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.


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 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!


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.


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