Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Cape Epic 2014

Two weeks ago Esther and I arrived at the finish line of the Cape Epic in Lourensford - a great relief for any rider after battling body and mind for 8 days across challenging terrain in the Western Cape! Simply reaching the finish was a significant improvement on last year's Cape Epic when we both, on separate teams, were unable to finish the race, but it's no secret that we both really wanted to win this year.

The rules of the Cape Epic stipulate that the riders in each team must wear identical clothing, this can cause problems for riders of professional teams. Esther and I both wanted to race together but because of contractual obligations to our individual sponsors it wasn't possible to race for our respective teams. Consequently we needed to ride as guests on another, neutral, team. We were fortunate to be able to ride as part of Team Meerendal who, in their debut year, provided fantastic logistical support starting the minute we arrived at the Meerendal Wine Estate which also just so happened to be the venue for the Prologue. In fact, the Prologue actually sent riders straight through the Meerendal hotel! 

Dave and I arrived in Cape Town two weeks before the start of the Cape Epic and together with Topeak Ergon Riders Kristian and Robert as well as team mechanic Peter Felber we stayed at the The Ridein in Stellenbosch - quite simply a hidden gem nestled between the fun trails at Jonkershoek and the town of Stellenbosch, but the big attraction with the Ridein is the coffee shop serving great food and the best coffee :) It was cool to spend time with the guys chilling, training and fine tuning our bikes - we all decided to ride our Canyon Lux 29ers with Conti 2.2 protection Race King tyres and Sram XX1 with SRM power meter. I've never ridden a 29er full suspension at the Epic before so I was curious to see how different it would be over the 8 days compared to the 26 hard tail that I rode in 2011 and 2012.

Although the race is hard, the interviews, press conferences and meetings during the days leading up to the race are also pretty tiring - in fact it's almost like the race starts days before we actually pedal off the Prologue ramp! We had to spend lots of time travelling between Stellenbosch and Cape Town and a lot of time walking around. On days like those I always wear leg compression to prevent my legs from becoming heavy and swollen, in fact you'll be hard pushed to find me not wearing Compressport stuff when I'm off the bike.  

Esther and I spent three nights together in a luxurious suite at the Meerendal Boutique Hotel before the Prologue so we had time to ride together on the fun way-marked trails in the grounds of the wine estate, as well as time to try all of the food on the menu in the restaurant - which did a great job of sourcing and making gluten free food for me ;)

For the first three nights of the race we were able to stay at a very nice hotel in Roberston situated 15 minutes drive from the race village. I say 'stay' but we actually had very little time there and no time to test the pool our veranda opened directly on to! The Epic passes in a bit of a blur because the days, starting at 4:45am are literally non-stop until bedtime which is always later than desired! A good routine is key: breakfast (oats, chopped apple and banana, strawberries, blueberries, nuts, seeds and raisins), pack start/finish bag (inclement weather made this a bit tricky so everyday we'd procrastinated over what to wear!), drive to the start, warm up, race for hours, clean up and change for flower ceremony, go to interviews, go to anti-doping (which can take at least an hour), shower, eat, get massage, drive to the hotel, prepare things for next day (bottles, clothes etc.), drive to the race village, eat, go to the evening podium, drive back to the hotel, and then finally sleep BUT only if you don't have to go back to anti-doping for more tests!

Once we left Robertson Esther and I moved in to a Meerendal trailer in the race village at Greyton. Not travelling to a hotel meant that we gained an extra hour or so each day which was bliss. It also meant that we were much closer to Maureen Muller - chef extraordinaire - who was cooking for Topeak Ergon. I could now have two lunches as well as second servings ;) One of the important things during a stage race is eating (it's always important to me but it's even more important when racing intensively over consecutive days) and as the days go on it can become more and more difficult to find palatable foods, however with Maureen around this was never a problem! From grilled Osterich fillets which were sublime to sweet potato salads to gluten free raspberry and chocolate pancakes, I was quite literally in culinary bliss each and every day!

Team Meerendal Camp. Photos from Martin Bissig. 
The trailer was really comfortable and I slept well, in fact as my routine and organisation got better I was able to get to sleep at 8:30pm. The only thing I don't like is fumbling around in the dark and wandering to the loos - something I seem to do a few times per night!

Nutrition on the bike is just as important as it is off the bike. I always use the same nutritional products - experimenting with new things especially during a stage race is not a good idea! - and the same nutritional plan (at least 1g of carbohydrates from energy drink, gels and bars per kg of body weight per hour). TORQ products work well for me and to be honest I wouldn't use anything else, they don't contain artificial sweeteners or preservatives and they're flavoured naturally. One more thing that I'm a big advocate of are Elete electrolytes, even in milder conditions I add Elete to the water I drink throughout the day especially in the morning and again after racing - replacing electrolytes lost while sleeping and racing ensures optimal performance and recovery.      

Esther and I were both looked after by Aletta Coertze who was amazing, despite never having been a team manager before. She had to hit the ground running and learn on the go but she did such a great job and her attention to detail and enthusiasm made things for Esther and me much, much easier. Amazingly, Aletta's husband was also racing for Team Meerendal. Aletta and Herman, owners of Meerendal Wine Estate, both became interested in mountain biking after watching the 2012 Prologue on their estate. Now Herman has completed two Cape Epics! A big achievement for anyone but an amazing achievement for someone who only started mountain biking less than 2 years ago!

With rain and mud on Stage 2 came our first problem: Esther got so much mud in her eyes that she couldn't see properly and we lost a lot of time towards the end of the stage. Later that day she had to go to hospital to treat a cornea abrasion. For a short while I was worried that we were out of the race but fortunately the treatment worked and we could continue. After a good day on Stage 3 we still had the leader jerseys and we were feeling positive about the stages to come, but some more bad luck struck early on Stage 4 when Esther's shock lost all the air making her sitting position similar to that of a recumbent bicycle. We lost a lot of time and our lead.

As the stages went on I was amazed at how different my body felt compared to previous Cape Epics: I was far less physically fatigued and I can only put it down to the comfort of a full suspension 29er. With far fewer aches and pains I was feeling fresher and stronger, and I was able to enjoy the trails in the latter half of the race just as much as those at the beginning. As the race went on I relaxed more and more too, I felt really strong and this meant that I could support Esther as much as possible. For the following stages we remained in 2nd position and after more than 35 hours of racing we crossed the finish in Lourensford taking 2nd in the Sasol Women's category and the 29th team overall. Ariane and Annika were super strong and were deserving winners. Big congrats to Topeak Ergon teammates Kristian and Robert on winning the men's race, I'm so proud of them!

Photos from Martin Bissig
After the Cape Epic we had just three days in England before heading to Germany for our annual Topeak Ergon team photo-shoot. All the travelling and fatigue took its toll and I got a flu type virus, which I have only just recovered from. Now we're back in England for a couple of weeks and it's so nice to finally unpack for more than a few days!  Hoorah!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Winter training and preparation for the 2014 season

It's fair to say that I'm behind schedule ;) and I've been a little bit slack in updating this blog. It's time to update it so before I tell you about one of the biggest races of the year - the Cape Epic - which I've just finished, here is an update on winter training and preparation. Follow this link.

More to come soon. I promise! But for now, here is one of my favourite photos from the Cape Epic....

Photo: Martin Bissig

Sunday, 16 February 2014

What Mountain Bike magazine feature

It's fair to say that I've neglected this blog over the last few months but, in my own defence, I've been training hard and relaxing even harder ;) As a result of my coffee and cake eating downtime I failed to tell you that Fi Spotswood wrote an eight page feature about me in the January issue of What Mountain Bike magazine.

If you missed it then it's still possible to order a back copy from here for £5.50...sorry for the late notice ;)

Saturday, 15 February 2014

No more niggling knee!

At the beginning of December we went to Free Motion Bike Center in Gran Canaria for Solestar footbeds and bike fitting with Tobi Blum. Over the years things just haven't been right with my biomechanics - my right knee in particular has always been a bit dodgy and has all too frequently forced me off the bike. We'd heard good things about Solestar so I was keen to give them a go.

After several thousand kilometres and more than 100,000 metes of climbing it's fair to say that I've given the footbeds a good test and the verdict is very positive - in fact I've returned for a second pair already. The footbeds control my over-pronation and ensure my knees track correctly and they're really stiff for optimal power transfer. The stiffness took me a little while to get used to and for the first few rides my feet went a bit numb, but now I'm really happy with them and to be perfectly honest I wouldn't want to ride without them in my shoes.    

Monday, 25 November 2013

Post race season rest and recovery

After Roc D’Azur, the last race of the 2013 season, I was tired. Fatigue, both mental and physical, started to appear after Leadville 100 in August but a short rest period allowed me to train and get in good shape again for the final few races in October. A long holiday after Roc D’Azur was my target, providing the motivation needed to get me through the last hard training sessions.

Adopting holiday mode immediately after crossing the finish line at Roc came naturally to me: I wanted (and needed) to rest, relax my diet ;) and do things not involving bikes! We pretty much drove directly from France to Gatwick airport where we flew to a place that we know well and where we have many friends, Barbados. Flying with an underweight hold bag and a small piece of hand luggage was a nice novelty. Quickly my body relaxed and in doing so I got a sore throat and aches, fortunately the sunshine, sand and sea (and rum) helped me to shake it off in only a couple of days.

Some people like to do nothing on holiday; sunbathing on the beach or chilling by the pool fills their days easily. After such a hectic and tiring race season many people mistakenly put me in that box. Wrong. I get itchy feet very quickly. I need to be doing something most of the time. Travelling far away from my bikes is important; otherwise I’d be tempted to ride. Without that temptation other sports gained my attention. Days were filled with windsurfing (a sport I loved before biking hence my old nickname ‘Surfa Sal’), surfing, stand up paddle boarding, TRX, Yoga and Pilates, and being walked by our friend’s 4 big boisterous dogs which took up to 2 hours! Barbados is great for people who like eating, so it’s great for me! The fish is amazing especially barracuda and dorado. The rum is also pretty good ;)

Five kgs heavier we arrived home in England and in a 3-day turnaround we moved house, unpacked and repacked for winter training. In a blur we found ourselves in Gran Canaria, a place that I absolutely adore for winter training. Picking up the bike after one month off needs to be approached with a little self-restraint – something that doesn’t come naturally to me and my ‘all or nothing’ attitude. Had we of headed straight to my familiar training routes in the south of the island I think I would’ve easily overdone it and/or become despondent with my speed over known ‘timed sections’.  One week exploring the north of the island from our base Villa Del Monte  - a rural bike hotel in Santa Brigida - provided the perfect place to start gradually building the hours on the bike. Our great host (and cook) Petra Wonisch provided all of the local knowledge we needed to maximize our time, she even hosted Ruta del Vino an MTB (or trail running) race with a relaxed approach, celebrating the local singletrails around the bodegas, the produce of which I can happily report to be some of the nicest red wine I’ve ever drank.

Excess baggage ;)
Ruta del Vino
Santa Brigida
Back in the south of the island we’re settled in to a remote rural apartment where our neighbours are horses, cats (including two mischievous kittens, one of which is currently stood on my laptop as I’m trying to type) and chickens. It’s an idyllic base to prepare and recover from hard training and we’re settling in to the routine of sleep, eat, train, eat, relax with coffee and cake, repeat.

A good day biking :)
It always seems odd to take a break from the bike at the end of the season; losing all of that hard earned fitness, strength and power. This year I was in particularly good shape when I stored the bike for a month, which made it seem even more ‘wasteful’. When it was time to dust it off I was desperate to get back on but when I did it was hard, really hard, especially the first week. Having such good shape before the break was a good thing; the level of my returning fitness was good, better than if I’d taken a month off at a time when I wasn’t in such good shape. Some people wait for enforced rest due to injury or illness, but a scheduled break provides an opportunity for more quality rest and recovery, and in doing so, hopefully, limits those times when your body simply breaks down making you stop.   

If you haven’t already, take a break, rest and recover (and enjoy it!) then start training for 2014.
Sal J 

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Three weekends, three races, three wins :)

Malaysia or Ireland? Most people think it's a no-brainer, but for us it was a difficult decision. In the end we chose to race in Ireland rather than Malaysia. Something underlying this decision was the chance to recce the course for the European Marathon Championships which will be held in the Ballyhoura Mountains in Ireland next summer. It was my first time in Ireland and I was pleasantly surprised and feeling pretty smug to have chosen the wild card ;) The weather was good, the trails were fun, the food was great and we stayed in a really beautiful place.

Peaceful accommodation close to the trails
The race was the Irish National Marathon championships and under normal circumstances I wouldn't want to compete in somebody else's Nationals (I'm British and the current British Marathon Champion). Jenny Fay won the Irish title and now has the privilege of pulling on the National jersey for a year. Congrats Jenny! Biking.ie did a great job designing a course challenging all the skills a good MTB race should over a mixture of terrain. Now I'm looking forward to the Euros next year in Ireland :)

Thanks Max Power for the photo :)

With Jenny Fay and Ciara McManus
We took the overnight ferry from Ireland to France, the crossing wasn't too rough, though we were rolling around in our beds during the early hours, but fortunately no sea sickness ;) Just like last year my last two races of the season were UCI World Series races Xtreme sur Loue, Ornans and Roc D'Azur, Frejus. 

When we arrived in Ornans the weather was great and the trails were fast and dry. It didn't stay like that. Two days before the race the rain arrived and stayed. Same race, different year, same muddy conditions as last year! Last year the course got the better of my equipment and me. This year I made different decisions: Canyon Grand Canyon CF SLX 29er, Conti Race Kings Race Sport (rather than X Kings) with really low pressure front (16psi) and rear (17psi) and Sram XX1. My legs felt amazing, my bike was awesome, the XX1 worked perfectly - front shifting in that mud would've been a nightmare! - and I had stacks of grip on the slippery rocks (less so in the mud, but hey, you've got to compromise!). 

With Esther Suss and Milena Landtwing

And now the season finale! Just like the last 4 years, Topeak Ergon Racing Team ends the season in the South of France at the Roc D'Azur bike festival. One thing that was different this year was my new bike: Canyon Lux CF 29er :) It's taken a long time for Canyon to develop a size small 29er full suspension for me, but it was well worth the wait!

Mean machine: 29er full suspension :)

First race, first win for my new bike! This was the perfect race for it. I'll write more soon about the bike but for now my overall opinion: awesome. Taking my 4th consecutive win at the Roc D'Azur was cool, but doing it on this bike was a totally new experience :)

Now it's time to swap the bike for a bikini and the energy drink for a pina colada :D

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Winter training in the sun :)

If you fancy some sunny training miles and even a 4 day race in the depths of winter then check out the week long training camp and stage race at Club La Santa in Lanzarote (follow the link below for a deal on accommodation and the race). Club La Santa is a cool place for sporty people (so many free sports throughout the day) and also those who just want to chill by the pool, it's also great for children.


Hope to see you there!
Sal :)