Sunday, June 24, 2012

The shotgun and the Yihaa - Hilly Billy Roubaix

Before I move to Minnesota in six weeks, I plan on racing all the fun races I haven’t done in this area yet. I thought Hilly Billy Roubaix might be perfectly suited for that: A 72mi Ultracross race in Morgantown, WV with some 4,200 feet of climbing and a little dirt….shouldnt be too bad, right?

I borrowed a cross bike, adjusted the seat height and pumped the tires to 100 psi and felt ready to go. I conveniently neglected all email exchanges of tire width, pressure and food. I mean it’s only a bike race, right?

Well, my opinion changed quickly when I received the pre-race email with the warning that the race times could exceed 8 hours. Again, the email talked about tire width, pressure, etc. 

It dawned on me I am missing something here!

I went through all neglected emails and holy cow; this wouldn’t be a walk in the park! It sounds more like an adventure race than a road race.

When we arrived at the race site, I saw either mountain bikes or well decked-out cross bikes. When another racer recommended putting 50 psi in my tires down from my original 100 (I am such a road racer!), I realized that I really didn’t know what I was in for. I was thinking of the 8 hours the promoter was talking about and prayed that I wouldn’t exceed that!

I couldn’t worry too long anymore because the race with all 227 racers started soon and the adventures began.

If I wasn’t busy finding the line with the biggest chance of traction going uphill, I counted all passed people who would fly passed me on the descent. The downhill sections were even more challenging through partly deep loose gravel, especially when your technical skill set goes as far as hopping on a curb, like mine.

Even in the mechanical department, I didn’t do too lousy. I managed to get my chain caught in the spokes only twice and I only got one flat on one of the descents. When I retrieved my pump, some essentials parts were missing. Lucky me, someone stopped for me who had already two flats so he was not in any hurry to keep going. (Note to the promoter, maybe the race categories should be divided into quantity of flats?)

The scenery of West Virginia was spectacular. With 4,200 feet of climbing, one can imagine how often we had the chance to enjoy the landscape from the top of a mountain (once the whole cross-eyed thing and the gasping for air stopped). In the valleys we were reminded that we were in West Virginia. I don’t usually see a 12 year old running around with a shotgun over his shoulder in his garden or signs “children at play 7am-10pm”. One other fellow racer from West Virginia made his state proud by exclaiming Yihaaaa before every climb. When no shotgun or Yihaa in sight, then a creek bed or mud puddles.  Yeah, this course was far away from monotony.

The guy with the suuuuper fat tires and the single speed dude who passed me with such an impressive speed on the climbs added another level of entertainment. And nowhere else but in Morgantown, WV did I think I would meet someone from Austria, where I just raced two weeks ago.

Have I mentioned the aid stations yet? At mile 19, 38 and 58, volunteers provided you with everything a thirsty and hungry racer wanted. It was basically a drive-thru because the volunteers ran towards you and provided you what you needed. Kudos to all volunteers!!!

Kudos to the promoter and the volunteers of putting on such a well –organized race (and that from a German! ;))!

It was steep....

...and muddy....

...and rocky...

At the finish

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Etappenrennen in Langenlois

Als mir der Team Manager, Olaf Janson, die Chance gegeben hatte, mit einem Bundesligateam für vier Wochen in Europa Rennen zufahren, hatte ich absolute keine Vorstellungen, wie es denn so werden würde. Zuvor bin ich noch nie in Deutschland Rennen gefahren. Die Erfahrung würde auf jeden Fall einzigartig werden. Das kann ich auf jeden Fall bestätigen. Diesmal mit dem Etappenrennen in Langenlois in Österreich.

Elena, Heike, Gunda, Lena, Chiara, Franzi und ich sind mit Olaf, Anna, Günther und Andi am Donnerstag angereist, um die vier Etappen in drei Tagen zu bestreiten. Untergebracht waren wir in einem Schloss. Das hat das Erlebnis natürlich noch viel besser gemacht. Die Landschaft war malerisch, umgeben von Weinbergen.

Die erste Etappe war eine 102 km flache Strecke mit abenteuerlicher Streckenführung, die permanente Konzentration forderte. Da sich keine Gruppe absetzen konnte, sind wir alle (abzüglich einiger Gestürzter) nahezu gemeinsam im Ziel eingelaufen.

Am zweiten Tag standen gleich 2 Rennen auf dem Plan. Ein 12 km Bergsprint im Massenstart und ein 14 km Einzelzeitfahren. Um die Sache ein bisschen spannender zu machen, hat’s auch gleich mal geregnet. Trotz des Wetters war die Stimmung im Team super.

Der dritte Tag umfasste ein 69 km langes, bergiges Rundstreckenrennen. Ja, bergig war’s auf jeden Fall. Ein bisschen Kopfsteinpflaster, ein bisschen Regen, ein bisschen steile Abfahrt und ein bisschen sehr steile Auffahrt hat das Feld gesprengt. Somit hat jeder von uns topographische Herausforderungen und Wetterlage in einer kleinen Gruppe genießen können. Bei weniger Leuten um sich herum hat man ja dann auch bessere Aussicht über die Landschaft.

Das Wochenende hatte mir die Möglichkeit gegeben, die Mädels besser kennen zulernen. Alle richtige Hingucker mit lebensfroher Art und super Einstellung zum Team. Vielen Dank an alle für solch eine super Erfahrung!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Last race in Europe - Austria

Seven Team Stuttgart girls - four stages - two days of rain - one castle - a ton of crashes in a picturesque setting in the Austrian Langenlois - that would be the snapshot of the three day stage race the past weekend.

When we arrived on Thursday a surprise awaited me - we would stay in a castle. Ok, havent had that one yet for race accommodation. Langenlois, the town all races started and ended in, is surrounded by hills covered with vineyards. It was gorgeous!

The first race - the flat 120km road race - told  the story of European racing. The peloton was aggressive, unpredictable and for first-time users, nerv-wrecking. The course and scenery were spectacular.

Aggressive: Elbow rubbing and cutting lines is standard. One girl didnt want to just push me out of the way so she gave me a hug before she did. I was stunned. It seemed that there is a different attitude towards crashes. No one cares. With or without doesnt matter. During the fourth race, I saw a girl climbing out of a creek bed because she crashed in a corner over the rail. Nothing special it seems. I talked to a girl that raced three days after a car collision where she suffered a concussion. I havent heard that one before.

Unpredictable: The average age of the women's field is way younger than in the US. I would guess early 20s. Thus, racers have less experience and take more risks. Total abrupt stops out of nowhere are not unusual. In addition, there is way more stuff on the roads - traffic islands, signs, cars, whatever is there stays there. Thus, every passage through narrowings becomes an adventure and a game of luck.

Courses and scenery: I raced in Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria and all of the courses were phenomenal. All super challenging. The elevation profile in the racing booklet doesnt mean anything. From the race in Switzerland a week ago, I learned that their elevation chart must be fitted to the scale of Alpe d'Huez. Because the profile seemed so flat! Someone should show me where they built in that massive climb in that elevation chart!
Oh and one minor detail. Only head wind exists here! Dont ask. I havent figured it out yet.

I definitely had to get used to a different kind of racing here. So even more I appreciated the help and the friendship of my Team Stuttgart! I was so happy to be part of such a great team. Thank you very much Gunda, Lena, Heike, Elena, Chiara, Franzi, Andrea for a great time in Europe. And a huge thanks to the team director Olaf and team support Anna and Frank!

Upper row: f.l.: Chiara, Franzi, middle row: Monika, Elena, Gunda, lower row: Lena, Heike