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 :)