Two World Cup victories and a combined number 2 over all, gold at the European Championships and two world championship silver medals add up, quite simply, to a season to be celebrated. Now, three races await me in Asia before the start of this year's winter training.
It has been two weeks since I took part in the marathon world championships in Ornans, France, and I have to admit that I've only had a couple of bike rides since then. I've been totally worn out and a bit ill since then - a very clear warning that my body and mind have been pushed hard through a long and demanding season.
The silver medal at the cross country world championships was a medal I've worked for through six long years. With the slightly rough period of preparation before the race, it was especially satisfying to get the second place. After that, I waited four more weeks for another world championship race, the marathon distance. I fought for a long time for the gold medal, but it was still a huge achievement to get another silver medal.
My Olympic race was completely ruined by a crash at the very start, and I never managed to get into the race again after that. When I punctured after half the race was done, I quit the race. It was one of those days when many things went wrong at the worst possible moments. Physically, I was at my best and most powerful level throughout the season right before the Olympics, which made it especially difficult to accept what happened.
I know that many are and were disappointed that I didn't fulfill the expectations at the Olympics, and we have heard and been confronted by a lot of criticism for my "technical skills" on the type of tracks they had prepared at the London Olympics. I would never have won as much as I've won over the past 10 years if I hadn't been a skilled mountain biker.
I would suggest that this kind of criticism comes primarily from people who have little or no knowledge of our sport, and who are only out to expose mistakes of some or other sort. If I hadn't crashed at the Olympics and rather gotten a place amongst the top 10, nobody would have raised any questions about my technical cycling abilities at all.
What should rather have received more critical scrutiny is the level of support and trust we have received here at home since the last Olympics and since Bjørnar was born on the 22nd of March 2009! With just a smidgeon of enthusiasm and faith from the sports authorities in Norway, there is every chance that we would have been sitting here with more gold medals from this year's season than we got, as both Kenneth and I know how little it would have take to transform this into a really sensational season.
I also need to correct some of the chat that's been going since London about the pedals I use. I have ridden on Shimano pedals for the last 10 years and will continue to ride Shimano pedals as long as I can turn a crank with my legs. My pedals worked flawlessly in London, as they always do, but my whole right foot had been damaged after the hard impact with the rocks right after the start, and it made that foot unable to respond properly when trying to find the pedal and stay in the right place.
Two new World Cup titles and nearly a world record with 28 victories to date, are achievements Kenneth and I value highly. I had my first two World Cup victories in 1996 and my two latest in 2012. It would be fantastic to finish my career with a total of 30 World Cup victories!
The European Championship gold in Moscow marked the start of a raw and wild period of the 2012 season. I never forget a world championship gold medal, even though I've won many of them, but memories and experiences surrounding championships are always something special. Championships are motivating in and of themselves, and they enable us to work extra hard for many months prior to championships, just so that everything adds up 100% on the big day.
I am the only cyclist in our sport, of either sex, to have ridden in every single World Cup race this year, in addition to the European Championship and world championship in cross country and marathon distance. That demands first and foremost a whole lot of hard work every single day, and nigh-on cynical prioritizing in everything we do. Kenneth and I aim for the top and we set high goals for ourselves, but always with a realistic foundation in our present situation.
Challenges for the 2013 season
I can now look back on one of the better season I've had, despite a few disappointments (punctures and illness are part and parcel of being an athlete, but they also prevent one from demonstrating what one is capable of). Our sport is very demanding and complex, with many variables and factors that have their own impact on the final result. There are amazingly many elements that can go wrong from the start to the finish, and it's not always the cyclist with the largest engine or the most energy that wins.
Olympic gold or world championship gold was one of the goals for the season of 2012. Unfortunately neither one came off, meaning that I can't be totally content with this season. Yes, I am satisfied with the results achieved and our efforts this season, but things didn't come together when we were at our best this time, and that triggers me to continue to strive, to work harder, and to reach for new goals in the coming years.
I've had a very professional set-up with Multivan Merida Biking Team over the past three years, and I am working on a new deal with Merida for a two or four-year contract. I have now worked for Merida for a total of 10 years, and that is a long time to stay with the same bicycle brand.
Next to Merida, we've had personal sponsors who have stood behind us 100% in every way, and that's important when aiming for the top. DNB and Stians Sport (Merida Norway) have been our personal apparel sponsors for the past two years and both parties have contributed both financially and with equipment, and also by organizing things in our everyday lives so that we've been able to focus completely on that which is important in order to reach our goals.
In addition, Northwave, PowerBar, Buff Norway, Oil4Life, Nordsjørittet, Stavanger Idrettsklinikk, Eliksir, Bryne Frisørsenter and Lyst have all stood behind us for many years and been important parts in a complicated puzzle.
Many, many thanks from us to all of you for having supported us through a fantastic season. Without our sponsors and our dear family, it would not have been possible to finish the season or perform at the level that we have done this year. The Norwegian Cycling Federation (Norges Cycleforbund) has started to support international mountain biking to a greater extent than ever before, and Kenneth and I find that to be wonderful and greatly inspiring.
I want to continue for two to four more years at the same level, and we're presently putting together a plan that will make this possible. Naturally, I depend completely on our sponsors' continued support, or that I sign up new ones.
Merida promotion in Asia
This weekend Kenneth, Bjørnar and I have been in Kristiansand visiting Julius monkey at the zoo. We've had torrential rain during these days, but apart from that it's been a wonderful trip for just the three of us.
On Thursday, I fly to Korea where I'm going to take part in a race with my team colleague, Jose Hermida, and do some Merida promotion in a country where Merida sells a lot of bicycles. I have never been in Korea before, so it's sure to be an exciting trip in more than one way.
The weekend after that will be Sola Open mountain bike race, and an Olympic banquet and 40-year-old birthday party for my good friend Brit. So it's busy and exciting days here at home, as always at the end of a season. After that, there's a new trip to Asia to visit both Tokyo and Taiwan. I will write more about that trip when I return home from Seoul.
A good life for you
I have held many lectures since the end of the season, with a focus on "Exercise and motivation in your everyday life". (Unfortunately, I had to cancel a trip to Oslo due to sickness - LSK Women and Football - but will try to do the lecture for them in the beginning of December). On Wednesday next week we're attending a gathering for union leaders in various companies in Rogaland who are trying to get as many employees as possible to take part in the local bike race, Nordsjørittet. It's really just as much about good health on a daily basis for as many people as possible.
I believe that if you want a good everyday life, if you want to feel on top of things physically, be able to perform as you would like, and manage to be happy and content, taking care of your health is a key element. In my view, good health is one of the most important building blocks in our society.
I don't necessarily think that everybody ought to cycle 20 hours per week, but rather set about doing what is necessary to take care of your health, including healthy and proper food, adequate exercise, enough rest between the battles, and enough sleep.
As I write, I am sitting on the train from Kristiansand on my way home to Sandnes. Bjørnar is reading a book about crime (loud enough that everybody on the train can hear his story) with great pathos and, as always, much fantasy. Dad is reading the newspaper and writing a bit on his PC.
I have now written far too much, and many of you will have stopped reading long ago. There is a lot more I would like to share with you in the time to come. Cupboards and drawers inside my mind are filled to overflowing and need to be expressed as soon as possible. I hope and believe that I will be able to start writing a book within the coming month, even though the days here at home are busy and packed. Remember: your health goes before everything else.
Cyclist's greetings from Gunn-Rita.
[Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange]