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.

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