April 25, 2008
World Cup #1 - Houffalize, Belgium - April 20, 2008

Whew! The first World Cup of the season is always a bit more nerve-wracking than the others. Questions keep floating through my head: Am I on form? Can I possibly improve on last year? Thank goodness last weekend's World Cup in Houffalize answered both questions with a "YES!" Although my result was just one place better than in 2007, there were a few differences. First, I was in the top five at the top of the 1km killer 16% grade start climb. The only people "blocking" my view of the top were the likes of Kalentieva and Premont! It was wild, and it gave me a bit of a scare, but it was pretty sweet. The second major difference was that I was riding in the top 20 for three of the five laps. In the past, I've had brushes with top 20, but never for that long. Unfortunately, I wasn't quite able to hang on, finishing 25th in the end, but I was there and it is definitely within reach, which means my top-12 goal is also not far off.

The start climb - I'm still working my way up! (photo courtesy of Canadian Cyclist)

It was amazing to be racing at the front of the pack, even for such a short time, but it gave me a taste, and just the fact that I could be there at all is a huge confidence boost. Also, watching riding/training buddies like Catharine and Nathalie have such great results gave me an even bigger shot of motivation.

The course was as great as always, with a great mix of everything from rolling, rooty singletrack, steep drops, switchback climbs and hold-on-to-your-helmets descents! The weather leading up to the race had been rather cold and drizzly, making the course very slick, and at one point during the race, I overcooked a sharp left-hander on pavement and went down. Just to show once again how competitive and tight these races are (116 starters): crash on pavement - lost 2 spots, dropped chain - lost 1 spot, dab on descent - lost 1 spot.... The spectators were great as usual. Nothing like Belgians, bikes and beer to make for a rockin' party!

Givin'er on the climb (photo courtesy of Canadian Cyclist)


Mical and I stayed in a cozy little suite about 12km away in the village of Nadrin. During our stay, we enjoyed views of green pastures, got lost in an eerie forest, ate wild boar (mmm!) and indulged in fresh Belgian waffles (my post-race goal). We also had coffee in Luxembourg (it's way cheaper to gas up there too).

Eatin' baguettes and cheese in France!


Thanks to the Boyz of SRAM, for being so helpful, friendly and generous (as always), and Sylvain, for ensuring that I didn't get thirsty during the race!

Thanks for the sweet poncho, Christian!

I'm excited for the upcoming World Cup #2 in Offenburg, Germany this Sunday, where I will be joined by X.O-Felt teammate, Fabienne!
Peace out.
Sandra :)

Elite Women

1. Ren Chengyuan (Chn) 2:11.06
2. Irina Kalentieva (Rus) Topeak-Ergon at 0:35
3. Marie-Helene Premont (Can) Rocky Mountain 1:08
4. Margarita Fullana (Spa) Massi 2:23
5. Georgia Gould (USA) Luna Women's MTB Team 2:47
6. Gunn-Rita Dahle (Nor) Multivan-Merida 4:00
7. Nathalie Schneitter (Sui) Colnago 4:13
8. Petra Henzi (Sui) Fischer-BMC 4:26
9. Tereza Hurikova (Cze) Ceska Sporitelna MTB 5:06
10. Sabine Spitz (Ger) Ghost International 5:38

25. Sandra Walter (Can) X.O-Felt Women's MTB Team 13:00