Monday, May 30, 2011

Offenberg

The Black Forest area of Germany reminds me a lot of the Okanagan Valley. Beautiful hills lined with intricately formed vineyards, orchards and fruit stands selling fresh strawberries and asparagus. Needless to say I love it there. I always look forward to it and feel right at home.

Like last year, we chose to stay at Edy's Hotel in Ortenberg and just like last year we were spoiled with gorgeous food at their family run restaurant. On Mondays they close to prepare all the spices that will flavor their week's dishes. Each dish was cook and flavoured perfectly and had us well fueled for the race. Maybe that's why I felt good to do another lap in the race!

I had another good start. I always knew how hard you had to go at a start, but now I believe it and make myself do it! It's still a work in progress though and sometimes I forget the start is as long as it takes me to be at the front so sometimes I start well, loose spots and then get it back together. That's what happened in Offenberg.

By the end of the first lap we were still a large group of about 13. Through the start/finish I inserted myself as 3rd wheel. Never one to wait to see how things will pan out I attacked into the woods and by the end of that first section , which included the dual line descent and a solid single track climb Julie was the only rider on my wheel. She attacked me into the North Shore descent. From that point we raced together till the 4th lap. At this point I tried to make a pass before the North shore descent, but Julie could hold me off, i tried again, but another shut out. Julie led into the north shore and eked out a slight gap. I tried to close the gap on the fire road, but she was on it and over the next lap and a half she grew her lead and took the win.

I was happy to put out a great, if not a perfect performance. I'd still like to be the racer that makes the right move at the end of the race, that moves up in position, that can put out that decisive attack to get away or hold off the chasers. That's my homework for the next one!

It was a great weekend for Canada with Marie-Helene finishing 4th and Emily Batty claiming another 15th. Katerina finished 14th and Georgia 20th after a mechanical took her out of 6th position on 4th lap. We won the top team and a 3l bottle of champagne which between the 3 of us girls we managed to polish off by the end of a late lunch (I'll admit to being the lightweight).

Now it is back home to see how that garden is doing and what mischief my husband has gotten up to.

In Other Race News

It's been a busy two weeks of racing with former house mates Matt and Catherine winning the opening Canada cups of the year. Matt went on to win round 2 while Keith's other athletes Jean-Ann McKirdy and Sandra Walter knocked Catherine off the top spot this weekend.

Keith also did some racing taking 2nd in his age group at the newly started Nimby 50 Epic race in Pemberton, BC, a great event to take in if you get the chance and love great trails.

2012 Olympic Course

From Dalby we traveled to London on way to little sleep. My typical post race midnight wakefulness combined with a 5am wake up call meant I was pretty much a wreck. But the organizers of the Olympics were giving us the opportunity to ride the Olympic course and training started at 11. Getting to ride the. Olympic course did help to energiize me though!

Driving there I was thankful to live in a town Kamloops's size. I hate traffic! It took almost 6hrs to get to Hadleigh farms, but we got there thanks to Zak and Waldek and enjoyed some beautiful sunshine on a great course.

Just as it had been ridiculously windy at Dalby, Hadleigh farms, located on the south shore of England was equally windy and on certain sections of the course we were blown up or felt like we had hands pushing us backwards or over.

The loop is fast, hard packed dirt with some loose rock sections to challenge climbing skills. lots of rocks were brought in from northern England (where the rocks are harder) and arranged around the course to offer various rock gardens, both up and down, step ups and drops. Most of the climbing is switch backing to create more climbing out of only 74 m of elevation change (Beijing had 64m and was one of the hilliest races I've done). The climbs in London are not steep, but with the fast track we will be seeing them all at least 6 times in our race.

All in all I think the organizers did a good job. It should be a great course for spectating and fun to ride. Because it is so fast and there nothing that will really separate riders like a monster climb or super tricky section the race will really stick together. It will require patience, smarts and decisive moves. I'm looking forward to the test event July 31st.

The county of Essex has adopted team Canada and the town councillor invited us out to dinner and to visit a local school. They had transported 1000 kids out to watch us train on the course. It's pretty neat to be so welcomed into a community.

Is it June already?

After Arizona, I was treated to some home time. With all the rain that always seems to come while I'm away Kamloops is a lovely green (for Kamloops), little veggies and flowers are starting to poke out of the garden and I am toying with my yearly Reno ideas. Before I can get up to too much destruction however I am off to England and the 2nd world cup race in Dalby Forest.

I really like the course in Dalby. It's a fast course with some fun technical challenges. Last year the start proved to be critical and the course hard to move up on if you had any challenges. Team luna would be returning to our comfy self catered cottage, a renovated stable with an inner courtyard and about 10 mother and foal couplings in the back paddock. Zak saved the day when after hearing a large crash he found a foal tangled up in a fence with both hind legs in the air. Grabbing his wire cutters he freed the foal with the owner's help and the foal was back to his blitzing around.

Diner again at Spice 4 you, ah Indian food! A staple while traveling in the UK.

Traveling and training were good. I seem to sleep well in Dalby and race day I felt ready. I had a fantastic start, for me, only to have 2 riders go down in front of me across the trail in the first single track. Now I was leading the chase and hoping to regain contact with the leaders. It took almost the full lap to clear traffic, but a massive effort took me into 2nd position with Ren in my sights. Remounting after the run up I realized my chain had dropped and as I put it back on and got going 3 women passed me and I was back in 5th.

I felt good and raced strong and moved up to 3rd, still seeking the lead, but I had used my super match and could neither get up to the lead two nor get a safe margin ahead of the chase group of 4 behind me. In the final 10 minutes I came very close to Ren. I turned on the turbo diesel, but then the terrain went from flat to hilly and the torque faded. Rather than bridging up to Ren I watched first an unknown rider (Anika Langvad) and then Sabine Spitz pass me. Not much later Eva Lechner and Maja bridged up to me and passed me into the run up. I followed them in and was able to pass Maja afterwards when I saw she was letting a gap form between her and Eva, but she grabbed my wheel and Eva had gotten the gap. Into the final minute and Maja goes by me again in the bmx track. From 3rd to 7th in the final 10 minutes of a 1hr 40 race. Tough love. Races that allow groups to stick together are always so interesting and results always seem to only tell part of the story.

Katerina was riding strong in about 6th most of the race before puncturing on a fast rocky descent, while Georgia got pushed back to the 30's off the start and worked all race to get up to the top 15. Marie-Helene finished 11th after some derailleur issues and Emily took 15th. Not a bad day for Canadian women, but we're looking for more!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Arizona

From South Africa I went solo to Arizona.  I stayed in Tempe for 2 nights until Luna mechanic Chris joined up with me.  In Tempe the friendly guys at Cactus cycle pointed me to some super fun trails on South Mountain and I did my best to not go too hard on the punchy trails as i recovered from jet lag and adapted to the really warm weather.  I tried out my Camelbak racebak with ice in it and it was awesome to help keep me cool out in the desert.

On Thursday Chris and I headed up to Prescott to pre-ride the 25mile loop of the Whiskey off Road race that I would be doing that weekend.  Chris doesn’t get to mountain bike with us all that much, typically taking care of our bikes, but that boy has skills and showed me how to rail on the loose San Luis Obisbo type descents.

The view from the top (somewhere around 2000m is Prieta overlook)

After leaving cool scenery in Tempe and going through some uninspiring areas of Arizona for riding I was relieved when we arrived in Prescott (pronounced Preskitt).   The trails were fun and fast and there was lots of single track on the 25  mile loop.   The 50 mile loops adds a 12 mile out and back fire road descent one way, 12 mile climb the other.

Some things I quickly learned about Prescott was that it was at altitude, just over 1600m.  This made it both substantially cooler than Phoenix and a little more painful to race at.  The town loves mountain biking and has an insane amount of great coffee shops and restaurants, seemingly way too many to be supported by the population but they are all hoping.  I’m sure the 1500 racers helped.

The vibe was great.  Mtn bike enthusiasts galore and curious citizens and passers by.  I even met a family from Kamloops!  Chris and I teamed up with Peter Glassford to do some restaurant and coffee sampling so I was well fuelled and caffeinated come race day.


Chris and I sample the Prescott Brewing company's Porter and Amber.  No whiskey for us though.
Friday we raced a fat tire crit.   I was curious how it would go, thinking that slick tires and pavement can lead to way more pack racing and accelerations which hurt my slow twitched legs, but the climb in the course was so selective pack dynamics were not an issue and I went on to lap all but two of the field.   This had me feeling pretty good about my legs and chances for the $4000 prize purse in the 50 miler.

I definitely did not want to underestimate my competition, particularly Kelli Emmet and Pua Mata who are both experienced xc and endurance racers.  Pua being former endurance national Champ and Kelli also a great Super D racer. I imagined the sketchy fire road and loose descents putting her in her element.

The race: My first 50 miler (okay so it was really 75km)

Today I would get to see what endurance racing was about. I have done the Test of Metal a number of times and of course the BC Bike race, but for some reason the unknown of the Whiskey made it feel a little more intimidating.... Or was it just that 12 mile fire road out and back? The women started 10 minutes behind the men, I think unfortunately, as it would have been nice to have a faster rolling pack on the pavement and more carrots to help me dig for speed early on in the race.

Having laid the smack down in the crit, no one really felt the need to help pull on the pavement, fair enough, but Pua was a good sport and helped share the load and was rewarded with good karma.

Once the climbing got steeper I decided to go and Kelli and Pua gave chase. We entered the woods in that order. I was able to sneak away, but never by much. The numerous step ups on the climbs were quite challenging at race pace and I have to admit to not feeling super sharp mentally or technically.

We were treated to some great descents though and I started finding my mojo and reeling in the men. The fire road descent was way more entertaining than I had expected. After I learned to slow down for the corners I was much faster too. My triceps were tired from tucking between turns when after 20-30 minutes I reached the turn around in skull valley. I could see that Kelli was disturbingly close and Pua not far behind her, but I guess I was too confident in my climbing and had settled into a pace that would prove to be too slow. The climb was long, much longer than expected. I think the whole thing took about 1hr 10min.

It was such a great group of women racing.  I think i got a "go girl" from every women out there. The guys around me must have been amused at how diffently women interact in racing.

About 40-50 minutes in I looked back and saw Kelli had closed on me and internalized a big "oh shit" before ramping up the pace, hoping she had already used up her pace to get to me. I was able to gap her, but was riding hard and scared. The top of the climb took way too long to reach and I felt exhausted.  The descent rejuvenated me and I felt good punching the fire roads and climbs in between.

I thought I strung together a pretty good descent, particularly the rocky sections and was hoping it was enough to hold off Kelli. When I hit the pavement I wasn't sure if it was the light shining through the trees or whether I really was seeing stars. Just 10 minutes of paved descent to the finish line. I went into full tuck, hardest gear i could turn, gut and legs protesting and spun my legs as best I could with my police escort guiding the way. Several minutes in though there was another police moto flying by and " You've got to be kidding me", several minutes from the finish and running on empty Pua was powering by me. I had lived the last hour in fear, riding in urgency to not be brought in before the finish after such a long race and here it was happening and not even by the rider I thought I was riding from.  And I had nothing. The last climb was intensely painful physically and emotionally and Pua found a minute on me before the finish. It was an extremely hard end to the day, but as always happens from this kind of ending I get super mentally charged to kick some serious but at my next race.

Pua claimed the victory demolishing the old course record with her 3:30 and establishing herself as a force to be reckoned with. Although feeling sorry for myself, I was pretty pumped for her win and was consoled by the knowledge we were pretty damn fast among the men too. Kelli put in a solid ride trailing me by only 30 seconds at the finish.

In a town like Prescott you can't stay down for long. Even though I was disappointed with my ride, the party kept rockin, people were smiling and despite a tough day it was undeniable that life is pretty darn good.

Thanks to the town of Prescott for supporting such a great event, I'll be sure to spread the word, to chris for all the bike support and Peter for the ride and dining.

South Africa

Despite logging over 60-80hrs of travel in the last week+, I seem to have found very little time to tell you about any of my travels.

The first World Cup of the Season was in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.   The course was fantastic.  The organizers had obviously put a lot of time into it and the weather conditions, unlike the previous weekend where they got 100mm of rain, were fantastic.

The Luna crew flew into Johannesburg and then did the 5+hr drive south.   The  scenery was much like Colorado and Utah until we were almost to our destination about 100km from the south east coast and it became more lush and rolling.

We were caught out by the season change to fall (having changed hemispheres) and got to the course ready to ride at 4:30 only to have it be really dark and start thundering by 5:30.  Bummer. We did get to see some vervet monkeys though.

South Africa, doesn’t look too different from North America, however the obvious racial distinctions in economics and life left me feeling unsettled there, not to mention all the talk of crime rates and the fact that every home and hotel was lined with electric fencing, often advertising an armed response to prevent home invasion.

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My race was good.  I still don’t feel like I have achieved that top end speed, but then I haven’t really trained it yet so am pleased to have finished 4th with room to go in my training.   The first lap of the race was very controlled as all the climbing was singletrack and passing was virtually impossible which meant the best sprinters lead the climbs until there were fire road sections where you could hopefully outsprint them for the woods.   I had moved up only to get caught behind a crash in the tricky rock garden and lose positions again.

I was shocked to go through the start/finish and be able to see the 3 leaders just ahead of me.   I never was able to get into contact with Julie who was the first to clear traffic, instead I settled into a familiar spot, battling for a medal with Irina.   A couple laps in the Chinese Rider Ren Chengyuan bridged up to us.  I rarely have a woman urging me to descend faster, but she was on it and went on to catch Julie and take the win.  She definitely has to be commended for being the most aggressive descender on the day, not to mention having the fastest legs by far.

In my battle with Irina for 3rd I noticed I could eek out a small advantage on the climbs and in the rock garden leading, but she would close it in the transitions.  I decided to follow her for a lap and see what i could learn.  I learned being 2nd wheel into the rock garden allowed gaps which I wasn’t successful at bringing back and Irina went on to take 3rd while I settled for 4th. I know I am capable of more and will be up there this season, but to be the best I have some small technique things to work on and have to bring up my top end speed.

But enough of racing, off to the Safari!

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Uphobia trees are extremely poisonous and can blind you

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My favourite, the Giraffe!