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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
Boulder, Colorado, June 11, 2006
Training at altitude, racing in mudditude
Fantastic nature, friendly people, a lovely town, supreme training conditions, sun and summer. We are back at Boulder in Colorado where we, as ever, are enjoying ourselves to the max with great conditions for training no matter what we have on the program for the day. This is a very important break from competing for us after the first half of the season which has now passed.
There has been a whole lot of action during the past weeks, both on and off the bike. I've had two new World Cup victories since I last updated my home page. I had a short visit to my home town Stavanger before leaving for USA.
On top of it all I got ill for a few days before my last competition in Scotland and have struggled with a pesky throat infection which plagued me for a whole week. In other words, we were good and tired when we arrived in Boulder almost two weeks ago. Our batteries are, however, on the verge of being fully topped up and we're enjoying every second of our stay over here.
Now I'll make an attempt at a quick update of the past weeks, starting with the World Cup in Spa in Belgium which took place the weekend after Madrid. Kenneth and I travelled directly to Spa the day after the race in Spain and weren't quite prepared for the bucketing rain and seven degrees Centigrade temperatures in Belgium after really warm days in Madrid. It rained and poured all week right until the race day, Sunday morning, and all the riders were prepared for a real mud-bath both on and off their bikes.
Victory in the mud
The race course in Spa - Francorchamps goes partially on the Formula 1 race track, and is otherwise on tracks and dirt roads in the surrounding area. Because of all the mud, the track was shortened on the race day so we didn't have too many stretches of just running. Even so, we had a lot of jumping on and off our bikes during the race. It was very difficult to control one's riding though many muddy patches if one tried to stay on the bike.
These sorts of conditions often lead to many technical problems for riders, as it all takes its toll on all the equipment when it gets filled with mud and sand. My good Merida friend held up nicely from start to finish. I got a small lead quite early on in the race and quickly found my pace and thereby kept unnecessary mistakes to a minimum. My brake blocks also held up very well, despite everything. A few small adjustments to the brakes along the way is run-of-the-mill under the conditions we had at Spa.
My victory in Belgium was my 25th World Cup win, of which 20 have been won on a Merida. Since Kenneth took over as my coach and manager in 2001, we have in other words won 20 World Cups, 5 World Championship golds, 4 European Championship golds, and 1 Olympic gold.
After a rather cold and wet week in Belgium, we travelled onwards to Scotland and Fort William where a new World Cup race was being held the following weekend. My physical shape and strength in my legs improved steadily, weekend by weekend, during this period and I was already back in fighting fettle two days after Spa. Apart from the beginnings of a sore throat three days before the competition in Fort William, I knew that I was well and truly fighting fit.
Snow in Scotland
The weather in Scotland was no better than what we'd had served up in Belgium, sour and bitterly cold with snow falling almost right down to the level of the race track. However, in contrast to the race course in Spa, the track in Scotland was able to handle wet conditions very well without getting ruined. There was only one short patch where one had to run next to the bike on every round, and pretty well everybody can handle that.
On the first round out from the start you first rode a few hundred metres on a flat gravel road before it started to climb, all the while on a broad gravel road. After about 10 minutes you reached the highest part of the track. From there the track headed down on very demanding trails with lots of stones and roots. After half of the first lap, I already had a lead of half a minute. In other words, I quickly affirmed that I had been in good shape these last days, despite my cold.
I didn't have any fever symptoms any of the days before the race, so we decided that I should take part. We were fully aware of the fact that a hard competition would spread the disease throughout my system, and we were prepared for many days of illness during the following week.
Drama on the race track
That good feeling of leading the pack was quickly wiped out when I had a puncture a good kilometre into the second round. I was carrying a new tube and an air cartridge in my pocket so I decided to change it myself. I was still much too far from the next technical zone where one may receive such help. Just as I had got the new tube in and was about to put the air cartridge in, the first riders started to pass me, and that wasn't much fun for me.
I thought this would go quickly, but it turned out that my air cartridge didn't work! There was no other way than to simply run the next 2-3 kilometres with the bike next to me. When I finally got to the next technical zone, I got a new wheel form my mechanic Ralf, but 58 women riders had passed me. There were only three laps left of the race.
At least I got to see almost all of my competitors from behind for once, and really got a taste of what it's like to be chasing the leaders. My body and legs felt incredibly strong this day and I was full of energy all the way to the finish. It wasn't always easy to pass the riders that I caught up with, and I lost precious time in this way too. Even so, I was passing my competitors all the time, and ended the race with a fourth place.
The day was saved as my team mate, Nina Göhl, won her first World Cup race in Fort William, and that made me very happy. In addition, I increased my lead on my closest competitors, German Sabine Spitz and Spanish Margarita Fullana. There are two World Cup races remaining for this season, and we're both looking forward to taking part in them.
The day after the race in Scotland I travelled home to Stavanger and Tjensvoll to take part in some important meetings with our sponsor KleppHus, and possible suppliers for our new house. There are still a few pieces missing before everything is in place before the building project starts, but we have set a goal of starting building work in the beginning of August. Since we're hardly ever home, progress is largely up to our manager, Roar, and our good sponsor KleppHus.
I had half a day at home in Stavanger and filled every last moment. I had to visit the doctor to check up my somewhat sick body (I couldn't swallow or speak) but was told in no uncertain terms that rest was the only medicine that was going to work. I flew back to Glasgow on Monday evening, and from there on to Denver and Boulder on Tuesday morning. Kenneth left a day earlier since we didn't have funds to pay for a new ticket for both of us.
New quarters and new friends
This year we're living with some neighbours of our friend Mark, since he has sold his house and moved away. Our new host and hostess were Cari and Greg, and they have really provided us with everything we need of space, service and company. We had a very good tone right from the beginning, and in this family it was we who were holding back on the competition! Both of these people still take part in road races and track races up to many times a week, and all four of us are well guarded by a huge Rottweiler called Elka. She is very large and beautiful with a great personality. Apparently she's still a puppy, only one year old, but is already large as a horse.
The first week here was used for rest and slow training for me, since I was ill throughout my whole system, and it took some time to get rid of it. The second week has been packed with long trips, tough power stints on the bike, and good technical interval training. Today we've done intervals against each other up on Walker Range, which is 2300-2400 metres over sea level. Here we've been doing good technical training on steep hills on very demanding terrain.
Simply put, we've had many fantastic days of training which have been rounded off with barbecuing and dinners outside on the porch together with our new friends Cari, Greg and Elka. Kenneth exploded the lactate-meter today with a whopping 12.2 and that should really qualify for a prize! Tomorrow all five of us will be going up to our friends Mark and Karen who now live at 3000 metres above sea level in a small mountain village called Brackenridge.
We're looking forward to a good week of training here at Boulder and the weather reports are promising a good 30 degrees Centigrade and sun for the coming few days too. You'll all hear from us again next Monday with a totally different sender's address. Good luck with races and challenges both on and off the bike in the coming week.
Cyclists greetings from Gunn-Rita and Kenneth
[Translation: Crispen T. P. de Lange]