It was an utterly unforgettable and amazing experience becoming European Champion in cross country riding again. The way back to the top has been long, tough and very demanding, but victory naturally tastes particularly good under those conditions.
I've had a steadily improving physical form through the past months of competitions, and the latest results from the World Cup also demonstrate this development. Even so, I've always had the feeling that I haven't managed to access the full potential I actually possess. Regular interruptions from sickness throughout the spring season, and pretty poor start positions in most of the races, have hindered me from showing what I can actually do. On Sunday everything worked from beginning to end.
After my return from the US I've been riding my road bike at home in order to develop as much speed as possible. The week before departure for Slovakia and Dohnany, where the European Championship race was held, I used a lot of moped in my training (Kenneth's favourite form of training?). It's three whole years since Kenneth pushed me with the moped and that tells quite a lot about how long ago it really is since I was properly fighting fit.
My mind and legs were really tired out after the Norwegian Championships and the tough period we had just been through. Even so, Kenneth set up a reasonably demanding program at home before departure, without pushing it too far. We're talking very small adjustments every day so that each stint was as close to optimal as possible over against what the body was capable of on any given day.
Both of us were very worn out when we left for Slovakia 10 days before the European Championships, with a training regime ahead of us that prioritized recuperation, mind and body. I left Kenneth behind on the climbs during the training ride we had during the week prior to the championship, but really crushed him on the "blowout" on the actual track three days before the race.
I lined up at the start with a very good feeling and with a body and mind just bulging with confidence.
Ahead from start to finish
I probably surprised quite a few by taking the lead from the very start, and I was a bit "shocked" myself when nobody came up alongside to pass me. After two circuits, with a lead of close to 30 seconds, I started to feel that the tough start had taken its toll, but I tried to keep all my focus directed towards my job here, at the same time as comforting myself in the knowledge that it was just as painful for those chasing me from behind.
In the final approach to the finish line I had such a great lead that I was able to stop alongside the spectators and get the Norwegian flag from Bjørnar. These past days he's talked a lot about how Mother got his flag and that she lifted her arms as she crossed the finish line. He often says that he's riding a racing bike really fast when he's out on his two-wheeler, but on this day is was Mother who was doing the fast riding.
Unforgettable European Championship
This European Championships title is without a doubt one of the greatest experiences that Kenneth and I have had within cycling. It was a victory that came as an unexpected surprise for many. It is a gold medal that we've worked incredibly hard to achieve, over a long period of time, and a success that very many didn't believe in.
We would never have managed this feat without our parents who have been there 100 parents both at home and while we've been out travelling. All four of them should have had a gold medal hanging round their necks.
Moreover, we have a group of sponsors behind us who have been there for almost a decade and they have supported us through all conditions right up until today. New supporters have joined up during the past two seasons and that has also definitely been a strong motivational factor and signal to us that someone out there still believes in us very strongly.
We have also had the Multivan Merida team and the whole Merida family behind us ever since Bjørnar was born. The large crowd that comprises the Merida family today, with dealers in over 70 countries, has consistently shown us their faith and granted us time to gradually build ourselves up again. I thank you all for being there for us all the time.
Historic European championship title
The first European Championship title I won was in Zürich on August 1, 2002. That was the very first international title for Merida ever and there have been many since. The first medal, and this latest one from last weekend in Slovakia, are without a doubt some of the greatest and most meaningful achievements that Kenneth and I have ever experienced as athletes.
I would also like to extend a thanks to all the mothers out there who have sent me greetings and encouraging words that both motivate and lighten my heart from day to day. On top of everything, I have a unique husband in Kenneth who still gives his all, both energy and time, so that I can once again enter the world's elite. During periods, he's had more faith in me than I've had in myself.
There is an awful lot of hard and focused work underlying this European Championship gold, and there are many around us who have made formidable efforts. In other words, I have many people around me who make sure the conditions are right for me to do my job as well as possible every day. Some days are tougher than others, and on the hardest days I have a small motto that I repeat to myself: "Everything is possible, if one wants it enough and sticks to it."
This weekend we head back to Italy again for the World Cup race in Val di Sole.
If you prioritize correctly, there should be time for a bike ride today or tomorrow! GO PEDAL!
Cyclist’s greetings from Gunn-Rita
Multivan Merida Biking Team
[Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange]
Editor's note: One week after winning the European Championships, Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa pedalled back on the World Cup podium at round 6 in Czech.