Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Cape Epic: Stage 3

Tulbagh to Worcester
Distance: 125km
Climbing: 1900 metres

Last night at the prize giving we discovered that we would be wearing the leader jerseys today! The leading Ladies team (Eva Lechner and Natalie Schneitter) were given a time penalty for allegedly taking bottles from their team manager on the course. The rules of the Epic are quite simple: no outside assistance is allowed, including the handing of bottles. I had mixed emotions about taking hold of the leader jerseys – I want to be in the lead because we’re the strongest, not because of a time penalty. However, the rules are the rules and not stopping at the feedzones could potential save 6-ish minutes over the course of a stage. On stage 2 when the time penalty was incurred we were only two minutes back, so we may have actually won the stage. So, today we set off in our new jerseys :)

Under normal circumstances the longer stages of the Epic are less demanding in terms of the terrain; however today was an exception to that rule! This was a challenging stage and it took us about 6:30 hours to complete. The downhills were super rocky (and fun!) and the climbs were loose and really rocky – there was nowhere to relax , it was all go!

We were riding with Eva and Natalie until the first feedzone at about 40kms, after which were able to get a gap and we didn’t see them again. We ride with a small course profile on our bars and Karien has a Garmin so we always know where we are on the course, but the battery ran out and we were riding blind today – perhaps that was a good thing! Had we known how much further there was to go we might have slowed down! At 90kms someone told us how many kms were left to go and Karien hit a bad point – I told her that he was wrong and that I knew where we were because some parts of the course were the same as last year. This news perked her up a bit and we pushed on :D

When the finish line was in sight we were so happy and whooped all the way to the line :D Wahoooo, we’d won the stage!!! Hooray!!!!

It was a long day and now we’re looking forward to the time trial tomorrow which means a shorter day in the saddle and a couple of extra hours in bed. Yay!!!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Cape Epic: Stage 2

Tulbagh to Tulbagh
Distance: 104km
Climbing: 2300m

I had a really good sleep last night, which is unusual for me during stage races! Normally all of the gels and carbs keep me lying awake for most of the night. Stage racing is like groundhog day - same routine everyday: wake up at 4:45am, race at 7:00am, shower, massage, eat, sleep, and then do it all again! Fortunately I love it :D

I was a little bit stiff from the crash yesterday, but other than that I felt good. I was feeling a bit tentative about the start; however I managed to avoid the chaos and stay out of trouble. Phew ;) The first climb was great: long, steep, rocky and mainly singletrack :D The view into the valley below was amazing! We rode with Natalie and Eva most of the way up, but we lost contact with them on the fast, gnarly descent.

The profile doesn’t really do justice to the amount of climbing there was after the first major climb – a series of steep ups and downs for the next 65kms meant that we accumulated another 1330m of vertical climbing. There was a fair amount of doubletrack and one asphalt section, but there was also some nice singletrack dotted throughout.

The race passed through a lot of vineyards and orchards and many of the workers came out to watch and shout encouragement. Groups of school children also lined the track and ‘high-fived’ the riders as they pass by :)

At the final waterpoint at 85km we were approximately 2 minutes behind Natalie and Eva. It doesn’t look much on the profile, but the climb from that feedzone was super steep and loose and many riders looked pained and at breaking point as they pushed their bikes up! The descent from the top was the same piece of singletrack that we had climbed in the morning. It was so much fun: long, technical, tight and twisty. Whoop :D

The last 10kms were pretty tough because there was a headwind and we were alone, but eventually we arrived at the finish to take second place. Hooray!!! We’re in 2nd overall - about 13 minutes behind Eva and Natalie and 17 minutes ahead of 3rd placed Hanlie Booyens and Ischen Stopforth

I’ve had some more physio treatment and a deep massage on my neck and shoulder to try to free up some muscle spasms caused by the crash yesterday, so now I’m icing again! Tomorrow the race leaves Tulbagh and we head off to Worcester. Now it’s time to eat - I'm starting to feel like a Christmas Turkey!

Monday, 28 March 2011

Cape Epic: Stage 1

Tulbagh to Tulbagh
Distance: 89km
Climbing: 2050m

I slept pretty well last night despite the heat and still air out here. I was up and eating breakfast by 4:45am and then back into bed for a lie down until 5:30am. At 6:00am we rode to the race village, it was still dark so Dave followed us in the van to light the way.

It was fairly chilly on the start line but we knew that as soon as the sun rose from behind the mountain then we’d be battling against 30+ degree heat. The start, as expected, was pretty chaotic and within about two minutes a guy on a suicide mission rode in to me and caught my handlebars. I came to an instant stop from about 35km an hour and landed on my head. I wasn’t sure where I was for a short while and I started to see stars. I jumped up grabbed my bike, checked it quickly and rode on to find Karien who was ahead of me at the time of the crash. Apart from a twisted saddle, my bike was completely fine. I was shaken and took a while to get my rhythm back. My neck, shoulder, upper back and arm hurt, but I figured that if I was seriously hurt then I wouldn’t be still pedalling!

The climbs were pretty tough today – steep, loose and rocky – and the descents were fast and really gnarly at times, one descent was so long and so steep that the smell of overheating brake pads filled the air. It’s really hard to see where you’re going on some of the fast descents because clouds of dust reduce the visibility like thick fog.

We were riding in third place until a very steep climb at approximately 58km. It was here that we were able to see the second placed team comprising of Hanlie Booyens and Ischen Stopforth. We passed them on the climb but Karien had a small tumble on the steep technical descent which put us back into third place. At the bottom of the descent we were able to pass them and we retained second place until the finish line.
Once again Eva and Natalie took the win; however throughout today’s stage we were able to close a 10 minute gap at the first water point to a 2 minute deficit at the finish line, which means that we had a strong finish :D

At the finish line I finally allowed myself to realise the pain that I was in and I went a bit ‘quiet’! I was certainly pleased to have been wearing a helmet because had I not been then the cracks in the helmet would’ve been in my head!!! Kevin Evans, one of the favourites in the men’s category had a nasty crash and shattered his collarbone. Such bad luck :-(  I'm fine apart from a few cuts and bruises, a stiff neck and back, and a headache! Luck was once again on our side.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Cape Epic: prologue

Tokai Forest
Distance: 27km
Climbing: 750 metres

Today was a 27km prologue where teams set off in 25 second intervals. Our start was at 9:48am so we had a leisurely 6:30am wake up call. We had ridden some parts of the course over the last couple of days so we knew to expect lots of nice singletrack with plenty of rocks, drops, roots and sand.

We’re running tubeless tyres – Continental 2.2 X King on the front and 2.2 Race King on the back – because this is a race where the attrition on tyres is high due to the sharp rocks and huge thorns. I’m riding my Canyon Grand Canyon hard tail and my partner is on a Cannondale Scalpel.

We had a great start today and we were able to catch and pass some of the other ladies teams that set out ahead of us. At approximately 16km Eva Lechner and Natalie Schneitter passed us on one of the rocky singletrack climbs aptly named ‘Boulders’. We were expecting to see them given their World Cup XC background (both having won World Cup races last year), but we were pleased with how long we held them off ;-)

As we descended along a gravel doubletrack I heard Karien shout out to me – her chain had come off and it was now twisted and stuck between her big chain ring and the crank arm. We struggled to fix it and I was just about to split the chain when it finally released and we were able to set off again. Phew! We lost a couple of minutes but it would have been a whole lot worse if I’d had to put a split link in……Luck was on our side :D

There were lots of spectators whooping and cheering and it was so much fun to be whizzing along the lovely trails in Tokai forest. It was pretty hot today, about 32 degrees, but the forest provided shelter and the heat didn’t seem to affect me. We finished 2nd today, 6 minutes behind Eva and Natalie and just 20 seconds ahead of the Australian duo Jodie Willets and Naomi Hansen.

We’ve now left Cape Town and headed inland to Tulbagh which is in a valley surrounded by magnificent mountains. We’re staying in a guest house a short drive away from the race village. There’s no wind here and it’s super hot - it must be even hotter for all of those staying in tents!!!

We set off at 7:00am tomorrow so we’ll be getting up at 4:45am. It’s going to be hard to get my normal 10 hours sleep a night out here ;-) It’s now time to head off to the race village for dinner, the evenings prize giving, and the video highlights from today’s prologue.

Fingers crossed for good luck tomorrow!!!!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Cape Epic starts tomorrow :D

Wahooo!!! I've made a full recovery from the flu and I've been able to get a couple of good training sessions in this week, so I'm now ready for the start of the Cape Epic tomorrow!!!! Phew!!!

My team mate Karien van Jaarsveld came out to Cape Town from Johannesburg on Thursday so we've been spending the last few days getting to know each other. Although we've spoken on the phone and had lots of email contact over the last couple of months, this is the first time that we've actually met. We've been able to go out for a couple of rides together, which has been fun and we've been able to get to know each other's riding styles. Karien is really fun to ride with and I think that we're going to have a great adventure over the next 8 days :D  

Interview at the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Tomorrow is a 27km prologue in Tokai Forest which is situated just behind Table Mountain. Riders will be setting off in 25 second intervals and our start is at 9:48:00. The parts of the course that we've been able to pre-ride are really nice and include some pretty technical descents and climbs where rocks, drops, roots and sand are aplenty :D There are also lots of baboons to watch out for too!

So, now I'm off to make some final preparations before putting up my feet.....fingers crossed for good luck tomorrow! 

Friday, 18 March 2011

Preparing for the Epic :D

Since finishing the Andalucia Bike Race two weeks ago today I haven't done a great deal! During the last couple of days of the race Kristine got ill and being a truly generous partner she shared it with me ;) I spent a week on the sofa unable to move and although I've been mobile for the last week, my heart rate has been super high and I've been unable to train. It has been frustrating but I know that I need to reach the start line of the Cape Epic 100% healthy, so I've been eating loads of great food while sitting with my feet up!

We arrived in South Africa a couple of days ago. We're staying in Camps Bay which is truly beautiful: gorgeous beach, nice cafes and restaurants, and lovely weather. It can't get any better :D

I'm teaming up with South African Karien van Jaarsveld and I'll be a guest rider on her team, USN (Ultimate Sports Nutrition). There is some super strong competition in the ladies pairs, including World Cup XC race winners Eva Lechner and Natalie Schneitter, British World Downhill Champ Tracy Moseley and Anka Martin, plus many others. Check out the 'who to watch' list by clicking here 

Champman's Peak - Beautiful :)

Dave and I went for an easy spin today over Chapman's Peak to Simon's Town for lunch and then around Scarborough before heading back to Camps Bay. What a stunning ride! My heart rate still hasn't settled down, so it's a few more easy days for me! In the meantime I'll be chilling on the beach and drinking smoothies :D

Friday, 4 March 2011

Andalucia Bike Race. Sixth and final stage.

Today was about playing safe with the sole aim of securing our overall race win. We checked the weather forecast last night and low temperatures (only 1 degree in the morning!) and rain were forecast, this combined with the height gain during the stage meant that we knew we would be in for a cold day!

A warmer day on a previous stage!!!

We both took extra clothes including leg warmers, waterproof jackets, neoprene overshoes and thick winter gloves. We know from experience that rain can often mean snow on high ground.

We set off really slowly and we were in last position (out of the ladies teams) at the beginning of the first climb. After the first feedzone at 19km we started to warm up and picked up the pace and in doing so we gradually started to pass the other teams. Once we reached the top at 1300 metres we were in second place. The climb up to the top was really beautiful especially when it snowed; the white snow flakes and the pink almond tree blossom looked lovely.
Even with all of our extra clothes we were still cold on the descents. There were many people wearing just shorts and jerseys – they must have been frozen! The leading mixed team (Cait Elliot and Josh Ibett) were having a great ride today and it was a real shame to see them puncture on the descent from the top, fortunately however they didn’t lose much time and they won the stage taking the overall race win.

As we went through the final feedzone we were riding with Jennifer Smith and Kathy Sherwin who were leading the stage. They both had a super strong ride today and in doing so took second place overall.

We both had good luck again today and we’re super happy to have secured our overall race win. Wahooooo!!!!!!! During 23hours and 4 minutes of riding over 6 days we’ve had no mechanical problems. A HUGE thank you to Dave, who has been unbelievably good to us and has made sure our equipment has been working perfectly!!!!! Thank you so much. The three of us have made a great team :D

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Andalucia Bike Race. Stage 5.

After the stage yesterday we noticed some small cuts in my tyres so we decided to take no chances and to change them. It’s always good to know that your equipment is in good condition at the start of a stage. Dave is doing an excellent job of team supporter and we know that it would be so much harder without his help.
Once again we had a lot of fun riding today and in doing so we won the stage and retained our leader jerseys. I know that I keep saying how much fun it is here but it’s true and we’re getting to know and understand each other really well. We chat and laugh the whole time, even on the fast descents we still shout to each other about what is ahead. It’s really cool to build such a great partnership.

The trails here in Jaen are really nice. The singletrail descent from 1300 metres was long, swoopy, smooth and fast :D I think that we will definitely return here for a training holiday. We have found the course well marked but on the final descent we missed a marker and descended down a steep, rocky trail to a dead end! Yikes! It was a tough climb/hike back up, but good training ;) Fortunately it wasn’t a long descent and we only lost about 5 minutes or so.
We nearly collided with a dog on one of the asphalt descents but luck was on our side! We hope for good luck and lots of laughs again in the sixth and final stage tomorrow.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Stage 4. Andalucia Bike Race

Today we moved stage towns from Cordoba to Jaen. The temperature has really dropped here and it was only 4 degrees when we set off this morning *Brrrrr* The low temperature combined with the altitude today meant that we wore many more clothes than the previous stages and this proved to be a good decision because it was really cold at 1200 metres.

We didn’t have chance for a warm up so we took the start really easy and cruised up the first climb. After the first descent the course followed an old railway line until the last big climb. This was a real power session for me and I loved it :) I was able to find a good rhythm and we past many male riders; some jumped into our slip stream while other riders couldn’t keep the pace ;) Eventually we found one guy who was willing to work and take turns.
The last climb was really beautiful. The scenery totally changed and we entered the forest. The trail turned into a sweet piece of singletrack which was steep and rocky in places. It was certainly challenging after 100km! The descent to the finish was so much fun: lots of swoopy singletrack and some steep, loose, rutted drops. Once we exited the trail a police motorbike escorted us down the fast descent through the town to the finish line :D

Job done and we took the victory again :) We hope for good luck again tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Stage 3.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, it did! Today was definitely the best stage. There was a lot of tight twisty single track; some super steep, rocky technical climbs; and fast, rocky descents with drop offs. Kristine and I were beaming from ear to ear the whole way :D We’re getting on really well as a team and we’re working to each others strengths. To add to the fun the leading mixed pairs team comprising of Josh Ibett (Torq) and Cait Elliot (WXC) joined us for a long time. They too are working really well together and are comfortably leading their category.

I’m riding my new Canyon hard tail for the first time ever in this race and I love it! The super skinny Ritchey carbon seat post and the fat tyres (2.2 Continental race king on the rear and 2.4 X King on the front) make it a really comfy ride, even on these gnarly trails. As always, I’m running protection tyres tubeless with stans milk and this seems to be working well.

Today we both had a couple of tumbles: Kristine fell in a huge bog in a cow field and I fell in a thorn bush (I’m still pulling out thorns now!). This added to our amusement and gave us more to laugh about :D

At 60km we were both absolutely desperate for the toilet. This gave us the motivation to ride as fast as we could to the finish line, where we immediately handed our bikes to the camera man and reporter while to their amusement (and all of the spectators!) we headed for the nearest bush. Phew! Another excellent day in the saddle :)

We won the stage again today and I think we now have a good lead. Fingers crossed for tomorrow.

Andalucia Bike Race. Stage 2

I had trouble with the internet connection so this is a little late.....

Today Kristine and I agreed to take things easy and not to take any chances. We knew that immediately from the start line there was a long, steep, loose descent where riders gridded behind us would all be jostling to get ahead. Our plan was to play it safe, get down safely, and then start racing. Once the race started we soon knew that we had made the right decision. From the gun things became a little ‘aggressive’ with the whole pack of riders all vying for a small entrance to the trail. Then things became a bit chaotic with riders skidding out of control and crashing into each other. We were almost at the bottom when Kristine lost her front wheel on the ‘marble-like’ gravel and had a small crash. Fortunately she was OK and we were soon on a long flat section where we were able to go full speed and pass many packs of riders.
We caught the leading women’s team at the bottom of the first climb and soon took the lead which we then kept for the remainder of the race. We relaxed into a good rhythm and enjoyed the nice trails that lay ahead. The course today was perfect: it was not as demanding as yesterday’s course which meant that we were able to conserve some energy for the stage tomorrow. We now have approximately 50 minutes lead over second place; however there are 4 stages left and we are fully aware that anything can happen.

We both had a lot of fun again today and we’re really happy to be racing together.

So now it’s time to eat and rest :)