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?