Amy Dombroski, in her first World cup of the season, finished 13th in Zolder, Belgium 26 Dec, 2009. ©Bart Hazen

by Amy Dombroski

“World Cup”…the two words bring about those same butterflies as that angry  “Boy Sets Fire” song, the same fizziness of a hard espresso shot, the similar uneasiness of the scent of warming gel. It sounds like a big deal, eh, but it’s just another gun shot, whistle blown or red light changing green. But this time, girls with names bigger than the word cyclocross are chomping at the bit beside me, speaking different languages, every multi-colored kit is a new view, the scent of  cigar smoke and copious amounts of beer lingers in the nerve-filled air. Pre-race instructions, call-ups and numbers are all in some jibberish that I try to decipher. And the spectators!  The 2.89km course is frosted with people 6-8 deep and they’ve all forked 15 euro to yell while we drool on ourselves and bleed out of our eyes…just another Boxing Day in Belgium.

I melted into my bed with a heavy head last week. I missed the Kalmthout World Cup which, while deserving of the words “epic” and “mega,” I watched on TV with a lovely cup of tea. I was content to be warm, but still jonesing to race. The weather remained grim the entire week, begging for some quality trainer time. Pretty sure the past week was the most bonding time with a trainer I have ever done, and I’d like to keep it that way. So when I woke yesterday to a balmy morning with clear skies I was right chuffed!

My wonderful Brit-turned-Belge hosts, Jos and Tim, and I rallied to Heusten-Zolder. My first lap recon of the course went fine: just rolling, slowly inspecting things, taking it all at a leisurely pace. The second lap was similar, made interesting with multiple over-the-bar faceplants and tuck-and-roll tumbles. The U23s were due to start, so with those crashified memories I went to the car to reflect. Later, the 2nd inspection was smoother and I was content with my lines. The course offered galactic-acid-forming climbs and back-that-arse-back, willy-nilly descents, teeth-gritting power straights, slick corners, enchanting-mossy-green-forest lines, tight switchbacks on loose sand. The hardest part for me and my tree-stump legs was a nearly vertical wall to run, er, claw up.

I’d say it was a solid race, some good, some bad, as is racing. While the race was sharp, I felt a bit dull. I had some bobbles, but was able to ride the technical stuff with calm, put my head down and power, and I made it up the wall without getting too much dirt in my nails. Halfway through I had moved within the top 10, but lost some of those spots again by the finish, taking a lucky 13th. So with that potential I am sitting passenger seat in a packed-to-the-gills Alpha Romeo en route to England for afternoon tea and a couple weeks of training in the pain cave known as Elm Croft.