Iona at Peterborough Crit

Iona at Peterborough Crit

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

National Championships win for Steph in Malta!

Steve writes...

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.

Last weekend, Steph successfully achieved her goal, winning the Maltese National XC championships and retaining her title as Maltese National XC Champion. She will now return to the UK to join her team mates from GB Cycles and dedicate her time to racing for the team.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Remax Stage Race Austria, 8th to 10th June

Thursday 7th, Sarah and myself arrived in Munich, Germany to be met at airport by Elena and Klaus, who were kindly letting us stay overnight then transporting us all to Langenlois for the start of the weekend's racing. 

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.

The climb winds up through trees, there's diesel on the road on one of the corners (glad we're not descending!)  The climb levels out and I'm in a group with 2 or 3 others, we work together on the flatter section.  But I pay for my early efforts on the lower slopes of the climb and lose contact with them with 1km to go.  I finish, a little disappointed, happy with my knowing that I can ride up hill ok, but not so happy at my own stupid bunch positioning.

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.
Sunday 10th, 69km hilly road stage.  The rain started to fall right on time for the start.  We set off with a mad dash across a cobbled section of road in wet conditions.  I'm really not used to cobbles and it showed, again I slipped very easily to the back of the bunch.  Out of the town and the climb began, and again I was passing riders.  Over the top of the climb I can see the bunch ahead.  I make it across the gap and safely back onto the main bunch.  The route twists and turns through villages and is up and down all the way.  As we approach the end of the first lap, we reach the twisty decent back into Langenlois. 

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

Linda's first race (REMAX Stage Race, Austria)

A brilliant event to have the opportunity to be part of and my first racing experience. With thanks to Klaus Weber for organising, Steve our manager, coach, mechanic and guest riders, Siobhan McNamara and Nicole Walters who both put in superb performances over the 3 days.

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...

Wets roads and a fast 7k to the start of hill meant for a pretty exciting hill race, 12% at it’s steppest, it was a great change to the lap race the day  before and allowed the climbers to have some fun, Nicole worked her way through the group in a really strong ride to get a great place.

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

Remax Stage Race, Austria 8-10th June

Hills, rain, mud and pain... the three-day, four-stage race in Austria was tough! This was my first proper European stage race and with nearly 100 riders from pro and amateur teams from right across Europe this was a completely different league from the UK races that I have become used to! Furthermore, the women on the continent have been racing several times a week for the last couple of months and are properly race fit! I had only done three races so far this season.

Nicole, Siobhan, Linda, Sonja, Katharina, Elena, Sarah, Iona
We were racing alongside the German Bike-Aid team. We had met Elena and Klaus whilst racing the Ras na mBan in Ireland last year and Elena raced with our team in Malta earlier this year. Klaus and Elena kindly met Iona and myself at the airport, looked after us overnight and transported us safely to Langenlois - our base for the weekend.

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
Towards the end of the second lap, I was starting to relax but as we came into the last five miles, the bunch became very twitchy and I was rather nervous about the impending 80-strong bunch sprint. Unfortunately, a rider in front of me lost control and crashed. I slowed to try and avoid her but in doing so my front wheel locked and the next thing I knew I had "face-planted" and surfed across the road. I tried to get up but one of my feet was stuck in the pedal and I was bleeding heavily from my chin. PAIN! I was determined to finish the stage and thought I was within 3km of the finish... so should get the same time as the bunch. Trying to hold my chin together, I got back on my bike but suddenly felt very dizzy and couldn't breathe! I ended up lying on the side of the road, surrounded by concerned Austrian villagers and two Police-officers!

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
Stage 2 was a 12 km mass hill sprint. I tried to get as far up the bunch as I could on the flat run into the climb and then gave it my all. Unfortunately I went "into the red" too early on but worked with a group over the flat section towards the top of the climb (probably too hard) and lost my position coming into the finish when we got caught up in the team cars. Oh well. We had a lovely ride back into Langenlois... it would be a great place for a week's training away from home. Legs felt fine whilst on the bike - it was more my upper body that was struggling - I hadn't realised quite how bruised my shoulders and ribs were from the crash!

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
I was first off, as I had been excluded from GC, having not completed Stage 1. It was great to get a proper warm-up in. It was raining heavily but thanks to Klaus' amazing organisational skills, we had turbos set up under a gazebo in the car park. And then off to the start. I was a bit fazed by having to hold onto a barrier rather than being "held up", as in most British time trials. I was also disappointed that the two people ahead of me had not turned up, so I had no one to chase. After a wobbly start, I was up to speed and getting the power down. The course suited me well - it was flat with a few gentle ups and downs. The roads were wet and I was basically riding through a stream for the first couple of miles. I stupidly lost some valuable seconds at the dead turn at the end of the course. I just took the corner badly but I enjoyed the slightly downhill section with a bit of a tailwind, coming out of the turn, to get some speed up again.
A couple of miles from the finish, I was overtaken by British-team rider Emma Trott (sister of track world-champion Laura Trott). A few seconds later her team car came hurtling past me, on a blind bend with a car coming the other way and cut in in front of me, causing me to slow down. Grrrr.

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.
Race face!
All in all a great time away - despite the mishaps! There is something really special about going away as a team and it is such a privilege to be able to race against women from all over Europe.

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

Off to Austria

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

Jubilee Women's Road Race - 3rd June

It was wet, the rain hadn't stopped the entire drive down to Banbury, and it didn't look like that was going to change.  However this didn't seem to faze me today, and I was quite looking forward to the race. 

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.