Just two short days after returning home from nationals in Bend, OR I was back on a plane. That’s not so unusual given how much I’m always hoping from one place to the next, but this time the trip wasn’t just a hop, skip and jump away. It was a looooong, restless flight to Belgium. The last time that I made a trans atlantic flight was almost one year ago when I flew over to Belgium for my first attempt (and ass kicking) at a couple World Cups and the World Championships. During that trip the weather was rather dismal, as is typical this of time year here. Rain, cold, gloom. This time, however, it’s still very cold but there is an atypical amount of snow on the ground which makes it feel more “festive”. Christmas IS just 4 days away.
I landed in Amsterdam, schlepped all my stuff through customs, picked up my rental car and cautiously drove (jet lag, snow/ice, traffic and driving alone isn’t much fun) to my B&B in Brecht, De Statie. Within minutes of dropping my stuff in my room, I was sitting in the restaurant enjoying a hot bowl of soup and a tasty Westmalle Tripel (Westmalle is only 7km away so how could I say no?). Later that afternoon, I met up with Katie and Mark Compton at their host family’s house in Kalmthout for a quick spin on the rollers and dinner. And for the next several days this would become the norm….breakfast at my place and then afternoon ride and dinner in Kalmthout. Katie and Mark have been super generous as they show me the ropes over here – rides, talking me through the WC course, bike maintenance etc. And their family has been over the top generous since they didn’t know me from Adam. They helped me in the pits at the WC, they’ve taken care of my bikes, done my laundry and fed me. All without me being able to lift a finger to help. Both Mark and Katie and their family have made this trip extremely smooth and easy.
Since I’m posting this picture from the race of all the spectators, I must mention one thing. We may not have the sheer number of spectators in the US but the enthusiasm and energy they generate is second to none. During my last visit to Europe I noticed that the size of the crowd might be bigger here but the rowdy, rambunctious noise that fills the venue with so much spirit in the US is missing. And I noticed it again in Kalmthout. Here, they cheer for the leaders only. Since I was so far off the back, I could hear the crickets chirping as I passed through the horde of people. And there are no cowbells (hellllooo!). For me, it’s the excitement exuding from the crowd that keeps me going when I’m hurting so bad I want to throw up. Anyway, just wanted to throw that out there – that Americans may be loud and obnoxious but I love it!
The World Cup, on the other hand, did not go smooth and was by no means easy. Thanks to my appallingly (x100) bad starts I quickly got off on the wrong foot…in about the first 10 meters. I went from 1.5 row (technically it should have been 2nd row but there’s nothing organized in the start grid here) to 5th row that quickly. Unlike in the US where I can eventually power my way to the front, that was virtually impossible to do in Kalmthout. The course was technical, twisty and tight and making matters worse was the snow and ice that ran up the sides of the best line. That meant I had to be patient, very patient, too patient. While the front of the race was riding away, I kept getting stuck behind slower riders that I could not pass. Maybe someone with more skill and nerve could have made the right moves but I’m just not there yet. So, I waited mostly for the pavement sections and had made up some ground when on the last lap I came barreling down a small hill and hit a frozen rut wrong which sent me flying right into a metal fence. I hit it hard, too. I heard the spectators gasp. I was waiting for a standing ovation. It would have been shocking to see, I’m sure. But, I hit it hard enough that my handlebars were completely turned sideways and my chain came off. The pits were still a long way off so I straightened out my wheel myself and got rolling, but not until I had been passed by just about the rest of the field. I have to admit the usual drive I have to keep going when mishaps happen was completely deflated. Because it was the last lap there wasn’t much I could to do salvage any sort of result. So, I sort of sulked my way across the finish and quietly ducked into the RV to piss and moan to myself for awhile. Aargh!
On the upside, Katie won! I could tell pre-riding the day before that she owned that course. She’s got mad skills and the strength to match, I knew she would be unbeatable. I’m just wondering (secretly hoping) if spending this much time around her will help some of that talent rub off on me?! Please, please, please!
My doom and gloom has faded into the past, and I’m looking forward to what Zolder will bring. To help sharpen up my skills and confidence heading into the weekend, I rode with Mark and Katie on the snowy trails in the woods today. The single track was wicked fun. Tomorrow, intervals on those trails so I can work on speed and skills at the same time. That should teach me a thing or two, right? And, I also had a great massage and some kinesio taping done with Paul Van Loon at Sportkine. Paul works with many of the top pros in the area so there’s no doubt he knows what he’s doing…and I can now testify to that!
Now, it is almost 2am. Jet lag sucks. Or maybe my nap late this afternoon screwed me up. Either way, I should try (try being the key word here) to get some sleep.
One last photo – the restaurant at the B&B. Quite classy!