Monday, 20 December 2010

Compression Clothing


I've been trying out some new compression clothing: calf, quad and full leg products from compressport. I've been using compression socks before competitions, after training and racing, and while travelling (air and road) for almost two years but this is the first time that I've used the 'footless' sleeves and I really like them. There are obvious advantages, such as being able to wear flip-flops (socks and flip-flops are a BIG no-no!) and repeated wear before washing (i.e. no smelly feet!). I also really like quad compression because it's my quads that get particularly sore after training and racing.

They're also doing a great job of keeping me warm during the Great British Freeze! We had heaps of snow yesterday and last night (well, at least by Dorset standards) and consequently I've been spending more time than normal on my rollers. It has just started raining and the snow is melting :-( Oddly I feel quite sad and I'd quite like it to stay until Christmas!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The simple pleasures

Last week I was feeling a little glum! Following a recent knee injury I've gradually been building up time on the rollers and I was ready to try a ride outside. I managed a couple of hours on the road last Friday and I was buzzing! I absolutely loved it. It made me realise how it really can be the simple things in life that are the most pleasurable. The next day I tried another road ride but alas I had to turn back after 15 minutes. Damn. I tried to stay positive over the weekend but I occasionally failed and had a few moments of despair!

On Monday I tried the rollers again and my knee felt fine. I had a brilliant 3 hour road ride yesterday; I really cannot explain how much I enjoyed it even though it was cold and grey! I wasn't sure whether to push my luck and try another ride today, but the thought of a swim wasn't quite as appealing! So I decided to give a ride a go and to turn back if things went pear-shaped. Fortunately they didn't and I've just got home from a successful 2 hour ride and I'm beaming from ear to ear :-D


Without wanting to tempt fate, it appears that my 2011 training might be about to start :-D  Fingers crossed!!!!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Staying positive. Just!

After a ride a couple of weeks ago my (normally) good left knee started to hurt. I put it down to the cold weather and/or some new eccentric knee exercises prescribed by a physiotherapist for my right knee. It wasn't so bad that I couldn't ride so I carried on riding for another week; however it got to the point where even walking was painful. As I'm writing this I realise how stupid this sounds and that I should have just stopped training as soon as the niggle started, but stopping isn't a quality that comes naturally to me. Perhaps this is a common trait shared by other athletes!?

Following advice from a knee specialist (who I seem to be consulting rather a lot this year!) I've been icing it, taking anti-inflammatory tablets and, remarkably, resting!

Since Monday I've been gradually building up time on the rollers and yesterday I managed 2 x 1 hour sessions. I've also started to become a regular at the local swimming pool!

Today is a perfect day for riding. The sun is shining and it's actually above freezing for the first time in over a week. I want to try a ride outside for the first time in 9 days, but I've got my sensible head on for a change and I'm fighting the urge. My rollers also remain untouched ;-)

A valuable lesson that I've been learning the hard way is simply knowing when to stop. Time off now is frustrating but it's still early and hopefully I'll be back into full training soon.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Whoooops, spoke too soon!

Last weekend I left The Peak District and headed off to South Wales to have some off-road fun with XC racer rider Mel Alexander. This, I thought, was a strategic move given that the weather forecast predicted snow in The Peaks and sun in South Wales. Hahaha, I chuckled to myself  :-D

The weatherman made a small boo boo!!!! Within an hour into our ride last Friday we found ourselves skiing rather than riding the trails as there was a massive dump of snow!!! Huge fluffy flakes of snow fell quickly :-) It was really good fun and the forest turned into a wintry wonderland. Lovely. The next day we kitted up and got back out onto the snowy trails. After a few hours and lots of drifting, giggling, a couple of crashes and suspected broken ribs, everyone gradually started to have a sense of humor failure!
Bobsleigh anyone?

The next day we woke up to discover that the temperature had dropped to -18 degrees! I decided not to return to The Peaks but instead to head back home to sunny Poole on the south coast of England where snow is scarcely seen. Although I wouldn't be donning my bikini at least I'd be able to ride. Another strategic move, or so I thought! Once I'd finally prised open my car door which had frozen solid I waved goodbye to Wales and took to the motorway. It wasn't long before I'd left the snow behind and I started to get amazed looks from other drivers wondering where I'd come from. The 3 inches of snow covering my car was causing rather a lot of rubber necking ;-) I could still see snow and ice bouncing down the motorway in my rear view mirror as I approached Poole!!!

On Monday I woke to sunny skies, 0 degrees and dry roads. Perfect. I headed out for a great two hour road ride. Lovely. The next day it was grey and raining. Waterproofs on and out of the door. A couple of hours in and the snow started to fall but the roads stayed clear and I was able to ride for 4.5 hours. Meanwhile the snow caused chaos across almost everywhere else in the UK.

Yesterday was a recovery day, AKA feet up and tea and cake day ;-) This morning I pulled back the curtains to discover, erm, a massive dump of snow!!!!! Arghhhh!!!! The whole country seems to be hiding under a huge blanket of the stuff. Even the airports are closed!!!!!! Noooooooo!!!!

Snow covered sand on the beach in Poole

So, I'm stranded in Poole while my turbo trainer is buried under 12 inches of snow 250 miles away in The Peak District. Bah Humbug!

Beach huts: home to sleighs not buckets and spades ;-)
I dug out my swimsuit and headed to the swimming pool. I've not been swimming for years and at first I must of looked really funny floundering around as I attempted to front crawl. A few lengths in and I swallowed a mouthful of water at the halfway point and had to resort to breast stroke until I caught my breath again. Eventually I got the hang of it again and before I knew it I'd knocked out 100 lengths of the pool. I didn't want to stop!

More snow is forecast tonight....... I never thought I'd be longing to see my turbo trainer!!!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Snow, ice and freezing feet. Brrrrrr!!!

I've finally wrapped things up at work and for the next 12 months I'll be living life as a full time mountain bike rider. Gulp!

Since my last race (Roc D'Azur) at the beginning of October, I had about two weeks off the bike and for the last 3 weeks I've been riding off road with friends and generally just playing around on my bike. Tea rooms have been a frequent feature of my social rides :-) The only road miles I've been putting in have been in the car while driving to lots of different places to ride. I've spent time in Wales (Cwmcarn, Llandegla, Machen Mountain), Forest of Dean, Cannock Chase, Dalby, and Eastridge. I've also spent an afternoon playing at the pump track at Lee Quarry, which was fun, fun, fun :-))) I found myself saying "one last time" until it got dark! It's very addictive ;-)

I'm temporarily based in The Peak District which is home to some well known trails including Jacob's Ladder, the Beast, and Cut Gate path, as well as some lesser known trails around Goyt Valley and Macclesfield Forest. The Peaks will provide the perfect playground for me for the next 6 weeks, providing the snow stays away!

This week marked my return to structured training (overseen by Matt Hart at Torq), which seems to have coincided perfectly with the cold snap. Yesterday the temperature barely got above freezing and despite wearing two pairs of socks and neoprene overshoes my feet froze. I spent an hour walking around like a penguin waiting for them to defrost before I could venture into the shower, and even then I still got chilblains.

Over the next few months I'll be spending a lot of time riding my MTB on the road (complete with knobbly tyres) in order to build up my endurance base. This will involve lots of easy to moderate pace 3-6 hour rides. I choose to ride my MTB on the road rather than a road bike because: 1. I am training in the position that I race in, 2. it makes it harder, 3. I don't go as far so I don't have to figure out even longer routes to ride, and 4. it means that Dave can ride his road bike and sometimes keep up ;-)

In addition to road riding, I'll also be spending time working on MTB skills, something that I want to focus on over the next year. This will be divided into low intensity sessions where I'll work on core skills e.g. manuals, pumping, bunny hops (flat pedals), and cornering etc. and higher intensity sessions where I'll put the core skills into practice (e.g. working on technical climbs).

As well as endurance and skills sessions on the bike, I'll also be spending time working on flexibility and core strength. Finally, and most importantly, I'll be able to spend time recovering, which is something that I’ve previously been unable to find time to do. So although I won't be going to the office for the next year, I certainly won't have time that needs filling!

At the moment my recovery time is spent in front of the computer (something I thought I'd largely escaped for the year!). It seems to take forever to plan training holidays, races, travel and accommodation. It's all exciting stuff though so I'm not complaining. One trip that I am particularly excited about is a race and training camp at Club La Santa in Lanzarote. I'll be racing in the two stage off-road MTB race on 29th and 30th January and I'll also be helping out with their Cape Epic training week (28th until 3rd February).
Ok, so now it’s back to planning flights!

Have fun,
Sal   

Sunday, 24 October 2010

2010 Season Summary

The 2010 season has been a long one, beginning in March with the Cape Epic, South Africa, and finishing in October at the Roc D’Azur, France. The season didn’t quite go to plan and knee pain at the end of February meant that I had a shaky start. Although I managed to complete the Cape Epic with a third place finish together with team mate Nico Pfitzenmaier, I had to take the majority of April and May off the bike. This was really worrying and at the time I didn’t know if I would be able to race again in 2010.

Fortunately, I had excellent advice and help from a doctor who specialises in cycling related knee injuries. I followed his advice to the letter and after a few training rides at the end of May I decided to start the Trans Germany 4 day stage race. This marked my return to racing and at the beginning of August I finally started to feel strong again. This was a little too late for the European XCM Champs in July where I finished 7th, but it was perfect timing for the World XCM Champs in August. Some mechanical problems at the Worlds cost me time meaning that my 8th position didn’t reflect the finish that I feel I was capable of. However, I felt really encouraged by the strength that I had and it has helped me to start to believe in myself.

August through to October brought some great results: my third consecutive National XCM title; victory at the UCI Cat 1 Ischgl Ironbike in Austria; and a win at the Roc D’Azur marathon. During this time I also had a go at a couple of XCO races: First the Southern XC which I won and then the final round of the British XC Series which was a UCI Cat 1 event. To everyone’s surprise, including my own, I finished 3rd and 75 seconds behind the winner Gunn-Rita. Although I still passionately love marathon races, I can now understand the attraction of XCO racing and I will definitely take on the challenge of a few more next year……perhaps even a World Cup or two ;-)

For now however I am taking a few weeks off the bike. My knee still isn’t 100% and I want to use the next month or so to try and resolve the problem. This is a strange time of year for me. Towards the end of the season I look forward to time out of training, but once it arrives I struggle to stay away from my bike. Weird! Normally I would occupy myself by running, but given my knee this isn’t possible ☹ The swimming pool is calling……

I’m excited about next year, not least because I have taken a sabbatical from my lectureship at Bournemouth University where I research and lecture about Autism (a neuro-developmental disorder). My aim over the next year is to spend time working on MTB technical skills, something that has largely been sidelined until now due to time constraints. This is one aspect of my riding that needs improving and gains made here should, I hope, lead to better race results in the long term. It was a scary decision to take a year out of my academic career and I still wonder if it is the right one, but even if it isn’t then I believe that it is better to have tried than not to have tried at all.

As always I would like to thank everyone who has helped and supported me. My team Topeak-Ergon Racing Team are, in my opinion, simply the best team ever! A huge thanks goes to all of our sponsors for providing us with the best equipment for the job ☺ My boyfriend Dave never falters in the support that he gives and he’s also becoming a pretty handy mechanic thanks to excellent tuition from Jon and Andy at RideBike. Coach Matt Hart (Torq) knows exactly what I need to do to get strong and stop me from going off the rails! I would also like to thank James Towlson who played a monumental role in instigating my step up into International MTB’ing.

Bye for now,
Sally ☺

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Interview with marathonMTB.com

I had an interview with Richard Tyler from marathonMTB.com, which is a great new website dedicated to MTB marathon, click here to check it out.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Roc D'Azur, Frejus, France

The Roc D'Azur marks the end of the race season for many teams, including Topeak Ergon Racing Team. It's an awesome event that attracts thousands of riders. It's also usually blessed with great weather, which in October is hugely appreciated before the winter sets in ☺

Lars (Team Mechanic) taking care of the bikes while I take care of my legs :-)

We packed up the van and drove to Frejus in the South of France where we met up with the rest of the guys from the team. This year we all stayed in an amazing apartment complete with swimming pool. Late at night and after a long drive from Austria, Alban was the first to test it out. He'd clearly been eating too many pies in anticipation of the off-season because he managed to break the driving board! No diving action for the rest of the team. Uhmm.

Breakfast time at the Team apartment

There are many events to choose from, including the 83km marathon on the Friday and a women's elite XC race the following day. I decided to race the marathon and skip the XC in favour of sun bathing and ice cream. Whoops ;-)

Typically, marathons often start early and the Roc is no exception. At 5am I tucked into my (uncooked) oats while Alban informed me that oats are not the best pre-race meal. Now under normal circumstances this would make me nervous, but today I was as cool as ice. I had no expectations for the race and my only agenda was to have lots of fun. The riding in the area is awesome and the marathon course is filled with technical climbs and thrilling descents.

Early warm up with the mosquitoes before the marathon

Not long into the start I found myself riding with Gunn Rita up the first climb. Not too far ahead was Yvonne Kraft who had a great start and was off like a rocket. After the first feed zone I was in 2nd place and already 1 minute 20 behind Yvonne. I decided to chase her down and see if I could close the gap. This worked and as I past through the second feedzone Dirk (Team Manager) told me that I was 15 seconds behind Yvonne. This is pretty much how it stayed for the next few hours. Yvonne would pull out a small lead on the descents and I would close it on the climbs. I knew that if I could reach the final feedzone at 79km not too far behind Yvonne then I would have a good chance of pulling out a small lead on the flat bike path to the finish area.


The last 4 km of the course is always a challenge. It takes the riders across the beach, up steps, around a narrow coastal path, across a floating bridge, and then along a flat cycle path to the finish area, which includes some woodland trails and a bumpy field to the finish line.


As I grabbed my coke with 4km to go, Dirk told me that I had 15 seconds to Yvonnne. I recalled a conversation with Alban the day before when he told me that coke at the last feedzone in this race can give you a real boost, particularly if you are chasing or sprinting to the finish. Hmmmm, what a coincidence, just the position I had found myself in! With Dirk and Bjorn (AKA 'Twitty') yelling "FULL GAS!!!!!" and “GO SURFA!!!!!” I gulped my coke and the chase commenced!

The wind was blowing at least a force 5 and I could see Yvonne tuck in behind a guy in front. I found myself in a chasing group but only one of the guys would work at the front. As he tired I went to the front to try to close the gap to Yvonne. It worked and we were soon one group. I now had to keep close to Yvonne through the twisty woodland trails. I exited the trails and entered the field to the finish line just behind her. Now was my chance. I sprinted past her and didn't look back. Race won. Job done :-) Party time!!!!!!


Alban finished 6th, but he well and truly cleaned up in the men's elite XC on the Sunday when he out sprinted Burry Stander and Florian Vogel to take the victory. Wahoooo :-)

With the last race of the season successfully completed it was time for Topeak Ergon Racing Team to celebrate. Foods normally excluded from elite athletes diets were consumed plentifully :))))

Full results can be found here

1 Sally Bigham 4:23:08
2 Ivonne Kraft 0:00:32
3 Coralie Redelsperger 0:18:36

Sunday, 26 September 2010

British Mountain Bike XC Race Series, Round 5, Newnham Park, Plymouth, UK

After the British Marathon Championships a couple of weeks ago I wasn't sure whether or not to stop racing for the season. I was tired and didn't want to train. I took 4 or 5 days off the bike and then went out to try an interval session. I felt terrible and decided to head back home. I tried again a couple of days later and to my surprise I felt so much better and had a great session. I've completely reduced the amount of training I'm doing now and I'm just keeping things ticking over with a couple of interval sessions a week.

Without naming people I've had quite a lot of 'friendly' encouragement to give XC racing a go. It's never really appealed to me because the idea of racing on a short track 5 or 6 times for 1.5 to 2 hours isn't the reason why I started mountain biking. For me, riding has always been about spending at least 4-5 hours in the saddle, covering long distances, climbing big mountains and seeing amazing scenery. However, I finally ran out of excuses and Round 5 of the British Mountain Bike series didn't clash with any other races, in fact it fitted in perfectly with my training schedule and the venue was only a couple of hours drive away. I decided to do it for fun and see how I got on. We loaded up the van and headed off to sunny Devon.

As per usual and quite on cue Sally the MTB numpty emerged from within me while practicing the race course on Friday evening. I approached a section marked with three downward pointing arrows and rather than stopping and having a quick look I just rode straight into the drop. As my front wheel went over the lip I noticed that there was a good line and a bad line, and unfortunately I was right on course for the bad line. Splat. I picked my self up and brushed off the mud and blood. A few other riders came along and rode it without any trouble at all. I walked back up and rode it again only to lose the front wheel. Splat. I hurt my knee this time so I decided that I'd probably be best calling it a day before I did anything else stupid!

There was a great line up including Gunn Rita (Nor), Rosara Joseph (NZ), Amanda Sin (Can), Emmy Thelberg (Swe), Maaris Meier (Est), and a number of other good Irish and British riders. Luckily I had race number 13 :-) I had no expectations at all and I had no idea how I would get on. I've raced against Gunn Rita, Emmy and Maaris in a number of Marathons but never in an XC race. My aim was simply to give XC a go and see if I enjoyed it.

The start sent the riders through a deep river crossing and straight up a steep climb. It wasn't as fast as I had imagined and I was able to exit the river crossing and reach the top of the climb in the front bunch of 4 or 5 riders. The course then sent us down 'pipeline', which is a long, steep loose descent. It claimed a couple of victims but fortunately I wasn't one of them. I soon found myself in 3rd place with Emmy just behind. This is the way it stayed for the remainder of the first lap.

On the start of the second lap I was able to pull away from Emmy and stay at a comfortable pace with Gunn Rita and Rosara within sight ahead. I had no pressure from behind so I was able to get into a good rhythm and have fun. I enjoyed the course, particularly the short steep climbs and 'cottage return', which is a fun piece of single track. The second deep river crossing towards the end of the lap caused me some trouble and it took a few laps (and a few dips) before I found the right line :-)

I couldn't quite believe it when I started the final lap, it was over all too quickly! For a moment I thought that perhaps I had miscounted. When I passed through the start/finish I was told that I'd made up 30 seconds on the leaders and I was now only 20 seconds back. I could see them at the top of the climb ahead as they turned into a single track descent. I made a few small blunders and that was the last I saw of them. I crossed the line just over a minute back. Gunn Rita and Rosara had attacked in the final kms and Gunn Rita took the win 9 seconds ahead of Rosara.


Martyn Salt put on another great event, which was well attended. There were lots of spectators out on course and it was really nice to hear so many people shout words of encouragement. Thanks, it really does make a difference.

Although it was a short race and there wasn't a mountain in sight, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to some more XC action next season.

Elite women

1 Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Nor) 1:45:14
2 Rosara Joseph (NZl) 0:00:09
3 Sally Bigham (GBr) 0:01:15
4 Amanda Sin (Can) 0:05:59
5 Melanie Spath (Ger) 0:06:37
6 Lily Matthews (GBr) 0:08:23
7 Maaris Meier (Est) 0:09:58
8 Emmy Thelberg (Swe) 0:11:34
9 Melanie Alexander (GBr) 0:12:01
10 Elliot Caitlin (Irl) 0:13:24

Full results can be found here

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

British National Marathon Championships: Successful defence :)

The British National Marathon Champs were held last Sunday at Pippingford Estate, South of England. This venue also hosted the National XC Champs in July. In the UK it's extremely difficult to host a one lap marathon because stringent by-laws make it difficult to hold competitive races on public roads and bridleways. It's typical therefore to see multiple lap events. This year the marathon route used a 25km loop, which incorporated the excellent 10km XC course plus a new 15km loop that stretched out onto the other side of the valley. Riders raced 4 laps of the course.

The National Champs was an important race for me this season, not just because I wanted to defend my 2009 National Title but also because I don't race on home ground that often. I have to admit though that after racing the Ischgl Iron Bike, Austria, at the end of August I was feeling tired and motivation to train was already starting to dwindle. It's been a long season, which kicked off with The Cape Epic back in March. I had to mix up my training a bit by adding in an XC race and doing interval sessions off-road rather than on the road. This helped and I was feeling fired up, strong and excited to race. Although I knew that I had really good form, I also knew that I would have excellent competition in the form of Swiss rider Jane Nussli, who has a British race license from descent, and a few other girls who I've never raced against before.

I wanted to pre-ride the course as early as possible, but unfortunately pre-riding was not permitted until after 4pm the evening before the race. When we arrived it was raining and cold and I started to wonder whether this was a good idea! We set off and after about 4 miles we got lost because the course marking abruptly disappeared. We were joined by one of the other racers, Lesley Ingram, who also got lost and we spent a while trying to figure out which way to go. We failed and made our way back to the start/finish area. I was frustrated to say the least! We decided to go out on the XC course, which was already well marked.

It's not at all unusual for me to completely forget how to ride a bike the day before a race and this was no exception. Nerves do strange things to me ;-) I was riding like a total numpty! To make matters worse the rain made the course so greasy that parts were difficult to ride. After 2 hours I went back to our B & B feeling a little fed-up! We went out for dinner and I ordered a curry. It was so spicy that it played havoc with my stomach in the morning! Whoops ☺

True to the weather forecast we woke up to a clear blue sky and a light wind. I regained my confidence as I stood on the start line at 9.45am. The women went off first, 15 minutes ahead of the men. I took the lead and at the start of the first climb Jane was at my side. Once we reached the top we were riding alone. The first 15km was uncharted territory, never being raced on before, and because Jane and I were the first out we had the pleasure of seeing lots of deer fleeing as we raced past. We also had to dodge a herd of wild ponies :-)

A well stocked pit area

Given my experience of the course the previous night I was really sceptical about the first 15km loop; however I was pleasantly surprised. Although in a couple of places it was momentarily difficult to see where the course went, I didn't make any wrong turns. Furthermore the course was really good fun. Fire road was few and far between and there was plenty of fun singletrack. Jane and I had fun and chatted during the first lap, and it was great to ride with her. Early in the second lap I was able to pull out a small lead on one of the climbs. I extended this to a few minutes on the third lap, and after 5 hours and 25 minutes I finally crossed the line with a lead of 5 minutes 35 seconds over Jane. Lesley Ingram took third to finish off the Women's podium. Wahooooo! I’d done it. Job done. I’d won my third consecutive National title. Yay!!! I suddenly felt a huge weight off my shoulders. Link
Alone on the way to the finish line. Phew!

I thoroughly loved the course, which meant that the time literally flew by. I couldn't quite believe it when I was already on the final lap. This was certainly due to variety of the terrain, it really did have a bit of everything: fast bermed singletrack, roots, fast drops, short steep climbs, off camber sections etc. etc. Relative to marathons on mainland Europe this has to be amongst one of my favourite courses simply due to the amount of grin inducing singletrack ☺ The only thing missing was the climbing. Having said that there was approximately 2500metres of vertical ascent, though this was deceptive because there were no long sustained climbs. Given the chance I would definitely race there again. A massive thanks and congratulations to the organisers, headed by Steve Jones, who did an amazing job on a really tight budget. It was a shame that the number of riders was low, and having more non-elite riders would have improved the atmosphere. Mountain Biking is a great sport and I'd love to see more people in the UK out there, especially women.


As always a huge thanks to my amazing team, Topeak-Ergon Racing Team, and all of our great sponsors. I was really lucky to have a brilliant support team in the form of Dave (who has to win the prize for the most supportive partner ever!) and my parents. Big thanks also to Jane for coming all the way from Switzerland and making it a close race. I’m really looking forward to what we can both achieve internationally next year whilst flying the flag for Great Britain.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

British National Marathon Championships

It's the National Marathon Championships on Sunday 12th September. All the hard training is done and now I'm resting up :-) My training has been going well and I'm feeling strong, so fingers crossed for a good result!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Southern XC, Chawton Park Woods, UK

Last weekend I had the choice of either road intervals alone or racing at the Southern XC It was an easy decision! The thought of riding alone wasn't inspiring me and I sometimes find it easier to push myself in a race, particularly this late in the season. There was also the lure of some singletrack riding of course!

The women's race started at 2pm so I even had a leisurely start to the day - a pleasant change from 5.30am wakeup calls :-) There had been a lot of rain in the days leading up to the race, so I opted for Conti 2.4 X-Kings front and back. It was the perfect setup and I had lots of grip where some other people seemed to be slipping and sliding.

This was my first XC race. Ever. I had planned to race XC this season as part of my training, but illness and injury scuppered my plans, and this was the first opportunity I had.

Given my lack of experience at racing over only 1.5 hours I decided to try to ride behind Maddie Horton (Team Certini) for the first lap. I took this too literally and rode way too close, which meant that I couldn't see the trail ahead. Whoops! I lost the front wheel and found myself sprawled across the singletrack. I leapt up, put my bottle back in, did up my shoe again, and jumped back on. Maddie was now out of sight. Once I rejoined her I made an effort to enter the next section of singletrack first. Maddie hadn't test ridden the course, so I figured it would probably be more helpful (and safer!) to lead.

After the first lap I had a small lead over Maddie and I knew that I needed to push on hard. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and I couldn't believe how quickly the laps passed by. It was over far too quickly! When I crossed the finish line I was ready for more :-) After watching the World Cup XC races and seeing the riders literally fall off their bikes at the finish line, I now realise that I should have gone harder! Next time :-) It was great to see the guys from our local bike shop and to be in the mix with some of them - thanks also for your support!

Elite Women's Podium

I didn't know until the finish that Maddie crashed during the second lap causing her to retire from the race :-( I hope that you're OK Maddie.

Results:

1. Sally Bigham (Topeak-Ergon Racing Team) 1:36:43
2. Jessie Roberts (WXC Mountain Bike Team) 1:54:47
3. Carla Haines (WXC Mountain Bike Team) 1:57:23

Full results can be found here

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Ischgl Ironbike, Austria

After the World Marathon Championships in Germany we decided that it would be rude not to head off to Austria to race in the Ischgl Iron bike. It didn't look far on the map, so the day after the world champs we set off. Eight ours later we arrived. The scale on the map was deceptive!

As we turned off the motorway and started heading through the seemingly endless tunnels, the landscape started to get more and more mountainous. It's amazing to enter a 10km tunnel and emerge on the other side into a valley surrounded by towering mountains. It's hard to describe the feeling I get when I'm in the mountains. I honestly love it and I genuinely get a sense of belonging. I can see myself living in one of the traditional wooden chalets with flower boxes on the balconies. One day perhaps…….

Ischgl is a really great town. We parked the van and didn't get back in it again until the day we left. Everything you need is literally on your doorstep: supermarkets, cafes, and restaurants (even a pizzeria which made gluten free pizzas, crepes and bread ☺ ☺). In fact, Dave was able to take the chair lift to the feed zones!


In the days leading up to the race the weather forecast was for rain, with snow at the top of the mountains. This brought back memories of the Salzkammergut Trophy in Austria last year, which was cancelled half way through the race. We had to seek shelter in a fire station, which was made worthwhile once I was rubbed warm by one of the nice firemen ;0) Fortunately the organisers of the Iron Bike had a contingency plan in the event of snow - the course would cut out two of the highest points but would largely remain unchanged. Luckily I had packed some warm gloves, wind vest, and overshoes!

Photo by Stefan Fischer

The course in Ischgl is pretty challenging, involving almost 4000m of vertical climbing in 80km, with the majority of climbing in the last 50km. Each rider is able to choose between three different distances during the race. I planned from the start to race the full distance, but I was feeling pretty tired from the world champs the weekend before so I wasn’t entirely sure on the start line.


I had a good start and rode with Birgit Söllner (Firebike) for the first 10km. Without realising I found myself alone with a group of men half way up the first small climb and I passed the first feed zone in first place. I felt good so I decided early on that I’d ride the full distance.

Unlike most marathon races, there were points on this course where it was not possible for team supporters to reach, particularly the feed zone in Switzerland and the one at the top of the last climb, so self-feeding was necessary. I carried a Torq Single in my pocket, which provides enough powder to make a 750ml of energy drink.

Dave's view of the race from the cable car

I knew from test riding parts of the course a few days earlier that the first big climb got more difficult from about 2500 vertical metres to 2800 metres, partly because it was steeper and muddy, but also because the altitude started to affect me there. It was these last few hundred metres of climbing that made me worried that I'd finally pushed Dave well beyond his limits. Whoops!! With this in mind I knew that it was important not to over-cook the climb earlier on; however I also knew that there was a long descent down into Switzerland and that Birgit 'the downhill bullet' could soon be on my tail!


Fortunately when I made it to the last long climb back up out of Switzerland I didn't have any close female company. I continued to try and reel in some of the men as I ascended the steep, loose climb. I tried not to look up towards the summit because it was possible to see small ant-like figures in the distance making it only too clear exactly how much further I still had to climb. Although I felt strong throughout the race, my legs were starting to grumble a little at this point. It was a relief to see the final feed zone and stop for a quick refill. It was mainly downhill hill from here. Wahoo.


The final descent was steep and fast. I had to pump my brakes to stop them from overheating. It was a pleasure to see photographer, Tom Janas from Sportograf.com on one of the last corners before I entered the ski-lift tunnel and exited into the town centre. A glance over my shoulder confirmed I was alone. Job done. Yay! Time to go for a large gluten free pizza and crepe filled with strawberries, banana and chocolate sauce. Yummy!

Results:

1 Sally Bigham (GBr) 5:14:45
2 Katrin Schwing (Ger) 0:25:06
3 Birgit Söllner (Ger) 0:26:07
4 Verena Krenslehner (Aut) 0:28:42
5 Silke Keinath (Ger) 1:11:42

Full results can be found here

Katrin Schwing, Sally Bigham, Birgit Söllner
Photo by Stefan Fischer

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

World Marathon Championships, St Wendel, Germany

The World XCM champs came around too quickly for me this year! I wasn't as prepared as I would have liked to be, but with a solid month of training behind me I was starting to feel like I was getting strong again.
Chilling with Larry (Team Mechanic)

I'd been able to test ride the course in June so I knew what to expect: a reasonably 'flat' course but with lots of short climbs throughout the 107km. I've never raced on a course like it before so I was curious how I would find it. It couldn't have been more different to the course in Graz, Austria the previous year, which was mountainous and pretty technical in places.

Topeak Ergon Racing Team Expo Booth

I was able to train on the course in the days leading up to the race and this made me realise that the course was deceptively difficult. The accumulation of the short climbs would start to take its toll and there would be nowhere to rest. Unlike mountainous courses where it's possible to recover on the descents, there would be nowhere to recover on this course.

In total we had four Topeak Ergon Racing Team riders: Alban Lakata (Austria), Wolfram Kurschat (Germany), Sonya Loony (USA) and me. This was the first time that I had the opportunity to meet Sonya and it was her first race in Europe.

Pre-race warm up. Focused.
Courtesy of Stefan Fischer

I am now getting much more experience at marathon racing and although I still get nervous, I am able to cope with it better, which is far more relaxing for me and for Dave!



I had a great start position (number 4), which put me on the front row. My plan was simple - stay at the front of the pack for as long as possible and preferably until the finish line ;0) I was tenth in Graz last year and obviously I would have liked to improved on this, but I was well aware that this might not be possible given the disruptions to my training this season.

The weather forecast was for rain during the race and given previous reports of the course turning into a mud bath I decided to run the Continental 2.4 X King on my front wheel. I've used this tyre a couple of times now this year and I really like it. It’s very fast rolling, like the race king, but it gives great grip in gravel corners and in mud.

The course started off on the athletic track, turned out of the stadium and up a short gravel climb. Everything was going perfectly until I flicked down into my small chain ring. Despite pedalling I seemed to be going backwards and all of the riders behind started to over take me. I could hear Dave shout "Go Surfa" (Surfa is my nickname :0) due to my previous life as a surfer). My chain had dropped off onto the inside of my crank. I thought I'd be able to flick back up into the big ring again and recover it, but to my horror it didn't work and I had to dismount and put the chain back on. Once I had remounted I was in last position and saw the whole field of riders disappear up the first climb. I went 'full gas' and didn't stop until I'd rejoined the front of the pack. I blew the doors off :) and needed to try and recover. Luckily the pace was comfortable for a while and I was able to ride at or near the front for the next 60 km.

Look carefully and you can see my leg as I dismount. Bad timing!

At about 65km there was an attack and I tried to go with it but I started to cramp. Was this really happening??!! I panicked because there was 30km between the 3rd and the 4th feed zones and I knew that I had a long way to go before I would get my next bottle. I had to reduce the pace in an effort to manage the cramp. When I finally reached the feed zone I was able to take two bottles.


Eventually I started to regain power and I was able to pull away from the group of 3 or 4 girls behind. The men started to overtake the women (they started 45 minutes later and rode exactly the same course) and eventually I heard Alban say “Good job Surfa” as he passed by. This made me smile ☺ He was in about 10th position and at least 2 minutes behind the lead group. Damn. I really wanted him to pass me first. Not long later bad luck struck once more when my chain came off again! They say bad things come in threes!! Kristine Noergaard (Denmark) was able to pull away from me and I was unable to close the gap. I crossed the line in 8th position.

Courtesy of Stefan Fischer

I'm really pleased with the result and I've come away feeling confident about the future. My bad luck was all worth it because unbelievably team mate Alban Lakata won the men's race and was crowned the new World Marathon Championships. Wahooo!!! A truly awesome ride. Not only is he the best marathon rider but he's also one of nicest riders. Congrats Alban!!! Sonya Loony finished 30th despite some stomach troubles. Regrettably Wolfram had to pull out due to problems with a previously broken rib.

World Marathon Champion :)

As always a HUGE thanks to all of our sponsors and our amazing Topeak Ergon Racing Team support crew, including Dirk Juckwer, Werner Faust, Lars Hartwich, Dave Padfield, Theresa Faust, and Anita Rienzner.

Results:

1 Esther Süss (Switzerland) 4:33:47
2 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 0:01:57
3 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 0:02:54
4 Elisabeth Brandau (Germany) 0:07:51
5 Birgit Söllner (Germany) 0:07:54
6 Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway) 0:08:12
7 Kristine Noergaard (Denmark) 0:08:59
8 Sally Bigham (Great Britain) 0:09:56
9 Erika Dicht (Switzerland) 0:11:34
10 Anna Villar Argente (Spain) 0:11:34

Full results can be found here

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Bontrager 24/12, Newnham Park, Plymouth, UK

Last weekend I joined Team Ergon 24 at Newnham Park for Bontrager 24/12. It’s a fun event where you have the choice of racing over 12 hours or 24 hours either as a soloist or in teams of up to 8. We entered the 12 hour race which started at midday on Saturday and finished at midnight. Our team comprised of Kim Tofaute (GER), Benny Brochhagen (GER), Trevor Allen (UK) and me.

Me and the guys :)
The course was really good fun and incorporated some of the classic singletrack, such as Cottage Return, as well as some that I’ve never ridden before. Rain in the days leading up to the event made the conditions a little slippery, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to test the new Continental X King on my front wheel. The tyre was perfect for the job. It was fast rolling but gave me a little extra grip when needed.

Our team tactics were simple: take it in turns to ride one lap each as fast as possible for 12 hours :) Trevor took to the start line first and after one lap handed over to me, I handed over to Benny who handed over to Kim and so on. After we'd completed 3 laps each the weather took a turn for the worse. We had a clear lead over second place so we decided to double up (i.e. do two back to back laps each). This would be slower but it had the added advantage of meaning that we would all only need to go out and get wet and muddy one more time.

When my turn came around it was dark and the rain really started to set in. The course was still 100% rideable and fun, but there was much less grip so extra caution was needed. This meant that the lap times slowed considerable. Fortunately for Benny and Kim it also meant that they would now only need to do one lap each before midnight. Haha! I wished I'd never suggested doubling up ;)

12 hour mixed team podium

It was great to welcome Kim and Benny to the UK race scene and to race in a team with the guys - something I've never done before, but look forward to doing again soon :) As always a massive thanks to Dave for supporting in every way that he could. You're the best.

Results

1st Ergon 24 12:04:42 18 laps
2nd Torq development 12:20:44 17 laps
3rd AQuickRelease.com 11:50:12 16 laps

Monday, 19 July 2010

National XC Champs

Last Monday evening we flew back from Italy following the Dolomiti Superbike. I'd had a great race and was feeling positive about my growing strength. Alas, on Tuesday morning I woke up with a sore throat and aches. I was hopeful that I'd be able to shake it off in time for my XC debut at the National XC Champs at Pippingford Estate on Sunday. I skipped all of my training sessions, slept lots, and ate bags of oranges. Eventually the sore throat and aches gave way to a head cold after a couple of days.

Pippingford isn't far from where we live so on Saturday I decided to go along and test ride the course, which was really good fun :) However, I still wasn't feeling that great and when I tried to get my heart rate up I felt rubbish. There were still 24 hours to go until the start and I was hopeful that I'd wake up on Sunday morning feeling OK. However it wasn't meant to be. I spent the whole night sniffing olbas oil and in the morning I still couldn't breathe out of my nose. I decided not to start :(

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Dolomiti Superbike, Italy

Last Sunday I raced the Dolomiti Superbike in Villabassa, Italy. This was the host of the 2008 World Marathon Championships - my first ever international race. It's such an amazing place and race that I couldn't wait to go back. I absolutely love to be in the mountains: the air, the buildings, the cows (and bells), the lakes, the climbs, the spectators........ I love it all. This is one of the nicest mountain regions I have ever been to and I highly recommend it.

Two of my great loves: Mountains and my bike

It was a great view from our hotel

The race is certainly a challenge. It covers 120km and 3822 metres of climbing. It's mainly fire road or asphalt, but there are a few nice single track sections and the final descent to the finish line is a lot of fun :-) :-)

Click the image to enlarge

The day before the race I met up with Liz Scalia (2007 British National Marathon Champion). We rode the final 20km of the course together and then went for pre-race food and coffee :-)

Coffee with Liz Scalia (Mongibello CHIX)

The race started at 7.30am which meant a 5am start for me and a more respectable 6am start for Dave. I made the mistake of warming up behind the start line. This meant that I had to find my way around the queue of 3600 riders to the front starting grid. What an amazing sight! The elite male riders were called up first and then the elite women.

I had a really good start and found myself riding the first climb in the lead with Birgit Söllner. Around half way up the climb I picked up the pace and I managed to gain a small lead over Birgit. With about 200 metres to go Erica Dicht passed me. She took 1st place for the mountain prize and I passed through in 2nd place. I managed to catch and pass her again at the bottom of the long descent. The course followed the river for about 15 km until the next climb and I was able to build a small lead over Erica. However, not long into the next climb Erica passed me again. She is like a rocket up hill! Once again Erica took 1st place and I took 2nd for the second mountain prize.

On the next long climb I looked back and saw that Pia Sundtedt was closing in on me, and at 60km she passed me. She reached the top of the climb about 100 metres ahead of me which meant I took 3rd place for the final mountain prize. At the bottom of the long descent I could see that Pia wasn't too far ahead, but she gradually picked up the pace and I didn't see her again.

At 90km the last big climb of the day started. It was here that Birgit rejoined me. We climbed together for about 5km until I was finally able to pull away for the remaining 5kms of the climb. However, with 20 km to go she was able to make up ground and give me company once again. Yikes! I knew that I had to dig really deep to hold her off and hang on to 3rd place. I put the power down and tried not to look back! As I approached the final corner to the finish line I looked over my shoulder. I couldn't see her. Phew.

Women's flower ceremony

A HUGE thanks to Dave (my amazingly supportive boyfriend) for competing in the feedzone race. He made it to all 5 feed zones with time to spare :-)

Women's prize giving
Results

1 Erika Dicht (Swi) Wheeler IXS Swiss Team 5:44:05
2 Pia Sundstedt (Fin) Craft Rocky Mountain 0:05:25
3 Sally Bigham (GBr) Topeak Ergon Racing Team 0:11:39
4 Birgit Söllner (Ger) Team Firebike-Drössiger 0:13:50
5 Barbara Kaltenhauser (Ger) Team Radsport-Oberland-Stevens 0:18:25
6 Katrin Schwing (Ger) Trek 0:28:20
7 Michela Benzoni (Ita) Lissone MTB 0:34:37
8 Elena Giacomuzzi (Ita) Team Caprivesi 0:34:44
9 Barbora Radova (Cze) Studio 2001 0:37:35
10 Carol Rasmussen (Den) Spurtstark 0:53:53

European Championships, Montebelluna, Italy

I'm really behind in updating my blog. The last few weeks have been really hectic but I finally have a couple of hours to catch up with things, including the housework (however that can wait a bit longer.....).

A couple of weeks ago we flew out to Venice and drove to Montebelluna to prepare for the European Marathon Championships. I wasn't sure whether or not to go because I was only just able to get back into training following the problems with my knee. Ideally I needed a good block of hard training to try and get some form back. I decided to go, but to use it as another training race and not to taper for it. How could I miss out on a trip to Italy!?

click on the image to enlarge

The race was combined with the annual Gunn Rita Marathon and for the women it covered 98.5km (but unscheduled changes increased it to about 120km) and 2290 metres of climbing. We arrived a couple of days before the start so I pre-rode most of the course beforehand. On the first day I rode the classic route which included lots of fun singletrack. I was really glad I'd gone :-) :-) The next day I rode another third of the course which wasn't as much fun! It included more fire road and some long linking sections around the river. Nevertheless, the food was great, the sun was shining, my knee was OK, and I was happy.

The women's race started at 10.30am which meant a relatively leisurely start to the day - unlike the 5am starts that I've been getting used to. The downside of this was the temperature. The previous days had been really hot (30+ degrees) and race day wasn't going to be an exception. During the warm up I was already sweating. Lots.

Warming up (even more) before the start

The start through the town was slow and even on the first climb it wasn't as fast as I had expected. As we approached the first off road section I knew I needed to get to the first singletrack descent with the lead group. A rider in front of me over shot a gravel corner and lost grip causing her stop and unclip. I lost a few seconds and before I knew it I'd lost the front group and lots of other riders entered the descent before me. As we turned back up the next short climb the lead group were out of sight :-(

I rode with a group of 4 girls for a while and when we reached a long flat section I knew we all needed to work hard as a group to try to close the ground to a couple of riders ahead - Nina Gassler (Germany) and Laura Turpijn (Netherlands). Kristine Norgaard (Denmark), Arielle Van Meurs (Netherlands) and I all took it in turns (while a couple of other girls declined) and we were able to close the gap at the bottom of the next climb. We stayed as a group of 6 for the next few hours. It was a lot of fun to be riding with just girls for a change and all but two girls (not named) took their turn at the front.

During the last 30km our group of 6 became a group of two: Laura and I rode alone for the rest of the race. It was really nice to have her for company! As we were approaching the finish I had a déjà vu moment. Exactly the same thing happened in the 2009 EU champs in Estonia. On the long road section to the finish line neither of us wanted to take the lead. Laura sat on my back wheel so I eased off. We must have lost at least a couple of minutes as we gently rolled down the road. As we turned the corner to the finish line I looked over my shoulder to see where she was, the moment she pulled to the side of me I started to put the power down but alas it wasn't enough! She crossed the line a second ahead of me. We finished in 6th and 7th place. Exactly the same positions as last year. Weird! I have a score to settle in 2011 ;0)

Results

1 Esther Süss (Swi) Wheeler iXS Pro Team 4:53:17
2 Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Nor) Team Multivan Merida 0:01:07
3 Pia Sunsdedt (Fin) Rocky Mountain 0:02:07
4 Blaza Klemencic (Slo) Felt Otztal X-Bionic 0:06:13
5 Jane Nuessli (GBr) Credo-Bikes.com 0:06:58
6 Laura Turpijn (Ned) 0:11:15
7 Sally Bigham (GBr) Topeak Ergon Racing Team 0:11:16
8 Nina Gässler (Ned) Rabo Giant Off-Road Team 0:12:30
9 Roberta Gasparini (Ita) Pedali Di Marca Team 0:12:56
10 Noergaard Kristine (Den) Rothaus-Cube MTB Team 0:13:32

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Rocky Mountain Bike Marathon, Willingen, Germany

I'm a bit behind in updating my blog lately! Life is super hectic at the moment and mixing work, training, flying in and out of the country, and racing is sometimes a bit tricky ;0)

Immediately after the Trans Germany we headed off to St Wendel to check out the course for the World XCM Champs that takes place in August. Dirk (Team Manager), Lars (Team Mechanic), Dave (Team Supporter and my number 1 fan), Alban (aka Albanator) and I spent 3 days at a great hotel enjoying lots of lovely food, doing some biking and generally chilling out. It was really nice to spend time with the team without any race preparations for a change. Locals Marius and Sascha (Endorfin Solvis Team) guided Alban and me around the course. Thanks guys!

Our next stop was the Rocky Mountain Bike Marathon in Willingen. Dirk and Lars had to head off to Albstadt for an XCO race, so Dave and I hired a car for the drive to Willingen. Dave bought a road map and carefully annotated it with our route, which he predicted would only take a few hours. Dave drove and I navigated. As we drove into Willingen I folded the map away and looked forward to finding somewhere to eat, but within seconds of seeing the 'Welcome to Willingen' sign we saw the 'Thank you for visiting Willingen' sign. Huh? It was a much bigger town when we visited last year??? At that point Dave was suddenly hit with the realisation that perhaps there was more than one Willingen in Germany. After another 2.5 hours we finally arrived in the correct Willingen......Whoops.

The Rocky Mountain Bike marathon series always provide three different distances for riders to choose from on race day. At Willingen there are three different loops and you can stop after the first (50km), the second (100km), or the third loop (120km) depending on how you feel on the day. My plan, like last year, was to ride the full 120km route. Unfortunately my legs had other plans! I felt fine for the first 50km but not too long into the second loop my legs didn't want to play anymore. I decided that it just didn't make sense to push on and complete the full distance so I opted out and pulled into the finish to take 2nd place in the 100km race. This was a hard decision for me, but after a chat with Pia Sundstedt (Rocky Mountain) during the first loop I realised that sometimes it's best to make decisions with your head rather than your heart! Pia was also going to race the full distance but she reluctantly pulled out (due a bad calf injury resulting from a crash in the Trans Germany) after the first loop to take the win in the 50km distance race. Team mate Alban Lakata won the 120km race so it was another a successful day for Topeak Ergon Racing Team :0)

Looking back, it was obvious that I hadn't fully recovered from the Trans Germany the previous week. After 2 months out of training due to my knee injury I was using the Trans Germany and Willingen as training races. They served their purpose and I am now starting to feel stronger. Yay!

Results

1st Kristine Norgaard (Rothaus-Cube MTB Team) 4 hours 17 mins
2nd Sally Bigham (Topeak Ergon Racing Team) 4 hours 19 mins
3rd Katrin Schwing (Trek) 4 hours 41 mins

Women's 100km podium

Monday, 21 June 2010

Trans Germany

After missing out on two marathons already (Riva del Garda and Etna) I was reluctant to not start the Trans Germany. On the one hand I thought I shouldn't go not least because I hadn't trained properly since the Cape Epic but also because my knee was still giving me trouble. On the other hand however I had an overwhelming desire to try and salvage some of the race season. This desire won and the night before we were due to fly we hastily packed. The doctor advised me not to race, but in the event that I did (he has obviously had plenty of experience of non-conforming athletes) he told me to stop if the pain worsened. I had no particular expectations in terms of results. My only aim was to finish the races and in doing so get some much needed training.

We were greeted at Munich airport by Lars Hartwich (Topeak Ergon Racing Team Mechanic) and went straight to Garmich-Partenkirchen - the start of the Trans Germany 4 day stage race
The miles pass quickly on the autobahn ;-)

Cruising at 185km

We had a couple of days to prepare in Garmich before the start: Lars took excellent care of the bikes; Dirk Juckwer (Team Manager) took care of all of the many logistics involved in stage racing; Werner Faust (Team Physio) worked his magic on my knee; and Dave assisted with anything that he could.

Lars' office

The weather forecast was unfortunately not predicting sun....instead we were expecting rain and lots of it. The day before the race I had to frantically look for neoprene overshoes and winter gloves in the local shops. I'd packed for summer (foolishly) and I clearly hadn't learned from my snowy experience at the Salzkammergut Trophy last July!

Sure enough we woke to the sound of rain pattering on the window and the view of the mountain was obscured by low cloud.....it was going to be a cold one; however at that point I wasn't exactly aware how cold! On the start line we were warned of low temperatures at the top of the mountains and possible snow so I quickly put my leg and arm warmers back on.

Stage 1: Garmich to Lermoos (82km/2158m)

I had a great position on the start line but despite my best effort to maintain it during the 'neutral start' through the town I managed to gradually get pushed backwards by the hundreds of riders enthusiastic to find their place just behind the lead motorbike. It was a pretty crazy start and people were rubbing tyres, crashing and skidding frantically. I was now in a bad position! I spent the rest of the stage trying to make up for the lost time and I slowly started to make up ground and work my way up to 4th position. As we climbed to the top of the last mountain the temperature noticeably dropped and despite the effort of the climb my hands and feet became numb. My hands were so cold that I could no longer drink, eat or change gear. Brrrrrrrrr!!!!! Once I started descending I also realised that I couldn't brake properly! My tentative descent saw me cross the finish line in 5th place.

Lermoos to Pfronten (75km/1863m)

On Stage 2 I was eager to (1) get a good start, and (2) have warm feet and hands!! In the morning I wrapped my feet in tinfoil and then cling film before sealing my ankles with duct tape. I also wore some of Lars' latex gloves under my winter gloves. I achieved both of my aims that day and I crossed the line in 4th position. This was the best I could achieve and I was pleased with the result.


Pfronten to Sonthofen (55km1830m)

Stage 3 was much warmer and I found myself lining up on the start line applying sun cream! Weird! Although this stage was short (very short for me and resembling more of a cross country race!) there was a really great climb near the beginning :-) I've not had a chance to test my new bike much so I was unsure how I would find the 39T Sram double chain ring but it was absolutely fine even on the steepest part of the climb. Once at the top there was a loose gravel fire road descent and I almost overshot a sharp left-hand turn. As I regained control I noticed a few riders by the side of the trail and I saw one rider lay on the ground with his leg raised in the air. A few riders had stopped to help so I carried on (trying not to look because I hate seeing crashes). On the next climb I heard the breathing of a female rider behind me. It was Elizabeth Brandau the current race leader. I was really surprised to see her and I noticed a fews cuts and grazes. She told me she was fine but that Pia Sundstedt (who was currently 2nd in the GC) was not so lucky - she had a nasty cut in her calf and had to be airlifted to hospital. It was only then that I realised that Pia and Elizabeth had been the riders involved in the crash. This brought back the memories of my crash in the Trans Germany last year and had the unwanted effect of slowing me on the remaining descents. I crossed the line in 5th position and 4th in the GC.


Sonthofen to Bregenz (74km/1366m)

The final stage was going to be fast. It began with a long asphalt climb (which I loved!) and then a long asphalt descent. It was important to be in a fast group at the start. I was thoroughly enjoying myself and at the top of the first climb I was 1 minute behind 3rd position, Milena Landtwing. I figured that I could possibly close this over the remainder of the stage. I worked hard to stay in my group and as we started the last climb to the final water point I decided to push on hard. I passed some of the male riders and despite the heat I reasoned that the harder I rode the sooner I would reach the top and be able to collect my final bottle. I took the final gulp from my bottle and together with a male Dutch rider we turned the switchbacks reeling in the riders ahead. Suddenly, I saw a group of riders, including Milena, coming down the hill towards us. What???!!!! It took a couple of seconds for me to register what was happening but this was precious time lost - about 300 riders had all gone off course. All of the riders behind were turning around and before I knew it was was at the back of a long queue of riders all trying frantically to make their way back down the hill. A sea of riders streamed down the hill parting to reveal the cameraman on the back of the motorbike looking dumbfounded!! At the bottom of the hill there was a long queue to get back on course and onto a narrow footbridge across the river. All of the slower riders that had been behind us at that point were then able to get ahead. This caused a log jam particularly on the singletrack where many of the riders walked. I started to get really thirsty at this point and a couple of people kindly gave me a quick drink. Thanks! My off piste expedition meant that I finished in 12th position that day and I lost 4th place in the GC by 13 seconds. C'est la vie! I must confess however that I was just a little annoyed for a few hours afterwards ;-) On a positive note, team mate Alban Lakata finished 2nd overall and Robert Mennen won the final stage. Awesome!!!

Robert triumphant with his stage win :-)