The year seems to be flying by...it's midway through my international race schedule and I've now been in the US for about three months. I started out this season with the Deer Valley NORBA and then followed that up with the North American World Cup rounds.
Deer Valley - Utah
The NORBA in Deer Valley was a stage race with the first stage being an individual TT. I've raced individual TTs before, but it's not generally part of a normal weekend of mtb racing. This particular course, however, had an extra element of fun. It was a climb up the concrete Olympic bobsled course and as you can imagine, it was extremely steep, probably one of the steepest things that I have ever ridden up. While it was a lot of fun, I couldn't help but think the whole way up that this was all the wrong way around, we should have been racing down! Now that would have been fun!
The cross country course was also great fun, but a little different as well. It was a course that seemed more like the racing back in the early days of mtb racing, from what I have heard. Just two laps of a super long loop. You basically spent the first half going up and the second half descending. Too bad if you struggled on the climb, because it was a traffic jam on the way down. A harsh reminder of how important climbing strength is!
Sunday was the short track, my favourite. I always look forward to the short track because it has such a great atmosphere; however, this one was little faster than I would have liked. I finished the weekend just squeezing into the top 20 in the final classification.
Mont Sainte Anne - Quebec
From Utah I flew into Mont Sainte Anne, Canada, for the World Cup. I probably look forward to this event more than any other each year. I love everything about coming to this event and I was even looking forwards to the humidity after being in the dry altitude climate. Mont Sainte Anne is an event that has everything; sweet single track, technical climbs and fun descents. It is just one of those courses that you can keep your flow around. But I think I preferred the course more last year, when the last section was a downhill rather than an uphill.
It was also nice to be down at sea level again. The week that I spent in Canada is the only week that I have not been at altitude since coming to the US. But it's also the atmosphere; it's just a really well run event and I think most people look forward to it as much as I do, so everyone is in a great mood and friendly. All of the venues are easily accessible, so I was glad to be able to cheer on some friends racing in the 4X and the downhill.
From there it was 'home' for a week, a team shoot and some training rides. Like many teams, we decided not to travel to Brazil for the World Cup. The Angel Fire venue is only three hours drive from Colorado Springs, so we went to check out the course on that weekend in preparation for the following week. The idea sounded easy - a quick trip down to ride the course. But when it was time to start heading out of town, we got held up for over an hour in the traffic while the locals took out their bikes, boats, trailers, basically anything moving (or not) out to join their local street parade to celebrate Independence Day. So we had to just sit back and appreciate the energy and sometimes incredibly unique creativity being put into the parade in front of us.
Angel Fire - New Mexico
This was always going to be a tough race. I mean, there is never going to be an easy World Cup, but this one started at 8500ft altitude and seemed to climb forever. I definitely felt the effects of the altitude at the start of the race. I did my proper warm up, but I must have pushed too hard on the first climb, because I started throwing up in the race which was certainly not part of the race plan! I think the girls that passed me were a bit alarmed as well. I guess you don't expect to see someone stopped and throwing up mid-race. I did manage to catch back up to most of those that passed me over the next lap, but racing is not really about picking up lost time. It's more about not losing time in the first place, then making a break when you can. Particularly at altitude, where pacing yourself is critical. So my initial over-exertion kind of ruled out a great performance, but nonetheless, my last lap was actually my fastest, which at a race at that height, doesn't usually happen for anyone. Being stronger at the end of a race like this was a positive that I took away from this event. I'm still getting closer to where I want to be, I just need to keep focusing on incremental improvements.
But racing at World Cup level truly is amazing. Riders like Gunn-Rita, Marie Helene and Sabine (who got the top podium spots) are so strong. To be able to put in a podium performance week in week out in World Cups is so impressive. As for me, well I didn't necessarily get the finishing place I wanted, but Angel Fire was one of the more rewarding races I have ever raced. I may have crashed three times, lost a lot of skin and thrown up, but sometimes it's one of those things where the harder it is, the more rewarding it is in the end.
I have learned a lot from these races and made some major changes to my training lately. I have also been doing a lot of reading again; I really love Joel Friel's book 'The Mountain Bikers Training Bible'. It's a book that I read when I first decided to start racing XC, but I must admit that I hadn't referred back to it much since. Re-reading this book now that I know much more about training and racing, I'm getting even more out of it the second time around.
SRM in the USA
My SRM Power Team is actually a European-based team, and I leave next week to spend the last part of this season with them in Germany. But I haven't been here in Colorado on my own. Michi Weiss and Marc Hug have also spent time based here racing Deer Valley, Mont Sainte Anne and Angel Fire. Michi and Marc have both now gone back to Europe, and I must admit that things are a lot quieter! The SRM team has really worked out to be the ideal choice for me. From Uli and everyone that works with SRM, through to all of my team mates. I really do have to thank everyone for being so supportive and making this such a fun trip. It's the people around you that really do help make being on the road a great fun adventure.
So my time here in Colorado Springs is coming to an end and next week I move to my second base for the season in Freiburg. I have had so much fun here. Actually, I'll be sure to write another diary in the next week or so and include some photos.
But until then, have fun on your bike.