Living mountain bike legend and multiple Championships winner (with 31 international Championships medals including Worlds, European and Olympic Games in total) Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå managed to add another victory in a major Championship to her already well-stocked trophy cabinet.
The 2018 European Marathon Championship took place in Spilimbergo, Italy and Gunn-Rita’s specially painted ‘red’ BIG.NINE (equipped with a dropper post) was not just reflecting the national colour of Norway but also turned out to be the perfect bike for the race.
We caught up with Gunn-Rita to get her story on her impressive victory race:
"It was awesome to take another European Championship title. It is my 20th international Gold medal. So far, I have managed to win 31 medals in international Championships like the Worlds, European Championships and Olympic Games.
This year’s Championship course was much harder than the profile showed because the track had technical climbing followed by extremely demanding downhills that were not really visible on the course map/profile at all. The longest downhill started at the highest point of the course and took almost 25 minutes to complete. My hands and fingers were hurting half way down and my arms totally cramped up towards the end.
I went hard at the beginning as I wanted to get away with a small group of the strongest girls and then see what happens. Maja (Wlosczowska) and I worked well together right from the start, and we managed to open a gap before we reached the second feed zone (about 30 km). Shortly after that, we went into a very steep climb (around 35 km in) which was rather painful. My plan was to go into this climb at a steady pace and keep it light on the pedals. I managed to open a gap to Maja on this climb and kept it until we reached feed zone 6 which was roughly an hour from the finish line. At that point, I had roughly a minute and 10 seconds on Maja. In the first 4 hours, I hit the ‘wall’ quite a few times, but years of experience had taught me that it is all about the mind and the way you work mentally. When Maja managed to get back on my wheel we probably both knew that we could stay with each other till the end and fight it out in a sprint.
I raced with Maja for many years and she is one of the girls that I keep most connected to in the MTB family. It is a big, friendly family even though we are competitors on the start line. We respect each other for who we are and what we stand for. I know Maja as one of the biggest fighters out there, and she will be as long as she is competing. I knew that I could never underestimate Maja if it would come to a sprint. In a situation like this, I always imagine that the sprint would be against Kenneth. I have had a lot of sprint training against Kenneth and I do hate it when I’m not able to stay on his wheel. So I tried to prepare as well as possible that her sprint would be strong and powerful… and that there would be no other possible outcome than to win.
The last 10 kilometres were mostly flat along the river Tiliment, and Maja and I took it in turns at the front to dodge the headwind on our way towards Spilimbergo and the finish line. Arriving in the town, we had to go up a short steep climb to the castle. Kenneth was there to fire me on during the last 500 meters of the race. He quickly told me that I was opening a small gap of a few meters and that it appeared that Maja was not able to stay on my wheel. To hear that was like a boost of adrenaline for me and I immediately started my long sprint towards the finish. First up that climb, then through the beautiful gardens of the castle, down some stairs, more stairs down to the asphalt again and then the last asphalt climb up towards the finish line. I had Kenneth shouting at me and cheering me on. The last 200-300 meters of the race I completely focused on getting all the power that was left in the body onto my pedals. I was giving it my all and was able to stay clear of Maja securing the 2018 European Marathon Championships.
Racing for over 5 hours is a fantastic adventure, but it is also very painful. The course in the area around Spilimbergo, Tilitment Marathon Bike, was an incredibly hard course with more than 3500meter of climbing. It had climbs of up to 25% with lots of rocks and cobblestones on the ground. We were lucky with the weather because on Thursday and Friday we had 28/29 degrees, while Sunday ‘only’ had 26. Several people struggled with keeping dehydrated. High temperature does not normally bother me because I have so much pain everywhere else in the body that the heat does not affect me much. I got fed with WINFORCE at all 7 station, and that worked fine for me.
I am so proud of myself, my best friend, my husband and coach, Kenneth, The Norwegian Federation that still believes in me and of course MERIDA that supports me globally. I have many more fights in me and the season is still young.
A Gold this early in the season and managing our first peak of the season so perfectly is the best motivation for both Kenneth and me for more hard work towards the next races."
Source : MERIDA-BIKES.COM