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Barbarella: The Barbara Howe diary

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. But with a stable team and strong results in recent years, the 29 year-old Velo Bella rider looks set to navigate her way to the top of the US 'cross tree, where she hopes to be crowned 'Queen of the 'cross Galaxy'.

Follow the fortunes of this free-spirited individual here on Cyclingnews.

Spills and the chills

November 23, 2005

Barb Howe (Velo Bella)
Photo ©: Sabine Dukes
Click for larger image

There is so much to write about this week. I started it off by getting sick. Josh was ill last week and I managed to keep the virus at bay until the last possible moment and then came down with a spanking good head cold. It was really hard on morale because of the last two USGP races were right here at home and I knew so many people who were coming to watch so I did what I could; mainly skipping work and eating enough vitamin C and Echinacea to resurrect a dead donkey. Saturday morning I still felt like poo.

Rough and tumble ‘cross

Saturday's race was hosted by my team (Velo Bella) at the Watsonville Fairgrounds; the town where strawberry's and raspberries are grown. The race had a tiki luau theme and the weather could not have been more appropriate; the sun was sweltering. At least the long run up, being in the shade, was a bit more bearable.

All of my beautiful Bella teammates were bedecked in lei's, grass skirts and Hawaiian shirts. The podium was wearing a grass skirt and several of the officials sported colorful lei's around their necks. Maybe next year the theme can be igloos and polar bears and it won't be so hot! I barely had the motivation to get on a bike much less warm up and try to race.

While negotiating a tricky off camber I tipped over and tumbled down the down side of the bike turning myself into a dust ball. I wasn't hurt but I was slightly embarrassed (and dirty). I continued on my way. During the next warm-up lap at the same off camber I hear the final call to staging for elite women. This was bad because I was as far from the start as possible. So I began a treacherous, panicked dash for staging.

Ducking under course tape, crossing ditches, running through what might have been poison oak, dashing across a wood pile I arrived at the start line a heavy-breathing sweaty dust turning to mud racer. I stripped off my jersey chucked it to the ground and frantically flailed with the inside out sleeves of my skinsuit as the official called out final instructions. I think the panic helped my start because I went shooting out and had one of my better starts of the season; hitting the dirt very close to the front.

Riding backwards

"Rivers of infectious mucus streamed from my nose and my legs just gave up on me."

-Howe explains what happens when you try to mix ilness and elite-level racing

By the end of the first lap I was in a great position in a small group with the 3rd through 5th riders. This is where it all began to go backwards. My throat had been sore all week, the dust and heavy breathing made it feel as if it was filled with fire. Rivers of infectious mucus streamed from my nose and my legs just gave up on me.

By the end of the second lap I had dropped back to 13th place and made the tough decision to pull the plug and drink some water. This was so hard to do because I felt like I was letting down all the Bella's and Fella's who had put so much time and energy into the race. When I quit, all the spectators I ran into had serious looks of concern on their face and asked if I was ok. It didn't dawn on me until much later I was still covered in thick dust from the pre-ride tumble and people probably thought I had crashed out.

Props to everyone that finished despite the intense heat; Christine Vardaros finished a stellar 4th place and the rest of the Flamingos were in the top 20. The ten minutes of effort that I put out, painful as it was, seemed to help and I felt much better after trying to race than before. My mood was further lifted when Paul Sadoff, deity of frame building, begetter of Rock Lobsters (and undiscovered rock star) performed a Hendrix-like rendition of the national anthem for the elite men's race.

Imbalance

At the start of the men's race an official was asked if feeding would be allowed. Normally it isn't but that day was hot and the decision is up to the official. The request was denied on grounds that not everyone would have a feeder and that was unfair. Lots of things are unfair in 'cross. Some people have two bikes and some have only one; unfair. Some people have help in the pit and others don't; unfair. Some people have tubular tires, light wheels, and carbon forks, others don't; unfair. Men win heaps of money ($1,151 for 1st place) and women win only a little bit ($245 for 1st place); unfair.

Barbara Howe (Velo Bella)
Photo ©: Paul McKenzie
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Sunday was a whole different day and a whole new chance at racing. The venue ( Golden Gate Park ) is only 20 minutes from home so no long car rides today. The walk from where we parked to the expo area took about as long as the drive over though. There was almost a chill to the air in the morning, a welcome feeling after yesterday's sizzling sun. A few pre-ride laps had me smiling; this course was lots of fun with twisty single track, deep dusty duff, and a good run-up.

Most of the race would be determined shortly after the start as the wide start track made a 180 turn into single track. Being just a few people back would result in choking dust and bottlenecks. The race started in a mad dash for the single track, just as we were coming up to the 180 I saw seven or eight women start to pass me on my right. Thinking that my race was over and making plans for passing on the singletrack, I was taken by surprise when someone slid out on the first turn effectively blocking most of the field. A rapidly shrinking space was open in front of me and I heard Mel behind me yelling "go Barb go" so I went. Next thing I knew I was right behind Lyne who was behind Wendy. I got right up behind Lyne and stayed on her wheel for the paved uphill coming around her at the corner into the dirt. This was truly exciting because it was the first time I've actually raced with Lyne.

Headed for Worlds

Barb runs
Photo ©: Tim Gasperak
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My small gap held for only two more laps as my energy and legs faded in a bad way. Lyne and Ann caught me on the last lap and it was all I had to stay with them for part of the lap. Immediately upon finishing, Wendy, Ann, Lyne and I were herded to the podium. For a moment this was puzzling as I had finished fourth and the podium only holds three then it dawned on me that I was sent over for the series podium. Overall in the series I was third, but as the top American, I had earned a spot on the World's team!

Watching the men's race is always fun when I don't have to pit for Josh. I had gotten out of pit duty for the day and intended to make the most of my freedom. Mel and I headed over to the top of the small rooty hill where scores of raucous fans plied racers with one and five dollar bills. A group of inebriated rowdies dressed in orange Cal Trans suits (The California Department of Transportation is the state agency responsible for highway, bridge, and rail transportation planning, construction, and maintenance) cheered and booed as racers attempted to pluck money from beer cans on the ground. A few daring racers even partook of the beer itself; luckily no UCI officials saw this as it could be grounds for disqualification (feeding and/or drug use).

Back by popular demand - another recipe.

Chocolate Mousse without the Beast:

2 Cups (16oz) chocolate chips or combination of dark chocolate and chips
24.6 (2 boxes) firm silken tofu-non silken works but the texture is not quite right
3/4 Cup brown sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1 graham cracker or nut crust in pie pan or spring form pan

Preheat oven to 350. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. In a blender or food processor combine the tofu, sugar, vanilla and salt and mix until smooth. Slowly add the chocolate and mix until completely combined. Pour mixture into crust and bake for 35 minutes. Let cool and chill before serving. I serve it with strawberries or raspberries (from Watsonville) when in season or heat up frozen raspberries. It would be really good with candied walnuts or any number of fruit sauces.

- Barbarella