Friday, August 7, 2009

Antwerp 70.3

After driving back to Roth, Germany, we barely had to time to settle before we were packing our bikes again and heading to Belgium for Antwerp 70.3.

This was my second time to this race. I did it last year and was fortunate enough to walk away as the champion. I honestly had no idea how I would go this year or what to expect from my body. I was still recovering not only from Quelle Challenge Roth three weeks before but also from my crash. My right leg was still not right from my bingle with the car but there was no way I was missing this race. I had so much fun in Antwerp last year thanks to Marc Herremans that I was determined to give it a good go.

We arrived on the friday morning and Marc was there at the airport to pick us both up. He is such an amazing person, not only because of what he has been able to achieve since his accident but also because he is such a genuine and wonderful person- his enthusiasm is infectious.

We awoke on saturday to perfect weather- the sun was shining and it was about 26 deg. Last year race day was terrible- it poured rain for the entire bike ride. I was hoping for a day like today. Well it was not to be as we awoke on sunday morning to an overcast sky and wet roads. Oh well, at least I knew how to cope with this weather after last year.

From the time we left our hotel to the time we hit the water at 11am, it rained. Once on the bike, it did ease up- a bit. I had a fairly ordinary swim. I knew that I was not in great swimming shape- I had done the bare minimum in Verbier but I was still a little disappointed. But I was determined to make up for it on the bike and I felt great from the start- I feel so good on my Ceepo now and have my position dialed perfectly. Antwerp is dead flat so I knew it was going to be a fast day in the saddle. I rode as hard as I could and had caught all of the girls by the 23km mark. I was happy with how I was feeling and all of the work in the mountains was paying off. I felt strong and controlled.

I dismounted the bike with Belgian- Sophie Goos, and we had a lead of about 1 min on the next girl. I was a little slow in transition and left T2 in second spot. I started the run feeling quite good- much better than I felt in Roth three weeks before. The longer the run went on, the better I felt and by about the halfway mark my legs were ready to go. The gap had blown out to about 1min 10 by this stage but I was able to claw my way back into the race and by the 19km mark, Sophie's lead was down to 30secs. I gave it everything for the last two kms but fell short of catching her. The gap at the finish was a mere 18secs- for once in my life I wished the run was a couple of kms longer- who would ever have thought that day would come! But after everything I had been through this year with my surgery and then being hit by a car, I was more than happy with my result. The most important thing for me was that I had the fire back in my belly- it had been missing in my last few races. But it was back in full force for this race. I wanted to push as hard as I could, I wanted to hurt and I wanted to win- I love that feeling.

I cannot wait to return next year and try and win back the title. It is fantastic race and there is nothing better than finishing right in the centre of town. We had such a great time and the race is so well-run. If you ever get the chance- this is a must-do race- fast, fun and loads to do after the race is over.

Roth, Verbier and boys in lycra

Verbier was simply buzzing before the Tour came through- the streets were packed all day and night.

I grabbed myself the perfect 'viewing' position to see the boys coming up the mountain.

Hi there

Well it has been quite a few weeks since my last post and I have been to so many different places and have so many things to tell you all.

Of course the biggest and best thing was that I got through 'Quelle Challenge Roth'- after getting hit by a car on the tuesday before the race I was little unsure if I was going to be able to make it through the entire marathon but with the help of the amazing crowds on race day, it was obvious that I would make it to the finish no matter how much pain I was in. This race is special to me in so many ways- it was my sixth finish and by far my most rewarding. To see the town of Roth rally for me to make it to the start was amazing. They were so genuinely concerned for me after my accident- the hospital took such good care of me and the physiotherapists there (Andy was my saviour) were excellent and got my body back in working order for race day. Even though 5th place is my lowest finish at Roth, I will never forget it.

After the race we spent a couple of days chilling out at our homestay family's house- getting spoilt as usual, then we headed to Verbier in Switzerland. Justin and I have been coming to Europe for six years now and we have never seen the Tour de France live so we thought we would take this opportunity to see a mountain-top finish and train in one of the prettiest and most spectacular places in the world.

We arrived in Verbier very late in the afternoon but it was absolutely spectacular- the sun was shining, it was about 30 degrees and the sight of the snow-capped mountains took my breath away. We made the 9km climb up what was to be 'our' mountain and found our little apartment right in the centre of town-perfect! This was to be our little home for the next two weeks.

We settled in quickly and couldn't wait to get up the next day and start exploring. Of course we have trained in Switzerland for a few years now but we had never trained on these mountains so it was all very exciting. Justin had his maps out and was already plotting out new rides and runs and you could just see the enthusiasm radiating from him as he explained them to me.

We started the first morning with a ride down in the valley so we actually descended down 'our' mountain first before heading towards Martigny. It was just perfect- we stopped for a quick coffee in town and then headed back towards Verbier- of course we couldn't wait to climb back up as we knew this was exactly what the guys in the Tour would be doing on the coming sunday. Even though the climb is only just shy of 9kms, it is tough. Climbs in Europe are different to Boulder, Colorado as the gradient is so much more extreme. The climbs we had been doing in Boulder were much longer but not nearly as steep. This climb had so many switchbacks and the worst thing you could do was to look up as this just showed you how many more you had left to go. But it was well and truly worth the pain and effort and I knew I needed to 'like' this climb as I would be doing it practically every day for the next two weeks.

I decided it would be a great idea to run up the mountain before the Tour made its way up there- it was a lot of fun.

On sunday (Tour day) we caught the chairlift down to the bottom of the mountain and ran up the mountain- the road up had been closed to cars since early in the am so it was just perfect for running. You would not believe the amount of people, tents and RV's parked all the way up the climb- it was insane and I have never seen anything like it- there was not one spare piece of ground from bottom to top. The atmosphere was already electric and the boys were not due until much later on in the day. It was such good fun running up- people were cheering us on, others were riding up. There were bbq's on the go and the smell of sausages and bacon wafted all the way up the mountain. People were returning form the local bakeries with loaves of baguettes under each arm, beers in the other- great combination for 'Tour day'.

Once at the top we went and checked out the finish line and presentation stage. It was so cool to finally see it all live and not from the TV. We then went back to our little apartment to prepare for a day of watching- yes I had become the full cycling-groupie :)

At around 3.30pm we headed out to find the 'perfect' spot for watching. We found a great viewing platform at about the '800m to go' banner- it was up high so we could look straight down on them coming up the mountain. The parade of cars and floats that come through before the cyclists is amazing- I knew it would be big however I had no idea just how big and how much fun it would be- it was like carnivale time- music blaring, people singing and cheering, goodies being thrown out to the crowds- I loved it!

Then we could 'hear' the first rider coming up the mountain- I say hear because you knew someone was coming as the screaming and cheering was out of control. Then we could see him- one lone rider and we had a pretty good idea it was Contador. He was floating up the mountain- all alone with no other rider in sight. Then we started our stop watches to see just how much time he had- it was amazing. He pretty much won the Tour that day. We continued to watch the boys make their way up- some looking so strong and others just making it to the top any way they could, others content with 'cruising up' in the dining cart, chatting away like they were on a sunday bunch ride. The craziest thing was watching the riders who had already finished turn around almost immediately and start making their way back down the mountain to their accommodation for the next two nights(most of the teams were staying down in Martigny). There were still loads of riders making their way up the mountain and it must have been so demoralising for them to see the boys cruising back down.

The best thing about this stage was the fact that the next day they had a 'rest day' and four of the teams were staying up high in Verbier- Saxobank, Lampre, Milram and Columbia HTC were all staying in our town for the night and next day. I showed no restraint whatsoever and was the biggest cycling geek on the planet- taking photos of the buses, the bikes, the riders, the cars- you name it, I had a picture of it. A friend of mine is actually the media liason for Columbia HTC so I caught up with her for dinner and drinks and picked her brain- asking her so many questions about the riders and the Tour- she couldn't stop laughing and couldn't believe I was such a 'groupie'.

Justin and I decided we would ride down to Martigny for the day and check out all of the other teams who were staying down low for the rest day. The town was buzzing and all of the riders were out cruising and spinning their legs. It was unreal to be riding alongside the greatest cyclists in the world- they would all wave or say hello. Honestly I was giggling like a school girl. The best part was when we were leaving to ride home I turned to see Christoph Moreau right there in front of me- he said straight away 'bonjour' and I was like 'oh, shit, um bonjour Christoph'. He laughed and I laughed- it was unreal. Poor Justin had to put up with me talking about it and how he has always been my 'favourite rider' for the next 20kms.

It was quite sad when they all left the next day- the stage started down in the valley so we rode down early to watch them all go past on their way up the Grand St Bernard. I remember screaming at them when they went past and I swear I had eye contact with Lance- Justin reckons I was dreaming but I know what I saw! Well maybe I been in the sun a little too long but it didn't matter- it had been an amazing three days.

Life quickly returned to normal and our little town settled down and fell back into routine. We got some great training in and I even went and spent a couple of days with my old squad in Leysin- it was fun seeing them all again and catching up with Brett. We rode with them all to Chamonoix when they were on their way to Alpes du' Huez for the triathlon. It was beautiful ride but I don't think I have climbed so much in one ride ever. We were in the saddle for 8hrs that day.

The two weeks went by so quickly. I didn't want to leave. The training in Verbier was amazing- the riding and the running. There is one run that we did many times where you actually drive up to 2100m and can run on these great trails that are actually flat! We did all of our 'speed work' up there- it was killer! We cannot wait to return again next year as there are still so many rides and runs yet to be discovered. We packed up the car and made our way back to Germany.

Next up- Antwerp70.3 in Belgium!

Beks, Catriona and I hanging out at the Awards party for Quelle Challenge Roth.