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La Thuile - Italy HC Race

Three weeks in Europe and currently staying in the beautiful region of Araches-la-Frasse, France for a training and altitude block. To take advantage of being so close to the Italian border, Sam and I decided to do a wee day trip to La Thuile, Italy and compete in the HC Internazionali D'Italia Series race.

Being only a 2 hour drive away from the race it was an easy day out. Heading off at 7.30am we would make it by 9.30am for when practise started - this was crucial as neither of us had ridden this course. Unfortunately due to neglecting the directional device we took a wrong turn which resulted in a 30min delay of arriving... Trying not to worry we focused on getting there, registering and riding the course.

On first inspection - it is a gnarly course! with steep punchy climbs and man made descents. It had multiple A/B Lines in place on the climbs and downhills, including big logs, rock gardens and, off camber sections. I was nervous to say the least, and excited for sure. We had about 15 minutes of time to pre-ride this interesting course. Unfortunately for me I was only able to pre-ride about half the course before the start of my race.

Instead of explaining every bit of the course - I have found a course preview for those that are interested:

My race started at 12.30 - smack bam in the middle of the day. Given I had already done a bit of a ride well before the time needed to start a warm-up, I wasn't too invested in doing a long warm up before the race. I managed to get to a couple bits on the 2nd half of the course and ride 2 more A lines before I was needed in the start box. Grateful for having at least ridden some sections before the start of the race - the nerves started easing away and I realised how much I liked this course.

Called up 18th on the line, among a good amount of kiwis (so awesome to see) and some big names such as Evie Richards, Haley Batten etc it was going to be a big day. We had 7 laps including 1 start loop. The gun went off and so did we. The first 30 seconds I dropped some places, struggling to find momentum in the mass of riders, however eventually got in my groove and passed those same riders. Settled behind talented young U23 kiwi rider - Amelie MacKay. Amelie is a skillful rider and knowing this I could confidently follow her line down the A Line that I never got to practise (thank you!). Then maybe 10minutes in decided to sneak past a good few riders as I was feeling good.

I rode reasonably strong around course for the lap and once I got into lap 2, felt my knee giving way as the adrenaline was wearing off.. This wasn't a good sign. I kept riding like nothing was wrong until I realised the pain was getting worse. Half way into this lap it was continuing to get worse to the point I was struggling up the climbs and my left knee was doing majority of the work. I started dropping places like hot potatoes. I managed my way around the course and had the coaches words stuck in my head - 'Better to pull out and save your knee if it gets bad than waste your entire Europe season ahead'. So that's what I did, I struggled (and still am struggling) with the thought of pulling out by choice. But I needed to look after myself and this was the way to do it.

This has been only the 2nd time I have ever pulled out of a race by choice. The first was back in 2013, something didn't feel right and I was shortly after diagnosed with Glandular fever. Other times I was removed without choice due to injuries. But this time - when I pulled out no one could tell what was wrong, except me. I probably could have pushed through and finished the race, but I didn't want to risk not being able to ride or train after this race and risking having a sore knee that held me back for the rest of the season.

Now let me explain, I have had multiple issues with my knee for nearly 10 years now. back when I was 11 I was riding and managed to tear the tendons inside my right knee. I let it recover - however never did any physio and assumed all was good. Lets just say this injury has come back to haunt me multiple times. Since then my knee has always had pain, it just became normal for me. My knee problems is one of the big things I cam working on this year - to overcome, strengthen and resolve the issue. This year it has dramatically improved. One of the big reasons for that is because I had also found out that all along I haven't been activating my VMO muscle correctly. This has caused my knee cap to constantly align incorrectly causing me more pain. Since working on this VMO activation I have seen huge improvements and it is something that I am still very much working on.

The first time in years I had no pain in my knee leading up to Europe. Even once I got to Europe still I had no pain. Up until a few days before the race. At first when this pain came back, I was annoyed to say the least. Until it was pointed out to me that we now know of a way we can strengthen it even further using my knees weakness against itself. What happened? Sam and I had a big day out on the bike, we found steep, steep climbs that just kept coming and I was forced to get up them with very low cadence even whilst in my easiest gear and push hard. I was fine when we started - however by the end I was in tears from how much my knee hurt again. This was over the course of 3.5 hours. Since this ride my knee has been recovering ever since. Hence the fact my coach and I decided that if my knee started playing up in the race - it wasn't worth it. And in the race the pain got bad quite dramatically, which is why I pulled out so soon. So as you now know - my body is a work in progress, and that is okay. Something I am still coming into terms with but this is the process for me this year.

" My goal is to get experience in the Elite category and to work through all the niggles I have in my body, get over them so that by the time next year comes around I will really have something to show for it. "

I would like to thank everyone that has helped me through and supported me all the way. I can't thank them enough. I can't thank my amazing partner Sam Fox for not only putting up with me, but also coaching me and helping me work through all my previous injuries and mind battles. Thanks to my family and friends as well as my amazing sponsors for continuing to back me through all of this.

You will hear from me soon..

Kind Regards,

Jessica Manchester

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