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Barbara Howe

Barbara Howe (Vanderkitten) during day one of the 2009 Stanley Cup in Portland, Oregon.

Frozen over

By:
Barbara Howe
Published:
December 18, 2009, 21:23 GMT,
Updated:
December 18, 2009, 21:34 GMT

Chilly temps, not mud, at Portland USGP finale

Every year I look forward to racing in cold, wet and muddy Portland. This year the weather played a trick on everyone and instead of dumping an insane amount of rain it got really cold and stayed dry.

Saturday's race had a little tiny bit of residual mud that caused a first lap crash. Of course I was behind the crash and once things sorted out I managed to make my way past several ladies. It was fun riding the BMX track dry, I even caught huge air (at least an inch) a few times over the second kicker. Linda Sone (Planet Bike) grabbed on my wheel when I caught up to her and we battled. She put the hurt on me and took eighth place leaving me with two UCI points, eighty-four dollars and ninth place.

I was a little bit over-dressed in the 33-degree Fahrenheit weather in my leg warmers, arm warmers, short sleeve wool undershirt and ear warmer. Linda had a different take on the weather, she wore only a short sleeve skinsuit with no leg covering and no undershirt. She thought the low 30s was warm and I thought it was cold, I guess that's the difference between living in California and living in Minnesota.

On Sunday the course was even better, we got routed up some makeshift steps and a different part of the BMX course. My race was not so good. Warm up went well, I had a good call up, my legs felt great and the bike worked perfectly. When the start whistle went off, however, I clipped in and heard "whup whup whup", my rear tire was flat. I watched, unable to believe this was happening to me, as everyone powered away up the start straight. Not knowing what else to do I kept pedaling as a few tears crept from the corners of my eyes. I couldn't stop thinking how unfair this was and how did the tire go flat between call ups and the start? It was even worse that I had just glued this tire earlier in the week and it saw only one race before flatting.

Everyone was staring at me as I pedaled as fast as one can on a flat tire. I had to run a few sections on the flat and about a minute in I saw Emily van Meter, usually a competitor, sidelined with a cold and I asked her, "Should I quit?" She yelled back at me, "it's a 'cross race, don't ever quit".

With that cleared up I continued my slow ride/run to the pit. Earlier I told Tim that he didn't need to be in the pit so my bike was just hooked over a section of fence. I ran in, dropped the old bike, grabbed my new one and took off. At this point Tim realized something was wrong and headed over to the pit. He moved my bike out of the pit lane in case someone else needed a bike.

Riding with air in both tires is AWESOME! My legs felt really good, perhaps the best they've felt all year, good legs coupled with mad passing skills I managed to ride into the money in fourteenth place.

I spectated most of the men's race with my friend Andrew but when the wind picked up and the sun disappeared the temperature dropped several degrees. Even in my long down coat and multiple layers I was way too cold to watch the end of the race.

Onto bigger and better things next weekend at National Championships in Bend!

Barbarella
www.barbarahowe.com

Wiped out after a rough and muddy race.

Dedication

By:
Cycling News
Published:
November 03, 2009, 20:40 GMT,
Updated:
November 03, 2009, 20:45 GMT

A stranger provides inspiration on a muddy weekend

We all know that to reach the top level of any sport one must be dedicated to the effort. There’s the maintenance of one’s diet, training and recovery, and then there’s the endless logistics of flying across the country, renting cars, sorting out hotels, and navigating to race venues. Often, all of this seems harder than the racing itself. Doing all of it alone makes everything even more challenging.

This past weekend I happened upon a story of dedication that needs to be shared.

First, a realization: my races are a family affair. I’m lucky to have parents who enjoy coming to races to support me.

My Father often plays the role of pit chief, while my Mother is a fearless maestro of her vast collection of cowbells. My boyfriend, Tim, travels to most races with me. He’s not only my photographer, he also maintains the Ibis Hakkalügis and scrubs the mud stains out of my Vanderkitten/Hot Shoppe skinsuits. Fortunately, I don’t have to do any of this alone.

For the Granogue and Wissahickon races I secured a tent and a stationary trainer, and I was grateful because the weather was cold and raining. As I warmed up on the trainer at Granogue on Saturday, a young man named Bryan Fawley of the Hudz-Subaru team walked up and asked Tim to help him pin up his race numbers.

We got to talking about racing and traveling, and I offered Bryan the use of the tent and trainer to prepare for his race. He had flown over 1,300 miles to Pennsylvania from his home in Dallas, Texas with the goal of scoring a single UCI point. I wished him luck and took off to the start line for my race.

This was a great race for people who love thick mud, heavy bikes and slippery run-ups. When I wasn’t careening out of control on the slick off camber sections I was exchanging my bike for a fresh one. The combination of mud, grass and leaves wreaked havoc on everyone’s bike, sometimes building up enough to preventing the wheels from turning. My pit crew was able to keep up with my demand for fresh bikes and I took a bike every half lap.

After my race, Tim and I walked down the hill to pick up my 6th-place prize money. The Elite Men’s race had begun not long before. Along the way, we watched in disbelief as Bryan trudged dejectedly up the hill, bike on shoulder, rear derailleur swaying at an awkward angle behind him.

He hadn’t lasted but a few minutes in his race, and like many others, he’d become a victim of the mud: the rear derailleur hanger broke from the stress of trying to shift with ropes of grass twisted around it. We offered to help Bryan track down a new derailleur hanger so that he could race the next day, but upon returning to our car there was no sign of him.

While I warmed up on the trainer at Wissahickon on Sunday, the Magical, Disappearing Bryan appeared to say hello and to tell us his story. He’d quickly left Saturday’s race in an attempt to find a replacement derailleur hanger before shops closed for the night.

Fortunately, he convinced a shop to stay open late so that he could purchase a new hanger. Unfortunately, on receiving the new one, he noticed that the derailleur itself was mangled. Worse, the shop didn’t have any suitable replacements, so the owner spent some time bending the broken one back into working shape.

Armed with a replacement cable, Bryan drove back to his hotel only to find that the unthinkable had happened: the seat stay on his bike frame had cracked! Undaunted and undiscouraged, he mixed up some J-B Weld epoxy and fastened the frame back together. Mind you, all of this took place late at night after most competitors had retired for the day. At this point my mouth was hanging open listening to Bryan’s story. I was floored by his dedication to racing and his unwillingness to give up.

In the end, Bryan’s bike held up and he managed to fight his way from the back row into 13th place. He finished only three spots away from a UCI point. Having seen his dedication I’m sure he’ll be getting his UCI point soon!

Barbarella
www.barbarahowe.com

Barb and the podium boys are all smiles after the women's race.

A whirlwind week

By:
Barb Howe
Published:
October 07, 2009, 6:18 BST,
Updated:
October 07, 2009, 9:29 BST

Mud, Driving, Vegas, Flights...

In the past seven days I've driven up and back to Seattle, flown back and forth to Las Vegas and raced three times. The cyclocross season on the West Coast starts with Star Crossed and the Rad Racing GP; both races are part of the NACT (North American Cyclocross Trophy).

Seattle is a long drive from Berkeley but after balancing the cost of flying, bike fees and rental car, driving was the less expensive option. Plus when you drive to a race you can bring all sorts of nice extras like spare wheels, spare tyres, a floor pump, a trainer, extra tools, a large assortment of clothing and lots of food.

I'm jealous of the East Coasters who drive to most races - in addition to all the good stuff they fit into their cars they also avoid the hassle of flying with bikes.

Part 1

This was my first Star Crossed and it will not be my last. Most of the women I talked with before the race were either on brand new, never-ridden, built-up-last-night bicycles or still waiting for their new bikes. I felt lucky that one of my Hakkalugi's had already been in two races.

The first big race of the year always produces extra nerves and jitters. Everyone is extra tense after "30 seconds to go" is called by the UCI official; we wait on edge for the gunshot. The gun cracks and off we go in a mad dash for the first few corners.

The course weaves in, out and around the velodrome, it's very flat and very fast. My heart was not ready for this kind of effort and as the race goes on I drift back. On the last lap I see large slide marks on the wet and muddy surface of the velodrome. Someone went down and I adjust my trajectory to avoid a similar fate.

By the time our race is over the rain has increased to a steady pour and I head back to the car to get out of my wet clothes. The men got to race in a magnificent downpour and a decreased co-efficient of friction. I watched from the velodrome infield, partially sheltered by the beer tent.

The men raced in torrents of rain, buoyed by the rowdy fans crowded in the infield and along the upper fence of the velodrome. I headed out before the race ended to beat the traffic and because I was afraid the car might get stuck in the muddy field.

Sunday was the complete opposite of Saturday; bright and warm with a well-drained course that was dusty in some areas and the infamous 80 metre "Knapp Time" run up. The general pre-race consensus was last night's race had everyone feeling creaky today.

Many racers were suffering from the first race of the season hangover. When the gun goes off the creakiness is replaced with cotton mouth which then turns to panting when we hit the giant sunbaked run up. The fifth time I tackle the run up I want to quit, my run loses it's bounce and turns into a walk. Sweat drips onto my glasses obscuring the puffs of dust turned up by my feet.

In just a few minutes the race will be over so I push onwards and upwards knowing that the long downhill will provide a small rest. I finish the day in fifth place, spend a brief moment on the podium then Tim and I pack the car and head south back to California.

Part 2

We were home for less than 24 hours before leaving for Las Vegas and the grand spectacle known as Interbike. Three years ago Cross Vegas was born - it's maturing nicely and has one of the deepest fields of any race in the US.

Between the elite men and the elite women there were close to 20 national and former national champions and two former world champions competing. As always the race was hard from the gun, the super dry desert air is very hard on the lungs and more than one racer suffered from breathing problems.

I'd like to thank the Luna Chix for providing sparkly gold Speedoed podium boys. Flesh is abundant in Las Vegas and is usually of the female variety bulging out of tiny shirts and tight skirts. The podium boys were a welcome change and a big hit with the ladies.

Like many elite racers at Interbike I put in my time thanking sponsors and chatting with industry folk... you never now what will come of connections made at a trade show.

The final leg of the journey almost never happened. Tim, myself and a buyer from a local shop almost missed our flight home because we couldn't get out of the casino. The three of us have spent numerous hours navigating mountainous regions on several continents without getting lost.

We were disoriented by the flowered carpets, blinking lights, vague signage, and maps that didn't make sense. It wasn't until after seeking the counsel of several casino workers that we finally found the elevators to the parking garage. We made the flight with a few minutes to spare after a long frantic airport "run-walk". This trip made home feel sweeter than ever.

Next up: The Cincinnati International Cyclocross Festival - three days of UCI racing and equal payouts.

Barbara Howe
www.barbarahowe.com

For Barb Howe, when the light changes... it's 'cross time.

And so it begins...

By:
Barb Howe
Published:
September 25, 2009, 7:40 BST,
Updated:
September 25, 2009, 8:41 BST

When the light changes, it's 'cross time

The new bikes are built, the tubulars are glued, my legs are almost used to running and it's finally warm in the Bay Area... all of these things mean that it's finally cyclocross time!

I realise that the road and mountain bike seasons linger on and there's some big race in Switzerland but in my world the light has changed and it's time for skinny tyres on the dirt.

I'd like to introduce my new team: Vanderkitten (check out www.vanderkitten.com). A few years ago I wrote an article about them and since then they have branched from tee shirts into cycling clothing.

Dave, the owner, is committed to supporting women’s cycling and this year it includes myself, Shannon Holden and Haley Bean for cyclocross. We designed a great looking kit that compliments my new Ibis Hakkalügi bikes. Some of you may remember the old steel Hakkalügis, the new frames might have the same names but are completely different. They are all carbon (my first carbon cross frames!), super light and handle like a dream.

Two weeks ago was my last day of work; I quit my job (maybe not the smartest thing I’ve ever done) to devote extra time to racing this fall. I'm not getting any younger and with my track record of sickness and injury I figured this was a good year to give it everything I have.

The first race of the season serves as a painful reminder that training is not the same as racing. It also reminds me why I race 'cross - I enjoy catching up with friends and competitors each race and I like the pain of riding really hard.

My first race of the 'cross season was part of an eight race local series in Livermore, CA. I like the series because it's low key, close to my house and usually involves running up a long flight of bleacher steps.

The first race of the series was not in the horse arena, that area was filled with people on horses. Instead, the course was set on an area of deep grass connected to an area of loose gravel. At the start line there was a bit of confusion as to where exactly the first turn was located, this was discussed as we approached the first turn and was quickly sorted out from there.

A strong Norcal field started the race, including Sarah Kerlin, Ann Fitzsimmons, my teammate Haley and the newly-relocated Kerry Barnholt. My strategy was to go out in front and stay there as long as possible; it worked all the way through to the end of the race! Kerry flatted on the first lap, went to her car, fixed the flat and then jumped back into the race. Sarah, Ann and Haley finished in a three up sprint, with Sarah taking the honours.

A good start - hopefully a sign of things to come! In the meantime, check out my new website: www.barbarahowe.com .

Take care,
Barbarella

Wild flowers near Fresno at the Big Sandy.

Four for Four and then one more

By:
Barb Howe
Published:
August 19, 2009, 3:43 BST,
Updated:
August 19, 2009, 5:03 BST

Kicking back with some sweet single track

My spring mountain biking schedule was based on the following criteria:

  • The race must be within reasonable driving distance (no more than four hours)
  • The race must have a high awesomeness quotient (lots of singletrack, good views, etc)
  • The race must have a barbeque and beer afterwards

I found several races that fit the bill. The first one was put on by Bike Monkey at beautiful Lake Sonoma, featuring steep climbs, single track and the potential to get baked in the sun. There was no one in my category so I started with the men and rode around until they made me quit. My beer of choice after this race was a nice cold Fat Tire.

The second race, Big Sandy, was a bit of a drive but well worth it. I was lured to the hills beyond Fresno by 23 miles of single track and $100 to the fastest woman. Free camping sweetened the deal. The race celebrated the building of a bridge that connected two sections of single track. It wasn't an easy race to find; several hours past my bed time I missed the turn and it wasn't until many miles later that I realised my mistake.

The start of the race was several miles down a very twisty road into the heart of the San Joaquin River Gorge. All of the hours of driving were well worth it, though. The single track was amazing and the wildflowers were in full bloom. More than once I rode off the trail looking at the flowers. My choice of beer after this race was 1554 from New Belgium, a nice dark beer and very filling. A very nice sponsor upped the prize money for the fastest man and fastest woman (the promoter had equal payouts for both men and women) and I was able to drive home from this race a few dollars in the black.

The next race was one I had heard about for years from several people - the Shasta Lemurian Classic.

Once again it was a long drive but I car-pooled with Jordi and Aron and the long drive seemed short. Camping wasn't free but it was cheap and close to the start. This race was a good one; it starts with a long granny gear climb, moves onto a rather nasty rutted fire road descent before hitting the good single track. It was a long race, the second one of the year where I sported a hydration pack. One bottle cage for a race close to three hours is not enough water for me.

The most embarrassing moment of the race came when the strap of my hydration pack caught on my handlebar while remounting 'cross style after a hike-a-bike. The bike and I went down in a tangle but we both survived with only minor scrapes. I can't actually remember what beer I drank after this race other than it was a pale ale and it made my legs feel heavy. The drive home was a breeze; I fell asleep in the back seat of the truck nestled amongst the camping gear.

After the Lemurian it was time to stick closer to home. Even though I've ridden the trails hundreds of times, the annual race at Tam Rancho is one of my favourites. On a normal day at Tam Rancho I tend to err on the cautious side of speed - you never know when you'll come around a corner and be face to face with a hiker/dog/biker/runner/angry local. Race day is extra fun due to the reduced likelihood of head on collisions.

I took the lead on this one from the gun and worked very hard to stay ahead of my competitors. There was enough prize money on the line to pay for two new tyres for my car. The post race barbeque even had veggie burgers for those of us who don't partake of the flesh. Post race beers were at the soon-to-be-opened Gestalt House in Fairfax. I skipped the beer this time in favour of going to my favourite bike shop, A Bicycle Odyssey, in Sausalito, to buy some much-needed parts for my ridden-hard and neglected road bike.

And one more... Skyline Mountain Bike Race in Napa.

This is the same location and similar course as Single Speed World Championships 2008 and World Cups in the late '90s. This time my bike sported a vast array of gears and I didn't have to walk nearly as much! Mud mouth (when you are breathing hard through your mouth and there's so much dust that it turns to mud in your mouth and on your teeth) developed in the first few seconds of the race, the Pro/Expert ladies shared a hectic start with the Expert men.

I had a good battle with Sarah Maile for most of the race; she put the hurt on me on the granny gear climbs and I was able to gap her on the descents. On the last lap I got an impromptu feed from a kind gentleman in the feed zone. He gave me a bottle of soda, as a rule I don't drink soda but I was out of water and getting a bit hungry and the warm flat soda tasted really good. It also gave a good kick as halfway through the last lap I felt better and better and put a permanent gap on Sarah.

After the race we found out that it was the Norcal State Championship race, making me the new Northern California State Champion. No beer or barbeque after this race but there was a taco truck. Although much to my disappointment what I thought was a burrito was actually a salad wrapped in a tortilla. To make up for the lack of substantial food we stopped for ice cream after the race.

I'll be back with a rap of August's advantures once the month is done...

Barbarella

It was cold enough to race in toe warmers

A brisk weekend

By:
Cycling News
Published:
January 20, 2009, 0:00 GMT,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:12 BST

I just survived my annual trip to the Hamptons for Whitmore's Landscaping Super Cross Cup final...

January 20, 2009

I just survived my annual trip to the Hamptons for Whitmore's Landscaping Super Cross Cup final round of the NACT. This is my third trip to this race and I keep coming back because Long Island is beautiful in the fall, host housing is the best and Myles, the promoter, pays the top five women prize money equal to that of the men.

California had been enjoying above average temperatures for the past week or so….along the lines of riding home from work in the dark wearing only shorts and a jersey kind of temperatures. So the temperature on Long Island was a bit of a shock to the system. I was smart enough to bring my new knee length down coat, a questionably purchase when one lives in coastal California. Will I ever need to wear it in Berkeley? Probably not, but its function as a sleeping bag that you can walk in was greatly appreciated all weekend long.

Tim and I got in late Thursday night and had luck on our side as we found our host housing in the woods without mishap. It's the same place I stayed last year and in the absence of then World Champion Erwin Vervecken we got upgraded to the World Champion guesthouse. We had our very own glass house in the woods for the weekend, complete with rafters of turkeys and herds of deer wandering past the floor to ceiling windows.

Friday's pre-ride went well, I got to ride around with Sue Butler (recently inked Single Speed Cyclocross World Champion) for a bit. I didn't get to see her new tattoo but I did see a picture of her in her golden single Speedo. We rode the course in both directions as Saturday's race went clockwise and Sunday's race counterclockwise. It was chilly out but not yet frigid. On my scale of bike riding in the cold it was an earwarmer and legwarmer day.

On Saturday air started blowing in from the Arctic because it was about ten degrees cooler with high winds. This caused an upgrade to hat, wind front base layer and if I had remembered to put them in my race bag, tights. It's not often that you see people warming up in down jackets. I was cold at the start; the thin Lycra of a skin suit doesn't offer much warmth for the area between the top of your legwarmers and the bottom of your skin suit. A thermal skin suit would have felt really good on a day like this.

My start was slow and as we went in to the twists and turns of the course I was in about fourteenth place. Not really where I wanted to be and for the first time all season my legs agreed with my brain. Together (legs and brain) we made some good passes on bumpy grass sections and had enough juice to keep it together in the single track and on the slowest paved downhill I've ever had in a race. The normally fast downhill was cancelled out by the mighty and cold wind blowing straight up. You had to pedal quite hard to get to the bottom.

I was happy with my ninth place finish because it gives me hope of one day being fast again. As soon as the race was over I got in the car and turned on the heat. I didn't really need a cool down, I was already cold. Just so everyone doesn't think I'm all soft from living in California I queried several Canadians regarding the weather conditions and they all agreed that it was cold.

When Tim and I left our glass house on Sunday morning it was already warmer than Saturday's high temperature. I remembered my tights this time and downgraded my headgear to just an ear warmer but I kept the wind front base layer. Another slow start put me in a not so good position, my legs worked well for the first two laps and I moved into ninth place.

Then my legs quit working and I went into damage control mode and tried not to go backwards too quickly. I finished in twelfth place two spots away from UCI points. Once again I went straight to the car to put on more clothing. Because it was so much warmer today a cool down spin (in my mobile sleeping bag) seemed like a good idea. The spin lasted about three minutes before the better idea of getting out of bike clothing and into normal clothing took over.

Tim and I spectated the men's race while socializing with Natasha Elliot. You might remember her from my last trip to Belgium. She's stepped it up a notch this year so expect to see good results for her this Christmas season in Belgium.

To top off my weekend I fit both bikes and six wheels into my bike case in less than thirty minutes. Does it get any better than that?

Author
Barbara Howe

Just as Barbarella bumps through the universe, comically oblivious to the dangers and threats being thrust at her, Barbara Howe has had a few misadventures of her own. After a year of sickness and a grievous injury she is finally recovered and aiming for the podium.

Barb has recently signed with Vanderkitten Clothing and looks forward to a season representing "clothing for women who kick ass!" She currently resides in Berkeley, CA with her boyfriend, a room full of bikes and her cat. Follow her adventures here on Cyclingnews.com.