Almost Time

Yesterday Karl and his family packed up their camper and hit the open road bound for St. Wendel, Germany. On Saturday Karl will race in his first World Cyclo-Cross Championships. What a lucky guy to be racing at the top level of his sport. Definitely a well-earned honor. When Karl left, I told him “try not to cry on the start line like I did”.

Yes, that race – the World Cyclo-Cross Championships has a powerful effect on me. There is nothing quite like lining up in your country’s national colors and racing with the best in the world. This is huge. It is an honor but it also represents sacrifice, dedication, risk and accomplishment.

I wish I was racing this weekend in St. Wendel, Germany. Plain and simply – I’m not.

So to the Canadians who will be out their ripping it up in their red and white skinsuits (Karl, Benjamin, Yohan, Natasha, Derrick and Craig), remember this:

– you deserve this honor

– you worked hard for it

– have fun and soak it all in

– smile when people cheer for you

– whatever happens  out there on the race course – remember that we’re all supporting you and are super proud of you

Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a shout out to Nikki, Gabby, Helen, Katie, Amy, and Sue. Have a great race and enjoy every minute of it.

I’ll be out there pedaling with you – cheering you on and sending you all the speedy vibes I can.

It’s the World Cyclo-Cross Championships! A great time to be a cyclo-cross racer. Looking forward to hearing all about the race and how it played out.

Bikes, Bikes, Bikes

Saturday was all about bikes. Cyclo-cross bikes. Track bikes. A very good day indeed.

I tagged along with Marc to Affligem to cheer him on during his cyclo-cross race. I had a great time (rain and wind aside). I hadn’t watched Marc race since Drongen in late November. On top of the bonus of getting to watch Marc race, I had a great time hanging out with Luc before, during and after the race. After the race we chilled out in the cafe and I got to catch up with a bunch of our cyclo-cross friends. Definitely a good way to spend the first part of the day. Marc had a good ride and finished in fourth place.

We zipped back to Blauberg, quick unpack of the car, change into dry clothes and then we were off again. The four of us (Marc, Karl, Alex and I) went to Rotterdam last night to catch a night of track racing. The Six Days of Rotterdam is a very cool and special track racing event. I don’t know much about track racing but it is a pretty fun night out and the atmosphere at the Ahoy! arena is pretty special. The track racing night really is a spectacle. The riders are all introduced with a great deal of fanfare and special song. Through-out the night the announcer keeps things lively and gets the crowd excited. To top it off the music played is over the top – ranging from 80s techno to current day hits, the music really keeps people smiling and cheering. Clearly the crowd favorites last night was the team of Schep and Bos. These guys were pretty darn fast. As was the sprint World Champion Bauge. The speeds that these guys ripped around the track was amazing. As was the size of their legs!

I think we all had a fun time. We had awesome seats – two rows up from the track so we could really feel the speed of the racers as they flew by. Around the arena there were many displays of different bikes, manufacturers, and books. The Right To Play organization was there as well – Marc gifted me a very cool Right to Play zip-up jacket. Right to Play is a special organization and is doing excellent work in the developing world to foster a healthy and safe environment for children.

The track racing went on until after midnight but we were all a bit weary and only managed to stay until just after 11. All in all, a good night was had. To top it off it was Alex’s birthday so when we got back here at about 12:30 we all had a bit of super tasty birthday cake before hitting the sack. Have to say there is nothing quite like the chocolate cake from the Blauberg bakery…

As for today? Well, it is a beautiful day. So riding is in order. Jos and Ed are coming by and we’re setting out on an easy paced ride. Marc and Karl have got specific work-outs to do – so we’ll let the speed demons do their own thing! Then this afternoon it is all about the Belgian National Cyclo-Cross Championships. Truth be told, I’m more interested in the women’s race and how my friends will make out than the men’s race… I think one of the most interesting championship races happening today will be the Dutch Women’s National Cyclo-Cross Championships – it will be interesting to see who comes out on top: Vos, Van De Brand or Van Passen.

 

Kalmthout World Cup

Up early today, lots of snow on the ground and the drive to Kalmthout is going to be slow. No problems, this is why I always pack my race bag the night before. Okay into the car with Marc and we’re off. We made it with plenty of time  and now I can get settled into my pre-race routine. Marc is off to check out the course and to cheer on Karl.

My race is at 1:30 so I’ve got lots of time to get ready, pin on my numbers and eat my pre-race meal. Just the way I like it – lots of time to relax and get in my groove before the race. I put some music on and let the course run through my brain. I see the start and the first entrance onto the course. It is going to be icy and it is going to be slippery. Fine with me, I’m pretty comfortable in these conditions. I’m running the file treads today and I’ve got the pressure set just right so I’ll get some good traction and still be able to roll over the bumps and lumps in the snow and ice. Really there is only one line today. Keep your wheels in this line, head up and remember to keep pedaling and everything will be fine. Super icy corners – I’ll likely dismount and quickly run them. Up and over the stairs as quick as I can. Sprint into the fly-over and let the bike flow on the way down. Keep pedaling. Eyes up.

Time is starting to tick by. I like to eat two hours before my race so it is time to dig out my plastic container with my homemade ride pudding. This is white rice cooked in water and then I add sliced banana, a blob of natural peanut butter and rice milk to give it the pudding texture. Carbs. Protein. Comfort. Perfect pre-race meal. Marc is back and is busy with my bikes. Luc and Ignance are here now as well – everyone is starting to get a bit excited. I’ve got my skinsuit pinned up and my race clothing is ready to go. Cold one today so I’ve decided to go with leg warmers and my Sealskinz socks and gloves.

Alright, what is the time? 12:00. Okay, time to get some warm-up clothes on and hop on the trainer. I like to ride for 45 minutes to an hour to get loose and ready for the race. It helps me stay relaxed and actually takes my mind off the race a bit. I ride, chat with people as they come by and just enjoy the moments. My warm-up routine is roughly 20 minutes or so of easy riding followed by 4:30 minutes of tempo with a 30 second all out effort, recover for 5 minutes and repeat the effort – I follow this with more easy spinning.

Ah, good warm-up. Legs feel really good. They ticked over really nicely and I was able to really open up the legs. Just the sensations I want before a race. Okay the race starts in 40 minutes or so. Off the bike for a quick pee. Back on the bike for more spinning. 1:00 – time to pull on my race clothes and then back on the trainer for a few more minutes. Wow, it is 1:15 already – time to get over to the start. Quickly change my shoes and socks – I always like to start with dry shoes and socks. Quick hug and kiss from Marc and I’m off.

I love riding up and down the start/finish straight of the race course. It is relaxed yet tense at the same time. A collision of all ranges of emotions happens in this very short space. Some of the other racers are visibly nervous. Others are super relaxed and are joking. The fans are starting to come out and crowd along the course barriers. I see Luc and Johnny – they’ve got their cameras ready and are already cheering for me. I pedal along up and down, chatting with my friends and really just wishing the race would start.

The whistle blows and we’re all in the start area waiting for our call-up. I’m in the fourth row today. Ah well, no big deal. Everyone is pushing trying to move up a bit – trying to get an edge on the start. The gun goes off. We’re off. Okay, sprint, settle in, catch a wheel. Ya – nice start. Here comes the corner, pay attention to drifting wheels and listen for squealing brakes. Crash, no problems you saw it coming and got around it. Onto the snow and ice. That’s it. Settle. Settle. Relax your shoulders. Just pedal now. You know what to do. Look up. Easy on the brake. Here comes that icy corner that Karl told you about, off your bike and around you go, back on the bike sprint up to speed. Settle in. Breathe. Calm. By the pits – there’s Marc and Ignance – they’re cheering and pointing at the good line. Get ready for the fly-over. Sprint. Sprint. Keep pedaling up and over and pedal on the way down. Good job. Okay back into some slippery stuff. Don’t lean the bike too much. Relax. Pedal. Good job. Ah the bike is sliding, stick out that foot and catch the bike. Nice! I hear Luc cheering for me. By the pits a second time. “Nice ride” “Good job” Onto the pavement and time to go around again. It is a fast one today. Five more laps to go. I can do it. I’m loving the course and having a great day on the bike. Keep going. Pedal. Focus. The bell lap! Yes, the bell lap. I’ve done it. Good job Vicki. Just keep it going now. By the pits – Marc is so pumped up. “Awesome ride” Okay, just stay calm and upright now. Onto the pavement, there is the finish line. Give it one more big hard effort. Ah, I did it. There’s Denise with my warm-up clothes. Luc is there taking some pictures. I’m ecstatic. Excellent race today. What a feeling.

I roll back to the car. Put on some more warm clothes and onto the trainer. I like to spin out my legs for 20 minutes or so after each race. Helps me keep them fresh for the next day and it gives me time to think about the race. Today I can’t stop smiling. I just had such a great ride. Everything seemed to come together today. What a feeling. I love this sport. Marc and Ignance are back from the pits – Marc is stoked. We talk about the race as he and Ignance clean my bikes. Okay, time to get changed and eat some food. Ah, what a day. Couldn’t have asked for more.

Car is packed and before I know it we’re back in Blauberg. Great day. Karl and I vote for Sultan’s for supper. We monopolize the supper time conversation by talking about our races and what we loved about the course and how it felt out there. Marc, Alex and Denise try but they can’t get  word in. Great day. Can’t wait for the next race. Thanks for the cheering and support.

(Of course this is a fictional account of today’s World Cup race in Kalmthout, Belgium. I wasn’t able to race today due to my illness. But this is how I imagined the day and I’m pretty sure how it would have turned out. Nothing quite like the emotions of race day.)

Liking the Double Double

Wednesdays in this house mean one thing – double double. Road in the morning. Cyclo-cross in the afternoon. A good hard day of training that leaves me with a healthy glow in my cheeks and satisfaction in my soul. Today was a particularly good day of doubling up.

Started the day with a tempo work-out on the roads and paths of the Belgian countryside. I did this work-out without my SRM since I kind of cracked the head unit (nothing major – it is healing as I write). I’m pretty sure I rode harder than I should have in these intervals because I didn’t have any visual feedback. All I had to rely on was my heavy breathing, my pounding heart and my burning legs. A good ride was achieved on some of my favorite twisty roads and intervals roads.

Quick clean of the bike, change of the wheels and it was time for ride number two. I did get in some good downtime with my book and got some stuff sorted in the house. Karl and I hopped in the trusty Peugeot and drove out to Floreal Lichtaart for the afternoon.

The riding at Floreal Lichtaart is top-notch. The cyclo-cross course has a bit of everything and everyone is super helpful. Today we hooked up with Ignace (my mechanic this year) for some training. Ignace drove 100 kilometers to come train with us! Amazing! We did a couple of laps and worked on some sandy corners and descents. Karl took off to ride with one of his friends and I continued on with Ignace. We were quickly joined by a couple of “older” guys who come out to coach the riders. I got lots of amazing tips and advice from these guys. At times the session was a bit challenging since the three guys really don’t speak any English… But with some visual cues, much repetition and hand signals – we got the job done.

I really feel like I learned a lot today. Particularly about when to shift on climbs and how to really attack the climbs. I also got to work on my fearless descending skills. The one area where I know I really need attention is my cornering and just letting the bike flow in the ruts. Baby steps I suppose.

It was a great training session. We did a light spin on the road to shake out our legs and then it was home to clean our bikes. Today was the grimiest I’ve seen Floreal Lichtaart. It made for some interesting riding conditions and really changed the feel of the terrain.

It was a good day. I can say that I really enjoy these double days. Wish I could do them everyday. I hit so many sensations in my body on days like today. I’m also challenged mentally as I’m forced to push my limits technically and really open myself up to risks and rewards. Can’t ask for much more from a training session I suppose.

Alright, off to bed now. Marc is arriving on Thursday and it seems as though I’ve got a lot to accomplish before he arrives.

Koksijde World Cup on Saturday. Should be a good one.

An Attempt at Group Riding

It is Tuesday here. Tuesday in Blauberg, Belgium means one thing – group ride day. Karl and I waited until 1:15 and rolled out to meet up with the group ride. We went to the same place as last week. And we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally by 2:00 (after waiting for 30 minutes) we left and went on our own ride.

We had a great ride. Hit up some new roads. Did some climbing. Did some descending. Pedaled along roads that to Karl didn’t “seem like” roads. At one point we thought we were super far from the house – turns out we were in Zichem (a mere 10 km away…). We ended up in Scherpenheuvel and found a small little bike shop to get Karl’s crank tightened. The old guy there wasn’t convince that Karl knew what he was doing, but finally Karl got his hands on the tool and sorted out his bike. We hit up more twisty roads. Got turned around a bit. Warmed up and just enjoyed being out on our bikes. Quick detour to the Mie Moon Cafe to pick up my MEC waterproof pants (I ditched them while waiting for the group ride…) and we were finally back at the house.

I think we rode for just under 3 hours. I’m happy to say that I didn’t slow Karl down. At times my tongue was dragging on the pavement but I managed to keep pace with him. It was a good day out.

The funniest part was when we had sheep on one side of us, horses, a peacock and chickens on the other side of us. We called this the “zoo”. Yes, I think I’m still riding the wave of post-ride endorphins. Fun day on the bike.

Tomorrow I’ve got a double day. A road ride with some tempo efforts in the morning. Then it is off to Floreal Lichtaart for some riding in the woods. Tomorrow Ignace is meeting up with us to “train” us. Not sure what this will involve – I’ll be sure to let you know….

Many thanks to Alex for changing my brake pads and helping with my minor SRM issue (don’t worry Marc – All is Good). Oh, I’m going to start riding the rollers…. Alex and Denise picked up some rollers at the second hand store for 10 Euros – so I figure it would be good to get on those every day to get used to them and to work on spinning.

Next Tuesday we’re going to be sure to ride with the group… We’ll go to the start and do the entire loop – this way we’ll know it. Tim and Jos are pretty sure the route has changed – this is why we didn’t see the group. Tim says it was “IMPOSSIBLE” that there wasn’t a group ride today…. Mind you Tim also wants us to wash with cologne….

Doubling Up and Resting

Sorry for not posting on Wednesday. Frankly, I was wiped out. So very tired. I had a good hard training day and I found I just didn’t have the brain cells or energy left to write anything intelligent. Sometimes it is best to err on the side of caution and not put the fingers on the keyboard – I never know what will come out!

I kicked off Wednesday with a 90 minute road ride. The work-out was innocent enough with two 10 minute tempo intervals. Have to say, I felt like dynamite during these intervals, found myself having to pull back a bit. Nice feeling to find that spark in my legs. Had a good roll around some of my favorite training routes and then it was back to the house for a bit of recovery.

This recovery was short-lived though as a couple hours later Karl and I loaded up the Peugeot and hit the open road bound for Floreal Lichtaart. At Floreal Lichtaart there is a network of 38 kilometers of mountain bike trails and included in this trail system is a designated cyclo-cross training course. The course is signed with black route markers and has everything you want/need in a training loop. Fast descents. Tight corners. Two sandy run-ups. One sandy ride-up. Open wide road for really opening up the legs. Steep sharp climbs. Swooping corners. Plenty of ruts, berms, grooves and terrain changes. All in all a pretty ideal place to train.

Wednesdays are a traditional cyclo-cross training day here. Kids don’t have school on Wednesday afternoons, so often you’ll find various teams and clubs out training at Floreal Lichtaart. This past Wednesday was no different – there were about 15 “kids” out training – age ranging from 8 to 18. There were also a variety of adults out training as well. Karl and I started riding together and then I quickly sent him on his way and he spent his time riding with various other people. We hooked up towards the end to work on a trick corner that leads into this sandy climb:

While Karl was out ripping it up with the young and old guns, I was working my way around the course. I would ride to a section and practice it three or four times and then continue along to the next section that had features I wanted to practice. I had a pretty darn good training session. I set up a little mini-loop that involved two sandy run-ups and two fast descents – all things I need to work on. I really felt the fatigue starting to set in by the end of the ride – first time I can say I’ve had my legs buckle under me when hopping off the bike to run. Yep, a good work-out.

We had a surprise visit from Tim last night. So this was great to catch-up with him and chat about everything has been going on. He gave Karl and I some more training tips – which are always appreciated. Looking forward to getting him out on some rides this year.

Here are a couple photos of the route maps posted at Floreal Lichtaart:

Today thankfully was a recovery ride. I really needed it. Normally I’m tempted to go hard on my recovery rides or to go ride in the woods. But not today. Today I just let my pedals flow nice and easy and rolled around on some fantastic twisty roads. I even took the time to snap a few pictures for you!

This is a route marker for cycling routes. Basically you simply ride along following the numbered routes. Great way to put together a training loop and mostly avoid getting lost…

This is similar but for walking. Today I saw three different groups out walking along the road and in the forest. Pretty refreshing to see people out enjoying the fresh air and getting some exercise.

One of the roads I found myself pedaling down.

So there you have it, a snapshot of my Wednesday and Thursday. This afternoon I’m off to Westerlo for a bit of walking around and to enjoy the fine Cafe Libro. Then it is off to Herentals for a doctor’s appointment – hoping to get an iron infusion today or at the very least get one scheduled. The doctor I’m seeing is the team doctor for Vacansoleil, so he is familiar with cyclists and what we need our bodies to do.

Double-header this weekend – Hasselt on Saturday and Aspere Gavere on Sunday. I’m looking forward to both races. Last year Aspere Gavere was a shock to my system in every possible manner, but this year I know what to expect so I’m looking forward to it. My focus will be to “keep pedaling”, “stay off the brake”, “eyes forward”, “keep smiling”, and “go faster”.

One week until Marc arrives! Yay!

Wet

Dudes, it is wet here in Belgium. Really really wet. I’ve never seen it so wet. But on the upside, it is warm. With the super rain coat and pants, the rain really isn’t an issue – but the relentless rain is becoming a bit much. I’m sitting here on the couch watching the Hamme Zogge cyclo-cross race, very relieved that I did not race this race. (No women’s race anyway…)

It is so muddy. The racers are literally running more than they are riding. A true “Belgian ‘cross”. My housemate Karl Hoppner raced the junior race in Hamme Zogge today. Karl rode really well to finish in 25th position. Pretty darn good for a super muddy race and the first race of his 2010-2011 European season. I’m looking forward to hearing all the race stories over supper tonight.

Have to say things are going really well at the house. Right now it is the three of us (Karl’s mom is also staying here) and on Saturday Alex arrives and then next Thursday, Marc arrives. We’ll be a tight knit group of Canadians by the end of the season. This is the perfect number of people to live with in this house. No one feels cramped or confined and there is lots of room for everyone to find some “space”. So far I’ve been lucky with Denise feeding me supper every night! But tomorrow it is my turn – tacos are on deck (a Vicki Thomas specialty).

I got out for a good ride today. Well-protected from the rain in my rain jacket and pants and actually a bit overdressed. Today I made my way to the canal (this canal goes all the way to Antwerp – I believe it is called the Schelde). The ride today was all about VO2Max intervals and sprints. I have to say I’m struggling with the VO2Max efforts – just can’t keep the wattage where it should be – I’m attributing this to the effect of the low ferritin and red blood cells – it is as if I just can’t go super super hard for a long time. But if I do 30 second all out efforts – I can hold a good hard and high wattage for the 30 seconds. I’m wondering if there is something connected here? I’m hoping to get into see a cycling doctor this week so I can back on track with the iron infusions and I’ll be asking him about this. Anyway, the ride was good – I did get a flat during one of my intervals. This was a drag and I got a bit nervous since I only had one spare tube with me…. But it all worked out. Ended up riding for closet to 3 hours – so a good day out on the bike.

Strange to not be racing this weekend but I’m enjoying the time to relax and just simply catch my breathe. The first few days here were definitely busy.

Mega congrats to Marc for his fine race at the Hammer Cyclo-Cross race on Saturday. Marc raced in the elite men’s race and finished in 7th position. I was so happy to hear this. Best of all was listening to Marc tell me all about his race – the excitement and happiness in his voice was overwhelming. Marc is racing again today in the Anvil Cyclo-Cross race – so send him your fast vibes. Also congrats to Conor for his 6th place finish and Evan for his 2nd place. Some fine riding from my trusty riding partners. In fact all of my training partners are throwing down some good results: Karl 25th, Marc 7th, Conor 6th, and Evan 2nd. Guess I better step up to the plate!

Well, the race is nearly over – looks like Sven is going to win again. My new favorite (Bart) is having a good ride today as well. I’ve never seen such dirty cyclo-cross racers before. Their legs are black from the mud!

Alright, time to go. I’ll have this mud to look forward to in Hasselt and Aspere Gavere….