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''