Champion Weekend!

The fight for the stripes is always special. The biggest race of the domestic calendar, often in front of friends and family, and with the pride of a Champion’s jersey at stake.

 

We are delighted to say that the team retained both of its National Championship titles, with Great Britain’s Annie Last and South Africa’s Mariske Strauss. Isla Short also scored a medal in Britain, and Martin Gluth rounded out a top weekend with a top ten in Germany.

Mariske kicked of proceedings on Saturday in Mankele, SA. After some time away from racing to rest, reset and refocus following a hectic start to the year, the National Championships came with added uncertainty. However, Mariske was in it to win it, and she soon proved that she was still the strongest. Breaking away on lap two, she pulled out a comfortable lead and crossed the line with her trademark big grin!

 

Both our British riders went into Sunday’s race at Cannock Chase, England, with brilliant World Cup results behind them and looking to showcase their form in home soil. Annie led the Elite race from the gun and over six laps managed to increase her lead to an incredible fourteen minutes to take her fifth Elite National title.

In the U23 race, Isla had World Cup winning competition from Evie Richards. Richards went on to win the race but not without a brilliant fight from Isla who held Richards within a minute by the race finish. Isla took a superb silver medal and also a renewed confidence in her ability to challenge the best U23 riders in the World.

Over in Germany, Martin lined up amongst a strong field for the highly contested black, red and gold stripes. Martin got a great start and was in second wheel on lap one, behind the eventual winner Manuel Fumic. Unfortunately, a crash cost him a lot of time and places, and finding the rhythm again was hard. Martin rode in 12/13th position for the following laps and then managed to move up to 9th place by the finish.

 

Three medals and two Champion’s jerseys is not a bad haul from one weekend! We are really proud.

World Cup #4 – VICTORY!

Sunday was proof that dreams come true.

If you truly believe, and you work with unwavering dedication, then a vision that has been many years in the making can pull into perfect focus.

Annie Last had the ride of her life on Sunday; an exemplary performance that married technical skill, power, fitness, and tactical nouse. It was the culmination of over ten years of training, racing and fine-tuning every aspect of her life as an athlete to deliver the ultimate result.

Gridded on the second row, Annie got a fantastic start, slotting into sixth place up the first climb and thus avoiding the ensuing carnage in the first technical single track section. Annie quickly settled into the race and was, as in training, riding with obvious strength and efficiency on the unique Lenzerheide course. Overnight rain had made the abundant roots and off-camber, natural tracks treacherous. From lap one, Annie made the decision to run some sections, rather than slip and slide to an unceremonious dismount, something which paid dividends as the race progressed.

Soon, seventh place had dropped back and Annie was beginning to edge closer to a podium position. By the end of lap two she was up to fifth place and did not look like slowing down. Indeed, Jolanda Neff and Maja Wlosczowska riding together in 3rd and 4th, were soon just ahead of her. With the course so slippy, it would have been easy for Annie to overcook it as she pressed on to close the gap, but it was in fact Neff who dropped back and then Wloscszowska who made an untimely mistake which let Annie pass into 3rd.

The team radio crackled with nervous excitement and the relaying of time gaps and the race situation. A podium position was the goal, and now, with two laps to go, Annie was knocking on the door of her first World Cup win.

World Cup leader, Yana Belomoina, and MTB legend, Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjaa, were duelling it out at the front of the race, but they were about to get an unexpected visitor! First there was a small crash for Belomoina, and then a slip from Dahle Flesjaa, and now, on the final lap, Annie Last was leading the World Cup. Momentum was with her, and now the belief and the adrenaline kicked in as well.

We held our breath. We paced and shook with nerves and excitement. Could this really be about to happen? And then it did.

Annie rode a brilliant final half lap to establish just enough of a lead to eliminate the need for a sprint finish. She exited the final single track section and rolled up and over the bridge onto the finish straight. This was it. The crowd roared with appreciation of a magnificent performance and a new World Cup victor. Annie took one final look behind her and then raised her hands to cross the line and make her, and our, dream come true.

It is difficult to put into words what this means to us, so more of that in a later story. In this moment we just smiled, cried and hugged a lot! We are all so incredibly proud.

Of course, it takes a team of people to bring about a result like this, and two very important team members also raced on Sunday. As always, they encapsulated the ethos of our team and left us smiling.

Isla Short, following on from her brilliant eighth place finish last week in Andorra, was full of confidence. Confidence is what you would expect following a career-best result, but not what you would imagine from a young lady who broke her back on this course two years ago! Isla has come such a long way since then, physically but also mentally. Her approach to racing and how she deals with the mental challenges that brings has matured immeasurably and that alone makes us really proud. However, she added another layer of awesome on Sunday with a classy ride to 12th place. Isla had a monster crash on lap one which left her winded and wobbling. However, she got up, got going and got on with her race remarkably. She’s a fighter, and she’s going places!

Martin Gluth had the tough job of following on from Annie’s race. He interrupted his warm up to give Annie a big congratulatory hug and share in the moment, but then it was time to find his focus and get race-ready. He had a great start but unfortunately, like last week in Vallnord, he just couldn’t find his power and struggled throughout the race. Technically he rode really well but it wasn’t enough to hold onto the kind of result he is looking for. A 63rd place left him with many more questions than answers. However, Martin quickly turned around his disappointment and put the team’s success above his own race. It was humbling to see his selflessness and support of Annie and Team Manager, Paul. Thanks Martin!

Now we are all back home and trying to let this extraordinary weekend sink in.

Thank you to everyone for your support, belief and messages of congratulations. It means a great deal to this small team from England!

 

 

World Cup #3 – Fight at Height

Round three of the UCI World Cup took us to the high Andorran mountains and the stunning venue of Vallnord Bike Park.

Unfortunately Mariske didn’t make the trip and instead stayed at home in South Africa to rest and reset after a hectic start to her year. Meanwhile, Annie, Isla and Martin all prepared for the race on altitude training camps with their national federations. By Thursday last week riders and staff were all together and ready to make the final preparations for the race.

The weather was a constant source of wonderment; how quickly it changed and what it would do next. Thankfully the sun shone on us for race day, although the day started early and cold.

Isla got the racing underway for us at 0830; there was no time for bleary eyes, foggy brains or sleepy legs! Thankfully Isla suffered none of these and went about riding herself into her first-ever top ten U23 result. Plans made, lessons learnt and demons slain; Isla was in control of this race from the start and it showed. As the riders around her came and went, she rode a steady, calculated race with an all-out final lap to secure an amazing eighth place. More than the result, it was the beaming smile that Isla wore as she crossed the line that made us all so happy and proud. As she lay down recovering her breath, Isla explained:

“That was the smartest I’ve ever raced, and racing smart pays off. I’m so happy.”

With big, congratulatory hugs from her team mates, it was exit stage left for Isla and enter centre stage for Annie. The all-too familiar whir of the rollers wound up as focus turned to the Elite Women. Annie was gridded on the second row after her brilliant start to the World Cup season and she was once again in the mix in Vallnord. The strength in depth of the Women’s field is impressive at the moment, and it is great to see Annie up there duking it out with some of the biggest names in the sport. Indeed, battling to be in the front groups of such a big bike race is where Annie belongs. In Andorra the top ten just slipped away on the final lap and Annie finished in 17th spot. She was evidently disappointed after the race, and later explained:

“I felt really strong, but I just couldn’t hit the high revs. I was ready to make moves and close gaps but I was flat; I couldn’t get to the strength I knew I had. My heart rate wasn’t as high as it should be, especially at altitude. It was frustrating. Now I am having an easy week to freshen up and energise for Lenzerheide. You can’t make training gains in one week, so I am just focussed on being fresh. I’m really looking forward to racing in Lenzerheide again and in front of the Swiss crowds, they just love it!”

Onto the final race of the day and the highs of Isla’s race made the lows of Martin’s all the more salient. Martin could not hide his disappointment following his withdrawal from the race:

“Sh!t start, no power and suffering from the first minute! What an off-day for me. I tried really hard to turn things around but it wasn’t getting any better so I had to pull out in lap 4. Need to tick that race off ASAP and get the focus back for next week.”

Some days it just doesn’t go your way. It’s extremely hard when, as an athlete, you don’t have any answers to why things didn’t go to plan. However, Martin is already looking forward to a new race this weekend in Lenzerheide and we are confident he can turn things around.

With the next World Cup just around the corner we are already set up here in Switzerland. Official training begins today and before we know it we will be on the start line again! Stay tuned with updates across our social media channels, and don’t forget you can watch the Elite races live on Red Bull TV on Sunday.