Last Sunday I took part in my first Bundesliga race in Muensingen, Germany. First of all though, on Saturday, there was a sprint cup on an obviously very short course (the fastest time around was about 1min 15secs). This a new format and works as follows: Everybody does an individual timed run, then you are being put into heats of 6 people each, based on the timed runs. The first 2 of each heat move on into the next round and so on. The sprints were so much fun, with the efforts so short that it's over before you really feel the pain. I qualified 5th in the timed run out of 14 but had a bit of a slide in a wet corner in my heat, so lost out on the finals. Nonetheless, it's a great idea to get your few high intensity pre-race efforts in.
After the sprints I did another lap of the race course to see the condition of the course. The weather hadn't been great, with rain the last few days and rain this morning too. Only in the evening the clouds gave way to some sunshine. So the pre-ride was still a pure mud fest, with trenches and slippery ground. I only had one mud tire with me that I would have to put on if the trails didn't dry out till the next day. However, the weather forecast said sunshine and I was assured that the trails dry out very quickly, so I was hoping for the best.
On race day, the course was mostly dry again, so no tire change was needed :). The quality of both the men's and women's Elite field were the highest ever witnessed on a Bundesliga opener. With the nearby World Cup in Offenburg happening a week later, many international racers took the opportunity to get a race in beforehand, using it as a barometer of their form. The Swedish national team was there, the world champ Irina Kalentieva, the olympic champ Sabine Spitz, the winner of last weeks first World cup in Pietermaritzburg, SA, Elisabeth Osl, the British national team and many more. 43 Elite women lined up (including 18 U23s) and we started straight up the steep hill for the first of the 6 fast laps.
The course was a mix of gravelly fireroad and rooty singletrack, even a bit of tarmac, a steep grassy climb in the beginning and a fast grassy descent towards the end, finishing with a lap through the purpose built mountain bike skills park (tight twisty corners with rock obstacles, bridges and kicker climbs), my favourite part of the course. The course was in total just over 5km long and included 140m of climb, most of it on long draggy fire road sections. This type of course usually suits me better than too much climb or too steep climbs.
I didn't have the greatest start, but was slowed down even more by a girl getting off in front of me to run up the steep bit. I had to get off too and run up. I got back onto the bike when the section flattened out, but for some reason another girl decided to run the flat bit in front of me too, and I couldn't get by her either. When I finally hit the slightly uphill tarmac section I was in almost last position. I made up a good few places on most of the climb, but then, on one of the descents my gears acted up (they haven't been the same since I caught my rear derailleur in that tree stump in last week's world cup and I haven't had a chance yet to replace the hanger that might have been slightly bent) and my chain dropped and got caught. I had to stop to put it back on, loosing my hard earned places again. I got back on and tried again to make up places. I got stuck a few times behind some girls on the singletrack climbs but from the 3rd lap onwards the group was spread out enough. So I was on for a chase to make up places. However, even though the course should have suited me, I didn't have great legs today. It is still a bit of trial and error for me to see what works best with regards to pre-race tapering and preparation and I was hoping the sprints the day before would do the trick, but my legs were just dead and lactic from the word go. But then again, looking at my heart rate profile I was going hard, so maybe I'm supposed to feel that way. Well, I'm trying a proper taper method for the Offenburg World Cup and hope it works better.
I made up a few more places in the next few laps, but unfortunately wasn't able to catch up that group of about 9 riders that were just ahead of me (if I had been 2min faster, I would have been 9 places up), Eventually I finished in 20th position (14th of you take out the U23s). I wasn't particularly happy with my performance, but at least I was happy enough with how I rode the few technical rooty bits. I still feel I haven't yet reached that level of fitness and strength that the girls around me have. My lap times were very consistent, only differing by max 15 seconds (apart from the first lap), so that is a plus at least. Percentage wise I was a lot closer to the winner (Irina Kalentieva) than in the World Cup (comparing to the same people), showing how much more this course suits me and how much better my form was in the Bundesliga race. But still not there yet. Well, I have been told it takes years to develop your muscles and blood vessels, so I just need to keep chipping away at my training and be patient.
The thing that was great though in this race was the support of the spectators. It is so nice to hear your name shouted in encouragement when you are fighting with your last little bit of energy to get up a steep hill, so a huge thanks to the boys that followed me around the course - it was great to have your support! I'll take you with me to Offenburg! In German: Danke an die Jungs die um den Kurs herum gelaufen sind und mich angefeuert haben, es ist echt super so eine Unterstuetzung zu haben! Euch wuerde ich gerne zum Welt Cup nach Offenburg mitnehmen! Danke auch an den Rothaus Cube Mechaniker, der sich meine Gaenge noch einmal angeschaut hat. And thanks of course to Lasse from Sweden for helping out with my bottles. That's what I love about mountain biking, so many people from so many corners of the world and everybody gets on really well and is super nice and supportive. Merci beaucoup aussi au pere de Julie Krasniak pour laver mon bicycle!
Now it's another taper week (I feel all I do is racing and tapering these last few weeks!) before my next race, the World Cup in Offenburg!
Info about the race can be found here and results can be found on DATASPORT.