2nd place at 1st round of British Series for Lapierre UK. Pleased about that!

All that form finding in South Africa was worth it today at Sherwood Pines, near Nottingham. With the disappointment of the World Cup still ringing in my ears, I went into the domestic series a bit upset with mountain bike racing and all the painful lessons it has to teach you. Remarkable how a good result turns things round so quick. I ve not been home since 15th Feb though so I m on my way there now. Only 9 hours driving left to go before 2 weeks of build for the next World Cup in Houffalize Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

You win some and you lose some. I lost this one!

Well that didn’t go according to plan. The World Cup at Pietermarizburg was what I had been building towards this past month so bearing the bad luck I suffered was hard. I was sure I had worked hard enough to get my best ever result in a World Cup but I blew my back tyre off on a drop and that was the end of that. Still, that’s mountain bike racing. Its how you handle the disappointment and insecurity that comes with a bad result that makes or breaks the rider. I don’t feel broken. Just a few hairline cracks that will heal with some positive reflection on the rest of my time here in SA. I’m flying home tomorrow ready to hit round 1 of the British National Series at Sherwood Pines next weekend. The cracks should be filled in again by then. Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

On safari

We are in St Lucia which is an interesting world heritage site on an estuary full of crocs and hippos. We saw some yesterday from a boat at sunset. Did you know hippos could run at 15km per hour on the river bed and hold their breath for 3 minutes?
We are taking some time away from Pietermaritzburg before the World Cup this weekend because we are all a little sick of it and bike racing.
I am spending my morning in a bizarrely kitch coffee shop calling itself Tymes Square which is decked out Alice in Wonderland style. The staff are all wearing pink polo shirts and pearl necklaces and copies of House and Garden are littered everywhere.
Safari yesterday was amazing. The guide was pretty anxious we might not have had a good time because of the volume of the voice of the annoying american expressing his disappointment at their being no animals but I was impressed. We got up at 5am and made our way to a game reserve in an open topped truck. It was pissing it down and a bit cold but I was alright cos I had lots of clothes on. We sat there getting buffetted around my warminsh wind and rain and watched the sun slowly rising over the most incredible green jungle hillside. We drove until 7 when we got off the truck for breakfast and hoped we weren't eaten by anything. Afterwards while the mist was still rolling about in the valleys we bounced along the dirt roads in search of game. We saw a rino who walked like me, giraffes, massive spiders, buck, vilderbeast, tortoise, warthog, zebra, a herd of elephants, a very cool male deer type thing with orange strips and yellow legs and (with eyes like a hawk from his time on the veld) the guide spotted a lioness on a far off hillside. And baby elephants. Did I mentio those? Very cool.
Then we had a braai for lunch, came home then went off croc and hippo spotting on the boat. Very eventful day.
I am feeling absolutely dreadful tho. After last weekends racing my body has given up. I have a hacking cough, sore throat and ears and every time I stand up I think to myself I don't want to be doing that for long. I slept 9 hours last night tho so I m hoping that will help with the mend.

I've got a couple of days left before I have to find the form of my season for Saturdays World Cup. 

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World Cup Test Event eventful.

Ooft! Yesterday was the Category 2 World Cup test event at Cascades, South Africa and IT WAS HARD. 5.8km and nearly 250m climbing per lap after 5 laps was always going to smart a bit. Throw into the mix a 3 foot drop, 5 foot steep log section and 2 rock gardens then stand back and watch how a riders bike handling ability deteriorates over this length of time. Well, you can watch how mine deteriorates anyway if you go on U Tube. Its not graceful. By lap 5 my hip flexors and forearms were cramping so badly I couldn’t stand up or brake which made things interesting. But I finished. I consolidated a good start and sat in 9th place for 3 laps then, as my body began to object, I just tried to minimise my losses in the final stages of the race. I dropped a couple of places but still managed to finish 12th against some of the best riders in the world. Cecile Ravanel took the win from Annie Last who came in 10 seconds later. Next weekend we step up for the World Cup on the same course but against double the size of field. 60 plus women will battle it out at next weeks World Cup. Let’s hope I can hold on. Literally. In the youth races, my Orange Monkey house mates dropped like flies with 2 boys suffering 2 broken wrists. In the men’s race, Nino Shuchter took the win with SA’s own Bury close on his heels. Today, after a recovery spin, we all head north for a couple of days respite on safari. More Giraffes. That’s what is needed. Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Getting your balance right. Secrets of mountain bike racing

Yesterday it rained long and hard but it stayed warm as we splooshed our way through the streets of Pietermaritzburg on our way to practise the World Cup course. It felt a bit like riding through that tepid foot bath of water you must brave before accessing a public swimming pool, minus the floating plasters thankfully.
We started out on a lap of the course to find trail builders everywhere depositing crushed gravel all over the soft, red earth in the hope that the trail might better survive the forecast weather. Consequently, our tyres picked up enough clagging mud to double the weight of our bikes as we ploughed on in an effort to learn some lines.
When we dropped into the first technical section of the course, hearts started beating a little faster at the idea of having to nail a 3 foot drop followed by either a gap jump or an insanly steep stepped log section. While all the lads stood around discussing possibilities and getting wound up, a calm came over me. I felt light and in control and knew I could ride the section with that certainty you feel when all your movements slot together fluidly and seemingly without thought. Despite the rain and the mud and the nervous boys I rode those logs that day, perfectly balanced in my body and head. I ll admit that the exit wasn’t too graceful but the important part was nailed and all because of balance. Not too much in my thought and not too much in my feelings but just trusting all those hours of practice that began when I started to take my own weight 33 years ago (that’s a lot of practise by the way).
Later that day, when the boys went off to the mall, I stayed to attend the birthday party of the 7 year old of the couple we are renting our cottage from. There, on their covered deck, with the rain teaming down and surrounded by small, wet children, birthday cake and cups of tea I realised that this was part of the balance too. To be able to keep bike racing in perspective and spend 2 hours creating involved birthday cards and pet avocados out of candles and physio tape. To feel light and in control on the bike takes more than churning out the miles and sessioning the rock gardens. It takes patience, perspective and creativity. If only half a person launches themselves off a drop off, inevitably they lose their balance. Its hard to remember all the time when you re out here and your job is racing but I m trying. With the help of a 7 year old.

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4th place at Karkloof Cat 2 UCI race. That hurt!

With the Europeans starting to trickle in to South Africa in preparation for the World Cup in 2 weeks time, this race was always going to be a step up in terms of competition. A relatively flat course with some really tricky rocky sections meaning no rest and maximum concentration required.
Lene Byberg, 3rd in the world at the end of last season was next to me on the start line along with her team mate, Cecile Ravanel. Candice Neethling and Yolande Speedy were also up from representing South Africa. The rest of the field lined up behind us comprising mostly of SA riders. From the gun, Yolande and I led it out up the dusty jeep road and I was sitting second going into the first single track. I took the lead for a while before the French riders found their legs and took the lead. We were 4 moving together to the top of the first climb before I took a bit too much out of myself on the last climb and went over the bars going into the first descent. Sitting in 5th now I consolidated and determined to make no more mistakes and this is how it stayed until the last lap, all 5 of us within 45 seconds of each other. Then the French riders pulled away and Yolande followed at a gap. I could see Candice ahead and when her gears jammed on the final climb I took my 4th place back and pinned it to the finish. A really hard, hot, relentless race but I felt strong which bodes well for the next couple of weeks. With Cyclone Irene due to hit SA in the early hours tomorrow though it might mean some enforced rest now. No bad thing if you ask my tired wee pins!

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The most spectacular race venue ever, Karkloof South Africa

Karkloof_waterfall

This has got to be the most impressive race venue on the UCI circuit. The A line goes off that waterfall! There is a B line that takes you along the top of those limestone cliffs though if you’re scared. This is the next Category 2 race we’ll be doing and it takes place here this Saturday. If you remove the 500ft waterfall huck, it’s a pretty flat course with some wee power climbs and a couple of very tricky rock sections. Most of it though, true to SA form, is fast flowing fun on dusty single track. I am pooped though. On course practise today I could not get it together. Legs aching, stomach churning. I’ve got another day to get my flow back and then, like it or not, I’m on that start line. Better get in the hammock…