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VELO BELLA - The Elite Women's Cyclocross team

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The first report from Velo Bella, Melodie Metzger in the USA

8 & 9 October 2005 - US Grand Prix of Cyclocross Series, Race 1 & 2



Day One: Our arrival in Portland  

The Velo Bellas arrived in Portland Friday afternoon to tackle the first set of races in the US Grand Prix of Cyclocross Series (USGP).  The USGP is America’s premier cyclocross series and attracts the best riders across the country to compete.  Because I am a financially-stricken graduate student, and in order to get to the race site in time for a training ride, I picked the cheapest flight departing San Francisco International Airport (0600!).  I didn’t realize how early this was until I was lugging all my stuff down the street to get to the subway station a mere hour after the bars closed, giving me a “greatest hits’ highlight of the previous night’s events. 


After an uneventful flight and an essential nap at our host-family’s house, we set off to pre-ride the course.  As expected, the conditions were muddy, wet and cold, i.e. perfect cyclocross weather.  I have yet to experience Portland when it is not overcast and raining.  For the past two years, all the events have left each racer looking like a tasty chocolate-dipped dessert on two wheels. 

No worries, we just suited up in our plastic suits and proceeded to slop around the course.  After a few laps we hopped on the road and did a  few intervals to crack open the legs after our long flight, or for some, an  even longer 10 hour drive from home.  The highlight of the day was finding signs for a ‘HOT SALE’ (which turned out to be a garage sale) in the neighborhood we used for our warm up.  I scored a waffle iron and a flour-sifter as well as a  few towels for washing our bikes.      

Click on any image in the report to enlarge it

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Photo: Mud!          

Courtesy : Mat Moses   

Day Two:  USGP #1 Portland, Oregon   

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 Photo : RockLobster -

 courtesy Tim Brennan

The next day I headed over to the course with my teammate Barb and  her boyfriend Josh who races for Rock Lobster, our amazing bike sponsor .  On our way, we discussed the start of the race and I felt the familiar wave of nervous tension fill my body.  Once we arrived and suited up, I decided not to warm up on the course since I only had one bike for the weekend and I didn’t want it to get covered in mud before the race.     


Typically, Elite cyclocross (CX) racers have two bikes on race day; one for back up in the pit due to the muddy conditions while the other is flogged around the course. Each race consists of multiple laps on a relatively short course (1-2 miles) of mixed 

 road and off-road terrain, and so you ride past the pit area twice every lap giving an opportunity to grab your extra bike. A fresh bike can be crucial here in the Northwest where it is so wet.  Fortunately, the bike-gods were on our sides and it was not raining; gloomy and overcast, but not raining. 

The elite women were called to the line and I got chills to see my teammates all over the first row.  Barb, Sarah and Christine took up almost half of the 8 positions across the starting line.  I received my call-up shortly after and was the first to line up in the second row.  I picked the middle position behind Ann Knapp, hoping the US National Cyclocross Champion could lead me to the front of the pack.  

The gun went off and Ann fumbled with her pedals leaving me little room to maneuver around her in search of a better wheel.  This delay turned out to be a blessing in disguise as a crash between my teammate, Christine Vardaros, and Canadian National Cyclocross Champion, Wendy Simms, created a bit of chaos into the first turn.  

Once we settled in I was pleased to find myself in the presence of great company.  Barb was two people up from me and I could easily find the front of the race.  At this point Lynn Bessette jumped ahead and was never seen again.  Lynn is very strong and schooled the field leaving all of us in the dust….or should I say mud.  

Halfway through the first lap my bike handling seemed off, I yelled to the girls behind me to ask if I have a flat and prayed that it was just the slippery feel of the mud under my tires.  I love cross, but it seems to have something against me.  This was my second race of the season and my third flat.  I had just passed the pit so I had to do an entire lap on my deflated tubular tire.  Disappointed, I gingered my bike over to the pit and the “Velo Fellas” found me a spare rear wheel to finish the race.  From then on, my goal was to pass as many women as possible and hope my teammates were battling at the front.  

Once I got over the frustration, my love for this graceful sport revitalized my spirit.  Focusing on the ballet-like finesse required to maneuver over barriers/obstacles and watching the amazing number of fans encourage the racers made the experience all the more amazing.  Portland might be rainy, but it has more cross-fans than any other place I know, and seeing all the young girls out racing with the Juniors filled me with joy knowing the rising generation would take what we have done and move our sport to another level when their turn comes.  

I heard Barb’s name being screamed over the PA, and had a feeling she was enjoying a great race.  Turns out she had a stellar finish, rounding off the Podium behind Lynn and Ann.  And while she didn’t win the race, in typical Velo Bella fashion, she was the first to open her bottle of champagne. 


Day Three:  USGP #2 Tacoma, Washington

Expecting another dreary day in the northwest, we were pleasantly surprised to wake up with the sun peaking from behind the hotel room curtain.  The course here in Tacoma is one of my favorites consisting of a windy single-track that wraps around to the largest run-up we experience all year.  Afterwards you are back on your bike for a long descent with quick sharp turns on the dirt and before you know it, you are running up that darn hill again!  

A solid warm up with Barb, combined with a new set of tubulars provided by the fantastic folks at River City Bicycles in Portland, Oregon (THANKS Jon!)  had me feeling ready to race.  I was hungry for redemption after my flat in Portland.   For good luck, Barb and I decided it was time to bring out the lipstick and plastered ourselves with a gaudy set of pink lips to match our kits.  A girl has to look good…

Like the day before, they put me in the last row of the start area, and I knew I had to jump to the front as soon as the gun went off.  Fortunately there was a good, wide straightaway on the road before the first turn onto the dirt.  

The gun went off and I managed to get myself into the top ten before the first turn.  We were strung out coming into the run-up and I could see Lynn Bessette taking off just like she had yesterday; we would not see her again.  I was in the main chase group barreling down after Lynn, but got gapped behind some slower runners the second time up the climb and found myself in a group of two other riders, Rhonda Mazza, who represented the US at Worlds last year, and Melissa Thomas, a top-ten Pro mountain biker fresh off the NORBA series here in the US.  

The group ahead was only ten seconds ahead of us, but had the fastest women racing CX in the US.  My teammate Barb was up there with Ann Knapp, Wendy Simms and Georgia Gould, all three of whom were from the US-based Kona team.  Rhonda, Melissa and I worked hard to try and catch them, but once we realized that wasn’t going to happen we kept our gap to a minimum and fended off the rest of the field that was diligently chasing us down.    

Once again the crowds of the northwest were in full support.  The entire run-up was full of cheers reminding the racers to pick up their feet and run all that much faster.  Because the courses are short and in a loop, Cyclocross is a fantastic spectator sport and having the fans cheering us up the hill was crucial! 

The “bell lap” came fast.  I tried to play my finishing move smart, but was out sprinted and finished 8th for the day.  Being my first top ten at the USGP series, I was pleased with the result despite my disappointing sprint.  Together with the news that Barb pulled off a Mel 2nd place while surrounded by three Kona teammates coming into the sprint couldn’t have made me happier. Christine ended up 10th despite her battle wounds from Saturday’s race, Sarah was 14th, and Erin and Ann finished together in the early  twenties.   

Overall the Velo Bellas had a great weekend.  The next USGP event brings us to Gloucester, Massachusetts on the east coast over Halloween weekend (October 31st).

Mel_Tacoma_Runup.jpg (45173 bytes)

Photo: Mel - courtesy   

Steve Caulker, 

Schwalbe Tires,

 North America

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Photo : Barb on the podium - courtesy Abbiorca

 This is one of my favorite venues because the course is right on the Atlantic Ocean both days, and the colorful New England autumn setting provides a great scene for yet another adventure.

Last year our team dressed up in costumes for Sunday’s event.  We were surprised to find we were the only elite racers decked in horns, kitten ears, and glitter.  I was a pink devil, now the only thing to decide is what to wear this year……


'Til next time,






Click here to enlarge the images >>



The Velo Bellas compete in the Crank Brothers U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross Series. The series schedule for 2005 is as follows:

October 8, Portland, Oregon
October 9, Seattle, Washington

October 29, Gloucester, Massachusetts
October 30, Gloucester, Massachusetts

November 19, San Francisco, California
November 20, Watsonville, California




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