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!