2017 World Championships – Pedal to Medal

What a way to finish an amazing 2017 season!

Annie Last rode a technically and tactically superb race to take the silver medal, while Mariske Strauss came back from a physically and mentally tough year to claim a strong 24th position.

Riding in their national team colours of Great Britain and South Africa, Annie and Mariske both got great starts as the race got underway in Cairns, Australia. The start loop was flat out but both ladies slotted into the top ten which set them up for a great opening lap in the natural, dusty and rocky trails of the rainforest.

At the end of lap one, Annie had made her way to the very front of the race and led through the finish line and out onto lap two. She pushed eventual winner, Jolanda Neff, on the opening climb and matched her on the notoriously tricky descents. However, Neff was just too strong and began to pull away. Annie settled in second as Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and Irina Kalentyeva both challenged but then faltered with flat tyres.

Meanwhile Mariske was proving she is back to her best. Surrounded by many of the sport’s top names, she held her position inside the top 15 and settled into a fast pace. Unfortunately a small crash cost her some time and positions, and a knock to her rear mech meant she then had to deal with skipping gears. However, despite this she rode really strongly throughout the race and finished with a fine 24th spot.

By the final lap of the race all Annie had to do was keep it safe and smooth, and the silver medal was hers. We held our breath as she rocketed down the rocks and swung through the dusty berms of the jungle. And then the tarmac appeared and finish straight opened out ahead of her. What a ride! Annie became the first ever British Elite Woman to win a medal at an XC World Championships. With obvious delight she crossed the line, hands aloft and wearing a huge smile.

We couldn’t be more proud of Annie and Mariske and the way they rode this weekend; they are so deserving of their success. Congratulations ladies. Now let’s enjoy a drink. Cheers!

World Cup #6 – 4th at Finale

It’s hard to believe the 2017 World Cup is over. The season has flown by in a flurry of travel, races and results.

The final stop on the circuit was Val di Sole in Italy’s Trentino region.

 

The Valley of the Sun gave us some hot racing, kick started by an exciting U23 Women’s race. Isla had been happy on course all week, and went into Sunday’s race with a relaxed manner and quiet optimism. With two top tens already under her belt this season, the pressure was off and that – coupled with amazing form and well-deserved confidence – made for her best result yet.

 

A brilliant start from the second row of the grid saw Isla leading out the race, but lessons learnt from last week in Basel meant she backed off and tucked in as they began to climb. Feeling strong, Isla slotted into 5th place and kept a steady pace as the field strung out. Dropping into the first descent, the top five had already pulled out a gap on the rest of the field. Kate Courtney led into lap one, followed by Sina Frei, Evie Richards, Martina Berta and then Isla. Courtney, Frie and Richards pulled away and Isla’s race developed into a battle for 4th. She was stronger on the climbs but Berta was quicker on the descents. Isla played a tactical game and made gains where she could but without expending too much energy. Eventually she was able to eek out an advantage; firstly just a few seconds, then up to as much as 45 seconds. By the fifth and final lap, Isla was looking very comfortable in 4th. After the race she explained that she had left some energy in the tank in case she would have to fight it out with Berta in the final stages of the race, but it wasn’t needed and Isla could ride a sensible last lap to secure herself an amazing result and a wonderful end to her successful World Cup season. She high fived the crowds as she rode into the finish, and the smile is as broad now as it was then. There is a huge sense of satisfaction in achieving what you know you are capable of, as a result of really hard work. Congratulations Isla!

It was great to have Mariske back racing a World Cup after an unscheduled but much-needed mid-season break. She lined up with Annie in the Elite Women’s race at 1215.

Once again it was Annie who led the race off the line and into the start loop. Unfortunately towards the end of lap one – when riding in third place – she burped her rear tyre and immediately lost time and places on the long climb and through the final switchback descent. Lee did a really quick wheel change in the tech zone and Annie re-joined the race in 21st position. As the race went on Annie began to suffer with stomach problems and this thwarted any attempt to claw back the places she had lost. Twenty-fourth position was not the result she was hoping for, but Annie is certainly carrying some great form.

Mariske had a solid start and a strong race, handling the intensity of World Cup racing well given her time off. She settled into around 50th position, jostling for positions on each climb and descent. Bad luck struck again though, this time not a mechanical but a bee sting! Mariske was able to finish her race (in 50th position) but her allergic reaction was getting serious and we had to get medical attention. Thankfully everything was quickly brought under control and she is fine now.

Both Annie and Mariske now travel to Cairns, Australia, for the World Championships. Good luck ladies!

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Suddenly it was the last race of the day, and the last race of the World Cup season.

Martin was content with his race, after some disappointing results in the previous rounds. He was able to put in a strong performance in Val di Sole and fight each lap with consistent times to keep his position in the race. Seven fast and furious laps ended with a solid 53rd place.

There are just a few races left in the season now, and then we can finally begin to unwind and assess what has been a remarkable year. We have had our best ever results in the World Cup, with the highlight of course being Annie’s win in Lenzerheide. But each and every member of the team deserves mention for their incredibly hard work and great team spirit over six tough rounds of racing. Together, #weareOMX.

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.

Top spots at British XC Series

What’s better than winning the race? Winning the race and coming 2nd as well! Annie Last and Isla Short made it a 1 2 for OMX at round four of the British XC Series in Dalby, Yorkshire, yesterday. 

It was great to be back at Dalby Forest, the site of the team’s first ever World Cup, back in 2010. The course is a great mixture of technical, natural features and tough climbs, and, even with the rain and mud, it put a smile on the ladies’ muddy faces!

Following on from her brilliant World Cup performances, Annie was the clear favourite to take the win, and she did so in emphatic style. Isla woke up with a sore throat on Sunday morning and was unsure whether to race, but she took to the start and rode a sensible, conservative race and still came away with second place.

After her race, Isla summed it all up,

“Today was about getting a solid race effort out and having some fun on my new Sesta after waking up with a mega sore throat and wandering whether I should be racing. I was conscious of not going too deep so I tapped away, did some shredding and I’m very happy with 2nd!”

Annie was also content with her race,

“It was a long race, but we knew at the start that was going to be the case, so I just went out there and focused on getting a good rhythm, looking after the bike (because it was muddy I didn’t want to take too many chances and suffer a mechanical), looking after the body and just enjoying it. It’s nice to race on home soil and especially here in Dalby on the World Cup course, and of course it’s always good to get your hands in the air.”

Now back to the mega block of training in preparation for the next World Cups. And hopefully some day soon one of those World Cups will be back at Dalby!

 

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.