first few days. Marc arrived on Wednesday so this was super nice since we had been apart for a week. I know, a whole week – but still… It was the first time in a long time that either of us had raced a big ‘cross race without each other (Marc raced in Gloucester when I was in Italy).
So, on to Nationals. Strangely enough, if there hadn’t been the snow and ice, the conditions would have been very similar to Treviso. Grass. Lots of grass. Dry short grass. And the ice made for some slick conditions that really showed who could race fast and still control their bike.
Vicki Thomas finished seventh at Canadian Nats. by Paul Thomas
My race at nationals went well. There were a few ups and downs but it was a good ride. Yes, I would have liked to have been in the top five, but it didn’t happen. I was in the top five for a bit but then a series of crashes and a bit of panic pushed me back to seventh. Seventh is good! I rode a strong race and met a few personal goals along the way. It was awesome to have the fans out on the course cheering us on as we wound our way up, down, and around. My parents even made the trip to Edmonton to help us out and cheer us on – this was a great treat for us. All these people made the racing even better. I met some new people, hooked up with some other ‘cross friends, and was cheered on by complete strangers. Not too many sports where this happens.
My two weeks of travel and racing definitely covered both ends of the cyclocross racing scene. A very high profile World Cup with lots of media, ‘cross stars, crazed Italian fans and brilliant sunshine followed by the more low-key Canadian Championships with snow and ice, a dedicated force of Canadian cycling media, and a bunch of hardcore ‘cross racers. But the one constant between both is and was the community. The cyclocross community is deep and it is strong – it is what makes this crazy sport so worth doing.
Next up for me is a trip back to Belgium. I’ll be taking off on Nov.2 and getting settled in Blauberg. The first race for me will be the World Cup in Nommay, France. I’ll be in Europe until Feb. 8 – racing a full cyclo-cross season with a mix of races including World Cups, UCI-sanctioned races, and local training races. Look for regular updates on my European cyclo-cross season and check out my site: ottawa.cx for regular updates about my training, racing, and living the dream.