Monday, August 24, 2009

Marathon Worlds

Well, my first ever international representation at a MTB world champs is done. The 2009 MTB Marathon Worlds were held at Stattegg, Austria (just outside Graz) and the Aussie team was Shaun Lewis, Mike Blewitt and I. We also had an expert manager in Laura and an extra pair of helping hands with Graeme.

We spent the few days before the race checking out sections of the course, and quickly gained respect for what we were about to do on Sunday. The climbing (of which there was a lot) was steep and sometimes rough, and the descents were much more techincal than an average Euro marathon. Throw in a good storm on Thursday and constant rain for a lot of Friday and it was going to be a tough race.

Having never raced a marathon with so much climbing I decided to not let myself get caught up with riding too hard for the first half of the race. The start climb was mostly tarmac, but one of the steepest you have ever seen! I crested the top in a small group and was happy that I had been able to pass people near the top whilst not having to dig too deep. All was good until about 15km in when I noticed my rear tire was starting to get a little soft, and soon after it was clear that it was not going to last even until the next feed zone where I could have got a spare wheel. After changing the flat, I met up with Lewi, and we hit the 2nd main climb together. I was feeling good at this point, and kept up a solid tempo, passing quite a few people who had got ahead of me when I was stopped. At about the midway point I had caught up with a group of Austrian riders, and I was still feeling like I was climbing better than those around me which is an unusual feeling in Europe, but also a sign that I was further down the field than I should have been. The climbing was pretty relentless from about 60 to 80km, and a I was in a group of 4 which was good as the tempo they were riding was just about the pace I wanted to go. Finally the highest point was reached, and the most techincal part of the course began. The track plumetted off the mountain, and despite a small spill I was catching quite a few more people. The two small short uphill pinches brought on the first twinges of cramping, but the rooted and rocky tracks were too much fun to worry about that!

In the end I finished 58th, 46min down on the winners time of 4:35. Even though I was completely spent after finishing I still had the feeling I could have gone a little harder. If it wasn't for the flat tire I would have been riding with people who would have been climbing faster, thus pulling me along more, rather than riding and passing people who I probably should have been ahead. But it is all a learning experience, and hopefully if I go to next years marathon worlds I will be stronger on the hills and able to be even further up the field. Big thanks to Laura for being a superb team manager and Graeme for helping throw bottles at us during the race, much appreciated guys.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Double Gold

It will be old news for some now, but on Sat I won my 2nd Gold medal at the 2009 MTBO World Champs. 1 day after the Sprint distance race which I surprised myself by winning, I won the Long distance race in a time of 1 hour and 32 minutes, just under 3 minutes ahead of last years Long distance champion Ruslan Gritsan from Russia. Many people seemed to expect me to do well in the Long race, but translating that on the day into a good result is always difficult and needs a bit of luck.

I started about 2/3 the way through the field after taking it relatively easy in the qualification race, and this proved a good move as I caught many riders and this kept me motivated. The heat was also a factor; it didn't bother me too much, but many of the euros found it hard going. My race was again not perfect, losing around 30 sec on 4 legs through small errors or route choice, but I think I was physically able to cope with the heat and hills the best, and this is what gave me the good margin in the end.

The final night banquet and party was as usual an absolute riot. The banquet was held outside next to a pool, and once the food and ceremonies were over everyone ended up in the pool, many not of their own free will! The party then moved back to the accomodation, and despite some teams having ridiculously early flights the next day it was a great night.

Yesterday was finally a day off the bike and relaxing. We visited the Dead Sea and Massada, an awsome clifftop ancient city where a group of Jews made a stand against the Romans and ended up committing mass suicide rather than be captured and enslaved.

I am now en route to Vienna where I will spend a couple of days before heading to Graz, site of the World MTB Marathon champs. I am looking forward to some riding without a mapboard after a pretty intense couple of weeks in Israel. There is a small Aussie contingent for the marathon worlds this year, and I will endeavour to keep sending updates as we prepare for the big day next Sunday.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sprint Gold Medal!

I have again managed to become world champion, this time in the Sprint distance race. Three days after losing my title of current world champ in the middle distance, I managed to scrape home with 11 sec over 2nd in the sprint (my least favorite discipline). My race was not perfect, but good enough to take the narrow victory. The splits showed Lasse and I were swapping 1st and 2nd most of the race, and I hit the lead with 3 controls to go and held on to the finish. The race was held around an archelogical site, with many narrow paved and unpaved paths twisting around. Because of the nature of the site riding off the tracks was not allowed (unlike the rest of the races here), but you could run with your bike off tracks which I did quite a few times.

Tomorrow is the last race, the Long final, and with 35km and temperatures probably around the same number it is going to be a tough race. From what we can gather the terrain is steep, with less singletrack than the past few days. Hopefully the tough conditions will play into my hands, but picking the right route choice is going to be key here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

MTBO WOC rest day update

You have may have already seen the results of the first two events, but in case you didn't I once again was able to make the podium in the Middle distance race, this time in 5th place. The Long Qualification went well, I took it quite easy to save energy and wasn't too concerned with placing high in the heat as starting last offers no real advantage here; in fact the later the day goes on the hotter it seems to get.

The Middle race was a very different affair, with technical riding and navigation a plenty. My race felt very scrappy, but after looking at the splits it was really just 3 legs where I lost 60 sec or more which was the difference between the top step and where I finished.

Today was the first of two rest days for me, as with the relay tomorrow we have no team so I get an extra day off! We spent some of the day wandering the old city of Jerusalem; below are some pics of the day.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Israel Training Camp

After a rather disappointing European summer weather wise, stepping out of Ben Gurion in Israel was a bit of a shock. I was again wet, but from sweat now rather than rain!

After 1 day of training from near the WOC event centre Kay and I picked up the other half of the Aussie contingent from the airport and we headed north via the coast in our un-airconditioned van. Carolyn and Timmy also found the heat a bit of shock after coming straight from Melbourne winter. After a brief breakfast stop we dropped into a Hertz office to see if our airconditioning could be fixed. We also visited an interesting feature of the town - an elevator down to beach level from the top of the cliff.

Our accomodation for the next few days was inside a Kibbutz (just another name for a rural community). We had a real character for a chef who enlightened us each meal time with his pearls of wisdom. Four days of training and acclimatising to the rough rocky terrain and heat. Some areas remind me of Australia, with eucalyptus trees growing in pockets. The hills are tough, particularly when in the full sun, and are too steep to ride sometimes.

Kay and Carolyn visited Akko, a very ancient walled city which is still inhabited. Just today before driving back to the WOC centre we visited the ruins of a city which dates back to 10,000 BC; makes you feel pretty insignificant!

Back at Ben Shemen, WOC event centre and (airconditioned) home for the next week we had our first look at the rest of the competition. Tomorrow will be the model and it all kicks off Monday with the Long Qualification, followed by the Middle on Tuesday. I'll leave you with a few select pictures of our Israel adventure so far.

Ready to sweat it out on the first day

Carolyn out training

Carolyn and Saki (Japan) at Akko

Packed and ready to leave in smaller but airconditioned van

Monday, August 3, 2009

UK update

Well, my UK part of my trip is over, and I have once again been rather slack in keeping the blog up-to-date with what's been happening. My time in Germany went very quickly, with the testing I was doing at DLR for my PhD taking right up until the last moment to get completed. I also raced in the Albstadt MTB Marathon in the last week I was there. This is one of the biggest marathons in Germany, and on parts of the course there were barricades set up and spectators were lining the course 10 deep screaming and yelling - a bit like a MTB version of Mont Ventoux! I had an average race, once again finding myself losing contact on the steeper climbs. In the end I finished 15th in a top class field, less than 10min behind after just over 3 hours.

Next it was on to the UK; more specifically Edinburgh for the 17th International Conference on Composite Materials, where I was presenting a paper and attending a weeks worth of presentations from the worldwide composites community. I flew into London 5 days before the conference, and took the time to drive up through England and Scotland, taking detours to places like the Lakes District along the way.

The week in Edinburgh flew by as well. Presentation went well, and my head is now full of ideas and thoughts from the pretty intense program. On my last weekend in Scotland I rode in one of the UK Merida Marathon series; these aren't 'races' but mass particiaption events. The front guys still go pretty hard, but it is all a bit more relaxed - especially compared to the racing I was doing in Germany. I felt good, but had a flat early on the razor sharp rocks. I got a 2cm cut right on the top (despite it being a thick tubeless tire), and the tube I put in was bulging out past the energy bar wrapper I used to try and patch over the hole. This lasted till about halfway of the 85km course, when the tube finally gave out. I was in the lead and had to wait a minute for the next guy who was good enough to give me a tube and CO2 cannister; unfortunately the cannister he gave was empty, and I waited for the next few guys who were again kind enough to throw me one. Finally I was back going and passed people until I could see the leader on the last couple of km of flat road, and finished just a minute behind him.

In a couple of hours I get a plane to Tel Aviv, Israel for the MTBO world champs in just over 1 weeks time. We will be training for the next week, getting used to the Israel maps and terrain. My blog is going to serve as the main outlet for the teams updates, but also check out the Orienteering Australia website for news.
Waterfall and peaks in the Lakes District

More peaks and valleys in Lakes District - that sign says 25% and my ford focus barely made it up the narrow switchbacked road!

Edinburgh castle - never breached in the hundreds of years it has stood here, and I know why, those cliffs are literally vertical

Edinburgh castle inner gatehouse

Firth rail bridge

Monday, July 6, 2009

Attack of the Blog

The past week has gone by very quickly in Stuttgart. I've been at the DLR (German Aerospace Center) Monday to Friday spending some time doing work for my PhD. DLR have some high-speed testing machines which I will be able to use to test some specimens at rates representative of what you would get in a survivable helicopter crash for example; as opposed to the much slower crush testing I have been able to do back in Australia. On the riding front I still have been able to get out each day; on Wed I took the afternoon off to go riding with Hannes who showed me heaps of MTB trails in the forest around Stuttgart. Below are some pics of Stuttgart, plus a couple more pics from Trans Germany.

Stuttgart; as seen from half-way up the hill if I ride to DLR

From the main station clock tower; the centre of town gives way straight to vinyards and rolling hills

Another view from the clock tower

Palace right in the centre of town

A view of the part of town where I'm staying; I can follow the "castle" gardens all the way in

This is Mercedes country

Trans Germany: welcome to summer in Germany - I know it's a little out of focus, but it was really this wet and foggy during the race :(

Which meant desperate measures to get clean and dry gear for the next day (is there anything gaffer tape can't do?)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Trans Germany Pics

Typical size lead bunch (I'm in there - white helmet to the left of the red guy!)

Jochen looking fast in his German National Champ jersey (that's me again two places back behing the Team Bulls rider)

Definition of 'sketchy' - cornering fast in a group on wet, polished cobbles

Me on the front of the fast guys bunch - it wasn't always that way!

Team and room mate for the week - Andreas Kugler (with green climbers jersey and German mud; we all got a lot of the latter!)

The Phantom Blog

Trans Germany is over and done - and so am I! The last few stages were again very tough, and the problems for me lay more in the body than the bike. Stage 5 was 'easy' stage for the GC favourites, with a big group staying together till almost the end. Unfortunately I got dropped on a long hard climb near the start, and had to chase hard to catch back up, which I did, but then blew up big time near the end. Unfortunately Jochen flatted with about 5km to go, and could have used my help if I had still been up there. In the end he lost almost a minute to the leader, but still kept 2nd overall.

Stage 6 followed a similar pattern; losing touch with the leaders on the first big climb I then spent the rest of the day with a small group until the final 12km (550m gain) climb where I backed right off to save anything I had for the last day when I might be able to do something.

The last day was Jochen and Hannes final chance to mount an assault on the leader Thomas Dietsch from Team Bulls. The plan was to start hard to whittle the group down, then keep on attacking him. After a series of attacks, Jochen, Hannes, Dietsch and Bohme (also Bulls) were off the front, and I was still with Kugler who had to try and make up 30 seconds to get 4th overall. On a long slippery descent towards the end I pushed a hard pace and we made a gap to the rider Kugi needed to beat. I kept pushing hard until some steep climbs, where Kugi took off in an attempt to make up the time. In the end he only fell a few seconds short, leaving Multivan with 2nd (Hannes), 3rd (Jochen), 5th (Kugler) and 20th (me). Jochen and Hannes each won 3 stages, meaning there was only 1 stage that the team didn't win! We also won the Teams classification despite my best efforts to lose time with mechanicals.

Overall it was a very tough week, but made much easier by being looked after by the Multivan crew. I now will be based in Stuttgart for a few weeks; spending some time working at DLR (German aerospace research centre) for my PhD.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Return of the Blog

Trans Germany Stage 4; one i'll be happy to forget soon. 120km was never going to be easy - but it is always better when your bike stays in one piece. After about 70km of sitting on the back of the Team Bulls driven bunch at a very solid pace, we were hammering through an area that had been felled, braches and sticks everywhere. Riders amongst you will guess what happened next; crack/bang and in an instant my rear derailleur was gone in a mess of spokes and chain. I quickly took off all the necessary bits to let the bike roll freely, and proceded to walk/roll the 10km to the next spot one of the Multivan team guys was. Being a professional mechanic, it didn't take him long to fix things up and get me rolling again, but the damage was done and I had lost more than half an hour. With the gears not working too well still I met up with a group with a few of the women and also Mike Blewitt from Australia and tapped out the last 40km home at a pretty easy pace.
On the up-side Jochen again won today and is now only a handful of seconds behind Dietsch in 2nd overall. Hannes is still 3rd and Kugler 4th after Lakata again flatted and lost a solid chunk of time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Blog Strikes Back

My plans to update the blog daily during Trans Germany were unexpectedly thwarted by not being able to get an internet connection in the little backwaters we have been staying in.  The 1st stage was a bit of a strange affair, with 103 km listed in the book as the race distance.  However the first 28 km were neutral and the whole field was stopped and regrouped before the real racing began.  I felt pretty good, and found myself in the 2nd bunch on the road with a group of 5 ahead.  There were 2 Multivan guys (Andreas Kugler and Hannes Genze) in the front group, and I was with Jochen Käss.  The bunch worked well and I was surprised to find the time gap was only a few minutes well into the stage.  Kugler was 2nd in a sprint and I was 12th.

Stage 2 started badly for me; after sitting with the (large) lead group up the long first climb I flatted just over the top.  It was a gash in the tire, and after trying Pitstop foam I had to put a tube in.  Problem was it was so cold my hands wouldn't work properly, so when the CO2 froze the valve, I couldn't close it quickly enough and I had only around 20 Psi in the tire.  Luckily it wasn't too far to the next feed, and after a quick wheel change I was left with the hard task of trying to catch groups of riders on my own on a very fast course.  I didn't dig too deep, but it was still tough riding most of the 82 km on my own or in groups of 2 or 3.  In the end I was almost 15 min down on the stage.  On the plus side, Hannes attacked on the last techo descent and stayed away to win and take the overall lead, with Kugler again 2nd on the stage.
Stage 3 was a bit of a ball breaker; 96 km with quite a bit of climbing.  Stayed up with the front bunch for about half the stage, working hard as one of Hannes main GC rivals had been dropped with a mechanical. Once the big guns started to hammer I had drop off, but ended up in a good group to get back to the finish.  Quite tired now, and happy I have been able to land myself in a good spot with the Multivan guys.  These guys are a serious outfit, and it is nice to have someone take your filthy bike away as you cross the line and hand it back sparkling new :)

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Friday, June 19, 2009

A New Blog

Just like Star Wars started with "A New Hope", which was actually half way through the whole Star Wars saga, I have started "A New Blog". If you scroll down you will notice that my last post was quite some time ago now, and rather than try and fill in everything that happened over summer I think I'll just start with right now.
You find me typing from Stuttgart, Germany; 12 hours after I landed in Frankfurt and having just returned from the Merida Europe headquaters. After 2 epic flights, 1 swine flu scare, 3 trains and finding a hotel in the maze of Stuttgart University I was quite pleased with myself that everything had gone to plan, the only hiccup was getting lost in the hotel and not being able to find my room after checking in!
My first major appointment in Europe is the Trans Germany stage race, and I am being looked after by the Merida - Multivan pro team for the week. Stuttgart is where I will spend time working (PhD work that is) after the race, and it just happens that the Merida Europe headquaters is just down the road, so I knocked the bike together and pedalled over to introduce myself.
So that's about it for now. Updates will be as regular as I want this year as I have my new EeePC mini laptop with me, so keep tuning in for more episodes of the "Blog Wars" saga!

Shiny new bits for the long Euro tour, and most importantly all straight and working at the other end.