Peaks and valleys

The past weeks have been filled with some good bike racing, extensive travel and the full range of...

June 9, 2007

The past weeks have been filled with some good bike racing, extensive travel and the full range of highs and lows that seem typical with both. Mary and I took the overnight ferry from Zeebrugge, Belgium to Hull, England on our way to a British national mountain bike race. It was an enjoyable overnight trip and since we had driven hard just to make it to the port of Zeebrugge it was a great way to relax while still making time towards our next destination.

It was pretty exciting managing our left hand drive RV in right hand drive England! Absurdly tight tree lined back roads and counter clockwise traffic circles were tough enough, but the enormous blind spot of the RV when pulling into traffic would have been almost impossible to handle without a solid co-pilot. It was probably a good thing that gas was so expensive (around USD$8 per gallon) since this really helped us keep our speed in check.

We competed at the second national series race in Great Britain held at the infamous (Robin Hood's) Sherwood Forest. This is a great venue to host a race, plenty of camping and even an on-site bike shop. The race course was all big ring and varied from flat well-packed fire roads to dark, twisty single track. The English national series is about as fun and grass roots as we have seen anywhere. The race was attended by hundreds, spanning the full range from serious factory team riders to families camping out and making a fun weekend of it. The tent out/sleep in your rig 'cause you love it culture is thankfully alive and well in GB even though we were all served up a healthy dish of gnarly weather.

The flat course made for some tight racing in the men's field. Though it wasn't quite a sprint finish in my case there were very few seconds separating my fifth place finish from fourth and sixth. For Mary the flat course did not deter her from putting some serious time on the rest of the field and taking a decisive win. The pro men and women were out on the course at the same time and as I lapped all but three of the women pros I knew that Mary was having a good day at it.

Though the racing was fun here in central England we were much happier with our surroundings as we drove west to Wales. Here we found just a taste of the GB riding that is really worth writing about. Unfortunately the weather was just terrible so we ended up spending more time inside the RV parked at the trailheads than we would have liked. Still, we got out enough to see that Wales is clearly a worthy mountain bike destination.

Though still on a mission, we made a quick stop by through some of the touristy highlights of GB. We passed on London but squeezed in a bike ride around the narrow boat canals near Bath. We even pulled through Stonehenge albeit from the non-paying side of the fence. Though the money may be going to some worthy cause, we actually felt pretty good about avoiding the 14 pound fee just to walk under the tunnel that has been built to shuttle pedestrians to the monument. We ended up with essentially the same view and had the added thrill of dodging traffic while crossing the busy road on our way to see the sight.

We took a ferry out of New Haven to Le Havre, France though we missed our original ferry by a solid 12 hours. A confusing and expensive mistake caused by Mary and I growing up using the worldly unpopular 12 hour clock while the majority of civilization seems to prefer the clarity of 24 hour time.

We made it to Plouha, France just in time to find a spot among seemingly hundreds of RVs and get in a quick pre-ride. It was pretty shocking to see the number of people and the sheer scale of the French national series. This venue was really well attended and it was just set up for XC and trials. I could imagine a triple weekend with the addition of the down hill crowd in attendance to rival the numbers at a small World Cup. Just including a tandem class is cool and the fact that around 20 tandem teams were there to represent was exceptional. The trials scene in France also bears mention, clearly the biggest at any national series race that we have seen anywhere in the world. Anyone who thinks trials is on the way out just needs to come to a race in France!

Mary raced on Saturday and I had the welcome opportunity to work her feed zone and not have to worry about racing till the following day. Mary broke the field immediately at the start and pushed on riding solo on the fun but mostly contrived course for five fast laps. Mary definitely turned some heads with her dominant performance and though she was one of the only non-French women riders she was well received and cheered on by most in attendance.

I competed the next day and was happy to have a relaxed and attentive Mary working my feed zone. Definitely a tough race with a lot of competition as most of the top French and even a few Russian riders were getting ready for next week's World Cup. The course conditions were perfectly tacky and overcast just right for some fast racing, In the end I managed a 14th place finish.

We spent the night in a beautiful campground overlooking the rugged Atlantic coast, it was absolutely rejuvenating to be on the ocean! Though a massive storm blew through that night and effectively pinned us to the inside of the RV.

The next few days brought a relaxing drive across France on a small toll-free road. We enjoyed the opportunity to better see the French countryside as well as save a few euros from driving on the pricey motorways. We found tons of fun riding almost by mistake, though we probably should have been spinning on the road doing some sort of recovery and tapering, but the mountain biking was just too sweet to ignore.

We toyed with the idea of checking out some cultural icons in Paris but instead found some trails just south of the city near Fountainbleu. We rode tight singletrack through ancient rock features, almost as if we were riding on top of the remains of an ancient castle. Looking back, I'm pretty sure we were poaching some hiking trails but luckily our French is pretty weak and it was hard to understand the signs.

We arrived in Offenburg, Germany stoked with our training, rested up and were feeling ready for a serious weekend of racing. It almost felt strange that this weekend's World Cup turned out to be so particularly difficult.

We both really liked the course on our pre-rides, with punchy climbs, dark narrow single track and short downhill style drop segments, it seemed heads above the typical World Cup fitness tester. Unfortunately, as we were finishing up our pre-ride Mary took an uncharacteristic over-the-bars on one of the gnarly drops, landing heavily on the flat fire road transition at the bottom.

Stitches, no matter how minor are never a good way to start a race weekend. Though Mary insisted they were unnecessary we went to the hospital anyway, if for no other reason than to speed her healing process.

We had the good fortune to run into our friends Adam, Kelly, Elke and Tom from Team Giant USA and were even more fortunate that they had an extra room at their sweet farmhouse accommodation. The RV is great and all but it was so nice to have a little room to stretch out and spend some time with friends.

Race morning was dry but the threatening skies kept the riders thinking about tire selection. At the half way point of the women's race the skies just opened up and the deluge that came turned everything a bit sour.

Mary took a heavy crash during her fourth of six laps, taking her out of what was shaping up to be a solid result. She finished it up showing applaudable tenacity but with smashed-up gear and body it might have been better to just call it a day. I ended up effectively compromising my own performance even before the race started by not preparing well, since I was really concerned and involved in Mary's situation. I just fell into the role of concerned boyfriend rather than the pro racer.

We definitely felt the limits of our small team program this past weekend. When things don't go according to plan there is really no extra support. Basically if one of us has a serious problem it can adversely effect the whole program.

Mary is in good spirits as always and recovering well, though she is currently icing up a seriously swollen and bruised set of legs. Tough weekend for the team but we are still on target for the next World Cup in Switzerland and are especially looking forward to spending a bit of time racing back in North America.

Obviously it can be really hard when going through a bad weekend at the races but eventually it is a great way to gain perspective on the good days and helps to make them extra special.

Hope everyone is getting in some good rides,

Mike and Mary
Team Kenda/Seven Cycles

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Mike Broderick & Mary McConneloug/Team Kenda/Seven

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