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Euro round up

July 6, 2007

Mike and I could feel the end of our Euro trip coming fast. Although we really do enjoy the Euro RV travel, the coming of summer in Europe brings staggering crowds to our quiet spring campgrounds and just about everywhere else outdoors as well. Now that schools were starting to get out for the summer, it was starting to feel like time to head back to the States.

Thumbing through our print out of the UCI race calendar, we decided to head back to the Czech republic for a national race just 600km away in Ceska Kamenice. We were looking forward to returning to this beautiful region in northwestern Czech, but were especially drawn since we heard that the race course was going to be technical and fun.

The massive hemotoma covering my right quad was healing quite nicely mostly since I had been focusing the majority of my energy on a regimen of icing, elevating, massaging, changing bandages, and light spinning. The swelling was dissipating but as race day approached, it was clearly still not right. I needed more time to heal to be ready for the next World Cup in Switzerland now just ten days off. It was difficult to refrain from racing since I knew I could push myself to compete at the lightly attended race and still have a good shot at the podium even with my injury, but after checking out a lap I knew racing here would not be a good idea. I was resolved to rest, take my first weekend off in six weeks and enjoy the day supporting Mike from the feed zone

Strong riders from all over Europe and even fellow americans Adam Craig, Kelli Emmett and part of the Luna Chix squad showed up for this category 1 race.

The scene was flavorful, complete with banners, a loud speaker, beer tent, and grilled sausages. There was a solid crowd of spectators including rowdy locals who could watch from the porch of their nearby nursing home. The course was almost as good as promised, though the major feature was the solid climbing. It also included some really technical bumpy sections, a hike a bike over huge boulders and some challenging sandy transitions to top it off.

Mike fought hard for a 15th place finish and though this was good for only one single UCI point, he was glad to have a solid day at the races and a great training effort for next week's World Cup.

We spent the next few days camped out near the Czech-German border recovering in an incredible area known as "the Switzerland of Germany." Not sure exactly why it's called that, but suffice to say it is a beautiful region with some amazing roads and trails winding through a densely forested rocky landscape rich in lakes and rivers. It was another opportunity to spend a bit of time with our Team Giant compatriots dining, resting, and Mike even got in some top secret cobblestone interval training with Adam.

We made the drive to Champery, Switzerland, over the next few days careful to balance the four or five hours on the road with a spin here and a yoga session there to keep the bodies fresh and continue my healing. The winding road to Champery ended in the middle of a lush valley surrounded by spectacular peaks. the sound of rushing water permeated the scene and could hardly be drowned out even by the pumped up World Cup PA system. The surrounding scenery was fantastic huge and awe inspiring. Mike and I were psyched and lucky, to get one of the last camp spots almost too close to the action, right in the densely packed campground next to the venue.

Two days before the race, my leg was more or less pain-free while on the bike. This was a good thing since the course dished out some pretty serious technical riding as well as a fierce climb. I was relieved to feel ready to compete and be back on track though it would be an interesting test since according to my training plan, I was entering into my peak fitness. Maybe this forced ten-day taper would turn out to be the perfect preparation.

My fifth row start was going to make things difficult. I chose to envision this as an opportunity to rise up. After all, UP was the only way to go after my 61st place finish at the last World Cup! Although the first steep climb was wide, passing was impossible as the steady thick stream of racers charged up with elbows out. I couldn't really move forward, so I just sat in and stayed calm. As it flattened out and toward the top, I took the opportunity of a lull in the pace to make a big move towards the front just before the technical descent.

Mike told me from the feed zone that I had made it up to 10th after the first half lap. A good position, all things considered. There were three riders just up ahead and the leaders still not out of sight. I was able to recover from my big effort and felt good enough to begin reeling in the next few riders. I was in sixth position with fifth just seconds up ahead. I rode hard pushing myself while trying to stay smooth, as not to make any mistakes. With 1.5 laps to go, I was beginning to feel the efforts add up and began to wish I had the triple front chain ring (granny gear) on my bike. Then I began to struggle and even cramp, knowing two women were making there way up to me. Shit. back to eighth position, just like that. Nothing I could do except stay within my body and keep pedaling at my own pace. I drained my Clif shot electrolyte drink and once again found my rhythm on the relatively flat twisty sections of fun technical single. I just had to climb that big hill one last time before the finish.

Fans and friends screamed encouragement. Suffering will be over soon. Cramps were gone but not forgotten, and fatigue was setting in. I can do this, 20 yards from the top, the steepest part of the climb, cadence slowing, legs thick and slow- pushing hard to turn the cranks. My mentality changed from chasing those in front of me to maintaining my position. My legs were burning and about to cramp again. I decided that getting off and PUSHING my bike up the last few meters would be my best option. Yes, this was humiliating, but I needed to do whatever I could to not cramp. If only I had that granny gear! A rider was pushing hard to close in on me. we crested the hill together. I had just a few extra ounces of energy to burst forward, getting the hole shot on the final one kilometer singletrack descent. My energy was completely focused on riding the lines I knew so well from the previous six laps. I was more than stoked to get to that finish line holding off my competitor. Seventh for the day! Happy and relieved to earn this result and the lessons that came with it.

Mike had a solid race, but only after he got through the first lap where only the top 20 or so could actually ride the lines clean without having to deal with the 200 or so adrenaline-pumped men trying to stuff themselves down the first singlerack. It was a major traffic jam. Mike had no option other than to wait his turn to WALK UP and DOWN the track until enough space formed in between the men so they could actually ride. by this point the leaders had over five minutes on the the mid- pack.

As I watched, I once again couldn't believe how unfair the and sketchy the men's World Cup racing has become. We all talk about how ridiculous it is, but still we see no changes. There are rumors that the UCI is talking about limiting the entry of World Cups to trade teams only. Which if that is the case, anyone wanting to compete will have to pay more money. Get ready for sponsorship requests to increase!Mike moved his way up through the pack from 102nd on the start loop to a respectable 60th by the finish. he had a good day of racing relying on his technical skills to make passes and hold his position on the rude climbs. The men received a solid downpour during their race significantly altering the twisting rooty singletrack and slowing things down a lot. This is where Mike really started to move forward -- a testament to his bike handling skills and endurance.

After our Saturday race, we took the opportunity to watch the 4X and downhill races. It was our first chance to see a bit of world class gravity racing this year and it was definitely not disappointing. Big, bold, and entertaining, a world away from our endurance sport but mountain biking all the same. Top level skills pushed to the limit are always exciting to watch and the high mountain Swiss weather made it even more interesting by unleashing punishing rain on both the 4X and downhill.

We definitely cut it close on our drive back to Munich with barely enough time to move out of the RV and pack our bags before we had to catch the plane back to Boston. Of course, we made sure to enjoy some BBQ and Bavarian beer with our great friends and RV renters, Michael and Hilde.

Two months of Euro racing and living on the road RV style has given Mike and me some seriously stiff necks, but more importantly, it has offered us a deeper insight into what Europe and the mountain bike community here is all about. We are grateful for this incredible opportunity to feel a bit of the flavor of the places we visited and experience them as is only possible with the bike.

Hope you are enjoying some great summer rides.
Mike and Mary
Team Kenda/Seven Cycles

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Mike Broderick & Mary McConneloug / Team Kenda/Seven)

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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.