When I was 20 I decided that in order to give myself a chance, I needed to escape my childhood and many sad memories. I decided to move as far as I could, all the way to New Zealand. I researched what I needed to do to finish my veterinary studies there, organized all the necessary paperwork, begged for references from the Belgium University where I was finishing my 3rd year veterinary science whilst going against any ones advise, packed up, left everything behind and graduated from Massey Veterinary University in New Zealand in 2002. BOOM. Easy. No it was not easy, I worked hard. I cried a lot. But with the help from some amazing people and grabbing every opportunity presented to me, somehow I did it.
How did I get here??Standing next to the massive UCI MTB Marathon World championships sign in Val Gardena in Italy wearing my National team kit, I wondered for a moment, how did I get here? It was an overwhelming feeling. I wondered sometimes if growing up with a manic/depressive father was the reason behind my ultimate believe that anything was possible with hard work, with a mentality of not giving up.
star struck with Annika Langvad
My goal of trying to get to the World Championships was inspired by British rider Rachel Fenton. I read her blog about her impressive finish in 33rd place in 2012 and I decided after a bad 2014 season that racing Worlds would be an awesome goal for 2015. I researched what I needed to do in order to get on the Dutch team. I applied for an Elite UCI license knowing that my MTB results had been strong enough, looked through the UCI calendar for a World cup race to qualify, and found one in Belgium which fitted in my calendar. With the support of Michael and my uncle Aede, I sneaked into a top 20 finish which gave me an automatic ticket to the World champs. BOOM. Easy. No not easy, it was bloody hard work, for the last 5 years I had completely devoted myself to the sport and I had trained on average 15hrs/week across three disciplines (swim,bike,run) whilst trying to maintain a fairly normal life as a full time working veterinarian. It takes a lot out of a person to race at international elite level. But I got there.
MarathonMTB buddies with Will HayterI have said it many times before, and I will say it many times again, I would not have achieved what I have achieved without the help of MarathonMTB boss Mike Blewitt. And even more importantly, Mike is responsible for some amazing friendships, including mine with UK XCM rider Will Hayter with who I conquered the Singles du Ventoux (three climbs in one day to the top of Ventoux) in 2013 and who also qualified for Worlds in Val Gardena.
Through MarathonMTB I also got connected with the two Ozzie representations Eliza Kwan and Sarah Riley. I had been in touch with Dutch CX champion Sanne Van Paassen and was hoping to meet up with her before the race. There were heaps of other familiar faces and I was looking forward to seeing old friends, meeting new ones and sharing this amazing experience.
Our nerd mobiel!The trip did not go without hiccups. I seem to have a very good way to make life just that little tougher for myself without really knowing how I do it. Bike problems a few day's before our departure added serious amounts of stress, big thank you to Colin Murray from Nicholson Cycles for fitting me in such short notice!! Just for added pressure on the way to the airport my car decided to have a fit which meant Michael and I arrived at 3am at our hotel for our 5.30am flight. If we hadn’t had enough for one night, the hotel had given our room away because of overbooking. Seriously! What else could go wrong!! Not the best preparation for a World Championships.
At the airport the next morning we met the lovely Lee Craigie, a Scottish MTB legend. Having followed her impressive MTB career I was very excited to meet her and as you often get with like minded people it felt like we had known each other for years. Lucky we did all get on so well because what was supposed to be a quick travel day on Thursday from Venice to the Dolomites ended up in a long ever lasting day in the car!
The Ozzie girlsFriday was spent stressing about my bike, meeting the lovely Eliza Kwan and Sarah Riley and catching up with the UK delegation Will, Mel, Tim, Rachel and Chris. Michael and I stayed over the hill (mountain), in a very nice apartment in Colfosco, unfortunately this meant a lot of driving backwards and forwards to Val Gardena which added a little bit to my already maxed out levels of stress!
I woke up tired on race day, not surprising after the week I just had and there was nothing I could do about it. The day seemed like a bit of a blur. Everything went so fast!! Waiting for the start felt very overwhelming, I tried to take it all in, this was one big race!! Before I knew it we were off and headed to the biggest climb I have ever ridden. I panicked, I did not feel good, my lungs were screaming, my stomach turned and it was the start of a very long mental battle to the finish line. I wanted to finish, that was my aim, I did not want to give in. Never before had I been so scared of a course and rightly so, 62kms, 3700m elevation gain, 4 big passes over the Sella range. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful, I made sure I took the time to look around, it was spectacular. I am not sure why I had been worried about my gears not working on my bike because all I needed was my littlest gear. We were either climbing or descending each at equally steep gradients. There was not much in between. The first half of my race was pure hell and I wanted to quit every km but I battled on, feeling embarrassed about my own under-performance. "people must think I am a joke" I thought to myself. The 2nd half of the course I started to feel a little better, I started to get in my rhythm, although my lungs were the biggest problem, my legs kept on giving which gave me some confidence. When I spotted Rachel on the side of the track with a mechanical my heart sank, that was the end of her day. With that in my mind I decided to push a little harder, at least I was still riding. I absolutely loved the descents, I surprised myself how well I rode them and it gave me such an adrenaline boost! This course was incredible. The best feeling was passing a few men on road bikes on a short road climb, they had to look twice, “a girl?” “a girl on a MTB???”The best thing for a disappointed race is debriefing with great friends who have been through the same emotional roller-coaster and that’s exactly what we did the remainder of the day whilst eating lots and lots of food! What an adventure it had been!! It was in the end a very special experience! Very impressively my XTERRA friend James Walker finished his first Mountain bike marathon in the non license holders category, what a course do your first marathon on!! I wonder if he will do any more!!
Finding good friend and super star Kathrin Muller at the startThe last descent seemed to last forever, my body was aching at this point, I wanted it to be over with. And then suddenly it was. I found Michael through the crowd and I fell apart in his arms, I was overwhelmed with a huge amount of emotions. My whole body was shaking. I was happy I finished but hugely disappointed with my performance. I knew I would be outclassed, that was not the issue, but I was disappointed because I knew I was capable of much more. It was just not my day, my body had been fighting me every step of the way. It had been a very tough day on the bike and it left me feeling deflated.
The most brutal, most beautiful, most challenging course I have ever ridden. It had pushed me into some dark areas of my brain. It had pushed me to fight against myself. It had partly broken me, but it had not beaten me. 57th. I had done what I came out to do, I finished my first (and possibly last) UCI MTB Marathon World Championships.
"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams"
I did it!!