USA, May 30, 2006
Our 2006 spring trip to Europe began well before we boarded the eleven-hour nonstop flight from San Francisco to Munich. The voyage had been on our minds for some time. We were mostly looking forward to the unique and fun aspects but also had a healthy dread of the physical toll of the travel and difficult racing that lay ahead.
Mary and I made the trip across the pond with four enormous overstuffed bags meticulously packed, containing the absolute limit of 32 kilos (70 pounds) each. The logistics of packing race equipment and essentials that are otherwise not available always proves to be a mental strain. The longer the trip the more you need to make sure things are perfect and the longer you will go without what you need if you pack wrong. Bringing the right gear is a critical component in being ready for the races and is especially important if your teammate is relying on you!
We tried not to sweat it as we towed our enormous luggage towards the airport check in, even as the other airport patrons felt obliged to comment on the size of our bags. A great tip for the airline traveling cyclists (with accompanying bike bag) who would rather not have to hear the endless “ what is in your bags” comment from total strangers, carry a helmet exposed on your luggage to give a visual aid. My other favorite trick is to just look back vacantly and ask “what's in your luggage?”
We were a little nervous about the flashing sign that clearly stated “one 8 kilo carry on per person” but we smiled extra big and struggled to make our four separate 35 pound carryon bags look light. I definitely don't recommend it, but we made the trip with a total of 400 lbs of gear and somehow only a $100 overweight fee.
We were picked up at the airport (along with our luggage thanks to the nonstop flight) by our friend and rv rental connection michael www.rv-rental-germany.com. As we were in no condition to travel onward, he brought us out to a thai food restaurant in his town of Ingolstadt for a spicy meal and and of course to sample a few local German beers.
This was the beginning of a seven-week voyage in which Mary and I will drive a rented RV around a good portion of western europe and pretty much race every weekend. The mileage and fuel consumption will be staggering but in a sweet little rv complete with kitchen, shower, bathroom and all the comforts of home it seems like the best way to get the job done and have some fun as well.
The primary focus of our trip is a string of three back-to-back world cup races in Madrid (Spain), Spa Francorchamps (Belgium) and Fort William (Scotland). This tight schedule will still leave us with with two weeks on either side to contest a wide choice of international races and perhaps to see a bit of europe.
Our first stop on the race tour was Nalles, Italy for an Italian national race. Nalles is an agricultural community nestled in a beautiful glacial valley surrounded by the towering snow covered alps. Although it is just a few kilometers south of the Brenner pass and wintry Austria, Nalles and much of the South Tirol region was in full spring. We happily got out the bikes and did a warm-up spin through budding apple trees, grape vines and a picture of rural farming beauty.
The race promoters set up a typical alpen euro course, straight up and straight back down, by no means technical but including a few sketchy chute like drops that could cause some problems. Some urban style course sections through backyard farms and vineyards with ramps and bridges to connect the dots and make a six-kilometer course with the limited land. Not a fun and flowing track but definitely a good place to get a workout.
Race day, the Sunshine Cup, Nalles, ITA (4/23/06)
Mary styled us out with her new NON teflon frying pan and made sure we started off our day right. pancakes and coffee is a great way to start a race day, although at this point we were painstakingly grinding our whole bean coffee using two paper plates and a glass jar.
Mary raced first, enjoying her front row call up and a relatively thin pro women's field. Although not great in numbers there were several top contenders for the podium including current world champion Gun-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa. After an initial effort from several of the women to stay at the front in the paved start loop it was pretty clear that it was panning out to be another day at the the Gunn show. Mary was the last to give it a go to stay on her wheel and this huge effort gave her a gap over the rest of the field that held for the rest of the race. Mary was happy with her 2nd place finish and the solid training day.
The men's race started on a 1k steep paved climb that hurt like hell. From inside my suffering space I watched the different pedaling styles of the high level riders around me as we made this huge effort. Bart Brentjens standing and pushing a silly huge gear, most others choosing a sewing machine cadence from the saddle, and me somewhere in the middle, it seemed as if anything goes. We all stayed in a swarming group until we reached the last 50 meters and those who could really turned it up to get a good position for the start of the technical. I ended up 22nd for my effort and was glad to have a race in the legs to solidify our arrival in europe.
Mary and I were intrigued by Nalles and loitered around our previous nights accommodations at the the Hotel Wilma long enough to get invited to dinner by our new friend and more than generous hotel owner Peter Lochmann (www.hotelwilma.com). This turned out to be one of our top gastronomic experiences ever. After the first four courses, we were served a lemon sorbet seemingly signifying the finale but we should have known by the fork count that this was just an aperitif for the main course. after the finale of local apple custard dessert Mary and I could only stumble out to the rv to sleep off our food coma .
Our first week in europe was closing and we were still grinding our coffee between two paper plates. We really needed to find a grinder to compliment the 5 pounds off fresh roasted organic beans we had brought from the states. still no luck, even Wal Mart germany had let us down, but did refresh us on the sick, helpless feeling of shopping in a huge store where the exit disappears behind racks of goods that you never knew you needed, but suddenly can’t leave without.
Mary and I drove on through the flat lands of central Italy, South to Riolo Terme to see our friends / sponsors at FRM. www.frmbike.com. FRM is a small high end frame and component manufacturer operating out of the Emilia Romagna (I think this means cycling mecca) region if Italy. We met the great people behind this company on our 2004 trip to Europe and since then we have been looking for the time in our schedule to return.
The sight of the familiar hills riddled with obscure, seldom-used roads set us thinking about our favorite climbs and descents through the orchards valleys and farms of this agriculture community. Unfortunately, organic agriculture is clearly not in fashion in this region. Even while going for it on the cycling-perfect climbs and ripping through incredible sweeping corners, we were trying to avoid breathing the plumes of pesticide that flavored the air. When pressed, a young cyclist / farmer claimed that the sprays were safe for humans and the environment, citing his father’s life long farming success as proof. Although we remain skeptical I guess in some ways it must not be so bad since there are plenty of ancient roadies still out on the bike and ready to keep you on your toes. No one here likes to be passed by an unfamiliar mountain biker while out on THEIR road ride. Mary especially raises some eyebrows here with her knobby road riding styles.
Things in Italy seem to happen just a little later - lunch is at 2, dinner is at 10 and midnight is when the children are off to bed. Mary and I have adjusted our schedule almost effortlessly as the long days and warm nights seem to demand it. This is also a country that takes its cycling seriously! It has been a refreshing change to come back to Italy and once again feel like a bit of a pro athlete when out training. The number of fit riders, commuters and the like offers good reason for this enthusiasm. People here are in touch with the bike! Riolo Terme and its people have been really good to us! We even found a coffee grinder here with the help from our friends!
Mary and I took tour time to drive the 1,500 or so kilometers to Madrid. We took the southern route to be near the warmer Mediterranean climate and had romantic ideas of getting in a few hours at the beach. Driving this route turned out to be quite hectic and our nightly pull offs were no less busy. Stopping to camp along the Mediterranean on the coast of France sounds great right, but this must be one of the most populated places in the world to camp. We really didn't have time for an in depth investigation but preliminary findings were throngs of tourists willing to give up their personal space to be near the sea, a severely overdeveloped coastline.
Retreating to the hills, we took the time to pick some wild thyme and asparagus that is in season all along the coast during May and June. We were mostly just happy to find a few quiet moments along the busy drive.
Times in Madrid
by Mary McConneloug
We arrived at our weekend base camp on Thursday, pretty relaxed for having navigated our mobile house through 1500k of busy roads never really knowing with confidence exactly what any of the the signage meant. From prior experience we knew it would be best to camp outside of Madrid and the hectic swarm of the venue. The race course is located in a busy city park (Casa de Campo) and we had stayed inside the park some what illegally for the past two years to save a buck but really it was a pretty rugged experience. This year, we were glad to stay 50 km outside the smog in the countryside, even though it required an extra two hour life in your hands of driving each day and euro camping is not all that quiet or peaceful (it's all about the earplugs).
The World Cup race was pretty tough... I was on form, had a good start and was determined to do well on this fast power course... until I crashed. On the second (of 5) laps my front wheel washed out going around a corner and I hit the ground skidding across the hard packed dirt, taking some skin off my left forearm, hip and knee. Not a bad crash though - no one ran me over but it hurt enough to lose my concentration and contact with the group I was riding in. It took a lap to recover before I could ride with power again. After 1:45 of fast, winding singletrack, flat power sections, short, steep climbs on both loose and hard packed dirt, I ended up 16th of 115 women... Ah well, I gave it what I had and I'm glad to see that I am still ranked 9th in the series. I look forward to a better race this weekend in Belgium. It was great to see 10 American women competing at the Madrid w/c, and a good sign that the overall the women's field is growing!
After showering in the RV, bandaging my scrapes and prepping the feed-zone bags, I headed over to the feed zone to support Mike. By this time the temperature had reached 85 plus and the track was loose and even more sketchy. I watched the start of 215 elite men raging forward for the first single track. Mike was right up front with his 18th place call up, maintaining a blistering pace. Each lap, I watched the field rip by making sketchy moves, passing where they shouldn’t, some crashing out, some blowing up in the heat. Others just steadily moving forward or backwards as they could in the sea of men . It was quite fun and exciting to watch, especially since my race was over.
The racing in Madrid was not technical or climby, just really fast and furious, like a road crit that files into single track and opens up again lap after lap. Constant pedaling was required with no rest or skill sections to break up the super-high pace. Mike went really well for five and a half laps! He was up in the top 30 to 40... unfortunately the race was seven-laps and he lost something like twenty places before making it to the finish on his final lap. In the end he crossed the line in 72nd position. He was pretty bummed about the result but happy with how some of the day’s race went. He is still ranked 31st in the series and is feeling positive for the upcoming world cups.
It was great to see the crowds and enthusiasm so thick in Madrid and although it is a challenge for the athletes to race near (really inside) a huge city it is great to offer access a world cup event where the people can easily come to watch.
We still have to drive a good bit to complete our 1,700 km from Madrid to Spa Belgium. We will probably sleep in some truck stops along the way or perhaps try our latest trick, the random highway pull off to find something more peaceful. We feel super fortunate to have been blessed with great friends and nice places to stay for the majority of our drive so far.
On to northern europe where we will no doubt be competing in the typical wet, muddy and gnarly woods around the Spa Francorchamps formula one race track this Sunday and at the base of Ben Nevis in Fort William, Scotland the following Saturday. The cycle continues to spin.
All the best to you,
Mary and Mike (Team Kenda/Seven Cycles)