Wednesday, February 22, 2012

One Week, Two Podiums...

I had a bit of luck with the media around Palmerston North this week. I think my impending trip to race in faraway lands combined with the NZCT Women's tour had the local papers on the scout for stories about female cyclists, so I made three appearances in the papers this week and also seemed to get quite a bit of publicity surrounding the La Femme Fun Ride on Saturday, especially thanks to XALT 110% Sports Performance, who used me on their flyer as "pin-up girl" for their competition (thanks guys!)... So I felt like a bit of a local celebrity here in Palmy this week!

The start of my training week is, really, a Tuesday... Monday is a rest day... A nothing day, in reality, but I guess a lot still happens on that day that I don't really pay attention to... Well, this Monday was when we confirmed our sizing for our new jerseys, which was a pretty exciting milestone for us. Tuesday, I had an interval session, and whilst feeling quite smashed, I somehow still managed to knock out my best average speed yet on that particular loop. Tuesday evening I had a phone date with Coach Sadie and we did some mapping and planning on how we were going to get me through the next three weeks without having me bury myself, but also without losing any of the base, speed or power that I had been working so hard on (it's a surprisingly delicate balancing act!). The thing I think I mentioned in my last blog was that I feel really great mentally at the moment. My head is ready to carry me through anything that my body won't, and that's a great frame of mind to be in going into such a huge undertaking as the Cape Epic. So we made a call to cut a couple of longer sessions out of this week and "freshen me up" a bit for Karapoti in a weeks time... Still some big weekends ahead of me, but not so much hard riding during the week, which will not only help me rest, but will let me tie up some loose ends before I go. We figured that realistically, to back me off now would have very minimal negative impact (if any), but for me to overdo it right now could have some pretty serious repercussions, so it was really a bit of a no-brainer to cull a couple of sessions.

The above meant that Wednesday, instead of 3 hours worth of hill reps, I had a half hour active recovery, which was actually a real relief. It also meant I got to head out to Massey Uni and check out the first stage of the NZCT Women's Tour, which was really cool. Watching hard Women race their bikes is always awesome and the strength of the World Class field present at this race is truly inspirational. I also headed to the doctor Wednesday afternoon to get my medical clearance form signed off for the Cape Epic. My resting heart rate was measured at 48BPM (in the middle of the day!) and my blood pressure at 90/60... It wasn't until I looked up a blood pressure chart afterwards that I understood why the doctor checked it twice (no wonder I have to sit on the edge of the bed for a couple of minutes before I stand up in the morning!)... This training has obviously put me in pretty good shape!!!

Thursday morning was my usual plyometrics workout and the afternoon saw me out in heinous winds doing sprint reps for an hour. It was bloody hard work and with 70km/hr gusts, I was having some pretty sketchy moments. I still wasn't feeling too well. I'd had a sore throat since Tuesday now and was starting to develop headaches. Friday was another rest day, asides from completing a morning core workout and I was hoping to shake this bug before the weekend. Saturday, I was supposed to be doing a 100km training ride then jump in with the La Femme Ride, but I made the call on Friday night that if I still had a sore throat when I woke up in the morning, I'd ditch the 100km pre-ride and just do the race. I really can't afford to be getting sick now and I know from experience that sore throat combined with long ride will manifest itself in a good flooring (so best to avoid that!). I was also rather stoked to receive a couple of packages on Friday... One from Adidas Eyewear containing my new MEGA Orange Evil Eye Pro Half Rims (in small size) and clear lenses for them and my Supanova glasses, and a second package from Jakub at Avantiplus Waitakere, who helped hook me up with my new Garmin Edge 500. New toys! Yeehaa!

When my alarm went off at 5am on Saturday morning, I still had a sore throat, and as much as I wanted to force myself out for a nice long ride, I knew it wasn't a wise decision to do so. It also wasn't really THAT hard to convince myself to switch the alarm off and have a sleep-in... So that's what I did (yep, I am human, after all!). At 11am, we watched the pro women doing the NZCT Tour roll out for their start and the La Femme "Fun" Ride rolled out not long afterwards. It was an interesting mix of riders doing the La Femme, and when the neutral vehicle pulled away at Terrace End, I was actually a little surprised at how quickly the pace picked up. It quickly became evident that not all of us were treating this as a "fun" ride... After all, we did have timing chips on, and there were prizes to be had and egos to feed, so off we went at race pace. I was actually really impressed at how large the field was (there were 61 ladies on the start line of the 50km race!). We have a great community of female cyclists here in Manawatu, and a huge range of speeds and abilities, but everyone just seemed so stoked to be out on their bike with other like-minded gals, which I thought was really cool. We were sitting in quite a large bunch which was surging backwards and forwards (which is pretty normal for such a big bunch). It needed to be broken up a bit for the greater good. I used a couple of small climbs to test the pack a bit and see who the faster riders were who could stay with me when I attacked. It looked like there were a group of about 5 or 6 ladies who were up for a little breakaway group. About 20km in to the 50km race, I was taking my turn at the front, glanced behind me and realised that a number of these stronger ladies were at the front of the bunch with me, which made it an ideal time to put in an attack. I added a couple of gears and took off up the hill. When I first looked behind me, I was by myself, and then about 10sec later, I was joined by two other riders. We had a bit of a chat and decided that we would make a go of the break. We had a good jump on the pack, and then two other riders bridged the gap and joined us (one of which dropped back off pretty quickly). So there were four of us working in the break with 25-30km to go. It took us a little while to get ourselves organised to work together, but once we had our little team rolling through efficiently, we were motoring along. Just quietly, I was pretty chuffed that I had initiated the break, and I was pretty intent on keeping away from the pack and maintaining the break to the end of the race. We didn't dare look back... We just kept our heads down and rotated through. I was really impressed by the work ethic of the girls in the break with me. There was not one of us that backed off that whole time. We didn't talk or sit up or look behind us... We were all on the rivet the whole way from the time we left the peloton (and my heart rate monitor confirmed that for me at the end when I saw I had averaged 90% of my max for the whole ride, which meant I probably spent the majority of my time in the break at 95%). One thing that had noticeably improved since the Bev May Tour for me was the strength of my seated climbing and my average cadence. I was maintaining my cadence and conserving energy really well, which I was very pleased with. We had one minor hiccup en route, when we missed a turnoff where we hadn't been directed properly by the marshalls. To be fair, they were also directing the pro women, and us being the first group through for the La Femme may have been a bit confusing for them, but it probably cost us about 30sec, and had we realised just how close the peloton was behind us at that point, I reckon we may have started panicking (ignorance was bliss on this occasion). As we came down Stony Creek Road with about 7km left to go, the lead vehicle pulled alongside us and yelled out the window "you have forty seconds on the peloton"... Shit, seriously??? Only 40 seconds??? We had been working so bloody hard, and to be honest, I thought we would have had way more on them than that, but the truth was that we didn't. I hit the panic button a bit at that point. I couldn't imagine anything more brutal than having initiated an attack and managing to hold it for 30km only to be gobbled up by the peloton on the finish line... There was no way I was going to let that happen... I was sitting in the draft of one of the other girls at this point and I remember yelling out "ok, let's go... Let's finish this off"... The pace didn't change and I realised that she was starting to get tired. I jumped on the pedals and passed her, towing her in my wake, and we picked up the pace as a group by quite a number of notches. One of our little team dropped off the back, leaving just three of us to rotate through. As we hit Napier Road, I was getting pretty bloody tired, too... And it was obvious that there was going to be a sprint finish between the three of us. I was under no false impressions. This last kilometer was going to hurt a lot... As we entered the last 300m, both girls were in front of me. I got up out of the saddle and sprinted my guts out passed one of them. My legs were burning with lactic acid. I ignored it and pushed on, then started gaining on the other, but it was a bit late to catch her and I finished second by a matter of meters. I later found out that the winner was a rather accomplished sprinter at a world masters level, so I didn't feel quite so bad. In the end, we came in about a minute and a half ahead of the peloton, so we picked up quite a bit of time in our final 7km push for line. It was a really bloody honest day in the saddle, and thank God I didn't do that 100km ride beforehand! We knocked out 50km in 1 hour 30 minutes at an average speed of nearly 34km/hr! The La Femme "Fun" Ride (I use the term "fun" very loosely in this context) was an awesome day out on the bike. It was challenging and competitive and it catered for a wide range of riding abilities. It was also incredibly well-organised (the race packs, post-race lunch and prizegiving were fantastic!). Definitely one to put on the calendar for next year!

Sunday was an early start. Up at 5.30am and on the road by 6.30am to head to Eskdale park in Napier for round 4 of the NZCT National MTB series. I had decided to jump in with my age category on this one, mainly because there was paperwork I would have to fill out to race elite (and I'm pretty sick of filling out paperwork with my upcoming trip!), but also because I knew my health hadn't really been all that crash hot this week and I wanted to get in a full training session without being lapped out. The start was a bit of a funny one. I heard the starter say "go", but I don't think anyone else did, and I took off like a rocket out in front of everyone (I thought at first I may have false-started!). The course was a real "fitness" course, as opposed to a technical course and it suited me quite well. I felt surprisingly strong and fast. The first small climb up past the feed zone I was quite comfortably pushing out seated in the big dog, which I was pretty happy with, then a nice piece of singletrack connected with the bottom of this absolutely brutal granny ring climb which seemed to go on forever. It was, however, the only big climb on the whole course, so once it was over with, the rest of the course was pretty fast, agile work (I was glad to see that climb behind me on my last lap!). After the climb, we undulated across the top of the ridge then dropped down onto Switchback trail. Apparently Napier had some rain the night before and it made the steep, tight switchbacks sketchy work for the first couple of laps. By lap three and four, I had figured that you just stick your front wheel in the rut and let the back wheel slide around wherever it wants to go and you would make it around in one piece at a reasonable pace. Then there was a really fast piece of singletrack straight through to the timing tent. If you picked your lines right, and stayed light on the bike, you could really pin it through there at a solid pace (and I think I did that pretty well today!). I felt really strong for the full four laps (although a little hungry as the timing of my breakfast was a bit off with the travel in the morning), and I lapped very consistently, too, which is pretty cool. I came in 1st in Masters Women, although it was disappointing that there appeared to not be any other ladies in my category (I know you guys are out there!!! Don't make me come and get you!!!). It would have been nice to be able to validate the fact that I had a really strong ride against some other competitors, although I did quite well against the other age group women who started at the same time as me. I ended up having a cracker of a day! I waited around for prizegiving and then headed straight home for an afternoon nap and some refueling. It was a lovely day out and I was so tempted to hang around in the sun, but I really needed some rest.

So now we are just about into the three week countdown for my trip. Most of the loose ends are tied up, with a couple of little outstanding bits and pieces (insurance... really must get onto that!!!). This week was a really good confidence week for me, and it was quite nice to see that once I backed my training off a little, my legs came up pretty fresh to put in some good efforts. The hard work is done now... I just need to maintain it and look after myself (and survive Karapoti and the Perverse Reverse next weekend!).

Monday, February 20, 2012

3 Week Countdown...

So if I thought couldn't cram any more training into a single week, I somehow managed to clock up 16 hours on the bike plus my weekly plyometrics and core workouts this week just gone... 15 of those hours were on the mountain bike, and a lot of it spent on some pretty challenging terrain (would I have it any other way???).

After a bit of a run and a recovery ride on Tuesday, I was back onto the hill reps for Wednesday evening. My focus for my training this week was to work on saving my legs a bit by employing high cadence techniques (especially on the hills) as opposed to power-climbing. With the Ninja in the workshop for some small adjustments, I headed out on the hardtail towards Scotts Road to do my 10min hill reps. Usually, I would knock out the Highway - Scotts Road - K Loop - Greens Road loop in about 2 hours 45 minutes, so I figured that if cut out Greens road and headed straight home down Kahuterawa Road, with my hill reps, the ride should still come in around the three hour mark. It was lucky I took my Ayups with me that evening because my time estimation had been way off. I knocked out my reps (that lady walking her dogs must have thought I was mad when I passed her up and down that hill 5 times!) and then continued to head up to the top of the climb to drop in behind the forest on to Back Track. As I climbed, the sun was disappearing over hills in a spectacular sunset and cast shadows of me riding my bike along the bed rock on the side of the road. It was, once again, one of those really magical experiences that one could only be privy to after slogging their guts up a climb on a mountain bike. By the time I hit the top of the climb and had started the undulating traverse across to the Back Track, it became obvious that I had misjudged the distance of the ride and was going to need my lights this evening. Considering I had only planned to be in darkness on the road on the way home, I had only taken out my handlebar lights, so as I smashed the descent down Back Track, the corners became a bit of hit-and-miss (it made me miss my helmet light and being able to look around the corners to see what was coming). I must say, I enjoyed it immensely... It's been quite some time since I have done a night ride and I love the feeling of the cool night air rushing around me, the amount of intense focus you give to that one spot on the trail that is lit and the crunch of the tyres on the track... It really is a whole different world. It did make me nervous, though, that my night ride this evening was a bit impromptu, and after rounding a corner and ungracefully dismounting over the handlebars into a river crossing (and in the process making myself really wet), I forced myself to check my speed a bit until I got onto some more predictable terrain. In the end, I arrived home in just under four hours at about quarter to ten at night. I knew I would pay for the late night out the following day with a double training session and work, but it was totally worth it!

The next morning, I dragged my butt out of bed at 6am and completed my plyometric workout (burpees are my friend!), headed to work and then made my way out to Ranfurly in Feilding for the Mitre 10 MEGA Summer Series run the the Manawatu Mountain Bike club. I was still on the Purple Trail Eater (that's the name of my hardtail... It's purple, in case you couldn't tell) and the course was pretty rough in places. I really wished I had the Ninja... It would have made it a substantially more comfortable ride. The first kilometre of the trail was actually really sweet and smooth and quite steep in places, then we broke out onto a farm trail that was quite rough. I felt pretty smashed after the previous night's epic ride and I really struggled to get my legs into it at first, with my nearest competitor hovering dangerously close about 20 seconds behind after the first lap. The second lap, my legs started to feel a bit more cohesive (but still quite fatigued) and I managed to push out to a one minute lead. By the time I hit my third and final lap, I seemed to work out a good rhythm and some good lines and finished off quite strongly. It was great fun, but bloody heard work... There was no rest on that course. You were just on the rivet the whole way around. I ended up winning the female category for the evening by a little over a minute, which was quite pleasing given the hard work I had done the day before.. Great news leading into Cape Epic!

Friday morning I was up early and smashed out a quick hour of intervals on the bike to a lovely sunrise, then hit up the swiss ball for some core work, all before I headed to work. There was something quite surreal about seeing the sun set over last night's ride, then seeing it rise over this morning's ride, especially after seeing such a spectacular sunset on Wednesday evening, too. I was really lucky with the weather this week. Friday afternoon, I headed down to Wellington and met up with John and Oli and picked up The Ninja. I was so pleased to be reunited with the Ninja. I have felt a little lost without her for a couple of weeks. It was great to see John and we spoke a bit about the race and got our jersey sizes sorted (hopefully we get them by the end of this week!). I find myself increasingly excited about our impending trip, and I get even more excited whenever I see John. We are going to have such a cool adventure together!

Saturday morning in Wellington was quite a windy one (and looked pretty threatening to rain, as well!) so I ditched my idea of doing the Skyline track. I assumed it would be pretty exposed with some nasty crosswinds that may disagree with my small, lightweight self, so I headed straight up Makara Peak and did a few loops on different trails (heading the full way up to the top four times... YEEHAA!). The sun came out and made for some pretty hot work, but the winds at the top were still pretty strong (good choice not to do Skyline). I had a great time. The trails up there are so lovely, flowing and FUN! I especially love the fact that you don't even notice the 300m climb to the top because it's such a sweet piece of singletrack. Once again, I focused on keeping a good, high-cadence rhythm. It was great to be back on the Ninja. It really is just an absolute pleasure to ride. I don't think I've ever felt quite so comfortable on any bike before. My "pick of the day" trail was definitely Northface, and as the day wore on, I got faster and faster at descending it (such a fun trail!). The amusing highlight of my day would likely have been when I was climbing up Aratihi track. I saw another rider in front of me and thought I'd just say a friendly hello and let him know I was there and would pass when he was ready. He obviously had no idea I was there (the Ninja and I must have snuck up on him with great stealth) and when I said hello, it scared him so much he fell off his bike. I felt pretty bad about that, but couldn't help having a giggle to myself once I got past him. The Ninja was living up to it's name rather well!

Sunday I met up with John and Simon, and after a rather comprehensive search for John's car keys (which had gone missing somewhere between his car and Simon's house in the space of about 5 mins), we found said keys and were on our way to Karapoti Road. I have only ever ridden Karapoti once before, and my memory of it was slightly hazy. John and I are both doing the Karapoti Classic on the 3rd of March and then the Perverse Reverse (Karapoti Classic in reverse) the following day, so the plan for Sunday was to "ride" to the top of Devil's Staircase and then return the same way so we could get a bit of a feel for what both Saturday and Sunday would have on offer. I got on my bike and pedaled around a bit before we set off and my legs felt like they were on fire. I'd had a big week on the bike and was certainly feeling it. We set off and I felt so slow. I couldn't keep up with John and Simon and John kept stopping to wait for me. It was disappointing because I didn't often get to ride with John, and knew that I really was faster than that, but I was determined to make it a good day out in any case, and I wanted to make sure I had a good, fun ride and that I got some quality time in with John. When we hit the first climb, I remember thinking to myself "I do not remember this being so steep last year"... I stomped my way up the climb and on the one occasion I had to dismount, made sure I had a good transition from bike to run so I didn't lose any pace or momentum. I wanted to make sure I maintained a sense of urgency in my entire ride, not just when I was on the bike. The rock garden was next on the menu. It's really easy to psyche yourself out about the rock garden, because when you talk to people about it, all you hear are stories of crazy accidents, near misses and the need to possess amazing technical prowess, none of which I am really all that fond of, and especially not the month before I leave the country to race in possibly the hugest event I have ever been a part of. In reality, the rock garden isn't THAT bad, but there are some pretty gnarly sections that can require walking, and even then, it's rather debatable as to whether it is actually more hazardous to run down it in carbon-soled shoes than it is to grow some balls and ride it. I decided after watching Simon do some amazing gymnastics descending one section that yes, it was still safer to run down it... Climbing up Devil's Staircase was (and always will be) very hard work. I often wonder if having short(er) legs is a disadvantage when you have to walk up sections like this, especially carrying a bike, but my thoughts on this occasion were rudely interrupted by my screaming calves, so I just hardened up and continued my hike-a-bike to the top of this heinous climb. Once at the top, we were ready to turn around and come down, which we knew would be an interesting experience, especially considering it was a little damp underfoot and Devil's Staircase is clay-based... My thoughts that it was a bloody steep hill to climb up were only further confirmed by the fact that it is a terrifyingly steep hill to ride down, as well... The scariest part about it was that once to committed to descending a section, there was no way out... There was no braking and certainly no piking (without consequence). On numerous occasions, my rear wheel came close to overtaking my front wheel, but at the bottom, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face... What a hoot! Going back up the rock garden was actually surprisingly rideable and then we had more gnarly descending to do (broken up with a short-ish climb) before arriving back at the carpark. For the last hour or so of the ride, I spent a lot of time riding side-by-side with John and we spoke about training and work and how excited we were about the trip. We also discussed how we were going to work as a team and specifically, working on practicing our drafting... Let's face it, John cuts a bloody good hole in the wind, and he's strong, so if we can get our drafting right, we could pick up some pretty substantial blocks of time at the Cape Epic. So over the next couple of weeks, we'll make an effort to catch up for a ride and practice our drafting and our communication on the bike, which I'm really looking forward to.

This week, my training starts to dither out a little. I must be honest and say I'm not sure how I feel about that... My body will certainly welcome it, but my head just wants to keep going, which will no doubt come in useful during the race, but for the time being, I need to make sure it doesn't bury me. It's only 3 weeks now until I'm on that plane... There is so much still to organise and the more I get into that, the more excited I get by the whole trip. I also saw a video of the 24 Hours of Finale Ligure, which I will be racing in after Cape Epic, and that got me really wired, too... Deep inside, I am absolutely terrified. It will be the longest I have ever been away from home, and some of the biggest races I have ever done in places I have never been before, and I am really excited about it (but terrified at the same time)... I can't believe it is so close. It's going to be such a cool adventure!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Climb to the Top and the Bev May Womens Tour

I was pretty happy with last week's efforts, and by Tuesday morning's interval session, the legs were still a little heavy, but it certainly didn't take away from the stunning sunrise I enjoyed as I made my way across the Manawatu River. A single lazy cloud hung in the air above the windfarms and the sun shone through from behind and sent strips of colored light dancing across the landscape, all the way down to the river below... What a sensational way to start the day! A day at the office was then followed up with a bit of TLC for my aching, tight muscles from Barb at XALT 110% Sports Performance. Being at such a late stage of my training, the body is taking a bit of a battering, and without regular massage, this is the time when injuries start to manifest themselves, which is something I need to be very wary of. The evening was then filled with "team meetings" on the phone and some very confused internet searching that resulted in John and I finally securing our "race extras" for the Cape Epic, paying our transponder deposits, and completing our other "outstanding actions"... It was a bit of a relief, but a pretty costly exercise!

To be honest, generally after a sports massage, I feel pretty ordinary... It's a couple of days later that I start to feel like a million bucks, so when I headed out for my hill reps on Wednesday evening, I still felt a little sluggish, but my muscles felt really nice and free and strong. It was a beautiful evening so I headed up to Pahiatua Track to do my 10min hill reps. One thing I have pinpointed as being an issue lately is that I have been doing a lot of powerful climbing out of the saddle, which is great for the shorter stuff, but not so good for the longer climbs. Generally speaking, climbing out of the saddle uses a lot of energy, and whilst it certainly has it's place, I was quite determined tonight to focus my session on seated climbs. I was pretty strict on myself... There were two steeper pitches on the climb where I was "allowed" to get up out of the saddle, but I had specific roadside markers as to where this could start and where it had to end, then I would finish my 10min seated climb with a handlebar-throwing, out-of-the-saddle manic sprint to the end. For some amusing reason, as I climbed, I couldn't seem to get #20 of "The Rules" out of my head... For the record, though, I needn't have referred back to rule #5... I was already abiding by it. It was a hard session, but I was very pleased with how I rode. I achieved negative splits on each 10min rep except for the very last one, and after the final hill rep for the evening, I treated(?) myself by climbing the rest of the way to the top and checking out the amazing view that stretched out across the landscape towards Hawkes Bay (the climbing was well worth it!). After a set of 10sec sprint intervals on the way home, I arrived pretty spent, but on quite a high from having such a good session on such a spectacular evening.

Thursday morning I was rudely awoken by my plyometrics session and then joined in the Pedal Pushers group ride in the afternoon after work for a lively little 50km jaunt. It was a beautiful evening, and a pretty good training session because after the last couple of days, the pace of the ride was probably a bit more lively than I would have managed by myself... A geographical blunder part way through the ride saw me overshoot a turnoff just as I was about to take a turn at the front... There was a mixture of berating and apologies from the bunch, but to be honest, joke was on them... It meant I went back to the pack and missed out on having to cut the wind for them (not that I would have been much good to them, anyway... Maybe that just worked out best for everyone involved!!!). I was pretty stoked to be able to hold most of the fast guys as they galloped away in a sprint for the last 5km, then even more stoked to crawl into bed after packing for my trip to the Bev May Cycle Tour for the weekend.

After a long drive from Palmerston North to Morrinsville on Friday evening after work (I had a couple of "what was I thinking?" moments during that drive!!!), I headed off to the Bev May Women's Cycle Tour on Saturday morning. I must say, I generally find road racing a little bit boring and "serious" so I do little "fun" things to try and make it a bit more exciting. Today, I decided to wear my new POW full-fingered gloves in a mismatching pair (pink on the right and blue on the left). Nothing says "I'm a mountain biker" at road races more than wearing full-fingered gloves and having SPD pedals on your road bike. Being a mountain biker is a great excuse to not quite understand the tactics of road racing (even if you actually do). Saying "oh, sorry, I didn't know... I'm a mountain biker" bears the same weight as having used "Oh, sorry, I'm Australian" on numerous occasions since I moved to NZ... It's a fantastic comment to diffuse frustration, and maybe even gain a little sympathy.

Our first task for the tour was a 12km Individual Time Trial. I set off at my allocated time and had real difficulty getting into a rhythm (a lot of other riders said afterwards they had the same trouble). It was a surprisingly hilly course for a time trial and I struggled to stay seated and my legs just didn't feel like they were firing on all cylinders. I ended up knocking it out in 21min 35sec at an average of nearly 32km/hr, which I thought didn't seem too bad. I not a great road racer, but it doesn't mean I don't put my all into it, and I was pretty disappointed when I saw the results and I was right at the bottom of the rankings. Having said that, my time was probably within 40secs of most of the bottom half of the field, so it wasn't way out of the ballpark, and I didn't have disc wheels or a funny-shaped helmet, either (which I am told can account for up to 30 seconds!).

Afternoon time came and we had an 85km road race to tackle. I was feeling really wasted by the time we lined up for our roll-out, probably from the drive the evening before, but once we got moving, I came right. I sat quite comfortably in the bunch, rotating through. We had four laps of the circuit to do before moving off the circuit and finishing on a hill climb. By lap two, I was feeling quite good, and there was this spot on the course where there was a sharp left hand turn followed by a short, sharp climb. I happened to be positioned at the front of the pack and just dropped the hammer a little up the climb and gave it a bit of stick, then I looked behind me to see why no one had rolled through next to me and I had a good 100m on the peloton... I had just instigated an attack!!! COOL! I didn't want it to go to waste, so I dug in for a bit and got out to about 200-300m before they started reeling me in... I must admit, it felt fantastic been right out there ahead of the bunch. It was a pretty good confidence booster. The peloton finally reeled me in, but I doubt they were very happy with my antics... I had just made them chase me on an attack that actually had no real tactical advantage, asides from maybe dropping a couple of riders off the back. As we came through to the sprint prime, I was feeling a bit cocky and tried to go again and take the sprint points. This was where my lack of understanding of road racing came into play... I went way too early for the sprint and got caught right on the line (although I took the 4th place sprint points, which was pretty cool... I've never taken sprint points before!). I contested the sprint so bloody hard that I just had nothing left in me, and as the course took a left turn up another climb, the peloton taught me a lesson and attacked the climb... I had nothing left to give after the sprint and I got dropped. I still had two laps left to go. I was on my own and it really was my own fault for being a cheeky little smart-arse, so I just had to dig in and do the best I could. To be honest, I was initially really angry at myself for doing something so stupid. The move had cost me any chance of a decent GC ranking. As I continued to push on, though, I was actually setting a really good pace by myself. I could see the bunch in the distance and after another lap, they had only gained 4mins on me, which was encouraging, and although I got dropped, I felt I had achieved something on the ride for the day, not to mention I was still feeling quite strong and was having a great training session. As I reached the last turn towards the final climb, I picked off another rider who had also been dropped. The climb to the finish line was pretty brutal, but I felt ok at the end (not brilliant, but not crap). I finished only 11mins behind the bunch that had dropped me 45km beforehand and had actually picked up four GC placings. I was quite pleased that, given how hot it was, and I was by myself for half the distance, I still managed to hold my own quite well. It was a great training day for Cape Epic... It is better to have gone hard and lost than never to have gone hard at all...

I woke up on day two feeling pretty good. This is actually a really common theme for me on multi-day races, which is highly encouraging. First up we had a 77km road race and after a police escort through town to the start line again, we were off. The lap today was quite short with a KOM prime and a sprint prime. It was undulating with numerous short, sharp climbs, which made it a good course to attack on. The pace off the start line was pretty brisk and as we made our way around the first lap, it was looking like the bunch would break up pretty early. After contesting that sprint in yesterday afternoon's stage, I was pretty keen to have another shot at a couple of sprints today (I had obviously developed an aptitude for sprinting somewhere along the line this year!). As we hit the flag for the first sprint prime, I found myself way at the back of the pack and a bit under-prepared for it, but I jumped at it anyway and made my way at quite a pace down the left hand side of the bunch hugging the edge of the tarseal dangerously close in the process. I was surprised at the pace at which I passed the bunch and pulled myself into 4th in the sprint just as we hit the line. The pace I had come through with was enough that it catapulted me off the front of the pack before I sat up and rejoined them... It was actually a really cool feeling contesting the sprint, and I'd be lying if I didn't say I had enjoyed it (maybe something for me to look at more seriously next year?). I looked forward to the next sprint prime on lap 3, but unfortunately, I ended up being dropped by then and didn't get the opportunity to contest it. As I settled back into the bunch, I felt my legs recovered well from the sprint. I was, however, finding it hard to maintain the full pace of the bunch for long periods of time. They set a pretty hot pace the first couple of laps (I am told the pace backed off a bit on the third lap... A bit too late for me) and when one of the girls attacked and the bunch chased her (being one of the higher GC riders), the whole pack splintered into pieces. There were a few riders well off the back and myself and two other riders sprinting our guts out to get back on. One girl made it back on (and actually went on to win the stage!), but I didn't quite make it. I had set out to stay with the bunch today and I had played well so far, so I was pretty disappointed. Regardless, I put my head down and pushed on at a good pace. The other rider just behind me joined me, but she wasn't very interested in working too hard at the front and seemed more interested in riding alongside me having a chat, which I found a bit frustrating. Even after 10km, we could still see the pack 500m-1km ahead, and I couldn't help but think if I had been with a rider that had a slightly better work ethic, we may have even got back on to the bunch. On the 4th lap, we picked up another rider who had been dropped after a mechanical, and I was back in business with her. The other girl fell off the back of us not long after... We worked really well together and she was keen to work hard even though we may not get back onto the pack. She was pretty complimentary of my riding and told me I rode really strong up front for long periods of time (she even suggested I was maybe a good time-trialler, to which I told her she should look at the previous morning's results before putting money on that!). I all fairness, I did belt out some pretty hard time up front working for both of us, but she was pretty quick to recognise this and told me to take the placing ahead of her at the finish line, which didn't make much difference to the results, but was a nice gesture. In the end, after spending 50km out of the bunch, we were only about 10min behind the main pack when they finished, which was a pretty solid effort.

The thing I was finding frustrating in this race was that I was able to push out good efforts for long periods of time, and super fast efforts for short periods of time, but seemed to lack that middle ground of fast pace for medium periods of time to stay with the pack at the time of an attack. It may have just been fatigue (as I was training through the race) or it could be a training gap that I need to get to work on. It was especially noticeable on the afternoon's stage in the criterium. The pace was pretty hot off the mark and I barely clung on to the back of the pack for the majority of the time I was with them. One thing I struggled with was maintaining speed out of the corners, so I would be with the pack, take a corner, then have to sprint to catch the bunch again before the next corner. The final straight into the sprint line/finish line was on an incline (which didn't look like much, but was bloody hard work at the pace we were maintaining) and there was also this terrible swirling wind that seemed to make it's way around the course as a headwind the whole way around, so basically, once you were of the back of the bunch, you were stuffed. I stayed with the bunch for a good 15min until our second sprint lap, and it was the sprint lap that blew a few of us off the back. I was hoping to keep up a reasonable enough pace to not get lapped out (thought I was hallucinating when I saw a lycra-clad male fairly following the course on his mountain bike), but ended up getting lapped after 30min, with 2 laps to go (disappointing!).

I was actually pretty happy with how I went over the weekend. I put in a couple of gutsy calls, which I enjoyed, and it was a great weekend of training. I would have loved to have stuck with the bunch a little better, but hey, that's just life on the road. I actually reckon that next year, I might like to work my training around peaking for the Bev May Tour and see if I could do something a bit more productive results-wise with it... But I think I might get Cape Epic and 24 Hour Solo World Champs ticked off first before I worry about that!

There's still a couple of aspects of my riding that I hope to get some work in on before I head off overseas, but to be honest, I think the most important thing to me over the next month will be getting enough rest and looking after myself. The last couple of weeks have felt like a monster hill that I'm still climbing. There's a lot more than training. I still need to put in 100% at my job, I have finances to organise, and a huge "to do" list before I go, and things don't always go as I had planned or as smoothly as I think they should. It's being hard work, but I'm nearly at the top. The thing I like most about climbing hills is that you get to see the view at the top. I suppose you could look at that in a metaphorical sense, too... We climb and climb and work hard for months and years on end to eventually end up at the top and enjoy the view... The result of all that hard training. I guess at the moment, I'm at that point where I'm in the hurt box, with beads of sweat and tears streaming down the side of my face, and I can see the crest of the hill... All I have to do is get up out of the saddle and put in a final, significant effort to enjoy the view at the top and know that I climbed that hill with everything I had... And I'm pretty sure I know what I'm going to see when I get there... The sun rising over the mountains on my next big adventure...

Monday, February 6, 2012

Urban Crits and Other Fun Bits!

My week started off with a couple of very poorly used rest days after the St James Epic... My first training ride for the week was Wednesday and I was still feeling pretty wrecked, which was my own fault. I tend to use "rest" days off the bike as an opportunity to get other stuff done and on this occasion, had well and truly cooked myself before the week had begun. It was a very good lesson on the importance of recovery, especially coming up to Cape Epic.

Wednesday was National "Go By Bike Day" and I celebrated by riding my old skool cromoly Yak into work (complete with spokey dokeys and UV pedals that turn purple in the sun). It was also my first training session for the week, and with said fatigue in my legs, I set off on a blustery, drizzly, low visibility day in search of a 10 minute hill to do reps on. Pahiatua track was out of the question in such poor conditions, so I was forced to settle on Ngahere Park Road. For those of you that don't know it, Ngahere Park Road is a perfect hill for 5 minute reps, but beyond this, it pitches up at a heinous angle, which, up until now, I have only been able to climb in my easiest gear out of the saddle. Truth be told, it was a miserable day on the bike, but it was better than having not being on the bike at all. I returned looking like a drowned rat and crawled into bed for a completely uninterrupted night of sleep.

The following day, I felt marginally better, but was looking forward to an after-work date with The Ninja for the Mitre 10 MEGA Summer race series held by Manawatu Mountain Bike Club every fortnight. I arrived at Massey Uni not quite sure what sort of mountain bike ride I would be expecting to find. What I found was initially a little terrifying, but ended up being an absolute blast! There was a track marked out around the walking tracks of the uni, down stairs, around buildings, up ramps... It was basically an urban crit. The start somewhat resembled a critical mass gathering as a bunch of raucous mountain bikers launched off the first set of stairs, landing on the street below. Previously terrified of riding stairs, by the second lap, I was quite comfortably hooning down them at speed and hollering like a child on red cordial as I pulled skids on The Ninja around the uni campus. It doubled as a bloody good workout (it went something like this... SPRINT SPRINT SPRINT SPRINT... BUMP BUMP BUMP BUMP down the stairs... SKIIIDZ round the corner) for half an hour straight (plus one lap)... After a slow start to the week, it certainly was the excitement I craved and after softening the rear shock by 10PSI, The Ninja handled it so well (Good Ninja!). Friday was another scheduled "rest" day, and this time, I was sure to use it wisely!

Saturday's workout was one I had actually really been looking forward to... A 150km road ride. I'm not sure why I was looking forward to it so much... Maybe because it simply let me get out onto some roads I hadn't ridden before for a bit of variety, or maybe it was a relief to be getting some big miles into my legs after I felt I had pulled up fairly poorly from last week's race. I think I still kinda felt like I had to reassure myself that I was still capable of pulling big, hard days on the bike. I had a bit of a sleep in, and set out reasonably well-rested to complete the Apiti loop. I set a reasonable pace, and ate well, and I felt pretty good. About half way through my ride, I spotted another cyclist up ahead and (as you do) picked up the pace a little to see if I could catch the other cyclist up the next climb. I was stoked to see it was another chick cyclist... Two hard women out in the middle of nowhere riding their bikes for no other apparent good reason than the fact that it was a fun thing to do (YEYAH!). By the time I reached her, I was pretty amped and on the rivet, so didn't hang around for much longer than to say a pleasant "hi" and exchange a sentence or two and then I was on my way. The riding up through Pohongina Valley is absolutely stunning. There are some magic views and very little traffic. There are a couple of big climbs, but nothing overly steep. I think the thing I noticed the most on the first half of the ride was that everything that appeared flat, was actually a false flat. It was pretty wearing, but good training. When I hit Kiwitea, I had planned a little side-route to try and avoid the horrendously boring stretch of road between Cheltenham and Feilding, and it appeared to be going really well until I arrived at my next turn to find a gravel road (annoying!), so I was forced to backtrack a little and climb back up to the main road and endure the long, flat unpleasantness that I had been trying to avoid. It's funny how on the profile of the ride, it looks like the last 30km or so is downhill, but it is so gradual that it seems flat and you still have to work hard for it. By the time I reached home, I was pretty spent, but quite happy with polishing it off in well under six hours with 1600m of climbing. The evening was spent doing nothing much at all in preparation for the trip to Wellington the following morning.

Sunday was another early start and we loaded up the bikes to head to Wellington for the PNP MTB Club Champs. This was another of those short-format stage races that seem to be popping up everywhere at the moment... Heaps of fun and a good testing ground for a rider's all-round skills. The first part of the day was a cross country race, which was 3 laps of a great Wainui course which climbed (and climbed and climbed) and then descended back to the start to do it all again. My legs felt pretty heavy, but I was well aware of the fact that this was how I was going to feel going into each day of the Cape Epic and I made a little pact with myself that I needed to ride it and treat it like a race, and I did just that. My first lap was a bit slow, and my descending left a lot to be desired, but by the second lap, I had warmed to the course a bit and was able to enjoy the hard climbing followed by the sweet, flowing descent. The Ninja lapped it up effortlessly. I think I just about have my setup dialed now, which I am really happy with.

The afternoon saw us tackle a Super-D race down the B-Line trail, which was certainly not one of my finer moments... The trail consisted of a number of chutes, ruts and steep, off-camber sections which I rode with self-preservation in mind in consideration of my upcoming trip. Our last task for the day was an off-road criterium, which consisted of a short (although by the end, not short enough!) climb that joined back on to a fun, gnarly piece of single track to ride back down, which seemed to get faster and faster each lap (hopefully making up for the climb which seemed to get slower!). We had to ride it for 15 minutes plus 3 laps and it was a real blast and a great workout to top the day off! I came 4th overall in the senior women and then headed off on the long drive home for another good night of sleep.

It turned out to be a pretty stellar week on the bike, and with only a little over a month before I'm sitting on that plane to South Africa, I'm feeling pretty happy with my form. I saw some photos of the Finale Ligure race that will be this year's 24 hour solo world champs, and I'm getting more and more excited about that, too. It's going to be a fantastic trip! It would be remiss of me at this moment to not make mention of the fantastic support I have been given by my employer, Mitre 10 MEGA, who have allowed me to have the time off to take up this once in a lifetime opportunity to race in both South Africa and Italy. Cheers team! Hope I make you real proud!