Thursday, July 27, 2017

UCI Mountain Bike World Championships - Vallnord, Andorra

UCI Mountain Bike World Championships - Vallnord, Andorra, Jun 21st 

6th place finish


What a trip, what a week, what an adventure!

I am completely in love with Andorra! Yes, the mountains here are steep as hell and give you no warm up even for your mind, but that’s the fascinating thing about them! They just go straight up from your hotel room up to the sky with no shame. There is no gradual approach to things here, everything is kind of on the very real part of life, no makeup, no delusions, things are just the way they are and I completely love it that way!

Myself and my Pax spent more than fabulous week in Andorra. Absorbed by the beauty of the mountains, we lived through the training and racing here, soaked up the scenery and explored it as much as we could. Probably it was one of the best and most meaningful trips we ever had, where I feel we both dug into what this whole area was about. We rode for fun, we rode performance, we rode for training, we watched others race, we climbed the mountains, we smelled the flowers and submerged our bodies in the frigid cold mountain streams. My soul was so complete there I cannot explain. We were never in our room even though it was beautiful. We would have splendid breakfast full of fresh baked good, fruits, cheese, freshly brewed coffee (and I don’t even drink coffee) and we would be out and about, exploring, exploring and exploring some more. We would come back just to shower off and head back out for dinner. That was a good life and best part was just being out there all day long every day no matter what was going on, who was racing, if it was sunny or it was throwing rocks out of the sky. We experienced it all and we loved it!

People in Andorra are awesome too, not only all the racers, the people that I met year before in Italy, all the new friends that I made here but also the race staff was great! We experienced only the most kindness from anyone we had pleasure to spend the time with.

And the mountains, I miss already this steep never ending climb and descent so much every day. To be honest it had been so hard now to find desire to get out and bike on my local trails, yes, they are fun, yes, they are technical, there is a lot of yesses going on and even more hard work put by volunteers, those trails did turn a regular girl into a mountain biker after all but, but something is missing. This raw nature of high mountains and being able to just climb up or practice descending and having a wind in your hair any time you wish is all that is missing. And also, the temperatures at least in those summer months were great. This is I feel my new home away from home… I simply never wanted this trip to end.

Usually we would leave home right after my race but this time was different. We stayed around for quite a few days longer and those were the best days ever that I can recall. I have been living life on a go since I remember, really since I was just a little girl. But finally, I got this tiny break where I don’t have to be anywhere, do anything, this little moment in space where I can just be. It felt wonderful… It was not completely by choice but it worked out for the best, I could not stop myself from wanting to explore this new territory more and more every day. My soul had been made for adventures, for excitement, for the unknowns, this is what drives me every day and what I am living for and looking for each time the sun rises. I’m glad I was able to experience it this time and feed my senses and the hungry spirit. Everyday life is not easy and escapes like this don’t come often, but when they do they are full of bliss.

The course. The course is awesome. It’s not a little easy peasy thing by any means, it’s hard, it’s always technical, it’s always up or down, it has lots of single track and you are being consistently challenged and pushed to the limit while still having fun. The climbs are tough, most of the climbing in single track is technical, all of it is highly exhausting since the altitude, steepness and natural elements. All the descending is tricky, tough and requires lots of open mind and commitment. You are at all times on the edge, gasping for air and at the apex of excitement. The initial climb from the start will wind you up, the rooty technical climb to the rock garden will make sure your legs feel like noodles by the time you get there, then the bumpy and rocky approach to the rock garden when you just have to go will test your commitment, you will have to pick best line and trust in your abilities. Then comes the steep, narrow, dh part of the course called the rampage, super fun but really rough, especially when wet. Everything is on the angle here and all roots are off camber. Then comes the soul sucking red zone climb, nothing more to do here but put your head down, grind your teeth, keep of spinning and know in your heart that there is an end somwhere. There is so much to this course throughout, steep drops (or roll downs as Emily batty calls them), more steep climbs, super-fast descends in the massive berm setting, the NASA bridge and super-fast section right before finish. This is pretty brilliant course but to ride if well and ride it fast you got to be amazingly well rounded and skilled. That’s why the world’s best gather here and show up on the start line! This is no joke, everyone is a champion here and it’s not like medals for everyone crew. We have champions and best of their countries and one of the best in the world in what they do including former pros and Olympic medalists. Everyone is fast here and it makes it for heck of the race!


After the most beautiful, almost hot and sunny morning the day before my race we had front roll in with torrential rain at first which turned into the hail storm of epic proportion. It hailed for so long and so hard that course flooded instantly and all the exposed areas of it were covered with masses of cold, white piles of massive hail. Therefore, the men’s afternoon race had been postponed until the next morning. Which meant those guys will be racing right before my race. Because of the whole extreme weather, we were trapped on the mountain for the longest time and could not take gondola down to go back to the hotel and get warm again. We were simply freezing for the longest time. The weather is quite unpredictable out here and ever changing and next time I will remember to carry with myself the layers of clothing rather than leaving it back in the car or even hotel!

When I got to the race site the following day it was beautiful and sunny again with the bluest, picture perfect sky. But the course was still wet from the massive storm day before. When I got out on the part of the course for few minutes my front tire slid on the bed of wet roots and I hit myself so hard in my knee that it swelled up on the instance.

I ended up sitting before my race with the ice pack on it for the longest time in hopes for the swelling to go down. The staging that took place very soon got me little nervous, since each time they read out the next person and then the next one, it was still not me. Finally, I got last spot in the first line, which was really not accurate since I placed 4th last year but the order of lineup was based on the different parameters this time which had nothing to do with racing.

Standing there was slightly nerve-racking but it all went away when they finally send us off!

Short asphalt sprint and we went to the small descent with a turn. I didn’t have the best start and was somewhere mid pack. And now the grassy climb was ahead of us, this is where the suffering begins and will not end until the whole race is over. It was hard, but no one said it was going to be easy. I was not in the position I wanted to be and honestly the altitude and fatigue almost completely let me lose track. I regained some clarity on the top and started assessing the situation, I made it to the top of rock garden through the slippery roots and it was quite awesome since those are really tough sections. I had little traffic on the rock garden but all got cleared nicely as well as the whole rampage section.

In the red zone, of course we all suffered but I felt pretty ok here, well at least on first two laps. With all the grinding that had to be done here I managed nice passes on people from my class and whomever else was there around at that time. It felt bad but felt good too; if it makes any sense to anyone. The roll downs or drops required some courage from me and I had to really focus and clear my mind to commit to some of them. The rest of the climbs and fast descents were really great. But it’s such a different filling to do it in the race, it’s just so much harder! On the drop that I really disliked toward the end of the first lap, very young and fast racer was down, she was right on the bottom of it being pulled on the stretcher out of everyone’s way. What was super lose and dry just day before now was pretty saturated, the whole thing changed to totally different course. And as weather man predicted (by the way all the weather predictions were to the tee!) it started to rain on my second lap, changing the conditions even more so. I found myself every lap picking completely different lines just to make it through. I was very proud of myself how I was handling it and finding my way through this ever evolving and difficult track. I pushed my mind and my body pretty far and was holding now solid fifth position for the full second and first half of the final lap. After I cleared rock garden I looked back and saw only one person further behind who I passed before and she was not even from my class. I felt pretty safe with my spot and assumed that would be my finishing stand. But things were so much different now on this last lap, it was even more slippery, the rain penetrated through the pine trees and covered all the off-camber roots on this steep descent. My front tire gave up on me few times on those icy roots, I was losing traction and losing confidence in myself at the same time. I should have trusted myself more but I didn’t. I started feeling like I will slip now on every off-camber root I see and every drop and the whole trail was covered in that and only that, there was nothing more to it. I didn’t ride here as well as I should have or was capable of, I felt like I was wasting too much time. And I did indeed, by the time I was about to exit and hit the red zone climb once again I heard noise behind me. It was Meghan from Australia who did catch up with me. It was not long in when she did position herself side by side with me and soon after pulled and climbed away. I didn’t have much more to add to it, I was already tired, breathing hard, spinning on my last gear and it all looked pretty slow and miserable. I didn’t know about it then but my seat post somehow went down and I ended up sitting lower than I should. This probably didn’t make it any easier on me too. Also, the climb which is full of little, flat wet now rock was not the easiest to cover, considering its grade and how long it continues for. All and all I was in sixth now and there was not much more I could do about it. I rode as good and as fast as I was capable of on the second half of the lap, but I was not getting any time back, she got away too far and I had to settle for sixth.

That was the shortest and one of the hardest races I had to ever race in. In the blink of an eye it was all over. Now all I had was to reflect, look back, reassess, be happy about all the good that took place and remember the things that I still have to work on and that I could change if I had another opportunity like that.

Quite few things went wrong and were off and did affect my race. One was spending three out of four nights pretty much with no sleeping. One of them was of course our crazy long travel to get to Andorra with ridiculous flight delays and all the extra fun that comes with traveling that far. Two, first time in my life I forgot my clif drink for that only particular day and was racing just on plain water alone. I was bummed because of it but of course I still had clif gels on me which I could rely on but that was a big loss not to have the proper drink. Three, the seat post sliding down occurrence was just more than annoying and I cannot even tell when this happened and if I did most of my race if not whole with my saddle way too low. Four, the rain, this for sure messed up everything that I knew about this course from the prior days.

It’s crazy how all the training, dreaming, planning, all the preparations and wondering, everything that takes weeks, months and years was just summed up in this short little over an hour race!

That’s a lot to process and also to understand that the smallest decision or incidence on the course will have quite a big impact on the end result. In long distance racing things can be corrected since there is so much time to fix any mistakes, here whatever happened here, happened rather quickly and took just enough out that it cannot be undone most of the time. Every detail is crucial and you are on the end of your limits and pushing yourself even beyond them. This makes things even that much harder. 

And there was silence. The air, the mountains around, and the excitement was now long gone.

It was time to step out, forget about wants and musts and look around instead and enjoy time that we have to ourselves and start to do things that feed our senses.

So, we did it. We did some epic riding, climbing, descending, cheering, hiking, sightseeing. We spent some good time with new friends, got to love those awesome Ozie’s! We arranged the most incredible hiking that I had chance to do in many years which took us some eight hours to complete to highest peak in Andorra, Coma Pedrosa. The views were completely sick and the day was filled with so much hard work but also so much pure joy!

It was great to do the climb with my Pax and Meghan who become my good friend after she overtook me on this never to be forgotten climb and took the fifth spot. It was pleasure to meet people outside of the race site. I loved all Australian crew, and especially David who I spent some great time riding with. I am grateful for the company, advise and patience on those beautiful trails.

Downhill tracks here are awesome too and I’m happy I had a chance to get out and ride them even thought I was on my little hard tail bike! Noting can beat thirty plus minutes of pure descending. It was quite brilliant experience and I would not miss it for anything!

I am so grateful to be able to live through such an adventure and share it with my Pax.

From witnessing this course on the TV first time, seeing pros racing it on the UCI world cup circuit, to dreaming about it, preparing for it, racing finally here and just being able to touch the ground with my own tire and breath the same crisp and thin air. We found our way to step into our dream and make it real.

There was so much of great things that took place during this time; so many adventures, so many stories and feelings. Too bad that the moment I felt I mastered sitting for prolonged amount of time in the frigid cold mountain stream it was time to leave… On my last day sitting there in this shimmering, ever rushing clear and refreshing water, I did not want to get out. The green leaves were basking in the hot sun, pink flowers were standing proudly in the tall grass to the side, some warm rays were hitting my skin while the cold fresh water was rushing and cooling off my body… There was tranquility, peace, harmony and complete lack of time. It was just me and the moment. I love life that way…

I am happy also that I was able to share my experiences with everyone through my reporting during that time. The feedback and all the encouraging was so great to see, thank you all for following my journey and cheering me on throughout! It is always helpful and motivating!

And all those that I met on my trip. Simply I am going to miss you my friends and hope so much to see you again soon…

Special Thanks go to:

City Bikes, Castelli, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, Trainer Road, ESI Grips, Clif, XpedoGarden of Life, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, EVOC, Oakley, Pocketfinder, KMC Chains, Rotor Bike Components, K-Edge, Squirt Lube, SelleSMP and for 2017 - Trek and CeramicSpeed

Until next time!

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