The early opening race in the World Cup this year has been known since last year, but it's still a bit of a rough start. I'm not renowned for being in top shape as early as March, and this season is probably no exception.
We were in place here at Pietermaritzburg, South Africa last Friday afternoon. Powerful heat and high humidity hit us as we stepped out of the airport in Durban. After a few days down here, we're enjoying sun and summer warmth, but it was quite a transition for us.
Kenneth and I ran into a few of the members of the Merida team in Johannesburg before departure for Durban. From there we drove a rental car to Pietermaritzburg where the first race in the World Cup will take place this coming Saturday. We cyclists hit the trails as soon as we had unpacked and assembled the bicycles.
I knew that the course had been changed somewhat from last year, but followed after the men at high speed even so, and then things went terribly wrong on the first descent. A broken bike frame, a big swollen bump next to my eye, scrapes on my shoulder and hip and no more exercise that day.
Even so, I rode my bike on Saturday morning, somewhat stiff and bruised, at a relaxed speed on the first two laps since I hadn't been able to ride the course the day before. The pace was rather too high for me from the start, but I ended up having a great session and a good stint on the trails. These past days I've trained at a slow pace, and not very much, and I've had all the colours of the rainbow round my right eye and suffered from some neck pains. Still, things are improving daily so I should be ready by Saturday again.
Training in the heat
We spent January and parts of February on Lanzarote where we really enjoy ourselves. We were able to implement our planned training set-up according to plan during the first period on Lanzarote. We rounded off the stay by taking part in 4-day MTB Stage Race Lanzarote at the end of January, but only did the first stage. I had a slightly painful throat that week and wasn't going to take any chances of getting seriously ill.
After that, the whole family headed for Norway, where I only had a few days to re-pack and then travel to Majorca and Team Merida's annual press camp. This is and always has been a major event with a total of 330 participants gathered this year, many from the press, a good number of Merida dealers, sponsors, support team and people from the Merida headquarters. Very enjoyable and action-packed days, very cold, a bit of sun but also some snow this time, so it got rather a bit too cold on a couple of our photo shoots that we riders had to do in our short cycling clothing.
I usually get sick after the press camp and this year was no exception. I spent many days lying ill in bed this time, a total of nine days without training, and then did some so-called "slow" training days during the following week. Almost 20 days without normal training is a terribly long period of time in the preparation period before the start of the season. I had inflammation in the chest and sinuses, fever and headache, and no energy at all. When the illness is raging at its worst, you just doesn't believe that you will ever be able to cycle again.
Sick in the sun - it's the worst
We laid the plans a long time ago for a two-week training camp on Lanzarote again right after the press camp, so we went even though I was sick. I spent the first week on Lanzarote lying sick in bed, and then Bjørnar caught it, and then Kenneth as well. My mother avoided it with just a bit of stuffed nose and headache. I really got some bad viruses into me this time, and shared them liberally with the rest of the family. Kenneth is still suffering from painful chest and stuffed nose. Luckily Bjørnar was well again when we travelled down here to South Africa. He's enjoying great days at home together with the family. 10 days without our favourite little boy is a long time, but we have each other so it usually goes very well.
Yesterday the rest of the Multivan Merida team arrived, so now the team is complete again. We had a bit of drama in the kitchen today when one of the physiotherapists, Andi (he makes delicious food for us), cut his finger and had to go to the hospital and get six stitches. He's on the go again in the kitchen now, with a few helpers around him, but full of courage and smiles.
We're all going out to ride the race course tomorrow, and one of the guys will ride together with me to show me the best and fastest lines, and to give me a feel for how fast it's actually possible to ride down the descents.
Unusual scenery in South Africa
Kenneth and I did a slow long-distance ride today. We cycled past a national park and were lucky enough to see a big (enormous) giraffe standing right next to the fence eating the tops of some trees. There are monkeys on the roof and bananas in the trees, so our surroundings are very different from what we're used to. We have promised Bjørnar that we'll take pictures of the monkeys, and feed them bananas.
It's going to be very exciting to start up the season this coming weekend and we have a lot to look forward to and work towards as the summer approaches. It's thrilling and motivating to be focusing on clear goals, so whether you run or ride a bike or do some other form of physical exercise, be sure to make yourself a clearly defined goal for the start of the season and begin today.
You'll be hearing from us again after the weekend. I have a long trip home again on Sunday evening, so there should be more than enough time to share my experiences from the World Cup opener on Saturday.
Cyclist's greetings from Gunn-Rita
Multivan Merida Biking Team
[Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange]