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On top of the world: The Gunn-Rita Dahle diary 2006
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, 2004 and 2005, Olympic champion in 2004 and rarely beaten in the World Cup in 2003, 2004 and 2005, 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 husband and coach Kenneth Flesjå. Follow her exploits on Cyclingnews as she works to stay at the top of her game in 2006. Or, for more Gunn-Rita, see her personal website: www.gunnrita.com
Championships summary, September 11, 2006
Savouring a unique performance
[Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange]
Here I sit on my small aeroplane seat, savouring the tired feeling in my whole body. We've already been travelling for a good 20 hours, and there's still a long way to go. The most important race of the season is already history, and we can look back on an extremely exciting and challenging period which has taught us a lot and given us a lot.
We celebrated the World Championship gold medal at a good Indian restaurant in Rotorua, New Zealand, in good company. We didn't stay up late, since I was worn out after the race on Sunday and everything else that's been happening during the last weeks. We'll have a proper celebration of the gold medal in two weeks when we get back to Stavanger again.
Demanding race period
Kenneth and I have already talked through and evaluated a lot of what has been achieved and experienced during these last five weeks. When we mapped out the season of 2006, we realised that the championship period this year would be extremely tough if we chose to go for all four championships. Our goal was to take a medal at every single championship (European Championship Marathon, European Championship Cross-Country, World Championship Marathon and World Championship Cross-Country).
Back in November 2005 we were unsure as to whether it would be possible to see through what we've now managed. We asked ourselves whether we weren't being just a little too ambitious. We were aware that it would be imperative to follow clearly defined rules and guidelines in order to complete these five crucial weeks. We outlined definite areas of focus for the period, dealing with what we imagined would demand the most of us down to the smallest detail.
The most important factor in our present success is the day to day nitty-gritty work that is performed by the two of us, from the moment we get up in the morning until we go to bed in the evening. When we compare our plans with what we actually did, we see that there have been a few adjustments along the way. The important thing is to make every day optimal with regard to what was done yesterday and what is on the schedule for tomorrow.
A championship is always an extra challenge in itself, as each of the competitors will usually be extra-well prepared. The preparation phase also demands a lot - the intense focus over a short period of time is gruelling, there is more pressure from all quarters, plus the extra focus from the media. Moreover, travelling over the entire world during this year's cycling season has been very demanding in itself, in addition to having to perform my very best throughout the whole season.
It all started with the European Championship in Marathon cycling and Cross-Country, on the 23rd and the 30th of July, respectively, in the beautiful mountain village of Alpago in the north of Italy. There was one week between the two championships, so we had two whole weeks at one and the same place during this period. The first week was used for training on the Marathon race course, while the second week was naturally used for rest, training, restitution and preparation for the cross country race.
Our next port of call was SwissCup in Bern in Switzerland the following weekend. We travelled by car all of Monday, the day after the European Championship in Cross-Country, and then used the following days to recharge our batteries. We took part in the race in Bern purely as a training exercise, and our plan was to drop the race in Switzerland if I wasn't fully recovered after the European Championship. However, we both managed to do our jobs well and made good use of the relaxed days before the SwissPower cup, so I lined up at the start with acceptably strong legs and renewed energy.
World championship gold marathon
The following day we flew to Lyon in France where we were fetched by the Marathon World Championship admin and driven up into the mountains to a town called Bourg d'Oisans at the end of Alp dùez. The following days we had to travel many kilometres
and even more metres in altitude to get through the entire race. We were helped along by the organisation, with both a support vehicle and our own guide on bike, so in the course of three days we had seen practically everything and even done several of the most demanding descents several times. I won the World Championship in Marathon in 4 hours and 25 minutes. It was an utterly extreme race track and a fabulous day on my bike.
After the medal ceremony we had to rush back to the apartment to pack our suitcases and bikes. We then had to drive for three hours to Lyon airport. I ate a late dinner in my hotel room and wasn't in bed before close to 1:00 that night. Early next morning I got up and jogged for an hour in order to get at least a modicum of circulation going in my legs before we sat onto the plane bound for New Zealand, on the other side of the globe.
Our flight plan from Lyon included a short stop at Frankfurt, plus a few hours in Singapore, before we reached Auckland and the Kiwi people. Kenneth and I were fetched at the airport late on Tuesday evening by a cycling enthusiast from Rotorua, Richard Lawton, and were driven to Rotorua to our final destination for this "small" flight across the world. It was a completely knackered Gunn-Rita who flopped into bed that Wednesday morning at 3:00 after a good 30 hours of constant travelling and three days and nights with very little sleep. I don't think we exchanged many words that morning before we fell asleep, but we mumbled something about there only being ten days left before the World Championships.
A body out of balance!
I experienced the first five days in New Zealand as very tough indeed. The long flight by air meant that my body needed extra much rest. But with ten hours' time difference from what I'm used to, and with an extremely demanding World Championship in Marathon cycling still in my legs, I was left with a sort of "flu" type feeling in my whole body. We both knew that I was actually in super good shape, and that all that was needed was to stimulate my body with correct doses of exercise, massage and food, plus lots of rest.
We forced ourselves not to sleep in the afternoons and to maintain the same times for meals, training, massage, bed time and getting up as we were used to. I got a lot of massage. My back and arms needed more treatment than usual after the extreme marathon race course, plus all the sitting still on the plane trip down here.
On Sunday morning we were both ready to race each other to get the necessary oomph into place in my body before the World Championship started. Kenneth had been out the previous day and found a suitable round in the woods right next to our hotel. The track consisted of a flat stretch covered in asphalt where we got to train speed, a climb with a tough incline, but not too long, and the descents were rapid with lots of curves and turns on slippery and clay-smeared terrain.
Usually we're both very tense before these races between us. We were also a little unsure about my body and how it would manage to cope with this type of training after what it had been through this last week.
Good exercise planning
To cut a long story short, it was a fantastic stint. Kenneth left me a little behind on a long descent on the first round, but I hadn't seen the race track yet and that's an acceptable excuse, at least as far as I'm concerned! Apart from that, we had a very balanced duel during which I was able to work on my specific areas of focus as if it was a normal race. My legs felt fantastic and my heart-rate responded as I had hoped. An important factor in all this was to really work out my muscles, gain contact with my legs and attain good circulation without it costing too much. This training trip told us what we had been hoping to hear.
Throughout the last week we got to train everything we had planned to do beforehand. My muscles were super, both on the bike and on the massage bench. I was maybe a little under par regarding sleep, as I kept waking up very early every morning, but as long as I was able to fall asleep around 10:00 in the evening, I at least got the most important hours of rest. Apart from that, we were both able to run our days as we had hoped. I did my best race of the season on Sunday, and felt better and stronger than ever before this year. When that happens, it tastes extra good to win a World Championship gold medal.
Well, that was a long account. I guess I could have written a whole book about what I've learned and experienced through these five weeks of championships. But I'll close off for this time. I still haven't actually told anything about what happened during the final race on Sunday, but I'll have to write about that in a new report not too long from now. We still have a few hours on the plane before we land in Frankfurt. After that we'll have a short flight to Stuttgart where we'll be fetched by our pro team and driven to the hotel. In my luggage I have two new rainbow jerseys, two World Championship gold medals, and a European Championship cross country silver medal. These results are one aspect of the thrill, but it's just as important for us to be able to look back on how we planned, and implemented those plans, through these past weeks which have brought us so much success. We have accomplished something that we've never been through before, and we're left with experience and new insight which can't be measured in gold.
Now we're first having a week in Germany, working with promotion for Merida and the team sponsors at Europe's largest bike expo, Eurobike. Next Monday we'll drive to Schladming in Austria where the World Cup finals will take place, and that's guaranteed to be a very exciting day.
Cyclist's greetings from Gunn-Rita and Kenneth