Sunday, April 12, 2009

RACE REPORT - WORLD CUP 1 Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. 11 April, 2009.

Preparing for the trip to South Africa was, as all Potter adventures usually are, a frantic one. I raced the British XC round 1 on the Sunday two days before flying out to SA. Unfortunately I enjoyed myself so much that I had post race buzz and could not sleep a wink on Sunday night. I woke early, a bit too early for my own good, then spent Monday washing, drying, race packing, race re-packing, AQR Holidays working, AQR packing, AQR re-packing, Potter moving house packing, and then again re-packing, squeezing in 2hrs of training and hoping for an early dinner and 7pm bed time as we had a very early start. Basically Ian and I were trying to do too much as always in the little time we had, but then again I don't help myself either as I kept unpacking everything to double check all necessities were in their right bags. We also had friends and elite racers Mel Spath and Ryan Sherlock staying as they were accompanying me to South Africa.

Tuesday morning at the glorious hour of 2am we were all packed and ready to roll. Mel, Ryan and I were off to Heathrow Airport, and once we were dropped off at the airport by Ian, he was then driving back to Luchon all on his lonesome to meet the national Aussie junior squad who he would be working for over the next month. Our flight wasn't until 8pm, so we had booked ourselves into a 'YOTEL'. For 12hrs we had a place to rest, use the internet, shower and keep our belongings safe. These very small cubicles only just fit one bike bag and luggage, so movement was restrictive, but it was great to be able to rest on a bed and try and make up some hours sleep. Well it would have been great if my head wasn't so close to my neighbours toilet, as you could hear every little noise...need I say more.

12hrs later we were boarding our plane to Johannesburg, before a connecting flight to Durban on Wednesday morning. In total it was about 13 hours of flying. Once we hit Durban we had an hour to wait before collecting our hire car and then another hour before we finally squeezed three bike bags, luggage, food bags and three bodies into a smaller car than we had expected...luckily I have been practising yoga alot more this year and was able to bend my body to suit the little space left on the back seat. The three of us then took off for the hills of Pietermaritzburg, or should I say mountains as I just found out today that the altitude is 800m. The first thing we all noticed was the heat, it was intense and the humidity high, yet everything was so green. The scenery was stunning and I fell in love with the area straight away. I was looking out for monkeys as I was told that monkeys are like squirrels in the UK, possums in Oz, and deer in the Pyrenees.

The three of us were staying in a suburb called Athlone, only a 10 minute cycle to the race course. I had found a huge house to rent for the 5 days we were staying in South Africa. We were joined by fellow Aussie Torq sponsored riders Katherine O'Shea and Dan McConnel, plus Aussie national champ Chris Jongeward. It took the three of us longer than expected to find the house and move in, due again to my decision not to bother bringing a map or any directions, because it's more fun trying to guess which house one is staying in. Only problem is that all houses have huge electric gates that are impossible to climb over, and security is very tight in this area. After an hours search we found the house we wanted, and then waited again for somebody to let us in....45 minutes later we were in, bags dumped on a bed and bikes were built in lightening speed...Mr Potter would be proud of my mechanical prowess. It was past 4pm, and we only had about 2hrs day light left, and we didn't want to miss another day off the bike.

It was still humid, so we were out in shorts and jersey which was a wonderful change after 4 months of snow in the Pyrenees. The course was fun, but everybody knew it would be tough as the climbs were steep lung busting efforts, and even late in the afternoon it was hot. The descents were really fun, with fast swooping single track, and small jumps and drop offs thrown in along the way. There were plenty of switchbacks and steep sections, but nothing too technical. It was the type of course where the faster you ride the harder it is, as there were little stumps and rocks that could catch you out if you drifted off line.

I had two days before the race, but only one day on course as I was told I would need a rest day on the Friday....grrr I hate rest days, but coach knows best. So I planned to make the most of my 3hr training session on course....I lasted an hour. I was heavy legged, hot, shaky and had already run out of water. I found a cafe and some aussie mates, plus a very kind south african gentleman who took it upon himself to deliver me icy cold water as I thought I was going to pass out. 2 litres of water in the bladder later, and I was ready to hit the course again, but this time with my mate Andy who warned me to take it easy on course as I was looking a little tomato headed and was still feeling a tad shaky.

I lasted one more hour and then headed for some shade. I still had this little devilish voice inside my head that was encouraging me to ride one more lap, but I resisted and luckily Andy dragged me off course and out of the sun.

That night I lay awake wanting to sleep, but burning up so much that I felt like I was lying down in a sauna. I hate it when you know you need sleep, but your body feels too tired to sleep....strange, but it happens to me often. The next day I was not allowed on course...oh the temptation was there as the single track was so much fun, but the thought of climbing up those hills was not tempting in the slightest. I spent the day resting and bathing legs in the pool which was surprisingly quite cold.

Morning of race day, and the fatigue was still hanging over me like a black cloud, and I couldn't focus very well. I knew I was going to struggle today, but I had my race objectives and I was not feeling under any pressure. I just needed to finish in the top no pressure when lining up against alot of the top riders in the world :) . I was gridded at the back, and knew I had to race conservatively if I was going to finish. There were no high expectations, but at the same time I didn't want to be dropped on the first climb, so I had to dig deep in places to try not to be left behind. On the first lap there were bottlenecks and every girl was fighting for their position. Instead of fighting though I was falling as my back tyre failed to grip and I went sliding. There had been rain last night, and there were sections on course that had no grip in places.

Once back on the bike I focused on each girl ahead of me and tried to chase them down. At the same time I was trying not to be passed by too many girls behind me, or use up what little energy I had. Mel Spath was close by and she shouted at me to 'DRINK' (thanks Mel). But we both knew that we must keep drinking.

The second half of the race I started overtaking riders who had mechanicals or who looked like they had blown. The heat was a huge factor in this race, and I'm pleased to say that I paced myself as well as I could, and managed to finish 32nd. My best result last year was 33rd, but this result was not one to get carried away with as I felt awful from the word go, but I'm not disappointed either. I'm trying to think more about how to race this year, rather than just ride hard with blinkers on. I don't expect to feel good at every race, as I'm racing alot this year, more XC than I have ever done in the past. Some races will be part of my training too, as what better way to learn how to race, then to race. I'm proud as punch that I achieved my race objectives at the first round of the World Cup Series, which is hopefully a step forward in the right direction. I was too tired to be racing hard, but I did what I could do achieve my goals. Now that I have finished in the top 40 at this race, it will mean a grid position on the fourth row, rather than the last row at the second world cup in Offenburg, Germany....which is a huge YAY on my part.

As always a huge thankyou to the Cotic Bontrager Race Team, who are supporting me and helping me work towards achieving my racing ambitions again this year. Plus a huge thankyou to Mel Spath and Ryan Sherlock for being awesome race mates, Neil Ross for coaching me and teaching me about racing XC, and I can't thank the Pietermaritzburg locals who made us all feel very welcome in their beautiful home.

Now I have over 30hrs of travel to look forward to before I return to Luchon for one day, then a 14hr drive to Lugano, Switzerland for a Swiss Power Cup or now known and the Racer's Cup. More news about that race soon...promise. KPxo

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