Tuesday, September 01, 2009

2009 Marathon World Championships

Every time that I have pulled on the green (and this year, really really green) jersey to represent Ireland it has been something special. In my short cycling career I have not done this many times (yet) but each time it means a lot to me. To top all that, heading to a World Championship, with all the big name riders sporting their countries flags is something to cherish. With all that in mind, Mel and I headed to Graz in Austria for the 2009 Marathon World Championships.

Course Profile

With 3810 meters of climb spread over 104 kilometers of fireroads, single track, river beds, grass and tarmac, the course for the 2009 Marathon World Championships looked to be the toughest race of the year. Upon arriving, two days before the big event, the idea that it was a difficult course was backed up by every competitor we met that had ridden the course. An easy way to grasp the course is it think of it as a very technical XC course stretched in both distance and elevation – everything was to the extreme. Even 2007 Marathon World Champion, Christoph Sauser claimed it to be the most difficult marathon course ever – sweet :)

Mel and I arrived at the race venue Friday afternoon (race was Sunday) hoping to get a little easy riding in to help relax our tired bodies from all the travelling. After building the bikes, we decided to ride the first few kilometers of the course. After a couple of kilometers of gentle tarmac climbing we hit the first obstacle, a 1.5 kilometer road climb that averaged 21% and had stretches at 28%. Not exactly easy riding – with the granny gear in use, we tootled up it. After that, we rode the final 2 kilometers of singletrack back to the start/finish – a really fun section of pointy rocks and slippery roots – a section where good balance and the ability to stay away from using the brakes would be key. It was at this point that I knew my S-Works Epic was the perfect bike for the race – indeed, almost all the top riders, male and female rode full suspension bikes for the race.

A flag for every nation there - I was the only Irish

The following day, a Gondola ride (who wants to climb for an hour the day before a marathon race?) took Melanie, Elisabeth Brandau and myself to the highest point in the course, Schockl-Bergstation. From there it was an hour of fun technical riding back to the start.

Mel preps bottles, I prep bikes

Race morning arrived and my legs felt pretty good. A 15 minute warmup had me down for gridding just in time. Unlike last year (dead last), my grid position was amazing – called up 16th. I knew that I would not be beating my number plate (this year) – but to start from the front, rather than the back was nice – especially going into the steep initial climb. The race started at an easy tempo as we rode over to the base of the steep climb and at that point, everyone switched into top gear. Looking around, you would think you were in a 1 hour cyclocross race, not a 5 hour marathon. My heart rate was sky high and I knew that if I pushed too hard, for too long, I would really pay later in the day so I allowed myself to slip back (mistake?). Soon, we were on virgin trails (to me at least) – with the rain the night before some of the sections turned pretty slick and I was having a great time slipping by riders less accustomed to riding in the wet.

One of the really stressful things about racing abroad for Mel and I, especially marathons, is race/feed support – we have none! Mel and I are privateer racers and all expenses are out of our own pocket – getting to these races costs a lot and the support we get from other racers and their supporters means a huge amount to us. At the worlds, thanks to Andy at SportAmed for taking us under his wing. He (obviously) had to support his own team riders first but even taking the bottles to the various locations was a huge help. Andy was helping us, but, as I say, he had his riders to account for which meant that I was either getting a handup from Andy (thanks!) or he left the bottles at the side of the feed zone for us to stop and grab. Now, in a lot of races, the feed zones are pretty civil affairs – not here – it was a chaotic jungle of screams, shouts and bottles flying. It was really amazing but not exactly conducive to finding a bottle at the side of the feed zone! Anyway, during the race, I missed a few bottles, lost contract with riders while I searched for bottles and had to deal with the stress of trying to sort all this out before the start. I said it last year, I'll say it again – WE NEED SUPPORT AT THESE THINGS. A few minutes difference in my race time was quite a few positions. Just having support would have given me this. Anyway...

More big climbs and more super fun descents were on the cards. I had heard a lot about some extreme descents but I didn't find anything too nuts. Sections of off-camber rooty goodness followed by 500 meter long rock gardens straight down the side of a mountain – great fun.

The long climb up to Schockl seemed to take forever but as the climb went on, I actually felt better and better (maybe it was the Guava TorQ gels?). I passed a lot of riders that looked to be paying for their earlier efforts. At the neutral feed at the top I grabbed a Redbull and started the long steep descent. As with all the riding in the day, I cleared all the descents cleanly but there was many a sketchy moment when the front and rear suspension saved me. In training, I would never hit some of the sections so fast, but when you are in a race, especially wearing your countrie's colours, a little go faster bulb seems to go off in my head and I imagine myself riding a downhill bike with full armour (rather than a 9 kilo wippet bike with me in lycra!).

As I entered the final kilometer of the course, I saw a German jersey, a white Specialized Helmet and another Epic – I had caught Mel. She started 15 minutes after me but had a shorter route. I nipped past her on a bend (I had been passing men on the way down the descent and I wasn't finished yet) and told her to hang on to me. A couple of minutes later I crossed the line happy to be finished with Mel following a few seconds later – it was really nice for us to be both over the line at the same time.

My race time was 5:23 which placed be 64th - a little over half way up the field. I had a pretty good race but have a top 40 as a goal for next year (15 minutes faster would have had me there this year).

Many many thanks to our main sponsors, KCNC, Schwalbe, TorQ, Crankbrothers but especially to Cycleways and Specialized for helping us ride the best bikes available.

Mens Results
1 Roel Paulissen (Belgium) 4:34:37
2 Alban Lakata (Austria)
3 Christoph Sauser (Switzerland)
4 Christoph Soukup (Austria)
5 Wolfram Kurschat (Germany)
6 Alexey Medvedev (Russian Federation)

23 Oli Beckingsale (Great Britain)
64 Ryan Sherlock (Ireland)
72 Paul Oldham (Great Britain)

1 comment:

Bill said...

Nice job!