Thursday, 15 April 2010

New Blog

Hi all,

I have moved this blog to my website

Please follow the blog from the website in the future.

Many Thanks

Em x

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Swedish Maps

I have finally managed to relax post-Sweden after writing yesterday off due to extreme travelling and being awake for 35 hours!

Unfortunately, everything seems to have knocked on to today, and I am feeling slightly under-the-weather. But the sun is shining so I will clean my bikes in a moment!

Here are the maps from the Sweden Training Camp. I have not been able to load my route onto them.

Camp Cup 1: night short. 1st place in 35.50

Camp Cup 2: Long Mass start. 15th place in 73.32

Camp Cup 3: UltraSprint The Crying Mile. 2nd place in 14.43

Camp Cup 4: Middle/Long. 6th place in 70.08

Camp Cup 5: Middle. 1st place in 53.34

Monday, 12 April 2010


Here is an account of the annual Swedish (usually Danish) training camp and season opener ....

Photos by: Per Frost, and Mark Stodgell

Merida MTBO Camp 2010
Åhus, Sweden
The 2010 Merida MTBO camp was held from 8-11th April in Ahus, near Kristianstad in southern Sweden. In previous years the camp has been held in Denmark with beautiful sunny weather and many of the world’s elite athletes descending on the chosen location for 4 days of training and racing. This year the weather was once again sunny, with some hazy mornings and temperatures ranging from 8- 12°C, fairly good considering the snow only melted in this region a couple of weeks ago.
I was travelling from Portugal via London with a complex airport change from Luton to Stansted, with 28kgs of bike-in-a-bag. I had left my Austrians friends and fellow athletes the day before and was meeting them in Copenhagen on Thursday morning. Travelling with me to the camp was ‘camp-first-timer’ Mark Stodgell also of Team GBR.
On arrival at Åhus Strand hotel it was down to business with bike building and then a training ride around one of the nearby sand dune areas. The men quickly set a fast pace, which was surprisingly comfortable in the undulating terrain. That same evening was the first camp cup race, the night sprint. Dreaded by many who fear the dark and by those unexperienced at night MTBO, it is also enjoyed by those nutters who crave night rides and meeting other athletes head-on on small twisty singletracks.
Personally, I love the night MTBO. It is a complex mixture of riding fast, planning ahead, and spotting the path junctions you need. Distance judgement is crucial and many small paths are easily missed when your circle of light is pointing the wrong way at the wrong time. Losing peripheral vision is strange at first, but you soon adapt to spotting obstacles and features immediately approaching. With this race being a sprint, it was complex navigation where you could lose 20 seconds on a leg by taking the wrong route. It was permissible to ride the course before dark, and then have 10 minutes added to your competition time. But I declined this opportunity since I figured it impossible to gain a ten minute advantage over a 35 minute course.
The is no advantage in night MTBO of starting late, you cannot see bike tracks well enough to gauge approaching turns and junctions, and a cyclist ahead of you could be anyone, or just a random punter. I had a pretty good race. I was up for it, ready to go, and despite having a cold, felt fairly strong on the bike. I made a few small route choice errors losing only 90-120 seconds throughout the course, and won in a time of 35.50, with Michi Gigon in second, a mere 16 seconds behind. This was pleasing. During the Portugal training camp I had beaten Michi twice, and now I had done it in a slightly more competitive race. 
It was then straight to bed before an early morning and typically Scandinavian/European breakfast of yoghurt and muesli. Yum! The next day hosted two camp cup races, the long distance mass start, and the ultrasprint - also aptly named the Crying Mile. The long distance in the morning was not nearly as long as last years 3.5hours and 5 map changes. But after I was a spoon to the first control and lost two minutes, I found myself unable to catch the leading pack. No leg strength and a lone rider made this impossible. I was 6 minutes down on the leaders in 15th place.
Re-fuelling at lunch and the sun shining through the cloud made me feel better. The Crying Mile was held on the sand dunes in a complex area of paths on a map scale of 1:1500. The were 17 controls in 1.5km, with all athletes riding the same course. You would think opportunities for following would be prime here, but in fact, many people rode of the map and went exploring for 20 minutes before finding the first control, whilst others failed to grasp the map scale and visited most controls before finding the correct one. I had an almost perfect race until the penultimate control, where I dropped my concentration and rode to the final control, losing 45 seconds and thus my lead to Michi Gigon of Austria. I still managed 2nd place and about 20 seconds behind.
Afternoon training was a map memory course with a slightly unusual concept which could be implemented for armchair technical training!
In the evening I felt worse and worse. My cold and sore throat were creeping back and the next day I woke up feeling utterly exhausted. After getting back into bed pre-middle/long distance I didn’t feel much more alert, but being highly competitive and with camp cup 4, I headed out with the others and managed to pull a 6th place out-of-the-bag, only 4 minutes behind Ksenia Chernyk of Russia. Surprisingly, again I beat Michi, meaning that she took the overall lead, with Ksenia in close second and me a few points behind in 3rd. After some crude calculations, we figured that both Michi and I would drop the points of the long distance meaning I only needed to finish the final race 15 points behind to win overall. With the final race on Sunday in technical sand dunes, it would suit both Michi and myself so the competiton was hotting up. Michi has won the camp cup twice, in 2007 and 2009, as well as winning 12 gold medals in European and World Championships, so she is a very worthy competitor of whom I am honored to get close to in the results this year. Last year I was 5 minutes behind in most races, so I have made a huge improvement in 8 months.
I chose to have a rest afternoon and let my body recover, whilst supporting Mark in Paallikoos Diabolo Challenge - a 100m course of 20 controls where the aim is to standing punch, or use the most effective punching technique to beat your competitor in each round. Mark qualified in 4th fastest and after winning the preliminary round, he was seeded against Andreas Rief of Austria, last years defending champion. It was a tense race, which I couldn’t watch, but after seeing Mark was a control behind at half way, everyone thought Andi had it won. But Mark pulled it back, Andi had punched the last control and appeared to coast towards the finish, whilst Mark aggressively punched a second later and piped Andi to the line. Stodge then won the semi-finals easily, but lost the final after messing up a control. 
Also in the evening were some spot prizes, where random letters and numbers are chosen which correspond to a certain athlete. Merida were sponsoring the camp by providing a Matts TFS 900 XC frame. It was very tense. The first name called was one of the organisers who wasn’t present, so a name was drawn again. And it was me ... I don’t travel  light, too many clothes, so fitting a bike frame in my bag was troublesome!! But I won a bike frame ... this week was turning out to be lucky.
And finally to Sunday, and camp cup 5. After some friendly banter between myself and Michi, with both of us being competitive, the pressure was on. Could Michi win the camp cup for the third time? Or could I ride faster in the technical area? I started 5 minutes ahead of Michi and rode a really good race catching some very good athletes on the way round. Aside from making a few small errors and losing 30 seconds or so, I finished in a good time, although I couldn’t tell my exact time. Michi then finished about 5 minutes after, and I did some crude calculations and guessed that we had done a fairly similar time, but that she had probably just beaten me. At download I was told I had a new fastest time and beat Michi by 90 seconds, and thus winning the camp cup overall, which Johan later confirmed by presenting me with the coveted yellow jersey :-) 
With late evening flights back to the UK we hung out in Copenhagen for a few hours, but for me there was more hanging around once we had landed. I am currently sat writing this in a 24h McDonalds, not that I am eating the food they serve, but London Liverpool Street station closed at 1am and the underground doesn’t re-open until 5.30am for me to get back to Sheffield. Oh joy!
Here are the overall results from the top three women
1  Em Benham   21 Team GBR         
35:50    1  1:13:32   15    14:43    2  1:10:08    6  53:34    1           
1282           960          1268          1136          1278           4964 
2  Michaela Gigon   33 Thömus Team Austria        
36:08    2  1:10:17   13    14:27    1  1:10:44    8    54:54    3           
1273          1080          1279          1124          1240           4916 
3  Ksenia Chernykh   39 RUSSIA VIK                 
42:06    6  1:06:52    1    15:30    3  1:06:31    1    55:00    4           
1091          1207          1234          1206          1237           4884 

Wednesday, 7 April 2010


I am currently stood waiting for myflight back to England to arrive, in Lisbon airport. I have been in Portugal for10 days and have had the best time. Funnily, it has taken me longer to write these three sentences than what it did to check in!!! The keyboard needs a lot of effort.....

Anyway, we spent some time in Porto and then Chaves before heading south to Lisbon for5 days of sun ,sea and biking. Ventured intoLisbon yesterday which, although a nice city, I´m not in a hurry to see it again. Except for the sweet shop by the old elevators!

Training wise, I amfeeling fit again (even beat Michi G twice!). Next up is an aiport transfer from Luton to Stansted and then a flight tomorrow toSweden to meet the Austrians again. It is strange saying goodbye this morning when I will see them in 12 hours! Looking forward toSweden now. More friends to see again after 8 months.