USA, July 14, 2006
Driving north from the hot and dusty world cup in Madrid Mary and I could feel the shift in climate almost immediately. We crested a surrounding mountainous ridge burning the cheap(er) spanish diesel at a record rate, anxious to leave the hectic city behind. Thoroughly spent from our race efforts, we stopped as soon as we found a little out of the way campground where we could recharge.
Over the next few days Mary and I focused on putting some kilometers on the RV. Several back-to-back 800-kilometer drives left us sore and road weary but closer to the following weekend’s world cup in Belgium. Although we felt rushed, we re-learned that keeping the gas pinned to the floor is not a good option in the RV since this can vaporize a 70 euro tank of gas in 350 km, ouch!
Throughout the blur of travel, two stops at friend's houses stand out as salvation from road trip fever. One in Carcassonne at our friend Sylvain’s and another a day further into France at our friend Antoine’s; both places provided a much needed resting place to get off the road, train, and catch up with friends (internet and laundry too).
We reached our destination of Spa Francorchamps, a renowned formula one race track in the Ardennes region of Belgium. This year it was the host site for the third UCI World Cup race. Here we were greeted by soaking rain and generally terrible Belgian spring weather. It was not motivating us to enjoy anything outdoors. Each lap of pre riding the course mandated hours of cleanup. Two laps of riding and the bikes were ready for an overhaul. Thoughts of overall survival were in our minds more than trying to find good lines. We couldn't help but entertain passing thoughts of what cycling would be like if it was always this shitty. What would bikes and cycling apparel look like and how many people would still get out and ride?
Our sweet Seven Cycles Sola hard tails were a blessing in their simplicity and more than held their own through the slop but it was very demanding to balance the pre riding with the maintenance that it took to get things back to race ready. bearings and cables seemed to be getting infiltrated as fast as I could put them in the bikes and the laundry situation was clearly not pretty.
World Cup #3, Spa Francorchamps, Belgium (Sunday, May 21, 2006)
Mary and I were camping right in the race venue so we knew what we were in for as we woke up to unrelenting rain on race day.
The women's race started with the only legitimate pedaling section on the course, a one-kilometer uphill road climb. The wide-open power start made it hard for Mary to hold her position and she went into the woods back in the 50’s. At this point she was faced by a clog of off the bike running cyclists many of which had pushed way past their limits to get into the single track and were’nt going anywhere fast.
Mary picked her way through as many riders as possible throughout the three and an half lap race but had lost considerable time in the start and was only able to slowly make up time. Each lap brought an increasing percentage of running as the course deteriorated and pushing the bike became the fastest way to get through the day. Mary crossed the checkered flag at 19th; handling the conditions and riding well but as unable to capitalize as she had hoped.
The men's race brought out a daunting 252-rider field. This many guys pounding up a 1/2 mile pavement section to a 180 degree corner that funnels into single track is a bit scary. Several crashes mixed up the field and I ended up going in behind a large portion of guys who managed to go well on the pavement but promptly fell to pieces as the real mountain biking began. It was disappointing to have to dismount in around 130th place and stand around waiting to file into the single track but this is really quite typical. In the world cups it is so chaotic at the start that you have to have a variety of plans handy and be ready to go with the one that is the least clogged. I managed to get into a good rhythm throughout the race, passing guys every lap and eventually made it up to 52nd on the day.
Spa was a good reminder for Mary and I that including some running and bike pushing drills is a critical component to being in top form for northern european spring mountain bike races.
On to world cup #4 in Fort William, Scotland
We boarded the ferry from Imjuiden, Netherlands to Newcastle, Great Britain at 6pm for an expensive rocky night crossing the north sea. I can tell you from my experience of growing up on an island that this trip was no joke. 50 kph winds churned up the cold brown sea causing the substantial ferry to pitch out of the water and land with a shudder. I felt just safe enough to almost forget that life jackets would be no more than a five minute life extender in the frigid wintry water.
We cleared customs in Newcastle by 11 am and were sent out to see how we could manage with the RV on the left side of the road. the road ways in the north of scotland are less than narrow and quite dangerous in a normal car. With the wheel on the left (wrong) side our ultra wide caravan seemed hilariously dangerous.
Scotland prides itself on being cyclist friendly and as we drove and camped our way towards the venue we found decent established bike routes off the main tiny and busy roads, which made for good road riding. the would be mountain biking areas are mostly taken up by sheep farms but a network of foot paths (legality uncertain) provided some relief from the pavement.
The highlands of scotland were barely out of winter. Snow capped mountains were a beautiful surprise but we knew that this meant more cold and wet riding. Naturally Mary and I pulled into the venue and got out for a ride just as a bruising hail started.
Over the next few days mary and I spent most of our time in the RV, hiding from the rain and the formidable swarms of midges (tiny evil flies) that set the mood for our time in scotland. We also sought shelter at the Sram trailer enjoying their top notch mechanic skills as well as their bug sprays and canopy tent. Mary and I had the constant urge to just go tour around scotland and see the sights from inside our heated RV but this was time purely dedicated to the bike!
Saturday, May 26, 2006: Race day was incredibly wet, windy and cold. The women’s race went off at 11:00 and was contested in a series of short sharp rain showers. Mary gave what she had....
Mary - The wind gusting and I was cold and wet standing on the line. I decided NOT to take off my cozy Defeet arm skins and kneekers for the race. I would rather be too warm than too cold (or so I thought). I looked over at the other racers with managers attending to them with protective umbrellas, hot leg rubs, and gathering warm winter outer layers just a minute before take off. hmmm. Ah well, I was grateful for the nice man who offered umbrella shelter to three of us ladies while we waited in the call up boxes for 20 minutes during a violent downpour.
After a short eternity, the gun went off and we all charged forward for the three and a half lap race. it felt good to finally get moving. I was maintaining a good position up the first extended forest road climb keeping in mind the critical positioning I needed to have at the top for the technical single track descent. 2/3 of the way up the climb I started to suffer from my initial effort and needed to hold back just a b it to stay within my threshold.
A few women came around me and I dropped into the single track around 20th. I was able to clean the tricky descent through the technical rocky drops and flowing single track and was looking to bridge up the group of 5-11 just up ahead.
Thanks to our friend, Chris Sherwin, from Utah who came out to support his wife, Kathy at the World Cup, I had someone to pass me bottles. Mike and I owe many thanks to friends on the circuit willing to help out. Chris did a fantastic job of delicately passing me bottles as we railed by the feed zone at 20 mph. I was giving it my all focused on pushing the climbs and flats and being smooth on the descents, not afraid to get off and run around stalled riders or the sections that were too muddy or sketchy to ride. I finally bridged to the group I was chasing after the 2nd lap. I passed them and was planning to ride away on the single track climb. I suppose I gave too much of an effort in doing this because come the climb I didn’t seem to have my usual peppy legs.
It didn’t help that the water and mud had saturated my knee warmers... I felt like I had 5 pound weights on each leg... and wasn’t going anywhere fast. Part of the group I had just passed came back around me. I tried to stay with their pace, but they began pulling away. I couldn’t stop thinking about how heavy my legs felt and how I wanted to stop to take off my knee warmers to free up my legs. I knew this wasn’t an option as there was a steady stream of riders charging behind me.
With one lap to go Gunn-Rita came speeding past me having recovered from a technical problem with her bike . She was riding with such power. It was inspiring to see her form and determination to make up lost time. It made me forget my own pain for a moment but after she was gone my lead weight legs returned. women I had passed on the previous lap were catching me back. I knew I just needed to do my best to cross that finish line. I suffered it in for 23rd.
Drenched, shivering and covered with mud I was more than stoked to have the warm RV to go back to and shower after. I was bummed to not have the legs or result I wanted on this climby course. It was my worst finish at a world cup so far. Ah well. I know that racing is extremely demanding and everyone has bad days. Im just glad it wasn’t a bad crash or injury... there’s always next week.“
Mike - The men’s race started in the most incredible downpour that I have had the pleasure to stand out in and enjoy. I was looking forward to the start as we waited through the call ups and started to shiver. About three pedal strokes into the race I could feel that it was going to be a tough day. I spent two and a half hours out on the course going as hard as I could and still felt like I never warmed up.
By the final lap I was just thinking about putting on some dry warm clothes as my body was literally shivering no matter how hard i pushed. I managed to get through without getting pulled as so many others did but at 78th or so it was not my proudest moment. A big thank you to Matt Cramer of USA Cycling who helped with tech and feed zone support during my race.
Both Mary and I felt that we suffered a bit from living in the RV for this leg of the world cups. Although it gives ultimate freedom and ease in many ways when the weather is bad you are basically stuck in your car with no place to go.
We spent the next day sleeping in before heading over to watch the world cup down hill. Unfortunately, we realized that we needed to catch up on logistical work so badly that we were forced to spend the day in the race press office poaching wireless and listening to the DH over the PA. a definite sacrifice but we just had to sort out housing, transportation and registration for our upcoming races.
We managed a quick drive up to Loch Ness for a token tourist experience before happily leaving the wintry highlands of scotland. As we spent that night in a little pull off near a beautiful waterfall we were reminded of the beauty and isolation that we have had at our fingertips here and we suddenly felt the busy mainland of europe coming all too quickly.
Our euro adventure had come down to two more weeks of RV living with international races at each end one back in Belgium and the next in Czech republic.
Mary and Mike (Team Kenda/Seven Cycles)