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.

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