I’m home, and this is my first morning back. An early morning at that, i woke at 230 am and never closed my eyes again. I watched the sun rise from this coffee shop table i sit at now writing this blog. My head is not clear, my hands are shaky, and i seem to mistype every other word. This a side effect of jet lag, which i seemed to have never gotten over from my trip to Belgium. I’ve been in some sort of delirium for two weeks now. The price you pay for fun and adventure.
This marks my 5th time over to Belgium to race in the last 2 1/2 years. I now feel like i have the dark rhythms under control and have delighted in tasting most beers ive been curious about. I am now able to turn my head to the extravagant pastries and chocolates, as I’ve tasted most. The added pounds are no longer worth it.
I live in a state with 300+ days of sunshine a year and grew up in sunny Florida so the grey bleak rainy days of Belgium sometimes get to me. I find myself waking thinking it must be 3am but look at the watch to see it is in fact 1030am but black as night. But, if you are Belgian, it’s all you know, so you pull on your rain jacket and carry on.
Most places I’ve stayed are called villages, and they are just that, a few stores, maybe a kebab and frites stop and that is it. The buildings are typically all the same color brick and you will always find one beautiful cathedral. To me they all look the same, when riding it’s a definite that you’ll get lost. There is no reasoning in their road system and they all tangle together like twisted spaghetti. Lawns are nicely manicured and most houses are kept simple. From what I’ve seen, minimalism and efficiency is key.
I am lucky, I’ve been accepted into this culture by means of my Belgian Fiance, Ben. I am taken care of. I have an escort everywhere i go. His father and friends, my pit crew, take me in as if i was their own. I show up, bikes are prepped and ready, i race, bikes are taken from me, cleaned and readied for the next mud fest, shoes are washed, clothes are washed by Ben’s sister and i feel like its understood that my job is to race and race only. They take pride in taking care of their own and understand that to race well, that all these things are needed.
I eat breathe and sleep cyclocross while there. The media are all about cross, it’s the equivalent to US football. We wake to cross on the front page of the paper, we race, to come home and watch the race on prime time television. We walk though the cities to billboards on banks of national cx heroes, it’s everywhere. We often hear from cashiers in lines “hey, arent’ you that cyclocross star?” addressing Ben Berden.
The first race, Namur is always a tough one to start out with. Its like being thrown to the wolves right off the plane. I would be comfortable saying it is one of the toughest CX courses in the world. The drops are gnarly and steep, the mud is thick, the run ups are long, and there is no lack of climbing. It’s an all-arounders course. Last year i got a great start and ended up 18th. This year, not so much. i struggled big time, with motivation and will physicality. I ended the day in 30th, not my best effort. The next race would be the Zolder World Cup and i was now warmed up and ready to race. Although this was not my style course the day went better and i raced most of the day in 17th place, only to be passed in the last lap by several people. I would end with a 24th place, most of the Americans either sat in places right before me or right after. My third race, Loenhout, was the day after and i could feel my body and legs getting stronger. The course is always fun and the mud is always deep. Beer, Frites, pigs roasting, jumbo trons, and fans cheering. This race feels like the epitome of Belgian Cross. My day would go well. I got a great start and managed to hold on 18th, 3rd American. My last race was the Super Prestige in Deigem, not my favorite but a classic. The Americans would have a great day with all of us finishing in the top 11. This proving that the American ladies were here to stay, making their mark and now a competitive force amongst the strong Europeans.
The evening after Deigem, we headed to Bruges for a little tourist time, i needed at least one of these days while over there. What a magical city this is during the holidays, it was certainly a treat to climb the towers and stroll though the cobbled streets. The city certainly holds a rich history and its hard to believe that people could build such monumental structures more than 700 years ago.
My racing in Europe would now commence for the season. I had decided not to petition for the Worlds Team this year, being away from my children for another long block would just be too much. Yes, a hard decision. But, Mexico’s sun sand and surf are now waiting for me. I’m ready to thaw out from a long season of racing and training in the cold. It’s time to reevaluate goals and establish what i want my racing career to look like in the new year and new seasons. I hope to do some more riding and racing on Marin’s new trail bikes and who knows maybe you’ll see me out at some Enduro events, another discipline to add to the resume!
**if you’re wondering what the stuffed animal is in some of the pics, my son made him for me for Christmas and named him Jack. I decided i would take pictures with Jack throughout my travels and send them to Ryder to show him where Jack had traveled. It was a great way to stay connected to my children while away.