USA, September 13, 2006
Where in the world are Mary and Mike?
As we have gone through the heart of the race season, it has proven difficult to keep the updates rolling and can only apologize for the lapse in communication. The past weeks of back-to-back racing and widespread travel has put us to the test and left us with time for nothing else. Our diary may be looking like more of an archive than a place to get the latest news . Still we hope you will enjoy hearing the stories from our of our experiences as they come.
Spring Travels (May 30- June 13, 2006)
Mary and I arrived back to mainland Europe after a smooth night crossing the North Sea from Scotland. We were greeted by an impressive rain as we drove south through the Netherlands. Rain had in fact become the theme of our trip to northern Europe.
The coastal area of Netherlands is pretty much dead flat and can be incredibly windy, still the huge number of bike dedicated paths/ trails make it a great place to ride the bike. we got in a 4 hour training day, rain and all, inspired by huge numbers of people out cranking around on these 50 pound utilitarian cruisers with aerobars.
Mary and I decided to compete in a Belgium national race (GP Van Vlaanderen) taking place in a tiny farming town called Ronse. We luxuriated in seeking shelter at our Belgian friend Michels house for a couple of nights before heading out to the venue. Over the next few days the rain let up a bit and I decided to install the last sets of good bearings that I had in my kit hoping that the weather would hold for the weekends race.
We arrived in Ronse the day before the race for a pre ride and were greeted by a bit of a disappointment. Roped off cow field type terrain with some steep pavement climbs and the short fun single track section being excluded due to the muddy conditions. Still, its possible to have a mtb race in a parking lot and have good racing.
The overall vibe at the venue was the highlight, an old cobbled town/church square transformed into a festival of tenting and car camping cyclists. Overall a very friendly group of Belgian and Dutch who came for serious racing but were not afraid to have some fun as well. Mary and I enjoyed catching up with some old friends and making some new ones through broken english and sigh language including lots of mutually understood bike component and tech talk.
I was working Marys feed zone and was surprised to see her come through all bloodied on the first half lap. Mary was pale and clearly disturbed but still leading the race by a solid 30 seconds. Mary had not actually gone down but had slid into some exposed barbed wire on the course. She cut up her arm quite seriously and was bleeding through her clothes on her leg and hip as well. Mary still decided to tough it out and go for the win, probably since she is stubborn as hell (I mean, tough as nails). In racing XC we are expect to deal with a lot of pain so crashing and getting banged up while racing seems somehow more acceptable . In this case Mary really dug deep to keep it going and dominated the field taking the win uncontested.
My race never happened since I missed the start. I was very disturbed by Marys incident and was feeling kind of ill from helping her clean up her dirty cuts. Mary showed incredible resolve telling me that I should go ahead and race before I took her to the hospital. But I just couldn't do it.
So now we had the opportunity to check out the Belgium health care system. It took 20 stitches to close up the three main lacerations on Marys left forearm, the rest of the cuts were cleaned and covered under piles of gauze. It was a difficult day but we were impressed with the medical staff in the E room and definitely stoked to be walking out of the hospital after only 45 minutes all stitched up.
Once again I was amazed by Mary's resolve when she agreed to support me in a Belgian marathon race that was taking place the very next day. This was an 80k marathon and would certainly make sure I got in a workout and relieve some tension from having to sweat out my pre race caffeine buzz at the Emergency room. So we made sandwiches for the 3 hour drive over to the venue in La Reid, Belgium.
This race was the 16th annual Arden trophy race the longest running and most popular marathon in the country. it was contested through 80 k of muddy green tunnels of the carefully planned garden forests of the hilly Ardennes region. I was just lucky to see my friend Walter in the line at registration as his fluent french got us both start positions on the front row, and it was a good thing since there were somewhere around 1000 riders contesting the race.
I got off to a good start and rode with the front group that dwindled from 10 down to three over the course of the first 20k. a huge rear puncture slashed my tire beyond even the capabilities of my Notubes tire sealant to fix. A quick change set me back to 10th but I took advantage of the rest time and got on the bike motivated to come back .
by the last 10 k the end of the 3:35 ride I found myself alone with the Belgian national marathon champion. I heard the noise of the music from the venue and I realized that I had no idea how the finish of the course was laid out. So I just punched it blind putting everything into an ignorant but hard effort. Unfortunately there was still about 1 k to go he was able to hold my wheel and then narrowly come by for the win.
Mary was a trooper ripping around the tiny roads in the rv providing me support throughout the twisty and confusing course. although she was totally unfamiliar with the area she was still the best feed zone operative on the day, even offering bottles to others who's supporters were plain lost.
That night Mary and I relaxed in another unfamiliar campground, both feeling a bit more beat up than the typical day after racing but still hungry for more. The Europe race calendar and road atlas were wide open, with races in all directions near and far. Mary and I decided on a bit of extra travel to check out an area still unfamiliar to us.
We arrived in the west of Czech Republic after a couple of days of hard driving across busy central Germany and were relieved to find beautiful rural, hills in the grips of spring.
The races went well, with Mary dominating off the gun just dropping the competition (stitches in the arm and all). It was strange to watch as the spectators converted into Marys fans during the race. It was just plain obvious that she was ripping it and people were stoked to watch even though she was putting it to their hometown favorites.
My race proved a bit more competitive. I had a great start, moving up into the top 5, had good legs throughout but suffered a little fade in the final lap and fell back to 9th. I felt like I was lacking a bit of snap possibly from the Belgian marathon race just 5 days prior, though I cant take anything away from the solid field of Czech racers. All in all I had a solid day and was happy to come out with some UCI points and the opportunity to race and experience a bit of the Czech Republic.
We were definitely faded from the racing but made a point to attend the after-race party. This was just too good of an opportunity to check out a cool Czech pub and chill with some racers and the race promoters that we had met. we enjoyed some excellent Czech beer and some interesting rural cuisine. I had never eaten tripe soup before, and actually liked it--before we knew exactly what it was. Sort of like a clam chowder with a red sauce.
We found out from the race promoters that we were in fact the first U.S. cross country mountain bikers to attend a race in the country (quite an unexpected honor). We felt well received as Americans and foreign racers here and would definitely recommend checking out the sweet mountainous region of western Czech, (near Zadov) for general touring, riding and travel.
Over the next few days Mary and I made the short drive back to Munich and did a few recovery rides before packing the bikes away and closing out two months and 8,000 km of particularly intense RV travel and spring racing in europe.
Mary and Mike (Team Kenda/Seven Cycles)