The last official race of the season may have been like any other, but when combined with a touch of senioritis (think back to the last couple of weeks of high school or university) everything felt different. For this reason, Jonas and I showed up a little later than our normal three hours prior to the start so I could keep my socializing in check. Lucky for me, my race was delayed by thirty minutes so of course I got in a full block of bonus chatting with friends and supporters. It seemed the other racers were doing a bit more socializing as well. On the start/finish strip before the race and as we waited for callup, the conversations were flowing. As for me, I rode back and forth with Hanka Kupfernagel, Arenda Grimberg and my teammate Veerle Ingels. I also took a few seconds to say hi to Reza Hormes-Ravenstijn, Maaike Laansens, Nikki Harris and a few others.
As for the actual race, it was nothing special for me. A bad start combined with only three decent passing spots per lap didn’t add up to a knockout performance, but I did manage to pass a few before the end of the race. Immediately afterwards, I was bummed for exactly eight seconds before my thoughts diverted to the post-season excitement to come later in the day.
The real party that Jonas and I were hosting, was to happen after the men’s event but by the time I got back to the van after my race, there were already a few people gathered around for an impromptu pre-party. We brought out the cookies and beer while I rode the trainer and sipped a recovery drink. By the time we got to the course to watch the men, Bart Wellens of Telenet-Fidea had already forty seconds on the chasers and the crowds were going crazy. After missing the first part of the season due to a chronic fatigue virus, Wellens was treating his diehard fans to a nice season-ending gift. It was especially sweet since he had won his first race this year only a week ago, giving his fans and himself a serious boost going into the off-season.
On our way back to the van, we made a quick stop at the Baboco-Revor mobilehome to have a Hasseltse Koffie (coffee with a splash of Jenever) with Steven Baekelandt. It was so incredibly smooth it was tough not to stay for a refill, but my party awaited. When we got back to the van, little groups of people were ready to celebrate. I did a quick hello then dove in to get the table and party foods. On the menu were a few different sorts of homemade cookies: Chocolate chip with walnut, chocolate chip with marzipan, chocolate macaroons and butterscotch cookies made with my great grandmother’s family recipe which easily outshined the others. The treats were accompanied by beer, wine, apple jenever, soda and chips, courtesy of Jonas’ mom.
But properly kicking off the party was the Cactus Jenever that Anton Vos brought. There were shots all around. Within no time the family-size bottle was mostly gone. After taking a swig, I could see why. The taste was very unique – sweet with a punch. Over the next three hours, we had so many friends and supporters rotate through our party that I was absolutely humbled by all the attention! There were more people stopping by our gathering than there were at the mobilehomes of most of the big pros.
Some of the visitors were fellow racers which is always fun because it’s rare that we get to socialize much during the season. Among the racers were current World Champs Marianne Vos (sister of Cactus Jenever-bearing Anton) and Pawel Szczepaniak, Erwin Vervecken, Joachim Parbo, Femke Laansens, and Jonathan Page. Cyclocross Magazine’s Dan Seaton and Mindi Wisman were also among the partygoers.
The majority of our guests were people I had met over the last couple of years at the races. I can understand what Erwin Vervecken means when he says that over the years all his supporters have become friends – like one big family. The quality of my guests really made me feel special. They also made me feel like what I am doing on a bike is special too. That’s something I forget when I am mentally beating myself up, only focusing at times on my failures. It’s a nice reminder that there is more to bike racing than sitting on the saddle.
There were also brand new supporters at the party, folks I only met that day but vowed to be part of my supporter club next season which I found quite nice. Some of these brand new supporters I must admit were somewhat stolen from Stybar. In the middle of the celebration, I jumped over to his mobilehome to give him a copy of Cyclocross Magazine that contained his interview, as well as a gift packet from BikePure containing bracelets and spacers. After I handed over the goods, a few of his fans realized I was American and asked me about Jonathan Page. When I told them he was at my party, they all followed me back.
Once the celebration came to a close, I walked over to the BKCP-Powerplus guys parked next to us to share my cookies. One of them took a chance and asked me to name my favorite male rider. I felt silly not gushing about their prized Niels Albert whom I do greatly admire or any other guy on their team for that matter, but I had to tell the truth. I apologetically answered with Sven Nys, Stybar, as well as two racers I recently got to meet when I interviewed them in my home a few days ago for Cyclocross Magazine – Polish Champion Mariusz Gil and Under-23 World Champion Pawel Szczepaniak. Those kids won me over with their personality.
After sharing the last of our cookies with the guys, Jonas and I headed home, stopping on the way at five frieten stands in a futile search for vegan fries before finally ordering takeout Indian food.
The last party of the day was held at a dance club. As it didn’t start until after 11pm, we took a nap to freshen up. Or rather Jonas took a nap while I watched him in envy. I was way too wired to sleep. We arrived at about 12am and the club was fairly packed but by 2am the crowds quadrupled where you couldn’t even raise your arms. Thankfully we got to watch them from the second-floor balcony as the bike party was held in the VIP room.
The whole night the champagne flowed, glasses clinked everywhere! After a full season of watching the press develop a battle between Sven Nys and Niels Albert, it was amusing to see the reality as they partied together. It seemed the attendees were either Belgian or race for a Belgian team. Some other racers I spotted among the crowd were Stybar, Vervecken, Kevin Pauwels, Dieter Vanthourenhout, Pawel Szczepaniak, Mariusz Gil and Sanne Cant . I am sure there were many more, but it is harder to identify them than you think without their team kits. One such example was Telenet-Fidea’s Vincent Baestaens. He was hanging out with my friend Dries Dewit, so I asked him his name since he looked familiar. As soon as he told me I felt pretty stupid. This is a guy for whom I have repeatedly cheered.
You’d think that the highlight of my evening would be talking to some of the guys or holding up a glass to them. But I hate to admit that what I found most fascinating was watching some random woman dance. She was a tiny older woman completely donned in white, down to her bleached blond hair. In beat with the throbbing music, she mesmerizingly seduced the banister pole overlooking the dance floor.
By about 3am we were finally home. Embarrassingly, we left before everyone except for Kevin Pauwels who beat us by thirty minutes. All the excitement of our post-race van party had wiped us out.
The last official race of the season is Cyclo Cross Masters Indoor race this Wednesday night. It may just be for show, but I expect it will hurt like hell. Usually there wasn’t supposed to be a women’s event, but when Golazo Sports took it over a few weeks ago, they immediately added not one but two women’s events. The first is a twenty minute race. The second is a missing-out style event where the last racers of each lap to cross the finish line get pulled until only one remains. There are only twelve women invited to the event – most of whom are UCI ranked within the top ten. I have a feeling that a solid warmup is key!
Thanks to all of you for following my adventures!