Xterra Norway (and Brighton Big Dog)
18th Aug 2017
If someone told me I would finish this year with a 1st and 2nd place in Xterra European Tour (after only 3 races) I would never have believed them!
But I have always had a special affection for the Nordic countries, and it seems they are lucky for me. Xterra Finland was not in my original race plans this season, but I ended up winning it, so maybe it was meant to be! After I had been forced to re-plan everything in May, there were very few races left I could actually do.
Norway was another one of these last minute additions - I deliberated whether to go as we had just got our new puppy Beaker the week before, and I didn't want to leave him! It also sounded expensive and I had no-one to go with... But the deciding factor was that the organisers offered airport pickup for Pro athletes. This made the trip cheaper (plus no need to worry about driving a hire car). And wow I am glad I went!
Norway is a beautiful country, I was pleased it lived up to the stereotype of tranquillity and unspoiled nature - mountains, lakes and forests :-) From the airport I was dropped off directly at T1 where the guys helped me build my bike so I could go straight for a pre-ride. Top service! This is an unusual Xterra with a split transition; T1 being down in the valley, while T2 is 12km away at the top of the mountain! This was my only chance to view the course before race day and still recover.
The official hotel at T2 (Norefjell Ski & Spa) was also amazing; I winced slightly at the cost when booking, but when I got there it was totally worth it! The spa facilities were perfect to chill out pre- and post- race, and the breakfast buffet was literally the best I have ever seen! Even arriving at the hotel was kind of mystical, ascending up past moss covered houses and through layers of mist and cloud.
On race day I felt pretty tired, Norway was the 4th country I had travelled through this week, and I hadn't had much sleep due to the new puppy! But after a couple of coffees and beetroot shots, it was time to do my best. I actually got the perfect start on the swim, straight onto some fast feet for drafting. I lost some time on the Australian exit (I hate running in shallow water!) and lost anyone to draft. Still after 750m alone I was still in 2nd place and motivated by someone to chase on the bike!
I caught the lead female after a few km but I knew Maud would also be chasing hard after a slower swim. A few km later she caught me, but for the first time I wasn't going to let her get away without a challenge. It is good to know my bike skills and power have improved (as well as the Yeti being easier to ride than my old hardtail!) I knew it would be harder to hold her wheel when we hit the final ascent with 45 minutes of solid climbing. Even though I was setting PBs on my power meter, I still had to save something for the run.
By the time we reached T2, Maud had a 2 minute lead, with the 3rd placed female less than a minute behind. I had no idea about my run form because I had missed almost 2 months of running with a broken toe. It had only stopped hurting literally days before the race! None of us had previewed the run course, so we all headed off into the unknown, knowing it was going to be close!
To my surprise, I was actually running pretty well on the cross-country ski tracks, but the time checks told me Maud was getting further away. At 3km we turned off the ski tracks and straight up the mountain, and here is where it got tough! It was more like a fell run up a stream, everyone was walking, but now my legs decided to seize up completely with cramp. I could hardly even walk; I kept expecting the 3rd place lady to pass, but afterwards she said the same thing had happened to her!
Stretching didn't seem to help, so all you can do is keep moving forward and hope it subsides. Thankfully eventually it did, and the top part of the run course was stunning! Traversing along the mountain side, wanting to look up at the view, but jumping over boulders and having to watch your feet with every step. The final part of the run was directly down a ski slope - super muddy and slippery in the torrential rain that was now falling! The end couldn't come soon enough, and I was happy and relieved to cross the line still in 2nd place.
The organisers did a great job with this inaugural race at Xterra Norway Norefjell and definitely one that I would like to come back to.
Next up a week later, something completely different as I headed down to Brighton for the Big Dog MTB Enduro. It makes a change racing in the UK and not having to fly with my bike!
I was riding for Vittoria (who have generously supported me with tyres this year) in a mixed team together with two other Xterra Pros, Llewellyn and Jon.
It was enjoyable racing in a team for a change, the festival atmosphere, and of course being the Big Dog we had to bring our little dog, Beaker! At 14 weeks old, it's the first time he has been to any event like this... the excitement of all the other dogs, bikes, people and noise! He took it all in his stride though, absolutely loving all the attention as well as being allowed to chase butterflies through the long grass!
Being a 6-hour team relay we got to chill out between laps, and the bonus here was Vittoria had brought their Team bus (which normally goes to the Olympics or Tour de France!) It's an insight to a different world and I wonder how many pro cyclists or Olympic champions have reclined on those red leather seats! It was great that we could use it as a recovery zone and make the most of the coffee machine and free sandwiches :-D
In the race itself we finished 3rd place in a highly competitive mixed team category (in fact we would have been 3rd in the Mens teams!) Not a bad day out for 3 triathletes ;)
Design © 2018 Louise Fox. Photography © Lukasz Warzecha