As you can imagine those of us who have returned from Australia from the World Championships are feeling a touch jetlagged and perhaps even experiencing a little physical and mental fatigue from the biggest international biking event for most of us this year. I was confident my body would recover quickly in time for the 7th round of the world cup series the following weekend, but never certain that my brain would behave itself and re focus on the competitions still ahead of me. I was determined not to get carried away and start celebrating just yet because I hate feeling mentally fatigued, even more so than feeling physically fatigued. Once my race had finished I was already thinking about world cup 7,8 and also the final round of the British Mountain Bike Series which were all very important to me in my race for points and improving my world ranking. Instead of partying on Saturday night I was tucked into bed by 8pm (sad I know), but I was so determined to return to Europe fresh that I was willing to make little social sacrifices. Unfortunately even though I was technically ready to go to sleep, my brain was on overdrive mode and I woke up the next morning feeling like I had little sleep, but at least the legs had been well rested.
Sunday was Father’s Day in Australia which I spent with the family whilst the legendary Steve Peat sprinted to victory and my good friend Tracey Mosely earned herself a well deserved spot on the podium in second place (way to go mate!!!!!). Then it was pack up and prepare for the long journey from Oz to Switzerland that involved a four hour drive from Canberra to Sydney Airport, followed by three plane trips to Geneva Airport where I met my lovely Mr Potter who then drove the Aussie Team to Les Crossets in Champery which was another 2-3hrs of travelling in the AQR mini bus.
There were 7 Aussie racers, including myself returning to race the final two world cups. Our coach Neil Ross found a gorgeous chalet in the mountains with the most amazing views. We were living above 1700 metres and there were brilliant trails right on our door step. It didn’t take long before bikes were built and ready to roll, but instead of a ride I decided to take a stroll with my husband to make sure he hadn’t forgotten his Mrs and to find out all the gossip from AQR adventures in Luchon.
The next day I was more than ready to start exploring the area and Coach Ross gave us a 3-4hr session off road. I very rarely get to train with other girls and it was so nice to be riding with a group of ladies who share a similar outlook on racing and riding a bike as I do. I had the BEST DAY today. It started with lots of climbing, followed by lots of descending, followed by more climbing and some awesome single track switchbacks and little jumps that kept me buzzing for more. Then it was time for alot more climbing with some steep challenges along the way before we descended back down into Les Crossets where we bumped into Ian. We had just finished a super descent that I really wanted to ride again....so Ian joined me for one more loop where I dug deep to try and keep him in sight and I even managed to get a little bit of air off the jumps as I chased him down.....’yippees’ and a couple of ‘yikes’ were squealed all the way down as I almost nose planted, but I was still grinning from ear to ear as I felt like I was on holiday rather than a training ride.
Then my afternoon changed when Coach Ross organised a Team building activity...we were off to climb the ‘Via Farrata de Tiere’. Now I will let you into a little secret....I’m petrified of heights! I know it is all in my head, but I really hate been too far off the ground, and can be a nervous wreck even when I’m flying from country to country. If I look down for too long I feel dizzy and very light headed....so even though I love adventure, you will never find me jumping out of aeroplanes, bungy jumping or rock climbing to name but a few of the activities I have always stayed well away from. But here was the dilemma, there is this little voice inside my head that often dares me to test myself even when the sensible part of my brain is telling me not to....perhaps you could say I have a devil and an angel on each shoulder that often get into conflict....hence why I’m the most indecisive person I know. There was no pressure to join the group, in fact Neil did say if you don’t like heights then you probably won’t like this activity.
I read the pamphlet...’Via ferrata (iron path) is a circuit, which you can do by foot on sheer settings. The access is simplified by rungs fixed at the rock. A harness and towing lines secure the users over the whole time....The beginning of the Via Ferrata is near the bridge of Sous Scex at the altitude of 900m and ends at the altitude 1126m.’ Ok so the description sounds safe enough (I think at the time), but then I looked closely at the photos and my knees were shaking already as you were a long way off the ground....gulp, gulp and many more gulps were to come as I listened to the little devil on my shoulder and decided it was time to get over my fear of heights.
The start of the climb involved hiking on steep ground, before the rock climbing began. Ian was a star and stayed behind me in case I froze at any point. I clipped myself onto the wire rope and talked myself out of quitting. It was tough just getting started and my arms were already hurting after only a few minutes of pulling myself up from iron rung to iron rung. Then we got to a section beside a huge waterfall that was deafening and I could feel the shakes starting and the dizziness beginning to take hold. Ian started screaming at me to ‘BREATHE!!!!’. Oops no wonder I was feeling dizzy. So I focused on taking deep breaths while I tried to work out how I was going to climb the first hard section in front of me. Neil and Dan who were in front shouted some encouraging words, and I managed to pull myself up to a wooden bridge that crossed the waterfall....a bridge that rocked from side to side suspended by wire ropes that you really didn’t want to slip through as it was a long way down. So long as I didn’t look at what I’m sure was a wonderful view I was fine and when we started traversing the rock face I managed to speed up and even relax a little. Then Coach Ross made a comment that I will never forget...’I didn’t think it would be this hard’. When I looked up the rock face in front of me for what lay in store I could have had a hissy fit right there and then J . In fact even the devil on my shoulder was questioning whether it might be best to just stay put and call out a helicopter rescue. But Ian kept encouraging me to keep going and said the end was in sight....he was lying of course, but he kept me moving.
I froze again half way up as I felt like I needed longer and stronger arms, plus one of the iron rungs felt loose which didn’t inspire confidence. I clung to the iron rung and I wasn’t moving anytime soon. Ian was surprisingly calm at first until he cried out that he was slipping and couldn’t hold himself in this position for much longer....sorry love. There were a few tears and perhaps a little domestic, but I didn’t want to lose my hubby so I managed to use all my strength to reach the next rung where I could breathe easy as it suddenly became alot easier. I could see the group at the top and it was the best feeling in the world standing on the ground. I don’t know if it was an adrenaline rush, but rather that feeling you experience when you feel as though you have escaped death.....It was the scariest thing I have ever done, but the rewards I gained from participating were huge. I felt a close bond with the entire group who were so supportive and who also admitted that it wasn’t just me who found it scary. I also felt like I had faced a fear and chipped away at this fear that has plagued me since I can remember. What a training session for the team. I knew deep down that this experience would help me with my racing on the weekend and in the future, as there are always little fears that creep up from time to time. So next time I have a fearful moment on the race course all I need to do is compare it to climbing the ‘Via Ferrata de Tiere’, and I reckon you will see a new me!
WORLD CUP 7 RACE PREPARATION
The next day it was time to hit the course. I felt tired because I hadn’t slept well....all the excitement from yesterday made my brain go into overdrive mode. I had three laps to complete before some hard efforts to get the legs buzzing and lungs hurting. I felt a bit rusty on the bike and when the first shoot appeared I looked at it first before attempting it. It was steep, off camber with some ruts near the exit. Normally this type of technical section could take me a while to attempt, but after yesterday nothing fazed me. Each lap I rode confidently and I was loving the rooty twisty sections...that reminded me of some of my favourite trails in Luchon. The first half of the course was fairly flat and would suit powerful riders, but the last 2km suited climbers with a killer of a climb up to the final descent. Although I felt knackered I loved riding the course and for the first time in Potter World Cup racing history there was not one section that fazed me....not one!
Then it rained! Alot! I was certain I jinxed the race because I was feeling way too confident for my own good. Rain changes things especially when there are roots involved. On race morning I checked out a few sections and even though it had stopped raining it was going to be a slippery race and I knew to expect some crashes along the way. Sometimes rain can go your way because suddenly skill becomes just as important as power and fitness, but if you get stuck behind people on technical single track sections then it can also be race over. You also have to think about your bike and I personally never take risks, because one little crash can mean the difference between earning points and not finishing a race when conditions turn wet.
I didn’t feel so confident lining up on the fourth row with the number 38 attached to the front of my bike. There were alot of riders, alot of very good riders both in front of me and behind. The start was a tarmac climb that wasn’t too steep so that I had the chain in big ring the whole way, but it hurt. I felt flat to begin with and just felt like I was going backwards. I could see the start of the single track and I dug deep to try and make up a few places as the 1km descent to the start of the first full loop was going to be a fight the whole way. As I expected I and over half the field went from going hard out to almost a complete stop. There were bikes and bodies falling all over the place....and I was one of them as I was pushed from my bike and into a pile of gravel. I just picked my little Soda up and ran a short section, calming myself to avoid any further collisions. I was overtaken by America’s Mary McConneloug as I jumped back on the bike and followed her lines over the two bridges and into the start of the twisting single track where there were roots a plenty. There were more girls walking than riding their bikes, and I was pleased as punch that I was still on the bike. It helped having Mary call out to riders in front to move and I found myself right on her back wheel as she just seemed to find the best passing lines. Unfortunately I lost touch with Mary as I collided with another rider and our bikes got tangled. There is no love lost between racers whilst racing and we both fought to get back on our bikes and to hold our positions as you can lose so much time on the first lap. It was a relief to escape the single track and find some open space to start attacking on the first lap as there were over 40 riders in front of me.
LAP 1 & 2
I settled into a comfortable pace on the first two laps and just tried to flow on the single track. I was always caught behind a rider who was also behind riders in front. So at times there was just no where to go and I decided to conserve energy early and hopefully attack on the second half of the race. If you tried to pass someone in front you could be lucky and make up a place or you could receive an elbow in the chest and find yourself on the floor. There was plenty of running, and at times this was the quickest and most effective way to make a secure pass. The highlight for me though was riding through the finish area where there were two logs to slow riders down....for the first time in Potter racing history I managed to bunny hop properly. I have been practising bunny hops for so long where you manual first before lifting the back end of the bike. It is such a cool feeling when you feel the bike move in the air beneath you. Not only is it a safer and quicker way of bunny hopping, but it also looks super cool, especially those riders who can bunny hop really high. I’m quite happy with my log height, but will keep working on it so I can out bunny hop Ian and of course AQR’s Paul who is a champion at the bunny hop. Anyway back to the race report....
LAP 3 & 4
I was feeling awesome and the legs were enjoying the effort of trying to catch riders out in front. I was riding with Janka Stevkova and Georgia Gould and our positions were changing constantly. There was one not so enjoyable crash that was like a domino effect as Goul d went down as the off camber slick mud caught her by surprise, followed by Stevkova and then I hit the deck and slid into them. The crowd were in hysterics and I couldn’t help but giggle to myself too...oh the joys of racing. But once we got to the climb I put in a decisive break away and set my sights on young British talent Annie Last who had a super strong start and other riders just ahead of her. I managed to sneak ahead of Annie before the descent and just tried to take smooth lines as I was confident my final lap would be a strong one as I felt really good.
I felt like every girl I passed gave me an added dose of strength. Luckily there were no girls passing me as that can sometimes make your brain think you are slowing down, when in fact the girls are just much faster than you. I felt super and really had fun on the fast bends and little drop offs. Knowing I only had to climb that steep hill one more time was the best feeling and I couldn’t wait for the descent down into the finish arena. I found out later that my final lap was the 20th fastest which just shows you how a bad start can affect your overall race result if you get stuck in the single track.
As always Special thanks to –
Cotic – www.cotic.co.uk
Bontrager – www.bontrager.com
Magura Forks & Brakes – www.magura.com
Torq & Torq Australia – www.torqfitness.co.uk
A Quick Release Holidays – www.aquickrelease.com
Skins – www.skins.net
And co-sponsors Crank Brothers, Exposure Lights, Bigfoot bags, 661 gloves, Nokon cables, Sundog eyewear and Purple Extreme Lubricants.
Plus lots of thanks to Neil Ross (Cycling Oz) for coaching me, and Mr P. For all your endless support.
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