Nationals and Euro Trip Part 1
A blog of Belgium, bikes, and beagles
My family (dad, mom, sister, Kerry and I) arrived at nationals on Tuesday. We were there pretty early since my sister was racing collegiate nationals on Thursday. It was nice to pre-ride the course with her and then cheer her on. For me, race day arrived Sunday and geez, it was muddy. During my course pre-ride, so much mud got caked on my bike during one lap the wheels stopped turning! When the race began it was chaos. People were slipping and sliding everywhere, and I got stuck behind a little crash but tried to stay calm and managed to move back up quickly. I pitted right away due to the mud and headed down the first decent. I had a silly little fall which turned out to be more disastrous than I would have predicted. I had dropped my chain and it was hopelessly jammed between the chainring and frame. I struggled and failed to get my chain back out, so I started running. Keep in mind this was soon after pit 1 so I had to run all the way to pit 2. I was really surprised that after all that running I still was not in last place. It just goes to show you how much running was already a part of the course. I finally pitted after my lovely jog and was in nearly last place. I tried to be positive and keep fighting but got pulled.
I was really disappointed because this was the first time I had really focused only on elite nationals and had not been racing collegiate as well and so had hoped for a better result. Oh well, I tried to remind myself I had 12 or so more races to do in Europe still. I got cleaned up and ready to cheer Kerry on with Sherm.
The Wednesday after Nationals my dad, Kerry and I headed to Europe!!! It was quite the hectic packing and organizing in the one day we had at home. I also have never been away from home for 2 months and am already the slowest packer in the world so needless to say it was a little stressful.
After a VERY long travel day we arrived at our home for the majority of the next 2 months in Oudenaarde, Belgium at the Chainstay. If you are unfamiliar with the Chainstay it is a home rented out to cyclists equipped with a bike room and tools, communal kitchen, washer and dryer; basically all the home essentials you could need.
The weekend after arriving, Kerry and I raced Sint-Nicklaas on Saturday to open up our legs from the jet lag before the world cup on Sunday. The venue was a short drive away from the Chainstay, only about 45 minutes. This is one fact that I find amazing about racing cyclocross in Europe. All the races are so close!!! I think our farthest drive the entire trip was maybe to Luxembourg which was almost 3 hours and in an entirely different country too! Europeans do not realize how good they have it!! Anyways, back to the race. As Kerry and I were looking for registration we found the cutest big beagle. I instantly stopped to pet it and gave the confused Belgian owner who spoke no English a limited-edition Sherman Shields rider card.
So after petting the beagle it was time to get ready for the race. It was a sandy flat course that I really enjoyed. I had a second row call up, which I was shocked about! I had an okay race; my legs were just so flat feeling.
The Namur World Cup was the next day. I was so excited to race my first cyclocross World Cup. We had about 80 women in our race!!! The course started straight up a really steep hill so a good start was important. I had an okay start but then flatted on something sharp hidden in a puddle. Fortunately, it was close to the pits so I didn’t lose much time. I was a little overwhelmed during the race. Everyone has told me it’s the most technical course I will do over here in Belgium. I felt like each lap I rode, I noticeably improved and was riding sections more confidently. Unfortunately, I got pulled, but that was not entirely unexpected. I was not disappointed and it was by far the biggest cross race I have ever competed in. I was shocked to discover that there were chaperones at the 80% zone, waiting to tell me I was randomly picked to get drug tested. It was just me and Marianne Vos in doping control; no big deal.
Earlier on in the day, Sven Nys’ son and his girlfriend walked by our van with… can you guess?!?! Their BABY BEAGLE!!! I leapt out of the car and practically grabbed the beagle out of their arms all the while rapidly talking about Sherman back at home which they probably didn’t understand a word of. I am just the crazy beagle lady undergoing beagle withdrawal.
The next day was Christmas Eve so we had a group dinner at the Chainstay. Everyone made something to contribute, so of course I made dessert. I made one of my favorites, Speculous Cheesecake with homemade whipped cream.
The Zolder World cup was Wednesday which I didn’t race but went to spectate and just ride the course to check it out.
On Friday, we raced in Lounhout. For anyone that has watched some of these cross races on TV, this is the course that has the section of “whoops” and the huge random ditches that you have to run over. I think it is so cool to be doing the races that I have only watched on TV before.
The course was very flat and filled with turns. I felt pretty good and consistently moved up the entire race. I was really happy to finish on the lead lap. I have noticed that over here everyone races so hard, no matter what place you are going for which I really enjoy.
The next day was Bredene. I also really enjoyed this course; so many of the courses here are just so fun to ride and race. It had everything, slick off cambers, hills, flat sections, sand, etc. I was happy with my race and once again was thrilled to finish on the lead lap, finishing about mid pack with a field of 56 riders.
On Tuesday, we headed to Luxembourg to race Petange, instead of racing Baal back in Belgium. I hoped to have a decent result in a smaller race. I pre-rode the course and it was very unique from all other races I had done in Europe so far. It reminded me of a mountain bike course because you climbed off the start and then for what seemed like forever until you descended on narrow single track. That was the lap. I found myself alone partway through the first lap and remained that way for the entire race. I felt tired already going into the race and it wasn’t super motivating to be riding through the woods alone, so it was not my best race. We promptly headed back to Belgium that night.
We had 3 days until the weekend when we next raced, so we took advantage of the few days off to be tourists. My dad, Kerry, and I headed to Brugge by train one afternoon to do some sightseeing.
The weekend arrived and it was time to race once again, this time in Gullegem. I really enjoyed preriding the course and was excited to race. I had a decent start but lost some spots when someone crashed in the first turn off the pavement and I panicked and got swarmed a little. I moved back up throughout the race until I was fighting for 20th. I ended up getting that finishing spot and was really happy to have a top 20 finish and felt like I raced really well. We packed up and headed back to Belgium to get ready for the next day in Brussels.
Sunday, we raced was at Brussels University. It was a fairly technical course with some drops and off cambers. I did not have my best race. I was just not confident enough on too many sections. I finished the race disappointed but still happy that the previous day had gone better. After the race I tracked down Dieter Vanthourenhout and gave him one of Sherman’s rider cards. If you didn’t already know, he has a beagle; I don’t just randomly hand out Sherman’s rider cards. We talked about our beagles for a bit and I discovered his beagle has an Instagram also. (Sherman has many more followers). He is going to possibly bring his beagle to the next race we will both be at, Zonnebeeke, so that I can meet him. So stay tuned for some Belgium beagle updates.
The Monday after the Brussels race we all headed to Spain for 2 weeks to escape the cold and get some good training in. We have been here a week so far and the weather and riding are so nice. The sun is always shining and there are so many cool mountains to ride through with amazing views. When we get back to Belgium, I will have 4 more races to do and am ready to race my heart out (and eat more Belgian chocolate…)