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January 2005

Barbarella Conquers Europe - Part 5
Barb Howe

The big day looms like an oncoming train. For the past two days we have done some course recon. Remember the board game chutes and ladders? Think of that but frozen and snowy. The first fun part is the "death drop" with a sharp left at the bottom. Thursday the drop was muddy, today it was frozen with ice on the cement at the bottom.

Hay bales were strategically placed inside the fence and I took full advantage of their positioning. My left hip is sporting a bump and the left elbow lost some skin. My bike actually slid under the fence. This was with 30+ people/racers watching. Further along the course I somehow collided with a fence post and flipped over the fence. No one saw that move. The rest of the course is actually fun with more drop-ins, steep uphills, and sharp corners. My tripod cornering skills have improved dramatically. You can't tell if there is ice under the snow or not, so it is a good idea to have a foot out and ready.

Being with the rest of the US team is fun. Everyone got their skinsuits and jersey's the other day and we had team photos this morning. Most of the day revolves around mealtime. When you are only riding two hours a day, there is lots of spare time. I don't have to do anything to my bikes, the mechanics clean and tune then bikes every day.

We are in the same hotel as the Dutch team. This morning the vampires visited. Doping control took blood from several US and Dutch riders. More of us will have to pee in a cup immediately after the race. Some of the junior riders spent time trading hats and clothes this evening. The orange baseball caps are sweet.

Josh got a job working for the Canadian team. He stumbled into the job through a friend and will get to work in the pits for the races. He is excited to be in the action.

I'll send another update soon. The juniors and under 23's race tomorrow. Untill then I'll just sit around and breath second hand smoke from the the bar downstairs.

01/26/05 - Loca Chronicles, Part 4
Sarah Kerlin
According to locals in Izegem (which to properly pronounce, you must say the "g" as if you are clearing a phlegm ball) it only snows in that region 4 or 5 days a year. So lucky us, we got a few inches of powder and I got to go on the first ever snow rides of my life! Josie and Barb have both ridden in snow and were very happy to have it. Barb's feet were having flashbacks of riding in Mammoth Lakes.

The group staying at the house went out for an adventure on snow covered farm roads, and we even got to hit some of the dirt trails. A few boys thought they'd just keep the road slicks on their bikes, so of course we had to stop often as they ate shit and slid across the ice patches.

Barb and Josh had some fun in the snow too. It is better when everything is frozen because then you don't get mud and water splattered everywhere. Ice however is treacherous. Barb crashed on a tiny patch ice and Josh ran over her creating more work for himself by making her rear wheel wompy.

Wednesday was the big trip into our new home, the Hotel Landhotel in the very German speaking hamlet of Oberthal, which means "upper valley." Barb was excited to drive on the Autobahn, but her van is a sluggish Citroen Berlingo aka, "the old dog." The berlingo is
a right hand lane only kind of car. My trip to Germany was a little more exciting, riding in the Discovery Channel team car with Noel behind the wheel. It got even better as the snow kicked up on the windshield and our wipers failed on a twisty mountain road.

We arrived safely, and found Jake Frame in the mechanic's bike room. He had stumbled upon the hotel sometime the night before after 3 airplanes, 4 trains, 2 buses, and 1 taxi. The entire team USA (missing Barb and Page, who were late) went for a group training ride up through a snow covered bike path. Here we have hills, which means we have descents. Gully led our ride; he was sporting a nice bump on his chin from an ice patch he found on his morning ride. I took it easy on the ride, but I actually really enjoy riding in the snow. It is like both sand and mud at the same time, and ice is just plain sketchy but makes things more interesting.

The first thing the women's mechanic, Steve, had to say to Barb was "are those tufo's your only tires?" So Barb sucked it up and spent a very large amount of money on brand new Dugasts. One of the sets has bright pink sidewalls that coordinate nicely with the Bella pink theme. Be jealous, be very jealous because the pink one's are not available in the US.

Staying in the hotel with us is the Dutch National Team. They only wear their matching team warmups everywhere they go. Last night, Josie was visiting Rhonda and Eric in their penthouse, when snowballs starting crashing into the window. Of course, they thought it was Ryan, or Jeremy, or some other young rider, but upon closer inspection, the culprits were sporting the unmistakable Dutch national team outfit!
There will be some retribution.....

01/21/04 - Barbarella Conquers Europe, Part 4
Barb Howe
Now that I have recovered from seeing Bart Wellens naked butt on TV, I thought I'd share part of last weeks adventure.

Josh and I decided to go to Amsterdam because we had, um, heard good things about it. Also, the suburbs of Brussels were getting old. We took the bus/metro combo to the train station in Brussels and purchased tickets to Amsterdam Central. Everything went smoothly, we got on the correct train, found good seats and settled in for the 2.5 hour journey.

I had already booked a hotel for the night online so we had very few worries and only a small backpack each. We had picked an international "snel" train, one that only stops in a few cities so that the trip doesn't take 6 hours. In the town of Dordretch the train stopped. After sitting for about 10 minutes a multilingual annoucement was made telling everyone to get off the train, the tracks were blocked up ahead. We got off and stood around with everyone else trying to decide what to do.

After a few minutes of standing around and looking confused a dutch savior appeared. She appeared in the form of a school teacher who asked us (in perfect english) if we knew what was going on. I confidently answered "no". She explained that there was a crash or something ahead on the tracks and we had to wait until it was cleared. We got to spend some quality time in the Dordretch Train station. Irene (our dutch guide) helped us fill out some forms that might get our tickets refunded because the train was delayed more than an hour. Two and half hours later we finally got on another train that took us to Rotterdam and we caught a train to Amsterdam. Without Irene, we would have either headed home or would still be stranded in Dordretch.

Amsterdam is one of the most fantastic cities I have ever been to. EVERYONE rides around on bikes. Women in short skirts and spike heels ride bikes. Mothers with one, two or three children in babyseats ride bikes. The cops ride bikes. Old people ride bikes. Couples on dates ride bikes. Men in business suits ride bikes. Josh and I ride bikes. In the old part of the city, the streets are narrow and there are canals everywhere. That, combined with the tens of thousands of bikes, makes car travel frustrating and slow. The large avenues have bike specific lanes complete with their own traffic signals. It must be seen to be believed.

Do you know how many people we saw wearing helmets? Not a single one. People just don't wear them. Not little kids, nobody. They weren't even offered with our rental!

We got a couple of the heavy euro-cruiser bikes with fenders because walking is too slow and bikes are clearly the only way to go. Several hours were spent riding in concentric circles with no clear goal in mind. We did find the Van Gogh museum and spent a few hours there gazing at priceless works of art. After a stop at a cheese store and pastry shop it was time to head home to Brussels.

I highly recomend visiting Amsterdam if you are in the area. The canals are beautiful, the architecture interesting and there are lots of museums to be seen. I'd like to go back and visit the Greenpeace headquarters, the Anne Frank house and the other three hundred shoe stores I didn't have time to inspect. Also, pot, fresh shrooms, and prostitution are legal so if you are into that it could be your kind of place.

Josh and I are off to Heerlen to race tomorrow. Sarah is racing in Zonnebeke so I won't see her until Sunday.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of Josh and Barbarella's European Expirence.

01/20/04 - Loca Chronicles, Part 3
by Sarah Kerlin
I had a hard time falling asleep last night, I was so amped up about my first european cross race today. We had it easy, getting our toes wet at a smallish event in a town just 20K from our house. The sun was out and the air warmed up nicely (for Belgium), and the mostly flat course twisted through a grassy park under the shadow of the town church. I didn't get any photos of the course, but it was amid a forest of trees, with some singletrack cut through paths covered in fallen leaves.

Registration was upstairs above a bar, and the UCI officials looked at Josie, Rhonda, and I with slanted eyes. "American team, eh?" We asked how many women were racing today. Three. Well, that was a little bit of a buzz kill, since I really was feeling like a bull ready to bust out of the gates and I wanted to bang elbows with Hanke and Daphne (or at least their teammates) today, but at least we got to race with the junior boys.

As the start time for the first event approached, the church bells rang for a good five minutes. I started to get really excited again. I watched the youngest group of racers drag race down the central town street and onto the course, then I went to prepare for my own event.

Josie, Rhona, and I got off to a good start and rode together near the rear of the juniors field. Josie led us and looked to be riding really strong, but on the first lap through some steep tricky whoop-do-doos with turns in between, she rolled her front tire. She would later crash hard and bend her wheel, so she was pulled with two laps to go.... but she still got third, on the bright side.

It was an ideal course for Bella Loca, with the power sections and a few technical turns that Rhonda chose to run. The mud was tacky, save for a few mucky pits - these pits developed ruts which tended to grab the tires and send you in random directions. The only dismount was through a sandbox in the playground. I caught and eventually dropped a few juniors, and rode into a comfortable lead over Rhonda, to take first out of the small field of women racers.

I had a blast, and got in a great ride to prepare for tomorrow. I'm trying not to get too excited about my "win" today, since tomorrow will be much different - the start list includes every major player who will attend the World Championships, and the conditions are sure to be more difficult. But, for now, I will celebrate for a few moments and then go meet up with my sister who made the trip over to cheer me on!

I think I have found a way to get you all some photos, so hopefully those will be up later.

01/20/04 - Loca Chronicles, Part 2
Sarah Kerlin
Here's the second installment of my european vacation diaries. Sorry there are no photos yet, there have been some technical difficulties....

Josie, Rhonda, Eric, and a few more young boys arrived at the house yesterday. All of Josie's bags and bikes were lost on the trip, but luckily she came well dressed in a red track suit and stylish matching Puma's. There is a spare bike here that fits her, so she will still race this weekend.

Today we rode through town and down the bike path that follows the canal, and hit up some muddy singletrack. Riding in the city streets is a high-adrenaline experience, with the narrow one-and-a-half lane roads amid tightly packed shops and cafes. It feels like a Harry Potter film; at any moment we could stumble into Diagon Alley around the next bend.

I got in a good pre-race training session, I am really excited for my first european cross race tomorrow. We were told it will be a small affair, perhaps only 5,000 spectators. Nothing big. We don't wear the USA kits until Worlds, so I'll be sporting the Bella skinsuit and pink hair of course.

After the ride, Josie, Rhonda, and I dragged John Hansen into town to shop for some new clothes for Josie. (John knew where the bank was.) Josie especially needed some new underwear. The first lingerie store we spotted had some really nice stuff on display in the window, but when we walked in all we saw were boxes. We asked the sales lady how we would pick something out.

She said she would help us, and wanted to know if we wore the push-up or the regular kind. Being cyclists, of course we really don't need anything fancy. But the saleslady was impatient. "Unzip your jacket! I need to see what size you wear!" and then, she insisted "oh, my dears, you have nothing! You must wear the push-up!" Well, the styles were cute but they ran about $100 each, so we agreed that Josie would wash her one pair in the sink and we'd spend our money on chocolate instead.

So far the thousands of dollars everyone helped me come up with has been well spent; yesterday I got a great massage from Chris who works with the USA team year round (yes, he has very good hands) and today, as I returned from the muddy ride and picked up the hose to clean my bike, Luigi the mechanic scolded me, "No, that is my job! You go to the showers!" Gee, I kind of like this....

I'll write again to let everyone know how the races went, and hopefully I'll get some photos downloaded soon. I did hear from Christine, she has a flu and may not race this weekend. Let's all wish her a speedy return to full health!

01/18/04 - Loca Chronicles, Part 1
Sarah Kerlin
I arrived at 9am, just as the sun was lighting up the sky. I learned that we are further north than Maine! The travel was easy, I just used the entire trip over the Atlantic to recover from the fundraising party! A huge thank you to Jen Chapman for driving me to the airport - I will be your domestique for 200 miles uphill in a headwind to repay you!

The rest of the USA team will arrive tomorrow. We are in this cool cycling team host house in Izegem, Belgium. The garage is amazing, full of all kinds of wheels and spare parts and endless bicycles hanging on every wall. We have two soigniers who will cook our meals and massage our legs.

The weather is not bad, I only needed Sheila Moon's longsleeve wool T, my longsleeve Bella jersey, and vest, and I was plenty warm on the ride. Ryan was kind enough to lead me on a route through surronding towns and farm roads, but I think he thinks I learned my way around already. I tried to warn him about my disorientation capabilities. At least there are roundabouts, so I don't have to discern left from right!

Today I hunted for waffles and I found some good ones, plus something else you may only see in a shop window in a small town in Belgium - a display of ceramic yard gnomes riding unicycles. I'm shipping one special to Sabine.

01/17/05 - Barbarella Conquers Europe, Part 3
By Barb Howe
I have just returned from my first World Cup.

Christine and I drove to Nommay on Friday from the Brussels area in about 6 hours. Josh stayed in Belgium to do some racing, as well he should (he'll probably post an account of his weekend on cx forum)! We only made a few wrong turns because most of our choices involved round-abouts and you can just drive around in circles while checking the map.

Saturday dawned (at about 9am) bright, cold and covered in frost. We checked out the local legume market and then made our way to the bakery for fresh pain au choclates. Registration didn't start until 2 and the course wasn't open for preriding until 3:30.No one spoke english but registration went smoothly and we headed for the course. The course had quite a bit of elevation gain and lots of bumpy (bumpy that that makes Candlestick look smooth) praire, some pavement and a bit of dirt road. All of the area in the sun was melted and muddy while the areas in the shade were frozen solid. Tom Simpson of Pilarcitos Cyclesports was there!! He was checking out the race scene and getting ideas for the next season's Grand Prix race. He agreed to help us in the pits.

The preride ended just as the sun dipped below the horizon and the temperature dropped well below comfortable. One of the local race helpers had us follow him down some small winding roads and stopped at a house. He pulled out a pressure washer and washed my bike, Christine's bike and Marianne Vos's bike. I chatted with Marianne for a few minutes and found out that she was the junior world road champ two years ago. She in only 17 years old and is ranked 8 th in the world UCI rankings in cyclocross.

Sunday was also clear and cold. Our race started at 1:30 and things had warmed up enough by that point to make some sections slippery grass mud with sections in the shade still frozen. Rob Evans from Village Peddler (Josh's road team mate) made it to the race enroute to Grenoble. He also manned the pits. I was really nervous lining up with all the big names several rows ahead of me. Christine and I had pinned our numbers American-style on the left side, everyone else had theirs pinned euro style on the lower back. I noticed during staging that all of the other women had pinned a number on their arm. At registration I had received a canvas number and couldn't figure out what to do with it. Now it was apparent that it was supposed to go around your arm. oops.

My start was typical, and I drifted back a bit. Since I was staged near the back I didn't have too far to go. Some women crashed on the first turn onto the turf, but being far behind was able to avoid that crash. The slippery corners caused many women to slide out. I just pedaled and tried to keep the bike upright and after two laps was in 20th place. Over the next three laps I moved up some places and took a fresh bike every lap compliments of Rob, Dale Knapp and Dale's friend from Detroit . At the end of the race an old guy asked for my autograph. I signed his race booklet, the first Barbarella signing. Another guy wanted my skinsuit mud and all for his kid. I tried as best as possible to explain that it was my only one. When that didn't work out I rode off smiling and saying au revoir merci merci. My French vocabulary is limited to recognizing food words.

Watching Sven Nys crush the field and fly up the climbs was incredible. He moves fast!! Poor Bart Wellens finished the race early, and Groenendaal nearly ran Christine and I over during his early exit.Ryan Trebon finished 18th, tré bon! Jonathan was 25th. Most of the the other results are up.

It is good to be home in Jezus Eik and this morning we had some snow. This weekend Josh and I are racing in Holland so stay tuned for next weeks race report.

‘till next time, au revoir

01/05/05 - Barbarella Conquers Europe - Part 2
Barb Howe
We got it together enough today to race! The race was in Saint
Niklaas--about about 60k from us. I learned a lot today. I learned that there aren't many women racing cross in Belgium. We registered in the klubhouse/ bar/ smoke filled room. All of the UCI officials and men helping chain smoke.

When I got to the front of the line and told them I wanted to race I got lots of strange looks. They were all a bit confused so in an attempt to clarify Josh asked what class women normally race in. They answered that it just wasn't normal. Apparently I was the first woman in the history of this race to race! Women usually race with juniors, but junior aren't allowed to race on Monday's.

After an hour or so and lots of discussion with the UCI officials they decided that I could race with the younger masters. Eight Euros later I get my number and proceed to warm up. I borrowed a trainer and people came by and looked at me like I had an arm growing from my forehead.

At the start there were 25 men and myself. I wasn't even clipped in when the whistle blew and was dead last. No worries though, I was able to pass two men and put a good gap on them. The course was quite flat with a rideable beach, running beach, running mud, some steps, a beer tent with barriers (I actually passed someone here, the lead in was super flat and smooth), a different building, hard offcamber and some pavement. I got lapped during my 2nd to last lap but only by two men. One was a former or masters world champ who passed me and proceeded to smash into a post.

The best part of the race was my new fan club. Folks all over the course (rough estimate between 800-1000 paying spectators) somehow knew my name. I was constantly hearing "Barbara" in a string of unintelligable syllables. Flemish is beyond me. The beer tent had the loudest spectators. After finishing I headed toward the pit to get my jacket (low 40's, 6-7 C). The short journey took forever because I was stopped several times by fans. They were quite puzzled and intrigued by a woman racer. The fans got really excited when they found I was from California. I have no idea what was going on inside their heads.
I did have several people profess their love for me.

Josh's race was exciting. He lined up with Frischi, Greondahl, a few Colstrop riders, some other big Euros and the Kona boys. He got called up before Geert Wellen, Bart's brother. Those men move fast!! Josh got to the 46x12 at the start and it didn't slow down from there. They were charging over the off camber that I ran and the sand didn't slow them down at all. Josh finished a very respectable 28th in his first European race.

After the race as we packed up the car, an official came by to let me know that I had a 25th place prize waiting for my in the beer hall/registration/smoking den. I got 5 euros for returning my number and 5 euros for 25th place. What a great day. I can't wait to race again. All European countries hold their Nationals next weekend but there is a race on Monday.

Later this week the plan includes going into Brussels in search of waffles, frites and shoes.

--Barb-taking on Belgian races one woman at a time.

01/02/04 - Barbarella conquers Europe - Part 1
Barb Howe
Josh and I made it safely to Brussels. I'll skip over the lack of sleep stories and get right to the interesting stuff. As my plane was approaching the airport, we flew right over a 'cross course! I first noticed the beer tents and then the course tape. This is what everyone dreams of on their way to racing 'cross in Europe. Our flatmate and friend from San Francisco, David, was at the airport and we drove to Jezus-Eik ---our new home. Jezus-Eik tranlates from Flemmish as "Jesus Oak," literally. There used to be a special oak tree in the town near a church.

After getting our bearing and drinking tea with the landlord and his wife we set out to find the 'cross course I had seen from the air. It is located in Baal, the hometown of Sven Nys. We drove all over the place and only had to ask directions once before we found the race. There was two laps to go when we arrived, and Sven had a demanding lead over the field.

I was astonished at the amount of spectators, no guesses on how many but magintudes more than Nats in Portland. Josh and I checked out the beer tent--smoke, beer, techno and lots of people. A portion of the course ran through the tent with some barriers. The spectators were a bunch of normal folks, no one I would have pegged as bike fans. They were all smoking, drinking and wearing their wellies.

After the race we talked with Jonathan Page, the only American in the race and current National champion. He was headed to Switzerland that evening for a race tomorrow.

Tomorrow's plan, put the bikes together and decide if we want to race. There are two races to choose from, both within an hour of Brussels. If we don't get it together tomorrow, there is also a race on Monday.

Take care, Happy New Year and you've got a friend in Jezus.


Want to read our Race Reports from the past? View the La Gazzetta :: Race Reports Archive.

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