Finally I was called up to the start - a little bit of frantic searching for my gloves, taking off my arm leg warmers and arm warmers (I should have left them on, it was FREEZING even in the race) and the clock showed 13:46, the whistle is blown and off I went. Oh, it was so cold and raining. I went up the fire road bit and before I reached the first steep single track descent I had already caught up with some girls. While the descents were still rideable yesterday, today there were just a long steep slippery slide. I tried to stay on the bike, but slid out and had to run the rest of the descent. On the next fire road section I caught a few more girls. On the next descent I fell and and hit my hand, loosing all feeling of my already numb and cold and freezing left hand. Back on the bike and onwards. I came off at another descent, but made it round the course in one piece. I knew I didn't do a great time and eventually had finished in 8th position, with a time of 29min 53sec. The winner, Russian Tereza Hurikova, currently ranked 10th in the world, did a time of 25min 28sec. But I wasn't too disappointed when I looked at the results, as I wasn't the only one having had difficulties in these conditions. I came just after German Ivonne Kraft and just before Italian Champ Elena Gaddoni and Dutch rider Arielle van Meurs. So not too bad after all :)
I came away with a few bruises and scratches, but Ryan had actually taken a bad fall and cut open his knee, so an ambulance visit was on order.
After the race we had to move from our apartment to another apartment which was another 30min further away from the race venue (i.e. 1.5hours drive away in total). This was really annoying and definitely not the best recovery and preparation for next day's stage. So we were really happy when we found out that the race time for the next day was delayed by 2 hours.
Ryan changing the flat car tire...
The next day we drove towards the race and what is that sound?? Kinda like a rumble... Weird. Better stop the car. And what do we have? A flat car tire! Thank god for a real man who knows how to change a car wheel. I wouldn't have had a clue. We made it to the race start in time and it was still cold up on the mountain - there was even snow to be seen at the top, but at least it wasn't raining. Ready for the gridding and off we went with the juniors. Some people sprinted ahead and it was hard to see which position I was in with all the juniors in the group. I followed Elena Gaddoni from Italy and Githa Michiels from Belgium. The first bit was just a lot of fire road and cornering. Unfortunately I could not keep up with Githa and Elena and they pulled away one by one. Finally we reached the single track climb. It was actually a really really nice 700m climb and I enjoyed it, only I had no power left and towards the end of the climb I was just praying to make it up to the top. Then I saw that Ivonne Kraft and Maria Osl were actually behind me in the climb! I made it ahead of them into the descent, but had to let Ivonne pass fairly soon, she is such an amazing and savage descender (I found out later that she took 8min for that descent, it took me 12.5min and even Ryan about 11min!). Maria was closing in too and I had to let her by as well. I was able however to close up to Arielle van Meurs and when we reached the bottom of the descent and the last bit of fire road we caught up to Maria Osl again and the 3 of us had a bit of a battle. In the end Arielle was able to keep ahead of me into the finish, but I was able to overtake Maria Osl on the last few hundred meters to the finish (which include an evil granny gear killer climb).
I had no idea really where I came, but as soon as I was finished I was told that I was selected for anti-doping control. My first anti-doping control ever! So I got my chaperone, left a note for Ryan who was still out on the course, grabbed my recovery drink and was driven off to the anti-doping control station. 4 hours later and I was finally done. I learned a few things too: take food, a change of warm clothes, and your mobile phone with you. Do not drink too much water. Try and get in line early. It's hard to pee when somebody watches. Not the most pleasant of experiences, but it's necessary and at least it made me feel like a pro (I'm good enough to be worth testing ;)). If I ever get really good at mountain biking I have to get used to it anyway.
Sooo, hanging around hours at doping control is not the best of recovery and preparation for the next days race either. I found out eventually that I had come in 9th. A place down, but considering that I thought I wasn't able to make it to the top I was quite happy with it. Really need to work on my aerobic power though and on my descending skills.
Final race on Sunday. 4.5 laps of the XC loop for me. All the girls take the start loop pretty easy and we stay together until the first lap proper begins. Then the pace quickens and I am trying to keep with Githa and Maria again. I'm also hoping to keep close to Arielle who is only a minute and a half behind me in the GC and who is obviously trying to make that up. It seems like its always the same people you end up having a battle with. However, I don't have the power to stay with them and have to let them go. The course is nice and dry this time round and the steep single track sections are actually fun. They are all rideable this time round, but I still loose traction and fall off my bike a few times so that I have to walk some sections. In the first lap I see Tereza Hurikova have a puncture and another girl. Later on Maria also punctures and I overtake her. The first two laps are pain and I take it easier on the last two laps. About 2km from the finish Ryan overtakes me too and I meet him when I finally finish. I really really liked the course today, even if I didn't feel very strong. I came in 8th, and Arielle and Maria had exchanged places. With Tereza having to walk to the tech zone with her puncture, I finished 8th in the general classification. That's another 55 UCI points, wohoo! It's still early in the season but these races definitely will set me up well for the season ahead.
Thanks to Frederik from the Bike station in Kalavasos for doing our feed and tech zone support on both races. It is so nice not having to worry about that.
Results can be found on www.cyclingnews.com or on the Cyprus Sunshine Cup website.