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Julie De Leeuw Prepares for the Silk Road Mountain Race

How time flies when you are having fun, by Julie De Leeuw

I have always been an outdoorsy person and growing up I was often mistaken for a boy; perhaps it was because I was always halfway up a tree or tearing around the village on my bike? Another reason why I love the outdoors is because my dad was always late, so it was easier to cycle or walk to a hockey match or my friend's house to ensure I was there on time! We also lived on a hill, so cycling uphill was and still is the norm. I am a country girl at heart and still live in the beautiful Cotswolds. I get great pleasure out of walking our four dogs each morning in the woods and roaming the hills.

As I have mentioned, cycling up hills is a way of life so when I started mountain biking I was not phased by them on courses. I used to enjoy racing up the hills and then not letting the technically better riders overtake me on the downhills - it used to drive them crazy! Nonetheless, over time I got better at the technical bits and moved up the ranks, finally becoming a sponsored rider in the elite category.

I will never forget one year at the National Champs. The course was perfect for me as the race started on a long, steep, technical climb. After discussing race tactics with the team, it was decided that I should just give it everything on the first climb to gain a lead. This sounded logical until I saw Caroline Alexandra on the start line who was ranked in the top 10 in the world and was renowned for being the best climber in the world. Oh well, what's the worst that can happen?! I tore off from the start and found myself in the lead which I managed to keep to the top of the climb - I could not believe it, I was beating Caroline! Caroline was not number one for nothing. As we cycled over the brow of the hill into the descent my body decided it had had enough. BANG! I felt instantly fatigued, my coordination had gone and I could not turn the pedals. One by one, all the racers started overtaking me. I had gone from first to last in a matter of minutes.

Anyone who has experienced "bonking" before will know how I felt and how quickly it can take over your whole body. I walked my bike down the hill, determined not to give up. The crowd was shouting for me to get back on my bike but when I did, I wobbled and fell off so I chose to walk and eat as much sugar as I could. Luckily, I respond well to sugar so after a few minutes (that felt like hours) I got back on my bike and slowly started riding. I managed to work my way back up the field and took every sugary snack that was offered to me by my team and others who helped me. The mountain bike community is amazing. As time went on, I felt my strength return but boy, oh boy it was mentally and physically tough. This was, and still is, my proudest race as I managed to go from first place to last, and on to win a bronze medal. (Though I was sick for a week after due to it taking every ounce of my energy to finish the race.)

I am hoping that I am able to demonstrate as much resilience when I tackle the Silk Road Mountain Race (SRMR) with my husband Anton in August 2021. The SRMR is known as being one of the toughest cycle races in the world due to the altitude, extreme temperatures, terrain and lack of facilities available during the race. I do know that we will have the support of Expedition Foods who will enable us to fuel our bodies with the right number of calories and nutrients to provide an optimal nutritional balance. Thanks to the range of choices available, we will not have to rely on local food sources for supplies. Riders have failed before having struggled with stomach problems due to not being used to the local foods available. Logistically, carrying 14 days’ food each will be heavy (there is no outside assistance allowed) but Expedition Foods provide 1000 calorie meals suitable for two which will lighten the load. Although I am not a vegetarian, I prefer the taste of vegetarian food and was delighted to see the choices available to me so far. My favourite is Vegetable Tikka but I am munching my way through all of them.

Although I am quickly saying goodbye to the forties, I feel that I will never stop challenging myself and will always be an outdoors person. On our list of competitions this year is the SRMR and the Adventure Racing World Championships. Notwithstanding our own challenges we set ourselves on route to these events, life is about getting outdoors and having fun. 

Check out Julie's website at www.antonandjulie.com