Sunday, December 30, 2007

Paying to watch cross: Diegem Superprestige, Sunday, December 30, 2007

What else would cross racers do on a day off??? Although we pondered racing with the juniors at 1:30, since there was no womens race, we opted out and took a nice easy spin with Emily, who we picked up from the airport at 9 a.m. The race was an evening race under the lights and after we scored some great illegal parking, we found the entrance and paid our 10 euros to get in and see the action. We practically walked the whole course and found the good spots to watch, as Nys dominated the race. It was definitely the place to be as the tens of thousands of people took over the town of Diegem. It was definitely urban cross with some great death drops and singletrack on the back side. Quite a bit of pavement, but it looked like a fun course. We cheered on Page and Molly Cameron, who were the only Americans racing. Never a dull moment! I simply love cross!

Crazy crowds and the big screen for the start. The course was long & meandered through the village of Deigem.Hot air balloon in the middle of the action.
Vervecken at the top of one of the "death drops".
Coming back through the trees after the death drop on the other side.
Me among the crowd. Note: no one has a cowbell & they aren't loud or rowdy.
Cool trees with people going from one part to another.
It was their star crossed! Under the lights.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A day in the life in Meise: Saturday, 12/29/2007

Another day without racing, so naturally we had to find a way to spend our day. When we woke up this morning, the weather was quite dismal, so it looked like it was going to be a mellow day of reading, hanging out and recovering. We headed to the market in the late morning to pick up some provisions. Our hosts are out of town and we are on our own, as we are no longer "guests". I believe we have earned the status of temporary tenant. We love our digs here in Belgium and our hosts are simply amazing. Of course, Gerda couldn't leave town without making sure we had homemade soup for every day and she left provisions in the garage fridge. I feel totally taken care of. But we still needed to do some shopping, so we cruised the market down the street and then used our best dutch to order some vegetables, fruit, bread and cheeses. Pretty much our diet here. We also made a quick stop at the grocery store for beer that Kris had recommended and some misc. items not acquired at the market. By the time we got home, the sun was shining and we were anxious to get out and ride. A quick lunch and then we set out for a quick, short recovery spin. Or so we thought... Luckily we both were feeling really good. Not too tired from our racing, because our great idea to follow this guy riding turned our quick spin into a nice 3 1/2 hour endurance ride. The paths were great and we found where we were on our first ride with Jan, but we did not find our way back. As it started getting darker, I started getting more and more brave, asking every person we saw which direction to go. Luckily I started asking, because we were going in the wrong direction. Neither of us have a very good sense of direction, so our, or rather my, decision not to back track led us on a nice long loop. We arrived home just as it was getting dark and the weather was beautiful the whole time. Windy, but a great day to be lost on your bike in Belgium.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Azencross: Loenhout, Belgium, Friday, December 28,2007

Good thing we planned to get there a little early, because we experienced our first highway back up today. Stop and go for almost an hour, and our extra time turned into getting there not early enough. At least we are getting good and finding the registration and following the sings in dutch. We registered and had to buy a Belgium racing card. I am now in the OBRA of Belgium. We even almost ended up in athlete parking this time, but in the junior lot. We have yet to park in the actual team parking at a race. It has become one of our goals. But right after we parked and were changing our clothes, and elderly man approached us and we got asked for a postcard. Apparently that is the big thing at the races. Fans collect postcards that athletes have made up (usually by their sponsors) with pictures and stats. If we had only known. Darn rookies.
So, after we registered, parked and changed, we attempted to find the pits. This was no easy task. By the time we actually got there and put our bikes in, we rode the course once, hosed off our bikes and had to go to the start. They had a stage presentation and sign in where we got a mini bottle of some kind of alchohol. So much for warming up. I have to say, this was the most chaotic race starts yet. It was packed with people, things were not easy to find and no one knew what was going on. Oh well. It is all about being flexible. The race was hugely attended and a lot of competition.
Our line up was not so bad. We were definitely not last like at the world cup. I think third row, which is not bad. The start was crazy, but at least I expect that now and I played it safe, but held my line. As a girl made a sudden move across the peleton, the girl in front of me yelled at her. Not getting crashed out is a victory in my book. After the first turn left, I worked my way up and was on the lead group. Further back, but in the lead group, nonetheless. I held on for a lap and a half. On the first time through the mud/cow shit running section, the girls were like sheep and just followed in the one path. Simms bolted to the right to run around everyone, so I followed her. We had to run up the fly over and there was a back up on the top, waiting for people to get back on their bikes. Crazy. The second time running through the manure, it thinned out and I throttled 'er back. The course had a lot of artificial bridges and some great little whoops and then my favorite, the whoopdee section. This was 8-9 rollers that had a surface that resembeled turf over them. It was so much fun. I wasn't the fasted at them, but improved every time through and at least I didn't crash like one of the girls in front of me on the first lap.
The wind was brutal and drafting definitely came into play. I was with the same two girls most of the race, going back and forth. One of them got away when I crashed after the ruts before the pit that sent me flying into the tape. This was not the easy to break plastic stuff. It was nice, thick, reusable stuff that got ahold of the front end of my bike and wouldn't let go. Oh well. Then with 2 laps to go, I saw Wendy sneaking up on me and cheered her on. Secretly I wanted her to catch up so we could work together in that damn wind. It was hard and I think I was a little tired from the world cup. I was having too much fun to worry about it though. I ended up 14th, still in the money, and Wendy, only 4 seconds back, was 17th. It was a fast race. We had our Oregonians cheering us on! It is great to hear your name on a course so far away! A great day of racing in Belgium!!!
The men and the crowd along this short stretch.
The rollers! My favorite part of the course and a crowd favorite.Wendy & I enjoying post race after yet another totally fun race!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Our first World Cup: HOFSTADE: Hofstade, Belgium, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2007

Racing in our first world cup was quite an experience. We had actually gone to pre-ride on Christmas day in the late afternoon, so we knew what we had in store. Sand. Lot's of sand. And when you think you are done with sand, there is more. Alone it is rideable, but with people crashing all over, not so much.
Blurry picture, but this is the finish! Pretty cool to be standing here after racing!

Our start time was 1:30, and we arrived in plenty of time, because the day before we got lost forever on the way there and on the way home. Our quick 20 minute drive turned into hours on the road. I didn't want to risk any driving mishaps. Our only flaw was that somehow we got directed to the wrong parking lot with our parking pass. Either I didn't understand where to go or they just figured we were silly English speaking Americans and instead of the team parking, we were in VIP parking, changing our clothes in front of the masses of people passing by to get into the event. Apparently there were 20,000 people there and mind you, it cost 14 euro to get in. That is almost 20 dollars. Crazy.

Check out the people lined up & the big TV screen!
Cyclingnews.com had better pics of the amazing crowds.

The course opened for practice at 12:15, so we warmed up on course and then met our pit guys at the pit. Jan, Kris' brother, and his brother in law had the best seats in the house and were gracious enough to pit for us.
Our wonderful pit guys post race! I didn't even use them, b/c I was too focused.

We went to line up and found that our UCI points don't get us very far here. They seem to rotate countries in order of their athletes by UCI points. Not sure, but we were last. Not quite very last, but we were in the very back of the pack. I would like to say it was an organized grid, but it was a pack of pushy women trying to get closer to the front. Wendy and I just shrugged our shoulders and figured we at least wouldn't get crashed out, because there was no one around us. It was a crazy start and the first right turn led us through a muddy section with a steep uphill. It was chaos. I tried to be aggressive, but safe. There was definitely a lot of back up and there was no way getting around. I gradually worked my way through people, but it was rough. The sand was hard and wasn't easier with people crashing in front of you. I almost crashed into the fence, hitting spectators, trying to avoid the girl going over the handlebars in front of me. I have to say that I rode the sand quite well and although it was taxing as hell, I powered through it. There was some good mud on the course too and one section I found myself able to make some aggressive passing. As frustrating as it was to have to pick my way through the field, I did the best I could do and worked my way up to 17th. I was only 2 minutes back from the winning time, so not too bad. Just 20 seconds from a top 10 finish. I will keep working on it! Wendy finished 24th and we were the first and second American crossing the line. It was a pretty amazing experience! I am already looking forward to the next one.

BIG smiles after our first WORLD CUP! Are we really here doing this???

12/29/07 As an addition to my post, I would like to put in what Erik Tonkin said on Brooke Hoyers blog, which Tim sent to me. He wrote,

"For Sue Butler and Wendy Simms (Canada) to place in the top-20 at Hofstade only two minutes and five down is exceptional. That was a real WC. I’d say it’s the best result either have ever had on a ‘cross bike. For Sue, whether she knows it or not, it was her best race on any kind of bike, ever. The course, its setting, the time of year, the crowd, and the competition make it–seriously–bigger than any ‘cross other than a World Championship held in Belgium, like last year at Hooglede-Gits. (That was something–it was kinda freaky.) Worlds in Italy this year will pale in comparison. In fact, Friday’s GVA series ‘cross at Loenhout–”Azencross”–will exceed this year’s worlds in nearly every way."

Thanks Erik! I feel even better about the race after that! It was still just a really fun race!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!!!

Our Christmas eve day was spent on a 2 1/2 hour ride with Jan through some tiny villages, near a canal and a river. We were picked up by a friend of his and we met up with him at the Eddie Merycx factory, which is here in Meise. Pretty cool.

No rain here, but sunny and crisp. The bike paths go forever. Not sure if we will ever find them on our own, but a lot of cyclists out. Our evening was a lovely dinner with the Schamps. Tomorrow is Christmas day and we will go on a short ride in the a.m. and then head to Hofstade for course inspection in the afternoon. Our first World Cup is just around the corner. Oh, I also think I neglected to blog that I made the selection for the US Team for Worlds in Treviso, Italy at the end of our stay. That was the intended goal, and it worked out. I am excited and still have a hard time believing how amazing this season has been and still is...
Gerda with our Christmas eve dessert!

GP Montferland: Zeddam, NED, Sunday, December 23,2007

An early morning for a fairly long drive to Zeddam. 2 1/2 hours each way. A more complicated day for navigation, we arrived with only one mistake and towards the end found a car with a bunch of cross bikes on it and followed it. It worked! And we figured out the registration process much easier this time. Our one day of experience has paid off. Once at the venue, we track down the U.S. van to see if Wendy can get her race bike fixed and we had both of ours looked over. We went out prior to the race for open course and again, a super fun venue. Much different and less technical with an extremely long stair run up. Probably 100+ stairs, no kidding! Still a few sections to keep it interesting and a fly over. Not to mention the windmill smack in the middle of the course.

The start was again super aggressive, borderline dangerous. I made it through unscathed and it was wide open enough in places to be able to pass. I was initially right off the lead pack not too far. But it did spread out at some of the bottlenecks. On the stairs the first time, some gal behind me grabbed my rear wheel, so I shouted for her to let it go. I motored on and there was lots of yelling behind me. Cat fight. The fast paced course was great and getting slicker by each lap. I hung on for a 7th place finish and Wendy was not far behind in 12th.The flags along the course.

One thing notable about these two races is the spectators. Sure, there are a ton of them, but they don't yell and scream and go crazy like Portland. I have one thing to say about that: MORE COW BELL!!!
Daphney VDB cooling down. Still star struck on our second day.Me, Rebecca Wellons & Wendy

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The European adventure has begun!!! Huijbergen: Saturday, December 22, 2007

The frozen view of my room balcony.

We arrived in Belgium on Thursday, but our bikes decided to take another day & didn't arrive until late on Friday right before dark. That didn't stop us from taking our first ride in Belgium. We put lights on & our wonderful host, Walter, showed us the way for a nice spin. Nothing to long, since the dark was really dark. I also arrived with a rather nasty eye infection or cold in my eye, so no contacts made riding more interesting. We are staying in Meise, Belgium, just outside of Brussels with Kris Schamp's parents. They are simply delightful and Kris' brother Jan has also been helpful. It has made our arrival much easier.
Saturday morning we headed on our first race adventure. Car packed full, I was definitely more nervous about driving than racing. But amazingly with Wendy's navigation, we arrived more or less on time. We definitely had a high learning curve, because the registration process was a bit different. You couldn't go in until you registered, b/c you had to get your athlete parking pass since they charge for the races. We found registration and were finally through the gate. It didn't take long to find the other americans & canadians among the mostly dutch field. We were able to ride the course prior to the race and it was a blast. Some cool singletrack with a few steep climbs and descents plus some run ups. And a nice frozen section with what appeared to be horse hoof marks. Did I mention the ground was frozen? Yep, it was cold. But it was sunny enough that it was not too bad.
Don't be fooled by the sun. It is darn cold

We were all called up & Wendy & I were both in the second row. There were over 40 women, so a good sized field. The start was crazy, and since my only goal for this race was to have fun, I relaxed and tried to stay upright and not get too far back before the singletrack. But a gal crashed right in front of me and I snuck around. But still got held up on the singletrack by racers that I would have questioned if they were really racing. It was truly a blast and really didn't feel too much like a race. Wendy got 9th & I got 10th, so two top 10 finishes for our first race off the plane. We would take it. We did stick around for part of the mens race to see all the top riders. It was pretty cool, but heck, we are in Europe racing. That in itself is cool.
.We were definitely in the Netherlands.
Star struck at our first race: Sven coming out of the trees.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Cyclocross National Championships: Kansas City, KS, December 14-16, 2007

There's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home (click, click, click) and there we were, in Kansas City, KS. Lucky for us, KC is the home of Chris & Sonja Butler and family, so we were able to spend some time with family and race. Tim, Wendy and I arrived on Thursday and the fun began in the frozen tundra.

FRIDAY, December 14th: Women's Masters 35-39 Race
Wendy opted out of doing the masters race this year, after winning it last year. I got a flat last year, so I wanted to race it at least once. We showed up and found what we love most: mud! And plenty of it. It was very unexpected to see so much mud, but that would make it more interesting. Especially since it was all of 34 degrees. We pre-rode the course and the ruts were frozen, making it difficult to pick your own line. The lines kind of picked you. But by 2:00, race time, it was softer and slick. Perfect for an Oregonian, except for the dropping temperature and the sun that had gone away. It was cold. Although I had a second row line up, I had no problem getting the hole shot and basically worked my way through the younger field who started a couple of minutes before us. I probably could have worked through the entire field if I hadn't broken my rear derailleur just after the pit. Wendy yelled at me to relax and that I had plenty of time, so I pulled it out of my rear wheel, set it gently back on my rear cog and soft pedaled through the next half of the lap until I could get my new bike. Being it was only a 3 lap race due to the conditions, one bike change did it. Sram fixed my bike and got it ready for the elite race on Sunday, so I was able to win the masters national championship for 35-39, defending Wendy's title for River City Bicycles. It was fun.
A hard 3 laps in the mud. Slow going, for sure.

Check out the flag in the background.

Wendy & Tim were great support on Friday.
Another stars and stripes jersey to add to the collection.

Me with all my winnings. Wine, beer & strawberries.

SATURDAY, December 15: Men's Master 40-45
This was really epic conditions. 22 degrees and blowing wind along with snow. The ground was not going to see a thaw today. Wendy and I were supporting Tim and got him all set up in the warm up tent and then spent the race in the pits. That was the coldest 45 minutes of the weekend. Tim had a great start and started moving up, and then it happened. A guy crashed out and took the tape with him and it found its way into Tim's rear cog. It was wrapping itself into the cog until Patrick apparently yelled at him on course and told him he would have to take it out. There went his top 10. He fell back a lot, but gradually worked his way back up to 24th, falling plenty along the way. Watching from the pits it was like a circus of falling men. Everyone was crashing everywhere. The course was frozen solid and deep ruts along with ice. Lovely racing in KC.
Check out that yellow tape getting wrapped up in Tim's bike while with the leaders.

Conditions were epic to say the least.

SUNDAY, December 16th: Elite Women's Race
The forecast was for 34 and sunny, but when we arrived, it was still in the 20's. The solar radiation felt good, however. Wendy and I opted out of the trainer tent and spun around gradually warming up and trying to keep warm. They opened the course late due to a race being stuck in that was cancelled. I didn't ride a full lap during warm up, but I knew it was going to be a race of finesse and staying light on the bike, trying to avoid the frozen ruts. It was softening up by the minute, so each lap would be different. During staging, they listed off the women that needed to pedal to the announcers stand for call backs to the front row, and although Wendy was definitely front row, the called my name too, so I went up there. Well, they had made a mistake. Someone can't count and I didn't get a call back down, so I rolled down, embarrassed, but still had the crowd cheering me on. Their mistake, however, landed me with a front row start. They had to squeeze me in, but I didn't complain. The gun went off and it was game on. I had a great start and found myself in 3rd, then 4th with Katie and Georgia still in my sights on most of the first lap. I like this picture, b/c I don't think I have ever been that close. This probably lasted 30 seconds or less.Rachel Lloyd made an aggressive pass on a slick, tight corner and eventually I had a few mishaps, landing me in the tape several times or on the ground. I worked my way backwards, with Kerry B. passing as well. During the race, I only became separated from my bike once. But all the mistakes added up. I'm not sure a clean race would have made the difference though. I rode most of the race by myself, and by the last lap, my sole focus was no more crashing and I rode a clean lap. I may have missed the podium, but 6th was a great finish. I cut last years finish in half. I did however, have the MOST AMAZING pit crew (Patrick Wilder, his dad & Tim) and I made 2 bike changes that were flawless. Tomorrow I will find out if I make the worlds team or not. I have my fingers crossed.
Aren't the run ups supposed to warm up your feet???

Wendy, Melissa Thomas and I after it was all over. Don't let the sun fool you. It was cold.

My mom and dad came down for the races as well. 8+ hrs. each way from MN.
Thanks mom & dad!!!

Uncle Tim and his little buddy Grant.And his buddy Charlie.
Payton was too cool for school.Tim subjecting his whole family to the slide shows...

More pictures to follow as I get them from everyone else. I guess I was too busy racing to take pictures this trip.

Monday, December 3, 2007

USGP#5&6: Portland, OR, December 1-2, 2007; Home town advantage?

I was so excited to finally have the final 2 races of the USGP series at home. Nothing beats sleeping in your own bed, not having to mapquest to get everywhere and cooking in your own kitchen. Plus, a home town crowd to cheer me on. What could be better? Well, the weather could have been, but this is Portland and what's a Portland USGP without a little mud. Or a lot in our case. But I still wasn't worried. I knew it would be fine. It's all about attitude, right?

USGP#5: Saturday, 12/1
For once, Tim raced before me, so I was in NO rush. In fact, I didn't even go out to PIR with him on Saturday. I wanted to have my 'last breakfast' after he wanted to be there. Our races were almost 2 hours apart, but I would get there in time to cheer. Conditions were cold and wet. More cold than wet and actually we saw some snow. It was about 37 degrees, maybe 40. But it was cold, muddy and wet. The course was fun and it was going to be epic. There was no doubt in my mind. Tim had an amazing race and finished 9th in the elite masters 35+. I was so proud of him and even after freezing out there, he had a smile on his face. I had a second row line up for my race. I warmed up on the track around PIR and was totally prepared to suffer. I was not, however, totally prepared to run a half lap after my rear derailleur broke on the second lap, pretty much as far away from the pit as I could have been. And, I am not a fast runner. So, my good position in the top 10 was soon replaced by being dead last. Yep, everyone passed me. It was a long run. I was getting scared of getting lapped. But I made it to the pit and got my 'B' bike and off I went. I crawled my way back to 18th, but I was not happy. It's never fun to have mechanicals, but it is part of racing. Tomorrow was another day...

USGP#6: Sunday, 12/2
Just when you thought it couldn't get more epic! It was hosing out. It was definitely going to be a suffer fest out there. Today I went with Tim to the venue to make sure my bike was going to be in working order. I had left it with the Cannondale friends and they said they had it under control. Sure enough, I had a new derailleur on the bike. Not the exact same one, but it would do just fine. I actually took a lap in my rubber boots when I got there, b/c a race had just ended and though I would see what kind of fun we were in for. It was going to be soupy and fun. Definitely a bit frigid, but I like mud.
Tim had another amazing race. He placed 9th again, but was only seconds away from 5th and if his bike had been shifting, he probably would have closed that gap. So, with only two national series races, he took 15th in the series. Way to go Tim.
My race, on the other hand, is a true saga. I was truly mentally ready for this race and was not going to let anything stop me. I had an awesome start and found myself on Georgia's wheel for the first half lap. The lead group was in my sights and I was fighting it out with my usual duo, Kerry B. and Amy D. I hadn't seen Wendy at this point, so wasn't sure what was happening. I just know the crowd was going wild!!! On the second lap, I went into the pit, b/c I was having no luck with my shifting. I figured things were just mucked up and I was not going to break off another derailleur, even though it was my front that was giving me more problems. So, I rode a lap and a half with my 'b' bike, continuing the battle, sitting in the top 10 (apparently 6th) when it happened. On the back side I felt like I was hitting my rim on the roots, so just to be safe, I wanted to get my 'A' bike back and ride my tubulars. I went in for the bike change and was told my bike wasn't there. I was shocked. I didn't know what to do. The official looked at me and said, "without a bike change, you are DQ'd", so I turned back to Dean and yelled, "give me a bike. ANY bike." I ended up leaving the pit 20 seconds plus later with Wendy's pit bike which is a few sizes too small and has different pedals. So, I rode unclipped for another half lap until I could get into the pits again. In the meantime, Wendy caught up and I warned her I had her bike. She asked, "are you riding unclipped?" Well, yes, I am. And it sucked. But it beat running. So, back in the pit on what turned out to be the last lap and I tried my best to chase down the three people in front of me, now riding my own bike, but it was hopeless. I ended up a very disappointing 14th and found myself shivering and in tears at the end of the race. I think the cold had finally gotten to me. I was actually sobbing. And then I was told I was DQ'd anyhow. More sobs. I protested, they accepted it (thanks to Dean for clarifying what happened to the officials). It was a rough weekend. But again, that is racing and I am sure this has made me stronger. Not sure exactly how, but damnit, I survived.

Race afterthoughts: Although a disappointing weekend and it didn't go as I wanted it to, I will not look back and focus forward to nationals. I am hoping my poor performance (although I did race well despite the mechanicals) won't cost me a trip to worlds. But, at any rate, I am booked to go to Europe. I haven't posted this anywhere yet, but Wendy and I are fulfilling our dream of racing in Europe. We leave the 19th and return after Worlds. It is going to be a whirlwind of racing and we are excited. More about that later...