Yesterday Round 3 of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup took place and I am in bits. Like a truck had run over me, put in the reverse gear and rolled over me again. Not because I went super hard - my legs actually feel fine, not very tired at all, but because I crashed about 5 times on the course. I have to admit, whereas previously I was always a bit skeptic about the robustness of a carbon fiber bike, I can safely say now that my S-Works Epic has been thoroughly crash tested and I would trust it blindly: while my bike didn't receive any blemish, I've added a fair amount of bruises and scratches to my body yesterday.
The course was just outside Limassol, at Amathous-Agios Tychon, some famous old ruins (a famous Acropolis wall, amongst them). A lap was 5.76km long going around and through these ancient ruins with 175m of climb. Ladies had a startloop + 4 laps and men had a startloop + 6 laps. But this doesn't say much about the terrain of the course. First of all it was very different from the other 2 races which contained a lot of fireroad. This course was the most technical and fun course in the Cyprus Sunshine Cup so far. Almost all of it was technical single track, either descending steep or loose rocky descents or rock steps along a cliff, climbing steep granny ring requiring hills or traversing on rocky, bumpy, jittery benchcut singletrack along the ancient Acropolis wall - a real fun full suss course. In my first pre-ride lap I thought I wouldn't be able to ride it all, but all of it (bar a loose ground steep climb that I never got) was actually rideable, you just had to keep concentrating the whole time, there was absolutely no letup. The day before the race we went up to register and ride another lap or two and also found out that the bit along the beach was actually not on the wooden walkway as we had assumed, but along the beach itself, with a killer descent down to it, jeez.....
Not only was the course super technical and challenging, the competition was just as challenging. There was real prominence there with Olympic gold-medalist 2008 Sabine Spitz (Germany, Central Ghost Pro Team, ranked 1st in the world), Specialized World Team rider Lene Byberg from Norway, Alexandra Engen who won all the other races in the Sunshine cup so far, Elisabeth Osl (Austria, Central Ghost Pro Team, ranked 6th in UCI world ranking), Tereza Hurikova (Czech, CESKA SPORITELNA MTB, 10th in UCI world ranking) and the German national team, just to name a few. However, some of the other high competition from the first two races were gone, such as Petra Henzi, Ivonne Kraft, Arielle van Meurs, so I was hoping that I would be able to get a similar result to last week (around 8th/9th place).
On race day (super early start: 9am!) my legs felt good. I was happy also to hear that they had taken out the bit down by the sea, since the water was about half a meter high, so we went along the wooden walkway instead. We lined up at the start and I was very focused. I actually felt good and was looking forward to the course. Whistle blown and we went off along the start loop. The group divided quite quickly and I was able to bridge up to the top group and stay with them. We went down the first singletrack descent, I was able to make up a position by overtaking a girl just before the singletrack, now riding in about 6th position, descended and *WHAM!* - I was lying on the ground. There was a drop down a wall that I got fine, but I didn't follow the single track line after the drop exactly and rode into a hidden rock in the grass, endoed and was catapulted through the air. The impact was actually quite severe and I thought I had gotten a concussion. The girls behind me started yelling (eh, sorry, I didn't crash on purpose), but hey, I wouldn't be Mel if I didn't get back onto the bike quickly (it was perfect, thank god!) and rode on. This incident cost me a good few positions but I tried my best to refocus and get back on to the girls.
Then the next bit is a bit of a blur, but I saw Githa ahead of me - she's been my target in all the other races and I was happy to see her, because she's the perfect person for me to hang on, just a little faster than me (yet... - I will get her soon!!). So I followed her and she followed a German Rothaus Cube rider. There was no other girls in the near vicinity before or after us. I rode all the technical bits really well and felt good, maybe a bit dead on the steep climbs, but a few times I underestimated the loose dry ground on the "easy" straight sections and I washed out another few times, eventually loosing contact to Githa, but still ahead of the Rothaus Cube girl.
Finally, after another stupid crash and a lost chain - I had to keep telling myself to take it easier and to concentrate - I was overtaken by the Rothaus Cube girl. I stuck on to her till the end and I tried to get her in a sprint finish that I started coming out of the singletrack onto the finish straight about 10 sec behind her and I almost got her, finishing only 3 hundreds of a second behind her. Damn, but she deserves it. Instead of riding inconsistently and letting concentration slip on easy single track and paying for it by washing out and crashing she kept focused and concentrated and rode the course consistently without crashing.
My legs felt well today and I really enjoyed the course, but I still felt I couldn't tap into my high intensity potential. But my heartrate was up with an average of 167 bpm for the race, so I definitely wasn't tootling. Maybe the girls are just better and I am expecting too much in what is only my second real season as an Elite rider. I keep forgetting that all of the girls ahead of me have been cycling at a high level for years already.
Anyway, I came in 10th in the end and had had a great race. And this is definitely setting me up well for fast technical riding. It's amazing what kind of jumps in technical ability you make when you throw yourself into the deep end. It's good also to race on bone dry courses like these for a change, so different from Irish muddy courses. Bone dry (not an Irish bone dry, but dusty dry) courses aren't actually as grippy as I had expected, the bit of sand and gravel on them make them real slide traps.
Lene Byberg won the race, 10min 49 secs ahead of me (she's like Emil Lindgren, floating effortlessly and elegantly around the course, barely touching the ground, like an elf!), closely followed by Tereza Hurikova and Alexandra Engen. Sabine Spitz was in 4th and Elisabeth Osl came in 5th. I'm not feeling so bad now, only coming 6min behind Sabine. It's OK to get your ass kicked by an Olympic champion ;)
Another great thing about these races is hanging out afterwards and chatting to some really interesting people with really cool jobs from all over the world. The nice thing was that Ryan's race was on after mine, so I could wander around the course and take some great pics (as Ryan had done during my race) and get to know some nice people.
As usual, thanks to Frederick from the Bike Station for doing our feed zone and tech support - we've been really taken care off since we were here (including a thorough bike service to find a creaking noise, some dirt and water had come into some joints, copious amounts of chain oil, lend of new pedals, transport, food, advice on training, riding, the mountain biking scene etc. etc.).
Thanks to Cycleways, Specialized, and KCNC for making it possible for me to ride such an amazing light and well-handling but amazingly robust bike. It's great to be able to just rely on your bike. Thanks to Torq as usual for fueling us during our races. People are shocked by the amount of Torq drink and gels Ryan and I consume during our races. Thanks also to my college who gave me a sports scholarship that allows me to go to these important early season races. And the biggest thanks always goes to Ryan. I wouldn't be here without you.
Some great descending in the course