Christine and Nancy playing in the mountains. Christine Vardaros

Christine and Nancy playing in the mountains. © Christine Vardaros

Cyclocross Magazine’s Belgian correspondent Christine Vardaros last updated us from her last cyclocross race of the year, the Stannah Cyclocross Masters Indoor Race in Hasselt, Belgium, but the off-season hasn’t been much of an off-season for her so far. In our last Women’s Wednesday column, we asked women how they were spending their off-seasons, and Vardaros told us about her plans for the Tour of Cyprus. Now, she’s filling us in on how it went.

by Christine Vardaros

With only a month off since my last cyclocross race, I got back in the saddle for the Tour of Cyprus, held last week.  The Tour of Cyprus is a unique three-day stage race where the sexes battle each other as well as the racers of their own gender. Each stage is around 100-120km, although only the middle 40km is actually timed for results. The rest is used for warming up, cooling down and socializing! In addition there is a “B” group for cyclotourists. They complete basically the same tour, but at more relaxed  pace with no timed section  The event also serves as a fundraiser for “Help Save Elikas,” a foundation for people with special needs.

Usually I wouldn’t consider racing in an event only a month after a very long, trying cyclocross season but since I am a slave of warm sun on my quads – especially since moving to my current residence of Belgium, I eagerly accepted an invitation to this event. And knowing that I am lazy by nature, I figured I could also use it as a forced motivation to get back into a training routine.

The first time I participated in the Tour of Cyprus two years ago, I was joined by my husband, Jonas. But this time around, I traded him in for my good friend Nancy Farzan for some girl bonding, as we haven’t spent time quality time together in quite some time.

On the first day, when all the riders gathered at the start, I must admit that I got excited like a little kid showing up to a new playground to make sand castles with the others. While some of the faces were wonderfully familiar – such as Etienne Bonello from Malta who won the overall in the men’s category, Liz Dimmock from the UK, many of the race organizers like headmaster Andy Hadjivasiliou from Cyprus, and Kostas Deligeorgis from Greece – there was a whole collection of folks who were new to me.

Heck, there were riders there from lands that I have only heard of, like Dubai. In addition, we got to ride with cyclists from other exotic lands such as Malta, Lebanon, Israel, Greece, the UK, the Netherlands and, of course, Cyprus. As we took our very first pedal strokes, I couldn’t help but do the happy-dance in my head in anticipation of all the new experiences that were awaiting me.

As for the racing, I was already prepared for a tough time, considering this is a climbing event. The first day was tailor-made for a cyclocrosser, with its numerous power climbs and short technical descents, but the other two days were a climber’s dream with climbs in upwards of 13km.

As the group rode towards the first timed section, I met a woman named Sabine Gandini, who was clearly a pure climber and most likely the one to beat. She came from the Trentino region of Italy and had a teeny-tiny build. If you threw a loaf of bread at her, it would come back sliced. As I stood there at the feed zone, just before the start of the timed section, stuffing my face with grilled bread dipped in delicious olive oil, I gave the tiny gal some thought. While wiping the oil off my chin with my glove, I realized I had my work cut out for me if I wanted to repeat my overall victory of two years ago. Relying on my cyclocross skills, I was able to snag the victory in the women’s category on that day while finishing 10th overall in the mens/womens category.  Unfortunately, Miss Tiny finished in the same group.

For the remaining two days, I did whatever I could to infiltrate any group that went off the front, in hopes of reaching the base of the climbs before Miss Tiny and the other sinewy gals. I also made sure to make the front group every time there was a split in the peloton due to the short power climbs – but to no avail. After every split, the groups re-merged. We all reached the base of the mountains together. Once climbing, I held onto the lead group for as long as I could, but my cyclocross-specific fitness eventually claimed my race.

In the end, I rode away with one first place in the first stage and two second places in stages two and three. (I must admit that the short timed sections of about an hour or so definitely played in my favor after coming off a season of cyclocrosss.) As for the overall, I took second place (13 in the overall mens/womens category) while Miss Tiny claimed the top spot (ninth in the mens/womens). In the third spot was Marie Claire Aquilina of Malta. My friend Nancy finished in fourth.

Looking back at the event, I was at first disappointed for failing myself in the mountains. But after a bit of reflection combined with the post-race party of super tasty treats, I was quickly over it. In reality, the trip was a success. I had achieved everything I set out to do. I got a kickstart on my off-season training in a safe, pleasant environment where all I had to do was focus on riding my bike while enjoying the amazing scenery. The loops took us through so many interesting towns filled with character and, once in the mountains, the views were postcard-worthy. I also got to socialize enough to last me a year. I talked so much that my throat hurt by the end. I was even laughed at during the timed section for nonstop socializing – oops. Maybe I could have climbed faster if I conserved my energy a bit more?

Naaah, I tell myself. Either way, it was worth it since I was able to encounter so many colorful personalities that have made an impression on me that will surely last longer than the fitness gained from this event. Needless to say, I’ve made many friendships in those few days. Lastly, I was able to experience so many amazing Cyprus delicacies – all while working on my suntan.   Mission accomplished.

When the 2013 edition rolls around next March, a mere month after cyclocross season ends, I expect I will once again be standing on the start line in anticipation of what is to come. I’m a sucker for new adventures! Who’s with me?

For more information on the Tour of Cyprus, visit: or visit them on Facebook under “Tour of Cyprus Cycling Challenge.”