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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
Stavanger, Norway, August 30, 2007
Activities other than Worlds
In a good week from now the UCI World Mountain Bike Championships will take place in Fort William, Scotland. I, however, am leaving for a fishing holiday at the cabin. Together with a few others, we'll be barbecuing freshly caught fish, and this year I won't be packing my system with carbs in the form of pasta during the last days before the World Championships.
We've had two active and exciting weeks here at home in Norway after our "holiday" in Italy last month. There's more than enough to keep us busy, even though we're not doing a full training schedule yet. With all the requests and invitations that come every single day, I could easily fill up my Filofax right until Christmas, and then some.
The Shell Race
We came home just in time to take part in the Shell Race here in the Stavanger region. The route followed the cycling paths around Hafrsfjord between four Shell petrol stations, the same as in previous years. Thanks to good help from the Sola Cycling Club and Sola Handball Club, all participants received food and drink at the various "pit-stops" and could take part in fun activities for all age groups.
Kenneth and I parked our car at the Shell station at Madla and were ready to meet cycling enthusiasts from 10:00 am and onward Sunday morning. Somewhat cold and uncomfortable weather probably kept a few cyclists at home, but those who came were able to do a few rounds in good company and enjoyed the family race.
At our station we had ball-throwing and rope-skipping, and I really felt it in my legs the next day! I haven't jumped rope for at least 15 years, so I got really enthusiastic and jumped for more than four hours. Luckily I had a few breaks in between, but I ended up with a really strange gait the following days.
We had a lot of fun with the skipping ropes, because there were quite a few adults who hadn't tried it for many years. But most of them had obviously not forgotten the art completely, and we managed to get all the participants in on the games. I really hope that the Shell Race will continue to be an annual happening in years to come, with a view to possibly making it even larger.
Last week was used for tidying our house, gardening, helping to move house together with Frode and Siri at Bryne on one of the days, plus an evening together with my parents at Bjørheimsbygd. We ate barbecued fish, although we hadn't fished it ourselves this time. I tried my luck with the fishing rod on the lake in front of my parents' house, Svartatjydnå, but there was nothing to be had. I guess the lack of wind and hot weather (30 degrees) will have to take the blame.
The Birkebeiner Race
I really enjoyed taking part in the Birkebeiner race this year, even though I wasn't on a bike this time. I was actually on a two-wheeler this time too, only it had an engine between the wheels, and I was a reporter for NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Company). I really felt my legs twitch when the women's elite class took off at 9:00 a.m. I was standing right next to the starting line and felt myself sort of sucked along as the pistol went off. I couldn't help doing a few uncontrolled jumps and getting goose-bumps all over my body.
Even so, I had a great trip over the mountain and was able to see the race from a completely different angle than I have done previously. Just about everybody agrees that the race is totally professional. The people working to make it all happen have become very good at it and there are very few things to complain about. The best thing about the whole Birkebeiner Race is probably the incredible atmosphere at both Rena, along the tracks, and at the finish line at Lillehammer. Absolutely everybody who is part of the Birkebeiner Race, either as a cyclist or helping out in some or other way, gets a really great weekend.
I was able to run up the first hill in the woods, where most cyclists have to get off their bikes since it quickly gets packed with bikes here. The first groups, plus the elite class, manage to cycle straight up, but there's more space for them on the track. The climb is quite tough for many of the competitors, and the lactic acid really builds up quickly on such a steep incline when one has to push the bike up. Even so, there was no lack of witty and funny comments amongst the participants and spectators.
My father, Birger, took part in the race and made sure that he had a buddy to pace him this time, so he managed to set a new personal record over the mountain. The few times I passed them on the track, my father was stuck like glue to Kenneth's rear wheel. He was encouraged and given advice along the way, and probably pushed himself harder than usual, as he was forced to take a break at the bottom of the "Rosinbakken" climb. The widespread "cramping syndrome," which apparently is very usual at the Birkebeiner Race, also made an attack on my father for the first time. After a packet of raisins and a short walk, he was back on his bike again and managed to ascend "Rosinbakken" without problems.
My sister, May-Peggy, took part for the first time this year and did very well. She was rather stiff and tired towards the end, but not bad enough to keep her from already having decided to take part again next year. My mother completed the race in a little over six hours (in jogging shoes - very good). My cousin, Ove, also impressed me and almost managed to keep up with Kenneth and my father right to the finish line. My brother-in-law (my sister's partner), had problems with cramping and didn't manage his goal of beating my father this year. I expect there'll be a tough attempt at revenge next year!
We've heard that there'll be an even larger contingent of my relatives racing next year, so we have a lot to look forward to. I expect that most people who took part in the Birkebeiner Race last weekend have reminisced and laughed at everything that happened. It's a wonderful thing to sense the eagerness and enthusiasm that surrounds cycling, and we can help spread this to even more people around us.
At present I'm in Stavanger, enjoying some nice weather at home. The weather has become a good deal colder, but the sun is shining today, so that means that the lawn should be mowed this evening. I'm going for a spin on my rollers soon, rounded up with a good massage. This afternoon I'm popping into a shop called Lyst to check out the new autumn products from the Norwegian brands Lyst and Mikko. Before dinner I'm going to have a longed-for facial treatment from Elisabeth at Eliksir (skin and body therapy) and I'm really looking forward to that.
Tomorrow I leave for Zurich where I'll be fetched by Team Merida and transported to the huge cycling expo, Eurobike, which brings the world's entire bike industry to Friedrichshafen this weekend. We'll have three action packed days from morning till night together with the team, sponsors, Merida dealers from the whole world, and the bosses from Taiwan.
It would naturally be best if I was in top shape and could take part in the World Championships right now, but there is no doubt that I'll have plenty more opportunities in the next five to six years, and I'm looking forward. Instead of travelling to Scotland, we'll be going to the cabin to do some fishing next weekend. My chances of winning are greatly increased with only one other competitor at the starting line. Kenneth apparently has somewhat better equipment than me, but I have a little more luck:
Cycling hugs from Gunn-Rita and Kenneth
Translation by Crispen T.P. de Lange