Tuesday, 16 June 2009

To pee or not to pee?!

On Saturday it was the second in the series of the Rocky Mountain Bike Marathons. Last month I finished in third place in the first race of the series in Italy so I was secretly hoping for another podium finish. We flew to Frankfurt on Thursday evening where the Topeak-Ergon Team Manager, Dirk Juckwer, met us and drove us to Koblenz. The next day we set off on the four hour drive in the team van to Willingen with Lars Hartwich the Team Mechanic. We arrived in the afternoon and met up with the other team riders, Alban Lakata, Kim Tofaute, and Benny Brochhagan. The festival in Willingen is one of the largest in Europe and the expo area was even bigger than the one in Italy. The atmosphere was buzzing and as well as Marathon riders there were also downhill racers, four cross rider, and dirt jumpers. Once again Dave was in his element but unfortunately for him there was no time to relax – we needed to get everything ready for the 7.30am race the next morning.

Lars, AKA Super Star DJ

Lars and Dave worked hard to get the bikes ready while Kim and I went out for a quick ride. The course was very different to the one in Italy. In Italy there were three long mountain climbs, but in Willingen the profile was much more undulating. In total the long course was 124km with 3600metres of climbing. There would be no respite. I wasn’t sure how it would suit me because I tend to prefer long climbs. Parts of the course were pretty wet and muddy but there were also lots of fire road sections, so I decided to run the Race Kings which would give me more of a speed advantage.

Alban warming up before the race

After our ride I went to see a physiotherapist to have my thigh checked over because it was still painful and swollen following my crash at the British Champs two weeks ago. Although it had improved massively I still didn’t have the full range of movement in my quad and I still had a very pronounced lump. I had a gentle massage which loosened things up and helped to get rid of some of my now familiar race nerves. I then dashed back to the hotel for dinner with the other team riders and some of the Ergon and Topeak reps who had stands in the Expo area. This gave us time to plan out the feedzones. The course consisted of three different loops all starting and finishing in the main Expo area. After each loop you could decide whether to finish or to carry on and start the next loop. Benny and Kim decided that they would do the first 55km loop, while Alban and I were going to ride the full 124km. We decided that Dave would stay in the main area and feed Alban and I, and Lars would drive to the other three feedzones out on the course.

Nervous? Never!

We tried to get an early night ready for the 5am wake up call but once we had finally finished last minute preparations it was already 11pm. I very rarely sleep well the night before a race and I have learned not to let this affect me. We woke up to bright sunshine which was a relief because the area is renowned for rain! Before I knew it I was jostling for a space on the start line. I wasn’t quite as nervous as normal which was odd, but that changed when I looked over and saw Katrin Schwing who always manages to scare me ;-) I knew that this course would suit her much better than it would me. I needed to get a better start in this race than the one in Italy because the first climb was much shorter so I wouldn’t have my usual advantage. When the gun went off I needed to stick with the main group and not let the mass start intimidate me. I felt like I managed this well and I was with 5 other girls on the first 400 metre climb. The other girls seemed strong and I tried to push on and get past them. My legs didn’t feel as powerful as normal and I started to get stomach cramps, which was very unusual. This started to concern me and I had thoughts of finishing the race after the first 55km. I tried to push them out of my mind.

The weather was great!

After the top of the first climb there was a nice steep, muddy and rooty descent which claimed a few victims. The trees were dense and I had dark lenses in my glasses which made it hard for me to pick my lines. I was slowed by a girl in front of me who was pretty tentative, but I managed to pass her and reach the bottom in one piece. I could sense that I had pulled away from some of the other girls but I knew that there were at least 3 or 4 ahead of me. Time seemed to drag and I was looking forward to reaching the first feedzone where Lars would be waiting. At last I saw Lars leap up from the crowds and shout my name. This was a relief but I knew that I was only about half way around the first lap. I really doubted if I could start the second lap.

I was riding with a small group of men and I decided not to push on but instead to keep with their pace. It wasn’t long until Kerstin Brachtendorf (Team Fiat Rotwild) caught me and I had to pick up the pace to keep on her wheel. I knew that Kerstin would be strong on the climbs because she lives in Riva del Garda, Italy, which was where the first race of the series was held. She told me that she was going to ride the 124km race and I knew that it could be a challenge to keep with her. As we entered the start/finish area I couldn’t bring myself to turn left to the finish arch even though I suspected I would have won the women’s short distance race. Instead I started the second lap, just behind Kerstin, and grabbed some more bottles and gels from Dave.

I decided to relax behind Kerstin for a while and I followed her up the next steep singletrack ascent which had some tight switchbacks. Once I saw the top of the ski lift I knew we were almost at the top. Phew, what a relief - my legs still didn’t feel 100%. I followed Kerstin down a fast fire road descent but I followed her too closely and when she missed the left hand turn we both skidded straight on past it. She told me that she had a problem with her front brake and this gave me the opportunity to pull away from her on one of the slippery singletrack descents. It was here where I also caught my first glimpse of one of the other girls ahead of me. She rode the descent well but I noticed that she was struggling on the next ascent which gave me the chance to pull away. My stomach cramps started to ease and my legs began to feel lighter and more responsive. This gave me a huge boost and I began to push on.

To my surprise I just got stronger and stronger. Yehaa! I was riding with one of the men for quite a while and this was helping me to set a good pace. I really needed to make a toilet stop which is unusual for me but I didn’t want to stop and lose contact with him. When he had a problem with his pedal and stopped I decided that I would push on hard for a while and then find somewhere for a quick loo stop. I was just about to stop when I turned a corner and saw something I honestly didn’t expect to see – Katrin. Stopping was no longer an option! I put in a burst to catch up with her and quietly stayed behind for 5 minutes to watch. The pace was slower than I wanted so I decided to pass her saying “Hallo” as I passed. I am working on my German :0) I could sense that she upped the pace and stuck to my wheel but it wasn’t long before she slipped behind. Shortly afterwards the guy who had had a problem with his pedal finally caught back up with me, he took the lead and I followed. Unfortunately I also followed him when he missed one of the course markings and we whizzed past the left turn. Luckily Katrin shouted and we quickly realised our mistake. Now Katrin had taken the lead. She descended well and it took me a while to catch her again and I had to be content to sit behind her for a while. I asked her which distance she was going to ride and she told me she was going to go out for the third and final loop. It was decision time: finish the 100km race in first place or battle with Katrin in the 124km race? As I approached the start finish area I just couldn’t take the left turn to the finish line. Instead I followed Katrin up the climb to begin the final loop. I really hoped that I had the strength to push on hard for the remaining 24km.

Katrin worked hard to lose me. She was out of the saddle and climbing well. It was important not to let her pull away and gain a lead. Yikes, I was desperate for the toilet but there was absolutely no way I could stop! I had to do it on the go :0( We both dug deep for the first quarter of the third lap until eventually I was able to pass her and pull away on one of the longer climbs. I was happy to reach the top and start what I hoped was the final descent. As I reached the final feedzone I could hear Lars shouting excitedly that I was the first lady – what a great feeling. Wow, I never thought that I would be in this position. The race wasn’t over yet and I knew that I couldn’t relax. Mistakes could still be made and I had to remain focussed. As I turned out of the feedzone the course went straight up another climb – eek! My legs felt empty. I had a Torq gel with caffeine and started drinking my coke. I felt like I was riding really slowly and I was worried Katrin might have fresher legs. Finally I reached the top and made my through a fun singletrack section which was covered in a maze of roots. I needed to concentrate hard and not make mistakes so I took it cautiously. I was spat out onto a fire road section which then took me to the arena where I began my final descent into the finish. I couldn’t believe it. I was elated and I saw Dave punch the air and shout “YES!” I had won. Well that was what I thought. Little did Katrin and I know but another elite rider, a German pro road rider and ex German Champ, had started the race in start block B, 15 minutes behind us. We had an anxious wait to see if she was going to beat my time. It just didn’t seem fair that another rider was racing against us and we didn’t know. Katrin and I had relaxed in the last 30 minutes of the race thinking that we both had second and first respectively. Finally Kim gave us the news that I had won by just 51 seconds. Blimey, I was glad I didn’t make that toilet stop ;o) Katrin wasn’t so lucky and had to settle for third. I felt very disappointed for Katrin, but ecstatic that I had won!

On the top step :0)

What a great Day! Alban had also won his race and are both now leading the series. Wahoo! The next series race is in Austria next month.

The Series Leaders!

I am now looking forward to the Trans Germany which starts on Sunday. This will be a new adventure and a new experience. Dave and I are now able to spend some time in Koblenz getting to know all of the people who work for Topeak-Ergon. I feel very honoured to be part of such an amazingly fun and professional team.

A quick pint for the road


Elite Women:

1st Sally Bigham 6:12.33

2nd Birgit Söllner 6:13.24

3rd Katrin Schwing 6:17.56

Elite Men:

1st Alban Lakata 4:50.30

2nd Urs Huber 4:52.08

3rd Tim Böhme 5:02.47

1 comment:

  1. Great report with some fantastic writing I was almost with you on some of the track

    Fat Lad