The adventure continued after Czech when Mel and I flew from Brno to Milan for the final round of the World Cup series. We had a week to recover, acclimatise to some extreme heat and get to grips with another new course set in the spectacular alpine area of Val di Sole.The most noticeable feature of the course was the hills. They managed to fit in more incredibly steep climbs into than you would ever think possible, making it one of the toughest courses I’ve ever ridden (230m vertical climb over a 4.2km lap!). There was a mixture of fireroad, grassy meadows and greasy, rocky singletrack climbs, all of which were steep and hard. On top of this temperatures were in the mid 30s making doing anything fast feel like a chore never mind riding your bike. Luckily the climbs were interspersed with flowing alpine singltrack, fast rocky trails and rooty switchback descents so there was still a lot of fun to be had. With 4 days to train on the course and since most people had also travelled straight there from Czech, there were opportunities to follow and learn from some of the best riders in the world, making sure we knew the best lines on the technical sections. A race pace lap on Wednesday left me wondering how a full race could be possible with the heat nearly killing me, but natural ice baths in Alpine rivers were perfect to cool off afterwards. Race morning was slightly more stressful than I’d have liked, we somehow managed to miss the fact that the race was starting half an hour earlier than originally advertised meaning we spent a frantic 20 minutes running round sorting new feed zone support, finding timing chips and arriving on the start line having had no warmup at all (luckily less important in the ridiculous heat). In comparison the pros sat spinning on their turbos shaded by umbrellas, wearing cooling ice vests and able to focus on the actual race ahead. Some day.
Bang, off again. Within seconds I was caught at the back of a crash leaving me chasing the back of the pack as we hurtled around a flat start loop. Before long we were into a long climb and I was able to get up to a group of the same riders I was around last week. There was the usual first lap queueing and aggression with riders scrabbling to try and make up places where ever possible. Eventually things spread out a bit but the combination of heat and steep climbs was killing me. It felt like all the trail sessioning earlier in the week was going to waste, the climbs took so much energy that I was left wrecked for the first half of every descent, all over the place struggling to recover and gain some composure.
As time went on I was going backwards, loosing contact with the group I was with and eventually getting passed from behind. It was like racing in an oven and I just couldn’t push hard. The shorter laps this year are making it increasingly difficult to stay in the race and I got pulled due to the 80% rule with 2 laps to go, much sooner than I’d have liked.
Racing the world cups this year has been an amazing experience and I’ve learnt a lot. Next year I’ll know what to expect and have a huge list of things to do differently which will make racing easier. Travel arrangements will be far easier doing it for the 2nd time, I’ll know to train on the steepest climbs I can find, to train in a sauna, to go to the manager’s meeting before a race, to allow more time than you can ever imagine to get to an Italian airport, that you can’t fit 2 bike bags in a Fiat Panda, to rob a bank so I can fund some more races….
Racing aside we had a great week camping and enjoying an outdoor lifestyle, catching up with other riders from all over the world and giving the bronzed Italian posers something to stare at by revealing our cycling tan lines at the swimming pool. It took a lot of dedication not to waste energy exploring the local singletrack, or to overdose on pizza and icecream before the race but off course everything is ok in moderation!
More photos of the trip here.