October 20, 2007
Richest women’s cross race in the world, a weekend in the Hampton’s, UCI points on the line and the promise of sweet host housing - What more could a girl ask for? So, feeling barely recovered from Interbike I bought a plane ticket and flew to Long Island. I had been feeling off all week, my ears hurt and I slept a lot but I also really wanted to race. A flight across the continent including a several hour layover allowed me to catch up on sleep, but did nothing for the ears. Being older and wiser than in the past I flew into a small airport on Long Island (as opposed to JFK) and drove through the dark and foggy night towards my weekend housing. It took a bit of work to find my home for the weekend but it was worth it. After being given the tour by Myles, the best race promoter ever, I decided this week’s recovery technique would be swimming. It’s hard to pass up a beautiful heated pool tucked away in the woods after being on an airplane all day.
Upon waking Friday morning I met my host, Dwight, who arrived while I was so asleep that not even a flock of banshees could wake me. The plan for the day was to meet Erwin Vervecken (yeah, the guy who’s got rainbow stripes for the third time in his life and also happen to be staying at the same place as me but in the guest house) to ride over to the course and check it out. Being a warm, humid, muggy sort of day I opted for the lightest undershirt possible, lots of sun-block and a bottle of water. Dwight was dressed about the same. Erwin show up in full tights, turtleneck base layer, long sleeve jersey and no water bottle.
Am I missing something, what is it that the World Champion knows about dressing for riding that I don’t? Should I go back and put on some arm and knee warmers? Perhaps not because there is already sweat beginning to run down my forehead, another layer and I might need to be treated for heat stroke. So we’re off to ride to the venue and I must keep reminding myself not to do something truly stupid like ride off the road looking at butterflies and crash out the World Champion. I relaxed a bit as we rode along; Erwin’s a nice guy and speaks great English. He even either understood or pretended to understand contemporary American slang such as “these new Challenge tires are the truffles” and “Barry was out there treatin’ it yesterday.” The course was still seeing a bit of construction and gardening but was more or less ready for riders. After several laps I finally was able to ride up the steep hill in my easiest gear, Erwin big-ringed the same hill.
We met up with a Belgian TV guy named Peter who was over filming Erwin’s American Adventure for a feature during the upcoming World Cup, then rode over to the beach past $30 million estates hiding behind perfectly manicured hedges.
After the ride we stopped by the pool and I got to meet Erwin’s father/mechanic. He scrutinized my bike and I think it passed. No one inspects a bike quite like an old Belgian man. I first noticed this phenomenon my second day in Belgium while warming up for a race. While on the trainer several different groups of old men walked up to me, talked amongst each other, pointed at various parts my bike, squeezed my tires with their thumb, talked a bit more (all in Flemish) and then walked away. They never seemed to pay much attention to me, the person pedalling the bike. Moreover, yes it’s disconcerting to have your tires pinched by toothless old dudes. I have no idea what it is they were looking for and if they found it or not.
Friday night, we barbecued poolside with the Vervecken’s and Peter the video guy. Jesse Anthony and his brother Silas showed up later to finish off the leftovers. Saturday morning was spent trying to decide if I was sick of not. The fatigue of Interbike hadn’t left my system before flying to Long Island and Josh had contracted a cold before I left as well. It turns out that mostly I was just nervous. The second pedal stroke after the start whistle found my bars hooked up with the lady next to me. In my mind I was already lying on the ground - race over. My offerings must have been accepted because deity of cycling was watching over me, my bars unhooked, I pin-balled around then saw an opening and darted over to the edge of the peloton and worked my way forward. The rest of the race played out like a TV drama with pain, heroics, mechanicals (none were mine), hard efforts and the last spot on the podium for me! It felt really good to finally be racing in a race, as opposed to mountain bike season where I just rode around until I was told to quit.
Sunday repeated much like Saturday except that the race started two hours earlier so I had that much less time to be nervous/sick. I was feeling old and creaky in the morning and hoped that it would wear off by race time. This time around I got an outside spot during staging and avoided dangerous entanglements. It was easier to get to the front today, but harder to maintain it. I ended up riding around with Megan Elliot, after my teammate Anna Milkowski got the hole shot - strong work Anna. I had very few matches during this race and had to save it for the end.
Once again, I managed the last podium spot which included a bottle of champagne and a beautiful shawl. I’d like to apologize to everyone I talked to after the race. You see, I ate a few too many double caffeinated gels and couldn’t stop talking. Sorry. Next time I’ll only eat single caffeinated gels. Sunday evening was spent hanging out in a beautiful house, drinking beautiful wine and watching TV. I don’t’ have a TV at home so it’s a treat to watch one. By Monday I was quite ready to go home again so I started before the sun came up and spent way too many hours at Chicago’s Midway airport. By the time my plane touched down in California I was twitchy with the need to be off an airplane and home with my honey and kitty cat for more than four days at a time.