Friday, 16 May 2014

The day before the National Marathon Champs

Follow this link to read a little bit about what I do the day before a race….

Monday, 12 May 2014

Fifth National Marathon Championship Win

Last year the National Marathon Championships were on dry, dusty trails in hot, sunny Selkirk, Scotland. This year it was the same place, but different conditions! In some ways that was nice because it made it a new experience and more technically challenging. The trails were pretty slick and slippery and the Continental Race Kings were certainly pushed to - and at times beyond - their limit ;) On reflection perhaps the X King would have been a wiser choice! 

Thanks to zupix for the photos

Neutralised start through Selkirk High Street

Do not be deceived! This was the beginning of the race and before the mud!!

Steep, slippery singletrack descents, natural trails, man-made berms, rocks and roots, open moorland - the single loop 75km course has pretty much everything and challenges a range of skills making it a worthy course for the best of the British to battle it out for the National Title.

There are a few races rolled in to one, so while the elite race for the titles others can compete on the same course or on a shorter course (25km or 50km). We stayed in a lovely eco house - the Green House -in a village outside of Selkirk. A couple of friends and my nephew raced the 25km course, while Dave and my parents provided feed zone and technical support. My father pulled the short straw and had to cycle to the feed zone at the top of the last climb in the rain, but fortunately he could enjoy the final descent after I'd passed through! It was really nice for us to spend time with our friends and family at a race :) 

The National Championships is an important race, the National stripes identify riders as the best from their nation so I'm really happy to be wearing the jersey once again this year. Winning my fifth title is also pretty cool :) 

Yesterday we left Selkirk and headed north to the Cairngorms. Endless forests, mountains, rivers, lochs and quiet roads - I'm excited to explore this beautiful place over the next few days :) 

Pretty cool place to relax :) 

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Riva del Garda

Last Saturday began with a 5am breakfast ahead of a 7.30am race start: oats soaked in apple juice mixed with raisins, linseeds, chopped apple, banana and walnuts, and of course a strong coffee! In fact, breakfast always starts with strong coffee, which seems to be the first thing I think about when the alarm goes off!

Peace and quiet and stunning views :)

This was to be my first time racing on the new track at Riva so I spent some time riding the course - in the rain - during the week. It's tough and more challenging than the old course. The climbs are long and  often ramp up very steeply before the summit - just to make your legs scream a bit louder! - and some of the descents are rooty, rocky and slippery, especially when wet and muddy - and very wet and very muddy it was! The last descent on the Extrema course (the longest of the 4 courses to choose from) is the most technical with a muddy, slippery, steep switchback section followed by a long, gnarly old cart track which is even more tricky after 4-5 hours of racing! Fast and very fun on a long travel bike; slightly painful on an XC race bike  - my arms still ache now ;)

Team Mechanic Peter Felber working hard with the bikes!

Despite the technical trails I choose my Canyon Grand Canyon CF SLX - with 3800 metres of vertical ascent over 94km I wanted to use my light weight climbing machine! - using Continental Race King 2.2 Race Sport tyres, which give excellent grip on roots and rocks. Bearing in mind the steep ramps, I opted for a 30t front chain ring with Sram XX1 to help me keep a high cadence and try to save my legs!

The majority of the race went well, at the half way point - the highest point on the course - I was riding in a good position amongst the men. But I had a couple of problems from here onwards and some stops at the last 2 tech zones along with a puncture - at the very bottom of the old gnarly cart track - cost me more than 10 minutes. Naturally I was frustrated to lose time against the men I was racing, but fortunately I maintained my lead in the women's race :)

If you want a challenge that includes tough climbs and some technical trails then Riva is definitely worth entering. The ice cream and coffee are great, the scenery is stunning, and the biking atmosphere is awesome - it's crazy how many people and bikes descend on the area. Really, it's hard to believe until you see it. If you love bikes - riding as well as wandering around the expo looking at and talking about bikes - then you'll love the Riva Bike festival.

On Monday we had a day video shooting with Limar Helmets and on Tuesday I had a really nice training ride in Riva before flying back to London. Yesterday we drove from London to Scotland where we're now preparing for the National Marathon Championships on Saturday. It's wet here and I'm almost certain that it's going to be a tough, cold, muddy race! Very different from last year's dry dusty trails and 23 degrees centigrade!  

Solitude in Scotland :)

There'll be live tracking on Saturday, so follow me here starting at 10am (11am CET).

Friday, 2 May 2014

Training and racing in England :)

Over the last 3 weeks I've been training in the Peak District which is where my family - and cat - live. There are some some great road rides in the English countryside and the MTB is pretty good too, especially some of the trail centres including Cannock Chase and Coed Llandegla. The road riding is peaceful: quiet country lanes, tough climbs and quaint hamlets and villages especially around Goyt Valley. I really like it :)

Peace and quiet in the Peak District :)

Post ride re-fuel after fast laps at Llandegla 
Last weekend I raced a muddy course at the Midlands XCO and drove directly to Gatwick afterwards. Now we're in Italy at Bike Festival Riva del Garda. Tomorrow is the marathon (94km/3800m of climbing), it's going to be tough in the mud after all of the rain we've had this week, but the post race ice cream will taste great :) We're staying at a really cool bike hotel in Torbole and the restaurant has gluten free pasta cooked al dente - very unusual to find somewhere that doesn't over cook GF pasta!    

Muddy Midlands XC 
Beautiful Riva :)
On Tuesday we will leave Italy and travel to Scotland where I'll race the National Marathon Championships at Selkirk next weekend. Fingers crossed for sunshine and dry trails up there ;) 

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 ;)