Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Neil Donoghue Skills Coaching

A few weeks ago xcracer.com team rider, Mel Alexander, and I headed off to Coed Llandegla, North Wales, for skills coaching with World Cup Downhill racer Neil Donoghue. A report about our day can be found here.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Winter Training Camp, Club La Santa, Lanzarote

After nearly 8 weeks out of structured training it was a bit of a shock to start back up again! Apart from a 2 week bike free period, I carried on riding throughout October and November, but only as and when I wanted to – and only off-road. As it turned out, I actually chose to ride quite frequently and I visited lots of places that I don’t normally get to ride. It was really nice to ride with friends – without a heart rate monitor and power meter - and make regular coffee and cake stops, of which there were probably too many because over the 8 week period I managed to gain 2kg!

It was obvious when I was ready to start structured training again – the tell-tale sign being the day I went for a road ride just because I wanted to ‘get some data’ (i.e. heart rate and power info.). Data I got, but it wasn’t the data I was hoping for! Oh well, only to be expected after so many weeks out of training – at least I know that the training works! I went for a fitness test with my coach so that we could set my training zones before I headed off on a winter training camp to Club la Santa, Lanzarote. I decided that I wanted to kick off my training somewhere warm. This turned out to be a good decision because although we’d had a very mild and sunny November, plummeting temperatures coincided with my departure. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to just pack my bike and head off to warmer climates, and I do regularly remind myself of the people back at home cramming their training into short days; taking their lives into their hands on icy roads; wrapping up in so many layers that simply moving becomes difficult; and nursing chilblains in the shower. I feel for you, I really do.

So here I am, I’ve completed my first 3 day cycle of training, I’m well into my second, and I’m starting to get a cyclist’s tan. The first 3 day block was tough and the second isn’t proving to be any easier; the constant power of road riding really doesn’t give you anywhere to hide, especially when it’s on an MTB be fat tyres! I prefer to train on my MTB rather than a road bike because it means that I am training in the position that I race in and, in doing so, I’m using my muscles in the same way, it’s also harder and I like to make things difficult ;) The weather has been great, albeit a little windy at times, however the way I see it is it can only be a good thing if you have to pedal on the descents ;) I like the biking here because the roads are wide and smooth and the drivers (with the exception of some tourists) give riders plenty of space when overtaking. There are some nice road loops particularly in the hilly north where there is a great climb starting from Tabayesco, but the flatter south also has some nice loops taking in the Timanfaya National Park the landscape of which literally makes you feel like you’ve been transported to the moon! I’ve settled into a good routine and I’m starting to feel really relaxed. I’m cooking my own food each day which means that I can eat exactly what I want but I’m looking forward to trying out the new sushi restaurant here at Club la Santa. I love sushi :) I’ve got another 10 days here before I go home for a rest over Christmas, after which I’ll start another block of hard training.

Happy training!

Sal :)

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Ten under the pen: xcracer.com mini interview series

I was recently asked to answer a few questions for xcracer.com's new mini interview series - here is the result.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Elete Electrolyte

I'm really excited to be working with Elete electrolyte again in 2012. I've been using Elete since I started biking and it really does work. Click here to see my rider profile and info on how and when I use Elete.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Lanzarote 4 day stage race and Cape Epic Training Camp

I've just signed up for the Lanzarote 4 day stage race on 28th to 31st January. I'll also be guiding and offering advice at the Cape Epic Training Camp 26th January to 2nd February :D

Monday, 28 November 2011

Torq Nutrition

I'm very happy to be sponsored by Torq Nutrition again in 2012 :D I've just received all of the energy drinks, recovery drinks, gels, and bars that I'll need to see me through my winter training. Thanks Torq!!! I'm really looking forward to trying the new vanilla energy drink.

Rest, recovery and fun trail riding

The last 7 weeks have been really good fun :D I like this time of year because I can ride where and when I want, giving me the opportunity to ride with friends and to search out amazing trails. I haven't followed a training plan and all of my riding has been off-road. I've ridden with some great people and found some brilliant trails in a variety of places including Sierra Nevada, South and North Wales, The Forest of Dean, Sherwood Pines, The Peak District, and The Surrey Hills. I've also had some technical coaching from Neil Donoghue at Llandegla, North Wales, which has really helped me to focus on essential trail skills (I'll write more about this soon).

Structured training starts again next week and I'm really excited to be heading off on a training camp to Club La Santa in Lanzarote, which is a great place for winter training with its smooth roads, amazing facilities, and lots of like-minded people. In the meantime I have one more week to relax before my 2012 training begins.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

2011 Season Summary

The result of my first year as a pro-rider: Eight race victories in 8 different countries, seven 2nd place finishes, and number one in the UCI World Rankings. I'm pretty happy with that :) The successes of the year have led to something else: another year of full-time riding in 2012!!!  

A huge thanks to my team, Topeak-Ergon Racing Team and all of our sponsors, and also to all of my personal sponsors:

Torq Nutrition 
Elete Water
Purple extreme

Friday, 7 October 2011

Roc D'Azur, Frejus, South of France

Today was my season finale. Like the previous two years, my race calendar finishes with a really great marathon in the South of France. It's a technical course with rocky climbs and descents. I love it, but not today! Unlike previous years, the women had a separate start 15 minutes before the men. This was perfect; an equal and fair race for the women.
I normally eat breakfast 3 hours before I race, but today I treated myself to some extra sleep :) There were strong winds during the night and many of the tents in the Expo area had blown away like kites! The wind was still blowing a hooley in the morning and I knew then that the start of the race would be slow - no point in towing the women's field along to the bottom of the first climb. We rode as a big group casually - Jane Nussli joked that the lead motorbikes would be wondering what we were doing: a bike race or a leisurely outing with the girls ;)
The group quickly split on the first climb and Jane and I rode alone to the top. I was able to pull out a small lead on the first descent, but I could see Jane not far behind on the second climb. On the narrow, steep, loose descent I lost grip on my front wheel and I found myself crashing hard on my arm, hip and knee. I never look at the damage, instead I get straight back on and if I can still pedal then I continue. However, this crash shook me up. I was in pain and I felt really nauseas. The bumps - and there are a lot of bumps on this course - exacerbated the pain. From here onwards I rode like I had my head on back-to-front! I was so embarrassed by the way that I was riding! I couldn't put any power through the pedals on the climbs because I felt so sick and on the descents I was literally all over the place. Changing gear hurt my arm; the bumps hurt my arm; and the bushes and branches - of which there were plenty- managed to tug at the open wound. I thought that I was going to vomit! The wind was so strong that I got blown clean off my bike twice. I was getting frustrated. On one of the steep hike-a-bike sections I fell and bashed my other arm. A bad day at the office! Jane was never far behind; constantly nipping at my heels.
I felt terrible and I honestly couldn't wait to get the race finished. That was all I could think about for over three hours. I finished about 30 seconds ahead of Jane. I've been stitched back up again and I'm feeling much better. The bad news is that there won't be any swimming for me now. Damn. I was really looking forward to a couple of days of swimming in the sea before we head home. Oh well it could have been worse. There were lots of broken bones being tended to in the medical area. Many, many thanks to the doctors and nurses who were doing a great job of piecing injured riders back together!
OK, I'm off for a large glass of red wine ;)
Happy off-season to you all :D  

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Xtreme sur Loue, Ornans, France

Last Sunday I raced in the Xtreme sur Loue marathon - the fourth marathon of the UCI World Series. Next year the World Marathon Championships will be held on the same course, so this provided a good opportunity for a practice run.

Ornans is a small French village near to the Swiss border, approximately 50km north of Geneva. It is set alongside a pretty river and surrounded by forest. The women's course is short: 63km with 2300m of vertical ascent. The men's course includes two additional loops making it about 20km longer than the women's. The women started 15 minutes before the men - I like separate starts :)

We were blessed with good weather: sunny skies and more than 20 degrees; however the mornings were misty and cool. I did my warm up on the first 10kms of the course, but I finished colder than when I started! Thankfully the start of the race was slow and I was able to warm up gradually. We stayed as one group until the first climb when we quickly became three: Esther Suss, Jane Nussli and me. The pace was very comfortable and I was surprised to find that I had made a small lead just before the top of the first climb. I was even more surprised to see that I extended this lead on the first downhill. But alas: I punctured my rear wheel on a rock not too far from the bottom. The tech zone wasn't far away so I rode slowly, cautious not to roll the tyre off the rim. Esther passed me while I was changing wheels in the tech zone, but I only lost 20 or 30 seconds and I closed the gap before the top of the second climb.

The descent was really good fun: steep, twisty forest singletrack with some switchbacks, followed by a fast, rocky track. It was on the rocky track that my luck ran out again - I felt the familiar squirm of the rear tyre. This time I was far away from the tech zone and I had to stop and fit a tube. I have never had to fit a tube in a race. In fact, I've only ever had to fit a tube once before! I was all thumbs. I resigned myself to the fact that the race was over and I reasoned that this was good practice. It took me far too long. But I was amazed that I wasn't passed by any of the other girls. I was still in second place!! This motivated me.

The next few kms were pretty thorny and, yes, I punctured the tube. Fortunately the tech zone was nearby and I took another wheel. I was approximately 6 minutes behind Esther, but nobody was in sight behind - amazingly second place was still possible. Marshalls and spectators along the course told me how many minutes separated Esther and I: 5 minutes; 4 minutes; 3 minutes. Time information can sometimes be inaccurate, but one of the spectators was a also a supporter of another rider and I saw him at several points along the track. I was gradually closing the gap. I had renewed motivation. At the last feedzone I was 3 minutes behind, from there onwards it was mainly descending to the finish line. I enjoyed the trails and took care on the final rocky descent - I didn't want to increase my puncture tally to four! I finished 1 and a half minutes after Esther. Despite all of my bad luck I was really happy. I felt strong throughout the race. And I fixed a puncture ;)

Now we're in Frejus, the South of France, getting ready for the season finale on Friday: Roc D'Azur :)


1 SÜSS Esther R.C. Granichen SUI 03h43'31''

2 BIGHAM Sally Topeak Ergon Racing Team GBR 03h45'03'' 01'32''

3 REDELSPERGER Coralie V.C.C. Morteau Montbenoit FRA 04h01'38'' 18'07''

4 GIACOMUZZI Elena Caprivesi ITA 04h04'50'' 21'19''

5 NUESSLI JANe Fischer-BMC GBR 04h06'39'' 23'08''

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Adamello Bike Marathon

Last Thursday we travelled to Ponte di Legno, Italy, for the 3rd Marathon of the UCI series.  At Verona airport we were welcomed by blue skies and 30 degrees; a nice contrast from the wet and windy weather we left behind in the UK. The drive to our hotel took us over Passo Tonnale, which lies between the Ortles-Cevedale and Adamello-Presanella mountain ranges; the mountain roads were narrow and twisty and the views were fantastic; I was just glad that I don't get travel sick!

65km with 2250 metres of vertical ascent
While Alban and I had fun pre-riding the course in the sunshine on Friday and Saturday, the Team supporters struggled to navigate the Team van through the very narrow and very steep cobbled towns as they searched for feedzones - they managed to get the van stuck in between two buildings on a very tight corner and they spent a long time puzzling over how to get it out again!

The Alpine summer ended on Saturday night when torrential rain and thunderstorms arrived. With no respite forecast I found myself stood on the start line in full waterproofs! Once the race started we were immediately splashing through deep puddles - the shock of the cold made me gasp - and within minutes thunder rumbled and lightening brightened the sky! The first climb took us through steep, narrow cobbled streets and eventually along a switchback forest track where the soft ground sucked at my wheels. My legs didn't feel great, perhaps because of the cold, so I decided to ride at a comfortable pace while I warmed up. Jane Nussli was approximately 10 seconds ahead of me when Michela Benzoni passed me; I followed her wheel and eventually we reeled in Jane who didn't come with us.

Michela and I reached the top of the first climb together; however I was able to pull out a 30 second lead on the descent, which I gradually extended until the finish. Throughout the course there were some excellent singletrail descents, including steep, narrow switchbacks; rocky singletrails; and rooty sections, all of which were made more technical due to the rain. I really liked the course in the dry, but I loved it in the wet :)

While I loved the descents, I just didn't seem to have as much power in my legs as normal on the climbs - perhaps it was because my legs were too cold. On the last descent I got so cold that I had to change gear with my palms and on the last steep singletrail descent I had to stop completely because I couldn't brake anymore! I eventually stopped shaking once I'd changed into warm clothes and drank hot tea, but it took a while for my blue lips to regain their colour!


1 Sally Bigham (GBr)     3:52:30
2 Michela Benzoni (Ita)  3:55:48
3 Jane Nussli (GBr)        3:56:46

Full results can be found here.

Congratulations to team mate Alban Lakata on his victory in the men's race - another very successful weekend for Topeak-Ergon Racing Team!

Next stop: Round 4 of the UCI Marathon Series, Ornans, France on October 2nd.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Grand Canyon CF 29er

I'm already looking forward to 2012 :D

Grand Canyon CF 29" Topeak Ergon Team Edition

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Birkebeiner, Norway

It's difficult to imagine 18,000 people riding their bikes in one race. I wondered whether it would be truly possible to organise such a huge event, but the organisers of the Birkebeiner proved that it is. To see so many people, of varying abilities, out riding and enjoying their bikes was amazing. The race started in Rena and finished in Lillehammer, it was 95km and all riders had to carry a 3.5kg backpack throughout the race.

The race was unlike any other race that I have ever participated in: a fast race, soley on open fire-roads. There were no technical aspects at all, but with that many participants it would not be possible to include singletrails; slower riders rode on the right and faster riders over-took on the left. It was simple and it worked. Riders set off in waves at timed intervals throughout the day, and the elite women set off as a single wave together at 8.30am. The male riders ahead of us were all slower, meaning that we had a head-to-head women only race; faster men had either already started or would start later in the afternoon. I liked this format; I like racing women without the influence of men.

It's not a surprise that Pia Sundstedt (Finland) was the race favourite; after winning this race many times before, she had a clear race tactic which she executed perfectly: a slow start for the first 5km, followed by a series of attacks until the top of the first climb. These attacks quickly broke the field: first four girls were able to respond, then only three, and then just me. As we approached the first timing mat where the winner of the first mountain prize would be decided I was happy to ease off and let Pia cross first - she had after all initiated all of the attacks and, in my eyes, she deserved to take the prize; I had merely followed her wheel.

On the first descent I realised that in hindsight I should have replaced my 39T chainring for a 42T - Pia was able to pedal away from me while all I could do was free-wheel. I was unable to close the gap back to her and I rode together with Nina Gassler for the remainder of the race. This was nice because Nina and I have become friends after we first met in the Trans Germany in 2009. Nina had lost all of her gels in the early part of the race and so I was happy to offer her my wheel in return for hers on the descents - she, like Pia, had a 42T chainring and she was therefore able to pedal when I wasn't. 

I thoroughly enjoyed my brief stay in Norway; everyone, including the race organisers and the lovely family who welcomed me into their home, went out of their way to make me feel welcome. As I expected, Norwegian hospitality was excellent. Thank you!

Race results:

1 Pia Sundstedt Craft Rocky Mountain 03:08:26
2 Sally Bigham Topeak Ergon Racing 03:10:21
3 Nina Gässler Hard Rocx/Geilo IL 03:10:22
4 Heidi Rosasen Sandstø United Bakeries / Follo 03:17:41
5 Hildegunn G Hovdenak Sogn CK 03:20:17
6 Hanne Trønnes Ottadalen SK 03:20:37
7 Borghild Løvset Orkla CK 03:20:47
8 Ingrid Jevne Framstad Hard Rocx/Toten-Tråkk 03:22:43
9 Hege Linn Eie Vatland Flekkefjord SK 03:22:43
10 Mari Trønnes 03:23:05

A huge thank you also to Marian Kopfer who provided me with excellent team support, including mechanic, feedzone supporter, and driver :)

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Grand Raid Cristalp

I hadn’t originally planned to do the Grand Raid, but when it was included in the new UCI World Marathon Series I decided to go. Although in the past this has been a race that I have really wanted to do, over the last couple of years the race distance has kept me away. This might sound really strange – why would a marathon racer be put off by a 125km!? This is because my season goals are the European and World Marathon Championships and the UCI stipulate that, for women, they should be between 80km and 100km with a winning time of 4 to 5 hours. While the Grand Raid is only an extra 25km, it can take the winning lady between 7.5 and 8 hours to complete. That would make it the longest race that I’ve done since my 24-hour solo 3 years ago.

Once I decided to go, I started to get excited. I love the mountains and I’d never been to Switzerland before. We arrived in Verbier on Thursday evening to spectacular views of the Mont Blanc Massif bathed in sunshine. Sunshine – hoorah :D The next day I had an easy spin up the first climb of the race course; a fireroad which was criss-crossed by lots of enticing downhill runs.  Dave met me in the car at the first feedzone and from there we drove to Sion to sign-on.


On race day we ate breakfast at 3:45am ready for a 6:30am race start - the earliest race start that I’ve ever had! I thought the 7:30am starts at the Cape Epic were bad ;) It was surprisingly warm and the forecast promised a lovely sunny day. My tactic for the race was to ride at a comfortable pace throughout - I didn’t want to ride hard because I’m racing the Birkebeiner in Norway on Saturday. Everything went perfectly to plan: I was able to find a nice rhythm that I maintained from start to finish. At the first feedzone I already had a two-minute lead over 2nd place, and I was gradually able to extend this lead throughout the race. This meant that I was able to take extra care on the descents in order to avoid punctures and crashes. A good job because I had a problem with my forks which meant that I had a bit of a bumpy ride ;)


The course was amazing and had a mixture of terrain: narrow, flowy singletrail, rocky singletrail, rooty trails, rock gardens, river crossings etc. etc. I think that this is the reason why time passed by so quickly - it was an interesting course. Although there were some fireroad and asphalt climbs/descents, the views were breath-taking so even singletrack ‘junkies’ couldn’t grumble – could they?! I’ve done a lot of marathons and this one has to be one of the best, if not the best, I have ever done. I give it top marks and highly recommend it.


1st Sally Bigham (GB)
2nd Jane Nuessli (Switzerland)
3rd Elena Giacoumzzi (Italy)

Full results can be found here.

Right then, I’m off to unpack and pack (again) ready for my flight to Norway on Thursday! 

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Birkebeiner, Norway

I'm really excited to be making one final addition to my 2011 race schedule: the Birkebeiner on Saturday 27th August. It's a huge race attracting 18,000 riders and in doing so it claims to be the largest bike race in the world! It's a 95km A to B race starting in Rena and finishing in Lillehammer. The unusual thing about it is that all riders must carry a 3.5kg backpack throughout the race, so I'll be racing with my Ergon backpack :) It'll be really nice to catch up with Nina Gassler who lives in Norway and races for Hardrocx Racing Team :D

Monday, 15 August 2011

Destination: Switzerland. Race: Grand Raid

After a week full of interval training and long rides, I'm now having a few easy days before heading off to Verbier to prepare for the Grand Raid on Saturday. I've never been to Switzerland before (apart from briefly racing in and straight out again during the Ischgl ironbike), so I'm really looking forward to a new adventure. The race is the second race of the UCI World Marathon series so it should attract a good line up of women, already confirmed are Jane Nuessli and Elena Giacoumzzi who finished 2nd and 3rd respectively at the Kitzalp last month, which was the first race of the series.

The Grand Raid is a race that I've always wanted to do and I'm really excited to be finally going there; however it won't be easy! Unlike most races the Grand Raid is an A to B race; starting in Verbier and finishing in Grimentz it covers 125km and 5025m of vertical ascent. I like the A to B format a lot; just like in stage races you really feel like you're travelling somewhere and getting to see so much more. I just hope that it doesn't rain, but if it does the race organisers have a contingency plan: in case of bad weather the race is rescheduled to Sunday. The weather can't be bad on both days can it?!

Course profile. Click image to enlarge


Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Ischgl Ironbike, Austria

I've had a break from racing over the last few weeks so that I could train for my remaining goals this season. June was full of racing and tapering and it was time to get some training miles back into my legs. It's been nice to stay at home and ride my favourite training rides, one of which is The Jurassic Beast 

With some high mileage in my legs it was time to head off to Austria for the Ischgl Ironbike last weekend. A quick check of the weather forecast meant that I was packing warm clothes in preparation for rain and lots of it!

The ironbike is a tough course with nearly 4000m of vertical ascent over 79km. 
Torrential rain the day before the race and talk of snow at the top of the mountains was familar - we were faced with the same weather conditions last year! I don't mind the rain, but I really don't like to be cold and with such long descents it's difficult to be anything but cold when it's raining. I prepared myself mentally for a wet, cold race. However, amazingly and despite the weather forecast I woke up to see the sun rising above the mountains. Wahoo :)

With Ericka Dicht (Switzerland) on the start line I knew that I would have to have very good climbing legs - Ericka climbs like she has helium in her tyres and for her, the steeper, the better! I had a good start and I had about a 2 minute lead over Ericka at the bottom of the first long climb. After 40km and just before reaching the Greitspitz Ericka floated past me, clearly unaffected by the gradient and the altitude.

I thoroughly enjoyed the decent into Switzerland, especially the Salaaser Kopf singletrails :) On the second long climb up to Palinkopf at 2800m the altitude seemed to pull the plug on my power. I took the time to take in the amazing scenery in these stunning mountains. I feel very lucky to be able to ride my bike in such beautiful places, especially in the sunshine :) As I arrived at the finish line, so did the rain - the weather gods had clearly been on my side ;)

1st Ericka Dicht (Swi)
2nd Sally Bigham
3rd Bianca Purath (Ger)

Full results can be found here

Congratulations to Alban Lakata who won the race and also to Robert Mennen who finished in 6th. Another successful day for Topeak Ergon Racing Team :D 

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Home sweet home

I've been back at home for just over a week and it's been so nice to catch up with friends and ride our local trails: Puddletown forest and Wareham forest. It's been a long season so far and I've been feeling both physically and mentally tired for the last few weeks. I've had a reasonably light training load this week and last week, so I should be ready and fully focussed for more high load training next week. 

Last weekend I substituted my normal interval session with a local XC race, pushing myself hard when I'm mentally tired is so much easier when I'm racing other people on fun trails. The Southern XCs are a really well organised series that deliver great courses, and this one was no exception with lots of nice twisty forest singletrails, short power climbs, bomb holes, roots and drops. Whoop :D Two trips over the bars within the first 10 minutes led me to believe that I was possibly a little too enthusiastic! Thankfully the girls behind were all very civilised, waiting for me to pick myself up off the trail before passing through ;) 
Jo Muden (left) and Natasha Barry (right)

A highlight of the race was having the opportunity to chase down the masters men who set off a few minutes ahead of the ladies. I was particularly hoping to be able to catch and overtake the boys from RideBike, but Stu King retired from the race just before I had the pleasure and Jon Hayes was too fast, finishing 30 seconds ahead of me. I'll get you next time Stu and Jon ;) It was also really cool to have the Vet men from RideBike cheering us all on and giving value time gap information. Driving home afterwards and then heading off to our local tandoori restaurant finished the day off perfectly. 

Although it was a little odd for a race to be over in an hour and a half, I loved it. So with my 3rd XC under my belt I’m heading off to tackle the National XC Championships in North Yorkshire on Sunday. It’ll be great to catch up with everyone from the UK race scene :)

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Kitzalp Bike Marathon, Kirchberg, Austria

The day after the World Marathon Champs we drove from Montebelluna, Italy to Kirchberg, Austria - well I say 'we', but I just chilled out in the passenger seat while Dave drove ;) We were sad to leave Montebelluna and the lovely singletrails but it was really nice to be in the Austrian mountains.

The next day we went for a gentle ride in the valley; however my legs were still tired from the World Champs and I found it tough even to just spin! We got a map of the marathon course from the very helpful guys at the Bike Academy so the next day we rode the first climb to the top of the Guggenkogele at 1750 metres. The majority of the climb had a nice gradient and my legs felt good; the last part however kicked up very steeply on grass and it was a real battle to keep the pedals turning! At the top the view of the valley below and the neighbouring mountains was really breathtaking. Fortunately I'd made it up a long time before Dave so I was able to spend time admiring the view and watching him push his bike up ;) The descent back down was fast and fun, and included some steep, loose singletrails. 

The following day the sunshine gave way to rain and the temperature dropped from over 30 to less than 10 degrees; we ordered hot chocolate rather than ice cream that day at the cafe! The clouds were low and the tops of the mountains were hidden, they stayed hidden until the day before the race. Thankfully there was no rain on race day but it was cold; I used arm warmers and a gillet - sunscreen was not necessary! 

During the race I felt strong on the first climb, reaching the top with a lead of more than 3 minutes ahead of Jane Nussli. On the second climb however I felt awful and I started to get blurred vision, which spooked me. The next steep, rocky singletrail descent was fairly technical and I had trouble seeing where I was going! My vision returned to normal on the next climb, but my legs felt heavy. On a steep hike-a-bike section I could see that Jane had closed the gap to less than a minute. I had to dig really deep for the next 3 hours to maintain my lead. It was tough and I was relieved and very tired when I crossed the finish line after nearly 6 hours of racing.

It was a really successful day for Topeak-Ergon Racing Team: Alban Lakata won the men’s race and Robert Mennen finished in 2nd place. Two wins and a second place in the first round of the UCI Marathon Series, it couldn't be better :D

Sally Bigham (GBr)        5:48:05
Jane Nussli (Sui)           0:02:00
Elena Giacomuzzi (Ita)  0:12:50

Friday, 1 July 2011

The 2011-2012 UCI World Marathon Series

The recent re-launch of the UCI World Marathon Series has brought about some changes in my race schedule this year. Here is a copy of the UCI press release:

The new UCI MTB Marathon Series 2011-2012 commences the week after the 2011 UCI MTB Marathon World Championships (June 26th 2011, Montello, Italy) and runs until two weeks prior to the 2012 UCI MTB World Championships (October 7th 2012, Ornans, France).

The following events are confirmed as counting for the 2011-2012 UCI MTB Marathon Series during 2011:

  1. 3rd July 2011: KitzAlpbike Festival, Kirchberg, Austria
  2. 20th August 2011: Grand Raid, Verbier-Nendaz-Hérémence-Evolène-Grimentz, Switzerland
  3. 18th September 2011: Adamello Bike, Ponte Di Legno, Italy
  4. 2nd October 2011: Extrême Sur Loue, Ornans, France
The remaining rounds to be held in 2012 will be confirmed after 2012 UCI MTB International Calendar applications close on July 29th 2011. Those events will be submitted to the next UCI Management Committee in September.

So, on Sunday at 8.00am I'll be lining up to race the Kitzalp marathon; with 4400 metres of climbing over 95kms it's going to be tough!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

World Marathon Champs - race report

Two days prior to the World Marathon Champs I was starting to feel really strong, which was a huge relief after feeling so tired for so long after the European Marathon Champs. The day before the race I went out for an hour spin and did a few short intervals, my legs felt amazing and my bike seemed to be floating up the climbs. I was ready to give it my all.

As predicted, the start of the race was slow. Ideally I would have liked it to be a fast consistent pace from the start, just as it was at the Euros, but it soon became apparent that the pace would be moderate until the last 30kms.

Everything was going perfectly to plan until I punctured my rear tyre on a fast rocky descent after approximately 20kms. Fortunately, there was a technical zone in a few kms and the pace was low. I was able to ride smoothly and keep my position near the front until I got another rear wheel. I lost about a minute, but I made up the time quickly and soon regained my position in the front group.

After approximately 30kms we were told that the leading girl was 1 minute ahead. Huh?!! That simply wasn’t possible I thought! I was certain that we were the leading group and that we would’ve seen if another rider had made a break. Esther Suss, Sabine Spitz and Gunn-Rita all looked as puzzled as I did for a while. At 40kms we were told that the anonymous Swiss rider had a pulled out another minute on us! Gunn-Rita joked with me that perhaps it was Esther in disguise!

As I passed through the feedzone at 40kms I was relieved to get some cold water to pour over my head! I was still riding at or near the front and I was feeling strong and getting ready for the attacks to begin. Not long after passing through the feedzone I noticed that I was losing air in my front tyre. This was bad, very bad! The attacks started and as I stood out of the saddle to climb I could hear and feel my tyre starting to roll. I had to take the singletrail descents carefully and the corners even more carefully to stop my tyre rolling off the wheel.

At the next tech zone at 60kms, I was 20 seconds behind Esther, Annika Langvad, Sabine, and Elisabeth Brandau, and 10 seconds behind Pia Sundstedt. I stopped to get a new wheel, loosing 2 minutes and three places – Gunn-Rita, Blaza Klemencic and Pua Mata passed through ahead of me. I now had to fight hard to make up time and places. I was able to pass Pua and Blaza on the next climb and not too long later I passed Gunn-Rita. At the 80km mark I was 3 minutes down on the lead group and 2 minutes down on Pia. Over the last 20kms I was riding alone and tried to make up some time but it wasn’t possible.

I had mixed emotions at the finish line: I was surprised to finish in 6th position despite all of the problems, but at the same time I felt frustrated. I’m trying to rid my mind of the ‘what ifs’ and to focus on the many positives.

It transpired that the mystery Swiss rider who led the race for 65kms had taken a wrong turn early in the race and unwittingly found herself leading the race! Whoops!

A beautiful ride today in Kirchberg, Austria, has helped me to clear my head and I’m now looking forward to the Kitzalp marathon on Sunday, this is the first race in the new 2011/2012 UCI Marathon Series.

1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 4:20:33
2 Sabine Spitz (Germany) +0:01:56
3 Esther Süss (Switzerland) +0:03:23
4 Pia Sundstedt (Finland) +0:05:32
5 Elisabeth Brandau (Germany) +0:05:34
6 Sally Bigham (Great Britain) +0:08:53
7 Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway) +0:11:15
8 Monique Pua Mata (United States Of America) +0:11:51
9 Birgit Söllner (Germany) +0:13:05
10 Nina Gaessler (Germany) +0:16:32

Sunday, 26 June 2011

World Marathon Championships

Luck wasn't on my side today - two flat tyres and two wheels changes - but on a positive note I felt really strong and my legs did a good job. I finished in 6th position. Next year will be better! I'll write a full report soon, but first I'm going to eat and chill out :D

Friday, 24 June 2011

World Marathon Champs: rested and ready :)

It took me a long time - a lot longer than I thought - to recover from the European Marathon Champs, partly because I think I still had the Trans Germany in my legs. I felt completely empty for 3 days after the Euros and my legs felt heavy and tired until just a few days ago. I love riding my bike and training, but some days the thought of riding made me want to curl up in bed and go back to sleep! I listened to my body, talked to my coach and backed off by reducing the quantity of my training. Over the last two weeks I've had lots of easy recovery rides, a few intervals sessions and lots of sleep! I'm now feeling refreshed both mentally and physically and I'm looking forward to a really hard race on Sunday - a good thing because it's going to be tough in terms of the course, the heat and the competition!

I've ridden the course when it's dry and fast, but also when it's muddy and slippery and it’s great fun whatever the conditions. I’ve had an easy ride today and I’ll ride for up to an hour tomorrow, but other than that I’ve got my feet up, so I can’t wait to get out there on Sunday! Fingers crossed for good luck and fast, strong legs :D

Saturday, 18 June 2011

World Marathon Championships, Montebelluna, Italy: Preview

The World Marathon Championships will be held next Sunday in Montebelluna, Italy. The women's course (98.3km with 2290 metres of vertical ascent) was used for the European Championships last year, so I already know what it is like to race here. The first 25kms and the last 25kms are really good fun and include lots of flowy, forest single trails :D The constant ups and downs of the last 30kms are especially challenging, and breaks at the front of the field will be made here (if they haven't already).

The start list shows that the women's race will be hotly contested with Esther Suss (World Marathon Champ 2010), Sabine Spitz (World Marathon Champ 2009), Gunn-Rita Dhale Flesjaa (World Marathon Champ 2008), Annika Langvad (Bronze 2010), and Pia Sundstedt (Bronze 2008) just to name a few!   

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

European Marathon Championships Race Report

I spent the week leading up to the European Marathon Championships resting after the Trans Germany. I went for easy rides on the course together with Nina Gassler (Hard Rocx Racing) which was really good fun. It was so nice to spend time riding easy, relaxing with Dave, eating nice food and generally not doing very much at all.

During the week the weather was nice and the course was dry; however rain was forecast for the race so I decided to change tyres and use Conti 2.2 X Kings front and back. This was the right choice because sure enough we woke up to rain on race day. My plan was to get a good start and enter the early single track sections at the front of the bunch – this was especially important because of the muddy, slippery conditions. On one of the first off-camber corners a rider slipped off in front of me, but fortunately I managed to take the high-line and ride around her.

Everything was going fine until I missed one of the course signs and went the wrong way! Pia, Milena Landtwing and Jane Nussli were then able to enter the next single trail descent ahead of me. I cursed my stupidity and chased back to them. On the first climb at approximately 10km, Pia and I were able to build a 40 second lead over Milena and Jane. I rode together with Pia until the third feedzone when I was no longer able to go with her attacks. She was super strong and literally seemed to float up the steep climbs!

I thoroughly enjoyed the forest single trail descents from the top of the Ameisberg - the highest point on the course. At the fifth feedzone with 30km to go I was 2 minutes behind Pia and 6 ½ minutes ahead of third position. My legs were feeling heavy and tired and I started to wonder why – could I be tired still from the Trans Germany or were they tired because I was working so hard??? I decided to keep a steady pace and not push too hard because there were still some really steep climbs to go. Perhaps this was a bad decision because I lost another 2 minutes to Pia between the fifth and the final feedzone. I dug a little deeper in the last 12km on the climbs and the flats, but I descended the remaining single trails cautiously because I didn’t want to make any silly mistakes at this point! As I turned the final corner I allowed myself to realise that I’d done it: I’d finished in 2nd place. Wooohoooo!!!! Pia totally deserved to win; she was really strong and rode a very smart race.

1. SUNSTEDT Pia (FIN) National Team Finland 4:04:11.3
2. BIGHAM Sally (GBR) Topeak Ergon Racing Team 4:08:46.5
4. NUSSLI Jane (GBR) Fischer BMC 4:19:14.1
5. LANDTWING Milena (SUI) Team Centurion/Vaude 4:20:21.3

Full results can be found here.

Next stop: World Marathon Championships in Montebelluna, Italy (26th June)

Sunday, 12 June 2011

European Marathon Champs: Silver Medal :D

Wooooohooooo!!! I just got silver in the European Marathon Champs in Kleinzell (Austria). It was a tough but really fun course! More to come.....but first some sleep before going out and celebrating ;) More photos can be found here.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

European Marathon Champs: Course pre-view

We're staying in a lovely apartment in Rohrbach, which is in northern Austria and very close to the Czech and German borders. The race start/finish area is in Kleinzell, which is about a 20 minute drive from our apartment. We've been here for a few days now and I've pre-ridden most parts of the course. It's going to be a very challenging race with lots and lots of consistent ups and downs. There really will be nowhere to rest! I like it :)

The course covers 100km and includes 3000 high metres of climbing.
 There's a nice mixture of terrain, including lots of forest trails with rooty, rocky climbs and fast descents. There has been some rain over the last couple of days which has made some of the forset trails a little muddy and slippery. If there is more rain over the next few days then some of the very steep climbs will be pretty tricky! I'll be riding my Canyon Grand Canyon CF hardtail together with a Conti 2.4 X King on the front and a 2.2 Race King on the rear - my favourite setup :)

So, it's time to rest, eat, sleep, ride a little and wait until Sunday. I'm feeling strong so fingers crossed for good luck!   

Monday, 6 June 2011

Trans Germany

The Trans Germany is a slightly misleading name because the race criss-crosses the German-Austrian border and finishes at the beautiful lake in Achensee, Austria. It's a fast race mainly on fire roads with some asphalt and a few singletrails. There were 4 stages which were all relatively short (approx 3 hours) making it perfect training for my next races (European Marathon Champs and World Marathon Champs) - longer stages and more stages increase recovery time which is not good at this point in my race schedule. I'm a little late in writing this, but better late than never ;)

Stage 1: Sonthofen to Pfronten 68km/2557metres

Thunder storms and very heavy rain the night before Stage 1 brought back memories of the Trans Germany last year, particularly being so cold that braking, eating and changing gear were no longer possible! Fortunately I'd brought all of my warm clothing just in case of bad weather. Phew! I pulled out wind vests, wind jackets, water proof jackets, winter gloves, neoprene overshoes, arm and leg warmers, and a buff. There was no way that I was going to get as cold as last year, though I might overheat ;)

I was looking forward to the stage because it had the most climbing of all of the stages; however my legs simply said "no" and I was unable to keep the pace of Pia Stundsted (Finland) and Milena Landtwing (Switzerland). I knew that I would be tired going into the Trans Germany following high load training, but knowing that I was underperforming meant that I had to fight hard to stay positive. I finished in 3rd place and a massive 8-ish minutes behind Pia and 1 minute behind Milena.

Stage 2: Pfronten to Lermoos 83km/2298metres

Weirdly I felt much better from the start of this stage and this gave me a psychological boost. I was able to ride well up the first climb putting me in a fast group of guys - something that is critical in this race! I could see Pia about 15 seconds ahead and I tried to close the gap. However, I wasn't quite strong enough to stay with my group of guys up the steep climb to Lohmoos, meaning that I lost some time while riding alone. I was happy to finish in 2nd place, 4 minutes behind Pia and 6 minutes ahead of Milena.

Stage 3: Lermoos to Garmisch 83km/1881metres

The cloud and mist was starting to clear and it was finally possible to see the top of the mountains :) My aim for this stage was to try to stay in a fast group, preferably with Pia, because from km 30 to km 70 the course gradually descended. Everything went perfectly to plan and I was able to ride with Pia up the first two climbs and then tuck in with a fast group of about 15 guys. The pace was fast but comfortable and I was looking forward to the finish which was at the top of the last climb (the descent to the finish was neutralised). At approximately km 45 the track narrowed and the group quickly slowed to pass over a small bridge, I changed gear at the front but my chain dropped off on the inside. It took about 20 seconds to put it back on and by that time my train was disappearing into the distance. Despite my efforts there was no chance that I could jump back on :(  30kms later and at the bottom of the final climb to the finish, a group from behind caught me and Milena was in it. I knew that I only had 200 high metres of climbing to go, so I dug deep and managed to keep hold of 2nd position - 3 minutes behind Pia and 1 minute ahead of Milena. 

Stage 4: Garmisch to Anchensee   

Stage 4 was unusual because it had two races in one: Race 1 was over the first 30km; this was followed by a 30km neutralised section; and Race 2 was over the remaining 40kms. Race 1 counted towards the overall race time, but only Race 2 counted towards the stage. Race 1 was going to be hectic because it was slightly downhill for the first 15kms meaning that hundreds of riders would all be jostling for places and trying to get to the front. My plan was simply to stay out of trouble and finish Race 1 unscathed! The start was even crazier than I expected and before long I was behind hundreds of riders! Once I crossed the finish line Pia suggested that we wait for Milena and ride the neutral section altogether. It was really nice to chill out, chat to people, and take in the scenery :) However, the downside was that once the race started again I wasn't in the mood for racing anymore! It took me a little while to get back into the swing of it, but once the course started to climb I found a good rhythm and rode together with Pia until the finish line at the beautiful Austrian lake. I took my first stage win, 5 seconds ahead of Pia and about 2 minutes ahead of Milena.

Overall results

1. Sundstedt Pia 12:31.32,0
2. Bigham Sally 12:47.52,4
3. Landtwing Milena 12:57.42,2

It was a successful race for Topeak Ergon Racing Team with team mate Alban Lakata also taking 2nd position in the men's category :)

1. Sauser Christoph 11:04.57,6
2. Lakata Alban 11:06.11,4
3. Kaufmann Markus 11:11.59,2

So, now it is time to chill out before the European Marathon Championships in Kleinzell, Austria on Sunday.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Next stop: Trans Germany

After two weeks at home it's time to pack again! I'm off to Sonthofen, Southern Germany, tomorrow for the start of the Trans Germany 4 day race. The race starts on Wednesday and it will cover around 300 km with 10,000 metres of vertical ascent before finishing in Anchensee, Austria, on Saturday.

This is my third TG, so it's a familiar race to me. I finished 2nd there in 2009 when it was a 7 day race, but last year I wasn't in good shape following a knee injury throughout the first part of the year, which meant that I had to settle for fifth place. I'm in far better shape this year and I'm feeling strong so I'm definitely looking to improve on last years position.

All races are obviously important to me, but some have to take priority and it's not possible to be in top shape for all of them. This means that some races have to be sacrificed for others. I've just finished a high load training week and I'm using the TG as another high load week before the European Marathon Champs in two weeks time. This means that I might be tired going into the start of the TG, but on the positive side an easy week afterwards should mean that I'll be fully rested and feeling strong for the European Champs. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Sicilian hospitality :D

I'm feeling very lucky to be able to travel around the world racing my mountain bike, but I'm feeling especially lucky to have experienced the Etna Marathon, Sicily, last weekend. The Mongibello MTB team were excellent hosts and they went out of their way to make me feel welcome. This was the first race that I have ever travelled to alone without Dave or support form my Team; however the Mongibello team stepped in and adopted me during my visit and I can't thank them enough! 

The night I arrived in Sicily I was amazed to see a glowing lava fountain spewing out of Mount Etna!!! As I lay in bed at the base of the volcano I could hear the rumbling, which did make me wonder whether racing around an active volcano was a good idea!!! The next day all flights in and out of Catania were cancelled because of the thick layer of volcanic ash that covered the runway! Perhaps I'd be staying in Sicily longer than I thought! 

The next day I rode some of the course with Tomoka (Mongibello Chix) and two fellow Brits, Greg Parker and Andy Leach, who were also staying at the Ghebel Hotel in Milo. It's becoming increasingly popular for race organisers to provide different course lengths for riders to choose from during the race and the Etna Marathon follows this principle by offering three course options: a 23km (700 metres of vertical ascent), a 49km (1500 metres), and the full 70km (2200 metres). We rode the 23km course but we had so much fun on the final singletrack descents that we headed back up for a second go :D The long forest single trails were steep, twisty, very loose and never failed to make me whoop! 

Etna was still smoking!
The race started at 10am on Saturday, which meant that I had a long sleep and plenty of time to eat my oats and banana for breakfast ;) It was a hot day so I added Elete Water to my Torq carb drinks - I always use this electrolyte add-in during hot races. I had a really good start and rode with the lead group of men along a gradual road climb, but once the course headed steeply upwards into the forest the group split and I rode with a couple of guys. It pretty much stayed this way for the rest of the race; however I couldn't get to grips with the deep volcanic sand/gravel fireroad corners that were littered with pinecones. I cursed myself out aloud, but this didn't help ;) 

Sweet forest singletrails 
As the course took us higher and higher and closer to the snow that still covers the summit, I took time to take in the views down to the coast below. This is one of the reasons that I love marathon racing: I get to visit amazing places like this and to see stunning views; in marathon races you cover long distances on one lap courses, and you really feel like you have been on a adventure on your bike :) After 3 hours and 33 minutes I crossed the finish line in first place :) Congrats to Greg Parker for finishing 2nd in his age category. 

The next day I rode the 70km marathon course again, while most people were lining the streets getting ready to watch the Giro d'Italia. The course was really quiet and as I climbed up the forest trails I heard something rustling in the trees, I expected to see a dear but I was shocked to see what looked like a big cat! I stopped in amazement and the cat froze staring at me for a short while before running away. I've since found out that the wild cats of Etna are endangered and that it is extremely rare to see them. My luck that day continued because just as I finished the marathon course the Giro passed through Milo :) The next day I couldn’t resist going for a quick spin around the 70km route again before heading off back home to the UK.  

Mark Cavendish in the Giro d'Italia

A huge thank you to Mongibello MTB team for organising such a great event and for welcoming me to Sicily :)

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Etna Marathon, Sicily

I'm off to Sicily tomorrow for some training and also to race in the Etna Marathon on Saturday. I'm really looking forward to some great rides, coffee, ice cream, and catching up with friends. Hooray! I love riding my bike :D Photos and blog to follow........

Monday, 2 May 2011

Rocky Mountain Bike Marathon, Riva del Garda, Italy

I've just returned home after two weeks in Riva del Garda :D During the first week I trained with Kristine Norgaard (Denmark) on some beautiful trails in the mountains on the western side of the lake. Over three days we rode for 15 hours; only covering 130 miles but we did climb some 7000 vertical metres. It's funny to return home after long rides and to have only covered 40 miles! Our rides included a variety of different ascents and descents around Paso Nota (1205m) and Monte Tremalzo (1686m). The skies were clear and the views down to the valley and the lake below were truly spectacular, but often I found myself a little too close to the edge on the narrow singletrack trails that wind around the mountainsides - I don't have much of a head for heights! Kristine's wise words were: "Look ahead and don't look down!"......easier said than done when there is a sheer drop 1ft away from my wheel!!! Despite the sunshine there was still snow at the top of Monte Tremalzo and it was really cool to be riding the top of the pass in the snow :)

Dave came out to join me for the second week and I couldn't wait to show him some of my new favourite trails, restaurants and ice cream shops :D Unfortunately he didn't make it to the snow at the top of Tremalzo - I'd already ridden his legs off after the first climb to Paso Nota ;) - but we did make it to the ice cream shop. Phew :D

My training for the first week wasn't as structured as normal because my heart rate still hadn't returned to normal following the Cape Epic, but at the beginning of the second week I started to feel better again and this was confirmed with a couple of great interval sessions. This gave me confidence for the Riva del Garda marathon a couple of days ago. There was a strong line up of girls and I was looking forward to testing my form. However, I was also feeling a little nervous because this was my first solo race since January - all of my other races this year have been shared with a partner!!! It felt strange to be lining up without my other half!!!

There are three different distances to choose from during the race (53km/1659m, 86km/2705m, or 105km/3561m) but my intention from the beginning was to ride the full distance. I love this marathon and after missing it last year due to a knee injury I was really excited to be back. The climbs are steep and long *Yay* and there are some reasonably technical descents to keep you on your toes. These were made a little more tricky after a couple of days of rain and they did claim some unfortunate victims who I saw lay at the sides of the course holding injured legs and arms (I hope that you're all OK). 

I rode with Pia Sundstedt for most of the first climb, but she was super strong and managed to pull away from me not too far from the top. However at the bottom of the climb she was only a minute ahead so I dug deep in the hope that I might be able to close it again. It was not to be and at the bottom of the last climb she had put another 2 minutes into me. We still had at least another hour of climbing to go so I tried again to close the gap, but at the bottom of the final descent the gap remained unchanged. The last 10km to the finish is flat, but as normal there was a strong headwind. I took a Torq caffeine gel and pulled a group of riders who were finishing the middle distance back to the finish line. I was super happy to finish in 2nd place :D  

1st Pia Sundstedt 5:03.33

2nd Sally Bigham 5:07.23

3rd Elisabeth Brandau 5:24.2

Topeak-Ergon Racing Team had a double podium: Congrats to Alban Lakata for his 2nd position in the men's race :)

Monday, 11 April 2011

Images from an awesome race with a great partner - Karien van Jaarsveld :D

Click here to see amazing photos taken by Karin Schermbrucker and Sportograf.com.......

A few more thanks!!!!

This is the first time that I've been at home in a month and I'm exhausted! There are so many people and resources that go into making my race experiences possible and successful, and sometimes some very important people might not be explicitly thanked. This is not because they are not valued but simply because writing reports when I'm tired and struggling with WIFI connections in cafes can lead to mistakes and omissions. Consequently, I would like to apologise to a number of people for not saying a HUGE thank you that they truly deserve!

I'd like to say thanks to:
Ritch, Jon and Andy at RideBike.co.uk
Martyn Salt and Matt Sanwell at xcracer.com
James Towlson from Fine-adc.com for providing me with Elete Water (electrolyte add-in) and Purple Extreme Chain Lubricant
My Mum and Dad :D

A massive thanks to each and everyone of you!!!!!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Goodbye South Africa

We've just arrived at Heathrow after a night flight and now I'm waiting for a flight to Germany. I've hardly slept but at least I watched some good movies! This weekend we'll be visiting a bike festival - Gran Fondo - at Canyon in Koblenz and we'll also be having our annual team photoshoot. I haven't seen all of the guys from Topeak-Ergon Racing Team since Roc D'Azur last October, so it'll be really nice to catch up with everyone :D Right, where's the coffee!!!!

Tom Janas from Sportograf has some great photos of the Cape Epic and I'll have them up online soon.....

Monday, 4 April 2011

Cape Epic: Stage 7

Oak Valley to Lourensford
Distance: 65km
Climbing: 1700 metres

The night before the final stage was the first time that I had allowed thoughts of possibly winning the Cape Epic to enter my mind; however we still had one more stage to go and the race wasn’t won until we crossed the line at Lourensford. Just like the previous stages, we planned not to chase a race win or even a podium – we were firmly focused on the big goal of the overall win. The key to success in the Epic is consistency over the whole 8 days and that was what we set out to do: ride consistently well while slowly and safely chipping away at our overall lead in the GC. This is how the Bulls have been so successful over previous years, in fact last year they did not win a single stage but still took the overall race win. Our plan was to try and replicate their strategy.

Although we had approximately a 1.5 hour lead over second place we were still really nervous because we were fully aware that one mechanical or a crash could see us out of contention. During the warm up we noticed a creaking sound coming from Karien’s rear hub, a few minutes before the start we found ourselves changing her rear wheel. Yikes!!! Not long into the race Karien’s rear gears starting jumping perhaps because of a small misalignment due the different wheel. I told her to get off and walk the climbs the minute it started jumping because we didn’t want a snapped chain to contend with! We were so cautious on the descents; people watching must have thought we were crazy! At the highest point on the course we had closed the gap to the second placed team (Hannele and Leana); however because they were a long way behind us in the GC we agreed not to race them and to let them take second place if we were still riding together at the finish line. We didn’t want to risk any crashes or mistakes while chasing a podium spot that we didn’t need.

Once we saw the 5km sign to the finish I started to laugh and smile and to finally allow myself to acknowledge that we’d actually done it. We’d WON the Cape Epic after 37 hours 44 minutes of riding!!!!!! Wahoooooo!!!!!!!! The finish area was long and lined with huge crowds of cheering spectators. We started screaming and shouting – what an adrenaline rush, so cool. The media attention afterwards was unbelievable – so many interviews, photographs and autographs!! We even had a live TV interview and unbelievably we were able to get our words out without blunders!! Hahahaha :D

What we’re really pleased about is to have won with a 1.5 hour lead to the second placed team (Eva and Natalie) – this is important to us because it shows that we were the most consistent team over the 8 days despite the one hour time penalty incurred by Eva and Natalie for breaking the ‘no outside assistance’ rule. Hoooray!!! Last night I broke my abstinence from alcohol when we celebrated with two bottles of champagne ;)

It was a real pleasure to race with Karien, she was really strong and we made a great team. It’s so cool to share such an amazing experience with someone and to be so focused on the same goal. Karien is relatively new to mountain biking but despite her inexperience she was really professional and stayed calm the whole time. I expect her to be proudly and successfully flying the South African flag on the international race scene this year and in the years to come. Well done Karien – you’re an absolute star!!!!!!

A HUGE thank you to Dave and Jake (Karien’s partner) for supporting us so well day and night, we couldn’t have done it without you both!!!! Big thanks also to Corrie Moolman from Magura, Ian Williamson from Sram, and ‘Dangerous Doug’ from DT Swiss for their tech support. I’d like to thank USN, Banana Moon and West Logistics for sponsoring our Cape Epic team. I’d also like to thank my amazing team, Topeak-Ergon Racing Team, for allowing me to race as a guest on team USN. More thanks go to: Canyon for my new hardtail which was awesome and super comfortable; Continental for our tyres (X king and Race king) which were 100% reliable despite the challenging terrain; Torq nutrition which kept me fuelled for the entire race - the Torq single shots were invaluable at the feedzones; and to Compressport for providing us with fast legs everyday :D

Stage 7 results:
1st. Natalie and Eva  - 3:29.04
2nd. Hannele and Leana - 3:30.30
3rd. Karien and Sally - 3:30.37

Overall GC:
1st. Karien and Sally - 37:44.09
2nd. Eva and Natalie - 39:18.02
3rd Hanlie and Ischen - 39:24.09