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Queen of the galaxy
Photo ©: Shiela Moon
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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.

Cyclo-cross World Cup #9 - CDM: Lievin, France, January 15, 2006

Another big show

My first World Cup this year and things are looking good. Helen and I only missed one exit on the way and didn't even get lost following signs through a maze to the venue. We met with Helen's husband Stefan and went a few rounds on the course. The course is very straightforward with several steep ups and downs and plenty of flat grass. Small groups of people were out practicing some of the steep up hills when the French arrived.

Immaculately attired in matching French national team kits, a swarm of twenty took to the course. I think it is some sort of intimidation factor for all of them to show up together and ride one lap as a large group of red, white, and blue. The Dutch team showed up next, matching nearly as well in their ubiquitous orange kits. All of my planning skills have gone out the window on this trip. Normally I have hotels and cars booked several weeks in advance and know exactly where everything is when everything happens. When I arrived in Belgium the only thing planned was my residence and ride from the airport.

So, no hotel booked in Lievin, which could have been a big mistake because so many Belgians are expected to be spectating. Lievin is only 20k (12 miles) over the border from Belgium but since folks from Flanders might have a drive of more than an two hours (almost an eternity here), they come the night before. Most of the surrounding hotels were booked up but I got lucky and ran into my Velo Bella team-mate Christine, who had a double room booked and was on her own.

The room is one of the smallest I have ever stayed in, in fact I've been in hotel rooms (and you know my taste in hotel rooms, check out the trip to Portland) with larger closets. No big deal though; travel is about adventure and new experiences. The next experience was not quite as fun, no hot water in the shower. Shaving with cold water was a really bad idea and I'm now sporting a sweet rosacia of razor burn. I couldn't bring myself to actually shower and decided to try again after dinner. This was a good decision because the French team ate dinner after us and were not in the shower using all of the hot water.

Race day dawned with perfectly clear skies and frost on the ground, and the course was wetter than the previous day from the juniors racing on it while frosty. I rode a few laps on my new Dugast mud tires, then decided to race on the normal tires. Stefan had driven over from England with trainers, bike stand and tools. Two Belgian helpers Christophe and Sergio provided hot water, pit help, and moral support in the form of cheering.

The start was really, really long and it caught me off guard. When the gun went off I wasn't even holding onto the bars, but being three rows back it didn't matter too much. The first two turns on slippery dirt brought the expected pile-ups. I missed the first one and got caught behind the second one. Three Italian women piled up in front of me and I had to jump off and run watching everyone else ride away up the first steep hills.

Things got better when I got back on the bike and was able to do some pedaling. This course consisted of going up and down steep terraces, then riding around on completely flat grass. My legs felt great and I picked women off one by one. On the second lap, I bobbled a slick little uphill and cursing in three languages broke out behind me. Sorry ladies! Three women caught up on the last lap; we went back and forth for a while with two of them getting ahead. This race was hard on the back, many of the men were sitting up on the pavement and stretching.

Ann Knapp, Mo Bruno Roy, and Wendy Simms are now here bringing the North American contingency up to seven (the others are Christine, Stacey Spencer, Lynn Bessette and myself). Wendy arrived on Saturday but her bikes didn't show up until Sunday morning. She had to drive to Paris early in the morning, pick up the bikes, drive back to Lievin, put the bikes together then race. Before warming up, I was swarmed with bike fans. They come in groups of two and three and all ask for your 'photo' - a.k.a. trading cards. Last year I was unprepared and didn't have trading cards. This year I brought about 200 and passed out 50 or so in the space of an hour!

Sunday evening's treat was a beer; the weakest one in the fridge was 8.5 percent... you gotta love the beer here. Monday morning was bike detailing time and I used some degreaser purchased at a local shop to clean my chain. I'm not sure exactly what is in the degreaser but it is potent. It is potent enough that when it gets on your skin you can taste it. I'm planning on using it very sparingly from now on.

After bike cleaning was a visit the library in Aarschot to use the Internet. The library here in Tielt is closed on Mondays. In order to use the library I had to get a card - the application cost 2.5 euros and I was told it should arrive in three weeks. One last thought - in the grocery store today, I saw cheese called chamois d'or - now if my limited French is correct, it translates as chamois of gold. How can a cyclist resist a chamois of gold?

Take care,