Tackling the tough Dalby World Cup course
After an introduction to World Cup racing on the familiar course at Dalby Forest two weeks ago, last weekend was time to find out what European racing has to offer.
WXC World Racing team-mate Carla and I spent a few days training on beautiful flat, windy roads around York before a major overnight road-trip down to sunny Offenburg in Germany. Offenburg is a well known name for anyone involved inXC racing and has a reputation for great crowds and a technical course so to actually be there was exciting.
The course didn’t disappoint, it is an awesome combination of flowy fast trails, singletrack climbs, rooty sections and some super steep scary drops, all based around a small area of forest surrounded by pretty hills and vineyards.
There were a few parts of the course that you roll up to initially and peer gingerly over the edge thinking “oh god! how am I going to get down there?” but once I’d picked a line and got my head in gear they were fine.
With practice limited to a 2 hour time window, everyone was riding at the same time and there was chance to ride behind guys like Geoff Kabush and the Flueckger brothers to see how they did it (fast!). After soaking up the atmosphere and hot sun watching the u23 men’s race it was back to the hotel to get the legs up and make some final race preparations.
A good warm up, herded like cattle into the starting pens, hanging around trying to stay calm and focused and finally called to the start line as hundreds of people stand watching. 15 seconds to go, ready to snap into action. Bang, pedal hard, this speed is crazy, dust flying everywhere.
Oh theres a crash, get past them quick, arghhh, someone caught my wheel and I was suddenly on the floor watching the pack disappear in front of me and having to chase hard to get back onto the back.
Supporters lined the course the whole way around and with beer tents, loud speakers and pumping cheesy euro music at each of the major technical sections, the party atmosphere was incredible. Germans certainly know how to put on a mountain bike race. I took a while to get into the race, the bad start messed with my head, but as it went on my legs came around a bit and I had some good battles with a few girls around me.
The highlight of the course is around the feedzone zone where two parts of the lap pass by each other, the ‘wolfsdrop’ a massive rooty drop on one side, and the ‘snake pit’ a technical maze of bit roots on the other. It forms a big arena area for spectators and the roars of the crowd as we came into it gave me goosepimples.
It required concentration though as it’s a spot for lots of crashes, the first aiders had a busy weekend and hearing ambulance sirens midway through a race was a little disconcerting!I rode a bit better than last week, but have had some issues with calf muscles recently which seems to be hindering race performances so wasn’t overly happy with my result.
A very short lap meant the chances of getting pulled before the end were high so on lap 4 I put in an extra effort in an attempt to stay in. Coming towards the last steep climb I saw the evil 80% people blocking the way and realised it was over.
I finished 69th about 40 seconds off staying in for the final lap. The number of competitors and the significance of the event has meant the last couple of weeks have felt more about learning to deal with the pressure of competing and fighting for position when starting at the back of the field than going out and racing your hardest as would normally be the case.Watching the men’s race was impressive, the speed they hit the technical sections is incredible, Absalon especially seems to float around the course on a cushion of air making everything look so easy.
The next day after a lazy breakfast on a hot sunny terrace, a tour of the Black Forest and yummy icecream, it was time to head back to Dublin where the pro-racing bubble was quickly burst with a return to reality and a 20°C temperature drop.
It’s been an amazing couple of weeks not just for the racing experiences but seeing new places, catching up with racing friends and meeting loads of friendly like minded riders from all over the world.