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Climbing back to the top: The Gunn-Rita Dahle FlesjŚ diary 2008

Gunn-Rita Dahle FlesjŚ
Photo ©: Gunn Rita Dahle FlesjŚ & Kenneth FlesjŚ
(Click for larger image)

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:

Index to all entries

May 13, 2008

A return to the top

Former World Champion Dahle Flesjaa goes to the front early
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

The [Madrid World Cup] race was a fight right up to the very last metre. Blood, sweat and tears are an integral part of our sport, but my comeback to the world elite last Sunday was an experience I will never forget, for quite different reasons. Many people deserve a part of my World Cup victory last Sunday. And the bet I made with Kenneth before my triumph is guaranteed to be a spectacular séance…

It's the European Championships in Zurich in 2002, our first gold medal in the European Championships and a real comeback after a lot of troubles in 2000-2001, which has always stood out as our most important victory throughout my whole career. It was also the first ever international title for Merida. This powerful experience now has a rival in what we managed to accomplish last Sunday [May 4] in Madrid. It felt like the shout of victory as I crossed the finish line came from very deep within me - a mixture of joy, euphoria, frustration, anger and passion. Kenneth described it as a heavy weight having been removed from his shoulders.

During the preceding week, the exercise program went as planned, and through the last days before the race my legs felt lighter and quicker than they had in a long time. As usual, I was nervous and excited. I was very much looking forward to the race in Madrid, since I have many good memories from exactly this race track, where I also won in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

I'm not going to write a long description of how I completed the race, all the mental preparation which lay behind what I accomplished and what tactics Kenneth and I had planned beforehand. My competitors are probably reading these lines too, so I'll have to save all that for the book I'll be writing this autumn. But in the end it was a totally fair duel between me and Canadian Premont, which was decided in the final hundred metres in the stadium and at the finish line.

Important support

Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) leads Marga Fullana (Masi)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Many people deserve a large thank you for their help in the work which lies behind this comeback. Merida has been most understanding towards us and our need

for time to recover; our personal sponsors and Olympiatoppen have backed us up 100%; and we have a multitude of supporters who have been very important in this period of recuperation. Our manager, Roar, deserves a huge thank you for his efforts, and the same goes to our wonderful and kind families back home. Apart from that, our stalwart fans, those who never doubted for a single day that we'd come back again, deserve a massive smile as a thank you for their support.

The absolute most important piece in this puzzle which has been created, and which still isn't complete, is Kenneth and the work he's done. He is the one who does the footwork, he's the one who has to take care of all the adjustments, and he's the one who deals with problems when the training doesn't go quite as planned. He always has stay super fit so that I constantly receive optimal matching on specific exercises, and he's the one who has to repair my legs on the massage bench after tough doses of training. In addition to all this, he does an amazing job as PR-man for whatever we're doing.

First victory for Multivan Merida in 2008

The women's start was less chaotic
Photo ©: Luke Webber
(Click for larger image)

Multivan Merida Biking Team has had a difficult start to the season with the burglary of their bikes, a total of 11 training bikes, during the World Cup opening in Houffalize, and sickness amongst the riders before the World Cup in Offenburg the following weekend. I got a cold, too, and had to stay in bed for a couple of days. Several of the guys also had fever. Jose Hermida from Spain was the only rider who didn't have his preparations for the World Cup season ruined by sickness.

It all reached a climax again in Madrid last weekend when we once again were visited by criminals. On Saturday morning we woke up to find the entire rear window of Jose's Multivan smashed, plus that the huge "Sprinter", which usually is filled with bikes, equipment and tools, had a huge hole in one side of the car. The metal had simply been cut open and bent to one side, after which the thieves had sliced their way through the wood panel on the inside. Naturally, there was little of value to be found in our cars, so the burglars didn't exactly get rich on Merida bikes that weekend.

And for this reason, the first victory of the season tasted extra delicious for the whole team, in addition to a very strong second place for Hermida. Both the riders and the support team needed something good to happen after all the problems during the past weekends and we really deserve some wind in our sails after all we've been through. Apparently Merida bikes have become a really hot brand these days, and we've been joking a bit amidst all the problems that next time we'll probably be knocked off our bikes when we're out riding on them! Never cycle alone on a Merida bike!

Our physical therapist, Oliver, really got a taste of the darker side of all this. He was driving the team's RV camper van home from Madrid. As he was sleeping in the van on Monday night, he was woken up by three masked men trying to break into his van! He managed to kick the one of them in the head and shouted with all his might for help. Luckily they ran away without Oliver getting physically hurt.


Gunn Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) is elated with her first major victory
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

I've obviously been handed some sort of "cat's lives", and have used up three of them already. I was knocked out in 1997 because of a virus but managed to return in 1998 and won silver in the European and World Championship, plus coming in second in the World Cup. Kenneth took over full responsibility as my coach in 2001 after I was knocked out again in the season of 2000, and since then I've won a total of 21 World Cup races riding for Merida, and 13 international championships.

The victory in Madrid was extra wonderful set against the backdrop of all the rumours which have been circulating this last year. Many strange things have been uttered about us - everything from pregnancy to marital problems and a lack of motivation. The fight for victory on Sunday really proved that the motivation and the will to continue giving everything, and then some, in order to gain victory, is stronger than ever before. The goal of being the first rider in history to win 30 World Cup races still stands firm for Kenneth and me. Madrid provided me with victory number 26.

Betting with Kenneth

As some of you will be aware, Kenneth and I have entered into some quite wild bets during past seasons. The gold medal in Athens ended up forcing Kenneth into a rather awful swim across the large Gands Fjord outside of Stavanger in the cold of November, to the immense enjoyment and mirth of many, including me. The World Cup win in Fort William in 2005 provided entertainment and laughter for both spectators and chance passers by when Kenneth had to cycle a whole round of the race in nothing but his underwear.

Right before this year's cycling season we entered into another bet which provided me with good conditions if I manage to be within the top three in the World Cup and even more fun if I manage to win a race during the summer. I won on Sunday and Kenneth has to honour his part of the deal next week, so we'll be posting pictures on the website with stories from the occasion, which are guaranteed to be hilarious. That's what can happen when one gets too enthusiastic and forgets reason!

Preparations for the European Championships

This week we're taking it a bit easier with the training, in order to be sure my body is totally recuperated after three weekends of World Cup races. Next weekend we're doing a European Championship race in St. Wendel in Germany. We have no goals for this race and aren't planning to have any. We'll increase the intensity a bit next week, aiming for a "good" feeling and an extremely good exercise stint in the form of the race at St. Wendel, and then we'll just see how things turn out on the result list.

We're back again in the apartment in Heubach - Lautern and will have this as our base through the month of May. We've been having a bit of a high this week, and it feels indescribably good to back at the top again after the tough period we both have been through. I would never have been able to win the race on Sunday without Kenneth's tireless efforts, and that goes for all my victories since 2001. For seven years he has given everything and has been able to experience fantastic things together with me in many different arenas. It's good to know that Kenneth wants to continue supporting me 100% for four new years on my bike.

I wish you all a wonderful and fantastic holiday. Enjoy your spare time and get out on your bike as much as possible. Next week Kenneth is going to be putting his money where his mouth is, which is something you really shouldn't miss out on…

Cyclist's greetings from Gunn-Rita + Kenneth
Multivan Merida Biking Team

[Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange]

See complete coverage of the Madrid World Cup.