Tuesday, June 17, 2008

World Cup Racing - Andorra to Fort William

Well my little lonesome altitude training camp on top of the Superbagneres in Luchon seems so long ago. Suddenly I find myself towards the end of my third block of racing. I’m afraid I’m a little bit behind in the blog and KP race report department. My typing has slowed down, in fact my fingers are turning flabby and starting to lose their muscle tone. I’ve been neglecting my typing duties of late due to the constant travelling, racing, living out of a suit case syndrome and trying to catch up with AQR secretarial duties. I try and make a little time each day to add something to my blog, but half the time end up staring at the laptop screen not knowing where to start. I’m not suffering from writers block, no not me…I don’t think that will ever be the case, but rather a condition I’ve called ‘blogged out’. This is a condition when you suffer from ‘experience overload’, where you can’t work out which part of the experience to write about first. As a result you have a million memories that are all fighting for space. If I allow every single wonderful, horrible, tiring and exciting mountain biking experience space on the page I think my ‘little’ reports would turn into a novel…then even I would drive myself crazy with all my mountain bike race ramblings.

I have been trying to start my report from the fourth round of the world cup series held in Andorra, which was three weeks ago. As you probably know by now I was very disappointed that cramp forced me to back off the pace and almost quit. I’m not one to pull out of a race when a little bit of pain gets me down, but when I couldn’t actually move my legs because the pain was so intense then I really thought it was race over. So why was I so upset about one race when there are plenty more ahead? Because it was such a fun course to ride!!!! There were switch backs beneath the trees, steep shoots that brought tingles to the back of your neck and some challenging rocky and rooty sections that made you think very carefully about your line choice. Then there were those punishing climbs that even had many of the lads forced to use their granny ring. To ride this course well you couldn’t just be fit, but you had to have a certain amount of technical climbing and descending skill as well, which is what mountain bike racing at this level should be all about.
I was riding well during practice and feeling strong, but on race day my goals changed from trying to beat my grid position of 55 to trying to beat my darn cramp and to finish with a result. I achieved a result of 46, but unfortunately ended up finishing one lap down. The legs finished fresh as a daisy, but my stomach felt like it had done 1000 crunches.

I tried to forget about my disappointing race in Andorra, and turned my attention to the next round of the World Cup series in Fort William. First it was a quick stop over in Luchon to unpack, wash and repack the race kit before a 3am transfer to Toulouse Airport on the Wednesday morning before the race. Ian was staying in Luchon for AQR guiding duties, but I had the pleasure of accompanying top Aussie racer Sid Taberlay to Glasgow, who invited me to sit in the British Airways members lounge when we stopped off at Gatwick Airport…I had to try and act all smart and business like as it was a rather swanky lounge.

The journey from Glasgow to Fort William was a long one, but it gave me time to think about my first Fort Bill adventure way back in 2006. The first World Cup I experienced was a shocker. It was the first time I hadn’t finished a race. I remember lying in a muddy bog with a sore knee and wondering why I didn’t choose an indoor sport such as gymnastics or badminton? I had caught a bus and train from Luchon to Toulouse Airport, flown to Manchester and then suffered motion sickness along the winding road to Fort William. So it wasn’t the best of starts really. Then to race only one lap in the pouring rain, before tripping over my own two feet down a steep muddy bank that was impossible to ride down, had to be the icing on the cake really…those midges must have pitied me as they left me well alone. I was determined to return to Fort William and race again one day in the future, but this time to make it to the finish line.

Two years later and this time I was prepared…sun cream and t-shirts stayed in the Pyrenees and made room for all the thermals and waterproof clothing I could squeeze into my backpack. I wasn’t going to let no rain clouds or muddy banks stop me from finishing this race either. However to my surprise the course was dry, in fact it was very similar to courses I raced back in Oz. I don’t think I have ever experienced a dusty course in the UK before, but on my first practice lap I was already choking on the dust and even wiping out on a loose sandy bend. It was one of those stacks where you still think you’re riding your bike, when in fact your kissing the ground, as it was so unexpected and quite an easy switchback. I had a few grazes, but nothing compared to all the midge bites that soon appeared. The course was great fun to ride and although I was still a bit shaky from my stack, I was enjoying the rocky sections and fast switch back berms, as well as the technical climb at the start of the course that was really fun to play on….yes climbs can be fun too :)

I was a barrel of nerves on race day because I kept running in to so many people I knew. I really didn’t want to ride like a spanner or suffer cramp again in front of my adopted home crowd. I kept allowing all these little negative worries to enter my brain. Neil Ross, the national coach gave me a little pep talk…the shaky voice and stiff body probably made it quite obvious to him that I was just a tad nervous. I was told to focus on my breathing and to shut all those little thoughts swirling around my brain. There were only 49 riders who had registered, but who all happened to finish regularly in the top 50 at world cup level….so there were some pretty experienced racers on course. But I was not to think about how awesome the competition were going to be, and whilst lining up had a little argument with my brain to stop thinking like a wimp and to toughen up.

The start was a dusty one. I had moved from last off the grid to somewhere in the middle of the pack. Then a crash or dismount forced all the girls ahead of me to run with their bikes. I didn’t react quickly enough and ended up back of the pack again. I hate running with my bike and had trouble getting back on it again, so I had a fair bit of chasing to do by the time my feet finally clipped in the pedals. I managed to make up some places on the climb and found myself one of the many girls cruising down the singletrack descent, unable to go any faster as there were too many girls out in front. There was no way of passing safely until we reached the fire road. The first single track descent was a long one and I could hear someone grunting from behind me and then my rear tyre being hit every so often. Once the trail widened out one of the Chinese racers came flying past and told me to ‘Frog off!’ (swear word that starts with ‘F’) I was a bit shocked, and found myself telling her in my best teacher’s voice to watch her language. I don’t understand why being that verbally aggressive is necessary. All it did was make me more determined to pass her…which I did the following lap :)

The second half of the race I was feeling a lot more relaxed on the descents. I was following a Canadian rider who was taking such smooth lines, bouncing off the rocks and taking air whenever she could. I really enjoyed following her and felt like I was trail riding with the AQR lads. I knew I was going faster than the first couple of laps, even though I didn’t feel like I was trying as hard because I was just having so much fun. I felt like I was pacing myself well and towards the end of the race started to make up a lot more places to move into 33rd position. I was very happy with my result, but more importantly I really enjoyed hearing all the encouragement from the crowd, who made me feel like I was racing on home turf, which in many ways I was.

I’ve had such an amazing journey the last couple of months travelling from one race to the next across Europe. I have learnt more about myself as a mountain bike rider and racer. I know by racing at this level I have learnt things that nobody, not even my coach could teach me. I have always believed that once you stop learning and experiencing then you will never improve at whatever it is you want to be good at. These races have been very challenging, and more often than not I have felt like a fish out of water or rather a Koala out of a gum tree…whatever the saying is. However I know I have improved as a rider…I also know that I have a lot of work ahead in order to improve as a racer, which is my long term goal and one that I’m not going to stop experiencing for a long time yet….sorry Mr Potter :)

I have received fantastic support from the Aussie crew and coach Neil Ross, to my Coach Matt Hart here in the UK, plus my sponsors who have just been so encouraging and generous with their time and support. Experiencing the sights and sounds of world cup racing has been an amazing experience, and one I encourage all racers to strive for. If racing is not for you then even if you decide to become an ‘elite spectator’, then you won’t be disappointed as the atmosphere at these events is awesome….plus I know plenty of riders out on course who really appreciated the encouragement, and I for one are one of them. So as always a huge thankyou to those of you who made the journey to Fort William, and to those few who even came all the way to Andorra to cheer….it was very much appreciated.

As always Special thanks to –
Cotic – www.cotic.co.uk
Bontrager – www.bontrager.com
A Quick Release Holidays – www.aquickrelease.com
Torq & Torq Australia – www.torqfitness.co.uk
Magura Forks – www.magura.com
Hope – www.hope.com
Skins – www.skins.net

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

*Also special thanks to Joolze Dymond and lovely husband Dave for driving me back to Nottingham and Luke Webber for your quick thinking mechanical help on Friday.

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