Sue Butler's getting ready for the busy holiday season of racing in Belgium. Photo courtesy

by Sue Butler

It’s good to be back in Belgium. Last year I had to forgo my Euro racing campaign due to asthma, so I’m happy to be here, snow and all. I’m in my familiar stomping grounds, courtesy of Kris Schamp’s (local Portland race promoter) parents, joined by Ryan Trebon.

Kalmthout is usually a 45-minute drive away. Saturday’s trip for pre-ride was smooth sailing, meeting at the makeshift USA ’crossers base of operations – Katie and Mark Compton’s host parents – riding to/from the course from there and adding a nice spin in the forest.

Sunday we awoke to fresh snow, slower roads and the chaos of navigating to the course via backroads. Then we arrived at the course to saved parking and a great set up with tents, bike stands and an RV – it doesn’t get more pro than that. We have been adopted by a Stybar supporter since the reigning world champ isn’t racing currently; I secretly hope he’s out for a while. Katie and Mark, as gracious as ever, have shared their perks with Ryan, Meredith and me, making racing in the cold a much easier go. I think back to my first year racing here with Wendy Williams, with us changing outside of the car in the parking lot, freezing and not being able to warm up – not to mention the stares of pity we received. But this year, it was very pro. At least the preparation.

I had pre-ridden the course on my sweet X-Fire Ridley “A” bike and my Reynolds Carbon 46’s, making sure everything had traveled well. All seemed good – I was excited to race, the course was fun. Despite being a bit tired, I felt good. Rolling up to the start, I realized my saddle was crooked. With further investigation, I realized I hadn’t ever tightened it when I put my bike together. Panic set in. Tools were delivered to me in the nick of time and my saddle was set. Then with a minute to go. I looked down; I forgot to get into the big chainring. No time to fix it now. I decided to just relax, make it work. It didn’t help my start, which I was already apprehensive about as I was on the far left next to the metal fencing, albeit in the front row.

The crowd was thick for Kalmthout © Sue Butler

The green light went off and it was chaotic as normal, with the pushing, shoving and elbowing starting instantly. Someone put a hand on my butt and moved me over to the inside on the start. I tried to hold my own, avoid trouble, and when people began dismounting and making it impossible to ride, I joined them.

I was sitting about 17th after the first technical section. I just needed to ride smoothly. Up the first set of stairs, smooth was not my game. I bounced my chain off at the top. I relaxed, pedaled it back on, and now I was 25th. I made up a few spots, finishing the lap in 20th. It’s good and bad to be able to see your position as you cross the finish line. I knew I had to move up.

Next lap, passed and was passed. Down to 21st. Third lap, my biggest mistake of the day. Between the two short stair sections where you can’t even really get clipped in in-between, I couldn’t find my left pedal for a platform to dismount. I ate it. Three more spots lost. Gained a few, lost a few more.

Lap 4 in 22nd. I could see them up the road. I attempted to push with everything I had, but it wasn’t enough.  It was cold. I couldn’t get my engine to fire. Couldn’t turn over the pedals fast enough. Couldn’t put down enough power. Passed by one more on the last lap. And the final lights at the finish put me at 23rd.

Katie Compton definitely embodies the pro style © Sue Butler

How do I react? It was not where I wanted to be, but I didn’t have any more in me. I rode my race, did my best. I made a few mistakes, perhaps struggled a bit with getting into pedals due to cold feet. But we all race in the same conditions. My feet weren’t any colder than anyone else’s. In the end, I had the luxury of being met at the finish with warm clothes and to ride back to the motorhome to get warm before cooling down. My bikes were taken care of (THANK YOU CHRIS MCKENNEY FROM SRAM), food was offered, drinks were offered. My bike was put on the trainer for me, a towel given to me to shower, and then it was time to go out and cheer for Ryan, getting the crazy stares from the Euros when Meredith and I cheer like the Americans we are. Now only if I had my cowbell…that would have been very pro!

Thank you to the Thijs family  for their continued support of not only the winner of the World Cup, but we Americans that continue to fight the fight. Thank you to SRAM’s Chris McKenney for trekking through the snow to get to Kalmthout and to provide support for Ryan and me. Also to Ridley and Reynold’s for the best gear on the planet – it makes riding and racing fun. And congrats to Katie and Katerina for their podium finishes. It was fun to hoot and holler at the podium presentation, knowing that North American women’s racing is the fastest in the world.