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12 Nov, 2014

All Biked Up and No Kit To Ride

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In spite of a disastrous build up, Paul Furbank, who was the reigning world champion until that date, managed an eighth place in the 55-59 age category at the 2014 UCI Mountain Bike Masters World Championships held in Lillehammer, Norway during September. He tells us what it was like.

“Our flight was delayed, so we ended up sitting in Dohar, Qatar for hours. We then flew to Oslo via Stockholm, Sweden, which also wasn’t on our planned itinerary. So we missed our train to Lillehammer. So instead of arriving early on the Thursday morning, we arrived late in the afternoon. Without any luggage. No bike, no bags … nothing!”

Paul, who was accompanied by his wife Claire, then received a promise to say their luggage would arrive the next morning.

“So the next morning, at around 10:00, the bike arrived but our suitcases didn’t,” Paul explained, “and that wasn’t good. To keep to the 10 kilogram limit, I took the pedals and the through axle in my suitcase so I couldn’t ride the bike anyway!”

So that Friday, South Africa’s national masters mountain bike cross country champion walked around Lillehammer, in clothes that he’d worn for quite a while, looking for a through axle and pedals.

“I finally found a through axle, and because we had to go and register for the race, I grabbed a pair of flat pedals,” Paul explained.

He proceeded to complete two laps that day, dressed in takkies and borrowed kit, and repeated that again on the Saturday morning as the shops only opened at 10:00.

“I’d never ridden with flat pedals and found that very difficult. It was bumpy, ‘rooty’, muddy and slushy. It was very awkward and I got scars down my shins from learning about flat pedals,” he grimaced.

Not wanting to repeat the flat pedal experience, Paul headed back into Lillehammer that afternoon to buy shoes, pedals and cleats.

“When I got back, I found that my suitcase had arrived so I had to take everything back to the shops anyway! The following day I got it all working properly and did one lap as we were racing the next day,” he mused.

Paul’s story of woe continued when he went for his warm up just before lining up on the start line.

“I rode up the hill and got onto some tarred cross country roads, so went out there to do a part of my warm up and I got caught in a torrential downpour. It continued for about 15 minutes and it included hail. So by the time I’d finished my warm up, I was freezing,” he said.

For Paul, his race to defend his World Championship didn’t start very well at all. The venue was a converted cross country ski park where a cross country MTB trail had been created for the event.

“When we did the race, it was clearly very sloppy. There were lots of sections that you had to run. Short, steep ascents where you tended to slip out and there were roots everywhere, must have been a dozen per metre,” explained Paul. “The trail got worn quickly so it was very bumpy, but it was muddy and sloppy as well, so, to give you an idea, I ran my tyre pressures at .85 and 1.00 bar just to get some sort of traction. It was treacherous and I wasn’t used to those conditions.”

Because the trail was created for the event, it went from grass to “slosh” to mud and, according to Paul, every time you rode it, it was different.

“There were multiple paths all over the show where people had skidded off course and some parts were more like rivers,” he continued, “but everybody had similar conditions but I didn’t adapt very well to the course.

Fortunately, some of the other members of South Africa’s contingent to this World Championship event fared better than Paul.

Pick of the bunch was Nedene Cahill, who won the women’s 30 – 34 year category, thus defending her World Championship title.

Both Linus van Onselen and Natalie Bergström received silver medals in the cross country categories of 60 – 64 men’s and 40 – 44 women’s races respectively. Downhill racer Chris Nixon managed a bronze medal in the 45 – 49 downhill category.

Other South Africans were Nico Pfitzenmaier (10th in 40 – 44 men’s cross country) and Jimmy Redman (10th in 55 – 59 men’s cross country).

“Nedene, Linus and Natalie rode very well during the event and adapted very well to the conditions,” Paul commented, “I pushed as hard as I could and did the best I could under the circumstances.

Paul and Claire live in Morningside and have three children, Tracy (29), Keith (27) and Douglas (24).

“I get a remarkable amount of support. Claire, in particular, is always there. I think at times she gets a bit tired sometimes, but she is always there for me,” said a thankful Paul.

When Paul and his partner Chris Bram rode the Absa Cape Epic last year, which they managed a second place in the grand masters category, Claire acted as the team support.

“She did everything,” he explained, “packing things and she even cleaned the bikes on occasion.”

But she did get something out of doing that.

“When we were actually riding, Claire visited all the wine farms on the way. So my support has been fantastic from her and the kids,” he explained.

Paul’s World Championship cycling shirt, which he earned at the 2013 World Championships in Pietermaritzburg, now proudly hangs in a frame together with the medal.

“I only wore it once, at the nationals at Thaba Trails this July,” he confirmed.

Perhaps not surprisingly, while in Norway, the Furbanks took the opportunity to see the Northern Lights, which were “spectacular”.

But fortunately, their travel plans have gone smoothly since they left Norway. With a pair of flat pedals as a memento of the experience.