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