Van den Brand ran away with the win. by Lea De Winne

Van den Brand ran away with the win in Lille. by Lea De Winne

by Christine Vardaros

I did it again! On Saturday, at the Krawatencross GVA Trophy race in Lille, Belgium, I managed to go from a front row call-up to the last three riders in a matter of ten seconds.  By the time we turned off the starting straightaway and onto the dirt, my race was over.  But since denial is often a cyclist’s best friend, I pressed on with a smile spread across my face.

The course started off with a long pavement road, then a U-turn onto the dirt. Fifteen seconds later we hit the first sand section with two quick U-turns then up and over the double barrier and onto the longest of the sand sections where there is only one good line the width of a tire and located right next to the fencing.  And just when you think you are going to make it through unscathed, there is a right hand turn that heads slightly uphill – just uphill enough to make even the sandmasters like Sven Nys periodically dismount. Next it is in and out of the thick fans, up the flyover landing into deep turny sand, through sloppy mud, and semi-sand along a lake.  Once up and over the short steep mud bump the real fun starts.  The course weaves around the woods in the form of twisty rolling singletrack. More sand, another flyover, then its back to the twisty stuff until the finish.

Most of my race was spent making mistakes in the sand section – choosing to ride instead of run, even when running was the obvious choice to everyone watching but me.  It was not until after the race that I figured out what jonas meant by his repeated commands of “run faster.” I thought he meant when I am on foot to speed it up a bit. But he meant the more obvious sentiment of “get off the bike sooner.” It is now clear to me how it is possible for me to gap girls by multiple seconds only for them to mysteriously reappear on my wheel after every sand section. Oops.

But even so I managed to have an excellent time.  There is nothing more special than to be racing cyclocross in Belgium where even the tiniest of local races here are treated as World Championships where much of the top talent go head-to-head in front of thousands of animated fans from all over the country.

Christine Vardaros finds the fast line through the sand. by Krist Vanmelle

Christine Vardaros finds the fast line through the sand. by Krist Vanmelle

My best part of the race actually occurred minutes before we got the (literal) green light.  As I arrived at the start, I saw Marianne Vos – our newly crowned world champion (on a side note, make sure you get a copy of the upcoming Issue 6 of Cyclocross Magazine for our exclusive interview with her).  After I congratulated her, we rode together down the start/finish straight to keep the legs moving.  As we approached the turnaround point, a group of outrageous fans gave an over-the-top cheer, complete with waving hands.  I thought it was too sweet that fans acknowledge the smart riding Vos executed at Worlds. But then she made the u-turn and the fans were still going crazy. It was at that point I realized those cheers were for me!  My very own supports came to see me!  How honored – and humbled – was I! In a land where I am an underdog as a foreigner, it is special to hear people cheer my name.  It seems Lille was riddled with fans of mine – I heard my name yelled steadily throughout the course which is always a motivator, or at least a comforter depending on how my race is going.  I placed 12th so I suppose the cheers served as a little bit of both.

My next race is in Heerlen, Netherlands this Saturday. Wish me luck!

Thanks for reading!

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