The Greatest Show on Earth

Zeddam, Netherlands, January 31, 2006

Monday morning. Joscelin once again hired herself out and drove Mike, Greg, and myself to Zeddam. I'm staying with Team Canada until Wednesday when the US team arrives. Canada has two little bungalows in a resort 3km from the course.

The weather has taken changed again; last week was warm and rainy, this week is very cold and clear. The temperature does not go above freezing even in the sun (this is reminiscent of last year at St Wendel minus the snow). Greg and I went for a ride and found the course along with several of his German teammates. Two laps on the course were enough for me to decide that things will be best if the temperature stays cold. If the weather was to get warm the race will be a death trudge on muddy grass.

Internet and Bowling

This resort has everything including wireless internet, a swimming pool, air hockey and bowling lanes. Monday night was the first league night of the cross season. In Canada vs USA, Stu Thorne brought home the glory with a winning score of - well I shouldn't mention it because we'll all be embarrassed by own pitiful scores.

On Tuesday I went for a road ride through S' Heerenberg, a quaint little town just south of Zeddam. I rode past the town castle and continued on the large smooth bike path into Germany. There were no signs designating the border, but the street signs had changed from straat to straße and the buttons at stoplights asked kindly - bitte - to be pushed.

Tuesday night was another league night but this time it was men vs. ladies. Lynne Bessette, Wendy Simms, and myself gave the boys Stu, Norm, Ryan, and Mike a sound beating. Wendy was our ringer; she might have been a pro bowler in a previous life. Our underdeveloped cyclist arms could only take a few rounds of bowling before they succumbed to fatigue and we resorted to granny style bowling. Even in that undignified style, Wendy kicked everyone's butt.

Wednesday at lunch I moved south from Canada to USA. The USA team hotel is right in Zeddam and you can ride to the course on a dirt road out the back door. After a few more laps on the course it was time for dinner and clothing distribution. It's really exciting to get the USA clothing, it feels like you just one small step away from finally getting to race. I've been thinking about racing at World's this year since I finished last years race. Thursday morning us ladies planned a shopping excursion to S' Heerenberg for tofu and other essentials. We were a bit early for the outdoor market, they were just setting up in the freezing temperatures and blowing wind. Last week's fever came back for a second visit - why can't it just leave me alone? The morning's short shopping excursion did me in and I didn't get out of bed until dinnertime.


Friday was much the same; two easy laps on the course sent me to bed for not one, but two naps. On Friday night I had a hard time sleeping and took it as a good sign. Early Saturday morning I was awakened by a knock on the door. The UCI had chosen me for an early morning dope test. In a way this was good because it woke me out of a bad and frustrating dream. I dreamt that for some reason I was in Pittsburgh a few days before world's and couldn't remember when my flight left for Zeddam. My cell phone wouldn't function properly so I couldn't call anyone and ask them when my flight left. This particular dream isn't reoccurring but the theme is, being stuck so far away from a race that there is no way to get there in time.

The UCI phlebotomist had nimble hands and took two vials of blood from me in a minute. I was then asked to confirm that the number tags on the vials matched those on my form and sign off. After the bloodletting it was back to sleep for a few hours with no dreams at all.

Rhonda and I found a great single track through the nearby woods. Everything was covered in a thin layer of snow but it was cold enough to be very grippy. We came across an entire family riding mountain bikes in the woods. A quick note on people riding in Holland - even though the weather has been at or below freezing everyone rides around on their commuter bikes in jeans without hats or gloves. I was wearing wind stopper tights, wool undershirt, thermal jersey, thermal jacket, neoprene booties, fleece hat and thick gloves. People here are very tough!

Saturday night neither Mo nor myself slept much, we woke constantly and I gave up trying to sleep at 7 am. When I finally got to the venue the thousands of people milling about along with the military checkpoints to get into the venue caused waves of excitement and nerves. Finally the big day had arrived!!! A giant tent had been erected and the inside partitioned off with a section for each country.

Some countries were very serious while others had a more lighthearted air about them. Mechanics and soigneurs from various countries chatted with each other while athletes got down to business. I spent some time on the trainer and then went for a spin on the course. Somehow the course had dried out even more, the ice below the grass was gone and parts of the course were dusty. The descent was fully covered in sawdust and in the best shape yet.

Finally, the race

When we finally staged I was extremely relieved to get started. The peloton ripped down the start stretch, turned onto the dirt road and churned up a huge cloud of dust. By the time I reached the descent the leaders had probably 30 seconds on me. Up the giant steps I churned pass several women and punched it on the paved climb. With eyes rolled into the back of my head from oxygen debt I ripped past the windmill up the second steps on into the woods.

While racing I can hear my name called by people all over the course, I can hear when it is an American yelling my name. If you're out there and cheering, I hear you and it helps.

For the first three laps I was swarmed by Italian ladies, it was hard work dropping them and moving up to the next group. At the end, Rhonda was a few seconds up the road and the Belgian national Champion (Hilde Quintens) right in front of me. I held onto her wheel until the last few metres, then summoning my last bit of energy sprinted past her throwing my bike at the line for a dramatic 25th place finish. Rhonda and I finished in the same order as last year, but one place better this year. At this rate I'll have to race for the next 15 years to make it to the top ten!

This year's race was much more fun than last year. Last year, I was terrified while racing, each icy corner and frozen descent put the fear of death into me. This year was fun, after the first two laps I started moving around more with the women in my group attempting to shell them. Coming up the inside on corners and forcing the other women to the back and outside was loads of fun.

Beer tent follies

Racing was fun, but so was visiting the beer tent. A tent twice the size of the athlete's tent housed the largest collection of beer at the venue, smaller tents were strategically placed elsewhere on the course. The tent was packed with people from all over including a large group of Cross Crusaders. A man in a bear suit proudly displayed the Crusader flag and I signed trading cards for loads of people. I even signed an adoring fan's chest, a first for me - maybe a first for him too.

One Czech fan repeatedly offered cigars to which I repeatedly declined. After a few beers and international fan interaction it was time to find a spot to spectate the men's race. This was easier said than done; spectators lined the course a minimum two deep and much more in most places. After a few laps I gave up and headed back to the centre of the venue to sample drink options. If beer isn't enough to quench your thirst you can also try the gluwein - warm sweetened wine - or apple schnapps.

The giant screen provided the best view of the race and it was there I watched Sven Nys's heart-breaking crash and Erwin Vervecken's final attack leading to victory. Sven's crash devastated the crowd. When he was finally helped off the course by a medic, fans were bawling. The next day when asked about his race ending crash Sven replied that he should have raced more aggressively! After the men's race it was time to head back to Tielt Winge. Helen and Stef gave me a ride back and we got to discuss the race over and over again. Helen had an fantastic day, finishing fifth!

I fly home on Thursday and although I'm going to miss Belgium and living the life of a pro the thought of being home with Josh and kitty is very appealing. I'm looking forward to taking some time off training and perhaps even dusting off the mountain bike. Of course plans are already being made for next year's assault on European cyclo-cross!

See you soon,

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