Sunday, May 25, 2008

Altitude Training Camp - May 2008

The Superbagneres (1830m) has been my home for the past week. I have one more week before I head off to Andorra for the fourth round of the World Cup series. My coach Matt Hart has always encouraged me to spend time up in the mountains, as it’s supposed to help increase those red blood cells that every racer needs to go hard for long periods of time. Today I’m at the half way point of my two week altitude training camp, and I can’t wait to return down to Luchon. I’m so lonely!!!!!!!! I’m living in a cosy little studio apartment. The bed is in the kitchen and my bikes are stored in the I said it’s very cosy. Most days when I look out of the window I feel like I’m floating in the clouds. The temperature is also very chilly, so I’m always wearing plenty of layers because I haven’t worked out how to turn the heating on just yet.

Matt said I had to train down in Luchon every morning, but then try and spend every other minute on top of the Superbagneres. So each morning at the glorious hour of 7am I braved the Superbagneres, 18km road descent. It was taking me almost an hour to ride down to Luchon the first few days. The first part of the descent was quite scary because I was descending through the clouds. At that point I don’t think my speed even registered on the powertap computer. I always wore a dozen layers and water proof everything, and yet still found myself shaking from the cold. The cloud was so thick that I couldn’t see far enough out in front to let go of the brakes, so would have to look down at my tyres and ensure they were following the road markings and not taking a detour off the side of the mountain. After about 10km of descending I would suddenly break through the clouds and it would be so much warmer, but then I would be way too hot. I would have to stop and strip off all the winter layers, and then suffer backache down the remaining 8km as my bag would weigh a tonne from all those extra layers. I could never understand why Ian calls me Queen Faff, but last week even I was fed up with my faffiness.

So I train hard down low for anything from 2-5hrs and then face a lovely 18km road climb back up to the top of the Superbagneres.....result: EXHAUSTION! The first couple of days were both mentally and physically tiring. The body ached from all the riding, and the brain ached because I was always forgetting something. There are no shops up here and if I forget any clothes then it’s a right hassle to return to Luchon to collect them. I’m starting to get used to it I have basically taken all our belongings, including pillows and duvet, pots and pans...and all Ian’s DVDs and made this little studio a home away from home.

Ian is guiding every day and having a great time entertaining guests. He said it’s only for two weeks and then I can return to the land of the living. When not on the bike I’m working as AQR secretary, and practising French. I’m watching all these really cool French game shows, including ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’. This show is helping my French no end. I’ve also taken myself off for little walks when the cloud has lifted. Yesterday was amazing as the cloud had disappeared completely, and I went walking along some of the higher trails that we usually only ride in the summer time when the lift is open. I came across deer, mountain goats, red squirrels and pyrenean vultures, which are huge. At the highest point of the walk I sat down and had an in depth conversation with myself. I must say, all this time with myself made me realise just how boring I can be. As I said I’m so lonely!!!!!!

This morning I decided to walk down the mountain, rather than ride down the road. It was raining heavily and I thought the trees would offer more protection from the cold. I took the most direct route down...which also happened to be the steepest route. Since I hadn’t told Ian I was mountain biking, I heard this grumpy little voice (that be Ian’s voice) telling me that I should have told him I was mountain biking. He hates it when I don’t tell him where I’m riding on the mountain. So I walked and tried not to let myself get tempted to ride my bike. Instead I used my Cotic Soul as a walking stick....I must tell Cy that the Soul does not make a good walking stick. I was actually talking to my bike, apologising for not using it as a bike, but it was not happy. It kept trying to accelerate down the hill or purposely kick me in the shins with it’s pedals.

I was half way down the mountain when I came across one of my favourite trails. You have no idea how tempted I was to ride it. But, with head hung low I took the fire road down to Luchon. I could hear that grumpy Mr Potter voice once again in my ears,‘if anything happens to you….’. The problem with riding in Luchon by yourself is that the trails are so quiet, you rarely see any person on them. If you knock yourself out there’s a good chance you won’t be found for days.

When I was almost at the bottom of the Superbagneres I didn’t think it would be such an issue if I rode the rest of the trail. As I jumped on the bike I lost my balance and ended up on the ground. I hurt my wrist and noticed that I was covered head to toe in mud. So I forced myself and my argumentative bike to walk one of the easiest trails here in Luchon....I just hoped that no mountain biker would see me.

When I finally arrived at the hotel, Ian took one look at me and I knew I was in trouble. It was one of those looks that a loved one gives you that makes you feel really guilty. Ian asked me why I didn’t tell him I was riding down the mountain by myself. No matter what I said, he didn’t believe me that my damaged wrist, bruised shins and muddy attire was the result of walking my bike down the mountain.

Did I mention before how lonely I have been...well once Ian started lecturing I was back on the bike, back up the mountain, and grateful for the peace and quiet :)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

World Cup 3 - Madrid, Spain

Before I discovered mountain biking I had caught the travelling bug. I moved to London to find work as a teacher. I then used every holiday and last penny to explore Europe. It’s an Aussie thing, that is taking over London pubs and then touring across Europe to compare Aussie lager to Europe’s finest beer, wine,’s just what young Aussies do or they did back in the day....yes I realise I’m 30 and now officially a grown up (well just).

My first European tour had been a two week back packing trip across Spain. I was looking forward to seeing Madrid for the first time. I thought being the capital it would be a magnificent city, full of culture and historic monuments that would be worth a photo shot or two, but the day we arrived it was scorching hot and the last thing I felt like doing was admiring concrete. At the time all I wanted to do was chill out in the shade of a tree and experience a proper Spanish siesta. After dodging cars and walking for miles on end, I remember discovering a leafy park where there was a huge man made lake where one could hire rowing boats and plenty of tree shade to escape the sun. The park was a lovely sight as it stood out from the concrete jungle surrounding it. I remember walking across the park feeling a sense of relief that we had found such a beautiful area where young children played and people walked their dogs, and just around the corner prostitutes stood around in their underwear. When I looked closely I could see endless piles of litter, used needles and other nasties that ruined what could have been an amazing area to escape Madrid’s concrete city jungle. I couldn’t believe how Spain’s capital city could also be a city of contrasting features. I wasn’t in any rush to return to Madrid and wondered how it could play host to a world cup mountain bike race...

The third round of the World Cup series in Madrid marked the end of the first block of racing for the Cotic Bontrager Race Team. We Potters had moved from the UK to the French Pyrenees, before returning north to Switzerland, then further north again to Belgium, before a short 4 hour drive south to Germany; and then a mammoth 13 hour drive back to Luchon for a 2 day stop over. Another 8 hours in the bus down to Madrid was just the icing on the cake really. I for one was feeling jaded and hoped the hotel in Madrid wasn’t going to be too difficult to find. As we approached our destination it was surprisingly quiet, hardly a car on the road. There were plenty of people walking around, but no traffic. Then we noticed the police. There were police everywhere, and several roads were closed...alarm bells were going off in my brain as I thought a possible terrorist attack had occurred.

Once we had found the hotel, it was time to eat. Even if a terrorist attack had gone off it was not going to stop me from eating as I was famished. It had been a strenuous 8 hours of acting co-pilot, navigating from time to time, trying not to fall asleep and crossing my legs as I kept needing to go to the toilet. I know it doesn’t sound like I do a great deal as co-pilot...but for some reason sitting in one spot for a long period of time makes me exhausted. Ian and I walked around the block looking for a restaurant or supermarket. Then we walked around another block and down a few side streets. We walked for what felt like miles upon miles at the time....but hunger and fatigue tend to make one exaggerate, and it was probably less than 20 minutes. So I tried to take charge of the situation, as I like to think I’m the tougher one out of the Potter duo... but ended up crying from lack of calories and grovelling to Ian like a three year old....’I need food...’

As it turned out we had arrived on a public holiday weekend and every super market was closed, and the restaurants wouldn’t open until after 9pm. It also explained why there were police everywhere. I had lost my will to live and sent myself off to bed. Ian refused to give up and eventually returned with a solitary box of Special favourite. I was brought back to life with my own version of tapas that consisted of Special K, Torq bars and a horrible looking mangled banana found at the bottom of my bag that left a horrible taste in my mouth.

The next day it was time to find the mountain bike course. I experienced déja vu as we approached the race venue, it was that same park I had visited all those years ago. There was the lake with the rowing boats, and everywhere there were children and families walking dogs and playing football....and still on parade were those ladies showing more skin than need be. It was that park, but how on earth could a mountain bike race be held here?

My concerns were soon put to rest, as it was one of the most well organised events I have ever been to. I enjoyed riding the course during practice. There was plenty of fast single track, steep climbs, and some fun drop offs too. The entire area was much bigger than I expected. There was nothing scary or too technical on it, but I knew it was going to be hard because it was so fast, and the climbing would hurt. When I found out I was gridded 85, I was thrilled. Finally, my starting position was moving up the ranks, not by much, but it was a good start. Then I discovered there were only 90 girls racing (as Bart would say, doh!)

As we lined up I noticed that there were only four riders on the back row, including myself. Well at least I didn’t have to worry about the racers behind me, well not on the starting line anyhow. I knew it was going to be very difficult gaining places early on in the race, and didn’t want to be caught up in a crash which I was pretty certain would happen on the first sandy bend. As the front group took off I tried to move forward, and managed to make up a few places. Then another rider came storming through the middle of the pack, elbows out, while riders either side went flying off to the side. I quickly moved on to her back wheel and tried to make myself look really aggressive as well...but then I was surrounded by an angry group of riders who thought it was me who took them out. I couldn’t go anywhere, I was blocked by bodies, bikes and so many darn elbows. I just had to wait for the climbing to start.

Unfortunately my first lap was a horrible experience. Pause for just a moment as I explain one of the bad things about riding a bike hard...cramp! Many of you, I’m sure will know what I’m going on about. Now and then in training, I suffer the most intense cramp in my stomach. It can last up to 10 minutes, but it usually doesn’t come back after that. Ian thinks that when I try really hard I forget to breath, and I allow my whole body to tense up, and that’s what brings it on. Well on that first lap the dreaded cramp began. I made a mental note that I was breathing...yep still puffing away, on oxygen that is. I then focused on relaxing my upper body and eased off to give my body a chance to fight the pain. It lasted the entire first lap. As I passed Ian in the feed zone I could hear him shouting breathe, RELAX! I felt like screaming back “you try relaxing when your heart is above 190 bpm, your legs are hammering as hard as they can, and you have cramp....” But it wasn’t the time or place to have a marital discussion....we Potters never argue :).

By the time the second lap had started the pain had disappeared and it was time to start racing. I started to pass girls who already looked wrecked, but there were still plenty of super strong racers out in front who were just warming up. I then felt this fist in my backside as I was making my way up a fairly steep climb. It wasn’t a gentle fist either, but someone was actually punching me 3,4,5 times....and it really hurt. I know I should always be fighting for every position on the race course, but not literally. All I could think to do was put my brakes on. Bad move as this caused more grief from some Russian girl, with blonde pig tails, who then rode into the back of me. I suddenly found myself tangled up in her bar ends and she was grunting at me and pushing me to the ground. There was a group of Spanish male spectators, who I would like to say were disgusted by these dirty tactics, but I think they were actually enjoying seeing two blondes fighting each other. Let me make it clear though that I was not throwing any punches. Instead, I was just trying to disengage myself from her bike so I could continue the race. Unfortunately the Russian girl got ahead of me, but I was wound up to the max. The adrenaline came pumping through my veins. By the top of the climb I passed her and looked behind at one point to ensure there was a decent I didn’t want anymore bruises.

By the third lap I found myself riding with my Aussie pal Zoe King, who was looking very strong. The two of us rode together, taking it in turns to lead, and trying to make more places up along the way. I wasn’t sure how long I could keep up with Zoe as I felt pretty flat. I enjoyed the team work though as it helped lift my spirits. With two laps to go Zoe and I were racing to finish. Since this is my first proper cross country season racing at international level, my first goal is to always finish without being pulled from the race. When we came through for the start of the final lap I was hoping that we made it through....and we did! I was happy, and certain Zoe was thrilled too, but we were still racing, still suffering and knew the high 5’s would have to wait until we crossed the finish line.

Only one lap to go now. Although not feeling strong there were a few girls out in front who looked like they had blown completely. There was just nowhere to rest, and I felt bad for them as it’s a horrible feeling when the legs just can’t take anymore. There were plenty of cheeky climbs that were not just super steep, but also loose and off camber. I was really battling to find grip on them today and kept making silly errors with my body position on the bike. The descents were really fun, even though I was struggling to find grip on the climbs, I had no problem at all on the sandy descents. Which is always a good thing on this type of loose surface, as gravel rash is not pretty.

Towards the end of the final lap I dug deep and managed to finish second Aussie home and 57th overall. I was pleased that I made up more places than my gridding of 85, but annoyed with myself that I didn’t feel fast. The legs just didn’t have the buzz that I was hoping for, that all racers hope for at every race. Perhaps after 5 races in a row that started from the UK and finished in Spain the legs, body and brain are feeling fatigued and ready for a short break before the next training and racing block begins. I have a month of training, as well as guiding and AQR secretarial duties, before my last two world cups. One of them will be at Fort William, which is quite exciting as I look forward to returning to my British racing home turf and catching up with some familiar faces.

As always Special thanks to –
Cotic –
Bontrager –
A Quick Release Holidays –
Torq & Torq Australia –
Magura Forks –
Hope –
Skins –

And co-sponsors Crank Brothers, SRAM, Catlike Helmets, Lumicycle, Bigfoot bags, 661 gloves, Sundog eyewear and Purple Extreme Lubricants.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

World Cup 1 - Houffalize, Belgium

Suffering from nausea and pain in my stomach wasn’t the best start to my first world cup experience. I spent the entire night in pain which still hadn’t subsided the morning of the race. I had less than three hours to get my race head on and find some spring in my legs. The Aussie girls and I were riding into Houffalize from our base in Cherain, while our support crew drove the AQR bus to the course to start setting up. The cloud was still low, but the temperature much warmer than it had been, a good sign that the course might be drying out. As we descended into Houffalize, already the atmosphere was warming up. There were people everywhere drinking beer and eating crepes, as well as lycra clad bikers (that be me and over 130 other ladies) starting to warm up and wearing expressionless faces that were impossible to read. There were some super looking athletes that looked terrifying in their pro designer sponsored outfits. I usually forget that in many ways I look the pro part in my Cotic Bontrager racing kit, but I´m certain I don´t look that scary....rather the scared one shaking in my shoes.

I started to look for the toilet area as pre-race jitters do wonders to my bladder, when I realised my rear mech wasn´t working. I tried to find the problem but didn´t really have my mechanical head on at that moment in time and so rushed off to find Ian. I have this really annoying nasal whine when Ian knows I have done something wrong.....IANNNNNN! Minutes later I was still whining and about to sob. As I was looking for Ian I became more and more disorientated, as well as panic stricken. I was also lost. Half an hour later Mr Potter found me and we rushed off to the SRAM tent as my rear mech had broken, which was my second diagnosis. I actually thought I was just being a numpty and my nerves had brought on ‘forget how to ride your bike’ syndrome. Thank my lucky stars for SRAM who saved the day and replaced the rear mech with a new one....thankyou!

I headed off to my box to wait to be gridded. I was 89th out of approximately 130 riders. There was a chilly breeze as we waited and I was envious of the girls spinning on a turbo who looked much warmer than I felt. It was good to see Jenny Copnall and a few other familiar faces who said a quick hello before moving to their starting booth. Not long after we were called out by number and squashed into the starting area. A couple of girls were pushing each other around and the girl next to me grabbed a girl´s saddle in front and pulled her backwards. The nerves had subsided by this point, but I was feeling slightly groggy and yawning more than I cared for. Soon enough we were let loose and the noise from the crowd was mind blowing. As we took off I felt that this was going to be a slow race for me. The legs didn´t take off and I struggled to make up many places on the tarmac climb. I still felt weary in my eyes, but I hoped the first descent would pump some adrenaline through my body.

Once off the steep tarmac climb the race course began through a pine forest that was fairly wide in places, but there were also sections of single track with slippery roots and muddy bogs that caused havoc in places and forced many a rider from their bike. As expected there were bottle necks as the single track started. Every rider fought for their space. I also found this inner aggression inside me that I had never met before as I stopped other riders from stealing my place, elbows were out and I had to stop myself from growling at one point. I was still on the bike heading into the steep muddy descent, and with the Bontrager Mud X on the front grip was not an issue....but my darn shorts were as I found myself stuck on the back of the saddle and unable to move forward to take on the switch back and large compression at the bottom of the descent. It was a wipe out manoeuvre, and I was eating dirt. I didn’t have time to check bike and body over, as I didn’t like the thought of all the ladies behind me running or riding over me. By this stage all the girls around me were running the next two steep shoots. I had no choice but to run them too. The last one was so steep that it was far more difficult walking down it and I vowed to ride it next time or risk twisting my knee.

I was back on the bike and over taking girls out in front until I found a group of girls who were sitting at a similar pace. The course changed from pine forest to a barren gravel hill side that had some nasty steep sections that were also quite loose in places. Every muscle was forced into action and I was constantly moving around on the bike to ensure I had maximum grip at all times. Then the course changed to my favourite descent, a steep single track section with tight switch backs along the way. There were still girls in front walking their bikes, but I refused to this time and slowed down to ensure I didn’t cause a collision. Once past the nasty rocky off camber corner that sent many a rider into the safety padding, I missed the final switchback and took a sneaky straight line that you couldn’t brake on, you simply held on for dear life. As the trail flattened out there were a couple of large bumps in the ground that slowed you down, before a long horrible and very draggy climb. Now I love challenging climbs but this was truly nasty and sucked every ounce of energy from your already energy-less legs. At the top of the climb you knew it was time to descend down an undulating trail that had gullies to navigate and a slippery corner that could send you into the crowd if your tyres didn’t grip. Then it was back into Houffalize town to the electric roar of the crouds shouting ‘Allez! Allez! Allez!’ That was the second half of the course and the initial starting loop that helped spread riders out.

Another steep tarmac climb later and it was time for a technical traverse that I was riding in practice, but the rain last night and erosion from the thousands of tyre marks, had done substantial damage that I was soon off the bike and running to the top of the rockiest steepest section of the race. There were girls out in front still running with their bikes, but I managed to overtake one of them and make a few places up as I stayed on the bike and carried speed over the bridge. Then it was through the feed and technical zone where I heard Mr Potter screaming encouragement or rather shouting at me to get a move on as there were plenty of women to chase down. Then it was on to the next climb that was a mix of steep technical single track, tarmac and wide open trail before heading through the forest again. It was not just a physically demanding loop, but there were also plenty of technical challenges along the way.

There were still four laps to go and I still didn’t feel quite awake, but was surprised at how many girls I was passing who looked like they had over cooked it at the start. With so many girls racing it was impossible to know where you were placed, but I was always racing the girls I could see out in front. I was also racing myself as the pace was intense and I had to fight off that lazy little voice inside my head that occasionally begs me to ease off the gas. I also had to keep reminding myself to drink those carbs and to stay relaxed and off the brakes. I was also racing the clock because my aim was to finish without being many things to think about, but at the same time keeping focused and not allowing any negative thoughts to creep in.

I was on my second last lap and as I headed towards the feed zone I could hear Ian telling me to get a move on or I would not make the 20% cut off point. However a mix up in the feed area lost me some time. I was passed plain water instead of my carb drink. Instead of just getting on with it I stopped. I had people all around me passing me any old water bottle, which was very kind of them, but I didn’t want to risk an upset stomach if I drank the wrong drink. Luckily my Aussie mate Terrie who was helping out in the pit area saved the day and I was back on the bike and after those girls who had passed me. I headed back to the finish line as fast as the legs would go. As I headed across the line I expected to be pulled, certain I was losing time on that final lap. However nobody stoped me and all of a sudden I realised I would finish without being lapped. I could say I was grinning from ear to ear, but I was aching all over. I looked at my watch and I had been racing for 2hrs, but there was still one more lap to was time for a much needed dose of guarana gel to get me back to the finish line.

I finished in 55th place and although not feeling 100% at the start was really pleased with my placing. It was by no means a perfect race, but I never expected it to be, and I have learnt alot from the experience. I also finished with the sorest legs from all the running that was required on this course. I was actually quite annoyed with myself for running the technical traverse, but as I watched world’s number one Julian Absalon dismount and run this section, I felt better. It made me realise that this course tested the world’s best and was certainly a course worthy of a world cup. It also made me realise how much stronger I need to be to race competitively at this level.

I have more racing challenges approaching, more training goals and already plenty to think about for next season. I’m totally hooked on world cup racing. You are tested in so many ways from your physical strength, aerobic fitness and technical skill to the mental and emotional energy that is needed both on and off the race course. I don’t expect huge improvements overnight, but I’m working on it and will keep focusing on the long road ahead to racing at international level.

Many Thanks to my Aussie helpers Garron, Neil and Terrie for all your support and to Mr Potter for ensuring the Cotic Soda was ready to roll. Plus a huge thankyou to the SRAM support in Belgium who made it possible for me to start world cup 1.

Special thanks to –
Cotic –
Bontrager –
A Quick Release Holidays –
Torq & Torq Australia –
Magura Forks –
Hope –
Skins –

And co-sponsors Crank Brothers, SRAM, Catlike Helmets, Lumicycle, Bigfoot bags, 661 gloves, Sundog eyewear and Purple Extreme Lubricants.