January is always a really intense month for a cyclo-cross rider. There are two championship races, plus two World Cups, which means that form has to be at a season high. But that’s when you start to run the fine line between top form and getting sick.
In late December I picked up a bug, and it’s just eaten away at me over the last five weeks. You think it’s gone, and then it’s back in new form. It’s something that happens, and something you deal with. But there’s never a good time to be sick and it can really tarnish results.
Other things also do that, as I found out in Pont Chateau.
The trip started out so well. I didn't even really notice the rough overnight ferry crossing which seemed to only make men queasy, or maybe the boys were just being weak. We booked a cool place to stay, cheaper than a hotel, and the option to train for a few days in warmer weather on new roads, rather than the same routes we've been using during the season. It’s always nice to keep things fresh and I love planning new routes and finding new hills to try to drop Stef (which is something I never fail to do).
Some excellent training miles were put in, and the area was truly stunning. I've ridden around there before in the Tour of Brittany a few times. During the race I never got a chance to take the area in, so it was cool to finally get the chance.
Going into the World Cup I was in great form and with illness behind me (or so it seemed) and a fresh tan from Portugal, I was confident of a great result. It all started well with a strong but safe start and my legs were doing all that was asked of them, with no sign of strain.
Then 'bang', my rear mech exploded, ending my winning hopes on the spot. Not one to give up, I ran to the pit, but having only passed the pit some 300 metres before, it was a long old jog for me.
Having taken a new bike, sitting last in the race by some two minutes, and with my legs now stinging like hell, I set about catching the riders in front. If nothing else it was good training. I particularly liked the last lap where I caught six riders in a row.
Unfortunately the race was a lap too short as I could see the next group but didn't have time to catch them. It turned out I was putting in quick lap times, third, fourth and fifth fastest according to the UCI timing, so that gave me confidence for the next events. That added to the fact I'd won my sixth straight national title the week before in the UK, I knew Hoogerheide could be good for me.
Then, Monday morning comes, I wake up with a rotten throat and barking cough. A trip to the local doctor is the high point of my day. It’s really hard to describe that feeling of trepidation you get when you're sick. Will it go away quick, will it not, will it affect you or not. All of that leads to more stress and a longer recuperation I'm sure.
Anyway, I was able to start in Hoogerheide and put in a solid performance. Eighth place isn't bad on half a lung, and that gave me cause for optimism for the following weekend's world championships in Germany.
During the Hoogerheide weekend we had Kona filming with us. It was a very welcome distraction for feeling ill and a cool clip of that is already available. Was pretty good fun watching the footage come together over three days. With a former free-rider as a camera man, it was always going to be a good laugh and I think everyone enjoyed their time in our holiday camp in Holland, especially the cosmic disco bowling on Sunday night.
So, onto Worlds. We arrived on Wednesday, a very muddy course awaited. I did a few laps and got a feel for the course. Having ridden Worlds there the last time, there were hardly any differences. In an ideal world the course would have stayed the same, but I knew that wasn't going to happen.
I skipped course training on Thursday as I was still on antibiotics for bronchitis and didn't want to push myself too much. I did a road ride in what is also a stunning area to ride. But the weather was changing; freezing over night and the air was getting very, very cold. That wasn't helping my breathing, but I had three days to get better, so not too much stress.
Friday I went to the course and did a few laps on the new very frozen, rutted ground. It was a great course and at 100 percent health I'd of loved it. It’s super hard, but still fast, and you feel it eating away at your body the whole time. It was amazing with the highlight of the day being Stef’s spectacular full speed rut crash just after the start line He had just swapped tyres and these ones, we soon discovered, weren't as good.
So race day came...and went. I felt ok, but could only race at 90 percent. I was unable to put my body under the kind of stress you need to be challenging in these kinds of events.
My lap times showed that I had a limit that I could get to. My last five laps were within four seconds of each other. Consistent...but consistently slower than where I'd want or need them to be.
All in all, I'm not disappointed as such. I put in what I could on the day and couldn't have left any more of myself on the course. A great champion continued her winning streak and the jersey couldn't be in safer hands, until I get mine in it.
There are five races left for me this season as I look to keep working hard and finish off the GVA Series well. So fingers crossed for some good results, better health and nice end of season drink, washed down with 27 kilos of sickening Belgian chocolate.
Although I may have to delay the chocolate feast as we have a 'Night with Helen Wyman and Ian Field' at a very cool café, Look Mum No Hands, in London on the 3rd of March. I bought a new dress so weight gain is not an option!