Another year and another world champs, this time in Graz, Austria. This time we were smarter and arrived 2 days before the event, to give us a bit of time to get to know parts of the course.
The course this year was very different from last year: it was a lot more technical, both the uphills and the downhills. The uphills tended to be steep and rocky and the steep downhills either rocky or rooty and both were extremely difficult. There were a few uphill and downhill sections that I had to walk. There still was a lot of "easy" tarmac and fireroad to give us a bit of a break, but with some of them at 28% gradient, these did not always provide the necessary relaxation. Usually marathon courses tend to be a bit tamer than cross country courses, but this one was definitely an exception. It was like taking a technical cross country course and stretching it in length and height.
On our arrival day we chatted to the other racers and were told that the last descent is the hardest. So Ryan and I climbed up the mountain to recce it. And yes, it was really hard. For those who have done the UK NPS in Dalby, it was like a tilted version of "Puncture Alley" with lots of sharp wet rocks and little drop offs. It was really fun to ride though, and I found my S-Works Epic was just perfect for it. The constant downpour that evening was definitely going to make this descent even more interesting.
The next day we drove to another village to take the cable car to the highest point of the course to do the whole last descent to the finish. And so we made it up and descended the last 20km from 1438m down to about 400m. The loose rocky steep descents were even harder than the last bit we recced the day before. Another constant rain that evening did not add to my confidence.
Thankfully the rain stopped at night and it was nice and sunny and hot again for the start of the race on Saturday. 54 girls were lined up at the start line. I felt pretty good and well prepared, but was very nervous at the start. My heartrate was up at 130! Finally we were off and meandered towards the 28% tarmac climb. The speed was nice and comfortable, and I was well positioned in the group bracing myself for the climb. As soon as the front few hit the climb the real racing began. However, I didn't even make it that far because when I shifted down into the middle ring my chain went down completely and I had to stop to put it back on. I have no idea why it happened, because everything was working perfectly before and I had no issues later in the race. Anyhow, I just lost all my momentum and had to catch up to group. I steadily made up my places again on the long steep climb and finally reached Ivonne Kraft. I was feeling well, but I told myself to take it easy - I didn't want to burn myself completely on the first climb. When I arrived at the top I could see that the group was already far strung out. I decided to take a steady pace and raced along.
I was able to catch up with New Zealander Jenn O'Connor, resident in the UK and decided to try and stick with her. I've raced with her a lot in the UK and knew that with her experience in marathons she knows how to pace herself well. The race went on well and even though the elastic snapped a few times between Jenn and me, I managed to catch back up to her every time until I missed a bottle in one of the feedzones. It was a hot day and I was afraid I'd run out of water before hitting the next feed zone. I could still glimpse Jenn in front and hoped I'd be able to catch back up to her once I've refilled at the next feedzone. Unfortunately some confusion at the next feedzone meant I lost more time than necessary and had lost connection to Jenn completely, meaning that from about half way through the race I was on my own.
When I finally hit the last climb I had to really concentrate to keep going steadily to make it up to the top. It was hot and I was cooked and it was steep and I was not having a good time. At this stage the men had caught up with us (they had started earlier but had to do an extra loop at the start) and a steady stream of men started overtaking me. I was very relieved when I saw the top and grabbed a bottle with Red Bull from the neutral support. From then on it was mostly downhill bar one uphill walking section. I was very happy that I made it down in one piece without crashing and just before the last few meters of the descent before you hit the finishing circuit, Ryan came up behind me. I was very happy to be finished when I finally crossed the line after 5h 10min of racing, just a few mins behind Ryan (who had a longer course but started a little earlier).
I came 26th, 44min behind the new Marathon World Champion Sabine Spitz. I've improved by 3 positions over last year's World Champs and am closer to the winning time, so I am slowly climbing up the ladder. I had hoped for a better position since I felt well prepared physically, but I just felt as if I'd left my racing head at home. Ah well, there's always next year :)
Thanks to Andy from SportAmed to help us out with the bottles.
1 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 4:24:16
2 Esther Süss (Switzerland) 4:24:17
3 Petra Henzi (Switzerland) 4:27:07
4 Erika Dicht (Switzerland) 4:28:49
5 Elisabeth Brandau (Germany) 4:34:46
6 Pia Sundstedt (Finland) 4:37:25
10 Sally Bigham (Great Britain) 4:49:03
17 Jennifer O'Connor (New Zealand) 4:59:30
26 Melanie Spath (Germany) 5:08:59
Full results can be found on the UCI website.
A report is up on IrishCycling.
There are a few pictures up on the event website.