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I don’t know if I can find the words to describe the World Champs race in Rotorua. Sitting back and reflecting over a week later, it all seems so surreal. It was a very special experience and I’m still fizzing on it.
The atmosphere was so alive and vibrant. The noise was phenomenal with the crowd roaring for all the kiwis, the pulsating beat of the drums and loud music at the top of the climb, the crazy trio of supermen attired in only speedos and capes, the resounding cowbells and rowdy megaphones. The course was lined with a huge number of spectators – it could almost have been a race in Europe. Not that I could see the crowds or pick out voices but the whole vibe surrounded me throughout the race making it impossible to ever ease up. It was quite unreal and even more spectacular than I could ever have imagined. So thank you to all of you who were out there cheering for me, you made it such an incredible day.
My whole routine was very different to all of my past races. I was totally relaxed yet excited to be racing in New Zealand with all the hype and buildup of a world championship event. I chose to ride the short 15 minutes to the course and stop off en-route to say hi to the family (photo with my 2yr old niece Zara). Our support crew took all my gear including road bike and wind trainer to the venue and had it set up for when I arrived. Meanwhile I checked that all my gears were working well and ensured my bike was ready to race. I had a bit of a light warmup leg rub from soigneur Paul Jesson then just before 9am armed with iPod and a towel, I started my warm up on the trainer. Seven trainers were lined up in a row and all the girls (excluding Annika, as she opted to be in the Fox tent) warmed up together. The kiwi team was fully prepared for the winter conditions with a huge marquee and gas heaters which was well utilised during training. However on race day despite the overnight rain, it dawned warm and sunny, so up came the sides of the marquee and off with the heating. Manager Suzy Pryde had set up a whiteboard reiterating the times for staging and number of laps and she constantly gave us updates of the time while mechanic Oli attached transponders, checked tyre pressures, and sprayed silicon. We had a heap of support staff just amping to help us with whatever we needed. We just had to ask as they left us alone to focus and do our usual routine. Fantastic support. Thanks to all.
Onto the staging. Being ranked lower down the grid in 41st was more relaxing since I had less time on the start line before the gun went off. The start, as usual, went nuts. I was pretty happy with my start but it didn’t take long before we were off our bikes and pushing up the climb. It only takes a couple of riders to dismount before everyone behind has to follow suit. The first climb was pretty much on and off the bike as the overnight rain made it difficult to get traction on a couple of the steep greasy pinches. I focused on picking up places and riding smoothly – and even though the crowd was a huge buzz I had to keep focused on the race and not lose concentration.
Into the sugar bowl on the first lap and surprisingly it wasn’t too bad though I kept losing speed through the first sweeping right hander. The double jumps (photo) at the top of the grass climb were sweet and a way quicker line to ride compared to the chicken run. I was loving this section and on two out of the five laps I managed to pick up some places here. However, back on the first lap the descent was wet and thick making it difficult to stay upright. I didn’t have to run any of it though there were some very sketchy moments and a bit of tri-poding going on. From the photo’s I’ve seen I think many riders took a spill into the mud. But as each lap progressed the mud dried and the descent rode beautifully. The technical additions the track builders made to the course since March made for a far more exciting course. The descent didn’t offer any recovery with numerous jumps, drops and off-camber corners including the log jam, a series of logs laid together with three log drops after and a new rock garden section called the boneyard kept us on our toes near the end of the lap. I loved it and that’s what made the unrelenting climb so bearable.
5 laps of the 5.9km circuit and 320m of climbing per lap makes for a total of 1600m of climbing over an anticipated 2 hour race – that’s a heck of a lot of climbing!!! And that about tells the story. It was one very tough and very unrelenting race. In the final five minutes of my race as I was on the tail of team mate Jenny Smith (residing in Colorado), at a time of wanting to go even harder on the short sharp climbs, I felt a twang of cramp in my left hamstring and could do nothing but ease off the pace. Of course I didn’t ease too much, it was more that I couldn’t keep pushing it hard in case I ended up curled over in the bushes and I also had the crowd shouting at me that a Dutchie was on my tail. I have never cramped in my hammie before so I’m taking it as a sign that I pushed my body as hard as I could have. I finished up 10 seconds behind Jenny in 28th place in a time of 2 hours 16 minutes and 44 seconds and 9 seconds in front of Dutch rider Arielle Van Meurs.
The race was won in formidable fashion by the very dominant Gunn Rita Dahl from Norway in 1:55:19 (photo), 2nd was the Russian Irina Kalentieva and 3rd was Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist Marie-Helene Premont from Canada. Rosara had a fantastic race and was the best of the kiwis finishing 10th in a time of 2:06:30. Four New Zealanders completed the entire race as four were officially pulled out under the 80% rule. It really drives home the strength of the Norweigan.
After my race my usual warmdown and recovery plan was thrown aside and I spent the next 30 minutes or so chatting with family, friends and signing autographs. It was really cool to have so many familiar and not so familiar faces coming up to me after my race and congratulating me. I’m happy with my race given I prepared in a NZ winter and had no international racing since the Com Games five months ago. It was my best World Championship race to date and in front of such an amazing crowd, with such an amazing vibe, there is no other feeling but to have loved the whole experience. And it’s quite an incredible way to end my international racing. I will write more about that as it sinks in - it may take a few weeks yet.
Apparently there were 40,000 spectators through the gates of Mt Ngonataha over the 6 days of the Worlds. That’s quite an impressive turnout. And with TV coverage going to over 200 million people, NZ was definitely shown to the world. It’s just a shame that we couldn’t have more TV coverage at home. Sky TV is showing more racing in three one hour episodes over September as detailed here
The Mens race was incredible. The pace of the start was mind blowing. It was like these guys were on the road on skinny tyres in a sprint finish. And then they maintained that pace throughout 2 hours of grinding up that climb seven times. They are on a different level. I am so thrilled that my family and friends got to experience watching such an elite event first hand and to see how amazing these athletes really are.
Defending champion Julian Absalom from France won gold in 2:09:07, Christoph Sauser from Switzerland was 2nd and Fredrik Kessiakoff from Sweden 3rd. Kashi had a great race with 16th place in 2:18:18 and was the only kiwi to finish.
So there in ends my Rotorua Worlds 2006 experience. I’ll write again soon with some more thoughts and where to from here, and I will post some pics. I haven’t got too many of the race so if you have some pics that you would like to share, I’d love to see them. Thanks.
Here's a wee video of the start of my race. Video clip (666kb)