My life seems to be a bit of a disaster zone at the moment. I got hit by a car on the way home from work last week. A driver didn’t stop at a crossroads where I had right of way and I went straight into the side of him smashing his door and window and snapping my forks. Not a nice feeling the split second between realising what is about to happen and hitting the floor! People quickly surrounded me panicking like mad having seen me flying up in the air and soon after an ambulance and the police arrived. What a palava!
I was pretty sore with colourful swollen bruises all down one side but my helmet saved me from the worst and I thought I’d got off lightly. I went to the doctor 3 days later for a checkup and after loads of tests, checks and worried looking faces I found out I’ve fractured a vertebra in my back (having ridden for 2 hours the day before!). My lovely road bike is written off too but at least the driver’s insurance should cover that.
SO annoyed. I’m stuck in rainy Zurich missing a long planned Easter mtb trip to Frejus in the south of France and can’t mountain bike for 6 weeks. To look on the bright side my German vocabulary now covers everything to do with crashing, dealing with police, ambulances, doctors and insurance.
I’m sticking to mountain bikes after this, much safer!
I might sound like some sort of over competitive psycho but 18 months without racing has confirmed that leisure cycling is just not enough for me. It’s not a cut throat nature or an obsession with winning that drives me though. I like a challenge. Racing gives you something to aim for, a focus for your riding and a reason to improve. You can always try to be faster than your mates or become a Strava local hero but its too easy to get stuck in a little bubble making little progress. Nothing pushes you outside your comfort zone more than a proper race.
Firstly there are nerves and pressure to deal with (usually self imposed, a week later everyone but you has forgotten your result). You certainly can expect to suffer, it seems possible to tolerate more pain in a race than at any other time but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant. For a beginner completing the distance or dealing with the terrain is probably enough of a challenge and as you get better it it your fellow competitors that force you to push your boundaries further, dig deeper on a climb or ride a descent faster than you ever thought possible. Of course pushing your boundaries brings the addictive sense of exhilaration that makes you forget all the bad parts and want to go back and race again as soon as possible. A good race gives you an enormous sense of achievement that you want to feel again, a bad race if viewed in the right way will give you the determination to train harder so that next time you can improve. Once you start racing the process becomes as important as the race itself. The goal may be to win a race but suddenly each ride has a purpose with little challenges and successes so that riding is just as enjoyable as competing.
A lot of people (especially girls!) get intimidated by the idea of racing. What if I’m not fast enough? What if I come last or don’t achieve the result I want? What if people laugh at me? What if I hate it? What if…? You’ll never know unless you try and by trying you have already beaten all the people who didn’t dare. Even with the worst race imaginable you can always learn something that will make you better the next time, in the long run you don’t fail. I always think the better the competition the better, I would always prefer to be beaten (even sometimes by miles!) than take an easy win in a local race. Rather than being intimidated by people better than you consider a race an opportunity to test yourself, find out where you stand and what you can improve.
To following my own wisdom I’ll be pushing my boundaries this year by trying Gravity Enduro for the first time. Scared? yes! I’ve signed up for a couple of races but it’s hard to tell what I’m letting myself in for, riding a big bike absolutely flat out on technical trails is very different to xc racing. I know I can keep up with most of my mates and I’m technically good enough at xc but realistically I’ve no idea how fast or slow I am compared to any enduro racers. I’m fully expecting to get my ass kicked in the beginning (especially since even the ‘local’ races around here are on the hardest terrain and full of world class people) but that will only make me more determined. Bring on the racing!
In an attempt to escape the never-ending snowy Swiss winter I spent several days last week riding Enduro trails in Finale Ligure. With almost year round sunshine and mountains that rise straight up from a pretty Italian town on the edge of the Mediterranean sea, Finale is fast becoming one of those must visit places for mountain biking and its easy to see why. A network of amazing trails run through the spectacular mountains surrounded by views of the sea, ancient castles, huge rocky gullies and pretty villages with great coffee (priority!).
Despite the reputation for sunshine we timed it wrong and had torrential rain nearly every day. The locals said they wouldn’t bother riding – it’s muddy, the rocks are really slippy and dangerous, it won’t be fun they advised. Of course we ignored them and found some amazing riding despite the mud and rivers running down the trails. They were right about the greasy rocks though, wet limestone would make road biking on sheet ice seem grippy! The trails are tough but incredible, long climbs followed by physical technical descents full of tight switchbacks, loose stones and rocky drops. Luckily I was on-board my new Specialized Stumpjumper Evo, the most fun bike you can ever imagine, it gets up the hills no bother and skips playfully back down taking anything you throw at it. Time to see what the fuss is about and try some enduro racing I think!
A monster 9 hour train ride later and I arrived back in Zurich to find spring has arrived, temperatures have gone up 10 degrees and the snow has melted – wahoooooo!
Last weekend I was back in sunny Ireland coaching for a women’s mountain bike skills weekend run by the Cycling Ireland Offroad Commission. Nearly 30 women with a variety of experience, skills and fitness signed up and enthusiastically took to the trails of Balinastoe.
On Saturday we took a lap of the trails, sessioning some sections and going over some trail skills. It was a long tough day but the determination, enthusiasm and improvements made by everyone were impressive. The next day we combined with the Biking Blitz race for some competitive experience – talk about throwing them in the deep end, a race with over 400 people and some of the girls had only been on a bike a few times before! Initial fear and feelings of intimidation were set aside and it was fantastic to see everyone getting really stuck into the race. There was a great sense of comradery and fun within the group and everyone finished with huge smiles having really enjoyed it . With a few podiums and a lot of potential talent hopefully there will soon be lots more women racing in the NPS.
The next women’s skills weekend will be the 6th and 7th of April in Ballyhoura – keep an eye on the Offroad commission website/facebook page for more details.
A big thanks to Think Bike for the loan of a super fast carbon Trek bike for the weekend!
Having promised myself that I would embrace the Swiss winter a bit more this year, xc skiing (skating variety) has become the new thing to do. Coming from cycling where I am used to being one of the faster and more skilled of the people I’m out with, it’s a humbling experience to learn something new from the very beginning. Especially when you’re out with people from Alpine or Scandinavian countries who have snow sports in their blood, I can’t help but feel genetically disadvantaged. That said it’s great to have new challenge, to have to learn new things and to see progression in doing so.
Einsiedeln is in the pre-Alpine hills 30 minutes from Zurich with a fairly easy xc loop that is perfect for learning. There are a lot of similarities with mountain biking, it’s a technical skill based sport, so although I found it easy enough to get up and running there is a lot to learn and think about to get more efficient and faster. The snow conditions have a big effect on what you’re doing and change all the time – wet snow, icy snow, deep snow all require different skills (something like riding bikes in mud or dust). Xc isn’t quite as adrenaline fueled as downhill skiing but its really cool to get away from the crowded slopes into the more remote mountains and as fitness training its amazing. You have to work hard all the time, even getting up even a small hill takes a lot of power and a lot of core and arm strength is required which should compliment mountain biking well. On uncontrollable skinny skis the small descents get very sketchy so there is no getting bored.
After 2 days of easy local skiing it was time for a weekend Alpine expedition to Pontresina in Engadin. The adventure began with a spectacular train journey up to the real mountains at 2000m where there are hundreds of kilometers of xc ski trails that take you past frozen lakes, fast flowing rivers, through woodlands and up empty valleys with views of glaciers. The skiing itself is far steeper, longer, harder and more technical than what I had done previously so I had my work cut out, especially when 15cm of fresh powder appeared on Sunday morning making things twice as hard. I had a bit of a sense of humour failure halfway up a long climb when I got dropped by my genetically advantaged companions and found myself alone and exhausted in a blizzard a long way from home. A hot chocolate in a cosy Alpine hut sorted me out before we shot back down to get the train home. Awesome weekend but must get better, next year I want to try racing…
Living in a country with four distinctly different seasons is a new experience for me. The day to day weather is generally more consistent but both summer and winter are more extreme. This takes some getting used to when you’re used to being able to do the same activities year around, but the changes are also exciting creating totally new opportunities for fun and adventure. I’ve now come full circle and know what to expect from the year ahead.
The season of anticipation, excitement. The snow starts to melt, the sunlight increases and can be as warm as Irish summer, the countryside turns green and thousands of seasonal cyclists start crawling out of the woodwork. I seriously thought I was in heaven until summer came. Every week horizons get broadened with higher trails becoming rideable as the snow gradually disappears. Its a slow process though and over enthusiasm was inevitable, I got stuck in snow a few times!
July and August here are incredible and whizzed by in a blur of adrenaline and excitement, there are so many opportunities and no where near enough time to make the most of them all. Back to back mad weekends of high alpine riding adventures. Hot evening rides followed by swimming in the lake, bbqs, riverside beers. Reliable sunshine that lasts for weeks not hours.
The time for dry, dusty rides in the mountains surrounded by spectacular autumn colours and mild temperatures. The horrible fog started to come back but its spectacular when your can get above it. With the imminent arrival of snow I found myself panicking and trying to fit in as much fun as possible before the dreaded winter arrived. There is then a nasty few weeks between autumn and winter that is more like winter at home – damp, grey and cold but its only short though, can’t complain.
You might wonder how a cyclist can survive in snowy Switzerland in winter but it is possible. Zurich itself doesn’t have much snow and its only a few degrees colder than at home so if you’re tough enough you can ride all year round. That said most people don’t because there are too many other opportunities out there. Last year I stubbornly resisted the snow but this year I’m embracing it a bit more for some variety…