Why this Spanish Gran Fondo should be on your Calendar!

Have you heard about Guad al Xenil Gran Fondo? No? Me neither, 😊, until I was told by locals about it. After a 2 day recon, I just raced it last weekend and I highly suggest this Spanish Gran Fondo for your 2018 racing calendar. Now you might wonder, why you should race exactly this cycling challenge next year…. Here is why:

Because of the weather.

While it is still snowing in the Northern Europe (currently April), Southern Spain (Andalusia) has had great weather since….ahem….always. There is never really bad weather here and I have not been wearing arm or leg warmers since beginning of April and a pretty sharp tan line is emerging.

Guad al Xenil is here in sunny, warm Southern Spain. For this year’s race, there was a chance of rain. But in contrary to other parts of the world, I think the weather forecaster is just bored with predicting sun every day so once in a while he throws in chances of something. Rain never came. Although it started off cold because the race starts in the mountains, it became a beautiful day and I was way too overdressed.

Because of its time of the year.

Although Europe definitely is full of gran fondos, beginning of the year is still a bit sparse, especially when you have done all the famous ones already. So if you like to try out something new and want to leave your winter jacket at home, Guad al Xenil is a great season starter.

Because of its toughness.

It is a great season starter but don’t get me wrong, this is a tough race! 161km of racing with 3700m of climbing will definitely bring your fitness to the next level. So for those who are not discouraged by it, I would strongly recommend going for it!

Because of its atmosphere.

I haven’t been to many cycling challenges where I received so much encouragement! At first, I didn’t even know how to handle it when literally every cyclist who passed me or I passed had some “animo” (go,go,go!)  left in him or her. It was incredible. And the Spaniards know how to create an amazing atmosphere! Literally, the sound waves of the four ladies at the 17% ramp at the end carried me to the finish line.

Because of its size.

With 360 starters this race is big enough to have plenty of competition but small enough not run each other over. After a 40km neutralization phase, the race starts with a steep climb and that was the end to the peloton. Every man for himself!

What I especially liked?

Hands down, the atmosphere made my race! The encouragement from anyone really got to me and made this race very special for me. I also loved the course. It is tough, tough, tough! The climbs are serious! The scenery is stunning if you have the time to enjoy it!

So mark your calendar for mid April 2018: http://www.guadalxenil.org/

To help with your trip planning:

Book your Flights to Granada, Spain with Expedia here.

There are plenty little towns to stay in. Lanjaron is a very scenic town I would suggest to stay at:

Booking.com

If you have any questions, I am looking forward to your comments.


How a season starter becomes a day of survival – Guad al Xenil

I will be racing Guad al Xenil (Andalusia, Spain) in 9 days. 161km with 3800m of elevation gain.

For those of us who like long rides and races, 161km don’t sound outrageously long. It is manageable.

A quick look at the elevation gain of 3800m makes it look a lot tougher but still, having done plenty of races longer and more climbing in it, the stats didn’t exactly give me the chills.

With a season planned full of really tough races in Europe, I saw this race as a nice season starter.

Until today.

The race course is in riding-reach of my home base, Salobrena so my local group and I pre-rode the race course split in two days. Yesterday and today.

And I am not sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing because now I do have the chills. My “nice season starter” will become a day of survival.

 

Let’s take a look at the profile:

Do you see any flat part? I dont. Plus three Category 1 climbs.

The course starts actually quite harmless. A little up and down for the first 50 odd kilometers. No biggie.

Then it goes up. Also, no problem with that. The problem starts with those random 10%+ ramps that are long enough to create damage no matter how “easy” you take it but short enough that it is over before you have found somewhat a rhythm and acceptance of your current suffering state. Mentally and physically very draining!

But there is light at the end of the “ramp” tunnel – after Torvizcon (66.2km) the ramps stopped. Now it is all uphill – steep, never-ending! You can watch your leg battery getting drained by the minute. It just sucks everything out: 10 kilometer with an average of 6% but to me, it felt all like 10%. It took me 44minutes to climb those 10km!!!!

Here is the culprit:

I was suffering big time going up that sucker. And you think to finally made it to the top about 10 times only to see another vertical pavement ahead of you. But you know exactly when you actually make it because you have a stunning view over the region and you can see the ocean from here!

Although the road is still a bit undulating along the ridge line, 5% all of a sudden seem flat after having climbed 10% for the past 45minutes. Enjoy the following downhill as much as you can because now this race is getting tough. You got now 120km in your legs, have tested your legs on a serious climb. Not exactly fresh as a daisy anymore.

We are facing climb number 2:

This climb is as highly categorized as the last one but it is nowhere near as tough. Yes, there are some steep parts but overall you actually can get into a rhythm.

But I am sure the fatigue will make this climb not a walk in the park. I am actually pretty certain, it won’t! 😀

Ok, now, let’s talk about the last climb! This is a killer climb – especially mentally. The beginning is one steep-ish, straight ramp. You only see uphill and wonder what the road might do in the distance.

Okay, it is going uphill – story of the day. What makes this last climb just absolutely brutal is the last bit. You are already in the town but the race keeps going.

For 600m, it averages 12.4% topping out at almost 18%!! Watching grass grow will be faster than me climbing that up!

That’s Guad al Xenil. Yes, I am excited. Nervous. And now with fullest respect for this race! This ain’t the typical season starter!

Now, why I am making myself go through this race and an entire season of very tough races? This will be the blog post for tomorrow!

See you then!


Have you ridden 8848m/29028ft in one go yet?

In the recent past, a new kind of challenge has crept onto the bucket lists of hard-core cyclists who love pushing their own limits: Everesting.

The term coined by Andy van Bergen describes climbing one single hill of choice as many times until the elevation gain of the height of Mt Everest – 8848m – is achieved. The number of repeats range greatly. Alpe d’Huez would have to be climbed almost eight times, a small neighborhood climb of 40m vertical gain would require 221 repeats. There is a lot of strategy involved what climb to choose. But there is only one rule: It has to be continuous riding so no sleep between.

When I heard about Everesting the first time last year, I was intrigued. I love challenges that pushes me to my physical and mental limits.

But then I realized what that meant. Doing something repeatedly. Seeing the same corner, the same tree, the same crack over.
And over.
And over.

I am not good in that. I don’t do crits for exactly that reason.

So Everesting was off the table. Off the bucket list. Nada. Done. Won’t do it.

But it was tough to ignore it. The idea kept tickling me, cyclists from everywhere were doing it. It popped up on Strava, on Facebook, friends were talking about it, friends were doing it and randomly you come across a strange arrangement of furniture and food at the start of a climb in the middle of the night. Ah, yes, someone was in the process of Everesting.

Besides being surrounded by the omen of action, there was something else about this mystical circle of Everesting that made it increasingly appealing.

There is not a lot of talk about it. There is no pressure of doing it. No boasting. Just action.
I kind of like that!

But Monika, this is still not for you! The repeats don’t become fewer because of that!

Well, but then two weeks ago I was pushed over the edge to the side of serious Everest commitment business.

For two reasons.

The first reason is the main reason I ride my bike: the community. I will join seven guys who know how to have fun on the bike. A few of the many, many laps ahead will be absorbed by laughter, awe, tears and silence. More about this crew will be shared soon with some sweet film shoot material!

But another reason made me decide to do an Everest:

This is not about me.
This is not about a personal accomplishment.

It is bigger than that. It is to raise funds for Movember – a foundation for men’s health issues. Now, all of a sudden, the 120 something laps seem a minor obstacle compared to what bigger problems are out there in the world.

18th of November is the showdown.

A month to go. A month to get ready for the most elevation gain I will ever have ridden in one single ride.

Stay tuned for the next posts about the Everest challenge including introducing the crew, my preparation, training rides and anything else what I am not aware of yet!


Baw Baw Cycling Classic – Taking on the hardest climb in Australia

When I first heard about Baw Baw Cycling Classic, I was intrigued.

It sounded tough – yep that would be something I would enjoy.
For those who haven’t heard about the Baw Baw Cycling Classic, here are some numbers:
The race is 103 km long, 3200m of elevation with the last 6km averaging 11% and a few pinches of 20%. (64mi, 10,500 feet elevation, last 3.7mi averaging 11% with 20% pinches). More info on the Baw Baw climb here.
Considering that the last 6 km only cover an elevation gain of an odd 700m, you can imagine where the other 2500m of climbing coming from. You dont exactly start the last climb fresh as a daisy.
Here is the elevation chart.
Very deceiving!
 
Just as a side note, you see that little rise just before km 30? That is an elevation gain of 100m. Not as insignificant as it looks on this chart. 
The final decision if I should race was when my fellow Hurt Box rider, Meredith, told me it would be even tougher than I imagined it to be. It was not just a climb. It was a brutal 4+hr ride.
 
Music to my ears.
Speaking of signing up – the number of participants shows the respect for this race. Only 15 women in total signed up. It is not without a reason that Baw Baw is said to be the toughest climb in Australia.
So here I was at the start line with 14 other girls. Perfect weather conditions.
The race was split into two parts for me. Part 1 – The first 40km were tame with A grades setting the pace. At 40km, the eventual winner put in an effort and there was a natural split between the grades. I spent the next 10km or so riding with another girl and then I was by myself.
No soul around besides the occasional appearance of carnage from the categories ahead of us. 
50km on my own. 
I was hoping that I would create a gap so I wouldn’t get caught at the Baw Baw climb.
And then, I got a feeling, I usually get after riding 300+ km – I couldn’t push beyond a certain power anymore.
I just had nothing in my legs.
Anything above a certain perceived effort would lock my legs up.
I got worried.
Would this “lock-up-cramp-threshold” be high enough that I could ride up Baw Baw? 
It is not uncommon that riders push their bikes up Baw Baw. 
And then the massive wall appeared ahead of me. Six very focused, zigzagging  kilometers. (It could have been 7km from the amount of zigzagging) Any inattention would have made me swerve which would have caused me to fall over. 
It is hard to describe what you experience when riding this climb in a massively exhausted stage of fatigue. You calculate every move and hope that those 11% might ease up to 9% for a few meters. 
But instead you are greeted with two back-to-back corners of 20%!
I am not a climber and snailed my way up. Would it be fast enough to hold my competition off?
One moment to the next, another female racer (but not in my category), Steph from my Hurtbox training group, passed me. I couldn’t believe how quickly she climbed. 
Now I got seriously worried. 
So back to crawling my way up to the finish. 
2km to go. What? I didn’t even see the 3km-sign!
Monika! Of course, you did. It was just sooooo long ago that you have already forgotten about it!
Another eternity passed.
1km to go.
The games you are playing with your mind are just amazing at that point. And if you are playing that game long enough you will see the 500m sign before you know it!
Believe it or not, the mountain has a top and I finally reached it!
And I more or less pedaled the last few exhausted pedal strokes over the finish line.
So happy. 
Super exhausted. But worth the effort.
I learned later I had a spare time of 12 minutes.
 
Hill Climb Champ. VRS leader. (For my category)
And man, I will be there next year!What an awesome race!
Huge thanks to my coach and the The Hurt Box crew for their continuous support. Thanks to Alistair for the feed zone support and for Justine’s great company over the weekend!


Tour of East Gippsland – Tough racing for GC win

Tour of East Gippsland would be my first state-level race after some 3 years. I had no idea how I would do. My thoughts about the race ranged from “I-will-absolutely-smash-it” to “I-hope-I-don’t-get-dropped” depending on training, mood and randomness of day.

The tour consisted of 3 Stages in 2 days:  
Stage 1 (Sat morning): 8km TT
Stage 2 (Saturday afternoon): 72km Road Race
Stage 3 (Sunday morning): 54km Road Race
So there was no messing around between the stages. It was a full on weekend.
Stage 1: So all racers can smell blood (probably their own) and get some nice lactate boost in their legs, we started the tour with a 8km Time Trial, 4km uphill, turn around and then 4km uphill (ok, maybe it was more downhill but man, it felt like an uphill to me!)
Result: I got fourth, 35 seconds behind the leader. And I can clearly state the reason for this slack: no TT bike (15 sec), no aero helmet (5 sec), no racing wheels (14.7 sec), no TT gloves (I am sure that counts for 300 milliseconds). (Please do not quote me on the accuracy of the times as I might have pulled them out of my BS box). But you get my point, I had a solid amount of excuses lined up.
Stage 2: To stir up the so-said lactate production from Stage 1 earlier that day, we were facing some lumpy 72km road course. If I say lumpy, I am not talking about some rollers you can push over but some never-ending minutes hills when hit right, you might end on the top by yourself (your choice if dropped or ahead of the group).
So off we went. The temperature and the terrain would produce the perfect “cyclist-BBQ”- first getting beaten up by the hills and then grilled to perfection so we will be fully smoked by the finish.
The race became interesting when two racers got away on that aforementioned hill and I was not one of them. I chased them like hell and guess what!
I caught on!
But by literally one second when a corner came and they accelerated out of it. Well, I was already in acceleration mode and my engine light was blinking wildly indicating momentarily explosion. In short: I couldn’t keep up.   
Misery sunk in. Dammit! Scheisse!
I looked back. Three riders a few hundred meters behind me. I waited.
Four of us worked together and chased the other two up and down the hills in the heat. One of the lead girls got a flat so it was one girl in visible distance to get. The chase would take another 30km.
We had one more serious hill to climb before the finish and 10km to go.
All of a sudden it hit me like a rock.
I had a good shot in winning this stage! (It might have been my delirious, exhausted melting self-confidence talking and apparently it was not connected to my legs. Because my legs told me a different story. Something like “Shit, another climb! How the hell are we getting over that one?”)
Anyway, we went up the climb together and as soon as it flattened out I started pushing some big gears and got the German diesel going.
I looked in the shadow to see if anyone joined me.
No one.
Then I saw the follow vehicle of the leader.
Passed follow vehicle.
Passed leader.
And then that time started where seconds feel like minutes and minutes like hours. I was deep in the pain cave. Heart rate maxed out.
Would they catch me?
The follow vehicle pulled up: “35 seconds gap”
Ok. That means I had a shot for General Classification (GC) if I keep that pace.
Back into the pain cave.  The kilometres didn’t pass. It seemed forever.
Finally the turn to the slight uphill finish stretch.
I shifted in the small ring. Absolutely no legs left.
And I made it! I couldn’t believe it!
Result: First place and got the GC jersey. 1:19min lead over second place. Fully exhausted but massively happy.
Stage 3: If there was something left in anyone’s legs, then that would be the perfect stage for them. 54km of more undulating terrain. I knew this would be a very different race for me than yesterday.
From offense to defence. I had to take on the role as a herd dog. Whoever tried to run away, I had to chase. If not, I am a happy camper in the herd.
Although two got away, my GC was not threatened so I rolled in with the peloton.
Result: Bunch finish. But GC lead!
Result 2: Since this was the first VRS race of the season, I got the jersey as well.
Happy ending. Getting ready for Three Peaks Challenge in two weeks.

Tour de Timor – the race where you gain more by getting less

Tour de Timor is a five day Mountain bike stage race in East Timor, one of the poorest countries in the world.

Although the race itself is a true challenge, don’t sign up based on the race itself. You get a lot more (or less, depending how you look at it) than that:
The race
The race entails five stages totalling 395km and 8200m of climbing. The surface ranges from smooth pavement to crater deep potholes to gravel to throw-you-of-your-bike rocky terrain to deep sandpits. But even as the most untalented mountain biker, I myself could handle the terrain. Although the race course is challenging, other factors make this an epic experience:

 

Accommodation
Camping of some sort was the theme for most stages. But don’t imagine a nice quiet camping area with a BBQ grill. Camping is done in or out of basic building blocks with livestock casually passing by. With the regular bark or cock-a-doodle-doo during night time, you were ensured that breakfast and lunch have not gone missing yet.

Cleaning facilities

The Timorese wash tradition entails a scoop and a bucket full of water. Throw the water with the scoop over your head and you got your shower. The water quality ranged from see-thru liquid to microbiological aquariums. For the most part, the dirt on my body outweighed the dirt in the water bucket.
Food
If you are gluten-free, lactose intolerant, wheat allergic and paleo, you are in luck, because Tour de Timor provides almost for every type of diet. Having rice and meat served every day all day, you can be ensured that you will not accidentally get milk, wheat or any other Western intolerances from this diet. Just don’t mind the occasional diarrhoea or stomach cramp.
Spectators
If you are looking for big crowds cheering you on, you came to the right place. Children of all age will never leave you wondering if you took the wrong way.
 Racers
The best of all were the fellow riders though. As you might be able to read through the sarcasm in the previous lines, we went through a lot of ups and downs. Sharing the glory, the pain, the suffering, fatigue and the joy of accomplishment with this great group of people made this experience very special. We grew together as a group, got to know each other’s habits, food schedule, blisters, and other pains (I spare the details but the other riders know what I am talking about).
Tour de Timor is not just a mountain bike race – it is an experience of a very poor country and what comes with it – lack of clean water, cleaning facilities, variety of food and sleep quality add to the strain of body and mind on top of the race itself. By getting pushed out of my comfort zone on so many levels, I gained so much more out of this experience than just fitness.
I want to thank the fellow riders, the med team and the fantastic support team for sharing this incredible experience with me!

Many thanks to River City Cycle for providing me with an awesome Salsa El Mariachi for this race.


How to succeed at tough races

Two months ago I signed up for one of the harder races in Switzerland: the Alpenbrevet, a 276km race with over 7000m of elevation. However, with a new job I have less time for riding and only two months ago I hopped on my bike maybe once a week.

Still, I signed up for the longest and hardest distance of the three racing options.
Finishing a race of that magnitude is not an easy goal, especially if your training capacity is mediocre at best.
However, although physical fitness is very important, what gets you really up the mountain, through nasty weather conditions and across the finish line is your mind!
Here are a few suggestions that help me get through tough challenges, even with less training:
Never doubt your success. You gotta be on the start line thinking that you will succeed. Any doubt will later, in tough times, knock on your mental door and question your sanity. During the first climb of the Alpenbrevet, all the different distance groups (Silver, Gold, Platinum) rode together. I asked a few riders what distance they will ride. A lot said `I will see. I was thinking of Platinum but if I do not feel well, I will go for the Gold distance`. All of them set themselves up for not completing the highest goal they could achieve.
Don’t focus on the pain. If you do it will only get worse. It`s the same with feeling sick. If you think about getting sick, you will. Distract yourself. Especially on long challenges, try to distract yourself with something else than your current activity. Sooner or later, you will find yourself thinking about it all the time anyway. Now, when it is easy to entertain yourself with other things, like chatting (if possible) with other riders, enjoying the nature, counting the white stripes of the middle lane, will make the latter and tougher part of the race mentally easier.
Tell as many people as possible about your goal. Because you would have to tell all of them you had to quit. Then try to imagine what you would tell them. If it sounds like an excuse, keep going.
Play worse-case scenario. If you are getting tired climbing up a mountain, ask yourself: How could it be worse? The grade could be steeper. It could rain. There could be headwind. It could be a cobble way. All of a sudden, your current condition does not seem too bad anymore.
After all it all boils down to:
Pain is temporary but failure lasts forever.
Plus, crossing the finish line after a very tough challenge is an indescribable addicting feeling.
What gets you through a tough race?

How a dating service gets you through a 1000km race – Tortour in Switzerland

Three weeks before the race

I got a strange email question from a still unknown person : Would I want to join a four person team for the Tortour? Ahemmm YES!.

I knew about the Tortour too well. It`s a 1000km race around Switzerland with 14,500m elevation gain that not only requires some serious physical fitness but, if not more importantly, a well organized support team, a similar format as the Race Across America.

So from one day to the next I was on the team to join them only three weeks later.

I would learn soon I had the fortune to be on a fantastic team that not only was organizational top notch but funny that would even make the most serious German smile.

And here goes the story in pictures and videos:

Thursday, 14 August: Morning

Everyone was excited on the way to the race (f.l.: me, Stefan (racer), Isa (racer), Ariella (support))

 

 

A lot of gear is required with the hope you can find it when you need it.

 

Every racer got a box which should minimize chaos. I successfully created chaos anyway.

Thursday 12pm 

At the race briefing. Being surrounded by 500+ other excited racers and supporters made for an incredible atmosphere. If you werent excited before this briefing, you are definitely now! The anticipation was rising!

Thursday 15:30

Then, the prolog in the afternoon. Merely a kilometer or so of high intensity to place the teams into an order for the next day.

We won the prolog in our category. That meant we start first at 2:33AM, a minute ahead of the second placed team.

Friday 2:30AM Start

The starting formation. The team to the right and the follow vehicle behind.

 

Just imagine about 130 vehicles with `Caution Bicycle ahead` driving around in Switzerland….Bikes rule the next 48 hours
No idea why we were waving to the follow vehicle. I (pink arm warmers in the front) was occupied with other things apparently.
And then the countdown. 1000km ahead

 

 

Ariella and Mirco…let the fun get started

Friday 10:30AM: 8 Hours – 233km

There were three team stages (first, middle and last). The other ~850km were split between the four racers.

We had highly concentrated drivers. Not only the cyclist had to ride 1000km, our support crew had to drive those too!
I wasnt aware that we had a mountain goat on the team. This woman can climb!

 

The views were breathtaking….in two ways.

Friday 14:30 PM 12 hours – 340km
As hard as we were working, we had at least the same amount of fun (here on the way up the 14km climb, Flüela pass.)

Friday 18:30 – 16 hours – 480km

Not a lot of rest time between the individual stages: Transfer to next check point, eating and getting clothes ready for next stage do not give a lot of time to relax
The weather couldnt decide. It was sunny. 10 minutes late it poured down.

 

Saturday 4:00 AM – 26 hours – 770km
After some 30 hours of having fun and riding, the energy was slowly draining and I got tired. My last shift (before the team stage) was about to start. It was 4am. 26 hours on the road. 50km to ride to the next check point.

It was dark. It was wet. I was tired.

10km into my stage, I was falling asleep on the bike and swerving around the lane.I needed some entertainment. I asked our support team to tell me a story.
Of all the stories Barbara could tell me she chose to give me the pros and cons to date her two brothers. After a 30 minutes very entertaining monologue she decided herself, it might not be a good idea to date either of them.

And all of a sudden I was at the checkpoint.

Saturday 13:29 34 hours: 1000km

After the last team stage and 34 hours of being on the road we crossed the finish line.

 

We made it! From left: Max, me, Isa, Stefan

Then, the entry into the arena onto the stage with our song. No matter how often I watch this video I am still getting wet eyes. It brought all the fantastic memories into one moment.

 

The moderator asked me three questions back-to-back. Sleep deprived, I forgot all of them and answered my own.

Thanks to a fantastic team: Stefan, Max, Isa, Ariella, Barbara, Betty and Mirco!


Preparing for a new level of EPIC – Alpenbrevet

There is no shortage of tough rides in the Alps, especially considering the endless possibilities of climbing up passes without a lot of flats between them. This ride was a preparation for the highly respected Alpenbrevet race. I was pretty exhausted after this ride of 147km and 4,300m elevation. The Alpenbrevet with an additional 130km and 2,700m elevation gain will ask for a new level of toughness in two weeks.

The route:

The elevation:

Barely any flats, climbing from 500m up to 2,400m

 

 

 

 

On the way down from Grimsel with the view towards Furka Pass

 

But before testing my climbing legs, the non-stop 1000km Tortour around Switzerland will challenge the endurance of my team and I. With a highly organized five person support crew, a camper, a follow vehicle and a loooooot of food, we are ready for the challenge starting this Friday EARLY morning. We hope to cross the finish line 39 hours later, Saturday evening!

You can follow us via live tracker. Link will follow.

Oh, this race will be so epic!


I love riding in Minnesota – 100mi Fulton Gran Fondo
I forgot about the pain.

I forgot about how loooooong 100 mi could feel.

I forgot about the wind!

But four months away from Minnesota did not make me forget how awesome its cycling community is. 

Today at the Fulton Gran Fondo I was able to be part of it again. There is this energy in the air; that anticipation to have fun that gets me excited to ride my bike. 

It’s easy to fit in. Only rule is to be nice. 
It doesn’t matter what kit you wear or how fast you ride. Enjoying the ride is the motto. 

The Minnesotan cycling community rocks! Thank you for a wonderful day!

Thanks to the Fulton Brewery for a great race! And huge thanks to Foundry for putting me on a great bike!


Only 156 hours to the Royal 162! Oh man, I cant wait to race gravel again!