Monday, April 30, 2012

A Look at Selected Bling From the Garda Bike Festival...

The weekend started out with all the buzz and excitement of the Garda Bike Festival, situated on the lakefront (lungolago) at Riva. After a little spin out on the bike first thing in the morning, and then giving the bike a good clean and lube, I caught the bus into Riva to soak up the atmosphere. I decided not to take the Ninja. I figured it would be too crowded to be trying to wheel my bike through the festival (I was right)... There were so many people who were there with their bikes, though, and it was bloody hard work making your way through a crowd of bikes mingled with people mingled with beer and shopping bags.

The festival was amazing. Hundreds of bike companies there showing off their new season bling. Of course, there was the usual high end race bikes to drool over.

Shiny, anodised bling pieces for the bike (I had to be good and remember that there was no way I could carry that stuff back within my weight limit on the plane home).

Tubular MTB tyres! Will be interesting to see if these take off...

Bike brands I had never heard of before...

Two of my fav brands, Camelbak and Adidas Eyewear were there...

Electric bikes (in fact, it looks like these are getting big here in Europe!)...

Sexy shoes (I want these in a size 38 if any of you want to buy me a present!)...

Silicon seat post rings???... Um, what for???

I called this the "Disco Bag"...

My buddies from Garda on Bike were there, too... I'll miss you guys!

Free massage...

Sexy carbon MTB wheels... Hot!

I want an XTR mural for my living room wall just like this...

Delicious chocolate...

These bags are bloody cool...So tempted to buy one of these... Maybe when I get home...

Strange-looking foldable bikes...

This thing looks bloody weird... And weighs only 9kg!

Books that I would have liked to have read if they were in English!

Gloves in MEGA orange and Yeti turquoise (they didn't have them in my size!)

I have no idea what this is meant to be...

After checking out the expo, I headed down to the jump park and watched the qualifying runs for the Night Sprint. I had originally planned to do this, but it clashed with my (non-English) race briefing, so I had to settle for just going and watching the start of it. It looked like a blast... This super long pump track, photographers, spectators, loud music. It was a really cool vibe!

Then it was off race briefing for tomorrows big race!... But that is part of another story that I will share with you in my next blog about the race... just waiting on photos!!!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Preparing To Race and Getting Into the Festival Spirit For My Last Few Days in Garda!

The time has nearly come for me to leave Torbole... I love everything about this place. It's stunning beauty, the lovely people, great food, amazing gelato, the variety of different outdoor activities on offer, and, of course, the wicked, sweet trails to mountain bike on. I truly feel like I have found a second home here, and I daresay it's only a matter of time until I find myself here again. I'm pretty keen to jump into an Italian course when I get home and learn to speak it fluently. I love the language, too... For now, though, it's all about making sure I ride everything I wanted to ride before I leave. I've covered a pretty hefty portion of the immediate terrain around Riva and Torbole, and ridden most of the trails I wanted to tick off. One thing I hadn't done yet was descend the steep, rocky terrain into Limone, and with a race on Sunday, and Friday and Saturday likely to be designated rest days (and also days flor bumming around the bike festival), Thursday was looking like my last opportunity to do this ride.

The tricky thing about Limone is that the terrain into the town from the mountains is so steep that it is one-way traffic only for bikes. The only other road out of Limone is a dangerous stretch of road through an endless tunnel, and whilst riding through there isn't forbidden, it is fairly common knowledge that venturing into the tunnel on this road on a bike, you are unlikely to come out the other side in one piece. You can descend into Limone, but you can't ride out. The only option is to catch the ferry back to Riva or Torbole, so you have to be pretty sure that if you are going to drop in to Limone, you are going to arrive before the last ferry leaves. With this in mind, I set off reasonably early for my little adventure. I was climbing up to Passo Guil before descending into Limone, so if I got there and felt there wasn't enough time to get the ferry, I could take another route and come back down through Pregasina. I climbed up Ponale (possibly the last time I will do this before I leave). It was a stunning day. Seeing as I had plenty of photos up Ponale, I was able to give it some stick and ascended the trail in really good time. Despite feeling pretty tired in the morning and thinking my legs weren't really up for the trip, I was surprised by how solid my climbing was. My cadence was good and I was pushing a good gear, but I found that short, hard efforts drained my anaerobic energy system pretty quickly and made my legs burn with lactic acid.

My cadence and strong legs changed dramatically once I turned off the main trail onto track 421 for the last 800m of climbing. I had been looking at this section of the track on the map the night before and had noticed the contour lines were pretty damn close... in fact, I had wondered when I was planning the ride if it was actually all ridable... It was, but not without a great deal of grovelling and I dug pretty deep. It wasn't all bad... As I rode along, waterfalls appeared that cascaded down towards the trail, then disappeared underneath the track. It was unlike any of the other scenery I had seen whilst riding around the mountains here. I grovelled my way up, sometimes in my easiest gear out of the saddle, sometimes zig-zagging across the track to reduce the gradient ever so slightly. It was relentless... The gradient didn't seem to ease up the whole way up. I reckon it was the hardest climb I had done here in Garda so far. By the time I reached Passo Guil, I had climbed 800m in 3.5km, an average gradient of over 20%! No bloody wonder it felt like hard work! At about 900m, I rode through a small town... It amazed me that people lived up here... and the track I had been riding up appeared to be the only way into the town... Imagine commuting on that every single day!!!

Towards the end of the climb, as I was approaching Malga Vil, the trail made it's way through a canyon of sorts, with huge rock walls towering above me on both sides, and a waterfall running along the side of the trail. The combination of the waterfall and the space enclosed by the canyon made the rushing water sound so loud that it drowned out the sound of my breathing and the crunch of my tyres on the trail. It was truly incredible. Then in stark contrast, the last part of the climb up to Passo Guil was through a grassy clearing. I made it to Passo Guil in plenty of time for the ferry, so it was time to drop in on trail 117.

Now, the climb up had been steep, but the descent had an extra 500m of altitude differential over less distance. 1200m of descent over about 3km. I was under no false impressions that this descent was going to be steep and tricky. The trail was steep... Really steep... And it was loose and there was a lot of pretty tight cornering. It was steep enough that you committed to riding a piece of trail and then that was it... No piking... The good thing was it was pretty much just the steepness and looseness that made it tricky. I didn't have to negotiate anything too technically demanding, like rock drops, or anything like that. Still, it required my utmost undivided attention and a great deal of respect for when I how I used my brakes. There were drop-offs to the side of the trail that meant crashing was really not an option. It scared the crap out of me, and gave me incredible arm pump, but I enjoyed it immensely. I did manage to pull up to take this photo of a trail I saw on the other side of the valley, zig-zagging down the hillside. It was bizarre how it stood out from the landscape. I could only assume that it was a walking trail, but was later told people had ridden it... I can only imagine how steep and exposed it must be! Scary stuff!

As I exited trail 117 onto trail 101, the trail widened and the terrain was a little more predictable, but the gradient didn't mellow out at all. It was still super steep (and super fun), but the one thing that wasn't predictable was the pedestrian traffic on the trail... There were a lot of walkers out on this fine day, and as I rounded corners, the best I was able to give them was a bit of warning before I barrelled past them... There was little chance of me being able to pull up to a complete stop if someone happened to step in front of me... I think for the most part, people found it pretty entertaining to see a crazy person riding their bike down this incredibly steep, rocky trail... I got more smiles than frowns, which was good. Walkers have just as much right to be there as me...

The views riding into Limone were first class, and Limone township was so lovely, although a little bit overidden with tourists at the time... They looked at me in my lycra with my bike, and my shoes that went "clip clop" like they had never seen a person with a bike before!!! WTF? I bought my biglietta (ticket) for the ferry and one for my bike, too, (which cost nearly as much as my own ticket!) then I found a nice spot on le spaggia (the beach) to chill out until my ferry arrived.

It was very pleasant to just sit in the sun and relax. The views were stunning, I was hanging with my buddy, the Ninja, and I was completely blown away by how clear the water was! It was so clear it was hard to tell on the mooring posts where the waterline was... Stunning!

The ferry I caught didn't go to Torbole, just Riva, so I decided to just go to Riva and ride back to Torbole. The Ninja and I hung out on the deck of the ferry, watching the mountains pass us by and watching wind surfers skim past on the afternoon breeze. From the water you could see the "death" road tunnels and then the Ponale track cut into the hillside high above it. We could also see the old lemon groves (which I had originally thought were castle ruins). Apparently the area, aptly named Limone (meaning "lemon") is purported to have some special quality or mineral in the air/water that makes lemons grow particularly well, and way back in the day, they built these structures which allowed the lemon trees to be protected by the wind. I love that this place has such a rich history.

When I was putting my bike away in the hotel "man cave", I bumped into one of the girls from the Cube Action Team... They are a downhill-based team staying at the hotel for the bike festival, and Thursday, they had an epic day of shuttle runs planned, all with the sole aim of descending a total of 10,000m in one day. She told me how they are riding "all day" (it was lunchtime and they were back at the hotel for pizza). I found it kinda bizarre that, for starters, I have spent my entire life as a mountain biker measuring how much climbing I have done (as opposed to descending) and that we had very very different definitions of what "riding all day" was. I told her that I am in Italy for 24 Hour Solo World Championships... I'm not sure if it was because she didn't understand me, or because she thought I was a bit crazy, but she looked at me like she didn't quite get it, then grabbed her bike and bid me farewell. Bikes are awesome... There is so much you can do on them (and so much I can probably learn from someone who descends 10,000m in one day!) I spent the remainder of the afternoon lounging around reading in the chill room downstairs at the hotel, lapping up the last remaining rays of sun from the day. At the moment, I am reading Bear Grylls "Mud, Sweat and Tears". I must say that after doing Cape Epic, the thought of 24 Hour Solo World Champs has been truly terrifying (albeit pretty exciting at the same time). I really like reading inspirational books just before a big race, and this one has been fantastic... It's amazing just how much some of the things he writes about ring true for a task as huge as a 24 hour race. I'm finding it to be really enjoyable reading. Then, after watching the sunset over the mountains from my favourite restaurant, I turned in for a quiet evening. Those guys at the restaurant must wonder why they see me every bloody night and I don't eat anywhere else... For starters, it's right opposite my hotel, and we all know how much I love walking with my short legs... Secondly (and I'm sure any other travelling rider will back me up here), once you find somewhere that serves food you like that doesn't upset your stomach, there is no need to look much further. Getting the right food is so important in preparation for a race.

So now that I had decided to extend my stay in Garda (for the third time) for another weekend for the bike festival, it meant I would be racing the Ronda Extrema MTB Marathon race on Sunday, a 103.5km beast with 3569m of climbing (just a typical day at the Cape Epic, really). With this in mind, it meant I needed to freshen the legs up a bit in preparation, and with the sun shining on Lake Garda again this morning, it was so, so difficult to convince myself not to go out for another epic ride. Instead, I busted out a lap of Monte Brione just to keep my technical eye in, then went for an active recovery down the Sarca valley with some short sprints thrown in to wake the legs up a bit. It was a nice ride, but I was chomping at the bit for something longer... Sunday would bring that for me. Then it was off to massage (and it was a bloody good one, too!) and lunch before bussing into Riva for registration.

There's a real buzz in Riva at the moment, and it is infectious. As I found my way to registration, the expo was being set up... Hundreds of cycling-related companies ready to show off all their new-season stuff. There were bikes everywhere and team cars everywhere. Lots and lots of very fit-looking riders had made their way into Riva for the festival, and I was lining up next to them to race on Sunday... The start list (before late entries) was 44 pages long and included the likes of Sally Bigham, Karl Platt and Andreas Kluger, who had competed in the Cape Epic a month ago, too... The race was huge. In some respects, it took a bit of pressure off... It was purely a "training" race to have a final smash-out before worlds, and with big names like that, I wasn't placing pressure on myself to be up the front. The sheer size of the race, though, made it a little terrifying (oh, and let's not forget that 103km with 3569m of climbing, either). I picked up my race number and pack. For those of you who know some of my little idiosyncracies, you'll know I have this little thing about repeated 1s, so I was quite stoked when I got handed the number 1511... Wicked!

One of the slightly annoying things about the festival is that it is put together by a German event organiser, so nearly all the literature is in German, and being so close to Germany, a large proportion of the influx of around 20,000 people into Riva are German, too... So it's kinda awkward when I start bumbling around with my broken Italian to then realise Italian is also their second language and I should have just spoken to them in English in the first place... I'm sure I will find my way to the start line somehow! It has been quite a bizarre experience to have stayed in Torbole and Riva over the last two weeks during their low season, having all the restaurants, trails and hotel to myself, to seeing it spring to life for the start of the mountain biking season, with traffic jams down the main street, hotels booked out, and restaurants and busses full. I feel quite lucky to be able to experience it both ways. On my way back to the bus, I detoured via the pump/jump track opposite Garda on Bike. I have seen this piece of art being built from the ground up over the last couple of weeks (apparently after the festival, they just bulldoze it and it turns back into a carpark... NOOOOO!)... By today,there were scaffolding towers built for jump run-ins, start gates for the night sprint, signs up everywhere, and people putting the last touches on the jumps. A real transformation.

This is where, tomorrow night, I will race in the Night Sprint... A knock-out, pump track race. To be honest, I don't expect to make it far past my first round, and my track record with start gates is a little sketchy, but it will be good fun, and no doubt have a great atmosphere, so why not??? (and if I make a fool of myself and fall out of the start gates again, I will likely not see any of these people again...). I was also really stoked to come across the Adidas Eyewear van... My fav glasses and a great supporter of my riding for the last 3 or so years... Rock on!

It was then back to the hotel to sort out the crap from the gold in my race pack, not an easy task when it is all in German. Basically, the aim was to keep anything free, anything that got me something for free, anything I needed for my race, and anything that would put crazy ideas in my head for future adventures, and biff the rest... I think I did ok. I also have to make special note of the fact that this is the first time EVER that I have recieved a race t-shirt that fits me (hell yes!). It is also the first time ever that I have recieved bandaids in my race pack... Not sure if I should be concerned about this? Good news also awaited me back at the hotel... They had a cancellation which meant I could stay here at Hotel Santoni right up until I left on Monday. It's been a good day!

So I'm really looking forward to this weekend. Tomorrow morning, I will head out really early for a short active recovery, then will spend my day cruising the expo and watching demonstrations before smashing out a lap or two of the Night Sprint, then hitting up the riders pasta feast dinner. The race on Sunday will be a blast, and especially so because it ventures further than the map I have and will take me onto new trails and new terrain in Garda... It's going to be a sweet way to spend my last few days here before moving onto Munich for a couple of days and then Athens, Greece, for a 7 day MTB tour. This has truly being a once in a lifetime experience... How bloody lucky am I?! This morning, I came back from my ride feeling like I had got something right, like an epiphany that was going to help me for my 24 Hour World Champs Race. I felt it was the right time to write down what I wanted from the race and how I was going to get that. It was like my own little pact with myself that I'll share with you once I finish the race, whether I achieve what I intended to or not, but the moment I wrote it down, I felt empowered by it, and committed to it... I'm on the home run to world champs right now, and I'm enjoying it, and I think it bodes very well for me! Bring it on!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Water Sports and Festivals... Enjoying the Last Few Days In My "Second Home".

Tuesday began as another rainy morning in Garda! I was booked in to do one of the Garda on Bike tours, but the weather put an end to that... I suppose when they book guided tours, they do it for fun, not for training, and I guess most "normal" people wouldn't think it was fun hollering down trails in the rain (how wrong they are), but I had some good contingency plans if it was raining again, so I wasn't at a loose end! After breakfast, I armed myself with some bike cleaning gear and lube and headed out to the bike storage area to give the Ninja some love. The hotel here is really well equipped for bikes with a storage area that has a servicing stand, a wash bay and heaps of cool bike porn photos and maps all over the wall... It really is the ultimate "man cave" (for want of a better expression). I cleaned up the Ninja, including some very comprehensive chain love, did a short core workout in my hotel room, and then headed off for a nice thick hot chocolate and a lazy lunch.

The rain looked like it had well and truly set in, and then at about 2pm, it just stopped... And the sun came out (very much like Sunday!). I hadn't really fuelled myself during the day in preparation for a ride again, and to be honest, my legs felt a bit tired, but I was pretty determined to put this lovely afternoon to good use, so I headed down to the "beach" (spiaggia) and rented a kayak for a couple of hours. It's been years since I kayaked (possibly six or more!) so my first few strokes felt a bit foreign, then as I set out onto the lake, it all seemed to come back (just like riding a bike! Haha!) and before I knew it, I was sitting in the middle of the lake alone. It was uncanny how peaceful it was there, so far from other people, other sounds and civilisation in general, but still viewing it all from afar. It wasn't unlike standing atop a mountain after climbing it on your bike. It was amazing to be sitting on the water surrounded by all these mountains I had been climbing on my bike all week, their snow-capped peaks reflecting off the glassy lake which seemed to lay these huge monsters out in front of me, flat, like two-dimensional objects that I could glide straight over. It was kinda symbolic. I liked how serene it felt.

As I floated back in to the shore, I became very aware of how sore my back and arms will likely be tomorrow... My legs are so much more efficient as a mode of transport than my arms! It was mid afternoon and I now felt like spinning the legs out. I remembered the other day, Matheo had pointed out what was apparently the "best" ice cream shop in the area (that's a pretty serious claim to make), so I jumped on the Ninja to go and find me some gelato (at the same time as having an active recovery... Genius!). Maui Gelateria was a little further than I had remembered, out in the Sarca valley in a small town named Dro. The ride out there was a very flat 12.5km (probably the only flat 12km in the whole of Garda!) with a pretty stiff head wind... At least I was earning my gelato... The peaks around the valley were coated in a fresh dump of snow, which looked to be quite low (maybe even as low as 1000m). Matheo was so right... It was the best gelato I have ever had (especially the cherry flavour!) and well worth the ride out there. I then rode the 12.5km back to Torbole with a tail wind and finished my day with tired arms, tired legs, and a very happy belly!

Wednesday I awoke to the sun coming in through the shutters for the first time in a number of days. I headed down to breakfast and to the excellent news that Lara had managed to line me up some accommodation for the weekend at the hotel next door, so I could stay for the Bike Festival!!! YAY! What was even better was that I was still welcome at Santoni for the weekend for my breakfast and to use the facilities like bike storage etc. They've been excellent here at Hotel Santoni. They have really looked after me and they are so bike-focused. It's so nice to be able to rock up at the desk with a map and say to someone "hey, what do you think of this route?" and then they make suggestions as to where the best riding is (amnd I am yt to be disappointed with any of their recommendations!). After brekky, I hit the road with the Ninja and headed up the other side of the lake, up towards Altissimo. I haven't ridden up this side yet, and it was quite a treat to check out the views from the other side of the lake.

The climb was relatively steep, pretty relentless and mainly on sealed road except for the last couple of kilometers to the trail head. I was a little annoyed at myself that, having come in on a different road than expected just above Torbole, I thought I knew better and didn't bother checking the map, which resulted in me descending 150m, then finding out I had to climb it again! Oh well, good training, I guess! The town has been getting quite busy the last couple of days with the bike festival coming up on the weekend, and there were quite a few shuttle buses that passed me as I was climbing the road up to Dos Roverie... It's a bit strange not having the whole place to myself anymore! I finally arrived at the start of my descent on trail 6, which I had been told is a real blast. The first section was fast and flowy and put a pretty big grin on my face.

Matheo had told me to keep an eye out for a "big rock at a switchback" that I needed to climb up onto to see some good views. As I clambered up onto this rock, I was treated to views that stretched past Tremalzo and showed the snow-capped Dolimites range. A spectacular sight indeed! As I was climbing down from the rock, another couple of riders came along. I thought I would be doing them a favour by pointing out the view from my little spot, then discovered they were locals... Embarrassing! Lovely people though! I then headed off down the trail with parting words along the lines of "see you somewhere on the trail"... They must have been picking their way down the descent pretty carefully because I didn't see them again, despite my incessant need to take photos...

Desceding trail 6 was so much fun! It was technical enough to be challenging and interesting, but had good enoughn lines that you could blast along pretty quickly. I think the most difficult thing I found was concentrating on the trail when these spectacular views kept popping up in front of me... I mean, seriously, how am I meant to concentrate on nailing a steep, loose, technical switchback with this in front of me (and this is literally taken from the switchback)..........

I think this would have to be one of my favourite trails that I have ridden here so far. I was so disappointed to arrive in Navene at the end of the descent, after which I had to ride the lakeside road back to Torbole. The road has a number of tunnels, including one that is 2km long, and I was feeling very ill-prepared without a rear red light on my bike. Tunnels are bloody scary on your bike when you are sharing them with cars. It doesn't matter how small a car is, they all sound like busses or semitrailers coming up behind you in a tunnel... My heart was jumping out of my chest riding through there. I felt like a sitting duck.

Safely back in town, I hit up some lunch and visited the bike shop as the clouds began to roll in. This place is so much different with people everywhere, and you can feel the buzz of the Bike Festival building... There are signs going up, and roll-in ramps being built. The Cube team are staying at the hotel I am at and have all their support vehicles and the like here. It really is pretty cool. Looking forward to the weekend... I'm racing Sunday, and Saturday night, might even try my legs at a pump track eliminator contest. I'll be sad to leave this place at the end of the weekend... I feel like I've found a second home.