By Mary and Mike
Heavy flights from Cairns to Brisbane, Australia to Los Angeles and finally on to Boston made for well over a day of travel without more than a couple hours on the ground in between. There wasn't much left in either of us by the time we finished the trip back to our east coast home for the first time in 2016.
The five days we spent there were critical to touch base, although little more than enough time to unpack, organize and repack everything for the next leg of the journey. All too soon we were on our way to catch a red eye flight to Munich with an impressive assortment of luggage containing much of what we would need for 3 race heavy months of Cross Country and Enduro competition throughout Europe.
After 5 hours of public transportation to reach the airport, we got the rude news at check in that I was going to be denied boarding due to my passport expiring in less than six months of our planned return to the states, Yikes! Time for some improvisation starting with extended calls to airlines… and then a cab ride to a local hotel where we sketched a strategy to get my documentation sorted out, hopefully the following day.
No one seemed sure that a one day passport renewal was going to be possible but everything started to come together as we made our way around the city early the next morning. After some time spent getting the hang of the public transportation, marathon hikes and some solid time at the embassy we had a new passport in hand along with an updated perspective on Boston's impressive waterfront, street cuisine and easily accessible historical sites.
We were especially stoked to be lugging all our bags back to the airport and boarding the next night flight to Munich, now with a deepened appreciation for the privilege of having our US citizenship and travel documentation!
The following morning we unpacked our bikes and travel bags into an awaiting RV, Thanks to our friends at Braun Reisemobile for the help! We stocked up on a luxurious selection of Bavarian foods and beverages, topped up on reasonably priced fuel and set off westward across the heavily trafficked corridors of Germany and northern France.
We arrived a little haggard from pushing the pace beyond what is reasonable to make up for the delay in our arrival to Europe. This made the overnight ferry from Cherbourg (France) to Wexford (Ireland) a welcome chance to just take a break, catch up on sleep and build up my bike for the Enduro World Series race #3 that was just a couple of critical training days away.
EWS round 3 - Wicklow, Ireland
Although there were lots of things that we wanted to see and do in Ireland the next days were all about getting familiar with the riding on Carrick mountain. The EWS tracks laid out there were particularly tricky and demanded the full back to back six hour training days to get some semblance of how to best find some flow on the special stages. Carrick is by no means the biggest mountain but the tight technical playground brimming with rocks and roots provided some great riding, and an incredible venue for competition.
Throughout our time in Ireland Mary continued to take the time to feed, wash, and care for every detail that came our way while putting herself through a full training regimen aimed at the upcoming XC World Cups. Her rides took her deep into the local network of quiet roads and trails that spanned in every direction from our campground.
The Wicklow area is an incredible place to ride any sort of bike especially with the clear weather that so nicely defied our expectations of the typical wet Irish spring!
The good weather held on through the EWS weekend leaving the tracks primed for speed and spectacular to ride throughout the training and racing! The full seven stages of the competition took place on Sunday, which turned out to be an incredible day on the bikes! There were no uplifts meaning that everyone rode or pushed the 50 km and about 5000 feet of climbing to get to the start of the special stages and the specials themselves were examples of Enduro riding at it's best!
Unfortunately I came into the event with a worsening ligament injury in my thumb and had some issues when approaching the upper limits. I was also forced to change my seat dropper actuator to the right side (the hand that is already responsible for all the shifting duties) and this transition did not go smoothly for me.
I was more happy than ever to have my Carbine 29er on hand to help smooth things out, make the most of my situation and keep me in the running for the series overall with a seventh place on the day.
Even though they were forced to ride in dry conditions for what was said to be the the first time in decades, the Irish locals all but ruled this event! Incredibly the Irish took wins in the open men, the U 21 men & women as well as the masters men! Certainly a testament to the high level of riding up here as well as the value of the home court advantage!
World Cup XC # 2 & 3: Germany and France
A quick overnight boat ride back to the mainland, a couple of days driving and we were back familiar territory of the World Cup XC venue in Albstadt, Germany. We posted up in the suburban World Cup camping alongside loads of race families, fans and athletes who had come to check out some of the steepest climbing and most challenging mud on the circuit.
We were happy that the course conditions transformed from the icy slick mud during training to a tacky hero dirt grip by race day. Mary battled hard starting pretty much right in the middle of the largest women's field we have seen assemble here (or almost ever) in the Women's World Cup. The searing climbs of the Albstadt course all but demand the lightest equipment. Mary balanced out her ride with a seat dropper to help keep her keep composed, smooth and fast in the corners and tricky and A lines.
I worked the tech pit for Mary, passing bottles and standing to make a repair if some bike issue were to come up. The tech pit is a great place to get a unique perspective on the racing and it was obvious to all in attendance that the racing is at a Tremendous level coming into this Olympic year! I could feel the pressure and vested interest of the national federations and clearly see the extraordinary effort that many athletes/teams are putting out in the last chance to qualify themselves or county for Olympic positions. This made the racing itself even more competitive and radical to be a part of and absolutely fantastic to watch!
The following week we settled into the vibe of RVing in Europe on the short drive to the next round of World Cup racing in La Bresse, France. The Haut Vosage mountains of North Eastern France are nothing short of a year round outdoor recreational destination with great cycling options. The type of place were you can enjoy the luxury of riding two abreast on quiet roads that lead in every direction to your choice of endless pavement or surprisingly radical trails. The World Cup course in La Bresse is a proper challenge and ranks amongst the best we have competed on.
We made our training laps together throughout the week in the full range of conditions from fast and dry to when the course was likely near it's most challenging moment to ride. I was stoked to see Mary confidently picking her way through the heavy A lines right from the start on her Intense spider comp 29 no matter the conditions.
Rain on the roof of the RV always sounds worse than it really is but race day came after what we would have to call a night full of outrageous soaking thunder storms. Mary chose to ride Kenda's Karma 1.9's and stick with her dropper post equipped Spider Comp 29er to make the most of her descending capabilities in the muddy and rugged terrain. Even in the deteriorating conditions and fatigue of the racing Mary kept the rubber side down throughout the difficult laps and ended up with fast lap times an a solid result.
I struggled to sit out these rounds due to the ligament injury however I was really happy to be on hand to support and be able to work with Mary throughout these demanding weeks. I have sought out some professional support and got a great thumb brace... on track for a quick recovery & Thankful to be able to do most everything I need to do in the mean time!
The next block of training will bring us up to the mountains for to prepare Mary for the upcoming XC World Championships. She is really stoked to focus on the XC racing just around the corner. And I am setting my sights on quality fitness training as I set my sights on recovering for the next rounds of the Enduro World Series in Italy, Colorado and Whistler, BC.
Thank you to our partners, family and friends for helping us follow our passion throughout another exciting segment of the season.
Mike and Mary
Team KENDA - Intense