Wednesday, 20 June 2012
Having had another successful Tour ta' Malta, where she placed 1st Maltese female and 7th on GC, Steph has been focusing on the British MTB XC (cross-country) National Points Series, now riding as an elite.
In addition, she has competed in a number of XC races in Malta and her steady performance in these races has been an assurance of her good preparation for one of her ultimate goals: retaining her title as the Maltese National Champion in XC mountain biking.
Sunday, 17 June 2012
Glorious warm sunny weather greeted us on the Thursday. Today we met two of Elena's team mates, Sonja and Katharina who we would be racing alongside for the race. The fun started with the bike fit, with myself and Sarah trying Elena's and Klaus's bikes for size so we could borrow one, so we could go for a spin the day before the race started.
Friday 8th, up at 5am for the 4hr drive to Langenlois, our base for the weekend. It rained the whole way there, but when we arrived in Langenlois, we were glad to find the sun had come out again and it was baking hot.
We arrived just after 11am, unable to get into our accommodation for the weekend, we headed out to find the HQ and collect our numbers. Numbers collected. Elena and our German team mates were able to unpack bikes their bikes and prepare for the race at 3.15pm. Meanwhile Sarah and I took our time to do what we could to prepare for the race. But with no bikes yet, we were a little limited to pinning numbers to jersey's and awaiting the arrival of Steve, with the team car and our 3 other team members.
Hooray they made it! Car unpacked bikes unloaded. Then why does it take so long to get organised, after feeling you have all the time in the world, all of a sudden it's quick sharp, we have an hour to be down at HQ. We roll out to HQ, I still don't feel ready, I still haven't managed to get frame number and transponder fitted to bike! We get to HQ and I eventually find in the mass of car's, our team car where I finally get the frame number and transponder sorted! Now I can relax and go warm up.
It's baking hot as we roll out for 3 laps of the flat twisty course, covering 100km. Within the first couple of miles there are a couple of near misses of riders suddenly braking, but incident is avoided. Lap one and I decide the safest place to be and easiest way to move up the bunch is on the correct side of the road. I manage to make my way to near the front, only for the road to narrow at a left turn for a bridge, and I'm forced back through bunch to avoid crashing!
We come round to complete the first lap and hit the cobbled narrow twisting section, (I'm so glad it's not wet!) The bunch strings out through here, as the crowds drive the riders on.
Second lap and I'm moving up and down the bunch like a yo yo, i can't seem to hold my place near the front. But one thing is clear I'm finding it alot easier to move up than in the UK and that's despite the twitchy nature of the bunch.
Last lap and the bunch slows as we approach Langenlois for the last time. Then on a straight section of road there's a crash to my left, as what looks like a couple of riders come down. I avoid this and continue, only delayed by one rider slowing in front of me to look back at crash! It later turns out that it was Sarah who had fallen victim to that crash having another rider brake suddenly in front of her!
First right hand turn before we hit the cobbles and enter the finishing funnel, and there's another crash this time on the corner. I ride around it and chase hard to get back on the bunch which due to crash is now strung out. I'm passing riders and trying to move up, then it's a down hill sprint to the line. I came in 31st. Elena staying up front all race long, finished 20th.
Not long after the finish the heavens open, and there's a huge thunder storm, luckily we made it back to the B and B before the rain came.
Saturday 9th June, it's still raining, but no matter because today we have a mass start 12km hill climb race!
We set off and we have a flat section of road before the climb, I'm at the back and with cars coming down the opposite carriageway, not where I want to be! We hit the climb, it rises up then levels out. Already there are riders struggling, and I'm riding my way up the bunch. A sharp left turn onto a new road and the climb begins. Instantly more riders are struggling, I'm riding past them, and wondering why on earth I always seem to be so far back. Mental note to self, always ride at front, which I already know, but never seem to quite manage it.
Saturday 9th, afternoon stage 3 14km Time Trial. The course was out and back, flattish with a couple of little draggy sections. I managed a time of 21.53, which I was a bit disappointed with. But we were all pleased to hear that Elena had managed to finish in a time of 19.42, and finished 3rd, a fantastic podium place for Elena who now moved up to 6th on GC.
There was an ambulance on the first corner of the decent, and a Marshall was waving to slow the bunch down. Coming into the corner, we were all slowing, next thing I'm on the ground, my wheels having just gone from under me! I get back up and continue, but any confidence has gone and I descend very cautiously. It feels very slippery, I think there must have been some spilt diesel on the road, it certainly felt like that, as Nicole then came off the following lap on exactly the same corner. I finished the last 2 laps on my own, having lost all contact with the bunch due to crashing.
Many thanks as always, go to Steve our Team Manager for providing valuable team support, and taking the time to drive all the way to Austria. Also thanks to Elena and Klaus for inviting us to race, looking after us and getting us there. For what was a good weekend's racing, we only wish we could have stayed longer.
Thursday, 14 June 2012
After two long days of driving across Europe (thanks again to Steve), 18 hours in total, one stop off at ' the only German hotel in the village', we finally made it to Langenlois with 2 hours to spare before the start of the 100k race.
It was my first race and to say I was a bit nervous (and excited) was an understatement. My race plan therefore was a) to survive and b) to stick with the bunch, I was expecting fast and furious and that's exactly what it was! Starting at the back, thinking it safer for my newly plated collar bone, I soon discovered that keeping someones wheel was the only way to survive. I lost contact on the 2nd of 3 laps, but had a drink from Steve and Klaus in the team car, what I thought was some 'super' energy drink but turned out to be water(!) and managed to get back on. Had a super third lap, loved it and managed to get up in the bunch a bit more, two crashes later and a lot of swerving and braking to avoid them, I'm near the back again 200m from the finish but no matter I'm pretty damn pleased to have stuck to my race plan, and manage to hold on to a wheel to cross the finish. First race, bring on the next 3 over the next two days...
A few hours later and we’re warming up to get ready for the time trial. Our team mate Elena Eggl put in an awesome performance to come in third. The last day and we’re up over wet cobles onto the hilly 69k, beautiful Austrian scenery which I had some time to enjoy on account of the puncture I got on the first lap…but with a new wheel I caught up with two German riders and we powered our way round the course…awesome!!
As we headed back to London, Steve observed:
"Five countries and rain in every one!"
"Never mind the rain, when's the next race!??"
Monday, 11 June 2012
|Nicole, Siobhan, Linda, Sonja, Katharina, Elena, Sarah, Iona|
The first stage was a flat, 100km race on winding, narrow roads, taking us through the tranquil Austrian countryside. After the torrential rain that had accompanied us for most of the journey, we were glad to see the sunshine... in fact we were riding in blistering heat! The first lap was pretty gentle and I was well sheltered in the bunch, although I was really struggling to move up and had to keep sprinting in and out of the many corners and turns that were on the course. About 2/3 of the way into the first lap, a rider came down in front of me... I could see she was about to fall and managed to dodge her, although had to sprint for about 400m to catch the bunch again. I was too far back in the bunch at the end of the lap and momentarily lost contact as I ended up following some slower wheels. I was not going to let this happen again. I put in a dig over the first road bridge and was back in the bunch again... but I still could not move up and with riders all across the road, cutting in in front and going around the roundabouts the wrong way, this all felt pretty hairy!
|Focused and ready to race|
So instead of a nice hot shower and a cold lemonade, I spent the evening in the nearby Krankenhaus. And here I should say a massive thank you to the extremely kind lady who patched me up at the roadside, gave me an ice pack, drove me to and from the hospital, helped me with my very rusty German and waited with me for the best part of two hours. I can't begin to say how grateful I am for everything you did to help.
Thankfully not too much damage done but I couldn't bend my right hip and thought that I probably would not be able to continue to race. But the next morning I was back on my bike and found I could pedal fine. I was definitely not 100% and I was really quite nervous in the bunch to begin with. I didn't really have my racing head on but did as best I could.
|Top of the climb - stage 2|
Recovery drink, hot shower, compression tights, lunch, feet up. Time to prepare for Stage 3. This was the first time I've ever looked forward to a time trial! In fact this was the first proper time trial I've done for two years and I was interested to see how I would do, as I'm definitely way stronger now! Plus I got to wear my skinsuit for the first time. Lush.
|Start of stage 3|
The finish line was soon in sight. I was really pleased with my time - and third out of our teams - behind Elena (who came 3rd overall) and Iona. Although looking at the stage results, I was disappointed to see that I was as far down as 60th place!! These were strong, strong riders!
And now for Stage 4. This was going to be a tough one - only 63km but two steep climbs on each lap and a couple of steep descents too. To add to the already very technical course, it was raining and the roads (and cobbles) were very slippery. Just to add to the anxiety, I had found my bike with a flat back tyre. We pumped it up, thinking someone had probably just fiddled with the valve overnight but it had gone down again as we were warming up. With ten minutes to the start, we were frantically changing the tube. No tyre levers and the first tube out of the box looked pretty dodgy so we had to hunt for a second one! Panic!! Top marks to Steve and Klaus for getting me to the start in time.
The pace was fast from the start, over a steep cobbled climb and then round some tight bends into the first climb. I was off the back of the bunch towards the top of the first climb but chased back on over the flat section to the next climb. Dropped again. More chasing. I was yo-yoing off the back of the bunch on the descent and slowed slightly as I spotted Iona on the side of the road, having come off on a steep section.
Again, my head was not in the right place - I was more focused on staying safe and staying upright than staying with the bunch on such hairy descents! As I came through the start-finish area, I heard over the tannoy: "Nummer vierzig... Doktooour Saaraa Meydment aus Grossbritannien!" This made me chuckle and gave me a bit of a boost. I rode the whole of the second lap and most of the third lap on my own. I was in a world of pain but trying to keep the power down and maintain a steady rhythm up the climbs. I was much more confident on the descents on my own! About 6 miles from the end, I caught another rider and we rode two-up for about 4.5 miles. She was much faster on the descents and gained quite a gap going into the final kilometre but I was determined not to let her beat me. I powered down the finishing straight. She looked like she had run out of steam. I changed gear, got out of the saddle and gave the last 100m everything I had, pipping her to the line.
Big thanks must go to Klaus and Elena for inviting us to the race and for looking after us so well. To Dr Melanie Darwent, (the amazing A+E consultant who coordinates our rota) for making it possible for me to have time off to race. And (as always) to our awesome team-manager/soigneur/bike mechanic Steve for his support and encouragement.
Thanks to Klaus for the pictures. Hopefully some news from Linda and Iona to follow...
Thursday, 7 June 2012
Iona and Sarah have safely arrived in Munich, ready to race in the three-day, four-stage RE/MAX race, based in the town of Langenlois, Austria this weekend. As we write, Steve is driving across Europe with a fully-loaded team-car, with Linda and guest-riders Siobhan McNamara and Nicole Walters.
This is set to be a tough race, with over one hundred riders on the start-sheet, including pro-teams from Germany, Holland and Austria, as well as teams from the Ukraine and Switzerland.
The four stages include a flat road race, short hill race, individual time trial and hilly road race. We're feeling slightly nervous but also very excited about the weekend ahead.
If we can get internet access in Austria, we will bring you updates via our blog and Twitter over the weekend...
Tuesday, 5 June 2012
I arrived early at HQ early (I was told to turn up early to make sure I got a ride, having not pre-entered the race).
Anyway, the men's race was running late, and when signing on finally opened, I was told I couldn't sign on until everyone else had, 'come back in 20 minutes'. When I finally got my numbers (all 3 of them), it was getting late. Finally with 10 minutes to spare I was ready, or thought so, but unfortunately my numbers had been pinned to my base layer! I was now unable to pull the bib up on my shorts! So some last minute frantic number pinning was need to sort it. Finally with about a minute to spare I jumped on my bike and we rolled out of HQ.
We set out for 3 laps of a lumpy course, with one notable hill. First lap the bunch was together as we entered the climb. I found myself at the back trying to move up around those going backwards. There were riders all over the road that first time up the hill. It was quite tricky trying to get through the mass of bikes, the longer the hill went on the more those being shelled out weaved around in front. Over the top of the hill and the lead group had established a small gap and were away. I found myself in the second group on the road. As a group we worked well together and on the second lap just at the bottom of the hill again we made contact with the lead group again. By the top of the climb the bunch had split though, and we were back to being the second group on the road.
When we passed through the start/finish for the bell lap, we were given a time gap of about a minute to the lead group. As soon as we started the final lap, it was like a switch, everyone stopped working! I continued to push on, with only the help of Charlotte Walton. We kept going, then made a couple of attempts to get away, but it wasn'y going to work. I was fed up with just dragging them all along, they were capable of riding but preferred to just sit in for the ride.
Last lap and we approached the kick up to the finish. I was middle of the bunch and managed to make up a couple of places in the sprint for the line to finish 26th.