Laura Robson is out on tour with Team Atherton and over the next few weeks she’ll be sending us reports from Canada, France and Norway as they build towards the World Championships.
As a recent addition to the Harris and Ross High Performance team, I have hit the ground running with a recent trip abroad as Physiotherapist for the Atherton racing team.
The UCI World Cup downhill MTB series are held in a selection of beautiful mountainous international locations. I have been lucky enough to join the team in a handful of them, including our own Fort William, Austria and most recently Mont Saint Anne, Canada and Windham, USA.
After the longest check in I have ever seen, I flew with the team from London to Quebec, via New York. We met up with Steve Spencer, marketing director for GT Factory Racing rolled up in a typically American pick up truck covered with GT graphics. It was huge! We loaded the bike bags and kit in the back and collected the keys to our not so huge rental cars. An hour and a sushi stop later, we reached the condo in MSA by early evening.
What can often be under estimated is the impact travelling has on our bodies. Imagine this for an athlete, so tuned into their bodies (most of the time) they need to be feeling as good as they can to prepare for the days of racing ahead of us. So as the team set up began, I set to work on each athlete, ironing out any soreness/stiffness and assessing them for any current injuries they may (or may not) be managing. Bed by 11pm, tired but content after all of the day’s excitement!
The days building up to the racing involved the riders receiving treatment and general ‘tune ups’, massage, manipulation and constant nagging to use the foam rollers.
Most of the team got their turn on the treatment bed, I got to practice a few techniques on the willing, or unaware guinea pigs! To work off the brownies and flapjacks made by Timmy, exercise was an important daily event. We all suffered DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) after an Insanity work out. I ran faster than ever on a cross country trail trying to keep up with Rach and Tay on their bikes. I went for a couple of relaxing early morning runs, and a not so relaxing run around the barely lit golf course with Joe – and what we thought was a bear in the bushes! Rachel and I got to spend some well needed ‘girly’ time out on bikes, exploring the cross country trails and generally relaxing away from the boys. With time for yoga and taking in the breathtaking scenery including waterfalls, we were very grateful to be able to have a break from the male dominated environment.
The drive and focus of not just the athletes, but team manager Dan B and the mechanics is brought to the surface again for the racing. The professionalism of the team is evident. Track walk is always an eye opener for me to see the type of terrain these guys fly down at top speed. Some parts are barely walkable, yet easily managed by the athletes on their bikes. I walk down with the others who talk through lines like it’s a walk in the park.
I ask: “how do you choose and remember where to go?”
“Its my job, I see lines and they stay in my head for the way down,” explained Slugger. “I guess it’s just natural, like you have the ability to visualise and treat the body, I can visualise the way to go.”
As a regular weekend cross country rider, I can’t get my head around riding the track, let alone racing it under the pressures of managers, teams, sponsors, spectators, family and the media, yet these guys seem to take it all in their stride.
Back in the pits timings are key, and although structured, things are a little hectic with constant media and fan traffic in and out. Meanwhile the riders are warming up, leaving on time, cooling down between runs, talking bike set up and eating enough food to keep energy levels high. Ice vests and plenty of hydration are invaluable in the hot temperatures. Then, it’s time for the race runs and the pits are left quiet and deserted as we all head to the finish line. It’s so exciting, and I get nervous!! I want them all to do well and after spending so much time with the team I feel a part of it.
Unfortunately Gee went down during his qualifying run, resulting in a wrist injury and a contusion, or “dead leg” to his thigh. After 3 hours in A&E with a very frustrated Gee, the x-ray cleared any bone damage, so we were left to manage a seriously painful tendonitis (sprained wrist). CarefuI and timely management filled the evening and days following. Gee had to get through the racing, so I strapped his wrist with the challenge of avoiding arm pump. It needed to be protected, but still allow Gee to perform. He managed to complete the race, just missing out on a top 10 position. The end of our trip to Canada was fabulous with a trip to see the Cirque Du Soleil followed by a mouth watering dinner in a steakhouse. USA here we come.
A few days later we were in Windham, the wrist was no longer a problem, instead a huge bruise had appeared on Gee’s thigh from where he smashed it against the handlebars. So we managed it day to day, significantly reducing the bruising and pain.
There were no other acute injuries to deal with, just the normal aches and pains of past injuries, typical of an athlete whose career is in extreme sports. Taylor had a little spill in practice but was unfazed by it, going on to claim first place! This is a young athlete who this time last year was dealing with a broken back: “Nice one butt!”
As if the trip hadn’t been eventful enough, the celebratory BBQ in the pits brought more chaos. It seems you never really switch off as a physio involved in extreme sport, even whilst enjoying a well earned beer!
A little light beer-fuelled fun involving ramps and bikes, ended badly for one enthusiastic stunt man. To avoid any further embarrassment, I’m going to call him “Bob” instead of his real name. So “Bob” hit the floor hard, with his head, and started to struggle with his breathing. Next minute, I was giving instructions to stabilise his head and neck. In the recovery position, with the help of Rachel, I was able to unblock his airways, and calm him down until he regained consciousness and normal breathing. Thank goodness the paramedics arrived to take over, so knowing that he was ok and in safe hands, I could get back to the party! Phew!
Well done team.
Jet lag over, stories re-told and injury managment underway…next stop, Meribel!