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Climbing back to the top: The Gunn-Rita Dahle FlesjŚ diary 2008
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 2006, plus Olympic champion in 2004, and rarely beaten in her reign as World Cup champion from 2003 - 2006, she has a breathtaking palmares.
Unfortunately, Dahle FlesjŚ was sidelined for most of the 2007 season with a virus that left her with little strength and on a program of complete rest and recovery. With the constant support of husband and coach Kenneth FlesjŚ, she has been working her way steadily back to health - just in time to pursue her goals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Follow her exploits on Cyclingnews as she works to regain her form and position at the top of women's mountain biking in 2008. Or, for more Gunn-Rita, see her personal website: www.gunnrita.com
February 16, 2008
Sunshine in Mallorca
From winter and freezing cold in Boulder to hot sun and summer clothing on Mallorca - the contrasts are striking in our every day lives, and that's exactly the appeal of being a professional mountain-biker. It's fantastic feeling the sun warm my white winter skin, even if it's only for a few minutes.
We've moved from friendly Boulder in Colorado, via Stavanger, Oslo, Venice / Montebelluna, to sunny Mallorca in Spain. We're gradually growing accustomed to the European time zone again, but we usually use about a fortnight to get completely in tune again when travelling from west to east. It's easier to travel to USA or home from Asia. Still, we've managed quite well. We've stayed awake for as long as possible at night, refused to sleep in the afternoons, and gotten up at the normal time in the mornings.
The past two weeks in Boulder were busy with exercise, and we had a day of snow and a good 15 degrees below freezing. It's awfully cold cycling in those kinds of temperatures, but it was a low-paced day anyway, so we didn't miss out on too much. The following day the sun was out and the snow disappeared from the roads as quickly as it had appeared.
The last two evenings we went out to eat with our friendly couple, Cari and Greg, and we just love these kinds of reunions. The final evening was spent with our landlord, Mark (a very important ally through the past five seasons) and his family. We probably won't be back to Boulder again before next summer, but we know how time flies, so we're already starting to look forward again...
The days at home in Stavanger were busy as usual, with everything from spinning classes and meetings with sponsors, to hair cuts and treatments. It was "pedal to the metal" for three days before leaving for Oslo for various errands, and then on to Italy the following day. We did have a few moments to wash clothes and exchange the clothes we had been wearing for four weeks in Boulder for new ones. One ends up wearing much the same thing every day when one only has one suitcase to fill. Most of what is able to fit in is exercise clothing anyway.
Kenneth left direct for Mallorca while I had to go via Venice and Montebelluna for a photo shoot with NorthWave. The end results from the photo studio in Padova were at least as exciting as previous years. The pictures will be presented on my home page in a few weeks... My team-mate, Jose Hermida (Spa), is also sponsored by NorthWave, so it turned out to be a good show for the whole photo team that day. Dressed in a variety of exciting and snazzy kit, and constant trips back to the make-up seat, it was a very action-packed day. Jose still had thick make-up on his face as we sat eating real pizza at a well-known restaurant in Montebelluna later on in the evening.
Most of the team from Multivan Merida Biking Team is already in place here at the hotel where the biking group, Phillip Bike Team, resides. This is the fourth year running that the whole team is gathered here for our annual press meeting, and interest in the team has never been greater. 69 journalists and photographs from 14 different countries have signed up. In total, our team, including cyclists, support team, Merida employees from Europe and various dealers, number a grand total of 135 persons.
The official welcoming toast will take place at 17:30 tomorrow when it all kicks off. The press conference on Saturday morning will continue with photographs and interviews until dinner is served. Saturday evening there will be a feast dinner served in Palma for everybody, rounded up with a new séance of photographs, interviews and testing of Merida's new bikes throughout Sunday. Monday and Tuesday are dedicated to photographing us cyclists to produce photo material for the rest of the season. In other words, it's going to be a week with very little exercise and no rest. Regarding exercise, it actually fits quite well, as my body hasn't quite recovered from the intense exercise period at high altitude.
Back on top?
During three busy and intense days of press conferences here on Mallorca, the constant question has been: Will I be coming back again? Yes, of course I will - a simple and straightforward answer which provides the basis for all of Kenneth's and my activities.
So that shouldn't leave any room for doubt as to how we'll be thinking and planning during the coming months. It's slightly more difficult to be absolutely clear on when we'll be competing with the world elite again. We've intentionally avoided formulating concrete goals for the season of 2008, and won't be doing so before the end of May. So all competitions I take part in during March, April and May will be regarded as pure training without a focus on winning. Then we'll compile a thorough summary at the end of May and, based on that, formulate our goals for the World Championships in June, followed by the Olympics in Beijing.
We're proud to be able to present a brand new home page, where you can follow us closely in the run-up towards the Olympic season. The new layout is designed by Luca Cereghetti who lives in Lugano, and who I got to know when visiting with Merida Switzerland in November. Luca is a complete bicycle enthusiast, and when he offered us his expertise, we naturally accepted. He is also responsible for the translations into Italian, so now we can also accommodate all our cycling fans in Italy too. In other words, we have two great guys, Marton and Luca, helping us with our wonderful home page.
Top notch press camp
The press camp here on Mallorca was done in style. It was a well organized séance with varied and exciting content, spread over three days. We were all busy, especially the team riders, when close to 70 photographers and journalists made their way to Mallorca. Kenneth and I travelled down a few days early so we'd be well rested, in the hopes that I wouldn't get sick this time, but it didn't make any difference. For five years running, I've always been sick during the press camp on Mallorca, and this time it all started the day before the invited guests arrived at the hotel.
So despite all our extra efforts and especial focus on rules for avoiding sickness, I ended up "in the doldrums" once again. I didn't really have time to be sick, considering our demanding program of late, so I ended up being sick for longer than if I had rather taken it easy and stayed in bed. Today I've been back on my bike again, a relaxing ride for one and a half hours, so we're on the go again. I naturally have to take it easy for a few more days before we take longer rides and gradually increase the intensity.
Highly motivated birthday child
As has been the case for years now, my birthday was celebrated together with media from the whole world, and I still claim to be 22 years-old. It certainly seems that way, when I feel the motivation and eagerness bubbling in my body, giving me loads of excess energy to continue competing on my mountain-bike. There's no doubt that there are a lot of sceptics around the place, who doubt whether I'll ever be able to return to the elite - at least as many as there were back in the spring of 2002 after two extremely bad season for me. And the sceptics will always exist. I don't really need to prove anything or convince anybody. The only thing I'm absolutely sure about is that I'm on my way back to the world elite in the season of 2008. It's going to be wonderful to fly on my bike again.
I need some time to rebuild the "machinery" again. Kenneth and I both know how much effort lies behind the results we've had through the past seasons. With all possible respect for the girls who work hard every day in order to compete at the top of our sport, we're painfully aware of how far we have to go before we can fight amongst the best again.
In the news back home
These days the Olympics in Beijing is being written about and spoken about in every imaginable context. Therefore I'd like to refer to a test which was done to measure the level of politeness amongst the inhabitants of the Olympic city, Beijing. One of the points was jumping in line, and the latest update shows that queue-jumping has been vastly reduced. Based on our own experiences from Beijing in the past three years, there is no queue-jumping in this city what-so-ever. Actually, the word queue, in the sense we're used to, doesn't really exist, and that can lead to a few surprises for those visiting Beijing for the first time this coming summer!
I've watched and tried to follow the debates going on in Norway during the past weeks, about the Norwegian national chief of sports, Jarle Aambø. I feel he's been unduly criticized, and the debate hasn't brought out the fact that he really cares about us elite athletes. I've met a variety of "careerist" chiefs through my time as an athlete, and there are only a very few who can be compared with Jarle when it comes to involvement, enthusiasm and approachability as a real person. There are far too many so-called "careerists" who occupy these kinds of positions, who only bother to deal with us athletes when it looks like we might be going to win a medal, or already have one hanging around our necks. Criticism, both positive and negative, is important and necessary in all sorts of work and involvements, but I feel this case has developed into more of a tasteless "dirt throwing campaign" rather than constructive criticism of our national chief of sports. Keep it up Jarle! You're doing a fantastic job for sporting Norway :
We have another two weeks left on Mallorca, filled with completely other things than lying on our backs on the beach in the sun. I've noticed, from the countless pictures which have been taken of me during the past days, that I probably should have invested a little more time in the sun without my trousers on, but there's nothing to do about that. I'll just have to be patient with the "light blue" colour of my body, reminiscent of skimmed milk, and wait for better times when the competitions start up. I wish you all good days of training and exercise, and that you will see the possibilities in what you have right now :
Cyclist's greetings from Gunn-Rita
[Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange].
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Kenneth FlesjŚ
Images by Multivan Merida Biking Team