Tuesday, March 16, 2010

2010 Israel Cup Round 3 and 4 - Ma'anit and Haifa

When Mel and I where organizing our trip to Cyprus for the Sunshine Cup we also noticed that there were a few UCI International races being held in Israel over two weekends around the same time. Unfortunately, the first two races, on the first weekend, clashed with the final round of the Sunshine Cup but the final two races, in Ma’anit Forest and Haifa, home to the 2010 European Championships, looked perfect. With that, we booked the flights (210 euro each for the 300 kilometer flight) and contacted the organizers.

Weeks later, we finished up the Sunshine Cup and took the short flight over to Israel not really knowing what to expect – it was our first time in Israel and first time in the Middle East. I’ll leave it to another time to talk about our impressions (very positive) and just stick to the racing for now.

We only had one day before the back to back cross country races – we started out riding two laps of Ma’anit which looked to be a very flat course – 1 km into the 7 km lap I was thinking, oh, no, this is really boring – just like Sherwood pines. Fortunately, the likeness ended. After the first 1-2 km of fireroad and pretty boring (straight) single track you hit a beautiful shaded (in the heat and humidity this was really important) single track climb that shot you into super fast, grippy, well designed singletrack. Every corner was perfectly curved to carry maximum speed and breaking was an afterthought. I usually don’t like such flat courses but this one really stood out for the quality of the single track. It also had some mildly technically rocky sections and step-ups to make sure the heart rate never drops too low.

After riding 2 laps and sweating what felt like 3 liters of water we headed to Haifa for a lap of that course – we would not be able to preride the morning of the race (due to other races) and the course was apparently very technical so another preride in the heat was mandatory.

Ma'anit Profile

The course was very different from Ma'anit – more climbing, lots of singletrack (but still reasonable passing opportunities) and a few very technical sections. Unlike Ma’anit, many of the corners where very lose and would optimally be ridden many times to see how quick you can take them. We had one lap (nowhere near enough) but at least we wouldn’t be riding the course completely blind. If there was one thing I would have changed about the preride/racing, I would have ridden a few more laps, fatigue be damned.

The Ma'anit race morning arrived with a panic – I had some technical issues with my bike that needed fixing before I could use it! Not nice to see at 9am when you have a 40 minute drive to the venue and a 11am start! I’ll mention them again in another post but a call to Matzman Merutz had us calmed down and heading to their bike shop. I dropped off Mel at the venue first (to register us) and got my bike working, arriving at the race venue 30 minutes before the start – a short warmup, which, considering the heat, 35C+ and 60% humidity, may not have been that bad of an idea, and I was on the start line.

The start was fast as we shuffled around before we entered the first singletrack section – the size of the field was smaller than in Cyprus but still high quality – I think the size made the start a little less stressful. 7 laps of the 15 minute, 7km course seemed to fly by. I ended up being about 20 seconds back on a road race (guys riding in a group) for the first few laps but that broke up a bit and I moved up a few positions – feeling dried out but surprisingly okay – I finished up in 12th, behind Austrian Champion Hannes Metzler. My laps were consistent which I was happy with considering the heat – the bottle of water I threw over myself at the second feedzone really did seem to help a lot. Funnily, after the race I checked the Garmin and we still managed almost 800 meters of climb over the race – no big climbs but I guess all the slight drags added up. Many thanks to Benjamin Sonntag’s dad, Claus, for doing feed support for the race.

After a nice lunch, and a dinner shortly after that, the next day’s race was on our minds. This next course was going to be much more difficult – I didn’t ‘know’ the course at all – it was the type that you really need to ride a few times to learn the lines – at 6km, it was also pretty long but despite the climb and technical sections it would still be pretty fast.

After a pretty good warmup we lined up, again in the heat with no shade (I wonder what the European champs will be like when it is 40C+ here?). The start went okay, attack after attack going off the front in order to get good position for the technical singletrack. All was going pretty well until the first proper technical downhill section – there was a rock drop that you had to get right and then turn into a left hander – all was happy until the pleb, sorry, rider, in front of me stalled after the drop – I had nowhere to go but down the drop and then over the bars. Bang – blood flowing from my leg, arm, I was winded and again had a bruised butt. I was a touch annoyed. I picked myself up, checked the bike (perfect thankfully) and by the time I got going again, Maja Wloszczowska (female Silver medalist from the Olympics) was almost on my tail. A junior had also gotten by that seemed to know the course (and was thus hard to get past) and was pretty slow on the singletrack techy climbs. Eventually I got by and started to work my way through the field again – my leg was throbbing but being the last race of the series, and having a while until the next international race, I pushed on. Like the previous day, we had another hot day – unfortunately, when I came through for my bottle going onto the 4th lap (we had six laps) – my feed supporter didn’t notice me (despite my screams) and I missed a bottle – crap – I was thinking about the fresh bottle for half a lap and now it would be another 21 minutes. I grabbed my bottle on the next lap and had the almost 500ml down me before I left the feedzone! To top it though, as I came through for my final lap my feed supporter was nowhere to be seen – another lap without a bottle – the last few laps where very tough, I felt very dehydrated and finished the race feeling like a dried up pretzel – it took two days for my skin to return to looking normal. Afterwards though, looking at the lap times, my laps where consistent and my last (like the previous day) was actually my second fastest – my legs were gone on the climbs but I more than made up for that in the techy sections – I really wish we had more time on the course.

Haifa Profile

A bloody knee...

With that, our weekend of racing in Israel was complete – my favorite race was the first in Ma'anit – it really was a fun course. The course in Haifa seemed to be a little scattered, it didn’t really flow as a complete lap and the corners where pretty lose (apparently, in July it will be much more dusty). Still though, it will be a good course for the European champs with a very fit and technically skilled rider coming out on top (oh, and they must be able to deal with the heat!).

Results for Ma'anit are here and Haifa here.

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