I wanted to win the Ronda Extrema in Riva del Garda on Sunday; 3rd place in 2009 and 2nd in 2011 meant that the only step that I really wanted to stand on was the top. With Finnish rider Pia Sundstedt (Rocky Mountain) lining up on the front row I knew that it was going to be a battle, but one that I was well and truly looking forward to.
As always in this marathon the start was fast and a little crazy. This is because the course takes the riders on flat roads through the town before hitting the bottom of a very narrow, very steep climb - and everyone wants to be there first. I feel really small among all of the men in big pelotons; I’ve got better at holding my position and making sure that I don't get pushed backwards but I still don't like it, though I'm not sure anyone really does. Within minutes one tall guy nearly had me off when he caught his handlebar under my arm. Soon afterwards there was a big crash just in front of me, though I managed to brake and swerve around it. I hate seeing crashes; my nurturing instinct kicks in and I want to stop and check that everyone is OK.
Surviving the chaos, I arrived at the bottom of the climb in a good position and as the first lady. Great. Now I just had to fend off Pia who would surely be breathing down my neck at any moment. Twisting up the switchbacks I felt really strong and my SRM power meter confirmed that I wasn't hanging about ;) I was also overtaking men that I wouldn't normally see in a race because I'd be too far behind them. This was a great boost mentally and physically. I reached the first feedzone with more than a minute lead over the 2nd placed lady. I'd extended this even further by the time I reached the 2nd feedzone.
In between the 2nd and the 3rd feedzone there is a split in the course and riders have the option of completing a shorter course. Pia decided to ride the short course, though I didn't know this during the race. Later on there is also another split in the course where riders can choose either one final climb or head straight back to the finish line. It’s a good system – 3 different course lengths - but it does mean that you can be in a situation where you don’t know who you’re racing, as in my case.
At the bottom of the last long climb I really needed to make a pee stop but I didn't know how much time I had or who was chasing me. In these situations I have to make a decision: stop or pee 'on the go'. On this occasion the decision was complicated by one very important factor: my new Northwave Extreme Tech shoes. I considered my options as I rode up the final climb and I’m pleased to say that I stopped and my shoes remained dry ;)
A Torq caffeine gel at the top of the climb and a bottle of coke at the bottom gave me an extra boost as I rode alone into the wind through the valley to the finish line. Third time lucky - I’d won the Riva marathon.
1st Sally Bigham 5:06.16
2nd Borghild Loevset 5:28.35
3rd Katrin Schwing 5:36.56
Full results are here