Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Race Report: UCI Mountainbike Marathon World Championships in Villabassa, Italy

With such a big event like the World Champs coming up, Ryan, who was going to start as the only lonely soul for Ireland and I, who was going to start as part of the contingent of German riders sent to the Champs, decided to get there with the least amount of stress possible, packing our bikes on Wednesday evening, and flying out very early on Friday morning to Treviso Airport near Venice.

We got our rental car (a little Fiat Punto, you know you are in Italy if you get one of those ;)) and tried to navigate our way to Villabassa in Suedtirol. Having only printed incomplete maps, inaccurate GoogleMaps directions and a crappy GPS software on Ryan's phone meant we took a little 'scenic detour', with me slowly getting sick to the stomach from all the corners. But at least the scenery was amazing with huge big wooded or open top mountains. The interesting thing was that the further north we went from Treviso, the more Austrian everything became, the architecture, food, language etc., I think this part of Italy used to be part of Austria or so.

Driving through the Dolomite Scenery

Eventually (thank God!) we arrived in the small and beautiful village of Villabassa, Suedtirol, just a few km south of the Austrian border. Because of the World Champs they had all the nations flags hanging at the start of the village - bar the Irish one because there was a problem with Ryan's application....

We made it to the sign in and I picked up my German national gear, which looks really cool, only the shorts make you look fat. I also found out that there would be no feed zone support organized for us from the German team and they couldn't believe that I didn't have a support person with me (since Ryan's race was at the same time as mine). Hmm, I kind of would have expected there to be more help, since there would be a good few Germans taking part in the race, but this was not the case, or at least not for me. So Ryan and me tried to find people to do our bottles, eventually I found somebody who said he would try and do it for zone 1 & 3 out of the four and leave the bottles there if he has to leave. Hmm, better than nothing I thought, so I really appreciated his help. I found it quite shocking that the German team didn't have a dedicated team of supporters organized to do feed zone support for all the Germans, seeing that this is a World Championship, but that everybody had to figure it out for themselves.

Anyway, I built up my bike and went on a bit of a tootle through the little village to check if my bike was ok, to familiarize myself with the start and finish area and to just enjoy the beautiful hot and sunny weather in Italy (such a change to Ireland, which only has two seasons: Spring (which is actually quite nice and warm) and crap weather season (the rest of the year)). On this exploratory tour I also met some of my old friends from races in the UK, including Sally Bigham, who I was hoping to beat in this race and Jenn O'Connor, who lives in Ireland and rides for New Zealand. It is kinda funny, travelling to all these different places and meeting the same people there that you know from other races.

After that we went to our Guesthouse "Hotel Almhof" a few km away and situated half way up on the steep side of a mountain, noticing that the marathon route actually led by our place the next day. Due to its location there was a fantastic view from the hotel over some of the Dolomites.

View from our guesthouse

After a good nights sleep D day had arrived and we made our way back to Villabassa, where there was a real buzz going on now and lots of people about with the World Champs today and the Dolomiti Superbike race the day after with 3500 participants. It was really cool to see some of the worlds best racers and to know that you would be standing with them on the start line. And it was also really cool to walk around in your national gear and people looking at you thinking you were some famous rider ;)

Just before the start we were ordered into several waiting pens and then called up individually by name and country and gridded according to our start numbers. Being number 54 meant I was in the last row. Finally, at 11:30, the gun was fired and we went off, at a reasonable pace, but not hammering. For the first few minutes we went in one big peleton which stayed mostly together until we hit some climbs, where I stayed with the slower group, hoping to be able to catch up with the main group in front later on. The course profile said there were about 3000m of climb in the 88.6km course, so my plan was to ride conservatively, since I had never done that amount of climb in one ride, nor had I ridden in that heat, nor at that altitude (about 1000-2000m higher than I live at (my 5th floor apartment lies at about 78m above sea level ;)).... so I had no idea how well I would be able to handle it.

Course profile Ladies race

The heat did make it harder and I noticed my heart rate was higher than usual, but I was still able to ride consistent. I enjoyed riding through the beautiful countryside of the Dolomites and the climbs afforded some great views over those amazing Dolomite mountain formations. I was riding mostly by myself, only catching glimpses from riders when there was a good view ahead or behind. The rumours that the course was mainly gravelly fireroads, some tarmac and a tiny bit of single track, so all in all pretty untechnical, was true, so the speed at which one could go was pretty fast.

Everything was going fine until I noticed my back tyre being particularly squishy on some nice singletrack, at about 20km into the race. I stopped, and sure enough, I had barely any pressure left in my back tyre, and these were tubeless tyres! I took out my CO2 gas canister and filled in the air and went on, thinking this should solve it. However, another about half an hour later, the air was gone again. I weighed up my options: should I stop and put in a tube or should I just keep pumping it up and hope for the best? I had still some gas in the canister left and one extra gas canister + my small pump. The course was quite gravelly and I didn't know if that was going to be like that for the rest of it, so the problem was that when I put in the tube and puncture the tube, that would mean a DNF, since I didn't have a puncture kit. If I don't puncture, the time lost for putting in the tube would probably be similar to having to stop every half an hour and pump it back up. Since I was not even half way through the race and definitely wanted to finish it, I decided to just keep pumping it back up when the pressure went to low and just ride carefully, always unweighting the rear wheel when going over rocks etc.

The 88.6km ladies Elite course

So this was the first frustrating bit. The next frustrating bit was that at feed zone 3 I didn't see my man and didn't find my bottles, so I stopped at the neutral water feed and filled up both of my bottles. Until I was ready to go again I saw Sally just turn into the feed zone behind me. I knew then that she was going to hang onto my tail. I went off again and caught up to some Czech girl, but had to stop again to fill up my tyre. Eventually on the last big climb, Sally caught up to me when I was filling my tyre again. And so it went on for a while, the Czech girl, a Brasilian girl and Sally were in front, I caught up to them and went ahead of them until I had to stop and fill my tyre again at which point they caught up to me again and overtook me.

At the last food zone stop I had no gas left and asked a person to use his track pump and pump it up really high, hoping it would be the last time I had to pump it up till the finish. I thought I could do without filling up on drink, but had to fill up a bottle at a water fountain later on as I was running too low. While I was loosing time at the feed zone, Sally got a head start out of the feed zone. I tried to hang on to her and saw her in front of me for the rest of the race, but wasn't able to catch up to her. So I tried to enjoy the last bit of singletrack and finally crossed the finish line in 29th place, 37 seconds behind Sally. Ah well, at least it's getting closer, the closest I had lost to her in one of the UK Marathon series was by 47 seconds. So, yes, it is a bit frustrating, since I really wanted to come ahead of her for once, and I know I would have been strong enough today, but had no chance with that problem with my tyre and no proper feed zone support. Ah well, there is always another race - watch out Sally!! ;) And I did achieve two of the three aims I had set out to achieve: I finished and I didn't come last :)

A well deserved post racing meal :)

At least my disappointment was nothing compared to what happened in the men's finish where the first two riders, Sauser and Paulissen collided on the last few meters to the finish line, after giving it their all in a 5 hour race, putting the race decision into the hands of the commissaires who decided to give the title of World Champion to Paulissen, putting Sauser in second place. Opinions diverge if that was fair, you can make up your mind yourself (video on youtube here). It was just super unfortunate and I think both should be joint world champs.

Ryan and I in our respective national gear

In the evening we went back to our guesthouse and packed our bikes, since we had to get up at 4am next morning to drive to Treviso where we had to catch our flight back to Dublin, hoping to make it in time for the Irish NPS Round 5 in Dublin...

I know we are nutters....

Results can be found on the UCI website, splits can be found here and some photos can be found here.

Ryan has put a very good report about his experience of the World Champs on his blog with a list of how we will do things differently next year :)


trio said...

Hope you enjoyed it! Sounds an amzing experience! I'm even thinking I might try some racing next year. Nothing like this though. 29th place sounds good!

Annie said...

Well done, 29th is something to be proud of! Great description of the race also :)

Treviso hotels said...

The route is absolutely amazing! I am glad you had the chance to participate!