Tuesday, 29 September 2015

That'll explain the pain then!

After visiting an excellent clinic in Monte Carlo (IM2S) I can now explain why I was in so much pain during the Swiss Epic: I sustained a 45mm fracture of the great trochanter (top of femur) the day before the race started. 

While riding through Verbier on my way back to our hotel I caught my handlebar on a metal railing. Strange how things can happen like this; after riding the technical trails of the Prologue course unscathed I launch myself onto the tarmac cruising through the streets! Initially concerned about the impact to my head but later realising something was wrong with my hip - I felt 'twisted' and 'out-of-line' and unable to bear weight on my left leg - I went for treatment with our team physiotherapist. Afterwards I felt in a little less pain but uncertain whether I'd be racing in the morning - the biggest problem with this would be letting down my race partner, Adel. 

Warming up the next day wasn't so bad, oddly walking was more painful than riding! The pain was tolerable until the penultimate stage when there was a long hike-a-bike-section up a steep forest trail. Hiking exacerbated the problem and the pain from then onwards became borderline bearable and throughout the whole of the final stage to Zermatt the mountains were alive with the sound of my screaming! Honestly, putting power through the pedal was truly agonising. Fortunately, a dropper seat post meant I was at least still able to get on and off the bike! 

After a few days resting in the South of France the pain didn't ease, in fact I had constant pain just sitting. Time to seek expert advice. We went to IM2S in Monaco and within several hours I'd seen an excellent Doctor and had ultra sound, X-Ray and MRI scans. Now that's efficient service! The Doctor advised me to off-load the leg using crutches and to "remember that the best parameter to judge about fracture healing is pain, whereas I realise your perception of pain is not really within the normal range! So in the meantime, relax and enjoy life, family and friends. You deserve a rest!

Sadly this all means ending my season early and missing the last two UCI World Series marathon races: Azores MTB Marathon and Roc D'Azur. You will however still find me at both races where I'll be following the Doctor’s advice and enjoying the local wine and food whilst hobbling around with my Ferrari-red crutches! 

See you!
Sal :)

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Swiss Epic

After 400km and 15000m of climbing over 6 days on demanding and technically challenging trails, me and my partner Adel Morath (GER) won the prestigious Swiss Epic at the base of the spectacular Matterhorn in Zermatt! Riding in the Swiss mountains was incredible and despite full throttle racing we were able to draw extra energy and motivation from the truly breath-taking vistas! The stage towns (Verbier, Leukerbad, Grachen, Zermatt) and especially the last two, traffic free towns, provided idyllic places for rest and recovery in top class hotels with quality food!   

This was the first time that Adel and me raced together so we were uncertain how the relationship would work especially competing against the well established duo of Annika Langvad and Ariane Kleinhans (Specialised RECM) who were the defending champions and race favourites. After a hard crash the day before the race started in Verbier I was uncertain whether I could compete but our team physiotherapist, Torsten Walter, was able to work his magic daily on my injured hip enabling me to make it to the finish in Zermatt - albeit in a lot of pain! 

Losing over 3 minutes to Annika and Ariane in the Prologue wasn't the start we wanted but with the long stages to come we were optimistic. The long climbs suited Adel and me and during Stage 1 we were able to catch and pass Annika and Ariane but with 1 km to go we lost the lead and finished 50 seconds back in 2nd position. On Stage 2 it was clear that the fast pace of Annika and Ariane had started to take its toll and we were able to take our first stage win and with it the coveted yellow leader jerseys!     

Over the following stages we were able to gradually build our lead and focus on riding smooth and consistent. With the relentless climbing and technical descents there's no time for recovery increasing the risk of mistakes. Adel and me rode really well together; throughout the race we had no crashes or mechanical issues - testimony to the great partnership we formed, and of course our excellent mechanic Peter Felber!

Stage races are brutal but the Swiss Epic is especially so and nothing is ever certain until the finish. This is clearly highlighted in the men's race where the leaders, Centurion Vaude, lost their lead on the final stage and BiXS-Stockli rode into Yellow for the first time. Despite our gradually increasing lead Adel and me were fully aware that the race wasn't won until crossing the line in Zermatt! Congrats to our men’s Topeak Ergon duo, Alban and Kristian, for winning the first 2 stages and finishing 3rd overall despite mechanical issues. 

Now I'm taking some days off and resting my hip in the Cote D'Azur before heading to the Azores for a UCI World Series Marathon race. It's nice not to wake up at 5.20am for breakfast ;)

Big thanks to Topeak Ergon for the amazing team support!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015


At 5am last Saturday we woke to the sound of rain, the Tre Cime (the iconic 3 peaks of the Dolomites) hidden within thick cloud. It was time to get ready for the inaugural  3Epic! Suppressing the thought of crawling back into bed and hiding, I went for breakfast: strong Italian expresso and oats with banana, honey and nut butter. Within minutes of the 8am start I was drenched as we descended the road to Lozzo Di Cadore before beginning the first 1100hm climb - waterproof shorts and a shower cap at least kept my chamois and head dry but my feet were swimming!  After an hour of winding up switchbacks to the summit, the rain started to ease but the temperature remained in single figures. At the top of the mountain I was glad to have my waterproof jacket and shorts, rubber gloves, shower cap and buff, leg warmers - even though they did keep falling down - and arm warmers, though I did regret forgetting my overshoes! 

At the bottom of the next climb the waterproof shorts had to come off, so I stuffed them down my jersey for safekeeping in preparation for the last descent. I also had to shed the rubber gloves because now my hands were swimming in cold water - but until this point they did a great job of keeping my hands warm! The climb snaked up to the picturesque lake at Misurina before taking us even higher on the old road to Monte Piana. A quick descent and then the infamous road climb up to Rifugio Auronzo where the technical hiking trail from Tre Cime di Lavaredo took us quickly back down 1100hm to the valley where we started. With fully pumped arms it was time to negotiate a few slippery forest trails undulating along the valley before the never-ending final 10km down the valley to the finish - sounds easy but I'm sure it caused much suffering and cursing!

Marathon races are tough, but in bad weather they are made even tougher! Simply finishing is a mighty challenge - but with great rewards - and it always amazes me to see so many people battling to the finish after enduring several hours; more than double the time of the winning men and women. 

A double win for Topeak Ergon Racing Team and fifth for Alban saw us win two big cockerels (wooden not real), 30kgs of prosciutto, 7 litres of bubbly and 3kg of cheese. Quite a scoop :)    

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Chasing my tail!

Ok so now it's time for a little catch up! 

At the end of June it was the World Champs in Stunning Val Gardena, Dolomites. With 3400m of vertical ascent over 60km it was a race that suited me and I was fully focused. The first climb took us straight up 800m over 5km - it was steep and a critical climb that would determine the fight for the medals. Despite good preparation and altitude acclimatisation (the race started at 1600m with the highest points at 2300m) my body did not perform as I expected it to. After 20mins with the lead group I was no longer able to keep the pace and I slipped backwards. That's sport I guess; sometimes the body doesn't respond the way we want it to. Reaching the finish line in 5th position, 2 minutes off Bronze was not the result I wanted, but at the same time and on reflection 5th at the Worlds, on a bad day, is not so bad! Now I'm looking forward to the next races, first Dolomiti Superbike and then the Transalp. 

Dolomiti never happened for me because I got flu and a chest infection! 

Fortunately I recovered in time for the Transalp - 7 stages across the Alps - starting in Ruhpolding, Germany and finishing in Riva del Garda, Italy. After more than 600km and 20,000m of climbing my team partner, Christina Kollmann (AUT), and I reached the finish in Italy in the Pink leader jerseys after 32 hours in the saddle. We took the lead after the first stage and held on to it until the finish. The race took us over many spectacular mountain passes including the Felbertauern Pass which actually saw us switch from our biking shoes to running shoes (a first for me!) to tackle the 5km hike-a-bike! This was a smart idea and saved our legs as well as a lot of time and discomfort! The weather throughout the race was unbelievable: 30+ degrees and very humid; swimming in the lakes and rivers after the stages became a regular part of our cool down regime! This was my 4th Transalp and my 4th win, that's pretty special :) After celebrating with pizza, fine Italian red wine and gelato we had to begin stage 8: driving from Riva to the north of England. That was the hardest part of the race - more than 20 hours in the van! A few days later we head to USA for the Breck Epic and Leadville 100. 

Over 3 days we raced the Breck Epic where the air is thin - too thin to walk the stairs let alone race a bike - but the amazing trails make it possible to forget about burning lungs. Temporarily! Here in Breckenridge, Colorado, the trails are world class and the mountains spectacular. Starting at 3000m each day and climbing up to the continental divide at 3800m is pretty amazing! 

The trails are demanding and take no prisoners! A broken wheel on Stage 1 meant that I lost 20minutes, but the next two stages went more smoothly, even if the trails were anything but smooth! Seeing a moose and her calf made my day on Stage 2 and riding the Colorado Trail down from Guyot Mountain was the highlight of Stage 3. After 3 days and winning the overall it's now time to rest up and prepare for Leadville 100 on Saturday. There's also a 6 day race but 6 days at the Breck Epic finishing with the Leadville 100 is a challenge for another year ;)

 At 6.30am on Saturday I started my 4th Leadville 100 - a race which starts at 3000m and takes riders up to almost 4000m at the highest point - the infamous Columbine. The sheer distance, extreme altitude, fluctuating temperatures (sometimes below zero degrees at the start and reaching high 20s mid-race) and speed make it a uniquely challenging race. With perfect conditions (little wind, no rain and a dry fast course) the aim of my teammate Alban Lakata was to break 6 hours and if the men were to go this fast then it'd mean the women's race would be fast too. There was a strong field of women coming from a range of back grounds including Danish 3-time world MTB marathon champion Annika Langvad, Katerina Nash World Cup XC winner, and multiple Ironman and Xterra World Champion Julie Dibens. 

Racing at high altitude is a balancing act between going as fast as possible for the duration of the race, but not so fast that you dip too far into the red zone and pay dearly later in the race. It's a game of good pacing and knowing how your limits are affected by the thin air. At the top of the first climb I was 30 seconds ahead of my course record, but Annika was ahead of me. This was a critical point really because from here onwards its important to be in a group. For the women, this race is all about being in a group of fast men because drafting is key. Descending on the road alone I knew that I was losing time and weighing only 50kg I don't roll quite as fast as those heavier than me! Throughout the race I remained in second position, maintaining the pace that I'd planned to stick to. There are a number of long open sections and I was fortunate to not spend too much time alone. At all of the check points I was ahead of schedule but Annika was flying and I knew that unless she had over-paced her race there would be no catching her.

Arriving at the red carpet in 7 hours 7 mins and almost 10minutes faster than my course record is something I'm proud of. Annika was unbelievable, going just below 7 hours! Katerina Nash rounded the podium off in third position. So now I know it's possible for the women to break 7 hours. This is a new goal for me and one factor will definitely help: going in to this race I underestimated the benefit of aerodynamics, but at an average speed of 23-24km per hour it plays an important role. Annika optimised aerodynamics and this undoubtedly helped her break 7 hours, but no doubt her powerful engine helped to some extent too ;)

On Sunday night we went out for dinner and choosing chicken on my pizza was in hindsight a bad idea: I got really bad food poisoning and we missed our flight back to the UK. We're still in Leadville! Hope to make it home soon!

Oh and here is a funny video! Think I'll use Trigger in next years Leadville 100. What do you think? Sub 6 hours for me him and me?


Friday, 19 June 2015

Road trip

Four weeks ago we set off on a long road trip, starting off in the Mercantour National Park in the French Alps. Over 2 weeks we had great training on very quiet roads with marmot, deer and cows (and their bells) as company. The climbs were awesome preparation for the upcoming World Championships and the sunshine was great for mind and body too, especially after the cold, wet and windy weather throughout spring in the UK!

Next stop: Alpen Tour Trophy, a 4 day stage race hosted in Schladming, Austria. We set off on the 11 hour drive at 3am, travelling across Italy and up to Austria - *uff* what a journey! Having raced Alpen Tour two times before I kind of knew what lay ahead, but I'd forgotten - fortunately - how long and steep the climbs are! After hard training in France I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from the race in terms of performance; starting a hard stage race fatigued is a bit tough! As a UCI category S1 race many XCO riders were attracted by the prospect of earning points for Olympic qualification. It was set to be a competitive and exciting race.

Thanks Jan Reiner for the photo!
Over 4 days the race took riders on 4 different loops, all starting from Planai in the town centre. What the race lacked in distance - just 200km - it more than made up for with the sheer amount of steep climbing: tallying nearly 9000m. The race was set to provide great training and preparation for the World Champs in Val Gardena, Italian Dolomites on 27th July where the winner will have to stomp around 60kms and up 3400m of climbing.

Photo: Sportograf.com
The Alpen Tour couldn't have been more perfect: 3 out of 4 stage wins, the overall GC and the Queen of the Mountain Prize which saw me win a traditional "dirndl" (a Styrian dress). Now I look more authentic when I pretend to be a mountain girl - a childhood dream!

More appropriate foot wear required to complete the look ;) Thanks Regina Stanger for the photo
Now we're in Selva val Gardena putting the final pieces of the jigsaw in place for the big race in just over one week!  

Monday, 18 May 2015

British XC Race Series Round 3

Trying to squeeze XCO races in our hectic schedule isn't always easy; the last one - a Midlands XC - was just over a year ago. This year I disappointingly missed the entry deadline for Sherwood Pines and was ill at the time of Newnham, but round 3 of the British XC Race series at Fforest Fields in Builth Wells, Wales, was perfect timing for a good, hard interval session; just what was needed at this point in my training.

An exciting mix of fast women on the start list meant I'd definitely get the interval session I was looking for! Sadly, Annie Last was ill and unable to start - a real shame because I've never had the opportunity to race with her. Nevertheless, top British riders Kerry MacPhee and Alice Barnes as well as South African star Mariske Strauss amongst others were there to provide a good battle. 

As well as hard training I wanted to have some fun so I decided to use my Canyon Lux full suspension with Reverb dropper seatpost. Although it isn't as ultra light as my Grand Canyon hard tail, it would definitely be more fun on the descents. Also, being a little bit cautious about any abdomen and groin impacts after my surgery the Reverb is a good choice for me.  

Gridded on the second row meant I needed to get into the first climb in a good position; 8th wasn't bad and allowed me to move up to 4th before the first descent. Entering the second lap I was able to move to the front, closely followed by Alice and Kerry. The Lux actually turned out to be a good choice - and, in hindsight, probably better than the hard tail - being super fast as well as fun! Initially, to be totally honest, the race wasn't really about winning, the aim: good, fast training and fun on the descents; but when the gap between me and Kerry was growing I naturally embraced the opportunity for a win! 

Racing in the UK is great; seeing all the people who I know from the beginning of my MTB career, plus all of the new faces and rising stars such as Isla Short and Lucy Grant is very motivational. The support I receive is awesome and I can't thank each and everyone of you enough. Big thanks to the women who cleared the way for me out on the course, shouting their support when I came through - especially the lovely lady who told me she'd placed her bets on me for the win…that made me smile and gave me a few extra watts!

Thanks also to Ben Thomas for shivering in the tech zone while handing me bottles and donning shorts in the blustery, cold Welsh weather ;) Massive thanks to John @Vermont Images for the photos!

Friday, 15 May 2015

Don't look back, look forward: breaking the cycle of bad luck

Over the last 12 months I've had my fair share of unfortunate circumstances: last year a lingering viral infection meant I missed the Worlds and had to settle for Silver at the Euros; vascular disease; a last minute search for a partner and then a DNF at the Cape Epic because my partner got sick; and since then a couple of illnesses including norovirus which prevented me from defending my title at the National Marathon Championships. It's now one year since my run of bad luck started and it's time to put it to bed. In the big scheme of things the year hasn't been as bad as it could've been and there are many positives, but the next 12 months are going to be better :)

Last weekend we raced at the European Marathon Championships in Singen, Germany. As a climber this wasn't really the best course for me, but being punctuated with lots of power climbs it played a little more to my strengths. Together with Spitz, Dahle Flesja, Neff and Suss, I was regarded as one of the race favourites. The weather forecast predicted blustery winds on race day, so it was clear it'd be a tactical race with riders staying together to shelter from the wind.

Wanting to split the group, I frequently set the pace on the climbs, but there was a reluctance to work together meaning that any breaks were soon caught. A couple of times the leading groups was reduced to Spitz, Suss, Neff and me, but all the soft pedalling allowed the group to grow again. In the last, flat 5km to the finish we were a group of 6 or 7. A lapped amateur rider crashed in front of me and I lost the group, although I was able to regain contact I was on the back foot from there onwards. I finished in 6th position, 9 seconds behind the winner, Spitz. A frustrating results, but Im pleased with my form - especially after recent illnesses.

After a few days at home we're packing up again and going to mid-Wales for the third round of the British XC series. Time for some XC interval training - my first for over a year. Full gas, full pain :)