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On top of the world: The Gunn-Rita Dahle diary 2005
Norwegian cross-country mountain bike racer Gunn-Rita Dahle is probably the best female rider this relatively young branch of the sport has ever seen. World champion in 2002 and 2004, Olympic champion in 2004 and unbeaten in the World Cup in 2003 and 2004, she has a breath-taking palmares.
Dahle says her success is due to an unrelenting focus - she describes herself as a '24-hour athlete' - and the constant support of her boyfriend and coach Kenneth Flesjå. Follow her exploits on Cyclingnews as she works to stay at the top of her game in 2005. Or, for more Gunn-Rita, see her personal website: www.gunnrita.com
May 8, 2005 (posted May 11, 2005)
Fantastic victory in Madrid
The exquisite taste of revenge in the World Cup in Madrid this time around was thoroughly enjoyable. This victory secured me the rainbow jersey for the World Cup again, even though I have the same number of points as Marie-Helene, who won the first round in Belgium two weeks ago. It looks like we might be having many a tough duel before the season is over, and probably lots of nail-biting suspense. It was a historic day for Norwegian mountain biking, with two Norwegian girls way up there, as Lene Byberg surprised everyone by getting an impressive fifth place.
I don't often shed tears of joy after crossing the finish-line, but today was particularly eventful, with both my own revenge for the last race, plus an amazingly good result for Lene. Lene's fantastic result gives both of us much of the motivation, self-confidence and happiness which is invaluable for everything that's in store over the next few months. The support and help I've been able to give Lene through the winter has really paid off, and it makes me very happy.
Lene is already proving that she is capable of holding her own amongst the world's elite, and she will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. She works hard, is goal-oriented, and has the right attitude and a passion for mountain-biking. The result today has given her a trump card for getting into an international pro team during the year. For this season she has already got a few personal sponsors, in addition to a contract with Merida Norway and Stians Sport, which enables her to travel and compete with the world's elite.
It felt especially good today to be back at the top. Once again Kenneth and I were sure of our preparations, which consisted of minor adjustments every day, plus the same set-up and programme for the last week before an important race. I had a good feeling in my muscles today, and my legs were completely different from the World Cup opening in Spa a fortnight ago. The third round of the World Cup is in three weeks, starting in Houffalize in Belgium - a so-called 'classic' within mountain biking, which I'm really looking forward to.
High standard in MTB
After being successful over the past two seasons, I'm repeatedly asked about the present standard in mountain-biking. I'll just give you a small comparison between mountain-biking and road-racing, and that can also perhaps explain a bit about the standard. Nicole Cooke, from Britain, has consistently been one of the best women in road racing during recent seasons, and is perhaps one of the greatest talents in cycling today at an age of 22. She was junior world champion in both on and off-road just a few years back, but has gone 100 percent in for road racing these past years.
This year Nicole has decided to race off-road as well, even though her main focus is still on road racing. She won the road World Cup, Fleche Wallonne, (which I also took part in and came 11th) five days before the first MTB World Cup this season. Nicole did a good job at Spa and came in 13th, but today she was 29th. This comparison shows firstly that mountain biking, as opposed to road racing, is a completely different discipline, even though both involve a bicycle. One must work hard, training specifically for skills needed in one's chosen discipline, and be professional at all levels in order to be able to make a mark amongst the world's best. And that's the case whether you're talking about road racing or mountain biking.
I would go as far as to claim that there is a greater difference between road racing and mountain biking than there is between cross-country skiing and biathlon (cross-country skiing combined with target-shooting). In mountain-biking we ride a completely different bike, where the frame, wheel size and most of the kit is different. The terrain consists of anything but asphalt, the distances we travel are different, and in mountain biking there is little focus on co-operation between riders within the same team. In road racing the intensity varies very much, depending on whether a rider is climbing, descending hills or making a break, in addition to their tasks as part of the team. Technique, concentration, focus and average speed are all different compared to road-racing.
On a round course, like I ride, the race takes around two hours, meaning that you're near your max (up towards one's lactic acid threshold) and even above it throughout the race. If I had gone for road racing instead, I would have trained in a very different way from what I do today in order to be the best in the world. This is a short version of the difference between road racing and mountain biking, but maybe enough to help the reader understand that trying to gauge the standard of women's mountain biking on the performance of riders crossing over disciplines is a bit irrelevant because each is so different, and making an overall statement on the standard is too difficult.
New carbon frame
Today I raced on the brand new carbon frame from Merida, which I had a spin on at the beginning of the week. The biggest difference is the weight, plus more flex in the crank and rear triangle. This gives a much more comfortable ride and better flow, and the bike looks incredibly cool. It was naturally quite fun to be the first rider to win a race on this new frame, and hopefully there will be many more victories for the whole of the Multivan Merida Biking Team through this season.
The day in the saddle was exciting from beginning to end. Marie-Helene Premont was in front through the whole first round, with Spanish rider Margarita Fulana and me hanging on her back wheel. I took the lead a good kilometre before the second round, and had six seconds' lead on Premont as I started on the second round. Then I proceeded to gradually increase my lead through the race; but for a long time my lead was a consistent 20-25 seconds, and that's not much of a margin, especially on such a flat and quick course as the one in Madrid.
At the most I had a lead of 56 seconds to the Canadian rider Premont, but didn't feel safe before I rolled into the stadium, as we once again experienced a fantastic welcome from tens of thousands of Spaniards. At the men's race this afternoon a good 40,000 Spaniards made their way to the park, Casa di Campa, where the World Cup was held. We did the same course last year, which was the opening race of the World Cup series for the 2004 season.
Two whole days at home
And now I'm looking forward to two days at home on the sunny coast of Norway, after almost six weeks of constant travelling. We're flying home again tomorrow afternoon, and will have Tuesday and Wednesday at home with a load of activities on our programme as usual. On Thursday we're going to Oslo where we're taking part in an interesting programme with sponsors and various media. On Saturday we're taking part in the Norwegian Cup at Lørenskog. On Sunday, Kenneth and I are flying to Lisbon where we're going to mix with great sports stars from around the world at the Laurent Sports Awards. It'll undoubtedly be a memorable occassion in many different ways, and we're looking forward to it very much.
We've enjoyed summer and sun here in Madrid with up to 30 temperatures all week, and we really hope that the weather gods at home are in a similarly sunny mood. I don't know quite how I'm going to manage to wash all my dirty clothes in such a short time, but it'll probably work out. On Wednesday evening we're meeting the whole family at a restaurant in downtown Stavanger for a really enjoyable evening together, with laughter and all sorts of craziness. You'll all hear from us again after the stay in Portugal, which will probably be very exciting.
Exercise trip of the week: I raced Kenneth on the race-course here in Madrid on Thursday, and he really had to dig deep...
Dinner of the week: Mexican evening this evening together with the whole of the Multivan Merida Biking Team.
Advice of the week: It's important to get enough sleep when one has a tight schedule and action-packed days like we're going to be having at home. Sufficient sleep will be one of my main focuses for the week, in order to get the most out of what we plan to do.
Cyclist's greetings from Gunn-Rita
Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange