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Mary McConneloug & Mike Broderick

A little wallaby

In the land of kangaroos and vegemite

By:
Mary McConneloug & Mike Broderick
Published:
September 10, 2009, 14:29 BST,
Updated:
September 10, 2009, 15:35 BST

Mike & Mary spend a quick week in Australia at worlds

Traveling to the other side of the globe for a two-hour cycling event is not the most econmical use of the bike, but when the event is the World Championships you kind of have to make an exception and go for it. Both Mike and I were honored to be one of seven riders selected as representatives for the USA for the men's and women's elite cross country races. We made arrangements with the single-minded purpose of competing and thoughts of a little travel on either end paled in comparison to the stoke we had for making the team.

We made it to Canberra, Australia, after traveling for a solid 26 hours on the clock and far longer if you chose to take into account the practically intolerable loss of an entire August day as we crossed the global date line aboard the airplane. The jet lag from this type of travel takes a strange toll on the body and mind and, of course, it requires considerable time to adjust even when incorportaing the best time-honed strategies of natural and prescription sleep meds, naps, barefoot hikes and the like. Respecting that you may be a little off kilter and in need of a bit of time to fully come to your senses is of utmost importance - especially when considering the consequences of riding unfamiliar rocky and sharp desert-style trails. For us the adjustments were still happening six days after our initial arrival.

It is a challenge to keep the wants and expectations, nerves and etc. from getting out of hand when preparing for what could be considered the biggest one-day priority event of the year. The support structure of the World Championship race is also different for our two-person team. At this event the USA Cycling Federation steps in to support us on a level that we could only hope to aspire to as far as logistical, housing, and staff to meet our every need in the lead up to and including race day, which is very helpful on one hand while also adding a bit of extra pressure to perform. For Mike and I, it takes a bit of adjustment just to move out of a vehicle, let alone have daily massage, doctors and physical therapist on hand, and someone to cover managerial duties. In a word, the full support from USAC was top notch in every way, but for us more than a bit foreign.

We had ample time to get to know the ripping fun course, but there were some really sketchy sections that took serious study and getting used to -- none more than the "Hammer Head". First off, any trail feature worthy of being named had better have some character and a lot of personality to be worthy of mention. Well this section definitely had the potential to hammer your head as well as other body parts. This triple rock drop off required a bit more behind the saddle "endo"ing than you would want to take your first date on. The Hammer Head came at the crux of the longest climb on the course, so being cross-eyed on the approach only made it all the more enticing to drop into the easy but significantly slower line found just to the right. The section haunted me all week, but after finally dialing my line the day prior, I confidently slid down the rock chute lap after lap and effectively used this section as a passing area in my race.

Race day brought clear skies and by the time the 10 o'clock women's race start rolled around, the sunshine was just warm enough to melt the frost off the shaded crags of the rocky track. Within the first two minutes of the race, my hard earned 12th place second row call up had been nulified by mishaps in front of me while the pack seemed able to come around on the other side. I found myself going in to the singletrack about 50th of 60 women.

I had to just wait my turn in line and pay for everyone's mistakes ahead of me. It was ridiculous to see the scrambling pack, riding sloppy, completely maxed out from the initial three-minute start effort. As I walked my bike up the initial beautiful technical climb, it was difficult to believe we were actually racing.

After two laps of this frustrating riding, I finally got clear enough to ride my own pace -- needless to say, leaders already had several minutes on me and there was no getting that time back. My work was cut out for me, the tactic went to damage control - chase down and pass as many riders as possible. One by one, I moved up to finish a hard fought, though disappointing 21st.

Mike had an incredibly frustrating ride. He lost his rear shifting within the first minute of the race due to another riders wheel bluntly smashing his rear derailleur. A trip to the tech pit failed to resolve the problem, and he emerged with the shifting problem still unresolved, DFL, and still determined to suffer it out, riding the course in a gear pre selected by his mishap. He ground it out admirably for a few laps in singlespeed style before succumbing to a terminal loss of PSI (a flat) and damaging his wheel a long two or so miles from the tech pit. He still perservered for another agonizing lap, running with the bike in an effort to at least finish the day up with something other than a DNF. He pushed his bike up the entire climb, running and rode the sketchy downhill to the tech pit to exchange wheels and make it to the finish area where he was pulled with a frustrating finish just ahead of the chase moto.

In a move contrary to every fiber of our want to travel and experience more of this delicious kangaroo and vegemite, tasty singletrack-filled eucalyptus forests bordering remote surf laden beaches type of country -- we got busy packing our bags to get ready to make an early flight out the next morning. This is surely a testament to how much dedication and love we have for racing our bikes. Flying East from Australia back over the States - covering more than half the globe to Munich - to contest the next round of the World Cup only a week after World Champs is kinda rough. Who planned this schedule?

Mike and I are just now through the flight end of the travel between Australia and Europe and are back in the RV, still looking at a considerable drive to make the race in Champery, Switzerland. We are currently attempting to shake off the damaging hours on the plane! Though we are clearly altered by the experience, life seems to be seeping back in now that we have a few rides in our legs over here.

We are looking to enjoy our two-week stint of RVing in what we hope will remain a beautiful fall in Europe where our focus will be attending the final two World Cup races of the year. At this point, the effects of travel on the body and how it affects the racing and the day to day existence is kind of becoming a personal experiment -- so we figured we should take it a step further by attending Cross Vegas on the following Wednesday when we return to the USA for Interbike.

We'll see how we go on the 'cross bikes as this race will mark our first official cyclo-cross ride of the season. It will be interesting to see how much pure mountain biking fitness and training will translate into the techy fast world of cyclo-cross. Hey they both have wheels and pedals!

Hope to see or hear from you along the way!

Mary and Mike
Team KENDA/Seven/NoTubes

Fall in New England

Home for a change

By:
Cycling News
Published:
November 09, 2008, 0:00 GMT,
Updated:
June 06, 2009, 10:34 BST

Greetings from the East Coast! Mike and I made it back to our Massachusetts home base after another...

Massachusetts, November 10, 2008

Greetings from the East Coast! Mike and I made it back to our Massachusetts home base after another exciting, challenging and successful year of racing. Although we have become familiar with the travel routine of international mountain bike competition, this season felt a little more extensive, a bit more exotic and certainly contained the most airline miles we have logged: South American trips to Chile and Venezuela, eight countries in western Europe by RV, driving the East Coast of the USA and Canada in our van and back into the air to Asia for our first visits to South Korea and China. Australia was next before stopping through Taiwan on our way back. Then followed California, then Las Vegas and we are now just now returning to what we consider our home in Massachusetts. Somehow we still don't have enough miles to get into any of the upper crust admirals' clubs

I can hardly believe how much we are on the move, where we have been, and how accustomed we have become to this nomadic lifestyle. Currently, the more mundane or domestic activites like me cooking up heaps of healthy foods in a real kitchen or mike spending time in the shop testing and selecting the components and build combinations for our race bikes seem sweet and grounding. We are both appreciating this time of living in a stationary place for awhile, where thoughts of getting back to the travel and racing will naturally become alluring once again.

Mike and I have been keeping busy here sorting out our team program and preparing all that is neccessary for having things in line to run smoothly for next year. In between, we have been appreciating some long dual suspension rides on the rugged little trails that morph and change with the leaf drop from the night before.

We have been taking the time to lend a hand at Mike's family's house where there is some serious yard (re)construction taking place. Sadly we have had to cut down many of the big oak trees left standing but dead by the winter moth that has decimated the area's trees for several years. Still we have been happy to add splitting and hauling wood to the training regimine as well as putting the wood to good use in the woodstove as the temperatures slide into winter here.

At this time of the year, we are still on the bikes five to six days a week, but are putting much more emphasis on effort to balance and strengthen our cycling specific bodies before we head into the heavier hours of base training. As important as it seems to get in solid daily workout at this point, it feels even more important that training is not structured but diverse and enjoyable.

Mike and I are both excited for the 2009 race season and beyond. At this point we are just figuring out next year's calendar, which is still in development but we are planing to continue to focus on the World Cups and international racing as well as be sure to contest the US nationals and as much domestic cross country racing that our schedule will allow.

Mike and I wanted to thank every one who takes the time to read about our adventures, it really keeps us motivated to know that people who are involved with the bike on so many different levels are keeping up with what we are doing.

Whether this current worldide economic downurn is a short term issue or a full on trend that will be with us for a long time, it could really be an important opportunity to take a step back and evaluate what you have going. Perhaps it is a chance to dedicate a bit more time to your personal health and development and to try and figure out what you actually need (at a minimum) to be happy and healthy in your life.

One thing is for sure–this is no time for a downturn in the bike industry or of any aspect of cycling . This is the time to capitalize on the advantages of the perfect human powered tool for transportation and recreation. What better way to gain some fitness and improve positive physical and mental health while preserving your cash for feeding yourself and your family rather than your car.

Perhaps it is the time for those of us who are involved with the bike to step forward, teach, and show by example that this is a great time for the bike and that the bike can help to make this a great time for us all.

Yours truly,
Michael Broderick and Mary McConneloug
Team Kenda/Seven Cycles

An incredible road

Two more World Cups

By:
Cycling News
Published:
June 25, 2008, 0:00 BST,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:05 BST

Mary and I had the challenging yet awesome opportunity to spend three weeks in the RV mobile and...

Portugal, Spain, Andorra and Scotland, June 26, 2008

Mary and I had the challenging yet awesome opportunity to spend three weeks in the RV mobile and without the stress of World Cup obligations in southern Europe. After the prior three weeks spent contesting the opening rounds of the World Cup races, with professional trucker type mileage in between, we were tempted to head to some remote beach to relax, maybe catch a few waves and just take it easy... . Instead we pointed the RV in the direction of the highest point we could find to begin some elevation training in order to arrive at our best form for the next World Cup in Andorra.

Although 6,000 feet is really not that high, we knew that racing in the Alpine conditions and elements was going to be an extra challenge, and we were ready to pull all the stops to prepare since this was an important race for which to be on form. We decided to leave Spain and make our first-ever trip to Portugal, eventually spending the better part of a week in the Serra da Estrela mountain range training on some radically small and unpopulated roads and driving up to the still snow-covered peak at night. We burned quite a bit of propane and some extra adrenaline with our late evening drives as the wet spring weather had us dealing with more snow and hail storms than star gazing at the top of these exposed gnarly peaks. There were some moments that made us question our tactics but were rewarded with some incredible mornings at the top of several mountains as well as what we felt was at least some benefit in the form of extra red blood cells thanks to our thin air sleeping efforts.

We can't say whether it is all together legal, frowned upon or what, but we managed to just " pull over" for the night at the highest places we could find without any more problem than just driving up some dark twisty road in a hail storm in a big boxy RV. We definitely don't recommend trying to elevation train in your vehicle as it initially made us pretty grumpy and cost us a lot of sleep. But we got pretty into it and eventually slept our way from central Portugal back across Spain while competing in two national level races along the way, and we didn't spend a night below 1600 meters. We would come down during the day to charge our computer, service the RV, stock up on supplies or find a place to pirate a wireless internet signal, and often return to our night-time roost. We'd also get in our training on the bike during the day.

The next weeks were dedication to high elevation sleeping, some arctic level leg soaks, parking lot yoga routines and living on the road as best as we could in an effort to arrive at what we hoped would be our best form on the bikes. We made our way back across Spain sticking to the high mountains and radical training opportunities north of Madrid, focusing on bigger road miles and trying to ignore the sweet dirt off chutes in an effort to better focus on pushing the pedals. We still managed to do a bit of fun mountain biking and sample some local wine and a few select wheels of exotic cheeses without straying too far off our dedicated race program.

The week before the world cup in Andorra we attended a race in the small Catalonian town of Sant Lorenc de Morunys an outpost of civilization in the middle of the Vall di Lord, (quite possibly the most beautiful region of Spain we have yet to encounter)! Unfortunately race day turned out to be an absolute washout – rain had stalked us for our entire trip offering us more than our share of wet rides and drives but the weather here on race day was bordering on biblical. It was the type of race where you ride your hardest, but keep on getting colder and eventually loose contact with your senses as you go. Ouch!

I battled it out for two or so hours on the constantly deteriorating course with its thick mud streams oozing from the tops of the climbs and piling up in the ruts that we carved deeper lap after lap. It was actually pretty fun since the course was quite epic– real mountain biking on lots of singletrack, and there would have been plenty of technical challenges even in the dry. Changing a few bearings, shifter cables, chain, chainrings and cassette was really a small price to pay for so much fun on the bike.

I pretty much begged Mary not to ride this one since a race like this just six days out from the World Cup seemed like a sure way to avoid optimum form when it was going to really count . It was the toughest thing to ask of her since I know she was looking forward to tasting the mud and have the experience that she was so prepared for. The realization and dedication to what was in store the next week allowed her to make the professional decision to put her energy towards being better prepared for the next week.

On our drive to Andorra we passed over some incredible singletrack roads through Pyrenees mountain passes that remain way better suited for a bike than the RV (we actually found our way following bike route signs). It was slow going but worth the extra time as this area penned the Catalonian region of Spain into our list of must return to in the future spots.

Andorra itself also turned out to be a great place to ride the bike though with its immense mountains separated only by brief claustrophobic river valleys, it is clearly much better suited as a destination for a downhill bike and a lift ticket. Upscale outdoor tourism is a seemingly driving force behind Andorra's robust economy. A good percentage of this tiny country is composed of lift accessed mountains catering to mountain biking in the summer and of course skiing in the winter. We found some serious bargains while shopping for provisions but something about how the shopping centers, boutiques and super stores towered above us all around the country gave us the impression that this place even better known as a destination spot to do some sort of tax-exempt shopping. It would probably be worth the drive as well since fuel was being sold at two-third the typical European price.

The athletes who attended World Cup round four in Andorra were greeted by a classic black mud, alpine-style, mountain top course. There were many technical aspects including slabs of rock and slippery roots that were in a constant state of change due to the hundreds of wheels cutting into the soft natural soil that made up the majority of the course. Speed was really kept in check by the boggy terrain as well as some steep climbing and the 6,000 foot elevation.

It rained heavily the night before the race and right up until the hour before the women lined up. We knew it would be slick and muddy out there but it turned out to exceed our expectations.

Andorra World Cup (by Mary)

I wasn't worried or bothered by the weather...especially loving my trainer warm-up nestled under the tarpaulin of the RV as the rain poured. Bundled on the line, I was calm and ready to race. I got a good start, was riding inside the top 10, feeling good and moving forward–top five just in front of me. Racing in elevation is different - you can't really push it that hard but must maintain a steady output and keep it spinning.

The chaos of the first lap was pretty typical as women charged super hard to get up front with many blowing up just before the crest of the first hill. The descent was incredibly slick and caught some riders off guard. I watched riders go down in front of me, some crashing hard on the wooden bridge others too anaerobic to effectively ride the tricky rocks and roots. I continued steadily on the climbs played it safe on the downhills since the conditions were so sketchy. After two laps of five total in the thick, muddy conditions my bike was so clogged with mud I was unable to get into my granny ring. I took some time in the tech pit to try to clean it but after a few more kilometers the front derailleur just filled up with the thick mud.

Three laps without my granny gear probably cost me some extra energy and a few spots since I was having to push a larger than ideal gear, Still I was thankful that everything else was holding together. I managed to maintain my position sometimes having to get off and run the steep sections though it was so steep that it might not have been the worst tactic anyway. At the end of the two hour race, I crossed the line a covered in mud in 14th. I was happy for another successful day of racing (no crashes) and proud to be the top American finisher.

Lucky for us, Jason First, a Crank Brothers (crankbrothers.com) employee and mountain bike racer himself had made the trip over from California, added his awesome feed/tech zone assistance to take the heat off Mike and me for the day, So I was able to recover a bit and scrape the mud off myself in the tiny RV shower before heading out to the feed zone to assist for the men's race. Thank you Jason!

The track seemed to dry out quite a bit by the time the men started. Regardless Mike was up against the usual heavy World Cup competition. He got a solid start, and rode strong as the day progressed. moving forward, steady and meticulous Mike turned it up on the last two laps passing a bunch of guys eventually and finishing 58th for his best World Cup result this year. Mike's bike was only speckled in mud after the race and a good thing because he was going to have his hands full cleaning up the mess that I made of mine.

Going to Scotland (by Mike)

Over the next four days, we committed to a 1,300km drive through central France, western Belgium and into the Netherlands that brought us to Amsterdam where we boarded an overnight ferry to Newcastle England. Once in Great Britain we tackled another 500km on some exceedingly scenic and skinny roads to our destination of Fort William, Scotland. Ordinarily we would have enjoyed this stunning though extended drive a lot more than we did this time. We were forced to pass up some well loved and well known awesome riding areas, friends' houses and general places of interest that make our life on the road as a mountain bikers so much more fun. Instead we made due pulling into small towns or quiet rest areas to spin our stiff legs the on the trainer and pull off some semblance of what you might call yoga to straighten out our car strained bodies. Strange but familiar how a hard week of driving, really just sitting in one place hour after hour seemed to work us more than even the toughest week of riding.

Mary and I arrived in Fort William on Wednesday night and took advantage of the sun staying out 'til 11:00 pm to get in a few laps on the already familiar course. We were happy to arrive with a few days to recover the legs and get back onto the bikes although it was hard not to feel as if we had done ourselves a bit of a dis-service with this tiresome drive. Luckily we were able to take advantage of being familiar with Fort William and fall back on accommodations that we had utilized in the past and even to commandeer the services of a trusted professional mechanic Reg Stuart (stuartcycles.co.uk), whom we had met at world championships last year. Reg would stand in as our tech and feed assistant for race day. This, along with the pleasant surprise of perfect Scottish weather, had us up to speed and ready to go by Saturday's race.

The practice of building mountain bike parks is really flourishing in Scotland and the results are many new and up and coming mountain bike centers that boast miles and miles of outstanding, easily accessible legal trails catering to all levels of off road biking enthusiasts . The Witches Trail carved into the flank of Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, is one of the best known of these riding centers and is a great place to ride.

The trails are mostly constructed of hard-packed bluestone, painstakingly and laid out over many years, raising some fast, bumpy, but flowing trails up from the boggy peat forest. The World Cup race course samples a bit of everything that Ben Nevis has to offer, though over the years has become less and less technical and this year's World Cup was without many of the bone jarring technical bits or scary no brake drop ins that give advantage to the technically capable mountain bikers, The course was still mountain bike suitable, fun and demanding as any World Cup but clearly catered to fitness rather than skill and actually felt a little like a race on a glorified bike path.

The women's field competed at 11:00 am and set a blistering pace up the surprisingly dusty and long start climb, Mary came around on the first lap riding strong somewhere around 10th place. I got to see her on several parts of the course as I was riding along with the press photographers in an effort to set up our tech zone in the remote second tech pit at the mid-point of the race. I just made it to the tech pit as she ripped by digging deep - a determined though peaceful look on her face made me fumble uselessly for our camera and attempt another blurry one, cut off at the wrong place, as I focused more on her form, her race, and to come up with the right words of wisdom and encouragement to spur her on in the brief seconds of her passing.

All the while thoughts of my own race had me wanting to just get back to the RV for a little time off my feet. I was able to rely on Reg to handle the feeds in tech zone one and retire to the RV where I could thankfully make out the race announcer's calls counting off the laps and riders positions. The women's race ended up being hotly contested with many of the women within seconds of the next place. This is a testament to the more road-style course as well as the level of competition in the field which is certainly at an all time high.

I watched Mary make a final attack to advance her position in the woods just before entering the final short climb, bumpy descent and finally the high speed finish stretch. She was almost able to gain another position with an incredible final sprint that had the crowds on their feet and happy they had adopted her for the day (After all McConneloug certainly sounds Scottish enough!) though it made us both wonder if she had played it a bit conservative throughout the race. A solid 17th place on the day and a beautiful afternoon to watch the men's race while soaking her legs in a nearby stream were her rewards.

I felt great on race day and took advantage of my solid form when I could. I climbed well in the pack and was able to rest in the descents though wishing there were more places to pass and make time. Unfortunately, I was a bit hard on my bike and managed to break (by way of impact) both my front and rear derailleurs rendering the rear one practically useless throughout the course of the ride and the front only good for "emergencies". I was able to keep riding well when the terrain suited my gearing but overall it made for a pretty tough day. I was able to ride away from the guys that I battle it out with most typically on the first few laps so I knew things were going well, but over the course of my race the problems mounted and I fell back bit by bit. It was a bit frustrating, but that's how cross country racing goes. Conserving the bike is an important element, and even with the tech pit available, it is not always possible or in your best interest to pop in for a repair. I have seen bigger and better rides go sour so I was not completely disappointed to finish up 60th place. I might have been the last guy to get some World Cup points but it is better than being 61st and not getting any!

Mary and I are through the first five rounds of World Cup racing and happy to report things are going really well on all fronts, especially with regards to the progress of the US Olympic team selection chase for Mary. She has clearly and consistently proven over the past months to be one of the two best candidates for the two available positions. We are currently heading down to Val di Sole, Italy to contest the World Championships in which we will both be taking part. We are very excited to both be a part of the worlds team, but it is a bit of a mixed emotion going into this one since we are anxiously awaiting the official word on the Olympic selection that can only come after this final qualifying event. Of course we are still honored and excited to be taking part in this race as it remains a season highlight just to be a part of the team and to represent the USA at this great event.

It has proven to be a pretty tough go in Europe this year. The upcoming Olympics, paired with most countries utilizing the World Cups in their selection process, have been making the already stressed out cross country crowd even a bit more ornery and hard-headed. On the positive side, it has driven us to fight really hard and be at our best as well. It has been a blessing for Mary and me to continue on with our two-person approach as it has allowed us to keep things in our own hands. We feel that this has allowed us to do the right thing at the right time, avoiding a lot of the negative energy that we have been seeing from many of the other international team programs.

Thank you for your taking the time to keep up on our travels and racing and for your support and interest in our racing efforts!

All the best,
Michael Broderick and Mary McConneloug
Team Kenda/Seven Cycles

Houffalize has a history of battles

On the road again for the spring European campaign

By:
Cycling News
Published:
May 15, 2008, 0:00 BST,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:05 BST

The anticipation of traveling in Europe for several months on end to race bikes is always a bit...

Houffalize, Offenburg and Madrid, May 15, 2008

The anticipation of traveling in Europe for several months on end to race bikes is always a bit daunting, and this year proved to be no exception. After returning from a two-week season opening race trip in Puerto Rico and Venezuela, Mary and I spent a BUSY week at our East Coast home base sorting papers, contacting friends/ sponsors, and equipping our bikes with the latest '08 gear. We really had to touch on a bit of everything including some serious training all aimed at getting everything in line for the World Cup races and another significant travel event. In the end we did all that was humanly possible before assembling a jumble of critical things into our huge overweight bike bags and paying dearly to lug them onto the plane.

This is our fifth year of renting an RV for an extended bout of European racing and this time it actually felt a bit like returning home. Our friends from the RV rental company (www.rv-rental-germany.com) meet us at the Munich airport to help out with the incredible mass of gear and once again get us started on the right foot for another Euro journey. Moving into any car for two-plus months is always a bit claustrophobic at first, but the convenience of having everything you need – cooking facilities, bathroom, bike storage, etc, all at arms reach makes it pretty convenient. Still its pretty realistic to say that with two people living in a car you are always somehow in the way of the another other unless you are outside. Still, for better or worse, this is our chosen style, it works out really well for attending and travelling to the European races and is something that we really enjoy, most of the time.

Mary and I have often found ourselves at our best while on the go and living without the distractions and the sweet, yet somehow cumbersome comforts of the real world. The simplicity of a vehicle to live in, and just enough equipment and gear to handle the job seems to be our most effective strategy for attending races . We tested this theory once again on our most current leg of the journey, competing in three World Cups in as many weeks. We began in Houffalize, Belgium, for the season opener, then on to nearby Offenburg, Germany, and most recently in the not so near by Madrid, Spain.

The World Cup in Houffalize is a classic mountain bike race and the thousands of fans that once again showed up for this event proved that attending a cross country race is something that is considered worthy to do with your Sunday in Belgium.

The racing... we were happy to have Mary battle her way back into the top 20 after a tough start. The radically steep paved start offered many riders the opportunity to go beyond their red line and snag a good position before blowing apart on the selective singletrack and effectively blocking up the rest of the field. This quickly pulled the women's pack apart into individual riders, Those out of the top 10 standing in an ill-tempered line, bike in hand, watiting their chance to run down the first perfectly rideable slick singletrack. After the hectic start mary steadily moved her way up through the field taking time to be a bit safe and even considerate while going 100% in her sportsmanship type way. I was happy to see her into the top 20 looking strong and riding well on the penultimate lap. Mary was able to close in to a 19th place finish at the end of a well ridden though in her own words "conservative and safe" day of racing.

The men's race was pretty well attended with 270 guys! and unfortunately around 150 managed to beat me up the incredibly steep paved start loop to the first singletrack. The Houffalize start is always a bit of a disaster and with the huge numbers of riders funneling into a singletrack chute it never fails to cause an unspeakable backup. It's not really racing at this point - just waiting to advance while the leaders are busy riding away. In typical fashion this frustrates more than a few to the point of ducking the ropes and having at a bit of cheating to advance their position. Personally I, along with the majority of of the respectable athletes are all about acting in a sportsman like way and respecting the rules of the sport even in these ridiculous conditions. I finished the first lap in 165th position and eventually advanced to a wholly unsatisfying but in my own feeling pretty well ridden 111th on the day.

We were super lucky to be able to draw support from the tribe of the bike once again and sort out our tech zone support with the help of our Belgian friends Michel Olivier and Pierre. These guys have the credentials and skills to support the best, but are presently working full time and took a vacation day just to come and stand in our feed zone, pretty cool of them and actually completely essential for us to be at our best in the races!!!. Thanks to them and all those who have and may be yet to help in our future races. Mary and I would have to be the first to admit that we may not have the most solid support program lined up beforehand at all the races but we sure do get to meet a lot of great people along the way.

It took several days to recover from racing our first World Cup and we stayed a few days in our favorite remote campground near Houffalize. We slowly caught up, still fighting the lingering jet lag while stretching our legs in the beautiful ardennes region of belgium. We were somewhat astounded and very lucky to have sunshine and dry conditions to appreciate the classic rolling hills of this area whose every little pass seems steeped in cycling tradition.

Offenburg was in the grips of a sweet blooming spring and we were happy to experience it more on the side of warm and sunny compared to the deep dark and disastrous black forrest rain event the year prior. Mary and I luxuriated in renting a flat for three nights where we could do some laundry, spread out and take real showers! We were stoked to have our expert pit crew drive to support us all the way down from Belgium and add another member Ronald Z. to the all star pit crew to to help us out on race day. Mary and I pretty much enjoyed the luxuries of the best equipped team here .

The races... Mary was happy to ride the abruptly steep drops and prove that crashing or having a bad day at a particular race venue in the past does not mean that you are doomed to the same fate on the following year. Mary finished 16th on the day though I think she was more happy to have conquered her fears of the course from the year prior than anything else to do with racing the other women. I watched several of the men get off and run down the fearsome "Wolf's drop" during my race so I was extra proud of Mary for bombing down that gnarly little chute as well as handily negotiating all the other technical pieces on her sweet little IMX (Seven's titanium and carbon hardtail) lap after lap!!!

I found myself immediately out of the chase for a top spot due to losing time in the start cluster but came together with some pretty solid riders for a good old battle nonetheess. Having competed with many of these athletes year after year their is definitely some satisfaction and pride associated with beating certain guys with whom you have a history or who are their county's top rider, etc. Really any motivation to get that one extra spot is not overlooked and in the World Cups there are so many fast riders you could have a hell of a battle just trying to break the top 100 on certain days. I came up with a 90th spot in Offenburg and felt that I had a good ride though the result was less than completely satisfying.

On the way down to Madrid we had ample opportunity to do the math on the present diesel fuel price and our current consumption situation. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our RV gets around 6.5 kilometers a liter (around 15 mpg) when driven conservatively. The down side would be that one dollar is presently worth 0.6 euros so the 80 euros we spent to drive 400 kilometers translates roughly to US$130 to drive 245 miles. Ouch!!!! Another disturbing fact we have been living with is that the price of diesel fuel in Germany is 1.40 euro per liter so translate that to US terms and you are looking at $7.90/ gallon - a big ouch!!!! It's a definite wake up call for what's in the future for all of us who burn petroleum products.

In order to cut costs we have adapted our strategy in a few ways including taking advantage of pulling over in small towns to sleep at night rather than paying for the luxury of a campground and the other going for the refillable five-iter plastic jug of wine direct from the producers rather than the over-rated marked up grocery outlet bottled stuff. A tough compromise you might think, but we have been pleasantly surprised that both of these moves have brought up closer to the pulse of Europe and have exposed us to many new and interesting people.

Having raced in Madrid's "Casa de Campo" three times prior , we knew that this city park was not where we wanted to train out of all week. Instead we took our time with the solid 1750 km drive from Offenburg to Madrid including some sweet training stops in the eastern Pyrenees outside Banyoles and another near Mont Blanc, southeast of Lleida, Spain. We came across quiet epic roads almost by mistake throughout our trip. With an infrastructure of pavement like we found all through France and Spain it is pretty clear what all the road riding and racing fuss is about over here.

Racing mountain bikes in Madrid's largest municipal park was a whole different experience from our latest experiences in northern Europe – flat, fast singletrack, smooth enough to ride without ever letting up on the cadence though marbly and slippery enough to necessitate a constant focus. Dust, a few short steep climbs and the pack-oriented racing were once again the defining features of the racing here.

"I was super motivated to have a good day," recalled Mary, "but after a scary fast start on the dusty hard as concrete packed trail falling back to 30+ 'cause I didn't want to crash... [I] had to re-adjust goals. [I] moved forward, head down on big ring sections. Super focused, I rode well, moving up to finish 15th - not exactly the podium I had hoped for, but [I was] glad to finish strong without crashing on the hard packed slippery gravel. Big Thanks to my small block eight Kendas tires for their incredible traction on these dry, slippery conditions!! Looking back on the day, I remain happy to have had good fitness and a safe fast ride."

"Sitting in with a group on the flat doubletrack, taking an occasional pull and making a move before filing into the singletrack are the main memories of my race here," reflected Mike. "The non technical course brought strategy into the fold here. This day was a a battle between the riders more than one with any elements of the course and was thus a whole different race. It seemed pretty strange to finish the same 90th place here though, beating and being beaten by a very different group of riders. Pretty consistent."

Mary and I have a running joke about transitioning into "full timers" with no home base, just traveling around and living permanently in an RV. Judging by our past styles it seems pretty feasible and on the good days, it seems like a solid idea. Just a mission, a vehicle, and enough gear to handle the job; however, lately it has been looking like the price and availability of diesel fuel will help eliminate the allure as we go through these next few years. It seems more likely we will become "full timers" on the bikes instead. Now that would be something to talk about!

If you have the opportunity, consider attempting some of your travels and chores without using the car and take a moment to think about the possibilities of what you can accomplish with your own power.

All the best,
Michael Broderick and Mary McConneloug
Team Kenda/Seven Cycles

The view of Santiago,

Staying on in Chile

By:
Cycling News
Published:
April 19, 2008, 0:00 BST,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:04 BST

When our planned flight back to Boston departed from Santiago, Mary and I were checking our tire...

Chile, February 12, 2008

When our planned flight back to Boston departed from Santiago, Mary and I were checking our tire pressure, filling water bottles and getting ready to go out on another epic mountain bike exploration mission here in Pichilemu. Not sure how it happened but once again we took advantage of really not living anywhere and decided to just stay where we were. In this case to live and dedicate our winter training out of this dusty little coastal town in Chile.

This place just kind of lured us in as we were based here competing in some late season mountain bike races during the quiet time from November through December. At that time, we enjoyed a flowery desert spring, quiet beachfront living and out of the way styles of town. Now in late January-February, it is mid summer for the Southern hemisphere and a hectic carnival feel has taken over–although we still find ourselves loving much of what we have discovered. We are definitely influenced by the long lines at the grocery and the increased traffic on the single tar road linking town to the real world–but it seems a small price to pay for how sweet it is here.

The vast rolling hills where we train remain mostly unchanged, big open dusty and completely remote. The kind of place that's so quiet you could/can rail through a blind left hand corner in the inside lane rather than touch the brakes, though you know you really shouldn't!! Also the kind of place where you can look up to spot the peak of the massive climb from your vantage point at the very bottom, and you just have to take a look at what you are getting into, though you know you really shouldn't.

Mary and I are certainly among the first mountain bikers to ride many of the trails that we have been frequenting. With a good bit of trail work and countless hours of exploration we have linked miles and miles of quality forest service terrain that has seemingly laid dormant, maintained only by cows, horses and the few farmers that scratch a living out of the dusty soil. Once you learn and commit to the proper duck and roll under the rusted barbed wire and don't mind a few extra repetitions of lifting the bike over a few gates, this place gives up some remarkable rides.

Our Spanish skills are improving slowly though when you don't see anyone on your six hour bike ride there is not much time to practice and with that much time alone you almost don't notice that you lack even the basic skills for communication. At this point I have learned enough to purchase cold water, pass on the left and and get close to what I want for deli meat although anything out of context is left up to Mary to make sense of. Luckily the educational system in Chile has seemingly prepared many of the Chileans for an influx of crazy English speaking gringos staying in their country for months on end.

An important part of our transition from racing for a month in Chile to being here for the majority of our winter training was buying a car. And although a good used one is pretty hard to come by in Chile, we managed to do all right. Much to my joy we ended up with a sort of a 4x4– Subaru Impreza. Of course I have fantasies of putting in hard miles on the beach and challenging gnarly off road situations, but actually you pretty much need a 4x4 just get to your mailbox out here in the country. To experience the quiet places and get to some of the more remote surf breaks you definitely need something at least as off road worthy as our Subaru though in reality you might be better served with a helicopter.

We have made several exciting trips into Santiago that have confirmed earlier reports that it is a complex booming metropolis sweltering and confined under a perpetual umbrella of smog. However thanks to our savvy Santiaguino friends we have found ways to escape the rat race and be hiking and riding in clear mountain air just moments from the city's oppressive grip. We have also come to realize that the city itself has some worthy attributes that can be found nowhere else in Chile. Night in Santiago is quite possibly when the city is at its best - when food and drink discounts abound and a comfortable party atmosphere threatens to keep even the most dedicated professionals up until dawn.

Mary and I are currently taking full advantage of the long summer days here putting in some big hours on the bike and cross training in the surf on our days with less specific workout structure. It seems a bit strange to us to be training out of a town that really has no bike culture or even any visible sign of other competitive bikers. Still we are comfortable trusting our instincts that this is a good place for us to be, to live and train in our unique way, as we need to in order to come into the special form that it will take to realize our seasonal goals

Being so far from our family friends and support network has given us a new perspective on how important all that type of stuff really is. Although we travel a lot, Chile really feels somehow farther away from everything we know. It also makes Mary and I realize how lucky we are to be in our unique situation traveling and working together towards a similar goal.

Even as we slip further into self reliance and likely further away from the conventional North American approaches to training and living, we have found more discipline and confidence in our own approach and believe we are capable of arriving at that special place that will allow us to realize our aspirations and come into our best form to date.

Mary and I are excited to see how our off season training regimen will apply to the races. Although we are still looking forward to a few more weeks here exploring this unique place and experiencing a culture that continually shocks us with stark differences and challenges our own more rigid, though seemingly still pliable, set of values. We will clearly come off this Chilean experience having learned more than we had anticipated about what is really important in our lives.

Wishing you all healthy and happy new year!
Mike and Mary
Team Kenda/Seven Cycles

Rincon, Puerto Rico is a good place to surf

Early season races

By:
Cycling News
Published:
April 19, 2008, 0:00 BST,
Updated:
April 22, 2009, 20:05 BST

The transition into the race season is always a bit difficult. In our case, returning to the states...

Puerto Rico and Venezuela, April 19, 2008

The transition into the race season is always a bit difficult. In our case, returning to the states from Chile to my family's home in Massachusetts was the first step of transitioning into race mode, a mandatory stop in and, judging by the piles of backed up paper mail and loose ends that awaited us on our return, a bit overdue. After a busy and cold 10 days at home of training, building race bikes and shuffling papers, Mary and I flew south to officially kick off our race season. The first stop was the Ultimate Dirt Challenge in Rincon, Puerto Rico, on March 31 then on to Venezuela on April 6 to attend the Pan American Continental Championships.

The Ultimate Dirt Challenge (Mike 4th and Mary 1st)

This year's edition more than lived up to our expectations for tropical weather, huge crowds and once again a fantastically organized and fun event. Mary and I have attended this race for the past three years, and it has become one of our favorites as well as our traditional season opener. The promoter, Doel Gonzales (www.ciclomundo.com), once again treated us better than necessary to get us back to be a part of this in this one of a kind event. This year, the race included a spectator friendly traffic snarling downhill (actually crossing the main road into town), a crowd pleasing dirt jumping exhibition, as well as a UCI category one ranked cross country event. Thousands of enthusiastic Puerto Rican spectators attended from all over the island to enjoy this unique and fun one day bike festival.

A tropical island is a great place to host an early spring mountain bike festival and the location in Rincon, Puerto Rico, (a premier surf spot) makes this one all the more alluring for us. Although the potential for a cross country course is limited by available land, it makes up for this with its uniqueness. The cross country track is a seven kilometer twisting ribbon jammed into a dense jungly patch of trees that surrounds a long retired nuclear power plant. Primarily singletrack, short stabby climbs and drops and the feeling of constantly being on a fast railing turn pretty much sum up the course. Glimpses of the blue Caribbean and the rustling of the shady palms helps to make this course one of our favorites. This year, the daily afternoon downpours splitting up the hot/humid sunny days had the track primed, fast and tacky as we have ever seen it.

Of course, the racing still hurt!!! All those long off season hours of specific training rides that are supposed to have you up to speed and ready to compete never really seem to match up to the intensity of the first race. Having learned this lesson before, we always try to get in a few training races as this one before some of the more important ones on the schedule.

The small women's field did not stop Mary from pushing her limits although she was able to ride away easily and take the win - averaging around 19 mph throughout the race and and putting close to 30 minutes on the second place woman. She clearly made the most of her hard training effort as she continued her preparation for top race fitness in the soon upcoming World Cups.

The men's race was more attended by an international field. We started fast – my legs seemed to swell up with stale blood just off the start line in an all-out effort to get a good position before the no passing singletrack. I ended up going in sixth or so and had to make some difficult passes in the jungle in an effort to move up. By the time I found a clean line, countrymen Todd Wells and Jason Sager had already made a decisive split and were off the front, and I settled in to ride with my Chilean friends Cristobal and Javier. The techy course suited me very well but it was a struggle to race as I searched my legs for some kind of top end. I ended up finishing fourth – a minute off Jason Sager's win and just 15 seconds off the second and third place Chileans, with Todd Wells rounding out the top five.

For us mountain bike athletes, it is always a welcome ego boost to have the opportunity sign a few autographs and pose for pictures with the throngs of fans that attend this festival. I could almost imagine it getting old after a while but as it stands we dont get to feel like celebrities nearly enough.

Pan American Championships, San Juan de los Morros, Venezuela (Mike 6th and Mary 1st)

After a few days of tropical training, Mike and I continued south from Puerto Rico to Venezuela to attend the Pan American Continental Championships. This year's event was held a few hours south of Caracus in the small town of San Juan del los Morros. We met up with the rest of the small US National team which consisted of three elite riders myself, Mike, Todd Wells and two U23 riders Colin Cares and Sam Jurekovic. We were accompanied by three USA Cycling staff members: new MTB team director, Marc Gullicson, team therapist Bernard C. and mechanic TJ Grove. Rounding off our support staff for our brief four day trip to Venezuela were two local body guards: Juan (ex-heavyweight body builder) and Luis (black belt karate master)

The race was held just outside the busy town in the dry, treeless hills with some spectacular jutting "morrows" as a backdrop. The five kilometer track contained some extremely steep climbs, open fireroad style driveways, some wide off camber singletrack roped into the open desert and some gully and rain rut trails. The hard-packed dry earth began to deteriorate to moon dust as the tracks were ridden over and over. The apparent local custom of burning your own field continued right on through race day adding plumes of black smoke to the already dust choked sky but unfortunately did very litlte to block out the scalding sun.

The first thing that came to mind during our initial training session was to have Mke put the small ring back on my bike as there were some abrupt steep climbs that would be all too draining without a little help from granny. I was hoping that this would be enough to keep my power output in check and not crack as the extreme conditions of searing heat were sure to take a huge toll even at my morning race time of 8:45 am.

I went hard from the gun and soon found myself out front with a swarming dust-choked field of women close behind. I was able to gain a small gap by the end of the first few laps and then switch to conservaton mode as I battled the course and conditions. I knew my nearest competitor, Jacqueline (Brazil) was not far behind so I started to dig a little deeper, focused on riding smooth and swift and hydrating as much as possible. On lap four of six, the heat was getting to me and I took advantage of my time splits from our team director Mark and backed off a bit to make sure I was going to make it through the day. I managed to maintain my lead and crossed the finish line earning my third Pan American Gold medal. I feel it is a huge honor to participate in this race with my Pan American sisters and I am happy to once again win this unique and important race that spreads the sport and good will of mountain biking throughout the americas. Big thanks to Kenda, Seven and all my sponsors, Mike and the perfect race day support from our awesome USAC staff!

It is always a bit special to find that you have some fans in far off places like South America – or perhaps these folks just saw me ride for the first time, in any case It felt pretty good to do some interviews, sign autographs and pose for a pictures with kids – though not as nice as it felt to get back to the team van and change out of my sweat and dust soaked team kit. Definetly a draining effort!! I was lucky that my race was early–when the heat was only in the mid 90s [degrees Fahrenheit]. The men were now lining up for an 11:15 am race start under the white hot sun in dry, breezeless 100 plus degree weather! I was nervous to see the toll that was to be taken...

As I watched the men jet off the line a vaccum of dust tracing along behind their effort and then suddenly a big vertical plume indicating an invisible but heavy pile up. An unseasoned rider had tried his hand at the kamakazi advance forward around other riders but into a course marking pole. He ended up taking himself out of the race to be carried shoeless like a child to the ambulance and in his ill thought-out effort slammed into Mike's back wheel causing him to loose his momentum in the critical few seconds at the race start. Mike stayed upright, but lost his clean line and was caught back in the dust as the elite men set to complete the start loop and then eight full laps in the devastating heat.

The front of the race was pretty tight. the top ten were within a few minutes of each other, the other 30 competitors were scattered as the race carried on. The first few laps todd was rocking a blistering pace at the front with our chilean friends, Cristobal and Javier close in tow. The heat and difficulty of the course started to take its toll and the mens field began to blow apart. Mike persevered through his sketchy start and continued to ride advancing his position as high as fifth before eventually settling for sixth after a bit of a "sharing the effort while you battle it out" type ride with Todd. The U23 men competed at the same time as the elites and suffered through the same conditions with one less lap, where Sam Jurekovic earned his his first Pan Am Championship victory. All and all it was a very successful day for the USA.

Mike and I, as well as the rest of the team, feel that this was possibly THE hottest race we have ever competed in – well into the danger zone for even watching an outdoor sporting event! Some riders cramped with dehydration, some got dizzy and crashed, some just ploughed through and others were able to hold out and somehow turn the conditions to their advantage.

After the race, podiums, and anti-doping (took me about four hours to hydrate enough for a sample...), we enjoyed sitting by the pool for a half hour, packed up the bikes, cooked another crock pot feast in the hotel and went to bed. In order to catch flights home, most of the team had a painful 3:00 am departure! Mike, Marc and I were glad to be able to sleep in 'til 6:30 am before we began the long travel home. Yes, it was a brief four days in Venezuela, but with some very memorable experiences.

Venezuela facts:

  • Gas is only US$2/gallon.
  • Leader Hugo Chavez decided to make a half hour time change... so we did.
  • We were some of the lucky athletes to have water running in our hotel.
  • Average monthly income: US$200 and the groceries are expensive and hard to come by.
  • We enjoyed the best papaya ever here.
  • The USA cycling staff declined an offer to buy a turtle in the tech zone during the races.

Michael Broderick and Mary McConneloug
Team Kenda/Seven Cycles

Author
Mary McConneloug & Mike Broderick

MTB "super-couple", Mary McConneloug and Mike Broderick live together, train together, travel together and race together. They also share this diary on Cyclingnews.

Follow their adventures as they race the World Cup cross country circuit throughout 2009. Enjoy the unique, professional racing style of these two accomplished racers and world travelers.