Finessing the bike in Tervuren © Dirk Verhelst

Finessing the bike in Tervuren © Dirk Verhelst

by Christine Vardaros

How many people can say they showered with Tom Vannoppen, Belgium’s favorite comeback kid?

Ok, so technically we didn’t shower together, but we did share the ladies shower room at the GP Hotel Threeland race site in Pétange, Luxembourg. Directly after my event I had no time to get properly cleaned up because I needed to help Jonathan Page’s wife Cori in the pits, or rather play with their kids Emma and Milo while Cori took care of washing bikes and performing mechanical adjustments. He finished 3rd, after losing the sprint for 2nd place.  I think he could have won if he didn’t have a mechanical in the form of a very loose stem which caused him to wrap around a few trees before changing bikes in the pit.

Jonathan Page racing for 2nd place, Petange © just4fun.lu

Jonathan Page racing for 2nd place, Petange © just4fun.lu

By the time I got to the ladies shower room, it was filled with men. With Jonas waiting in the van, I couldn’t delay the inevitable any longer. So there I was doing the unintentional striptease act in front of the one guy left in the room.  After I removed my tights, leaving myself bare with only sports bra and shorts (of course they had to be the unflattering, only meant for wearing under tights, oversized grandma-style shorts), the guy rose from the bench and bee-lined to me, locking his gaze square on my legs. How flattered I was–until he said, “WOW, you have men’s legs!” Even so, I kept my optimism intact. Maybe he can see my few protruding veins or slight muscle definition. I was so wrong. He was referring to the massive black-and-blues covering half of my legs, thanks to multiple crashes in the last few races.

If I hadn’t been so distracted by having to strip in the co-ed showers during our first few minutes of conversation, I maybe would have recognized who he was right away. At least I would have come up with something intelligent to say when I figured out who he was, or at minimum something more acceptable than what I did say, which was, “Hey, I’m your facebook friend!” Yes, I actually said that. Then I immediately wanted to die. How embarrassing.

And as if it couldn’t get any worse, I continued, “I have followed you for years! You were a BIG STAR (as I held my scrawny bare arms out from end to end making the cartoonish gesture for oversized). Then you veered off for a couple of years until you came back recently. I was really confused by your placing two days ago in the 20’s. But then I read on teletext that you were on Niels Albert’s wheel until you fell in a puddle and froze to death.” Unfortunately I still didn’t die, giving me plenty more opportunity to sound stupid. I was just so caught off guard by being semi-naked in front of a guy whom I’ve admired for years, since 2002 in fact, when I cheered for him on the sidelines at World Championships in Zolder, where he placed 2nd in the Elites.

My racing experience earlier that afternoon was almost as shocking. I rode really well for the first couple of minutes until my lungs started to fully expand, causing my broken rib (yep, it was confirmed broken) to hurt like hell. It also affected my ability to tug at the bars or even hold them steady. At that point, it was as if my body pulled the brakes for self-preservation purposes. Midway through the race, I finally figured out my pain limit and rode that fine line until the end, passing a few riders on the way to finish 8th. Thanks to an excellent course layout, I still managed to have a blast. The course is half uphill, half downhill and almost entirely in the woods, where we weave in and out of the trees. Many consider it to be a mountain bike course. Maybe that’s why it’s one of my favorite races.

Mounting after a run-up © Mario Yskout

Mounting after a run-up © Mario Yskout

Two days later was my last of six races in sixteen days. After having to contest that many events with compromised physical health, I was thrilled my last was a local one. Fidea’s Tervuren Cyclocross race was only four miles from home. With the home-court advantage, I was lucky to have more supporters at this race than any other. But even with them willing me forward, my race was a repeat of the event previous. I again had a front row callup so my start was fabulous. All went well until a few seconds into the first extended climb. With only one good line, as the rest of the field was covered with snow, a gal crashed into me, knocking me off the clear path. But even so, I managed to remain in top ten through most of the first lap until the rib claimed my race, relegating me to 13th. Normally the course is a good one for me as it was hilly, hard-packed, with technical bits so I was a bit bummed. But after the race, the steady stream of friends and supporters who swung by the van worked quickly to lift my spirits–well, that and the gluhwein that Jonas handed me after I drank my recovery shake.

This weekend is the European National Championships so I have the weekend off. My next event is the following week in Surhuisterveen, Holland on January 13th. That should give me a bit of time for a decent recovery and allow me to get in a little shopping. Perfect timing since Belgium has their country-wide sales during the month of January (and July.) Jonas wants to get a bicycle GPS (any ideas?) and I’d like to get a new pair of winter boots. I need to replace the pair I left behind at the race in Luxembourg. I took them off before I got into the van and forgot to grab them before we pulled away. Oops.

Thanks for reading!

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