Wednesday, December 26, 2007

My First World Cup!


I have to tell you that it's going to be really difficult to put this experience in words. This World Cup in Belgium existed on a bigger scale than I even imagined. I could hardly believe the whole scene, and my pictures simply don't do it justice. Beyond that, while watching the men's elite race, I was amazed to discover perspective on just how good the Belgians are at their sport. It really is unbelievable how fast Sven, Lars, and Bart were riding. Watching gave me goosebumps. Feeling the intensity of the crowd screaming for their heroes as they flew by honestly almost brought tears to my eyes. I love this sport. They made this course look so easy, this same course where I had lost a lung, my legs, and very possibly a year off my life just an hour earlier. Watching my "hometown heroes" such as Tim and Jeremy get lapped by the three leaders racing at double the speed (well, at the moment they were lapped, anyway) has altered my whole perception of cyclocross.

After watching today's race, I am officially a Bart Wellens fan. Nys displayed amazing power and fluidity. Bart also has incredible power, but just seemed to have more heart and deep determination. (While pre-riding the course today and making my way through the end of the first long sand section, lots of people started shouting all around me. I knew immediately that a Belgian hero was coming up behind: it was Wellens. As if my heart wasn't pounding from grinding through the sand, now it was in my throat! "Make it through the sand, make it through, don't crash in front of Bart!" I made it and continued up the next rise, flat, turn around the tree, run up the stairs, and he was still there. "Ah! Bart Wellens is on my wheel!" Well, it was an exciting moment. I entered the sand again, and he disappeared. He was gone. Or maybe he passed me, for some reason I can't remember. I will be sure to take home some Bart merchandise as a souvenir, and I am hoping to get Bart to sign my "Bart Wellens Kickboxing Academy" t-shirt or to get a photo with him wearing it. We'll see if I can work up the nerve for that!

Okay, so on to my race. At staging, the announcer called my name: "From the United States, numero vignt-deux, Rebecca Wellons." Then he made some comment en francais demonstrating how my last name is pronounced slightly differently than "WellEns" (which it isn't). But the crowd and myself at least got a chuckle out of it. I rolled up to a spot in the third row. But really the second, because I played the game of jamming myself up as far forward as possible. I was right next to Christine and diagonally behind Lyne. Several other North Americans were nearby, and I felt strangely comfortable. I jammed my wheel right on up so my hands were basically on the butts of the two euro girls in front of me, and when the gun shot, I did not hesitate. I successfully started the race without being sketched out. I held my own in what was a decent start, not excellent, but a big improvement on the past 3 races. After the first corner, the track was all muddy and slick, and went into a muddy and chewed up hill that would prove to be unridable for me and most others (even the men) all race. So, there was the first dismount, and there was another short steep hill soon after that I had to run because the girls in front of me couldn't ride it. I headed into the sand, and did my best to keep my weight back. I find it difficult to drop into the sand with good speed and keep my weight back at the same time. I tend to be quite far forward like a roadie a lot when I'm trying to keep speed. I will have to work on my position for next season. The sand was hit or miss for me, and I say that to mean I would often hit or be hit by someone (and consequently crash) or I might miss riding into the woman in front of me (often going slower) and pass several others. Alone while pre-riding, I could clear it pretty consistently, but as everyone knows who has raced cross, all that pretty much flies out the window in traffic during a race.

I went down many times. One time I fell running in the sand, and I didn't trip. A Belgian woman rode into me from behind as I was running the end of the first long sand section. I have her chainring imprint in my left achilles. I was pissed and got up and ran past her and put myself right in front of her. Then a French woman dove into the next corner inside me and caused me to dab. That made me mad, too, and I wanted to catch her and give it back in a bad way, but I just had no legs today. I had absolutely no power, and such is the story of my last month. I rode the first lap okay, but that was all my legs had in them. If I had a powermeter, I'd bet it would show numbers lower than my first training rides last February. I would stand, but just couldn't pump. I am cooked, and know it. (I was actually able to fall asleep in the car, in the parking lot, 2 hours and 15 min before my _WC_ race today... not a good sign.) Regardless, this is still all an amazing experience for me, and I'm so glad I'm here. I know inside that I could have been racing 10 places higher. I know that it's possible for me. Those are just words, but I intend to make it happen in the future.

I spent the last couple of laps battling with the Japanese national champion and the Belgian woman whose chainrings are my body's souvenir. I would often gain time on them in the sand, which I rode pretty well when in less traffic. I could also consistently outrun the Japanese woman. But my power was uncharacteristically poor on the flats and pavement, and I could not match the Belgian woman today. I finished 34th in the hardest cyclocross race I have ever done, and I'm very happy to have had the experience.

I wish I could stay, rest for a week - well, I may need two, then continue racing. If I could race here more, I believe I would improve dramatically as a 'crosser. But I have only one more race here - Loenhout on Friday - and then I'm home for New Year's and back to work and reality. I'm really looking forward to Friday, it's got those washboard-like BMX style bumps where you have to push and pull your bike and you gain speed as you go through the section! I can't wait to try it.

Some pics of the race:

So many people that it was hard to see the racers go by! Some people got creative and built sand mounds to prop themselves up higher.

Powers rocks through the end of the second time through the beach where many could not ride.

Tim runs the same section this lap.

There were lots of Ridleys at the race.
Here's mine all happy after the sand:

I still haven't had any beer. It sure wasn't in the cards while doing 4 races in the past 6 days, but I'd like to have one before I leave. I haven had lots of chocolate, though! After a huge dinner tonight, I treated myself to crepes filled with Meli, which is the delicious chocolate and honey spread I am now addicted to. I think there's half a pastry waiting for me in the fridge, too....


Chris Mayhew said...

Just starting reading your blog since you jumped the pond. It's a great read! Good luck to you. I'm glad you're enjoying your time there as well, Flanders is an amazing place, esp if you race bikes.

And, of course, Ridley's rule! (just got one myself, I think we ride the same size, actually)

Good luck for the rest of your Euro season!

Eloy said...

These reports are extraordinary and awesome!

CTodd said...

Congrats Rebecca. :)

Dave said...

that looks way too fun!

megA said...


Can you imagine my big mouth cheering for you as your race????

Your excitment is contagious! I love it!


GCDavid said...

Way to go!!! Congrats on some great memories.

PS I just read the Japanese Nat. Champ's blog, and she was wondering "Who was that woman from New England who kept going by me" ; )