For the next few kilometers, everything was going well. I felt great. In fact, at one point, Ellen turned to me and said, “Maybe we should back off the pace since it is going too fast.” At that moment, I realized my plan to train through the post-season off-the-bike break had worked. Ellen was still stronger, but not by much. Although she may have not been in top form, she did have the forethought to sit near the front of our group going into a tricky singletrack while I was near the back. Part way into the singletrack, I watched the front of the peloton ride away. Knowing the situation was looking dismal, I asked the guy in front of me who was creating the gap to kindly either let go of the brakes or let us pass. He did neither and we were split from the group.

Ellen Van Loy, kitted up and ready at the start. © Jeremy Allen

Ellen Van Loy, kitted up and ready at the start. © Jeremy Allen

Once out of the woods, I attempted to bridge the gap alone…for the next 20+ kilometers, in fact. Big mistake. Worse yet, the side wind was so strong that I rode just on the brink of full power cutoff to the legs from the gluteus medius pain. The only reason my pain remained manageable was thanks to dry-needling from GRIT’s Maarten Thyssen, therapist to the Belgian Olympic athletes and a massage from my guy Paul just before I took off for Canada.

Every once in a while, I was passed by a group of three to five guys but I was too wiped to even jump on their wheels. There was one guy who did provide some much appreciated reprieve for bits here and there until his wobbly wheel got the best of him. Just when I was at the point of full body cramps for going way over my limit for too long, I spotted Gabby’s 15-man group coming up behind, with Jeremy Powers at the front pushing the pace and Gabby tucked in his wheel.

They flew by so fast I had no chance to sit on. Just when I thought all was lost to even crawl onto the podium, a friendly face dropped himself from Gabby’s group to wait for me. It was Edgars, a guy who normally comes in top ten but was having an off day. He let me sit on his wheel as we putt-putted the next few kilometers in hopes that I could pull myself together. His steady stream of encouraging words finally kicked in and we picked it up to a respectable pace. It was just in time for us to both jump on the wheel of his friend who flew by from the wave of athletes who started behind us. We got to cruise for 35kph for the next kilometers until I cracked again.

By this time, we were completely swarmed by these second-wave riders. I must admit it was a bit disheartening to be dropped by so many all at once but the supportive cheers I got from some of them as they passed really helped me to dig deep for my “third wind” so that I could fight to hold onto third place. My top favorite of all cheers came from a guy I passed in the final muddy chute. He yelled, “Hey Christine, I love you!” Priceless. It gave me such a boost that when I came to a tricky log section just after, where everyone around me was dismounting, I rode it without a thought in mind other than to get to the finish.

On the final climb to the line with pitches up to 15% I couldn’t even stand up on the pedals for fear that my whole body would seize and I’d have to crawl to the top. Shortly after I crossed the finish, Edgars rolled through, his work done. What a hero he was for me. Some moments in life you never forget. This was one such moment.

Parked just past the finish was Alex’s van. I grabbed a water from Bill, gave hugs all around to our support crew including Joany and Mark then crashed out on the grass next to Ellen. Our goal was to be on the podium so job accomplished. Its races like these that remind you just how important a solid support crew is and how riders around you can turn a dismal suffer-fest into a positive experience.

As for Ellen’s race, her group stayed together until a few kilometers before the finish where the individual attacks came. She stayed strong to the end which was a very good sign for her next cross season that kick off with a Colorado-based team training camp leading up to her first race of Cross Vegas World Cup September 16th.

The podium ceremony was very special for me. I may have come in third again but this one was really hard fought. It was also cool to share a podium with two gals I like and admire. In addition, I won my age category again. And pep-talk Jany surely kept her promise. While I stood there on the podium, all eyes were on her as she cheered louder than everyone. It reminded me of the deafening sound on the final descent at Koppenbergcross last year as Sven Nys came around the corner.

It was also fun to watch Ellen do her interview in English in front of an auditorium packed with folks. She said to me after, “I had so much to say that I wanted to get all the words out at the same time!” I totally get the feeling. It was yet another amazing experience where we got to spend time with solid people and ride our bikes in some of the most beautiful yet challenging private and public land from Paris to Ancaster. We are already excited to come back next year to collect more memorable experiences! I want to thank Stevens Bikes, T. Strong Transportation, Fitness by Farzan, 3T Cycling, Challenge Tires, Nodrugs, BOOOM, Hempage, Dieci-9, Tifosi Optics, Rivo Sports, SHEEX and Tam Bikes for all their support for another successful trip to Paris to Ancaster.

After a hard-fought win and podium finish, the Belgian-based riders get their fill of North America. © Christine Vardaros

After a hard-fought win and podium finish, the Belgian-based riders get their fill of North America. © Christine Vardaros

Right after the ceremony, it was into Bill’s car for the long drive south to New Jersey, right across the George Washington Bridge so we can play in Manhattan every day for a week, with and without the bikes.

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