World Cup #2 – The Heat of Battle

As the natural amphitheatre of Albstadt’s Bullentale valley filled with eager spectators, down at the start line the gladiators were ready to go into a hot, fierce battle. Blood was shed aplenty – although thankfully for none of our riders – and sweat certainly flowed as the sun added extra intensity to the steep climbs of this relentless course. 

Isla was first to ride into the ring. She didn’t get a great start and on a course which isn’t easy to overtake on, it made the battle tough from the outset. However, two laps in Isla found the gas pedal and started making inroads into the race, flying past riders and making her way up to within six seconds of tenth place. She looked strong, composed and ready to attack. But instead the race attacked her! On the final lap, Isla had nothing left – the tank was well and truly empty. She fought with every single ounce of energy, barely making across the finish line upright. Eighteenth place was not the result she was looking for, but as always Isla has analysed, accepted and learnt from the experience and is now ready for some rest and fine-tuning to get the final pieces of the jigsaw into place.

Onto the Elite Women’s race and another war of attrition. Following her brilliant tenth place finish in Nove Mesto na Morava, Annie lined up on the second row of the grid. Mariske’s 29th place last week put her on row four. With a cold towel around their necks and an umbrella overhead, all focus channeled forward and into the race.

Annie got a good start and latched onto the leading group of ten or so riders, she looked to be going well but as the race wore on she began to drop back through the field. After the race Annie said that she felt as though she was in reverse gear from the start, and, despite excellent preparation, just couldn’t find the power. A mega last lap effort and sprint to the line saw Annie take 19th place. A top twenty position at a World Cup is not to be dismissed, indeed it is extraordinary on a day when you are in “reverse”! However, Annie left the race disappointed not to be able to showcase her form, but very positive that she will get the chance soon.

Mariske’s race was almost opposite to Annie’s: she had a terrible start and then made her way forward through the field. Being caught behind a crash is never ideal, but on this course it is especially bad because passing opportunities are few and far between. Struggling to get back onto course and get going, Mariske came though the pits on the start loop in second from last place. Remarkably, she was able to fight back up to 51st position by the finish, and salvage something from a savage race.

The girls felt a little beaten, but they fought hard and they will fight back to better results next time.

The final race of the day was set to be another epic battle; the sun, the hills, the loose surface, themselves and their competitors. The Albstadt course is not one that suits Martin’s strengths, and he’s not a big fan of racing in the heat, but he wasn’t about to let that blur his focus! He was ready for the fight, and he put up a great one. A solid start and a controlled race, focussed on hydration and himself, was the perfect tactic. Martin was really positive about his 45th place, but more so about his performance: the legs were good and the mind was strong.

It has been a brilliant two weeks away; a team effort, as always, with belly-laughs and tears and hugs and high-fives.

We are tired and happy to be at home, but already excited for the next trip!

 

 

 

World Cup #1 – Off to a Flying Start

The first World Cup of the season is always a special one. For the first time in the year, the whole team is together and the close bonds of athletes and staff who live miles apart are instantly rekindled. The familiar habits and routines click into place but there is also an air of uncertainty as months of preparation are finally put to the test against the very best in the World. 

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Nove Mesto na Morave in the Czech Republic has become a classic of the UCI World Cup, and with no significant course changes it was a fairly straight forward couple of days of training. Lines were dialled and alternative options checked, climbs were attacked, lungs were opened and legs were tested. It was time.

With a change to the usual schedule, the Elite Women raced on Saturday. With their warm up complete, Annie and Mariske made their way to the call up boxes and then onto the grid. The routine is the same but the nerves, the anticipation, and the rush never go away! “The race will start in the next fifteen seconds”…

The start straight at Nove Mesto has seen some big crashes in the past, but thankfully everyone got away safely and Annie immediately made an impact on the race, moving up from 29th on the grid to the very front of the race. Team Manager, Paul, tried to sound calm on the radio but there was no hiding the nervous excitement in his voice, “Annie leads the start loop, Annie leads on the start loop.”

Mariske also made a good start, coming through to finish the start loop in 23rd position. From here she settled into the race, with composed, consistent lap times but a positive and really competitive drive to hold position amongst a strong group of women. After a tough few weeks of racing and long travel, Mariske was satisfied to finish in 29th position. It’s a great start to the World Cup and we look forward to see what she can do with a little more rest and recovery.

At the front of the race, fast starters had faded, chasers had punctured, a leader was established and a big group had formed in pursuit. Annie was in that chasing group, riding inside the top ten. She lost time held up behind a slower descender, and cost herself a few seconds with minor mistakes as she gunned to close down the top five, but despite this Annie was able to race to a brilliant tenth place finish. This is our highest ever Elite World Cup position and something that we are incredibly proud of. Moreover, we are so happy to see Annie back at the front of World Cup racing, smiling at the finish and confident and excited to race. What’s more, Annie feels there is still more to come!

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Onto Sunday and it was Isla and Martin’s time to step onto the World stage and put themselves and their winter of hard training to the test.

Unfortunately, Isla didn’t feel that this race and the result were a reflection of how hard she had worked and what she is capable of. From the start gun she felt let down by her legs and never really got going. That said, Isla was riding the entire race in the top fifteen, which is not only amazing in itself, but shows just how much Isla feels she is capable of on a good day. It is really hard to ignore the frustrations and take the positives when you are disappointed, but Isla’s 14th place finish is something we think is a very positive place to start the World Cup season, and after a few tears, Isla is now ready to brush off round one and bring on round two this weekend!

For Martin there were also frustrations in Nove Mesto. He was extremely lucky to miss going down in a huge crash on the start straight, but he was held up and had to start his race already chasing. With a big effort to get back onto the tail of the bunch, Martin did an amazing job of picking off a couple of riders each lap to make his way up through the field. He finished in 47th position, not what he had hoped for but a tenacious and gutsy ride that we are proud of.

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And so, following our traditional ‘Sausage Sunday’ post-race BBQ, World Cup number one was over.

We are already in Albstadt for round two, and after a day of rest, it will be time to do it all again. We can’t wait!

 

Winning Weekend!

What a weekend!

Mariske Strauss kicked things off with a dominant display at the South Africa Cup in Bloemfontein on Saturday morning. She led from the start and, despite some pain in her finger from a crash in Haiming, took the win by over three minutes! It’s a great indication of her form as she readies herself for the World Cup campaign.

On Sunday was our home race, the Hadleigh Park International. For a British team it is a rare treat to race a World-class event in front of a home crowd. It is even rarer that you can win such an event, but Annie Last did just that!

Annie and Isla Short led the field through the start loop but Isla’s amazing start was cut short with a rear flat tyre and she was left with a long run and a wheel change. Meanwhile, Annie still headed up the race and was joined by the Hungarian Champion, Barbara Benko, and Australian Champion, Bec Henderson. Bec would eventually lose touch and leave a dual for the finish.

Isla had a fire in her stomach and was on a mega comeback ride! Posting times that would have put her in fifth place, she smashed through the field with a determination and drive that certainly captured the hearts of the spectators.

With nothing to show between Annie and Barbara on the final lap, we geared up for a sprint finish. Nerves and excitement were high, and it was with absolute delight for the team and the British fans that Annie was able to pull clear on the finish straight and take a superb win.

After the race, Isla reported,

“It was frustrating but I’m not actually disappointed, I’m really happy about my performance and how I dealt with the situation. I looked at lap times and things are looking pretty sweet for the next few weeks!”

Onto the men’s race and an exciting battle at the front headed up by Cannondale Factory Racing’s Maxime Marotte and Manuel Fumic. Also in the lead group were Anton Cooper, Dan McConnell, Grant Ferguson and our very own Martin Gluth. Martin recalls,

“I was sitting in the lead-group for 3 laps but the pace from Cannondale was a bit too fast. I lost the group and finished another 4 laps on my own in the wind.”

Martin held on to finish in a super strong sixth place and is really happy with his form at two weeks to go until the first World Cup.

All in all it was a brilliant weekend for the team and we are really excited by each rider’s performance. Time to fine tune and get ready for World Cup competition!

Bike the Rock @ Heubach

With the European XCO season in full swing we were racing again this weekend, this time at the classic HC class ‘Bike the Rock’ race in Heubach, Germany. 

Martin and Isla lined up with another stellar field of international hitters as everyone prepares for the first World Cup in two weeks time.

Isla had an absolute stormer of a race, making a fast start and then more than holding her own as the six laps ticked by. The long, steep climb played to her strengths and she managed the descents brilliantly. A tenth place in this Elite field for a twenty year old is very impressive! We are super proud and can’t wait to see what the World Cups will bring as Isla rejoins her U23 category.

Martin has a less satisfying race on a course which would always prove difficult for his style and strengths. However, from the very beginning he was prepared to dig deep and put himself in the hurt box! After the race, he reported,

“Tough racing at Heubach today. At least good training but no result – finished 36th. Looking forward to a course that suits me better at Hadleigh Park next weekend.”

With only two weeks to go until the first World Cup in the Czech Republic, all our riders are in full focus with a huge amount of motivation. It is, as always, astonishing and inspiring to see their commitment day in and day out. Let’s see what May will bring.