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On top of the world: The Gunn-Rita Dahle FlesjŚ diary 2007
Norwegian cross-country mountain bike racer Gunn-Rita Dahle FlesjŚ is probably the best female rider this relatively young branch of the sport has ever seen. World champion in 2002, 2004, 2005, and last year as well, plus Olympic champion in 2004, and rarely beaten in her reign as World Cup champion from 2003 - 2006, she has a breathtaking 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 FlesjŚ. Follow her exploits on Cyclingnews as she continues her bid to stay number one in 2007. Or, for more Gunn-Rita, see her personal website: www.gunnrita.com
February 2, 2007
Home to deep winter
The conclusion to our fantastic stay in South Africa was a four hour relaxed long-distance ride under sunny blue skies with a good 30 degrees centigrade. Now "King Winter" awaits us back home in Norway, meaning indoor training for a week.
The long flight from Johannesburg to London is completed. I'm sitting here in the lounge, waiting for our flight back to Stavanger. It's amazing to think that we've already been gone for a full four weeks. A whole lot of good work has been accomplished, both on and off the bikes. It's going to be a cold experience coming home to Norway again.
It's not easy to come by fantastic conditions for exercising at high altitudes in January, and also with good temperatures for a cyclist - especially for those wanting to avoid jetlag. We've been living for a month in the town of Dullstroom, just outside of Johannesburg, and it's turned out to be the perfect place for us mountain bikers. We've stayed at 2,000 metres above sea level, and most of our training has been done at altitudes of between 1,700 and 2,100 metres.
We had a couple of cold and uncomfortable days when we arrived in Dullstroom, but since January 1, we haven't had any rain when out cycling. We've had a few afternoon showers with thunder and lightning, but that's quite normal in large areas of South Africa. The rain and bad weather comes quickly and then disappears after a couple of hours. It's not like at home where heavy, rain-filled clouds just settle in and lie there, passively, right above the roofs, for weeks and weeks.
It's full of dirt tracks and roads around Dullstroom and Belfast. There aren't that many paved roads apart from the main roads between towns. That was perfect for us, as we thereby avoided all the heavy traffic and had only the surrounding nature as inspiration during our fantastic exercise stints. Of course, we had to keep our senses keen, to avoid the audience of snakes, monkeys, cows, and ostriches which were to be found both on and along the sides of the tracks.
I can certainly recommend this area to people needing good conditions for training, combined with a good climate when the winter is doing its worst at home. It might not be the best place for those who prefer tarmac and racing bikes, as there is a lot of traffic and the speed limits are 120 kilometres per hour, also on the smaller roads. The long-distance trip we had yesterday had only two short spells on tarmac, a total of 25 minutes. Apart from that, we were on broad gravel roads with partially loose and stony terrain, but perfect for mountain bikes.
Kenneth, Lene, and I really got to experience the power of the sun in South Africa, despite using sun tan lotion with a screening factor of 40. We've had to put up with a bit of peeling skin on our noses, ears, hands and shoulders - something that happens every so often to everybody. But it was a totally new experience for us to get burned on our hands even when it was overcast!
The weeks have passed very quickly, which shows that we've enjoyed ourselves and had a good time. We've been able to complete our training-schedules as planned. I had fantastic interval training on Friday with a total of 60 minutes of intense intervals. Obviously one notices that the muscles start getting rather stiff and unresponsive, and that one doesn't have the same circulation as race-ready legs normally would have. But when one experiences good control and response from one's musculature and has enough "oomph" to be able to work with specific areas on each interval, it shows that we've made very few mistakes and done many things right through the last month.
So, we got to experience many hours of sun on our bikes yesterday before leaving, and we even got to see some of Africa's wildlife on four legs. Four zebras passed quite close to us. Lene just managed to snap a picture of the fantastic animals before they galloped away. A few days ago we met a large family of apes who were on an outing and crossed the road just in front of us. We've tried not to meet any more snakes, but we've seen only one this last week.
If you should ever visit Dullstroom some time in the future, we can strongly recommend a special restaurant where we really enjoyed ourselves. Wonderful food and amazingly friendly people can be found when you have to ask for Mrs. Simpson's. Not a large restaurant, but you're guaranteed to get food served with soul. If you want really good living conditions, we can recommend The Ambers. The town is small and cosy, so you won't have any problems finding your way.
Well, our departure time is drawing close. We're going home to our "children," who are probably just as eager for company as ever. I'm leaving for Oslo tomorrow, for a few various jobs, and then straight to Italy for a few days, where I'll be doing a photo shoot for my shoe sponsor, NorthWave. It'll probably be an exciting experience as usual.
I wish you all a wonderful week of training and exercise, with lots of variation and enjoyment. Take good care of your health!
Cyclist's greetings from,
Gunn-Rita and Kenneth