World Cup #7, Livigno, Italy September 19, 2004

Livigno is a very pretty town. It's situated in the Lombardy region in the Italian Alps, in a valley that stretches for 12km betweeen 2 mountain ranges dropping from 3000m to 1800m. It sure is beautiful. Whats more its a duty free area (dates back to the 1600's due to its geographical location) so there are heaps of bargains. And diesel is only 55 cents per litre! Pretty gutted that we filled up in Switzerland.

The drive from Les Gets took us around 8 hours. We tried to avoid as many passes as possible though still had two - Julierpass at 2284m and Bernina Pass at 2328m. We heard horror stories of some vehicles taking 15 hours. We missed the Italian border which closed at 10pm so we were forced to stay the night atop the pass at 2315m. It was very cold! We also had Mike Northcote travelling with us with an additional 2 bikes and luggage - but the camper coped fine.

The weather over the first few days was miserable. Not only was it overcast and raining every afternoon but it was cold. It even snowed on Tuesday night. However by Friday the sun came out (and gave us a decent frost) and dried the course. My training wasn't going so well as I was really feeling the effets of the alititude - shortness of breath and sore legs. I felt like I was working hard but I was creeping and had a low heart rate. So I got hold of my coach who put me back on the right track with some intervals to stimuate my system. I did them on the road up to the pass at 2300m. After that I started feeling much better and in the race I wasn't really concerned with the altitude.

The course was long at 9km - around 40 minutes per lap. This was quite unusual compared to the normal 25 minute laps. There was a height difference of 338m per lap and some very steep ups and downs. The majority of the course was singletrack carved into the side of the mountain and there were heaps of fun flowing switchbacks. The only downfall of the course was the rather long section of false flat that followed the river up the other side of the valley. This is the venue for the 2005 World Championships and the course will be very similar to what we raced.

I had a rather slow start and built my way into the race. I was sitting 38th at the end of lap 1 but was starting to pluck riders off on the climbs. I finished 30th. And I'm happy at that. It was a close race and I was only 30 seconds off 25th place. It was a positive way to finish my season. 5 months of racing most weekends - 12 races and 3 tours, 29 days of racing. It's been pretty full on.

I have to say a huge thanks to Christian for without him this season I wouldn't have made the improvements I feel I have made. We had a great setup with the Camper and raced and trained in a very relaxed environment, always having fun. Christiann was my personal support crew which makes racing that much easier.

Also while on thanks, another person pivotal to my improvement is my coach Dr Andy Reid. Reidy is based in London and has just accepted a new role as Head Coach of Welsh Cycling. Awesome! It's a shame NZ didn't grab him first.

So now we're on our way back to Germany to sell the Camper then we're heading home. We'll be seeing Wellington real soon. And I will update my gallery soon with pics from the Olympics and the Worlds. Stay tuned.

World Championships, Les Gets, September 9-12, 2004

I was really hoping for a great result in this year’s World Championships but that didn’t happen.

Christian and I arrived in our campervan in Les Gets on the Sunday after the Swiss Power Cup. As we were parking up, as you do in every small foreign village miles away from home, we bumped into Murray and Marianne Avery from Rotorua (parents of Junior Clinton Avery who is part of the NZ team). We caught up with the Avery’s as they enjoyed their pizza and wine, then later that evening we hooked up with the Aussies for a drink to celebrate Donna’s birthday.

Most of the team were due to arrive at our organised accommodation, a chalet in Morzine, late Monday afternoon after a 7 hour drive from the kiwi base in Limoux. Meanwhile I spent Monday on the course riding a few easy laps and sussing out the terrain. It was an exciting course with heaps of variety and many steep ups and downs. Just what we love! There were many off camber tree rooted sections and though the weather was perfect, one couldn’t help but think that the course would be a running race if the rain came down. There were dirt climbs, gravel climbs and grass climbs. There were forest sections, a river section, a rock garden, and a village section. There had to be something for everyone.

On Monday evening we moved into Chalet “La Roncherai” which consisted of 2 living levels, a mezzanine floor and a basement, sleeping 18 bods. It was about 8km from the course in Les Gets. We had 10 cross country riders and 5 support staff. The downhill team (8 riders) stayed at a different accommodation, some in Morzine and some closer to the course in Les Gets. Here’s the team:

Pro Men: Kashi Leuchs, Stu Houltham, Mike Northcott and Tim Vincent
Pro Women: Sonia Foote, Jenny Smith (based in Colorado, USA) and myself
Under 23 Men: Nick Hotchin
Junior Men: Clinton Avery
Junior Women: Carrissa Wilkes
Pro Men: John Kirkcaldie, Justin Leov, Craig Pattle, Tom Holland, Tim Mackersay
Pro Women: Vanessa Quin
Junior Men: Rob Farmer
Junior Women: Scarlett Hagen
Head coach: John Lee
Team Manager: Jacques Landry
Assistant Team Manager: Christian Wengler
Downhill Technical Assistant: Jason Marsh
Mechanic: Bob Romero
Soigneur: Helena Erikson

It was great to have team accommodation (first time!) and have such an organised and supported team, not to forget the very smart jacket as team uniform. It made us feel part of a real team. Thanks BikeNZ!

The official Championships started on Wednesday. NZ entered a team into the Relay where there are 4 riders, each being from a different category. Our lineup consisted of Kashi (Pro Men), Nick (Under 23), myself (Pro Women), and Clinton (Junior Men) and we were all very excited to finally have a NZ team in the Relay event. Each rider races one lap then must enter a changeover area and make body contact with the next rider before he/she heads off on their lap. It’s a mass start and the first team home wins. It’s great to do to get a feel for racing a lap hard yet not long enough to jeopardize the longer and more important XC events over the next few days. The relay started at 1:30pm and Kashi had a great lap to put NZ in 4th position. It is up to each team to select the order of their riders. The rest of us didn’t maintain the 4th place to finish 12th, but all did well compared to our respective categories. Unfortunately I crashed on one of the steep slick descents but despite this, my time wasn’t too far off the pace of the other women.

The opening ceremony was held on Wednesday night, which was a parade of teams through the village before the official speeches, fireworks and entertainment near the start/finish of the cross country course. The NZ team looked great in their black and white jackets.

Carissa raced in the Junior Women’s on Thursday morning. There was a larger field than last year with 38 on the startline. She had a strong start, sitting in the top 15 after the start loop, however she had not been well since arriving at the Championships and felt worse as the race progressed. What’s more the race was considerably longer than anticipated – usually around 1½ hours, the winner won in just over 2 hours. Carissa finished a solid 21st.

Friday was race day for Clinton and Nick – Clinton raced at 11am and Nick at 1:30pm. Clinton was having the ride of his life sitting in 11th place at the start of his last lap and after putting in a strong push he moved himself up to 8th. Awesome! But unfortunately disaster struck when a tree root on a technical descent whipped him up and slammed his front wheel into a rock. His wheel was a taco! Clinton was so determined to finish the race, he walked his bike for the last 3km and finished 63rd. Bloody gutsy effort! Nick felt the hot pace of the Under 23 Men and finished 75th.

We had a drop of rain on Friday night but nothing too major to change the course. However it was a bit of a worry at first for the downhillers who only had a couple of hours to check out the damage prior to their final race run. It didn’t affect our girls at all. First up were the Junior Women and Scarlett Hagen, our very talented young biker from Queenstown who convincingly took the Silver medal last year was back to show her improvement. She blitzed the field and won by 11 seconds – a huge margin over a 3 minute race. Junior World Downhill Champion! Fantastic!

Then about an hour later, to continue on the kiwi winning ways, Vanessa Quin took the Gold Medal in the Pro Women’s field. There was heaps of kiwi support in the grandstand to see Vok’s awesome run and we were ecstatic when she came into view with the title nearly in her hands. It was such an exciting moment to see her win. Two World Champions in one day.

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay to watch the Men’s Downhill race, as the heat was not the best preparation for my race the following day, so I retired to the chalet to rest and hydrate.

Forecast for Sunday – RAIN. Oh yes, we also had a thunder storm on Saturday evening. So it was not good news especially after a perfectly dry week with glorious weather. It was raining consistently as we headed to the course around 9am and I was so cold that I stayed in the car with the heater on while my bike was marked. We discussed tyre choice at some length and I decided to swap the Maxxis Larsen TT’s for the High Rollers for better mud clearance. I ran a 2.0 inch on the front and a skinnier 1.9 inch on the rear. I had a great warm up and was feeling optimistic despite the weather. It was still raining as we were called to the start line. Lucky our team support were there with umbrella’s, but it didn’t take much for me to warm down and I was just wanting to get this race started. Due to the conditions our race was shortened to 5 laps as it was anticipated that 5 laps and a start loop would be outside the optimal 2 hour racing time. The start was pretty wide and headed up a grassy hill. It was enough to spread the field out. Basically I didn’t have a good day. I couldn’t find a rhythm since I was forever on and off the bike for some of the technical sections. Even some of the hill climbs became unrideable due to the lack of traction. I had problems with the mud in my cables affecting my front derailleur – at first I thought it was because my hands were so cold. So, needless to say I was very disappointed to finish 37th. Jenny had a great race to finish not too far behind me and unfortunately Sonia was also plagued with mechanicals.

It was amazing how much support we had on the course. There were a hoard of Rotorua folk promoting the World Championships in Rotorua in 2006 and they provided a heap of encouragement in the terrible conditions. And there was John Mote running up the hill alongside up boosting us along. Also Wellington friend Fi McKissock just happened to be in the neighbourhood, coach Andy Reid made the trip from London, and kiwi mountain bikers Rachel and James made it part of their holiday from Auckland & Taupo.

The rain stopped in the afternoon for the Men’s race. Kashi had a fantastic race finishing 7th. Mike had a very strong performance finishing 47th, Tim was 56th and Stu 73rd.

So all in all, it was a very successful World Championships for the New Zealand team. Next up, the final World Cup in Livigno, Italy this coming weekend.

No rest…

Sorry for the lack of updates. It has been a busy time since my race at the Olympics.

The last few days of the Olympics
On the last Saturday of the Games the New Zealanders had their own party outside Middle Earth in the athlete village. What a great evening! Everyone got in amongst it and let their hair down. Greg, our team chiropractor composed and sang a song for the team - it was very, very special and brought a tear to my eye. We’re hoping that he’ll record it so that we can have our own souvenir copy.

The Closing Ceremony was a lot more laid back than the opening though almost as spectacular with fireworks, singing and dancing.

My most memorable moments of the Olympics were being there to see Sarah win Gold and doing the haka for our Medallists. Of course there are many, many more memories which I treasure forever. It was just the most amazing experience to be part of the NZ team and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

The long haul from Greece to Switzerland
I made my own way out to Korinthos, some 60km west of the athlete village to meet up with Christian and my parents. We spent an afternoon together before Mum and Dad flew out to LA via London. Then Christian and I started the long haul back to Switzerland in the camper. It was only 2 hours drive to Patras, the port town where we boarded the Aneklines ferry for Ancona in Italy. But then the ferry trip was 23 hours! However it flew by very fast, as on the Open deck we could remain in the camper (and have electricity, toilets and showers) as well as use the facilities on board the ship. We spread the driving from Ancona to Bern, Switzerland over a couple of days, stopping off for training along the way. Our route was via the Mont Blanc tunnel and probably took around 12 hours.

Swiss Power Cup, Bern, Saturday September 4, 2004
It was a last minute decision to enter the Swiss Power Cup in Bern, but we decided it would be great prep for the World Champs the following weekend. It was also a test for me since I had just had 4 days off the bike after the Olympics.

There was a stunning lineup in the 30 strong Women’s field including Gunn Rita Dahl, Sabine Spitz and Alison Sydor, just to mention a few. Since I entered late I was almost the last called to the line so I spent a fair amount of time in the first lap picking up some places. The course was pretty hilly, situated at the top of the cable car in Gurten, but most of the climbs were 4WD providing ample room for passing. The descents were technical, high speed and great fun. Most of the terrain was dirt and gravel and there was one grassy off camber section. I was riding hard and strong and by the end of lap 2 I was in 10th place, which was very pleasing in such a competitive field. However by the end of lap 3 I was fading on the hills and thought it wise to pull out. I had got what I wanted out of the race – a hard training session. I surprisingly ended up in 20th place as so many others had pulled out before me. This puts me 9th overall in the Swiss Power Cup Series, which again is quite surprising since I have only raced 5 out of the 8 races. However I will not be racing the remaining 2 races in the series.

The day after the race we headed to the World Champs venue in Les Gets, France.

Olympic MTB race, Friday August 27, 2004

The Olympic Women’s Mountain Bike race had to be the toughest race in my life! It sure was a full on course with little rest. Then there was the 37-degree heat and the dry dusty conditions. So I was pretty happy to finish in 16th place. Here’s how it all panned out…

The day started with breakfast in the dinning hall at 7:45am before I was back in the apartment to watch kiwi Ben Fouhey win Silver in the K1 1000 Kayak race. Ben provided a fair amount of inspiration to set me on my way. Warren (head Mountain Bike coach) met me at the village gates for the short 15 minute drive to the race venue on Mount Parnitha where we did the usual routine of bike marking and transponder attaching. (For those that are new to the sport of Mountain Biking, bike marking is where stickers are attached to my bike frame and wheels to ensure that no changes are made during the race; and the transponder, which was attached to my front forks, is a timing device to ensure accurate lap times). An extra check today by the Commissaire was to ensure that only one manufacturer name was on our equipment including Bike and Helmet. This is to prevent commercialisation of the Olympic Games. It was great to hear a kiwi voice and to see NZ represented on the Official front by well known Commissaire, John MacDonnell.

At the venue each country had been allocated a tent for warmup and storage of equipment and gear however this was a little distance away from the start line. We had decided the previous night that it would be more convenient to set up the stationery trainer closer to the staging area (start/finish area) and had scoped out an area in the shade and very importantly, near the toilets. I started my warmup before 10am and it was already very warm. Over the next 45 minutes I used 3 cooling vests to help in keeping my body temperature down. They were mint. I’d highly recommend them. Most countries were using them, though some were definitely a little more high tech than ours.

We were called to the staging pens around 10:30am then call up to the line started 15 minutes prior to race start. I was the 20th rider thus the last one called to the 2nd row of the start grid, though I did manage to squeeze in around the middle of the row. Warren was there with an umbrella to fend off the hot sun as we waited for all riders to be introduced to the start line. A large tanker had sprayed water on the starting stretch to minimize the dust.

30 seconds to go. 15 seconds. At 11am the gun shot. We were off. As expected the start was just as frantic as a World Cup. After a short 80m or so we hit the off camber 90-degree right-hander to begin the hill climb in the start loop. The corner naturally created some gaps. And the dust was crazy. The climb was only a bit over a minute long but along with the dust and the oxygen deprivation it was a killer. When we hit the single track and the loose corners a rider two ahead of me came down taking down the rider just in front of me. I braked and was lucky to avoid the crash, and then I had to pick my way around the riders and bikes across the track. So, it wasn’t such a great start lap, coming through the start/finish line in 23rd position and already 37 seconds down on the leader.

The first lap was pretty crazy, still trying to settle into a rhythm after the hard out start. The circuit was 6km long and consisted of a loop out to the west then passed back through the event village via an over-bridge and a few berms before the second loop up to the north. We were racing 5 laps plus one start loop. The terrain was very rocky, gravelly, loose and dusty, thus required full focus and concentration, as it was very easy to wash out in some of the corners. This terrain alone made the course very technical. And then there were plenty of small drops and tight corners. I found the hills to be dead – they were not particularly steep but they were very fatiguing. I pulled back a few positions by the end of lap one, moving into 20th place.

There is usually one feed zone per lap where an assistant is allowed to pass drink bottles to the riders. Due to the heat, we had two feed zones per lap and were allowed two assistants in each zone. This was quite critical for hydration and to try to cool the body. At all my races Christian feeds me, though since he was not accredited for the Games for the first time ever, he could sit back and enjoy the race from outside the feedzone. I had the support of Craig Geater and Dale Hollows (Mechanics), Paul Holloway (Physio) and Bryan Symmonds (Team Manager) on feeding duties. The first feeder would hand me a bottle as well as pour cold water on my back, then the second feeder would hand me a sponge filled with cold water to squeeze over my head or neck. As early as lap two the heat was taking its toll on some riders and top riders from Switzerland and Italy pulled out of the race. I too was feeling the heat. I moved into 16th place.

I had one small crash, losing it in one of the loose corners on lap 3. No damage was done to my bike or myself and I didn’t lose any positions. Nothing much changed in the next 3 laps. I endured the heat and remained in 16th place. My 4th and 5th laps were strong, I recorded the 13th fastest lap time.

Meanwhile at the front of the field World Champion Sabine Spitz from Germany pulled out the fastest fourth lap to pass Canadian Alison Sydor and move her into 3rd place, eventually taking the bronze medal. Gold went to the very talented and favourite for the race, Norwegian Gunn Rita Dahl. Gunn Rita has blitzed the international field over the last 2 years and again she showed that she is the best female mountain biker in the world. She definitely deserves Gold. The silver medal went to Marie-Helene Premont from Canada. Marie-Helene had a fantastic race sitting in 2nd place from start to finish.

I finished 16th in just under 2 hours and 11 minutes. I had fantastic support out on the course. There were heaps of black and white silver fern flags and of course, the more traditional New Zealand flag. And the cheering was phenomenal. It was the most amazing atmosphere. There was no way that I could not give it my all out there.