Podium in Lorsch Cyclocross Magazine columnist Christine Vardaros, a regular print mag contributor, sent us this online report of her recent World Cup in Pijnacker and Germany. Enjoy her unique perspective of the day as a racer, journalist, and fan. You can read her previous online installment of the Tabor World Cup here. Photo by Ubi Blutsventje.

Updates from Germany and Pijnacker: 1-2 Nov and 9 Nov, 2008

Since Tabor, I have kept busy with a heavy training program, racing and the flu. Yep, I got nailed along with half the Belgian population. I have a feeling that my recent driving stint of 32 hours in 9 days may have worn me down enough to be susceptible to illness. It hit me a week ago Sunday night, just as we returned from our racing trip to Germany. It then briefly took a mini reprieve the following Sunday – just long enough for me to have deluded ambitions for a good result at Pijnacker World Cup, only to return to haunt me.

I think it is almost gone for good now. I did some motor pacing yesterday followed by some intervals and my sensations were promising. We’ll see if it disappeared early enough to afford me a fun time at this Sunday’s Gavere Superprestige mudfest. Even though Gavere may bring back painful memories since it is where the fateful kiss took place last year between my head and a tree that caused my prolonged head injury, I still look forward to it.

Since last I wrote, I raced two weeks ago in Germany – Magstadt and Lorsch, and last week in Holland’s Pijnacker World Cup. The first race was a rather unpleasant experience. It would have felt worse if I were fully awake for it. To get to the race on time, we had to leave at 4am for the 6-hour trek. I spent most of the drive in and out of consciousness, possibly not the best way to start a race. When I keep this in mind, I am thankful for my 8th place finish on the unforgiving course almost completely layered with ankle-deep mud! The highlight of the day was my unsuspected cheering section. There were about ten guys who ran from section to section screaming their heads off for me. I couldn’t believe that the cheers were for me until I turned around only to see no other racer in sight each time. Whether or not I could understand what they were saying was another story.

Afterwards, we drove 1.5 hours directly to our hotel in Lorsch. After a couple of hours washing the mud out of all my clothes (the usual grape-stomping bathtub method), shoes, helmet, and select orifices, the rest of the evening was focused completely on recovery. I rested, ate, drank, ate, rested, rode the trainer, stretched, rested, drank and slept.

The next morning was spent doing exactly the same. I was determined to make something of the weekend. As I waited patiently for my call-up to the starting line of the second event of the weekend, I realized that I would have no idea when I am called. They do it by numbers, not names. So if it doesn’t sound like English, Dutch (not Deutsch), French, or Spanish I am screwed. And screwed I almost was if it weren’t for a couple of racers who nudged me forward after my number was called. Good thing “one minute” sounds similar to Dutch so I knew the amount of time before the gun. This was especially important considering there was no gun fire to acknowledge the start. The guy tried two times but couldn’t get it to pop.

He finally gave us the nod to go without him and off I went. Down the extended false flat straightaway I sprinted, with the whole field in tow. Yep, I got the holeshot. The lead lasted only a few minutes since I didn’t know the course. Every time I tried to pre-ride the course, the course patrol kicked me off. By the second lap I was relegated to 6th position. But once I knew the turns, I picked up the pace and got back to 3rd position. I wish I had a camera to capture the look on Jonas’ face when I turned the corner into his sight in 3rd. He was surprised. Heck, I was surprised. By the last lap, I had put about 40 seconds on 4th place and even got within ten seconds of 2nd place.

After the race, one of the girls asked me “What happened to you today?” That was a good feeling since it was only a day ago that many of these same girls kicked my butt and now they are minutes behind. I guess it is true that (most) anything can turn around in a day. Or more likely, I recovered properly and got more than four hours of sleep while the other gals stayed up late at the clubs dancing to techno and drinking German beers. Even though the race was not a high profile one, it felt good to be on the podium again.

On the return trip, we tried to keep with our tradition of speaking in the language of race but that lasted only a few minutes. It’s not as funny when one of us actually speaks the language! No, not me. So we went back to speakingskee in Czechskee.

By Sunday night, the flu fully kicked in. The next days until Saturday were spent exclusively on the couch and in the bed in a heavy-headed daze. On Saturday, we drove up to Pijnacker to pre-ride the course. I was feeling slightly better Saturday so I figured I’d give it a go. At least I’d be fully rested. The course was slightly muddy which was good for me since the flu sucks power right out of your legs. Due to the heavy rainfall all night, the next morning was a completely different situation. It went from slightly muddy to slightly dry.

My callup was right next to Katie Compton. When the gun sounded, she moved forward while I moved back and out of the field. Last place. It was even worse in the muddy, grassy sections where I was barely strong enough to push a “nieuwelingen” (newbie AKA granny) gear, making the gaps bigger and bigger. I only managed to pass a few racers before the finish. After the event, when I thought the worst of it was over, I went into a coughing fit that lasted about thirty minutes. And in the middle of it, Bart Hazen – writer and photographer for the Daily Peloton and Cyclocross Magazine contributor – came over to say hello and snap a few shots. I did my best to smile but only managed the widest, goofiest fake smile ever recorded. The second he left, I coughed all the way back to the van.

As we cautiously drove away from the race site, we passed the usual string of big team mobile homes and racers meandering back to them, thick pockets of spectators and mechanics covered in mud-brown one-piece jumpsuits (think GeWilli of East Coast ‘cross racing) returning from the pits carrying two bikes, two wheels, backpack, and bucket. The last of the usual markers we passed was the old yet functioning windmill at the entrance of the course.

Wish me luck in my next races. Thanks for reading.

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Enjoy reading Christine’s reports? Want to help her get to the races to keep them going? If you’d like to support her efforts as she comes back from last year’s concussion-ruined season without a title sponsor, you can do so below: