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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. After an illness-filled season in 2006, and a grievous injury in late 2007 she is working to get her fitness back by 2009. Although 'cross is still the favorite discipline of the California resident, she has been known to ride her mountain bike in the mountains for hours on end. She currently resides in Berkeley, California with her cat and eight bikes.

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

January 29, 2008

Three in a row

Day 4, Race 1: Scheldecross, Antwerpen Belgium

Noel
Photo ©: Barbara Howe
(Click for larger image)

Two years ago, I showed up in a state of jet-lagged confusion and podium'd at this race. This year the start list included Daphny Van den Brand, Hanka Kupfernagel and Reza Hormas-Ravenstijn. It was still really cold out and all the plants and trees were still covered in white icing. Amidst the general confusion of pre-race prep, I managed two laps of the course and very little else for a warm up. This didn't really matter because the start was rather disorganised.

Everyone got a call up but since there were no grids of the pavement all forty or so women fit into two lines. So I had a second row call up. I was watching the official when he raised his hand towards the sky and pulled the trigger. No sound came from the gun and the women's field started moving. There was a hesitation after a few yards (or metres) then the gun actually fired, another hesitation then full steam ahead.

My legs felt surprisingly good, but after the foul-up at the start I was behind several women. The first part of the course had lots of twists and turns so it took a while before I could move up. I did notice Wendy [Simms] a few turns ahead sitting comfortably on Hanka's wheel. I felt good enough to move up from group to group with only one crash on the frozen ground. On the last lap, I had Helen Wyman, British National Champ, in my sights. She got time on me on the straights, but seemed to be having trouble with the sand. On the last sand section I caught her and nearly puked keeping her wheel on the next straight section. We entered the finishing straight and I clung to her wheel, fired up for a sprint.

I timed everything nearly to perfection, I was coming around her with the finish line fast approaching when I glanced up and saw not only a lapped rider in front of me but also a large contingent of official looking people. A momentís hesitation, and Helen was easily able to stay ahead of me for eighth place. The highlight of this race was the heater in the kleedkammer (or changing/shower facility). Before warming up we made use of the indoor toilets for changing purposes. There was a gas heater in the shape of a torpedo and gusto of a jet engine heating up the small room to temperatures generally found inside an oven.

Day 5, Race 2: Huijbergen, Netherlands

Wendy
Photo ©: Barbara Howe
(Click for larger image)

Another early start and a beautiful drive through the sunshine and smog to Huijbergen in the Netherlands. This morning Mandy, the GPS lady, announced our arrival at the race on a deserted road surrounded by frozen fields. We eventually found inscription (registration) and then a nice parking spot in a slowly melting field. The day was clear and sunny and several degrees warmer than yesterday, which could lead to mud. Somehow our parking field was warm and pleasant but the entire course was in the shade and frozen solid.

I found this course to be super fun, there was plenty of single track, some flat stuff, a long sandy run-up and a shorter firmer run-up. My least favourite section of this course was the cow field. Imagine a cow field, heavy rains and several cows mucking around. Now imagine everything freezing overnight leaving deep hoof prints frozen in the ground like miniature land mine craters.

That section was rough and I worried about breaking a carbon wheel because there was no smooth way through the crater field.

The start had a grid this time and as usual there was chaos and crashing. As normal I was behind the crash that blocked the single track after the start. This sucked and I had to resort to a keen sense of strategy for the rest of the race to move up. On the first run-up all the ladies were going up the right side in the sand. I ducked to the left on the leaves and ran around about six of them. As I was cresting the hill one woman (she was not acting like a lady) grabbed my bike and forcefully pulled me backwards and got in front. Later in the race I think I crashed her out by accident. (Ain't karma a bitch?) This little run on the other side of the run-up trick worked well for several laps, it was one of my best passing spots. I eventually worked my way up to eleventh place and stayed there for the finish.

Day 6, Race 3: Zeddam, Netherlands

Free hugs
Photo ©: Barbara Howe
(Click for larger image)

We started early enough this morning to be considered uncivilized. This did allow me to watch a beautiful sunrise. This course was billed as the 2005 Worlds course. It was in the same area and utilized some of the same features but it was definitely not the Worlds course. For starters it had one hundred uneven steps every lap instead of forty-two tidy wooden steps. It also lacked the off camber downhill and instead had a fast and frigid paved downhill.

A slight warming trend allowed for parts of the course to unfreeze and become slippery while other areas remained as solid as granite.

Today was my day, for once I avoided the opening lap start by sheer luck and passed innumerable woman (I will no longer refer to them as 'ladies' as they repeatedly exhibit unladylike behaviour). My legs were a bit sore from the previous dayís effort but surprisingly they managed to catch many women.

On the second lap up the steps, I heard screaming and yelling as I was dismounting my bike. The officials at the bottom of the steps were yelling and when I craned my neck upwards I saw three women stopped on the stairs pushing, shoving and screaming at one another. They were actually fighting. There was a fight on the steps ahead of me?! This has never happened to me in a race before, and the bottom steps were too narrow to run around them. Putting forth as much psychic energy as I could muster I willed the harpies to disperse and let me pass unphased.

This really was my lucky day, they finished their fight just as I got to them and I was able to pass and drop them at the top of the steps. The race went on and I managed to pass more women and not crash. My legs felt like they had juice at the end so I piled the power on thick to keep a gap on the woman behind me and finished tenth! This time I was rewarded with prize money.

Since the next day was a rest day I allowed myself the first and second frites of the trip. Natasha, Wendy, Rebecca Wellons and I got down and did some serious spectating. Spectators here generally only cheer for their favourite riders and often taunt other riders. Us ladies cheered very loudly for all of the North Americans and were probably objects of ridicule ourselves. After the race, we congratulated each other for making it through three 'cross races in a row.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of "Adventures in Europe with Barbarella"!

Photography

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Barbara Howe