Lead up to World Marathon Champs

IMG_4112Heading into a hanging Austrian side valley at 1700 Meters was the perfect location to rest up from 4 days of climbing at the Alpen Tour.  It was also ideal to start acclimatizing to the medium altitude (1500M-2200M) which the World Marathon Championships will take place at.  There’s nothing like the power of nature to heal the body and after 3 days of relaxing it was back on the bike for 4 days of solid climbing practice in  the surrounding alpine.

The riding in the Otzal Alps was great as long fire roads  lead up to alpine huts where a guy could stop for a warm drink before searching out some single track for the return.    The weather was iffy with rain and temperatures hovering between +2 to +10 but when you grow up in the Rocky Mountains surrounding Jasper this feels fine and the crisp cool air sure brings one alive!IMG_4121

Heading into Italy the weather turned for the better at the border and with 5 days till race day we are busy checking out the 87 km course with 4700 Meters of climbing.  It’s a real monster and one of  the hardest sub 100 km race courses I’ve ever experienced.  It’s 80 % fireroad and snakes its way around the alpine under the towering Dolomite peaks with some nice single track descending mixed in.

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Last year I raced here in the UCI Marathon World Series with over 4000 other cyclists  and finished 15th in what is a pure climbers course.  This year will be even harder against the Worlds best but with 4 days left to pre-ride the course, the right bike in my Kona King Kahuna, and huge motivation to finish this Euro campaign on a high note I have a feeling it will  be a good one!

Previews of the race can be found at:   www.sellarondhero.com & Marathonmtb.com

 

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Bavarian Alps- Alpen Tour

4912917-Funny-snail-trying-alternative-transport-on-a-bike-Stock-PhotoThis trip over to Europe hasn’t gone to plan racing wise so I’ve put that on the back burner for now and have been trying to soak in the great European culture and landscapes. There’s been a lot of good times with friends and everyday is a learning curve over here in the European racing scene.    Times like these require some patience as the body will come around eventually but sometimes it takes longer then you wish!

The German World Cup was followed by a great 9 days staying with Manuel Weissenbacher and his family in there Austrian home just south of Salzburg. It felt like home and was a perfect place to enjoy some good company, eat fresh garden salads and relax.  We also had a solid training week in the surrounding IMG_3871Bavarian Alps with Anderl and Manuel giving a great tour of there training grounds.  These guys know how to enjoy there rides and can rip up the single track.  I’ll be looking forward to the next time our self proclaimed “Maple leaf crew” meets up for some rides, hopefully on the other side of the pond.

This past weekend was spent in the rugged Schladming-Dachstein region for the 4 day Alpen Tour Trophy.  It’s one of the toughest races I’ve ever done as it’s Marathons version of a World Cup  and is a pure climbers race.  The scenery is awesome as every day we race high up into the Alpine below towering mountains and clear mountain lakes. CRO_9520-19 It sounds nice but if you don’t have your A game it’s a fight just to stay in the top 60.

My mind and body are still uncoordinated as I battle through a rough patch so I had to take in the scenery this time and use it as a solid 4 day building block as I still have my fingers crossed for a turnaround before Marathon Worlds  in a couple weeks.

 

A race report from last years Alpen Tour in which I raced properly and finished 16th overall can be found here  http://www.corywallace.com/2014/06/alpen-tour/ IMG_0976

Racing in Europe is tough at the best of times.  It’s a different style over here as most the races are purely built around fitness, while bike riding skills aren’t generally that important.  The fields are insanely deep as well with often 30+ guys legitimacy fighting for a podium pot.  In North America our racing is generally a bit more relaxed with loads of single track and shorter races.  I figure if a guy can gather some European fitness and combine it with North American trail riding skills it should make for a pretty deadly combo.IMG_3935

Off to the high Austrian Alps to hideout in a small valley and soak in some thin alpine air before heading off to the Italian Dolomites for some final preps before Marathon Worlds!

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German World Cup

uci_wordcup_logoLimping into a World Cup XC wasn’t an easy call to make after a rough month on the bike but sometimes races like this can light a fire under ones ass.  Watching KONA teammate Spencer Paxson the week before work his way up from 115th to 65th in Czech inspired me so I threw my name into the hat.    I got worked over royally but at the same time came away with an interesting experience.    Getting to ride an European World Cup with over 150 of the Worlds fastest racers in front of thousands of screaming fans was pretty cool.  sheep-jam

During the start loop the elbows were high as riders from the back took big risks bulldozing there way up into the field.  Two minutes into the race we hit the base of the first single track climb which created a situation in which 100+ of the Worlds best bikers stood around in the German forest like a bunch of anxious sheep.  Anyone outside the top 30 was left stuck and soon it turned into a pushy line like an Old Dehli train station.

Having a chance to catch my breath at this point I looked back to see the damage, and realized there were just 5 riders behind me.  With a coughing diesel engine and a flimsy shoulder on my mind I had really failed the start loop portion of this game.   As a result it was a long wait in line, enough time to start conversations with the surrounding riders, then when it was our turn to go we’d sprint all out to the next traffic jam and continue the conversation.  We had enough time to discuss all the Worlds problems and come up with solutions as well.

The leaders did the first lap in around 11 minutes and I rolled through nearly 5 minutes down.  The 2nd lap was a bit bett11336901_943163011645_5660616829512079134_oer but the combination of sprinting all out and then standing and waiting is not something I have practiced enough in training this year.  With the 80% rule in effect, there was just over 1 more minute to lose before the officials pulled me from the race after lap 3.   Lap 3 we could actually ride without too many jams but by this point it was nearly game over as the guys at the front end of this race were rocketing around the course!

The last week in Belgium was great as I moved over to my friend Christof Marien’s place in eastern Belgium.  Over here there were a few more patches of trees, some nice fishing holes, and some quieter riding if you went east into the Netherlands.   Belgium was a nice place to visit for 3 weeks but the flatness and lack of any wilderness started to crack me good.

It was an exciting day to pack up Christof’s, parents RV and head south down the German Autobahn to Albstadat Germany for a weekend at the World Cup XC races.  Driving the Autobahn is something else with cars ripping by at 160 km/hr +.  I learned quickly if your a big motorhome driven at 110 km/hr you better be in the far right lane or else you’ll have a pile of pissed off Germans behind you.  In Albstadt we found a quiet corner of a Grocery store parkinglot and set up camp for the weekend, just a stone throw away from the start finish area.

Pre-riding the slick 4 km course on Saturday was scary as the stoney surface was like ice.  Knowing one fall on the2015 Albstadt World Cup - Elite Men shoulder could end my season I chose to stay off the slicker top half of the course and focused riding the second half of the course.  It’s surprising how poor your single track skills get after not riding any real trail in 1.5 months.   Lap by lap the skills slowly came back, following the lines of Nino Shurter and Absalon certainly helped speed up the process.IMG_3812

It was a relief waking up on Sunday morning to sunny skies as the course is real simple to ride in the dry, but one of the scariest danm things in the World if its slick!  My head was more in survival mode for the day which is no way to enter a World Cup.  In hindsight it was ridiculous to line up at this race with my mind and body so uncoordinated at the moment but some opportunities are just too cool to pass up..

After an overnight with my friend Aaron Schooler and a ride to the Ritter Sport Chocolate factory, it was off on the German trainline to my friends Manuel and Anderl in the Bavarian Alps just south of Salzburg.   We’ve had a stellar training week up to now which has been a great way to rebound the spirit and body as the build up to the Marathon Worlds continues..IMG_3850

Off to soak in some more Austrian Alpine air :)     (Thanks Robert Jones & Canadian Cyclist for the nice action shots)


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Belgian Mountainbike Challenge

10379837_786688554685630_4916834612099346022_oSome times you win, sometimes you lose, and other times you get spanked really good.  I’m not talking about sketchy European red light districts,  but rather the 3 day Belgian Mountainbike Challenge down in La Roche en Ardenne in the southern hills of Belgium .   Tom Smets had invited me over to Belgium and together with his wife Ilse have been a great homestay and tour guides of there small country.  Tom had organized this weekend at the BeMC so we took off thursday morning for the mountains (all 600 meters of them) of Belgium! The first half of the drive was pancake flat then we hit some nice rolling hills and the small town of La Roche situated along a deep river ravine.  It was a nice oasis of a pocket compared to the flatlands of Belgium with an ancient castle towering over the town and a pedestrian only cobblestone downtown core.IMG_3714

The race itself with over 500 racers started on the cobblestone streets, it was a tight fit getting us all in there but luckily I had the #3 call up as it was based on UCI points.  The days before the race we had prayed for sunny skies, but it was to no prevail as the rain clouds moved in and turned the 67km, 2200 M vertical course into a muddy pig sty.  The first climb was intense with many of Belgiums World Class Cyclo cross taking to the front.  Once we hit the mud it was a gongshow with bikes and bodies sliding everywhere.  The racing itself was hardcore with steep 3-6 minute climbs up sloppy fire roads, followed by 20-40 second descents at 100 miles an hour back down so we could start the next climb ASAP.  My body worked for the first 20 minutes then fell ill and went into hibernation mode.  Usually my body will come around in the 2nd half of races but it just got worse and worse on this day as I drifted far out of contention, averaging a heartbeat of 128 bpm, a far cry from the normal 160 +.IMG_3720

Stage 2 the sun came out providing a bit of relief from the mud.  Again we went up and down a million small hills.  Pretty much a repeat of Stage 1 but 30 km longer as it had some nice flatter sections across the Belgium farmland mixed in.  It was a day for the roadies with virtually nothing technical in there.  Again the body worked alright for the first 30-40 minutes then collapsed into a ill state. I tried coaxing it out of its dormancy but it was done like some burnt Canadian bacon.   After 4 months of great training and eating nutritious foods, it’s a surprise when you ride your bike worse then when you were a 12 year old commuting to the Jasper Elementary school.    Too me it was a clear sign the past few weeks of travelling, racing, training, and poor sleeps due to shoulder problems was catching up.  The flimsy shoulder itself had been holding together pretty good all taped up although the hike a bike sections were a bit worrisome.  At this time of year it’s better to fold your deck of cards and get back on track for the rest of the long race year rather then drain an already depleted body.  Sometimes the body needs some good care before it can get back up firing on all cylinders and this appeared to be one of them.IMG_3716

After the race I figured it would be smartest to call it a weekend and let the body start the rehab process.  My buddy Lander had driven down from Northern Belgium with a few friends to catch the race and ride around.  They were at the finish line, watching the lead girls come in figuring they had missed me, but I eventually rolled through afterwards.  They were a good crew and let me have some razzing after Lander had built my racing abilities up pretty high.   Together with Tom we hit a traditional Belgium pub and then some good eats downtown in the cobblestone district which was a great relaxing way to end the day.11148413_10153312370494804_3523266418261267265_o

After a long 10 hour sleep I woke up rather refreshed for the morning of stage 3 and decided to put the kit on and take the day as a 5-6 hour training ride to finish off a big 80 hour, 3 week training block.  It’s not often I get a chance to ride my bike through the Belgium Ardenne hills with top notch feed zones to support the efforts so I figured it would be better then spectating.   The body worked a little longer before halting on this day and I stuck in the lead group for the first hour.  We hit some real trail for 300 meters, and the guys got off there bikes and started walking .  I don’t understand how some of these guys can ride so fast uphills yet so poorly on the fun trails.  Its a head shaker.  Soon after the body hibernated again and I started to question if it would make it to the finish line.IMG_3725

The highlight of the day was stopping at the feed stations as usually we blow by them.  It was amazing how many different options of treats they had.  I lost time just trying to decide what to enjoy.   Over the 99 km course we did nearly 3000 meters of climbing which was  solid given it was Belgium and probably meant we climbed every hill in the country. Luckily my body held together enough to get to the finish line where we had a nice afternoon relaxing near the river catching up with the other racers.  The famous Crocodile Trophy in Australia is televised on Belgiums national sports channel so there were a lot of curios racers asking about the legendary event.   All I can say is it’s one of the best races-adventures out there and must be done!!

It’s always a shocker not racing near your potential but the Belgians are a great crew to race bikes with as they are some of the happiest down to earth bike racers I’ve met in Europe.  The race itself is really hard with all the short punchy climbs, little areas to recover and pretty much zero trail to make up any time on the European fitness freaks.  What really makes this event is the organizer Koenraad Vanschoren, who is down to earth and a real mountain biker himself.  He sacrificed his own training for the Crocodile Trophy to put on this race for us which we really appreciate! He knows how to pull off a great event with everything dialled in.  The courses could use a bit ofIMG_3707 North American flavour though as its a bummer to lose all the climbing efforts straight back down fire roads.

On the way home we hit some of Belgiums famous traffic.  Apparently Belgium standouts from outer space as it glows from it’s endless network of roads which is one of the densest in the World. For some reason all the freeways are lined with lights, even though there is often an energy crisis during the cold winter months.  Sometimes it’s better to not try and think about the logic behind some ideas.   Back at there place in Kontich Toms wife Elsa had prepared a great Belgium style dinner complete with stewed meats, french fries, wine and salad.IMG_3719

After 3 hard weeks over here in Euroland it is time to step away from the bike for a while too get the body and health back on line so it can fire at full throttle again soon!

 

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TITAN DESERT (Morocco)

Morocco is a geographical gem situated on the North western coast of Africa.  The predominantly Muslim country is covered by a dry desert, highlighted by the magnificent Sahara but also contains a huge coastline and the grand Atlas mountains.  On April 25th, 630 of us racers took charter flights from Spain to the town of Boumalne Dades, the start location of the 10th annual Titan Desert Stage race.stock-footage-animated-flag-of-morocco-seamless-loop

The Morrocan culture is special as the locals still go about there daily lives like they have for centuries, riding horses around, living off the land and fighting for a good life.  Riding around the hills and gorges before the race was rad, getting a glimpse of the locals lives and the scenery was astounding with the contrast of the dry dessert backed by the snow capped Atlas mountains in the distance.

The Titan Desert organizations was rock solid from the get go with virtually everything dialled in as they registered all us racers with ease and hosted us in a a wicked make shift village complete with traditional Haimas to sleep in, a large restaurant and even a bar with bean bags to lounge around in.

titan-desertThe 6 day race itself was intense with x Tour De France winners, National Champions, and a lot of the top European marathon racers in line to battle it out for the title of King Titan.  Stage 1 started with a bang as riders were attacking all over the place as we tackled a 115 km stage, with 2650 M of vert through the Atlas mountains.  At the summit of the first mountain I was sitting just inside the top 10 before we hit a sketchy descent down a very steep and rugged mountain road.  5 riders immediately blew by me, 2 of them I would pass later as they crashed hard into the ditch and another guy wrecked his wheel.  These guys were kamikaze!IMG_3438

Holding my own I was riding near a couple dutch riders, including there National Champ Bram Rood.  We were taking the switch backs and staying on course like you do in a normal race.  This was a bad tactic here as the Spaniards were cutting switchbacks, riding across open terrain and doing whatever they could to find the shortest way down the mountain.  This would typically be called cheating, but at the Titan Desert the rules are different as they allow orienteering, all that is required is that the riders pass the 4 electronic check points everyday.  Other than that its a free for all.  It took us a while to adapt to this idea, and cost a fair bit of time, but  soon we started playing there game.   Mid way through  the stage I was sitting in the mid twenties, getting demotivated and starting to see the race slip away.  Questioning my fitness, the switch finally came on and I started firing on all cylinders as I fought back to the front of the race.  Over the last 2 hours of the 5 hour race I cruised through the field, highlighted by dropping Óscar Pereiro who won the 2006 Tour de France.  He was riding in the top 10 but was struggling up the final climb as I buzzed by and worked my way into the top 5 before running out of real estate and hitting the finish line.IMG_3481

It was a great ride, as the competition level was deep.  Coming off  a busy last couple weeks flying between Vietnam, Indonesia, California, Canada and Spain I was unsure of the fitness, but it appeared the legs were on fire and it was going to be a good week!  Heading to my Haima for a post race nap I was in a peaceful state of mind, excited for the days to come, mapping out a strategy in my head to find a way to the top.  As I leaned on my right arm getting into bed, it suddenly collapsed with a loud “pop!”  Ah bugger, there goes the shoulder again.  Unable to get it back into place I walked over to the medical tent, where it took 3 doctors a couple minutes of pulling and twisting to get it back in its socket.  At one point they gave up, but then tried again, pulling even harder, as the alternative to get it back in place wasn’t ideal.  It tickled so much I nearly cried. Putting the arm in a sling, they told me my race was over and that I would have to ride in the support vehicles for the rest of the week.10417809_935975676453476_6614325792312674074_n

Waking up the morning of stage 2 after a rough sleep, I really didn’t want to become a race spectator and started to search for a way to keep riding.  I understood the doctors didn’t want me riding so they wouldn’t have to deal with my arm again, but in reality they should’ve sent me out of camp if that is what they wanted as the arm is in the biggest danger off the bike doing normal things.  In the past year the shoulder has come out three times, once getting out of a kayak, once getting out of a swimming hole in Australia, and once now going to bed in Morocco.  As far as I am concerned, being on a bike is a safe place as long as I keep it up right!  With this in mind I went to the organizers, got there permission to continute the race, then signed a waiver for the doctors.  They were still reluctant so I had my Physio  friend Jordi come and help explain the situation and after a lot of convincing was finally given my number plate back so I could keep racing.  With just 20 minute till race start it was a race just getting to the start line but I made it with seconds to spare.  I was planning to just ride the race at a nice tourist pace, but the riders in the mid pack were riding sketchy so I made my way up to the front were the pros were riding smoothly and much more safely.  Here I felt safe and would finish the stage in the lead group, still holding onto a top 5 in the overall GC.

Stage 3 was a gongshow with riders attacking all over the place as we headed over some small mountains with our IMG_3571backpacks on as we had to pack all our gear for the night as it was part of the Marathon stage.   Unable to ride the rough sections fast enough to stay up in the front, it turned into a hard day of chasing as we road through some ancient villages and into the outskirts of the Sahara desert.  It was a pretty flat day but the surrounding mountains were beautiful.   This night was a gongshow as they had two large tents set up for 600 of us riders.11169673_820858371336218_2156828474398742110_o

Sleeping with 300 dirty bike racers, 95% of them being male isn’t what dreams are made of.  Ear plugs and night shades can be used to block out some of the noise and light, but there was no solution for the smells.  I slept on the edge of the tent with my head sticking out the underside of it, which actually lead to a solid sleep.  Waking up in the morning getting ready for the race I found out someone had stolen by bike gloves off my bike over night.  Either someone in the top 10 sabotaging my efforts, or some dork stealing my gloves cause he lost his.  Getting to the start line I was further surprised when I realized I was pretty much the only guy in the lead pack that was still carrying his own stuff, as everyone else had hired teammates to be mules for them.  This lit a fire inside and when the start gun went off I took off at the front of the race with 2 other riders.IMG_3482

The other guys chased but we all had strong legs and soon had a 30 second gap as we charged into the 98 km flat stage.  The problem was that the lead vehicle kept changing course and there was little flagging.  We soon started following the lead helicopter, who apparently had no idea where the course went and was just following us to take shots as we raced into no mans land.  Hitting a highway a race official car finally caught up and directed us 90 degrees

from where we had come from back on course.  When the riders at the back saw what was going on they started cutting across the desert and soon we went from leaders to mid packers.    From here the day collapsed as three flat tires would kill any more efforts of staying in contention for a top 5.  Only having 2 tubes, this created a problem and in the end over 1 hour and 15 minutes was lost on the day.

Stage 5 was the Garmin, navigational stage.  The 102 km route was unmarked, all we had were the coordinates on our GPS’s of the 4 mandatory checkpoints and a couple feed stations.  The day started off with a 4 km stretch across the magnificent sand dunes which have become legendary in the race.  My friend Milton Ramos from Honduras has been on the podium 5 times at Titan Desert but had unfortunately gotten sick on stage 1 and was unable to finish.  Now out of the contention, he was still riding the stages for training.  He told me to follow him on the start of this day as he is known as the Desert Fox and can managIMG_3558e the sand dunes better than anyone.

All the riders took off in one direction, we hung back so the leaders wouldn’t follow us and then we took oIMG_3580ff in another direction, climbing over a small sand dune pass, through some bushes and then onto the huge dunes, as the other riders took the long way around.  From here Milton took off as he seemed to float across the dunes on his tires with about 8 psi in them.  Seeing his tactics I stopped and deflated my tires and was soon riding pretty well on the sand myself.  We had a huge lead and were the first ones to the 1st checkpoint, the problem was that riding the dunes properly required a lot of crashing and hopping on and off the bike which I couldn’t manage properly with the shoulder that was suppose to be in a sling.

 

Having nightmares of having to go back to the angry doctors to have them  fix my arm again I knew this wasn’t an option so raced across the dunes like a handicap that I was.  Eventually some other riders caught up and soon I drifted back to the high teens as we got off the dunes and onto the final 85 km of the stage across the desert. It was a ridiculous day trying to find all the checkpoints, I wasn’t riding very fast but my navigational skills were working good.  Meanwwhile the lead group of ten riders had big troubles and road around in circles trying to find all the checkpoints.   It was a giant easter egg hunt, mixed in with some hard riding.  This was also one of the most beautiful days of they race as we passed numerous oasis’s backed up agains the giant Dunes and could see Algeria far off across the desert.  At the end of the day the overall GC as shaken up really good as 7 of the top ten guys lost over an hour, with Colombian Diego Tamayo taking over the race lead.  Motivated for a good last stage I went to bed early this night but was soon awoken by bed bugs at 11pm,  it was a sleepless night as I scratched myself and ran between my Haima and the showers.  Eventually I crawled into my bivi sac on the edge of the camp and found a bit of rest before morning light.IMG_3463

Stage 6 was only 65 km long and pancake flat as we raced across a moon like landscape.  At the start the Dutch Champ Bram Rood attacked and road the first 10 km of the race off the front in 16 minutes.  It was a hard day as we all chased, when we got past the checkpoint it got even more insane as we were told that 3 riders had already passed it 4 minutes before us.  Huh??, 10 km in 12 minutes on mountain bikes!?  How come none of us saw these riders take off?  Rumour has it the 3 riders had signed in for the race and then road off into a town to hide before the race started, giving them a big advantage.  In the end the leaders of the real race would catch 2 of these guys, but 1 of them would end up winning the stage by 7 seconds.  I’m not sure what occurred there but it was clearly monkey business.  I left it for the other riders to figure it out as my race was well done at that point and I was stoked  to finish without having to re-visit my Doctor friends.

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The post race party was a grand show as we hung out in the giant courtyards of a nice hotel, watching race videos, awarding the winners, and getting served a 5 course Morrocan meal highlighted with a lamb Tangine, which is sheep roasted with prunes in a clay pot and a nice broth.  It was a long evening as the Spanish really know how to prolong an event as they served up 1 course every hour starting at 9 PM.   All in all it was a stellar finish to a crazy week.  Morocco is a special country and the race is a gem as it combines stiff competition, orienteering, adventure, and challenging tracks.  To win this thing it takes a lot of skill and fitness with some luck mixed in.   I have my fingers crossed I’ll get a chance to come back for redemption one day!

Now is recovery time as I figure out the next course of action with my damaged shoulder.  Resting up in the Spanish mountains at my friends Willy Mulonias house in Navacerrada just north of Madrid is a great base toKona-Cog-logo make a plan and get recovered from the African adventure.

Huge thanks to the Titan Desert organization for inviting me over to there race and to my title sponsor Kona for getting my bikes and gear ready for this trip!

Over and out!IMG_3596