Remounting is dangerous when trying not to break an egg on butt © Ali Verleyen

Remounting is dangerous when trying not to break an egg on butt © Ali Verleyen

by Christine Vardaros

Koksijde, Belgium – The Koksijde World Cup can be summed up in two words – rain and sand. As the course literally wound through the Belgian coast’s dunes, almost half the track was in sand. While the rain turned some of the sand sections into single-file highways, all of the races were still won and lost due to the sand. But if I were to sum up my personal race experience it would also take two words – saddle and sore, the unspoken words of cyclists.

After a two-hour drive in heavy rains and wind, we finally arrived at the course site. Fully kitted up, Jonas and I lingered in the van in hopes that the sky would eventually clear and the sun shine through. We weren’t ready for what would have been our first pre-ride in the rain. Heck, I haven’t even had to race in the rain yet this season. Magically after only twenty minutes we had our wish. After a lovely dry but short pre-ride I headed back to the car as it started to sprinkle. Jonas was not as lucky. He decided to extend his ride in search of a hose to wash the bikes. The moment I stepped in the van, the sky opened up again and he was hit hard with the worst downpour of the day. It was so cold that part of the waterfall was in the form of hail. Jonas may not have found a hose but he did return with a clean bike.

While waiting for him to return, I removed most of the sand from my shoes, clothes, helmet and hair, then headed over to collect my race numbers. There is a UCI rule that each country must pick up their numbers at one time. Usually I don’t have a problem getting them without waiting for the handful of other Americans to arrive, namely Jonathan Page and Katie Compton. But this time the UCI official was very adamant about me waiting for the rest of “the team.” After a couple of pleas, explaining to him that “America doesn’t work like that,” another UCI official and the Belgian Team Coach Rudy De Bie standing nearby jumped in and said, “Yes, that’s true. They don’t work like that.” The way these guys casually informed him of America’s exception to the rule, you’d think they were giving directions to the toilet. Within two seconds I had my numbers in hand – one for the back and two for the shoulders.

Vardaros shouldering © Bart Hazen

Vardaros shouldering the bike © Bart Hazen

The next morning we woke up to heavy rain – again. No surprises considering we were up all night due to the pounding rain against the skinny hotel windows. Throughout the day it continued on and off, mainly on. I was so incredibly thankful to have a custom-made awning on our van that Jonas had installed a few weeks ago. Staying dry during a pre-ride on the trainer is priceless on a cold day. For this race, I had double the usual support crew. In addition to Jonas, U-23 racer Brandon Mart helped me out. He is in Belgium for a couple of months to get some European racing experience, paying for the whole trip out of his own pocket with no race support. Tough kid! He was available to help me because, for some odd reason, USA Cycling wouldn’t let him race the event even though they had five available spots to fill. I had him do everything from collect my jacket at the start to make my recovery shake. It may not have been the star treatment Niels Albert gets but it surely made me feel like a queen.

At the start it began to rain again, so I immediately headed over to the biggest umbrella I could find and took cover. These spectators not only kept me dry but turned out to be the most vibrant cheering section I had in the race! At one point, their cheers caught me so off-guard on a technical, sandy descent that I actually put a foot down. I still haven’t mastered the art of laughing while riding.

Stuck in the sand, part 1 © Bart Hazen

Stuck in the sand, part 1 © Bart Hazen

My fourth row start was not ideal, but I was not discouraged. I had complete confidence in my fitness – that it would conquer all. My last two races have been solid and I expected this one should be a little bit better! Even after getting caught behind a few crashes in the first lap, I kept faith knowing there’s enough time for my fitness to carry me forward in the race. But it didn’t conquer all as I had hoped, namely the effects of my oversized saddle sore the size of a chicken’s egg. I wouldn’t believe it was real if I weren’t the owner of it. While in serious pain, on heavy duty antibiotics and without the ability to sit straight on the saddle, I naturally lost spots and made mistakes. One such debacle left me stranded on the beach, with both me and my bike wedged under a course fence.

Now that I am off the bike for a few days, unable to sit normally on a couch and making regular trips to the doctor, I wish I would have sat this one out. But instead of dwelling on a race gone bad, I’ve chosen to pretend it didn’t happen so that I can focus all my attention on the upcoming holiday season races. They are held on December 18th, 20th , 26th, 29th and January 1st and 3rd. I was supposed to race in Frankfurt this weekend but I’ll take that time off to fully recover and recharge so I can have some great success stories to tell you about in the races later this month!

By the way, our post-race ritual of walking hand-in-hand along the beach didn’t happen thanks to the saddle sore, but we did have a van picnic. We parked the van facing the ocean while dining on pasta with pesto, bread with hummus and blueberry Fruition bars, PROBAR’s new high-carb energy bar, for dessert.

Thanks for reading.