Wednesday, March 31, 2010

2010 British Mountain Bike Series Round 1 - Sherwood Pines

It was a last minute decision to go to this race. Ryan didn't have a great race there last year - he is more of a climber and thus rather avoids the fast flat courses, but because the German Bundesliga has been shorted and thus resolved some race conflicts, I can now actually complete both the Bundesliga and the BMBS Series, so I decided to go and a reluctant Ryan decided to come with me. Ryan's reluctance was somewhat lessened when we got an amazing upgrade on our rental car, a Mercedes AMG, so at least we were arriving in style :)

Fancy car with lots of fancy buttons doing lots of fancy things!

The pre-ride on Saturday revealed a few welcome changes to the course: it now contained a few more technical sections, nothing scary or dangerous, but sections that will definitely require good bike handling skill if you didn't want to loose too much time, such as a row of dirthills to get up and over on your bike and some tight twisty and rooty single-track through the forest. It also included a tiny bit more climb on this otherwise fairly flat course, but I'd say most of the climb is due to the steep kicker climb that was followed by a just as steep descent. Loosing your power or traction on this one meant loosing time trying to scramble up the rest of it. The rest was flowy and fast and flat, favouring road racing tactics of working together and staying with the bunch.

A good few girls lined up on Sunday for the race, including Rosara Joseph (NZL) who had won the race last year, my good friend Kate Potter, who I beat in the sprint finish for third place last year, the two British Olympic Development squad girls, Annie Last and Lilly Matthews. Notable were also the absences, with long-time racer Jenny Copnall having retired from racing to coaching new talent, Jenn O'Connor, who has moved back to New Zealand, and Sue Clarke, the British XC Champion. This new mix was very exciting and I could identify at least 8 girls that would have a very good chance for making the podium.

Maddie on my tail

At 10am we set off and a group of 5 people, headed on by Kate Potter followed by Annie Last, Lilly Matthews and Rosara Joseph and me was forming quickly. The pace was fast but comfortable and we were going well until Rosara made a mistake on a tight singletrack and stalled. Nice as I am I waited for her to clip back in, but it took her longer than expected and the 3 riders in front were fast disappearing. Finally Rosara was back on track and sped up to chase and catch back up with the front. Unfortunately I wasn't able to speed up so quickly and found myself chasing after the group by myself. It felt like in a road race! So many times I thought I would catch them, but then they pulled away again. Furthermore, danger was looming from behind in form of Maddie Horton, who was going very strong, having upped her training since last year. She caught up with me and overtook me and I hung on to her wheel for a bit. She was first through the finish after lap one, but I pushed hard and overtook her again on the draggy fireroad climb to get into the singletrack first. She stayed on my wheel for most of the lap, but I didn't let her get by, and after a mistake from her on the steep kicker climb I was able to pull away and came first into the finish arena at the end of lap 2. I could catch glimpses of her for the next two laps behind me and a few times she came dangerously close, but I was able to keep her at bay. I could also see glimpses of Lilly Matthews ahead of me, who was gradually falling back. Then, on the last lap I noticed a rider coming up fast behind me - I thought it was Maddie again giving her final push, but I was surprised to see that it was Craigie Lee, who was riding very strong. She closed the distance to me quickly and now it was my mistake at the kicker climb that allowed her to overtake me there and pull away. I didn't have enough power left to match her pace and had to let her go. I finally finished the race in 6th position, 4.5min down on the winner Annie Last, who finished the five laps in 1h 58min.

Maddie still chasing

6th place doesn't sound that great, especially in comparison to last year, where I came third, but I am very happy with the result. I pushed hard and rode well, but the competition was just too strong.

Me smiling - I mustn't have been going hard enough....

Full results are available on

Again, Martyn Salt and his crew from InEvent put on an amazing event, with the field coloured by the many trade stands and team tents attending the race. Thanks also to both Robs for feedzone support.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Racing in Israel - Part 2: Haifa Race

The next day we headed off to the course in Haifa. Since the race acted as a test-run for the European Champs in June, a few more people had signed up in my category, notable the Polish national team, including Maja Wloszczowska (2008 Olympic Silver medalist, 2009 European Champ) and Aleksandra Dawidowicz (U23 World & European Champion). We set off and from the start it felt as if I went into a blind race. I didn't have a very good start and went into single-track in about 8th position. I made up a few places to 6th place before I hit the first technical rock drop. I went into it full speed, but I misjudged my line and caught my handlebar in the rock on the side and almost took a tumble. Luckily I was able to quickly unclip my foot and hold the fall with my foot, but unluckily my foot hit the ground hard and in a bad position, so that I twisted my ankle and hurt a tendon. I thought this was the end of my race, but after the initial pain subsided I was able to get going again. I had lost a place to Ivonne in the process and Inbar Ronen overtook me shortly after, so that I was back in 8th position. As long as the course was non-technical it was OK to go on, but any slight movement of my ankle put me back into agony. I was so scared of having to dab in the technical sections that I preemptively walked most of them, of course loosing even more time. Finally I finished the race in 7th position, since Asa suffered a flat tire.

In hindsight we should have spent more time pre-riding this far more technical course, one slow lap just wasn't enough, and I'm sure I could have avoided that stupid slip in the first lap, but hindsight is always 20/20 vision. At least I was able to finish the race, even though I am still hobbling 3 days later...

And so ended our Israeli adventure, only to be followed by our adventurous 21 hour trip home that involved 4 separate flights over 5 airports and lost bike bags in Heathrow (again....).

A big thanks to the Syrkin family for arranging and providing lodging, and again Klaus Sonntag for feedzone support. Ryan and I had a very enjoyable time in Israel and everybody we met has been extremely friendly and helpful - we will definitely be back again next year!

Race results available on

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Racing in Israel - Part 1: Ma'anit Race

After the last Sunshine Cup race in Cyprus, Ryan and I flew over to Israel to do the 3rd and 4th race of the Israeli Cup, which were held back to back on the 12th and 13th of March. We arrived in Tel Aviv late on Tuesday evening and stayed overnight in Tel Aviv. When we searched for the place late at night in the quite derelict historic Yemenite quarter near the beach I was fearing for the worst, but all my fears were laid to rest when we were received by the two very friendly proprietors of Eden Guest House. The state of general disrepair of the buildings in this area created a stark contrast to the adorably decorated room, complete with fairy curtains and lit smelly candle lights. The next day we had an amazing feast of the "Israeli breakfast" before heading off to Netanya to visit the Matzman Merutz Specialized workshop.

About a third of the Israeli breakfast

Both Ryan and I had a few things to get fixed and serviced on our bikes - 3 weeks training and racing in the rough countryside of Cyprus were taking their toll - and the Specialized Workshop had kindly offered to get our bikes back into perfect race shape for the two Israeli races. In fact, we - and our bikes - got the real VIP treatment (now we know what it would feel like as a real pro!), every creak and ceased bearing was followed up on and both the front and back shocks were professionally serviced. After a full day of work on our bikes there were again in tip-top condition!

The next day we went to pre-ride the course of the first race in Ma'anit. The course proved to be a fairly flat and fast affair of a few bits of fireroad and a lot of beautiful flowy singletrack. Some of it was through some grassy fields with the rest winding its way through some cooling forest that provided some much needed shade, because it was very hot, over 35 degree Celsius! The singletrack was mainly dried out hardpack dirt and provided a lot of grip, speckled with some rocky sections to test your bike handling skills - all fairly non-technical but a lot of fun!

Israeli "supermarket"

After the pre-ride of the Ma'anit course we drove over to the European Champs course in Haifa, since there would be no time to pre-ride the course before the race due to races being held before ours. Since it was extremely hot (for us), we decided to only do one lap of the course. The course was very different from the Ma'anit course: It was a lot more technical and had a lot more climb, with a few sections of purpose-built bermy and bumpy single-track, with one section reminiscent of a pump-track. It also featured a cross-over bridge and a few techy sections where the single-track crossed back and forth across a rocky hill-side.

Only nine women lined up in the Elite class on race day in Ma'anit, including Ivonne Kraft from Germany, Asa Maria Erlandsson from Sweden and Inbar Ronen, the Israeli National Champion. From the start Ivonne went into the lead, with me closely on her wheel and Asa not far behind us. The pace was comfortable and the three of us separated fairly quickly from the rest of the field. It was so much fun to hit the single-track at full speed! Unfortunately I made a few small mistakes, and each time Asa came close to my wheel in those but I was able to keep ahead of her. I also came close to Ivonne Kraft a few times, but wasn't able to overtake her. We stayed in this formation until lap 4 out of 5 laps, when Asa attacked and overtook me. Unfortunately I couldn't follow, it seemed like I had only one speed that day. I finished in this position only half a minute down on Ivonne and 12 seconds down on Asa. Although I didn't feel that I pushed myself very hard in this race I was still satisfied with the result.

Cold beer after the podium :)

Many many thanks to Yusal, Haggai and Adi from the Specialized Workshop (Matzman Merutz) in Netanya for being extremely helpful and professional and giving our bikes the full VIP treatment before the race and for sending a brand new Specialized Epic for standby to the bike shop near the race place, thanks to Ori from the bike shop helping out on short notice when we needed it - we wouldn't have been able to race our bikes without all your help, and Klaus Sonntag for feedzone support.

Race results available on

Monday, March 8, 2010

2010 Cyprus Sunshine Cup Round 3 - Amathous - Agios Tychon

Maybe it was the number 13 on my race number (113), maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the early morning race start (9:30am) - I did not have a good last Cyprus Sunshine Cup race. The race took place around the ruins of Amathous, on a modified course from last year. It's great setting, right by the sea, but even that didn't make a difference.

I had pre-ridden the course over the few days leading up to the race but I found it hard to get friends with it: it was a very bumpy, rocky course with some steep power sapping climbs, thank god I ride a full sus. Almost all of it was single-track, with few overtaking opportunities. I just couldn't get into a flow.

Women's start

I started off feeling well and held on to the lead group through the fast start loop and through most of the first lap. It was quite hot and I had difficulty finding a place to drink because the track required both hands on the handlebar for most of it. From the second lap on I felt as if I was going to get sick. On the climbs then I started feeling fainty and cold all of a sudden - the same way I have felt in the World Cup in South Africa last year. I went into survival mode from lap 2 out of the 5 laps. I think this was the closest I was to quitting a race because I felt so sick, but the encouragement of my friend Alan around the course and the possibility of an overall podium place kept me going. As I went slower and slower with each lap I was caught by more racers and I could do nothing but let them go. I was glad to be finished after almost 2hours of riding.

The men starting behind the ruins of Amathous

In the end I finished in 13th position (my start number position....) - not a great result, but better than no result. I have no idea what went wrong, I just felt sick and could barely finish the race. My lap times also show that something wasn't right, with a 4min deterioration from 21.07min in the first lap to 25.07min in the last lap, 2min slower than my 2nd last lap. Usually my lap times are fairly consistent with my last lap being the 2nd fastest after the first lap!

With this result I thought I had lost my chances to be on the overall podium, but I just made it onto 5th overall. It was very close though: one place higher in my last race and I would have been 4th overall, one place lower and I would have been 6th.

Overall Cyprus Sunshine Cup women's podium: Sue Clarke (GBR), Janka Stevkova (SVK), Annika Langvad (DEN), Alexandra Engen (SWE), Melanie Spath (GER) (l-r)

Full results on is showing a replay of the live-broadcast of the men's event and the awards ceremony afterwards - you can see me running to the podium at around 1h 11min into the video :).

Monday, March 1, 2010

2010 Cyprus Sunshine Cup Round 2 Stage 3 - Macheras Mountains (XCO)

The last stage of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup Round 2 was a normal lapped cross country race, around the same course as the time trial 2 days earlier. The women had a startloop + 3 laps, which is one lap less than last year, probably due to the adverse weather conditions. It basically didn't stop raining for the whole race and the descents turned into muddy slides with rivers flowing down.

My whole aim for the race was to beat Julie Krasniak by half a minute, because that would pull me up one place in the General Classification. The next girls up were over 4min ahead of me and fast, and it was unlikely for me to beat those girls AND make up that much time on a shorter race. I was also about 3min ahead of the next girl down, so as long as I kept my position, there was no danger for them to overtake me in GC.

Still hanging on to the chase group

I had a good start and made sure to get ahead of Julie early and worked on increasing my gap to her. A group of about 5 girls had formed chasing after the two leaders, Annika Langvad (DEN) and Elisabeth Brandau (GER) who had gone out front from the start. Unfortunately I couldn't hang on with the group and lost touch in the first proper lap. Then I crashed on lap two on a really slippery downhill bit (leaving me with a nice bruise on my leg and on my cheek from where I hit a rock), but my bike was OK and I could go on. I had a bit of a fun battle with Ekaterina Anoshina (RUS) during most of the race and at one time managed to get ahead of her into one of the singletrack sections in the last lap, but she stuck to my wheel and overtook me again in the last singletrack section. She was too strong for me.

In the end I came in 7th place, just after Ekaterina, and placed 6th in the general classification. I am really looking forward to the last race of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup next weekend!

Thanks to Boerje from Cycle-in-Cyprus for feedzone support.

Results and General Classification are available on cyclingnews.

All photos used in Cyprus race reports Copyright by Armin Kuestenbrueck.