Rider Diary: Sue Clarke
Interview with Sue Clarke - Brand New Sue - July 2009
Racing cross country and representing Great Britain since 1994 when she rode as a Junior in the World Mountain Bike Championships, Sue Clarke has been British Champion, competed in the Commonwealth Games and is now making a return to top level racing with help from husband and XC racing legend, Barrie Clarke. To find out all about Sue read her feature-length interview, and get the latest from her comeback right here.
June 14 2010
Returning From Adversity
Well fellow riders, it has been quite some time since my last entry! Things have not gone so smoothly during the first part of this season. After a great start in Cyprus, I returned to the UK with some strong form and an increased drive. With the first World Cup of the season in the UK I had this firmly on my radar.
However, this was not to be. After taking a good win at the Scottish series opener off the back of a heavy training schedule and two days spent coaching the British Cycling Mountain Bike Talent team, things decided to take a nosedive! Both Barrie and I came down sick within 24 hours of the Scottish race.
Barrie recovered after several days but I got progressively worse. At the time I did not realise the severity of the situation or the length of time things would drag on. I ended up in bed for weeks with a virus that knocked me for six. I felt about 100 years old. Not satisfied with this, Mother Nature then threw another challenge my way in the form of a back injury. After consulting my friend and excellent practitioner Nick Dinsdale in Clitheroe, things dramatically improved. The time I had spent horizontal in recovery mode had done me no favours in this area. Days and hours spent icing the affected area seemed to break the pain cycle but it would be some time before I could swing my leg back over a bike.
It is a good job I have been in this game for some time now, overcoming several serious setbacks along the way.
Although the current situation was a tough one both physically and mentally, I at least had the knowledge that I had overcome much worse than this before and things would eventually come right! This does little to overcome the boredom of day after day of daytime TV, resembling a couch potato!
My friend introduced me to the world of yoga through her teacher Ishwari. This guy is the real deal! I have been taking private lessons now for about six weeks and I am convinced this has made a dramatic impact upon my recovery. After overcoming the initial weirdness of this whole new world involving chanting, breathing techniques and the various poses I have to say I am an avid fan!
I rewarded my ever supportive and faithful team Cannondale Racing with a win in the Midlands Championships in my first race back. After only a couple of weeks riding in the bank, I was totally in the dark on the start line as to what sort of shape I was in. It was great to be joined by several strong girls on the exciting and varied Hereford course, which is certainly worthy of a National Championship race. It was good to see Nikki Harris taking the start line after a hugely successful international cyclocross season. A break in her road racing calendar gave her the opportunity to get back to her MTB roots... literally as the course threw some excellent rooty, flowing singletrqack our way, broken up by several tough climbs per lap.
As I was expecting, Nikki to put in a great start as is her trademark and I held onto her wheel for dear life on the starting firetracks. Once I found my feet and rhythm I took to the front of the race and built up a useful gap by lap one of five. I spent my race pacing myself up the climbs and enjoying the more technical parts of the course on my Cannondale Scalpel! As the race progressed I started to pick up the pace again, confident of my endurance to go the distance. I was surprised by the time gap at the finish and pleased with my consistent lap times, always a good indicator.
Next on the agenda was a race packed weekend at Margam Park in south Wales. Martyn Salt put on a fantastic weekend with XC racing, team relay and marathon racing plus a whole host of other activities including guided rides and a live band on Saturday night. Barrie and I decided to make a long weekend of it and packed up our camper van for the road. Our dog Charlie seemed hyper at the prospect of a trip away! We pre rode the XC course the day before the race and I actually felt pretty good. However, overnight rain turned the course from a dustbowl to a slippery and cut up one. It had been some time since I had faced conditions like these and took some effort to get into the groove, if I actually did at all.
Off the start I found myself off the pace and slightly concerned!!! It seemed my legs had decided to stay at home that day. However, I gradually chipped away at it and managed to haul myself up to fourth by the finish, narrowly missing third, but satisfied I had completed the distance. Winner Rosara Joseph gave us all a masterclass on the day with a superb win, reminding everyone why she has been a top eight rider in the World Championships a few years back! ‘Get well soon' wishes go out to Maddie Horton who sustained a nasty gash to her arm following a heavy crash in the Elite race, requiring many stitches.
Next up was my debut ride with the Orange Monkey team for the relay. Fast and furious, I think it has been a long time since I have grinned so much in a race! We recovered from dead last to third by the finish. Poor Ben was first rider out and a jammed chain straight off the start was not very helpful to our cause! Happy with our podium we set off for a celebratory BBQ; ust like the good old days of XC racing, chilling in the campsite adn enjoying the company of friends and family. Charlie certainly enjoyed the feast of leftover bits of chops and burgers that everyone was throwing her way, much to my concern!
With a belly full of chicken legs and burgers Barrie and I took to the start line of the following days marathon event. Set over a challenging 25km course, I opted for the 50km distance and Barrie went hardcore with the 75km option. It was fun lining up next to my Dad and several friends ready for a purely fun ride out (even if I could not convince the commentators this was my plan of action!)
I was pleasantly surprised to hear I had the lead of the race . I just set a nice tempo on the long firetrack climbs and set myself the challenge of hammering the descents. I started to catch some male racers who had set off at a furious pace. After a thoroughly enjoyable time I took a convincing win with a healthy twelve minute winning margin. Some more of that yes please :0)
Since my return to racing we have completed what I would term as slightly crazy ‘adventure' or ‘epic' days out here in the beautiful Lakes. Last weekend saw Barrie and I tackle some extremely tough terrain from Staveley, taking in the famous ‘High Street' pass along the way. Proper old school is all I can say. Bring it on...
Today I took delivery of another new bike. It reminded me of Christmas' spent in Australia a few years back, unpacking my Cannondale Flash Hi-Mod in the garden with the sun beating down on my back he he! I have to say this is the lightest MTB I have ever had the privilege to own. I will be taking to the tracks for a test ride this weekend. Equipped with carbon bars, seat post and cranks, Mavic wheelset, carbon Lefty fork and full XTR (for the first time in my career I have full XTR yippee!) it is a machine to be envied.
Barrie and myself head off to Switzerland next week. I will race the Swiss Riders Cup in Englebern, followed by the Swiss HC event in Bern the following weekend. During the week between races we will visit friends in Morzine and make the most of the fantastic trails there for training on. I am really looking forward to this trip and it will be a perfect build up for my National Champs campaign in five weeks time.
If you have got this far reading my blabble then good for you, you have staying power is all I can say. I will just finish off by saying a very big thank you to Mike Cotty at Cannondale for his constant support through this rocky period. Also to family and friends for helping me through the many challenges I have been faced with.