A few weeks of summer in Germany sounded appealing. Particularly after the dry heat of Colorado where I had literally been dreaming of the ocean back home in Australia. However, ironically it rained almost every day I was there, so swimming was the last thing on my mind. Luckily I don't mind riding in the rain, as long as I can keep moving and stay warm then it is fine. Although since I haven't experienced a winter for a few years, there were a few occasions when I think it was still defined as pretty cold and so I was coaxed into stopping for some coffee and cake. Up until now I have never wanted to mix my training with a social stop, but it can have its place, if only to eat and let you stretch out after a few hours on the bike. We often rode through small villages and it was fun to stop occasionally and actually have a chance to see the smaller details.
Actually the riding in Freiburg was really great; you could easily get in a few hours of almost completely flat roads, yet there was also some really nice climbing available, both on the road and the dirt. It was more relaxed too; crisp green landscapes and no need to constantly watch your handlebars for traffic or opening car doors. Most of the locals use bikes for transport, so it was a pretty bike friendly area. Not having a car there, I made like the locals and rode my bike to get groceries. I learnt enough German to at least ask for cuts of cheese, ham and different things from the bakery. For an athlete food is enough reason to learn any language quickly.
One of the most exciting things to happen whilst I was in Europe was meeting my new coach, Dr. Lothar Heinrich. He has a huge amount of experience and is also the team doctor for the T-Mobile Team. He is a very cool guy, super intelligent and really calm. He knows the SRM system well and since I use the SRM in both training and racing, then he can use the data to help guide me to become more effective. We will start work after the world's when I'm home in Sydney.
His wife Tina Heinrich is really lovely (super fit too!) and she was very fun to train with whilst I was there. I also rode with SRM team mate Marc Hug and team manager, Marc Hanisch.
The Tour of Germany
From Freiburg I traveled up to Jülich with Uli (Schoberer) to visit everyone at the SRM head office. When I arrived I was invited to pre-ride the final stage of the Tour of Germany with a group from T-Mobile, so they lent me a bike and gear for the ride since I only had shoes for the ergo with me. It was actually my first time seeing a road race in Europe and I was really impressed. Wow, there were so many cycling fans and families out and full of support, including pro road race photographer Jürgen Burkhardt. It was hard to believe so much facial hair could be possible - he has definitely put in some time for his World Moustache Champion title.
After watching the Tour we headed back to the SRM office and the next day we went out to the track while some track riders tested various equipment setups. I had never been on a velodrome before, so I jumped at the chance when Uli offered to take me on the back of his motorbike for a few fast laps. The track was really nice, and on a motorbike it was really fun.
Then it was time to head to Bern, Switzerland with some of my SRM team for a Swisspower cup race. I had heard about these races but never had a chance to race one before. I liked getting back to the shorter course format, with multiple laps, less open fire road and more technical singletrack. Definitely more raw and much more fun, which is what mountain biking is about.
Directly after the SwissPower we drove straight to Livigno, Italy. We didn't have much time since it was a fairly long drive through the mountains and we had to make it to the border before the 10pm deadline.
World Championships - Livigno, Italy
Since the World Cup finals were held here last year, I already had a good idea of what the XC course was like. I recalled a lot of climbing, yet when I rode a lap to check out the course I was surprised to see there was even more climbing. One of the faster grassy downhill sections of the course had been turned into a steep uphill instead.
However this was swiftly put out of my mind, because it was on this same lap that I saw one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. A small shepherd boy of around seven, curled up asleep with a young cow, which had its head snuggled back up on the boy. It looked like an illustration and certainly not something I think I will ever see again. The other cows were just standing around grazing calmly. While I stopped there, his brother who would have only been about nine, emerged from the trees, and leaning over the sleeping cow, whispered in his brother's ear. As they giggled, the older one swatted the cow with his rolled up comic book and as they moved on so did I, but it was such an incredibly special moment to see.
A few days later, after keeping to the road to conserve energy and re-acclimatise, I took the gondola to the top of the mountain with some Swiss riders to do a fun downhill. From the top we got about 40 minutes of fast downhill, and towards the end met a friendly Italian farmer as we passed on a small road behind where he was working.
It was fun to be back with the Australian MTB team, everyone gets on well, so it was a good environment to be in. We all support each other where we can, so it was nice to also get to the 4X for an hour to cheer on some DH friends and the other Aussies.
Before too long it was Sunday and I don't know how to articulate the women's XC race, only to say that it was really tough. I think everyone cramped up somewhere, somehow. It wasn't particularly technical, just a course demanding a lot of power. The laps were really long and some climbing sections of the course became so steep that it was purely a matter of managing the lack of oxygen whilst simultaneously moving forwards. I finished as first Australian in the Womens, with Emma Colson not far behind. After the race, it was the usual washing and packing the bike thoroughly for Aussie customs. Because as tired as you are after the race, after the series of flights back to Australia there is no way that you want to be asked to unpack and clean it with a toothbrush by hand, which I have been told happens.
Anyway, so now I'm home in Sydney and it's summer again - just perfect for being outside.
Have fun on your bike,