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Climbing back to the top: The Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå diary

Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida)

Busy days at home

By:
Cycling News
Published:
October 07, 2008, 0:00 BST,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:27 BST

Finally back on Norwegian soil again, and it feels wonderful! It wasn't quite as wonderful to have...

October 8, 2008

Finally back on Norwegian soil again, and it feels wonderful! It wasn't quite as wonderful to have to cut out all competitions before the end of the season because of damage after the crashes in Beijing, but my body is now totally healed and I'm back in full training again.

Exactly a month has passed since we left for home from Eurobike and moved straight into a new house designed and built by KleppHus. After consistent travelling throughout the past six months, it felt almost unreal to be going home.

Since we had only taken one bed with us from our old apartment, it was rather empty here for the first weeks. Loads of space - very unusual for us who are used to hotel rooms where we barely have space for a suitcase and a bike next to the bed. We still don't have all that much furniture, but most of the contents of boxes and various equipment is in place and some more furniture has been ordered.

Exciting days

We've had some very busy days since we got home. Much of the time has been used for negotiations and bargaining on the telephone and on email. We're still discussing with various professional cycling teams about sponsorship for the period leading up to the Olympics in London in 2012, and nothing has been signed yet. I've also had some meetings with possible sponsors, and during the coming two weeks will meet with our present personal sponsors to discuss a possible future together.

I've also had some days of activities for our sponsors both here in Norway and abroad. I've been in Oslo and Bodø for Coop, and I've had a quick trip to Hanover for a large car expo for the main sponsor of the team, VW Multivan.

Last week we were both in Majorca together with Stians Sport and Merida Norway, where a large group of Merida dealers, at least 70 in all, were gathered for a week of cycling, course-work and a bit of holiday-making. We got to experience sun and summer together with many nice people, got in a few long-distance rides, exercised on the beach before breakfast, and had some time for tanning in the afternoons.

This coming week there are more exciting meetings on our schedule. I'll be having a day of activities with Coop in Haugesund on Thursday, and Saturday is the 30th birthday of a pal of Kenneth's. So we'll get to see some family and friends too. These kinds of things are extremely nice for us after so much travelling.

We're also training hard again and it's really great. My rib is well again, my hips are centralized, and my bruised nose can once again be blown. We'll be doing quite varied training until the end of October, after which we'll start up a full winter training programme again, beginning November 1. By then I hope that most of our deals will have been settled, both with pro cycling teams and personal sponsors. And thus the next four years of cycling will be taken care of.

Now it's time to get to bed. We'll be uploading many nice pictures of our new house and home onto the website when everything is in place, but it'll be a few weeks yet before we can invite anybody for a house-warming party. I hope you're in good shape and that you're taking care of your health. Have a good and vigorous day.

Cyclist's greetings from Gunn-Rita
Multivan Merida Biking Team

[Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange]

Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway)

No success at the Olympics

By:
Cycling News
Published:
September 02, 2008, 0:00 BST,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:27 BST

It's tough having to drop out of the Olympics because of technical problems, but the disappointment...

September 3, 2008

It's tough having to drop out of the Olympics because of technical problems, but the disappointment would have been even greater if I had been in the lead when I had the accident. Realistically speaking, I really wasn't a candidate for the gold medal this time, but very few believed us.

Now it's four years until next Olympics. Time flies and I'm happy to have a long term goal to be working towards again. But right now I'm looking forward to a solid winter of proper foundation training. It will give me strength and stability so I can compete at the top through a whole season again. Now we're looking back on a fantastic comeback season which has given us one World Cup win, a medal in the European Championships and a World Cup title. At the beginning of this season, we couldn't even have dreamed about such great success.

I encountered a lot of disappointed people after the race in Beijing. With my limited foundation, it just wasn't realistic to expect the same kind of success as I had in Athens. We've repeatedly tried to convey in great detail to the media and people in general what my physical condition has been through the season, but it's been difficult getting them to actually believe what we've been saying.

I'm thrilled about the season this year. I'm back at the top again. I find no reason to be depressed because of a bad day in Beijing, technical problems and a bit of drama while training in the preceding days - it's all part of being an athlete. I've experienced unbelievably many gold medals through my career, and there will be more of them. We quickly put bad days behind us, only paying attention to the experiences which can be used for further improvement.

Back in Heubach

We're back in Europe again after a quick trip to Australia. I was supposed to have taken part in a World Cup race in Canberra yesterday, but due to damages from several crashes and spills during training in the days before the Olympics, it just wasn't advisable with a fractured rib, a bruised back and a pushed-flat nose.

Somewhat stubborn as I am, and feeling sure that my body would recover quickly, we left for Canberra even so. I had to simply give up after several nights with hardly any sleep and a lot of pain. We were able to rebook the tickets and travelled back to Europe again.

Now we're in the apartment which we usually rent when we're here in Heubach, south of Stuttgart in Germany, and we'll be staying here and resting until Friday. I still have great pain in my rib, neck, right hip and upper back, but a crash is all part and parcel of this kind of sport, so I'll just have to take the necessary time to recover.

Technical problems

I was in a pretty bad state when I lined up at the start of the Olympic race in Beijing. We didn't want to make any excuses before starting, and wanted to avoid any focus on my damages as well, so we kept it totally secret from the press. I was only sleeping a very few hours each night before the race dag, helped along by sleeping tablets and pain killers, so I was rather reduced when I stood there at the start on the race day.

Both Kenneth and I also knew that I wasn't in the top shape that we would have liked, which was a natural result of what I went through in the summer of last year. And then, when I had a so-called "amateur" crash after half the race and broke my rear brake lever, I had no choice than to quit the race. Very awful, but that's part of this sport.

Praise to OLT and the supporters

Apart from all this, I'd like to praise OLT for their choice of pre-camp, the whole set-up, and their help to the athletes in the time before the race in Beijing. Extremely good, as I see it. Apart from ideal training conditions and living quarters, the two weeks of pre-camp turned out to be rather tough for my liking. With a time-difference of 12 hours for those of us coming in from Canada, it was difficult to sleep properly, combined with a feeling of being in coma during the daytime. Not the best of conditions, but we've learned something valuable from the experience.

We had a group of a good 50 supporters and sponsors with us in Beijing, and they're usually very easy to spot and hear along the tracks. Unfortunately, many of them had to go home before they even got to see me race since the race was postponed by one day. It was naturally tough for the gang to accept this, but they've promised to all turn up at the Olympics in London : A large group of handball supporters were there and made a fantastic effort on our behalf together with our family and those who were able to change the date of their return with one day.

A new home

We'll be staying here in Germany until Friday. Then we're leaving for Friedrichshafen where the world's largest bike expo, Eurobike, will be held. We'll have a real party meal with all the Merida importers on Friday evening. On Saturday there'll be promotion at the Merida stand at the expo, plus a round of visits to the team sponsors who all have their own stands at Eurobike. On Sunday it opens for the public, so that's going to be a huge autograph-writing day for me.

We leave for home on Monday. I can't quite believe that we've been travelling for a total of six months without being at home once. Time flies, especially when one's having fun, but now it's certainly going to be wonderful to get home. I want to go home to have a thorough medical check-up, and then, based on the results, decide which races I'll be doing at the end of this year's season.

Apart from that, we missed out on a big cycling day yesterday. I hope and believe that the Birkerbeiner race was a fantastic experience for cyclists, the leadership and spectators, as it usually is. I know that both my mother and father took part on bikes, and I'm excited to hear what their ride over the mountain was like. Luckily we're still able to enjoy a few more months of good cycling conditions at home in Norway. So your bikes shouldn't be parked for good quite yet.

We're moving into a brand new house, designed and built by KleppHus, when we get home, and it's guaranteed to be the Christmas gift of the year. You'll all hear from us again in a few weeks, at which time I expect my body to be back on the bike again and in full swing with training.

Cyclist's greetings from Gunn-Rita
Multivan Merida Biking Team

[Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange]

Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa

Ready for Canadian World Cups

By:
Cycling News
Published:
July 23, 2008, 0:00 BST,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:27 BST

The final test for me before the Olympics will be two World Cup races here in Canada. There are...

July 24, 2008

The final test for me before the Olympics will be two World Cup races here in Canada. There are amazingly many different races and programs to take part in during the final preparation period before the Olympics, but most of my competitors will be taking part here at Mt. Sainte Anne in in a few days from now.

We've been here for almost a week already, and are gradually beginning to get used to the high humidity and the time difference of six hours. I usually wake up early in the morning anyway, but it's been rather too early these first few days here. It's getting better though. We've had varying weather conditions this first week with rain in the afternoons. Today the weather is reasonably good with occasional glimpses of sun.

The Canadian National Championships were held here at Mt Sainte Anne yesterday, so we were able to ride two laps before the first start at 9:00 a.m. Today it's the Quebec Cup first, and then there'll be a cross country race this afternoon with only us two taking part. It's going to be incredibly tough because I feel quite worn out from all the training, so it's not going to be easy to beat Kenneth today.

Effective training period

We've been training very well these past two weeks, with lots of intervals and great long distance stints, so my body is feeling a little heavy now. I recovered quickly after the World Championship triumph, which was a good thing. From tomorrow, I'm focussing on relaxed training and then it's back to a standard World Cup week regarding number of hours and intensity of the training.

The rest of the Multivan Merida Biking Team is arriving here tomorrow afternoon. The only other rider from the team doing both these World Cup races will be Jose Hermida. The goal for Kenneth and me is to manage to use the heaviest gears, to feel reasonably on top of things in both races, and to benefit from the technical training that both races will provide.

Now it's time for lunch here. Pasta, naturally, and I'm hungry as always. Kenneth is considering whether he should shave his legs now, so as to have an edge in our race this afternoon (warm-up starts at 3:30 p.m.). You'll be hearing from us again in a good week, at which time I hope to be able to give you an exciting update from a great race day here at Mt. Sainte Anne.

Enjoy your summer with some exercise every day.

Cyclist's greetings from Gunn-Rita + Kenneth
Multivan Merida Biking Team

[Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange]

The women's peleton rolls out

Winning worlds

By:
Cycling News
Published:
July 09, 2008, 0:00 BST,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:27 BST

It was absolutely indescribable to put on the rainbow jersey once again. This World Championship...

July 10, 2008

It was absolutely indescribable to put on the rainbow jersey once again. This World Championship title will foever stand as one of the very greatest victories for Kenneth and me, and it is guaranteed to give us renewed strength and energy for many more years on my bike.

Two days have passed since I became World Champion in marathon cycling, and it still seems unreal to me. Tears of sheer joy flowed freely a long time before I reached the finish line and I was a little dizzy as I got off my bike surrounded by a deafening racket around me. At the same time last year, I was at home and could only barely manage to take a short stroll to the grocery store. Uncountable hours of intense hard work lie behind what we performed on Saturday, and that's the very reason the World Champion title tasted so utterly fantastic.

The first days after the cross country World Championship, two weeks before the marathon World Championship, my body and legs were pretty worn out, so we had to take a few really slow days to recover fully. We left straight from Commezzadura (site of the cross country World Championship) for Villabassa, the town where the marathon World Championship was to start and finish. This was in order to have enough time to cycle around the track without wearing ourselves out beforehand. This enabled us to divide the track up into sections, do the flatter sections on slower paced days, and the tougher climbs on more intense days.

Nail-biting World Championship race

The women did a large lap of 89 kilometres, with a total of about 3,000 metres of climbing, while the men had to cycle 119 kilometres. As expected, the cyclists were still in a group towards the first climb after 10 kilometres on undemanding undulating terrain, consisting of asphalt, gravel and singletrack. Sabine Spitz immediately took the lead and controlled the tempo right to the top, and by that time, only Finnish Pia [Sundstedt] and I were still hanging on. An ascent with a gradient of a whopping 14 percent usually separates the best from the second best.

On the next flat section approaching the first mountain there were four girls alternating in the lead without too much effort. I took the lead and set my own tempo when the climb began again. By this time we were a group of seven girls. I had done this climb while training the weekend before and knew that it would take close to 40 minutes to reach the top. I was cycling right at the edge of my capacity and managed to create a gap back to Sabine and Pia. At the top I was leading by 35 seconds. I descended the other side right on the limit of my capabilities too, and increased my lead down towards the next flat section.

After that came a section of more varying terrain. I hoped that the girls racing to catch up from behind were riding one by one, but that wasn't the case. Sabine had slowed down so Pia could catch up so they could ride together to catch up with me. By the third flat section I had a good three minutes' lead on them. We had practised the descent down to this feed zone many times and it paid off.

Crisis on the final mountain top

Approaching the final mountain, I had a lead of three minutes and 15 seconds. My offensive riding and aggressive climb up the first mountain were beginning to make themselves felt in my legs by this time. I knew it was going to be struggle with myself to get to the top without the others catching up. After a good 45 minutes of climbing I started to feel a pricking sensation in my legs and arms, and that's usually a bad sign.

Up 'til now I had been careful at filling up with liquid and food, but apparently not careful enough. It's not easy to swallow either liquid or food when one is as tired as I was only a few kilometres from the top of the mountain, but I managed to swallow one more PowerBar gel, plus half an EnergyBar, and this decided the end result for me.

I had no idea of how far Sabine and Pia were behind me when I started the descent. A few kilometres down the hill I received a horrifying update. During a long bend in an open section I saw the girls behind me, and they couldn't be more than 10-15 seconds behind. In other words, I had cycled a full three minutes slower than my two pursuers, even though I had been giving absolutely everything my body and legs were capable of. I simply needed more time in order to keep them away from me as I approached the final asphalt hill, so my only possibility was to do the descent at a greater pace than advisable.

I received a bottle of Coke at the bottom and downed it. Kenneth ran next to me for a few hundred metres and gave me instructions, telling me to keep a clear focus on which jobs needed doing in the situation I was in, and I tried to think as little as possible about how stiff and painful my legs felt. I also learned that Ole Einar Bjoerndalen was standing further up the hill waiting for me.

Ole Einar ran along next to me up the steepest part and that gave me supernatural strength up the final kilometres to the top. I got a glimpse of Sabine as I rounded the top, and I knew at that moment that I would be able to win if I gave everything for the last 30 minutes. The final glimpse I got of Sabine was on a small rise before the last down-hills to the finish line. The steep downhills which I had practiced riding previously were a pure joy to descend this day. I caught up with both motorbikes and had to really brake hard and practically yell them out of my way.

Good preparations resulted in gold

I didn't dare to look over my shoulder again before the final ascent, only a few hundred metres before the finish. At that point tears started to flow and my worn out body suddenly started feeling really good and happy again. Our countless fans in Italy ensured a fantastic chorus of cheering and welcome as I arrived at the finish. I got hugs from both familiar and unfamiliar people during the first minutes after crossing the line, without Kenneth turning up.

Kenneth hadn't made it back to the last flat section, and he had more or less accepted that it would be a bronze medal today. Up the last asphalt hill where he had been standing, he had seen a Gunn-Rita who didn't respond to what he said and whose pedalling was slow and ineffective. But he never got to see the energy kick in from the gel, the Coke and the PowerBar, nor the sheer mental energy which came from having a multiple Olympic medal winner running next to me and goading me on up the last climb.

Comment of the day

Kenneth got to hear the final result on the phone from our personal manager, Roar, who had already wept his tears of joy at the finish line. Kenneth's first comment was "Dammit, Roar, are you kidding around with me? You need to make sure of the results."

Kenneth managed to make his way to the finish line a few minutes later and we were able to give each other a shocked victory hug of sorts. I must have cycled incredibly fast down the last hills, as I won the race by one minute and 40 seconds. Sabine got the silver medal, and Pia got the bronze.

We would never have won our eighth World Championship gold medal if we hadn't done the preparations we did through the final ten days before the championship. Training just the correct amount on the track, doing some extra on the parts of the track we felt would be most important, and laying a detailed tactical plan which we felt would be effective.

Thank you

So it ended up being a fantastic and unforgettable day in many ways, with a significance that we can hardly manage to grasp two days after. Maybe we can write more about it after the end of the season! All I know is that we really needed this victory. The Multivan Merida team needed it, the sponsors and support team deserved this gold, our personal sponsors own a part of the medal, Olympiatoppen and NCF, our supporters and family have all contributed in their own ways to this becoming a reality. THANK YOU TO EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU.

In one week we're leaving for Canada where we'll be doing two World Cup races as a final preparation before Beijing. You'll be hearing from us again a few days into next week when we're settled and accustomed to a new time zone. I wish you all a wonderful bike ride, both today and tomorrow.

Cyclist's greetings from Gunn-Rita + Kenneth
Multivan Merida Biking Team

[Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange]

Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway)

Rough day at the World Championships

By:
Cycling News
Published:
June 28, 2008, 0:00 BST,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:27 BST

A very demanding World Championship race track in 30 degrees (Celsius), meant a really tough day at...

June 29, 2008

A very demanding World Championship race track in 30 degrees (Celsius), meant a really tough day at the office. Still, it was a valuable experience with good feel and flow. An acceptable seventh place at this year's World Championship is a step in the right direction.

A seventh place in a World Championship, seen against the backdrop of my previous merits, certainly isn't an outstanding result in and of itself. We work in order to make an impact at the very top of the world's elite, and this will continue to be the case as long as I am a professional cyclist. Yesterday's race was primarily an important training session during which my machinery really got a run for its money, which in time will make us stronger.

Many were expecting a lot more of me yesterday, and I noticed a degree of disappointment amongst people I spoke to after the seventh place. Kenneth and I had both spoken openly about the fact that we weren't good enough to take a medal at this championship, even with strong legs and a good feeling.

I lost most time to the best girls up the steepest climbs where sheer strength is essential. That's exactly what we didn't get to train enough through the winter, and it takes time to build up those qualities. For this very reason, yesterday's race was a highly valuable session of training which will doubtlessly pay off later on in the season.

Many people used the word "brutal" to describe the World Championship track yesterday, and many cyclists really got to experience that. The strong heat meant that a couple of the girls collapsed right after half the race. Amongst the men, many of the favourites actually didn't complete the race and described it as hitting a wall, almost like switching something off. Good one moment, then totally run-over the next.

We have a very good basis when it comes to foundational fitness and competition experience. It's quite simply comforting and motivating to think that I'm able to compete almost right at the top in a World Championship without the normal preparations. Just wait until we get a whole winter of training in my body and legs, and see what that does to my machinery : And I also like it when the oldest girls still are the best. Yesterday's winners of gold and silver are both older than me, so I have a lot to look forward to once I just get a few more years under my belt...

Our fantastic supporters were in place and created a lot of happiness and laughter out on the tracks, both for riders and spectators. They're quite simply amazing and certainly the best fans in the world. In Beijing there will be more than fifty of them and that is guaranteed to give Lene and me half an extra gear on our bikes.

Now we're going to go for a bike ride before leaving for Villabassa where the Marathon World Championships will be held in a fortnight. We have a good two hour's drive up to this World Championship town which is situated north-east of Bolzano in the north of Italy. We'll have a few days of rest before starting the inspection of the track. We might even have a trip on four-wheelers on the track tomorrow afternoon!

I wish you all a fit and exciting day.

Cyclist's greetings from Gunn-Rita + Kenneth
Multivan Merida Biking Team

[Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange]

The low-lying clouds are hiding the true height

Countdown 'til worlds

By:
Cycling News
Published:
June 18, 2008, 0:00 BST,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:27 BST

Only minor adjustments remain for the final week before the World Championships . All races I've...

June 18, 2008

Only minor adjustments remain for the final week before the World Championships. All races I've taken part in this year have been fantastic preparation for me, and so will the World Championships, no matter what the result. My latest confrontation with the world's elite last weekend in Fort William was a good experience, except for some bad luck at the beginning of the race.

We're in place here in Val di Sole, in the north of Italy, in the town of Commezzadura to be precise, where this year's World Championship in cross country is to be held. The name of the place would indicate a lot of sunshine in the whole valley, but we've had rain every single day since we arrived on Monday. Luckily the race track can take a bit of rain, so it hasn't been damaged too much so far.

Good day in Scotland

The recent World Cup race in Fort William, Scotland, last weekend was a great experience for me, with power in my body and good flow. I had a small accident, or maybe one could put it down to bad luck, when my brake handle just fell off up the first climb from the start. So I had to fight to the top with the lead group and then descend really carefully on the other side down to the first "tech zone", in the hopes of getting a new brake handle. It wasn't all that fun going down steep hills without a back brake, on loose terrain with lots of bends. I wouldn't recommend it to anybody!

But I only fell off my bike once before getting to the first assistance zone and Ralf the mechanic took over. Kenneth had already informed him of what had happened by phone, so he was prepared, and changed the brake quick as lightning.

It was a real shame that it should happen so early in the race, as the riders were all close together during the first minutes after starting. So practically everybody had passed the tech zone before I was on my bike again and had to catch up with the lead group. I had to adjust my focus and just think of good exercise and very good technical training that day. I crossed the finish line as number eight and was glad for an exciting day on my bike, despite everything.

Tough World Championship track

Today Kenneth and I cycled round the World Championship track, together with many other riders from various countries who are already here. It's a very fun track, really demanding, with lots of steep climbs, plus the terrain slows you down many places as there's a lot of grass on the track. The rocky descents will no doubt become even more demanding after hundreds of other cyclists have ridden round the track in the next days. Many new and slippery roots will also pop up through the ground as Sunday approaches.

I've more or less recovered after the World Cup in Scotland last weekend and am already beginning to look forward to Sunday. If I could choose, I'd rather have had the World Championship race at the end of the season, as is normal in this sport, especially considering my long absence from the sport last summer and autumn, but most things are different this year because of the Olympics. I'll be satisfied if I'm able to complete the race on Sunday with a feeling of strength in my body and good flow, and we'll just have to take the final results as they come. No matter what, it's going to be great to take part in the World Championships again for me, who had to make do with mountain hikes and fishing trips when the World Championships were on last year.

We're living in an apartment only five kilometres from the race track. We make a bit of food at home, but it's wonderful to be able to just go out and eat when we're in Italy. It's a bit challenging to find fresh fish way up here in the valley, even though the wide river is running right outside our window and there are many anglers about. The mountaintops in the area are all still white-capped with snow, so summer hasn't quite come to this region yet. Even so, Kenneth almost ran over a large snake which was on its way across the cycle track here on Wednesday, and it was pretty lively despite the lack of sun and warmth.

I have a few pictures which I hope to post on our website, but our internet connection here is so poor that I don't have a chance to send them to Marton (who runs the website). Maybe I can sneak into the press office and get it done this week! [See Cyclingnews photos from Worlds - ed.] We'll be staying here until Monday, so if we have a quiet Sunday afternoon...I might get a chance to write a few lines about the World Championship race here in Val di Sole and Commezzadura. I wish you all a good and fit week no matter where you might be on earth.

Cyclist's greetings from Gunn-Rita + Kenneth
Multivan Merida Biking Team

[Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange]

Author
Climbing back to the top: The Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå diary

Norwegian cross-country mountain bike racer Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå is probably the best female rider this relatively young branch of the sport has ever seen. World champion in 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2006, plus Olympic champion in 2004, and rarely beaten in her reign as World Cup champion from 2003 - 2006, she has a breathtaking palmares. Unfortunately, Dahle Flesjå was sidelined for most of the 2007 season with a virus that left her with little strength and on a program of complete rest and recovery. With the constant support of husband and coach Kenneth Flesjå, she has been working her way steadily back to health - just in time to pursue her goals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Follow her exploits on Cyclingnews as she works to regain her form and position at the top of women's mountain biking in 2008. Or, for more Gunn-Rita, see her personal website: www.gunnrita.com