Tuesday, 29 September 2015

That'll explain the pain then!

After visiting an excellent clinic in Monte Carlo (IM2S) I can now explain why I was in so much pain during the Swiss Epic: I sustained a 45mm fracture of the great trochanter (top of femur) the day before the race started. 

While riding through Verbier on my way back to our hotel I caught my handlebar on a metal railing. Strange how things can happen like this; after riding the technical trails of the Prologue course unscathed I launch myself onto the tarmac cruising through the streets! Initially concerned about the impact to my head but later realising something was wrong with my hip - I felt 'twisted' and 'out-of-line' and unable to bear weight on my left leg - I went for treatment with our team physiotherapist. Afterwards I felt in a little less pain but uncertain whether I'd be racing in the morning - the biggest problem with this would be letting down my race partner, Adel. 

Warming up the next day wasn't so bad, oddly walking was more painful than riding! The pain was tolerable until the penultimate stage when there was a long hike-a-bike-section up a steep forest trail. Hiking exacerbated the problem and the pain from then onwards became borderline bearable and throughout the whole of the final stage to Zermatt the mountains were alive with the sound of my screaming! Honestly, putting power through the pedal was truly agonising. Fortunately, a dropper seat post meant I was at least still able to get on and off the bike! 

After a few days resting in the South of France the pain didn't ease, in fact I had constant pain just sitting. Time to seek expert advice. We went to IM2S in Monaco and within several hours I'd seen an excellent Doctor and had ultra sound, X-Ray and MRI scans. Now that's efficient service! The Doctor advised me to off-load the leg using crutches and to "remember that the best parameter to judge about fracture healing is pain, whereas I realise your perception of pain is not really within the normal range! So in the meantime, relax and enjoy life, family and friends. You deserve a rest!

Sadly this all means ending my season early and missing the last two UCI World Series marathon races: Azores MTB Marathon and Roc D'Azur. You will however still find me at both races where I'll be following the Doctor’s advice and enjoying the local wine and food whilst hobbling around with my Ferrari-red crutches! 

See you!
Sal :)

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Swiss Epic

After 400km and 15000m of climbing over 6 days on demanding and technically challenging trails, me and my partner Adel Morath (GER) won the prestigious Swiss Epic at the base of the spectacular Matterhorn in Zermatt! Riding in the Swiss mountains was incredible and despite full throttle racing we were able to draw extra energy and motivation from the truly breath-taking vistas! The stage towns (Verbier, Leukerbad, Grachen, Zermatt) and especially the last two, traffic free towns, provided idyllic places for rest and recovery in top class hotels with quality food!   

This was the first time that Adel and me raced together so we were uncertain how the relationship would work especially competing against the well established duo of Annika Langvad and Ariane Kleinhans (Specialised RECM) who were the defending champions and race favourites. After a hard crash the day before the race started in Verbier I was uncertain whether I could compete but our team physiotherapist, Torsten Walter, was able to work his magic daily on my injured hip enabling me to make it to the finish in Zermatt - albeit in a lot of pain! 

Losing over 3 minutes to Annika and Ariane in the Prologue wasn't the start we wanted but with the long stages to come we were optimistic. The long climbs suited Adel and me and during Stage 1 we were able to catch and pass Annika and Ariane but with 1 km to go we lost the lead and finished 50 seconds back in 2nd position. On Stage 2 it was clear that the fast pace of Annika and Ariane had started to take its toll and we were able to take our first stage win and with it the coveted yellow leader jerseys!     

Over the following stages we were able to gradually build our lead and focus on riding smooth and consistent. With the relentless climbing and technical descents there's no time for recovery increasing the risk of mistakes. Adel and me rode really well together; throughout the race we had no crashes or mechanical issues - testimony to the great partnership we formed, and of course our excellent mechanic Peter Felber!

Stage races are brutal but the Swiss Epic is especially so and nothing is ever certain until the finish. This is clearly highlighted in the men's race where the leaders, Centurion Vaude, lost their lead on the final stage and BiXS-Stockli rode into Yellow for the first time. Despite our gradually increasing lead Adel and me were fully aware that the race wasn't won until crossing the line in Zermatt! Congrats to our men’s Topeak Ergon duo, Alban and Kristian, for winning the first 2 stages and finishing 3rd overall despite mechanical issues. 

Now I'm taking some days off and resting my hip in the Cote D'Azur before heading to the Azores for a UCI World Series Marathon race. It's nice not to wake up at 5.20am for breakfast ;)

Big thanks to Topeak Ergon for the amazing team support!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015


At 5am last Saturday we woke to the sound of rain, the Tre Cime (the iconic 3 peaks of the Dolomites) hidden within thick cloud. It was time to get ready for the inaugural  3Epic! Suppressing the thought of crawling back into bed and hiding, I went for breakfast: strong Italian expresso and oats with banana, honey and nut butter. Within minutes of the 8am start I was drenched as we descended the road to Lozzo Di Cadore before beginning the first 1100hm climb - waterproof shorts and a shower cap at least kept my chamois and head dry but my feet were swimming!  After an hour of winding up switchbacks to the summit, the rain started to ease but the temperature remained in single figures. At the top of the mountain I was glad to have my waterproof jacket and shorts, rubber gloves, shower cap and buff, leg warmers - even though they did keep falling down - and arm warmers, though I did regret forgetting my overshoes! 

At the bottom of the next climb the waterproof shorts had to come off, so I stuffed them down my jersey for safekeeping in preparation for the last descent. I also had to shed the rubber gloves because now my hands were swimming in cold water - but until this point they did a great job of keeping my hands warm! The climb snaked up to the picturesque lake at Misurina before taking us even higher on the old road to Monte Piana. A quick descent and then the infamous road climb up to Rifugio Auronzo where the technical hiking trail from Tre Cime di Lavaredo took us quickly back down 1100hm to the valley where we started. With fully pumped arms it was time to negotiate a few slippery forest trails undulating along the valley before the never-ending final 10km down the valley to the finish - sounds easy but I'm sure it caused much suffering and cursing!

Marathon races are tough, but in bad weather they are made even tougher! Simply finishing is a mighty challenge - but with great rewards - and it always amazes me to see so many people battling to the finish after enduring several hours; more than double the time of the winning men and women. 

A double win for Topeak Ergon Racing Team and fifth for Alban saw us win two big cockerels (wooden not real), 30kgs of prosciutto, 7 litres of bubbly and 3kg of cheese. Quite a scoop :)    

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Chasing my tail!

Ok so now it's time for a little catch up! 

At the end of June it was the World Champs in Stunning Val Gardena, Dolomites. With 3400m of vertical ascent over 60km it was a race that suited me and I was fully focused. The first climb took us straight up 800m over 5km - it was steep and a critical climb that would determine the fight for the medals. Despite good preparation and altitude acclimatisation (the race started at 1600m with the highest points at 2300m) my body did not perform as I expected it to. After 20mins with the lead group I was no longer able to keep the pace and I slipped backwards. That's sport I guess; sometimes the body doesn't respond the way we want it to. Reaching the finish line in 5th position, 2 minutes off Bronze was not the result I wanted, but at the same time and on reflection 5th at the Worlds, on a bad day, is not so bad! Now I'm looking forward to the next races, first Dolomiti Superbike and then the Transalp. 

Dolomiti never happened for me because I got flu and a chest infection! 

Fortunately I recovered in time for the Transalp - 7 stages across the Alps - starting in Ruhpolding, Germany and finishing in Riva del Garda, Italy. After more than 600km and 20,000m of climbing my team partner, Christina Kollmann (AUT), and I reached the finish in Italy in the Pink leader jerseys after 32 hours in the saddle. We took the lead after the first stage and held on to it until the finish. The race took us over many spectacular mountain passes including the Felbertauern Pass which actually saw us switch from our biking shoes to running shoes (a first for me!) to tackle the 5km hike-a-bike! This was a smart idea and saved our legs as well as a lot of time and discomfort! The weather throughout the race was unbelievable: 30+ degrees and very humid; swimming in the lakes and rivers after the stages became a regular part of our cool down regime! This was my 4th Transalp and my 4th win, that's pretty special :) After celebrating with pizza, fine Italian red wine and gelato we had to begin stage 8: driving from Riva to the north of England. That was the hardest part of the race - more than 20 hours in the van! A few days later we head to USA for the Breck Epic and Leadville 100. 

Over 3 days we raced the Breck Epic where the air is thin - too thin to walk the stairs let alone race a bike - but the amazing trails make it possible to forget about burning lungs. Temporarily! Here in Breckenridge, Colorado, the trails are world class and the mountains spectacular. Starting at 3000m each day and climbing up to the continental divide at 3800m is pretty amazing! 

The trails are demanding and take no prisoners! A broken wheel on Stage 1 meant that I lost 20minutes, but the next two stages went more smoothly, even if the trails were anything but smooth! Seeing a moose and her calf made my day on Stage 2 and riding the Colorado Trail down from Guyot Mountain was the highlight of Stage 3. After 3 days and winning the overall it's now time to rest up and prepare for Leadville 100 on Saturday. There's also a 6 day race but 6 days at the Breck Epic finishing with the Leadville 100 is a challenge for another year ;)

 At 6.30am on Saturday I started my 4th Leadville 100 - a race which starts at 3000m and takes riders up to almost 4000m at the highest point - the infamous Columbine. The sheer distance, extreme altitude, fluctuating temperatures (sometimes below zero degrees at the start and reaching high 20s mid-race) and speed make it a uniquely challenging race. With perfect conditions (little wind, no rain and a dry fast course) the aim of my teammate Alban Lakata was to break 6 hours and if the men were to go this fast then it'd mean the women's race would be fast too. There was a strong field of women coming from a range of back grounds including Danish 3-time world MTB marathon champion Annika Langvad, Katerina Nash World Cup XC winner, and multiple Ironman and Xterra World Champion Julie Dibens. 

Racing at high altitude is a balancing act between going as fast as possible for the duration of the race, but not so fast that you dip too far into the red zone and pay dearly later in the race. It's a game of good pacing and knowing how your limits are affected by the thin air. At the top of the first climb I was 30 seconds ahead of my course record, but Annika was ahead of me. This was a critical point really because from here onwards its important to be in a group. For the women, this race is all about being in a group of fast men because drafting is key. Descending on the road alone I knew that I was losing time and weighing only 50kg I don't roll quite as fast as those heavier than me! Throughout the race I remained in second position, maintaining the pace that I'd planned to stick to. There are a number of long open sections and I was fortunate to not spend too much time alone. At all of the check points I was ahead of schedule but Annika was flying and I knew that unless she had over-paced her race there would be no catching her.

Arriving at the red carpet in 7 hours 7 mins and almost 10minutes faster than my course record is something I'm proud of. Annika was unbelievable, going just below 7 hours! Katerina Nash rounded the podium off in third position. So now I know it's possible for the women to break 7 hours. This is a new goal for me and one factor will definitely help: going in to this race I underestimated the benefit of aerodynamics, but at an average speed of 23-24km per hour it plays an important role. Annika optimised aerodynamics and this undoubtedly helped her break 7 hours, but no doubt her powerful engine helped to some extent too ;)

On Sunday night we went out for dinner and choosing chicken on my pizza was in hindsight a bad idea: I got really bad food poisoning and we missed our flight back to the UK. We're still in Leadville! Hope to make it home soon!

Oh and here is a funny video! Think I'll use Trigger in next years Leadville 100. What do you think? Sub 6 hours for me him and me?


Friday, 19 June 2015

Road trip

Four weeks ago we set off on a long road trip, starting off in the Mercantour National Park in the French Alps. Over 2 weeks we had great training on very quiet roads with marmot, deer and cows (and their bells) as company. The climbs were awesome preparation for the upcoming World Championships and the sunshine was great for mind and body too, especially after the cold, wet and windy weather throughout spring in the UK!

Next stop: Alpen Tour Trophy, a 4 day stage race hosted in Schladming, Austria. We set off on the 11 hour drive at 3am, travelling across Italy and up to Austria - *uff* what a journey! Having raced Alpen Tour two times before I kind of knew what lay ahead, but I'd forgotten - fortunately - how long and steep the climbs are! After hard training in France I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from the race in terms of performance; starting a hard stage race fatigued is a bit tough! As a UCI category S1 race many XCO riders were attracted by the prospect of earning points for Olympic qualification. It was set to be a competitive and exciting race.

Thanks Jan Reiner for the photo!
Over 4 days the race took riders on 4 different loops, all starting from Planai in the town centre. What the race lacked in distance - just 200km - it more than made up for with the sheer amount of steep climbing: tallying nearly 9000m. The race was set to provide great training and preparation for the World Champs in Val Gardena, Italian Dolomites on 27th July where the winner will have to stomp around 60kms and up 3400m of climbing.

Photo: Sportograf.com
The Alpen Tour couldn't have been more perfect: 3 out of 4 stage wins, the overall GC and the Queen of the Mountain Prize which saw me win a traditional "dirndl" (a Styrian dress). Now I look more authentic when I pretend to be a mountain girl - a childhood dream!

More appropriate foot wear required to complete the look ;) Thanks Regina Stanger for the photo
Now we're in Selva val Gardena putting the final pieces of the jigsaw in place for the big race in just over one week!  

Monday, 18 May 2015

British XC Race Series Round 3

Trying to squeeze XCO races in our hectic schedule isn't always easy; the last one - a Midlands XC - was just over a year ago. This year I disappointingly missed the entry deadline for Sherwood Pines and was ill at the time of Newnham, but round 3 of the British XC Race series at Fforest Fields in Builth Wells, Wales, was perfect timing for a good, hard interval session; just what was needed at this point in my training.

An exciting mix of fast women on the start list meant I'd definitely get the interval session I was looking for! Sadly, Annie Last was ill and unable to start - a real shame because I've never had the opportunity to race with her. Nevertheless, top British riders Kerry MacPhee and Alice Barnes as well as South African star Mariske Strauss amongst others were there to provide a good battle. 

As well as hard training I wanted to have some fun so I decided to use my Canyon Lux full suspension with Reverb dropper seatpost. Although it isn't as ultra light as my Grand Canyon hard tail, it would definitely be more fun on the descents. Also, being a little bit cautious about any abdomen and groin impacts after my surgery the Reverb is a good choice for me.  

Gridded on the second row meant I needed to get into the first climb in a good position; 8th wasn't bad and allowed me to move up to 4th before the first descent. Entering the second lap I was able to move to the front, closely followed by Alice and Kerry. The Lux actually turned out to be a good choice - and, in hindsight, probably better than the hard tail - being super fast as well as fun! Initially, to be totally honest, the race wasn't really about winning, the aim: good, fast training and fun on the descents; but when the gap between me and Kerry was growing I naturally embraced the opportunity for a win! 

Racing in the UK is great; seeing all the people who I know from the beginning of my MTB career, plus all of the new faces and rising stars such as Isla Short and Lucy Grant is very motivational. The support I receive is awesome and I can't thank each and everyone of you enough. Big thanks to the women who cleared the way for me out on the course, shouting their support when I came through - especially the lovely lady who told me she'd placed her bets on me for the win…that made me smile and gave me a few extra watts!

Thanks also to Ben Thomas for shivering in the tech zone while handing me bottles and donning shorts in the blustery, cold Welsh weather ;) Massive thanks to John @Vermont Images for the photos!

Friday, 15 May 2015

Don't look back, look forward: breaking the cycle of bad luck

Over the last 12 months I've had my fair share of unfortunate circumstances: last year a lingering viral infection meant I missed the Worlds and had to settle for Silver at the Euros; vascular disease; a last minute search for a partner and then a DNF at the Cape Epic because my partner got sick; and since then a couple of illnesses including norovirus which prevented me from defending my title at the National Marathon Championships. It's now one year since my run of bad luck started and it's time to put it to bed. In the big scheme of things the year hasn't been as bad as it could've been and there are many positives, but the next 12 months are going to be better :)

Last weekend we raced at the European Marathon Championships in Singen, Germany. As a climber this wasn't really the best course for me, but being punctuated with lots of power climbs it played a little more to my strengths. Together with Spitz, Dahle Flesja, Neff and Suss, I was regarded as one of the race favourites. The weather forecast predicted blustery winds on race day, so it was clear it'd be a tactical race with riders staying together to shelter from the wind.

Wanting to split the group, I frequently set the pace on the climbs, but there was a reluctance to work together meaning that any breaks were soon caught. A couple of times the leading groups was reduced to Spitz, Suss, Neff and me, but all the soft pedalling allowed the group to grow again. In the last, flat 5km to the finish we were a group of 6 or 7. A lapped amateur rider crashed in front of me and I lost the group, although I was able to regain contact I was on the back foot from there onwards. I finished in 6th position, 9 seconds behind the winner, Spitz. A frustrating results, but Im pleased with my form - especially after recent illnesses.

After a few days at home we're packing up again and going to mid-Wales for the third round of the British XC series. Time for some XC interval training - my first for over a year. Full gas, full pain :)

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Bagging a Birthday win at the UCI World Marathon Series

Lucky in France again! We finished the 2014 season with a win at the UCI World Series Race, La Forestiere (FRA) in September. This year we started the 2015 season last weekend with another French victory at the UCI World Series Race, Roc Laissac. This marks my 14th UCI World Series Race win over the last few years :)

There were a couple of moments when I thought we were not going to make it to the start line though. First our flight from Manchester to London was delayed meaning we would miss our connection to Toulouse. That turned out to be irrelevant though because the London to Toulouse flight was cancelled due to the air traffic control strikes in France. We had an 8 hour delay in London before being booked on to another flight to Toulouse which was then also delayed. When we finally arrived in France the car hire company had closed for the night. C'est la vie! We finally arrived in Laissac 24 hours later than expected.

Roc Laissac has become known for it's cold, wet weather and muddy, technical trails. Although it lived up to its reputation as far as the trails are concerned, the weather certainly did not! Bright blue skies and 20+ degrees celsius was our reward.

The race on paper doesn't appear to be a toughie - 66km with 2200m of climbing - but the constant short, steep climbs start to take their toll, sapping energy and the technical descents mean there really is no recovery. It's the kind of course I like. Taking the lead early on in the race meant that I could focus on gradually extending the gap to France's Helene Marcouyre. After a little over 4 hours of racing I could celebrate another victory and my birthday at that the same time. Triple desserts and extra French cheese and wine for me.

We arrived home with only one delay. Spring is here now and that makes the Peak District in England a mighty fine place to be, especially because my cat lives here :)

Next stop: Scotland for the National Marathon Champs in a few weeks where we'll get to race on some of the finest trails in the Scottish Borders.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Filling in the blanks: November '14 to April '15

On more than one occasion I've promised to write an update and now it's finally here - I just hope it's not so long you fall asleep before the end. Thanks to each and everyone of you for continuing to follow this site even during my silent days. My silence is now broken ;)

I don't normally like to look back, looking forward is much more positive. Under the current circumstances however it is good for me to remember where I was 6 months ago. The decision to have invasive surgery to treat iliac endofibrosis wasn't really a 'decision' in the true sense of the word. I was trapped between a rock and a hard place; giving up cycling wasn't a realistic option, surgery was the only way forward. I was backed into a corner with no choice other than to have bovine patch angioplasty to repair my damaged artery. I've described the surgery earlier on this site so I'll skip that bit.

Scars by the Surgeon. Bikini by Maloja. 

Fast forward to Christmas Eve when I finally started real training again. What a great Christmas present: experiencing pain and suffering on the bike once again! After 13 weeks with no real training - I was restricted to walking with a maximum heart rate of 100bpm for the first 6 weeks and then gentle cycling with a maximum of 130bpm - I was really starting from the bottom, lower than I'd ever been before. I've trained with an SRM power meter for many years and seeing the data showed exactly where I was at. While training with power is a great tool, it was scary to see how much power I'd lost and where I had to get back to. At times I wondered whether I'd ever get back to the level I was pre-surgery. The first few weeks were really hard. I had to ride with 'blinkers' and ignore all of the (no disrespect intended) 'older-aged' and sometimes over-weight pleasure riders who passed me on their rusty commuter bikes complete with heavy bike chains, panniers and back packs carrying their pet dogs. I had a long way to go but on a positive note the improvements were much more obvious and rapid starting from the lowest level.

10 weeks post-op and finally allowed to climb albeit slowly. What a great day!

Although it was hard, physically and psychologically, now I know that it was actually very good for me. My body and mind had a complete rest for the first time in many years. I was able to strip everything back and start from the bottom, building up very slowly and more systematically than ever before.

I was a bit unlucky because I had some post-surgery complications: the incision in my groin damaged my femoral nerve causing me to lose all sensation in my thigh and a few days after surgery I developed a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in my calf. The DVT resolved pretty quickly with anticoagulants but the nerve damage remains and I still have no feeling in my thigh. I'm hopeful the nerve will recover given more time - doctors believe it could take a year or more. For the first few months the neuropathic pain associated with the nerve damage was very uncomfortable and I had problems sleeping but it is getting better all the time and I feel it less and less now. When I was back on the bike and able to ride with increasing intensity I did get internal discomfort from the incisions in my abdomen and groin and I frequently got swelling especially when I started to increase the power. Even as recently as a couple of weeks ago I had significant swelling in my groin after riding as an 'outcast' rider at the Cape Epic. This is one of the reasons I decided not to continue with the remaining 2 stages, but more on this later.

Positively I have had no vascular symptoms following surgery and after the hardest test at the Cape Epic I'm pleased to say that my new artery is great! Now I have two fully functioning legs (the nerve damage has no affect on my power) and that's pretty cool! I do sometimes get a tired left vastus medialis (inner thigh muscle) but I put that down to the fact that it is still significantly smaller than the right one. After a few years of limited blood flow to my left leg, the muscles started to deteriorate and my right leg compensated. Perhaps this also explains why I experienced right knee pain for a few years too - compensating for the left leg put more strain through the right one.

Working on the imbalance. Strengthening my weaker left leg. 

My rehabilitation was spent in Gran Canaria, a place I love to train in the winter because of the warm climate and perfect roads, there are some fun technical MTB trails too. We timed my surgery for the end of the 2014 race season. This gave me maximum recovery and rehab time ahead of the 2015 season. We set the Cape Epic as my first 'come-back' race - just a little over 5 months after surgery. When we discussed this with my surgeon we came away thinking we were perhaps being a bit too ambitious - it is one of the hardest 8 day MTB stages races in the world - but in my mind it was a good target. I wasn't planning on going there just to make up the numbers though. I had a great partner, MTB Cross Country ace Blaza Klemencic, and a supportive sponsor SELLARONDA HERO. The pressure was on but motivation was high!

Beautiful Gran Canaria. Therapy for body and mind.

My last training sessions before we left for South Africa were bang on target. I was back in shape - hooray!!! - but at the same time a little anxious about giving my new artery the hardest test to date. Arriving in South Africa we were greeted pretty much immediately with the sad news that my team mate, Blaza, would not be flying out to meet us. A knee injury left her with no choice other than to withdraw from the race, leaving me with very little time to find a replacement, but her health was foremost. We were soon hopeful that we'd found the perfect partner. After a few days however this also fell through because her trade team were unable to temporarily release her from her sponsor obligations. In simple terms, the Cape Epic rules stipulate that all teams must wear identical clothing. I've gone into more detail on my facebook page about this so I'll be brief here. Fortunately, my team Topeak Ergon permit me to wear non-trade team clothes for the duration of the Cape Epic. This opens up the possibility for me to race with women from other pro trade teams so long as they too are permitted to race for a different, neutral sponsor. In this case, I was lucky to find the support of SELLARONDA HERO to whom I am extremely grateful! We found ourselves back in a familiar and difficult situation: the perfect partner but no possibility of teaming up together under the current rules of the Cape Epic. With one week to go brave Christina Kollmann stepped forward and flew from snowy Austria to scorching South Africa three days before the start of the race. We were totally relaxed about our goals, her winter training had been good and she felt in good shape, she knew the demands of the race and we were ready to give it 100%.

The start of our Cape Epic journey

The Prologue saw us finish in 6th position, a little further back than we had hoped but we were looking forward to the longer stages to come. Frustratingly, 6th position meant that we had to start Stage 1 in Block B - some 200 people separating us from the leading 5 women's teams!!! Neither optimal nor fair. Before dawn we lined up at the very front of B block and set up our ergo trainers ready for our warmup - this fast thinking from our Team Manager meant that we could get as 'close' as possible to the leading women's teams but still not close enough! This is another Cape Epic rule that must be addressed in order to promote fair and equal racing for pro women. In 2016 we hope to see for the first time ever a separate start for the women. Fingers crossed!

Despite Christina suffering from stomach cramps and back pain during Stage 1 we managed to move up to 5th position in the GC so Stage 2 saw us start alongside the other leading women's teams. Oddly, because there was a women's hotspot on Stage 2 all of the top 10 women's teams were permitted to start in Block A - this clearly demonstrates an awareness of the fact that separating the women's teams between blocks creates an unfair advantage/disadvantage depending upon GC position, though it begs the question why starting position is deemed unimportant on stages when there is no women's hotspot!

Christina's back had become increasingly painful and she was unable to complete her warm up before Stage 2. She had treatment from our team physiotherapist minutes before leaving for the start line. We agreed that the objective of the day was to try to get through the first 20 minutes of the stage. We started slowly and gradually moved up to 2nd position after the first water point. Within the last few kilometres  we were caught and moved back to 3rd position. Drama unfolded at the finish line as we were informed that the leading team, RECM, had inadvertently taken a short-cut slicing 5kms off the stage. Under normal race rules this would have resulted in disqualification because the stage was not completed but it was a genuine mistake (they were well in the lead in the GC) and the team were given a 1 hour time penalty. This pushed us up to 2nd position on the stage and 3rd in the GC.

Stage 3 started well for us. We were able to start near the front line (providing a huge advantage relative to the teams starting further back) allowing us to keep out of trouble and ride with the faster men's teams. This highlights the importance of either allowing all of the women's teams to start together or, best case, to have a separate women's start. Up until the second water point we were racing in 2nd position but that's when things started to go very wrong. The temperature rapidly soared from 24 degrees celsius to a whopping 39 degrees. Christina started to slow and become incoherent. Every time she sat down I had to encourage her to continue; there was nothing I could do to help her out on the track, we had to make it to the next water point. With lots of coercion and some pushing we made it to the final water point where I stuffed her pockets with sugary sweets and bananas and filled her bottles with energy drinks. The medics gave her a quick check and we were on our way again. Slowly. Within 3kms it was clear we weren't going anywhere fast. Christina could not move any further. I tried to encourage her to carry on until we could find some shade from the sun but she was at her limit and she lay down in the middle of the dirt track in the blazing sun. I took off my jersey and used it to shelter her head from the sun. All teams carry a tracker with an emergency button. I pressed it and kept her talking and conscious while we waited. It took a long time but eventually a car came and took Christina to get medical attention. Reluctantly I continued alone.

Without our partners we continued as 'Outcast' riders 

The next two days saw me race as an 'outcast' rider starting 10 minutes behind the A and B block riders. This was unbelievably great fun! There were several other elite male riders who'd also lost their partners for a variety of reasons and I was able to 'race' with the fast boys :) Each day it didn't take long until we caught and started to pass B and then A block riders. On the first day we raced hard - well it was harder for me than the guys - between water points but stopping and spending time enjoying the services and great food at each one. It was interesting for me to compare my times with the leading women's teams. On the first day I was about 5 minutes slower than the winning duo, though I spent at least that amount of time having pee pee stops and munching on sweeties, bananas and peanut brittle at the aid stations while service guys cleaned my glasses and lubed my chain. On the second day I stopped for less time at the water points and finished more than 5 minutes faster than the winning women's team.

I had every intention of completing the next two stages and riding to the finish at Meerendal but inflammation in my groin and a sore achilles tendon meant a battle ensued between my 'think of the rest of the season' rationale and my passionate 'never-give up' attitude. Given that my race was already over when Christina was forced to retire and also bearing in mind that I had just been requested by the race office not to over-take the leading women's teams, we decided that finishing at the risk of further injury would have been foolhardy.

Dirt is highly nutritious. 

Any stage race but especially the Cape Epic is a huge journey and so much happens both good and bad throughout the 8 days. This blog has been a quick summary (haha, yes it might seem long but it could've been longer. Much longer) and doesn't really show the emotional roller coaster we all went on. The most emotive way to tell our story is through images and here are a great set taken of our whole team throughout the race - follow this link to a really cool site that tells our story.

Big thanks to SELLARONDA HERO for sponsoring our women's team - be sure to check out their race in the spectacular Dolomites on June 27th - this is the date and location of the UCI World Marathon Championships where amateur riders can test themselves against the best riders in the World while they compete for the coveted rainbow stripes.

As always a huge thanks to our amazing Topeak Ergon Racing Team and all of our sponsors. Congratulations to our men's duo of Alban Lakata and Kristina Hyneck on their Silver medal who were finely supported by our male support team comprising of Robert Mennen and Jeremiah Bishop. As riders we are grateful to all of our staff who work super hard behind the scenes: Dirk Juckwer (Team Manager), David Padfield (Assistant Team Manager), Graig Gerber and Torsten Walter (Massage and Physiotherapists), Maureen Muller (Chef Extraordinaire) and Peter Felber and Robert AKA 'Giovanni' Novotny (Mechanical Wizzards).

Given our feedback to the Cape Epic, who are big advocates of women's cycling, we are hopeful that the 2016 edition will bring some exciting changes and see a mammoth step forward for professional women. I believe we can expect to see some exciting, tight and tactical racing amongst the top women's teams. Watch this space.