World Cup #1, Spa, Belgium - April 24, 2005

Wicked! 22nd in a European World Cup. Stoked!

After racing in the French Cup road race in St Amand Montrond on Sunday afternoon I took my road bike and luggage and transitioned to the second BikeNZ van to head to Belgium for the first round of the Mountain Bike World Cup series. My driver, mechanic and team manager was Sylvain, a local French mechanic from Carcassone who has worked for the Canadian National MTB team and was personal mechanic for Kiara Bisaro during 2004. Sylvain will be supporting the kiwi mountain bikers and Kiara – a joint Kiwi Canadian team.

Sylvain and I drove the 5 hours from central France to Reims, the champagne region in Northern France, where we bunked the night with his friend, mountain biker, and National French Cyclocross Champion, Fabien Bourly. Despite the language barrier I felt very welcomed and enjoyed the French experience. Before leaving Reims we visited Fabien’s knife shop, some made on the premises, others imported, but all were very expensive.

A short drive of 300km was quite fortunate as the rain was teeming down. We had a brief stop for a very enjoyable pizza in Bastogne in Belgium before we arrived at the chalet in Hockai around 2pm. Our accommodation consisted of a self contained unit with 2 bedrooms on the ground level of the owners house with access to a garage for all our bikes – so it was a primo setup and very peaceful.

It consistently rained for the first 3 days. I was chomping at the bit to see the race course at this very new venue but with more bad weather forecast I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be a running race. It was a huge buzz having the parcours on and around the Spa Francorchamps Grand Prix circuit. I muddled my way around the course for the first time on Thursday and though wet, most was rideable. I loved it - the steep technical climbs between the trees with the slippery tree roots mixed with the odd large boulder, the very steep gravely descent and then the bogs. It was the first time that I got to ride my new carbon fibre Scott Limited. I couldn’t believe for its first outing I was putting it though its paces in such wet and muddy conditions… but boy, did it feel fantastic. The carbon rode so nicely, soaking up some of the harshness of a hardtail, yet being so light and stiff it was responsive and easy to manoeuvre. The stiffness of the fox forks gave me so much more confidence in cornering and the 100mm travel just made it so much easier to let it go on the rough descents. And I love the XTR disc brakes – they worked a treat in the mud! Full XTR, oversized carbon handle bars, SLR saddle, Time Atac XS pedals, oversized seat post, crossmax wheels with Maxxis UST tyres - all this at under 10kg. What more can I say – I love it. It was the first time that I had ridden the Maxxis Ignitor UST tyres and I was impressed. The open pentagonal tread cleared well, provided great traction and hooked up well in the corners and at 1.95, it chopped through the mud well.

Each day the course and lines changed heaps and with the large number of riders on the course I only managed to pre ride the lap 5 times prior to race day. More and more tree roots became exposed making the climbs harder but some of the bogs were clearing. On Saturday there was a citizens race and a 2 lap qualification race for the men to eliminate 70 from the 250 entries.

A new UCI rule this year means there is a technical zone where riders can leave wheels, tubes, pumps, etc. The rider is still not allowed outside assistance and must finish the race with the same frame and number plate. In this race they allocated three technical zones which worked as three feed zones as well. This is only advantageous to the big pro teams who have ample staff to man the zones and ample budget to provide the equipment!

Race day rocked around. The morning was misty, wet from the rain overnight but not raining and as the morning progressed the mist cleared to a rather nice day. I didn’t know how I was feeling – on one hand kinda relaxed but then on the other a little nervous about my form. Usual race day timetable – at the course 1.5 hours before race start, warm up on the trainer and road bike, staging 20 minutes prior to race start at 11am. Oh yeah, another random one at this race, there was no bike marking.

I had plate number 31 and was called to the 4th line of the start grid – right beside Sabine Spitz who was number 32. I liked what Sabine did to her jersey number – she added a minus sign and an equals sign “3-2=”. Maybe I should’ve done the same?

My race aim was top 25 and my plan was to get a good start. We knew the race could be pretty short (depending on how the course shaped up) with three and a half laps (just under 22km) so the start was critical. And with my road racing experience I thought the first kilometre on the tarmac on the grand prix course should be right up my alley. But no, everyone had the same idea and mountain bikers jostling for position in a bunch was pretty scary. There were a couple of crashes, heaps of tyre rubbing and a lot of yelling. Then the inevitable – bottleneck into the singletrack, trying to run past crashes, everyone pushing uphill, same old story. At the end of the start loop I was well outside the top 30 and still the track was pretty congested. It was nuts out there. Aggressive girls on mountain bikes! In one off camber bog section a girl squeezed along side me and just kept her hand on me pushing me off the line. There was no where to pass and there was no space in front if she had passed as there were a steady stream of riders ahead. I held my ground and forced her off my line. It didn’t matter as it wasn’t long before everyone was off and pushing up the hill. By the start of the 2nd lap I got into my own rhythm, the field opened up a bit, and I felt good. By the end of that lap and with only one lap to go I was in 28th place. It was that amazing feeling again when you know you are going hard but because you're on top of your game everything feels great. I knew top 25 was possible and thought top 20 was in reach. Each climb I’d pick off more riders. I chased hard to the finish and with a final burst up the tarmac I ended 5 seconds off 21st place (32 seconds off 20th). After my heart rate settled down, I felt mint. What a fantastic feeling.

The moment of the day belongs to Marie Helene Premont from Canada who broke Gunn Rita Dahles winning streak over 2003 and 2004. Premont had 45 seconds over the Olympic and World Champion. In our Kiwi-Cad team, Kiara finished 24th and Sonia 31st. Young Nicole Cooke from Great Britain made her comeback to Mountain Biking with a solid 13th place and was the 2nd Commonwealth rider to finish. I was the 3rd. A little way to go yet but the season is still young. 2 weeks until the second World Cup in Madrid. Now its back to Limoux.


French Cup Road Race, St Amond Montrond 79.3km

Report to come...

First week in Limoux (April 8-15)

My first impression of Limoux… cold, very cold. On my first day here, it snowed! But besides that Limoux is a very cute town situated around a main square and the Aude river and has a population of only 10,000. I haven’t done a lot of exploring yet as I was only here a week before going to a race in central France then onto Belgium.

Jacques has done a fantastic job of organising the European Training Centre (ETC) in Limoux. We have 2 houses – the kiwi house & the fern house, and an office space for Jacques which contains a room for massage. I’m living in the kiwi house which has 6 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a computer room. It’s a sweet setup with a bedroom each, kitchen, living area, washer, dryer, satellite TV, DVD, and wireless internet. It’s 25 metres from the main square and has an abundance of great training rides at our doorstep.

It was a mixed bag of wet, overcast, cold and sunny days during my first week here but except for the one day off after travelling I managed to ride everyday. My first ride was on the rollers in front of the tellie watching Paris Roubaix live! I got quite excited at times riding the cobbles with them but was almost falling off the rollers during the crashes! Shame the commentary is all in French though but all the more reason to learn French pretty quickly. Average speeds on the roads around here are not particularly high – the roads are pretty rough in places and quite dead (in stark contrast to the smooth, fast roads of Switzerland). The longest ride I did was 4 hours and covered only 100km.

We’re all learning French during our stay in Limoux – lessons every Tuesday morning. And we’ll have loads of practice with all our French support staff. So besides all the racing and training, there’ll be heaps to keep us busy.

Oceania Championships, Mt Buller, Australia - April 2-3, 2005

This year NZ opted to take as many riders as possible to the Oceania Championships on Mt Buller, 3 hours north of Melbourne in Australia. The team consisted of 50 riders supported by 8 staff (2 managers, 2 assistants, 3 mechanics and 1 medical). I think it has to be one of the largest NZ Mountain Bike teams ever!

We departed NZ from Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington on Tuesday March 29 at the hideous time of 6am! And we all met up in Melbourne airport. It took all day to organise the bikes, luggage and transport, stop for lunch, drive the 300km or so and stop again for groceries, before we finally reached the top of the Mt Buller ski resort at an altitude of 1600m. By then we had one overheated van, and five mini vans filled with very tired and grumpy athletes. Needless to say that time we unpacked and assembled the bikes, the daylight hours had disappeared, so there was no easy spin to loosen the travel weary legs.

However our accommodation was pretty mint – 2 lodges with communal cooking facilities which we had to ourselves. Mt Buller is an impressive ski resort – a very picturesque spot, but being summer there wasn’t much action going on. Many of the local shops were not open. And it was a 45minute drive to Mansfield to buy supplies which included the mission grocery runs!

We got on the course the day after arriving and surprisingly none of us got lost around the large 22km loop - the course was not the normal multi circuit race. The Elite Women were up for one village loop and a 22km loop which was the same course used for an Aussie national series race three weeks earlier. We had done our homework and knew the winning time there was 1 hour 39 minutes so at least we had some idea that the race was on the short side. Basically the village loop was the most technical of the course with fun rocky, hard packed singletrack. Then out on the big loop (which was all 4WD track) there was a wickedly fast 20 minute descent though this was scattered with large branches and some large loose “death cookie” rocks. Unfortunately what goes down must go up, so next up was a 20 minute climb! Then we continued climbing up a more gradual wide road before hitting the steep rock garden requiring strong climbing prowess. Somewhat rideable in training, it was inefficient during the race. Overall the course was fast and fun.

When I decided to race the Oceania Champs the course was to be on the Commonwealth Games course in Lysterfield in Melbourne. This was only changed in December when they realised the course would not be ready. Very disappointing.

Kiwi WomenWe raced at 11:30am with fairly strong winds but still it was relatively warm for the 1600m altitude. The whole affair was pretty low key, with maybe a handful of spectactors and the field was small with 8 kiwis and 5 aussies. So it turned out to be a battle amongst the kiwi’s. Sonia led the charge with a fast start up the tarmac climb and held the lead through the village circuit. I took up the chase in second and Rosara in third. After the half lap, the three of us had a minute and a half on the aussies so we were sitting pretty. On the first gradual climb, the strong Rosara took the lead but not for long as Sonia flew down the long descent and passed Rosara. I followed her and after moving into 2nd managed to move into the lead on the long climb. Soon Rosara was back into her climbing rhythm and with 12km to go she took back the lead. She was in spitting distance for the remainder of the race, until running the last rocky climb and pulling away out of sight. Rosara took the gold medal and I finished 46 seconds behind. Sonia finished one and a half minutes later, rounding out the podium and making it a kiwi trifecta. The sad story of the day was three aussies getting lost and finishing an hour fifteen later. Even sadder was that one of the riders raced the circuit 3 weeks ago.
Oceania Podium

It wasn’t a bad medal haul for the kiwi XC riders as Michelle Bellamy took the gold medal in the junior women’s race and Clinton Avery took gold in the junior men’s race.

The Elite Men didn’t have such luck with the medals. Mikey Northcote was the first kiwi home in 8th place, followed soon after by Wayne Hiscock.

That evening the weather turned bitterly cold and the rain set in. It was unfortunate for the downhillers that the nasty weather stayed for their race day. Still, Nathan Rankin took out Silver and Justin Leov Bronze. Jenner Magill took out the Elite Women’s title.

So overall, a pretty successful Oceania Champs. And a good time was had by all. Thanks to all the Management team for all their hard work especially the mechanics – Alden, Jeff and Matt who made sure our bikes were clean and there were no mechanicals out there.