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.