Monday, September 28, 2009

3,2,1...the end of 2009 Mountain Bike Racing Season.

I'm offically knackered and need a travel break. I'm not referring to a break involving I'm travelled out. In fact I'm staying well clear of trains, planes and automobiles for at least the next 10 days. In fact if Ian wants to drive anywhere I'm riding my bike or walking. This has been my first year racing all the world cups, racing the world championships and of course focusing on the British Mountain Bike well as racing other UCI events in and around Europe in my quest for UCI points. I'm in no way worn out from riding my bike, but rather all the mental and physical energy that has gone into travelling to and from race course to race course.
I have been given 10 days to chill before I start focusing on the 2010 race season. This is my first day on holiday before I go off and try and find something to I get bored very easily. I must finish my final two race reports so I can truly sign off my 2009 mountain bike race season with a smile....and start preparing for winter training and my little dabble in cyclocross for the first time in KP biking history.
I think my last report left off from Champery where I completed World Cup 7 and then headed to Schladming in Austria for the final race of the 2009 World Cup Series. The drive took close to 12hrs as we had several stops to ensure the legs didn't stiffen up too much and there were also some pretty big climbs for Mini Blue (AQR minibus) to conquer. We arrived in darkness and although I had slept most of the way I was still knackered and headed straight to bed.
We were all greeted to a beautiful morning in the mountains, and I fell in love with this area as it reminded me of Luchon. There was no time to relax as training started at 10am every morning and also finished with an afternoon session either on course or along the river on bike designated paths. Any spare time left over was put into improving my mechanical skills and also lovingly cleaning, polishing and spoiling my Cotic Soda who really has survived alot this year. I know she was missing Ian's mechanical touch, but she has to learn to appreciate my clumbsiness and get used to the fact that it takes me a little or rather alot longer than most mechanics to sort things out. I have discovered I love tinkering with bikes now and find it very relaxing. I understand now why Ian hides himself in the garage 'till late at night fixing switch off and escape his nagging wife. But now he will have to share the garage with his Mrs as I'm chuffed to bits with how much I have learnt and actually remembered this year. Soon I will be able to talk the bike talk and actually know what the AQR crew are going on about when they go off on a biking language jargon tangent.
Anyway I must really stick to writing this race report...
So it was time to focus on the final world cup of the year. I wasn't sure if I would make it through 8 world cups that started in South Africa in April and since then have crossed many countries in Europe as well as heading to Canada. I was feeling very good in training and there was nothing on course that fazed me, even though I did taste mud a couple of times. I would say Schladming is one of the most physically demanding courses I have ever ridden. The climb is long and just seems to get steeper and steeper, with the added joy of including some muddy sections along the way to make you hurt that little bit more. At the top of the course there is a huge single track descent over plenty of roots with virtually no overtaking spots, and there are some really fun switchbacks to put a smile on your face, but nothing scary. Then the course takes you through the main town area past cafes and restaurants, down some steps and over bridges before the final pinch that leads you into a very steep off camber descent into the main arena. After riding the loop as fast as possible I expected a 5 lap race as it did seem very short. But the UCI commissaire decided it had been a long season for everyone so they made the women's race 4 laps...DOH! I must admit I hoped for a 5 lap race, but hey ho, it would just mean going for gold on the first lap to try and get a good position early on.
On race morning I knew I had slept well, but I was feeling flat. I did my usual warm up, but legs were missing the buzzy feeling they had experienced two days ago. I did what I could to make myself perk up, but then the yawns were starting and it seemed to be taking an awful lot of energy to wake myself up. I wasn't going to stress about it and tried to find some nervous energy, but even that seemed lacking. I gave myself a good talking to, because sometimes race nerves can give you that added buzz to go harder. I was gridded on the fourth line in number 36. In the past I would be shaking in my shorts lining up against the best riders in the world, but it was like another day, another race, been there, done that.....I was far too calm for my liking and so started to get annoyed with myself to wake up and smell the coffee! So a caffeinate gel went down the throat and I hoped it would do the trick.
When the whistle blew everything became a blur of wheels on tarmac and elbows fighting for position, girls were moving forward, while others moved backwards and I was starting to find my rhythm when stomach cramp set in....typical! I had to back off the pace and try and breathe through the pain. I hate cramp! Anyway I lost a good position, but could still see where I wanted to be out in front. I was determined to get back up to speed as soon as I could manage to spin my legs a bit quicker and breath properly..
On the second lap the stomach had settled down and I was moving forward feeling confident that I could make those places I lost back up. I passed at least 5 girls,  maybe more, and stormed into the start of the single track descent. A girl in front was walking the slippery roots and there was another girl picking herself up off the muddy floor, so I quickly hopped off the Soda and tried to run past them, but I couldn't....something was holding onto my bike....I was thinking a rider was pulling me backwards and was about to have some words in my 'teacher's voice', which can be very scary at times, when I realised that there was tape used for marking out the course wrapped around my seat and seat post. This is not what I needed. By the time I had untangled myself all the girls I had passed were now passing me and I was back to my original position. This is the fun of world cup racing, everyone is so close to you all the time, that small mistakes are costly.
Anyway I was stuck now for what seemed forever as I couldn't get past the girls in front on the descent, so it was thinking time as I planned an attack as soon as the course widened out for me to do so. When I finally got past a couple of girls I had to dig deep to try and get back into the top 30 as I must have been close to 40 at this stage. But still little mistakes kept pushing me backwards, as my chain got stuck after a bad gear change and then I splatted myself on one of the bridges that was slipperier than I expected it to be. It was a comedy of errors really, but still I dug deep and on my final lap moved forward as I could see girls looking like they had blown, where I was still feeling way to fresh for my liking and knew once again that I had left my surge too late. I was gaining on girls in front, but I needed another lap really. I finished 32nd and ahead of girls who were beating me earlier in the year, so I was pleased as punch with the result, but just wish I could have felt stronger and been faster on that first lap. But I'm determined to find that speed and acceleration I need for the first lap....just got to remind my legs that they no longer race 24hr solo events.
What I Iove about racing the best girls in the world is that your weaknesses are very quickly revealed and that motivates me to work on improving those areas this winter to be stronger in be scared
Well for most of the Aussie contingent it was time to hang their racing wheels up and look forward to a well deserved holiday off the bike. For myself and Aussie mate Andy we had the final round of the British Mountain Bike Series to look forward to which was a UCI 1 event, so lots of points up for grabs. However although winning UCI points is one of my main priorities, I had a personal goal this year to try and win the overall British Cross Country Series. I purposely avoided any end of season party as I didn't want to get carried away with it all before my season had finished. I also knew that the week leading up to this race wasn't going to be the best prepartion for an important event as it involved alot of travelling and not alot of time for training and proper rest.
The final day in Austria ended up being the most epic training session for a few of the Aussie Team willing to sit back on the saddle for a few hours, and Aussie National Coach Neil Ross had just the route in mind. I had no idea how long he was thinking, all I knew was that it involved a huge climb. So I thought it would be an hour's spin uphill and then a cruisy roll back down. The climb started on tarmac and eventually turned into a steep fire road. Apparently we were heading to a mountain lake and I was loving it. Legs felt good, I was breathing the fresh mountain and forgetting that I was supposed to be training....I felt like I was on holiday. Then we stopped at a mountain restaurant that served the boys huge apply bubbly type drinks and warm wine with apple and cinnamon, that smelled good, but I declined as I have to save my pennies.
Anyway we had one more steep section before the top and I seemed to be getting slower and slower. I kept thinking I would wake up soon, but yesterdays race had taken it's toll and I was grovelling. I could just make out Lockie, Andy and Neil who were flying out in front. Then the track turned technical and I was struggling on even the easiest sections of the trail. I feared I would be asked to turn around and go home as it was such a beautiful area. When I had finally caught up with the boys I was ready to sleep, I was kanckered and just looked at Neil with pleading eyes as to which way I should go home. Instead he told me to eat! Lockie very kindly gave me a banana, even though stubborn old me was certain I was just suffering post race fatigue, that banana did the trick and suddenly I could ride my bike again....I was having the most fun ever as we descended down this trail where there were rocky obstacles along the way that reminded me of the Peak District. I couldn't stop giggling to myself as the trail then turned into the fastest fire road that just got steeper and steeper. I lost all my inhibitions and just tried to chase the boys down who were speeding out in front. 4hrs later we manged to find our base and the four of us were buzzing. The day couldn't get any better, so Lockie thought, until we arrived back in time for a bbq that the owners of the chalet were holding and gave us all thick slabs of cooked meat and the boys were in bikingand food heaven and I was too until the smell of meat made me feel queasy..yes I'm one of those fussy vegie eaters :)
Early start as we left Schladming and Austria behind and headed to Milan, Italy. 8hrs of driving. Unpacked, ate, slept.
3am start. Waited at airport for a 7am flight. Arrived in London and waited three hours for a bus that refused to take my bike bag at first until I almost helps being female, having blonde hair and green eyes sometimes :) Then 6hrs in the bus that took me to Nottingham where AQR/Cotic's Paul very kindly collected me and took me back to UK base. Ate and tried to sleep.
I had a little bit of a dilemma. My chain and block were very worn and I decided it wasn't worth the risk of training on my bike and wearing it down further for the race on the weekend. In hindsight I shoud have bought a new chain and block and had it delivered to Nottingham, but I didn't and I wasn't in any state to start stressing about it now as I was still feeling highly strung and knackered from the travel back to the UK. So I took myself off to the gym and did two spinning classes as training. I knew what Neil wanted me to do, and I'm sure it didn't involve a spinning class, but I kind of did the intervals he wanted me to do, and at least I got a good work out. Although I think the class instructor thought I was a bit mad.
Sorted my bike out and then had it double checked by Paul who also works for Cotic. Passed some things, but failed on others. Had a fork suspension lesson as I have had real trouble adjusting my rebound to how I like it, but Paul showed me what I was doing wrong, and now I know so forks felt ace for the first time since I have started trying to do things for myself. Bottom bracket was not in good shape and very stiff, but gears were working lovely, so I was rather chuffed with most things I did for myself. I didn't spend too long riding the bike as I was really concerned about wearing the worn parts out even more. Then it was time to pack for the weekend.....and this took most of day as I have trouble condensing things into one bag, no I'm better at condensing things into ten bags...hence the nick name 'Tommy ten bags' (have no idea where that name comes from if anyone can enlighten me, but Ian thinks he's really funny when he calls me that???)
Somehow managed to squeeze everythng into Paul's car, before transferring everything into Joolze and Dave's van....and realised I had left the kitchen sink at time Joolze. Talked and talked and talked and talked to Joolze ( I have never known anyone to talk as much as Joolze....except maybe me :)  Sorry Dave, who just couldn't get a word in for the 6-7hr drive south to Plymouth. I was asked to race the relay, and in exchange I had Team Torq manager Rob and Dave help me with my tent that is supposed to explode into place in 2 minutes...not! Practiced course and raced my heart out for 12 minutes in team relay....Felt good for 30 seconds and then spent rest of the time feeling sick. The Torq Team who I raced for in the relay finished 3rd, so it was good to achieve a good result. Tried to sleep, but was so annoyed with how I raced that I spent the best part of 12hrs wondering how on earth I was going to race hard the next day....oh and my heart rate was so high it actually kapt me awake too...oh the joys of being me...not!
I feel bad! I have been thinking about this day for many weeks as my personal goal this year was to win the British Cross Country Series. I knew I had a good chance to win it because I was the only girl to win two national cross country races in the series, but I had to finish as it was the best four results out of five and I had missed the second round of the series already. My body and brain were not happy and I knew I had left my peak form back in Europe. I wasn't concerned so much with the fact that the best female mountain biker on the planet, Gunn Rita Dahle was racing. But I knew I had to have a good race to win the series and I had this horrible feeling I lacked both the mental and physical strength and willpower I needed to give it my best shot...
The final race of a long year...and suddenly I was out on course competing for a British Series win, and hopefully plenty of UCI points. Legs and head were tired, but I liked the course and had my plan. I wasn't going to get carried away and take any risks. There were strong girls, including Gunn Rita Dahle, Annie last and Sue Clarke who could not win the series title, but who I knew had the form to win this race. So I was going to race concervatively and be mindful of the girls who could take the British Series title (Mel Spath, Jenny Copnall, Jenn O'Connor)....well I got a bit carried away and before I knew it I was out in front with British Under 23 National Champion and amazingly talented rider Annie Last. Annie looked strong as she always does, and so I stuck to her wheel like glue, thinking other riders were right on my back wheel too. It wasn't until we had finished lap one that I realised we were out in front alone and had a gap on the other girls. I was keeping it steady for the first half of the race, mindful that Annie has an amazing sprint on her which my 31 year old legs sorely lack. I know my strengths, but they weren't strong enough today to be an advantage, and it really took alot of mental strength not to crack in places when Annie put her foot down. The first three laps were very much the same, as we rode together and tested each other to see how we both were coping under the pressure. I was also trying to ride as smoothly as possible too to ensure I didn't rip a tyre or have any mechanicals that would prevent me from winning the series.
By the final lap I dug deep to move ahead of Annie into the final descent. I had hoped to be in this position so I could cross the river without any rider in front to slow me down across the slippery rocks where I could just see myself having a clumbsy moment and crossing the line drenched. In hindsight perhaps this wasn't the best position to be in as I knew Annie was right on my back wheel down the long grassy straight waiting to attack into the last piece of narrow single track that spat you out to cross the finish line. When Annie attackd it didn't surprise me, but I just didn't react in time to counter attack or block the attack, so I was chasing the final few metres and finished 2 seconds down in second place.
It was a great race to be part of and Annie was very deserving of her win. I felt like I did eveything I could at the time and the best person won, but it has also given me a kick up the back side to improve aspects of my racing that are letting me down because I know that next year it will be a huge challenge to defend the British Series title with such young talent coming through, which is great to see. It will certainly motivate me to work hard this winter so that I can be stronger next year both at national and international level. 
So this weekend I tasted each podium spot, and came away with a national cross country title to add to the British marathon series title I won three years ago. I'm chuffed to bits that all the hard work from everyone involved in the Cotic Bontrager Race Team has paid off. Although I may be the only one racing, there are so many people who have worked hard and contributed financially to help me race at this level. Without my race team, sponsors, friends, family, coach and husband I would not be where I am today and would not be the mountain biker or person I am today either without out all this support. I have improved in so many ways this year which can be seen by my results both at international and national level, but I still have a long way to go and I truly thank everyone for believing in me and helping me work towards riding up KP's racing pyramid, where an Olympic spot sits at the top and hopes to be reached by 2012.

As always Special thanks to –

Cotic –

Bontrager –

Magura Forks & Brakes –

Torq & Torq Australia –

A Quick Release Holidays –


Skins –


And co-sponsors Crank Brothers, Exposure Lights, Bigfoot bags, 661 gloves, Nokon cables, Sunwise eyewear and Purple Extreme Lubricants.

Check out their websites to the side.


Plus lots of thanks to Neil Ross (Cycling Oz national coach) for coaching me, and Mr P. for all your endless support.                 


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