As quickly as the first World Cup came around, the last was upon us. Returning to Europe from North America, the series was set for a thrilling finale: on-the-day-honours, the overall standings and a last test before the World Championships.
With Isla only just back on her road bike after a fractured vertebrae, and Mariske choosing to sit out this race in favour of preparation for being fully recovered from ankle injury for Worlds, we had four rider in Val di Sole: Shlomi, Martin Gujan, Cherie and Martin Gluth.
The atmosphere within the team was great, as ever. The bikes were prepped to perfection, training went really well, and we even had plenty of pizza!
The week rushed by and suddenly it was Sunday. Race day.
In her new South African Champion’s kit, Cherie Vale took to the start line with a well-judged balance of natural nerves and controlled clarity. Over the season – her first World Cup season – Cherie has learned the hard way how too much energy spent thinking can suck the strength from your legs. She had a great start, holding her own on the aggressive start loop, but thereafter her muscles started to tighten and she couldn’t extract the strength she knew should be there. This time it was no fault of the mind, just a body which wouldn’t co-operate. That said, a 51st place finish tells us that those legs are still pretty good, and that the potential is even better. Cherie has a philosophical approach to life and racing, she knows that this is the beginning of her journey and each stage, even if it is a disappointment or a set-back, is a step forward in the bigger picture. This has been a roller coaster first year – ups and downs; many moments of thrill and some of terror!; times questioning why on earth you got on the damn thing, but overall a big cheesy grin and the desire to do it all over again.
Without any time for a fortifying slice of pizza (much to Lee’s dismay!), it was time for the boys to do battle.
Shlomi, Martin Gujan and Martin Gluth all got away from the start line safely, sprinting like their lives depended on it amongst a furious throng of 112 others doing exactly the same. Guschi managed to move up into 24th position by the end of the start loop, with Shlomi not far behind. Gluth had a disappointing start by his standards but was still moving up the field.
For Guschi the race was a tale of three parts. After an excellent start he began to fade quickly, dropping back through the riders that he had stormed past in the opening lap. Not all the pistons were firing properly during that second phase of his race, but in the final three laps it was all change and, as if the finish was a magnet, he moved back up through the field, faster and faster the closer the end came. A tactical move and early sprint for the line saw his final overtaking manoeuvre to claim 39th place.
Shlomi rode a consistent and controlled race, managing his power, tactics and skill to maximum advantage. After a strong start he held his position in the opening half of the race, riding in and between groups of significant riders. The final laps saw him drop back a few places as the lack of race condition (due to illness) began to show a little. However, it was a really positive race for our Israeli Champ…
“Still need to do some final tuning, but feeling in good performance with only two weeks to the world championship.”
For Gluth the final round of the World Cup was unfortunately a disappointing race. Like Cherie, Gluth said that the power was just not there for him. Still, he battled all the way to the end and took 65th place. Although the position was not what he wanted, or indeed is capable of, he always does us proud with the heart he gives everything.
For Gluth, Shlomi, Cherie and Mariske, the focus is now 100% on the World Championships in Andorra on 6th September. We are incredibly proud to have the team so heavily represented at the biggest race of the year.
Good luck, and perhaps more appropriately for 2000m above sea level, good lungs!