Complementing the lively conversations that evening was an amazing array of food, including a mini coffee bar run by the infamous Domestique Café’s Krys Hines, former Mariposa framebuilder.

The next morning, one day before the race, we were back at the Ancaster Community center, along with Peter Glassford, to lead a kids’ cyclocross clinic. Twenty boys and girls, ages 8 to 13, provided by Chris Kiriakopoulos who leads a weekly ride for city kids, learned the art of dismounting/remounting, taking loose turns at high speed, and bunnyhopping logs – ok, well they were actually small branches but next year it’ll be logs considering how quickly they picked up these skills.

Post-clinic, we collected our race numbers. Ellen was number seven and I had eight. Having a low race number always gives me that mental boost, don’t know why. With number in hand, almost out the door, I had the unexpected pleasure of receiving the best pre-race pep talk ever, courtesy of fellow female racer Jany Mitges who knows all about battle as she fought one of the toughest of them all – cancer. I was a bit nervous to show up to this race because of a lingering gluteus medius muscle problem that’s haunted me the last few years where the power to my legs are cut off every time I push hard on the pedals or when there is a side wind since this muscle is responsible for stability. In fact I have been in therapy the last few months as it has gotten worse, in hopes to finally get it under control…but to no avail. Well, the last words from this kind woman’s uplifting talk was that WHEN I land on the podium she will be the loudest to cheer for me.

Along the far-reaching roads of Paris to Ancaster. Photo by Rob MacEwen on flick'r

Along the far-reaching roads of Paris to Ancaster. Photo by Rob MacEwen on flick’r

That evening, Ellen and I headed back out the door for one last training ride. We did a few 10- minute loops that included a 4 minute gradual climb to play on. We arrived home just in time to greet track racer Bill Whitman at the door. He drove four hours up to Ancaster, not only to be part of our support crew but to drive us after the race back to my friend Ronnie’s house in New Jersey, a full seven hours away. Bill viewed this trip as a motivational kickstart to his own training program to compete in next year’s P2A.

No matter what time zone I seem to be in, I firmly remain a non-morning person…as I discovered once again on race day. Bill, though, was bright and shiny enough to make up for my upside down smile and squinty eyes. If only he could have also neutralized my pre-race jitters. Once we arrived at the finish site in Ancaster, we were greeted by the rest of our support crew consisting of road racer Shelly McKee, Mechanic Bryan King, and fellow cyclist Edgars Apse (although he didn’t know he was part of the support crew yet.) Next we all piled into Alex’s van, bikes in tow in his travel box on wheels, to drive to the start of the race in Paris, another forty minutes away.

At the starting area, Alex parked us just next to the start line strip; it was VIP treatment all the way! In the Belgian races, it’s often only the men who can park next to the start so we really appreciated it. After a refresher tour of the first few kilometers, courtesy of Edgars, we hopped on the trainers set up literally next to the start line banner for a few minutes of intervals to wake the bodies up. While I was off doing my last minute pee’ing, the racers started queuing up early for the start. What a nice surprise to see that my bike was already off the trainer and placed in the first row.

Ellen Van Loy gets the legs moving before the gravel race. © Bill Whitman

Ellen Van Loy gets the legs moving before the gravel race. © Bill Whitman

My STEVENS Super Prestige bike was equipped with 36-46/12-27 gearing and 3T Mercurio 40 carbon wheels with white Grifo Almanzo 32c tubular tires, run at a pressure of 2.5 bar (36psi). I’ve ridden this setup as low as 0.9 bar (13psi) but this was no perfectly groomed sandy cross race you’d find in Belgium.

The gals I was looking at were local rider Mandy Dreyer who had twice won this race, British cyclocrosser Gabby Durrin who’d placed top ten in World Cups, and of course Ellen as she is ranked 3rd in the world and I am – well, let’s just say quite a bit farther down on the standings. I could only hope to catch a glimpse of Ellen’s ass as she is a really fast starter in the women’s UCI cross races and I am usually not – or maybe it is because of my 4th row callups to the start.

But today I had a front row lineup, alongside Ellen. When the gun sounded, I took off like a rocket. Sitting in top twenty for the first few kilometers was such a rush, no other gals in sight! Eventually Ellen came into view as she passed me on the long fire road and pulled in just in front of me. I got my wish. I was able to catch a glimpse of her ass. But naturally once I got my wish I wanted more. My new plan was to go for the win. What’s the expression? “Go big or go home?”

After 12 kilometers we all turned off the fireroad for the sharp right into a steep rocky climb that always blows apart the peloton. And if that doesn’t do the job well, there’s the tricky singletrack that follows. After the shakeup, I found myself in the same 18-man group as Ellen. Eventually Gabby bridged to our group for a bit before dropping herself. She had only started training a month before the race so I was not surprised by this.