October 5, 2007
Mike and I recently returned from a solid travelling and racing trip to Europe, although we were technically in Europe for a full three weeks, it was segmented into two separate continental excursions: Great Britain and mainland Europe. This added an extra element of travel and planing to what could easily be considered the two biggest races of the year the World Championships and the World Cup finals.
Fresh off the red eye flight, we downed big Americanos to help recall the finer points of left-hand driving and bolster an attempt at the traffic circles that ensnare the Glasgow airport. We ended up making an unscheduled stop for a Scottish supper and soon after the upright night caught up to us, and we were compelled for safety reasons to stop at the first pricey B & B that we could find right in the town of Arrochar. It was seeming like a good thing to have planned to arrive a week before our competitions.
This early fall in Scotland seemed incredibly wet fluctuating from a continual mist to drizzle with brief moments when the sun forced its way through the drizzle. Though there was still evidence of summer with the amazing variety of greens hills covered by dark pine, grasses, and blooming pink heather amongst the ever present confused bare patches of forest service tree harvest.
Mike and I have always enjoyed visiting Scotland and in our six years attending this venue have found Fort William and its low elevation ski area style race course to be one of our favorites. The course itself has morphed year to year but seemingly always in the direction of a more rideable, faster and less technical. this year at worlds it was no exception. This year we had to climb once up once and then go down six kilometer plus loop of pavement of hard-burmed blue stone excavated into the hills at the foot of the highest point in Great Britain. To our dismay, almost every nasty technical section from years past had been reshaped, smoothed out or taken away all together.
Ok it might have not been a true rugged to mountain bike style cross country course, but it is worth mentioning the effort of the Ben Nevis resort to develop a network of trails that can be ridden 12 months a year and would be a boggy mess for 11 and a half months of the year if not for big development and maintenance. Places like Ben Nevis play a key role in the the future of the sport by expanding riding terrain. What we were riding was clearly 100% contrived and the starkest contrast to what the natural environment would have dished up for riding here in the wet.
Mike and I opted to stay at the bustling US team accommodations in the West End hotel not quite our style with the tight time schedules for mass prepared meals and some conflicting quiet hour interests, though it was nice to be staying with the team. In total a fantastic group of athletes and staff members that offered us camaraderie and a competitive advantage with their top level professional support.
I had a bit of bad luck four days before my race I was out training on the race track finding my lines down the ripping fast singletrack as I encountered a young rider who was pushing her bike UP. It seemed to me she was yielding the trail but at the last second she pushed her bike forward and the narrow trail did not accommodate us both. My bars clipped her bike and I went for a quick trip over the bars to visit a bed of gravel and rocks. Not the worst fall but it was a significant blow as I landed with a sharp hit to my IT band.
I got up howling with pain, and anger. In one instant, an event for which I have hoped and carefully prepared to be at my best became one where I would have to do everything in my power just to compete without the disadvantage of injury. For the next three days I took it easy giving careful attention to my leg, icing it, rubbing arnica on it, thinking positive thoughts about healing. I was grateful to have support from the team physical therapist, Bernard, to aid in my recovery. The artistic kinesio taping over the swelling and bruising really helped! It was painful to ride for a few days, but the swelling eventually went down and by Friday, the day before the race, I could finally ride. I got one lap on the course... which felt pretty good, but I did not have much time to dial my lines. One lap was going to have to suffice since I did not want to overdo it the day before the race.
So race day came. I felt good, mentally, ok physically and thanks to Mike, my bike was perfect. At the gun I burst forward getting the hole shot on the first turn, knowing pileups were happening in other races here... and sure enough, behind me I heard them go down. I raced up the first climb in the the top ten, witnessed another crash this time in front of me. A Polish rider pushed into the course tape at high speed and went down hard. Luckily I could slow enough to give her space to get up, but a small gap formed with seven riders in front. Poor Maya was dripping blood all over the track, and eventually had to withdraw. The pace of the race was extremely fast on the hard packed blue stone gravel terrain. Passing on the tight downhill was pretty much impossible unless a rider gave way. I settled into my pace, riding strong up the climbs and safe on the downs. In the end I came over the line in 12th. I was not super stoked with my result (being sixth last year in New Zealand, and hoping for more), but all things considered, know it was a solid result, and was grateful to be able to race.
I was excited to watch the men's race and with the fabulous support form USAC, I was free to roam around the course and watch since they had the feed and tech zones covered.
Since Mike made the national team again (a perennial season goal) he has been super focused and disciplined in his training . He likes to have a focus for a big event to give greater purpose to the hours of preparation. Although this course was basically the anti-Mike course, not full of of his favorite type of riding (no slow technical grinding thru the mud or roots) he was hopeful and prepared to have a good day. I watched him get balled up at the start with seemingly everyone out of the top 20, and well before any single track was involved the carnage had begun. mike told me that he burned more energy just holding onto the bars and trying to keep himself and his bike upright than actually pushing on the pedals for the first few minutes of the chaotic start. mike really rode solid and was a spectacle, especially to me, within the blurred mix of 120 of the fastest men in the world. At the end of a 2 and a half hour race he earned a practically satisfied 60th posi tion.
We spent our final day in Scotland packing everything up into our giant overweight bike bags and stashing our CO2 cartridges and other no fly materials in secret woodsy hiding spots before flying over to the mainland. It was hard for Mike to swallow the fact that we had not used our rental car enough to justify the extreme price we paid so we made sure to take a fun drive through the gorgeous highlands of Scotland; unfortunately, it was on our way to the airport at five in the morning.
Mainland Europe World Cup finals
As we arrived in Munich to picked up our rental RV, the blush of the changing fall colors had begun and with it a bit of nostalgia for the season that was drawing to a close. The weather had just stabilized into a pleasant post-summer warmth and It was nice and familiar to be back in the cozy little RV driving around Europe in this case heading south thru the Austrian Alps into Maribor, Slovenia, for the final World Cup of 2007.
We lucked into a campground right in the venue which turned out to be convenient right away but less and less fun as the weekend wore on. We were close to the start finish and the tech pits for the race but there was a BOOMING mix of Slovenian/English on a huge PA system right next to us. Though somewhat horrible Mike and I had to just look at each other and laugh to hold back the tears when the next dated-through-memory-evoking early 90s rock song blared as we tried to sleep in the day before our race.
The Maribor race track was set at the Pohorje bike park/ski slope an incredibly beautiful and awesome place for all sorts of outdoor fun. The XC race track was a lot like the east coast venues slow difficult technical riding through the dark woods over roots with ditches and tricky off camber sections. No huge climbs, but constant power output with endless ups and downs. It really required skill to manage finding a flow and rhythm on this course. Mike and I were ecstatic upon preridng...this was going to be FUN, as long as we weren't trapped behind a challenged rider! Over the next few days before the races, there were complaints of how the course was too difficult and "unrideable"... to our dismay, the course was altered, smoothed out and "fixed up" by not only the UCI officials but sideways roots were hacked out by certain national team coaches (so we heard). Classic!
Race day weather was sunny and beautiful. I was positioned on the second row and as the gun went off and we all charged up the extended climb before filing into the woods. I stayed towards the front around 15th. Maintaining my composure and not blowing myself to pieces on the first climb, since I knew the technical riding would require being able to see straight. I made a few moves forward and got passed a few times. The race outcome stayed pretty much the same as what happened on the first climb. Although there were a few riders with incredible mid-race power bursts who moved forward to finish on the podium. I rode hard, sort of enjoying myself (maybe too much), appreciating the flowing lines and giving my best effort on the hills. I was glad to be able to compete and even though I wanted more, I finished 14th for the day, and 12th in the series.
Mike duked it out for just over two hours with many of the same riders he has been racing with neck and neck all year. It is astounding to see how fast the men ride and how hard all of them will push themselves to move forward. It was fun to watch the race progress from the feed/tech zone: riders moving back and forth pushing their limits. Of 180 men, Mike finished up his seven laps in a respectable 62nd. And in the overall series 76th.
On Sunday morning we we spun out our super tired knotty legs on a short ride from the lift accessed summit of this very impressive mountain. In the afternoon we spent some time in the venue with our SRAM/RockShox sponsors and watched a portion of the downhill finals before finally packing up and making an effort to drive back towards munich. We only made it a fraction of the 500 total kilometers before we got to tired and pulled into one of the tiny ancient towns beckoning to us from the dark german landscape. Here we parked the RV in a quiet lot, had a glass of wine, looked at the atlas to see where we were, had a laugh and went to bed. We were on a mission!
Mary and Mike
Team Kenda/Seven Cycles
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Mike Broderick & Mary McConneloug / Team Kenda/Seven)
- Mary's machine has served her well.
- It's nothing but concentration for Mary in a race.
- Maribor, Slovenia, race venue.
- Home for the night
- The Scottish Highlands formed a great backdrop for riding.
- Glen Nevis with the mist descending.
- Mike & Mary enjoying the sunrise drive to the airport
- Beautiful scenery in Slovenia greeted Mike & Mary at the border crossing.
- A cozy and quaint B&B provided refuge after a long night of travel.
- Washing to pack yet again…
- A drive through the Austrian Alps
- Stunning scenery seen along the way.
- Mary was psyched to be back cooking
- One of our most precious resources
- Mist-covered mountains surround Loch Long.
- Mike's been racing his trusty steed for three years.