Sunday, 7 April 2019

Andalucia Bike Race 2019: LIVE!

Stage 6 (final) - Quick start, slow finish and confusion..


Result: 16th place in M40 (out of 200 racers)

Avg. Heart rate:     N/A (coming soon)
Avg. Speed:          N/A (coming soon)
Avg. Power:          N/A (coming soon)
Weighted avg. power: N/A (coming soon)





The last stage wasn't too rough: 57km and 1400 meters of ascent. The weather was beautiful and the sun was showing it's best side.

I started out hard today, as opposed to yesterday. Full speed through the streets of Cordoba and up the first hill. I saw the lead riders ahead of me and this felt good. 

Towards the top of the first climb Anders Laustsen caught up. He's an elite Danish rider and normally much much quicker than I. However he had a bad crash the day before ABR started while testing out the first stage course. He's been riding every stage with bruised and aching ribs. We rode together the first  half of the stage and he gave me tips and pointers on my technique. Great! Thanks Anders!

A weird thing happend already during the first climb: My left knee started aching. I've never had any aches on my knees before. This continued throughout the stage and towards the end it got really annoying and affected my motivation.

I slowed down quite a bit for the last few kilometers. It's really hard riding the tough and dangerous downhills in this race if your mind is not quite there. I passed several riders who had crashed and some of them were bloody: I especially remember this one guy with a smashed face.

After I finished it became apparent that there had been some confusion with the course markings. Some of the riders had taken a shortcut. Right now it seems that the official time for the last stage is the second checkpoint. That means I came in 16th place on this stage: My best stage in the race

Overall I finished 24th. Analysis is coming up in the next few days...


Stage 5 - Slow start, quick finish


Result: 26th place in M40 (out of 200 racers)

Avg. Heart rate:     154
Avg. Speed:          20.1km/h
Avg. Power:          207W
Weighted avg. power: 244W


This stage is the longest of the race: Almost 90km with some 1700m of ascent. The start is in central Cordoba. Weather was sunny and warm.

Things went well from the start and I was moving up through the field while we went through Cordoba. I passed Sandra withim a kilometer or so. But then I made a bad choice as we left town and got into the fields: The bunch was going on a dirt road which turned into a single lane path and we all bunched up and stood still. A smaller path was to the left of us seeming to go parrallel with where we were going but at first no one took it so I guessed it must be the wrong way. So I waited for traffic to clear up. But then people were taking the other narrow path... first just a trickle of riders but then everyone was going that way. And here I was stuck in a line standing still. It all cleared after a while but at least 100 cyclists had passed us. So when the two paths rejoined I was way down on the field. I started sprinting from group to group, again catching up and passing Sandra (who had made a smarter choice).

This all led to me spending the first half of the stage slowly moving up through the field. No one to help pull me along or to cooperate with. At about 40km I was on my own and no longer catching riders. I did the next 30km by myself. A weird feeling in such a big field of riders but somehow pleasant as I could pick my own pace.

Unfortunately that pace was too slow. When I caught up with some riders with just 15km to go I found that I had plenty of energy reservs I sprinted the last part of the stage and thought I had done well... But no: 26th on the stage.

24th overall in M40.

Tomorrow is the last stage.

Stage 4 - Knocked out by a deer


Result: 18th place in M40 (out of 200 racers)

Avg. Heart rate:     159
Avg. Speed:          21.0km/h
Avg. Power:          220W
Weighted avg. power: 254W


Sandra and I moved fron Linares to Cordoba after yesterday's stage. The start of today's stage is some 30km outside of Cordoba however in a place called Villafranca de Cordoba.

I started the day off by disabling the damper lock-out in front and put it permanently in open (soft). As I wrote yesterday the service people messed it up and I had to drive all of yesterday's stage with my fork locked. I put it in open now as I don't mind it being soft (certainly it's better than permanently locked) - I'm not the type of cyclists who stands up a lot in the uphills. As long as the lock-out is working in the rear I'm good.

I get out and go for a test ride in the morning and the bike is working perfectly.

We get our bikes in the car and drive to the location of the stage. We are ready to warm up 30 minutes before the start of the stage (start boxes open 15 minutes before the start). I get on the bike and as soon as I try to shift gears it's not working. I try to shift some more and nothing. I move the cable housing out of the way at the shifter and notice that the cable is all frazzled and perhaps half of it is still whole. Oh darned! I bike as quickly as I can to Shimano's neutral service (provided by the race organizers) and ask them if they can fix it. They get on it directly and 10 minutes before the start of the race they have a new cable in there. Why did it take 20 minutes? Well, pieces of the old cable had gotten stuck in the shifting mechanism. So 5 minutes before the race I'm in the start box with 100 meters of warmup in my legs.




Typically, as we start, this is the stage that the guys up front decide to gun it from the start. We had some asphalt first and the pace is 100% maxed out. I'm back in the string of riders holding on for dear life just trying not to get dropped by the lead bunch.

As we get to the climbs I feel good and start pushing a bit harder. I decide to put the ordeals of the last couple of days behind me and just ride normally. There's a nice stretch of twisty and turny gravel road going downhill and I start overtaking riders by pushing harder in the corners and slowly feel my confidence return. The confidence that was all gone yesterday because of the knock out and concussion on stage 2.

The gravel road follows the side of the mountain and so on our right is the uphill slope while the downhill is on our right. All of a sudden I see this big thing (som sort of animal?) moving in the corner of my right eye. Then it flies towards me and hits me in the head. My head in knocked left and I feel my neck twist painfully. I'm knocked off my bike and land on the gravel road. My glasses go flying from the crash and I feel dazed. What the heck just happened? Then I realize that the big thing was a deer and that it had jumped across the road from the uphill on the right to the downhill on the left and while doing so its left rear hoof had struck my head. While I wait for my confused mind to clear I look for my glasses, put them back on, and get on my bike and start pedalling.

I'm thinking to myself: What the heck is happening? What are the odds??




It takes a while to get back into the right frame of mind. For a while I'm actually considering just taking it easy for the rest of the stage: Waiting for Sandra and biking the rest of the way with her.

However and the kilometers pass I start to get my race mood back and as the last half of the stage approaches I feel strong and go all-in! I pass a bunch of riders the last 10-20 kilometers and end up finishing in 18th place.

I'm the overall I'm 24th with two stages remaining.


Stage 3 - Careful careful...


Result: 36th place in M40 (out of 200 racers)

Avg. Heart rate:     154
Avg. Speed:          18.7km/h
Avg. Power:          191W
Weighted avg. power: 237W

Today was all about survival. I wasn't sure whether I was going to start the stage after yesterday's concussion. I decided to first of all have a feel when I woke up. I felt okay. Then I decided to start the race to see if my body (and mostly my brain) functioned normally and to abort if anything felt out of order.

Things went okay. Power was there. I however had no confidence in the technical stuff and downhills. Somehow I didn't trust my brain to navigate around the obstacles. I went slowly and carefully.

A further nuisance was that my fork was stuck in locked mode. That didn't make the downhills any easier. I had the cable changed by the neutral service people last night after finishing the stage and they messed something up. For tomorrow's stage I'll just leave it open.

I'm happy to have finished the stage. The long climb of the stage actually went 10W and 2 minutes quicker than last year so the power is most certainly there.



Stage 2 - Crash, concussion and memory loss


Result: 30th place in M40 (out of 200 racers)

Avg. Heart rate:     160
Avg. Speed:          21.5km/h
Avg. Power:          212W
Weighted avg. power: 249W





The second stage was 75km long and had 1250 meters of altitude gain. Not too much climbing in other words.

Things started of a bit chaotic: Almost immediately we came to a gravel road section with HUGE puddles (lakes!) of water. People were braking left and right, trying to go by the side, some just crashed through the water splashing it on everyone else. I took it easy and managed to get through it without incidents.

As we got to the climbs I started to advance up the field. Things felt good...

But then: At about 20km into the race I'm in a group of about 20-30 riders and all of a sudden the lead riders stop and look confused. There are no course markings! We realize that we've made a bad turn and head back. And of course it's in a hilly section so up and down and up and down we go until we get back to the course. I notice that there was a sharp right turn after a downhill which was not marked until AFTER the turn. Very easy to miss. I talked to some other people after the race and they had missed the turn off as well. I checked Strava afterwards and the detour was 1.5km all in all. Getting back on the course we found ourselves with slower riders and had to get around them.

We get to a section that goes around a lake on some steep banking. It's off-camber and difficult to ride. There's a guy ahead and he's slowing everyone down and there's just no way to pass. I get some "rest time" waiting to go around.

At about halfway through the race we come to some climbs and then some road sections. I feel strong and pile on the watts. I start catching up with group after group and things are going well.

With the last 5 kilometers approaching I'm riding with a strong guy when... Well, I don't know what happened actually. I crash and hit my head. Or I hit my head (perhaps on a branch? and crash? I DON'T KNOW. I have no memory of this. Or of getting back on my bike. I actually have no memory until I cross the finish line and visit the medics. Total mempory loss of about 20-30 minutes of riding (and crashing). The funny thing is what I do remember from the crash is hearing a loud GONG! sound in my head. I'm guessing that's from hitting my head.

After analyzing Strava data this seems to be where I crashed


What I have is a very painful left thigh. So I guess that's where I landed. I got a left pinkie finger that's hurting badly. Also scraped knees. It's so weird not knowing where they came from. The helmet funnily enough is without damage. From what I can see the bike just has a seriously bent Garmin holder. Other than that it seems fine.

I finish in 30th place. Not good obviously. But I'm really happy to just not be seriously hurt.

I was still very confused and feeling weird during the evening. The medics asked me to write my name on a piece of paper and when I was able to do that they seemed happy. I'm going to start tomorrow and see how it goes.


Stage 1 - Time Trial


Result: 17th place in M40 (out of 200 racers)

Avg. Heart rate:     167
Avg. Speed:          22.9km/h
Avg. Power:          246W
Weighted avg. power: 275W

The first stage was a time trial stage. That means we all started at 30 second intervals. My start was at 12:20. Temperature was around 14 degrees Celsius and it rained on and off all day. I decided to ride in short sleeves. The stage was similar to last year's but about 5km longer: 38km and with 500 m elevation gain.

The first part was asphalt, turning into gravel road so I went into time trial mode and just watched the watts on my Garmin: 300+ all the way. With these kinds of TT starts you overtake people all the time and for me that's a real motivation booster. I was passing people within minutes.




The course was perhaps 70-80% singletrack. A lot of uphills and fun and tricky downhills made trickier by the wet and muddy conditions. I was enjoying myself fully riding the lovely singletrack. My Trek Top Fuel just gives me all the confidence that I need to handle the twisty singletrack and slippery downhills. This also comes from having raced the same bike for over a year now.

I remembered from last year the first stage being very rocky and full of sharp pointed stones. Same thing this year and I saw a couple of guys fixing punctures already after the first downhill. You should not ride this race on anything but a tubeless setup. I ran 1.58 bar of pressure in the rear and 1.51 up front in today's stage. The perhaps weirdest mechanical I saw towards the end of the stage with a guy standing by the side of the road trying to fasten his left pedal to the crank using a zip tie.

The last part before the finish was again a few kilometers of gravel road followed by a short section of asphalt: Back into tt mode watts climbing up to 320-330 on the flat. Things felt good.

I crossed the finish line in what was first reported 19th place but later changed to 17th. 5 minutes down on first place. I'm pleased with this result.

Sandra came in 6th place even after some failed navigation and a crash. She rode amazingly!


Stage one M40 results


Max Ashton and I. That wind jacket came on AFTER I finished the stage.




Arriving in Spain before the race


Leaving Sweden with Sandra Backman

About to assmemble the bikes at the airport hotel in Malaga

Bikes assemled at Holiday Expres in Malaga

Bikes in our rental Fiat Doblo outside of Decathlon Malaga

Nice and warm in Malaga

Registration and picking up starting pack in Linares



Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Coming up: Andalucia Bike Race 2019

Starting on Monday next week...

  • UCI first class international competition (XCS 1)
  • Andalucia region of Spain (Mountains!)
  • 6 stages
  • 380 km
  • 7730 meters total vertical ascent
The race has stages starting in three different towns

It's time for the big one: Andalucia Bike Race 2019. I've been training for this since December and it's one of my major goals for this season.

I really love this race. It has mountains, lots of single track, steep climbs, dangerous descents. Everything you would want in a mountain bike stage race.

Last year I placed ninth in this race (out of 250 riders in my category) and probably did the best race in my life. This year I have 200 riders racing against me in M40. I also raced in 2017 but had to abort due to technical issues.

Form

My form is looking good. I did my standard 9x9 min session at 330W a week ago which is a personal best for me. Weight is just a smidge above 71 kg (hopefully it will dip under 71 this week). I try to get down to about 70 kg for these races. I haven't done any FTP tests at all this winter and spring, instead relying on my base sessions of 4x8 minutes and 9x9 minutes to judge my form. I may however do a FTP benchmark session on Friday morning. I'm guessing my FTP is right around 350W currently.

This is what Strava thinks my form is like. I hope they're right :)

I raced a longer marathon race in Denmark last Sunday that didn't go well. But I'm not too worried about that - During the race, when I noticed that I was dipping too deep into the red, I decided to slow down and finish the race easy in order not to incur too long a recovery period

The plan for this last week before the race is two shorter interval sessions.

Equipment

I'm racing a Trek Top Fuel 9.9 as I did last year. Right now I'm having trouble deciding whether to go with my old Top Fuel  (2017) or the new one (2019) that I got for this season. They're almost identical, but the new one has a Rock Shox fork which has only two positions: Locked or Open. My 2017 Top Fuel has the old Fox system with three positions: Climb, Trail and Descend. I really like how my old Top Fuel feels and I don't think I've managed to set up the new one as well. A lot of this has to do with lack of time.

I will be running SRAM Eagle (10-50 in the rear) with a 34T up front.

Metallic brake pads! That's a lesson that I learnt last year when Sandra and I hunted all around Cordoba looking for brake pads when our organic ones wore down.



I'm using the Duke wheels that I raced all of 2018. This time equipped with the brand new 2019 Schwalbe tires : Racing Ray 2.25" Snakeskin up front and Racing Ralph 2.1" Snakeskin at the rear. Also, for the first time, I'm using Muck Off's tubeless fluid instead of Stan's. Muck Off has tested very well in patching bigger holes.


Sandra is joining me as well and she'll be racing in the elite category. You can read her blog here.

The weather in Spain...




I will be doing live updates of the stages on this blog...


Wednesday, 27 March 2019

How much do Stage Races cost?

I watched the 2019 version of the Absa Cape Epic and got really eager to participate.
But how much does it cost?




Entry fee: USD 6290 (per team). USD 3145 per rider.
This includes tented accommodation and meals.
The flight from Sweden to South Africa seems to come to about USD 1000.

The Cape Epic has 8 stages.

Price per stage: USD 518.

I'm Swedish so for me this means: € 500 / 5000 SEK per stage.



Let's compare this to some other Stage Races


Andalucia Bike Race



Entry fee: € 300

I just booked everything for this race where I'm competing in a little more than one week:

Flight: € 160
Bike bag: € 90 SEK
Hotell Malaga 1 night: € 50.00
Hotell Linares 4 nights: € 120
Hotell Cordoba 3 nights: € 80
Rental car: € 80

Total expenses: € 880

Andalucia Bike Race has 6 stages.

Price per stage: € 147 / 1500 SEK


Beskidy Trophy


Entry fee: € 179
Hotel package (four nights, meals included): € 200
Driving to Poland and back (rough approximation): € 300

Beskidy Trophy has 4 stages.

Price per stage: € 170 / 1700 SEK

Monday, 11 March 2019

Racing as part of Winter Training



Why Race during Winter Training?


I've always been a big fan of racing in the winter season. Why? For several reasons actually:

  1. It's fun!
  2. An outdoor race is THE BEST training session:
    • You're fully motivated so you go HARD
    • It's realistic training. Indoor intervals are good but a 4x8min session hardly matches what you'll be experiencing in real life.
    • You train mountain bike technique in real terrain
    • It's a break from all the static and "boring" indoor training
  3. It's social - You get to meet your racing pals in a casual race.

Power Graphs


Here's a power graph comparison between the last race in Vega Winter Cup that I did yesterday and my last 4x8min session on my stationary bike. Can you guess which is which? :) 



The results of Winter 2018/2019


I had decided before the training started for this winter that I wasn't going to peak in December as I did last winter. I had great results in the winter races last year but then it also felt like I stopped developing after that early peak.

I was going really well in Heino Fall Race in November when I punctured and was unable to get back on the road. It was looking like a top-5 finish, probably my best in that race ever.

In the Danish Vega Winter Cup (six races from November to March), where I'd previously finished third (2017) and second (2018), I didn't place quite as strongly as previous years. I had some fifth and fourth place finishes until the second-to-last race where I placed second. In the last race yesterday I came in fourth. My total score for the cup had me in fourth place in M40 and seventh overall.

I've also done some races in a local cup in the south of Sweden: HCK Wintercup. All races are on the same tricky twisty and slow track which I love but that kind of terrain has always been a weak spot for me. That's why I really like to race there because I know it's good for me. I had some good performances there this winter and placed second overall in the last race.

Power Data from the Winter Races


It's really interesting looking at the power data from the races. Obviously the data will vary both with form but also with the kind of track. Still, there's a pattern:

Vega Race:    Placing:    Avg W:    Weighted W:  Avg H/R:
1             5           288       300          170
2             4           275       289          175            
3             5           223       254          167
4             5           233       247          175
5             2           264       280          175
6             5           261       280          172

The trend is looking good with the watts on the way up!


Upcoming Races


The big one is Andalucia Bike Race in exactly four weeks - 6 mountain stages - BRUTAL! This is where all the focus is right now. I'm doing hard and long interval sessions and trying to lose the last few kilos of weight right now. However before then I have two races:

  • 4 hour Sponz MTB Race in Denmark. Never done this one before. I have no idea what to except.
  • 76km marathon in Slagelse, Denmark. The weekend before ABR and a VERY tough race


Friday, 25 January 2019

Trek Top Fuel 9.9 2019 - Dissected and Analyzed

My Race Bike for 2019

At the beginning of 2018 I got hold of a used Trek Top Fuel 9.9 RSL (2017) sort of by chance. For the first part of the year I raced it in parallel with my Cube SLT (2017) and I was able to compare the two. During previous seasons I've raced a number of different full suspension top-of-the-line bikes so I've built up a good base for reference. The way that the Top Fuel stood out was that it handled roots, rocks and minor obstacles better than any other full susp that I'd ever ridden. This sort of behavior is important for me as I try to minimize my energy usage. The more that I can sit down and just spin the pedals, the more efficient I am. If I have to get off the saddle then I'm wasting energy.

Trek Top Fuel 9.9 2019
This led to me making the decision, for the first time, to race the same model in 2019. I ordered a brand new Trek Top Fuel 9.9, model 2019.

There are some differences between the 2017 and 2019 model: Rock Shox SID fork (still Fox in the rear) and Bontrager Kovee Pro 30 wheelset are the major changes.

Weight and Optimization

Now naturally I couldn't leave the bike as it was. It's fun to optimize, right?

Note that I've focused on optimizing unsprung and rotating weight.


The Wheels

Putting the wheels on the scales first produced a bit of a surprise:

Weight of Kovee Pro 30 wheelset with rim tape and tubeless valves
That's sort of heavy... But I did notice that the rim tape looked sort of massive. I needed to look into that. First I couldn't find a way to get it off but then I noticed that by peeling it gently off from the valve hole I could remove it. The original tubeless valves were not the light kind either.

World's heaviest rim tape?


Let's weigh the wheelset again:

Weight of Kovee Pro 30 wheelset without rim tape and valved
Wow! That's quite the difference! 155 grams lighter! And were below 1500 grams which is respectable for a wheelset with extremely wide rims - 30mm!!!

Let's put on some normal rim tape and light tubeless valves:



Weight of Bontrager Kovee Pro 30 with light rim tape and tubeless valves

Right around 1500 grams. That's good! Again note the extremely wide rims.


Race Wheels - Duke Lucky Jack

I will be doing most races on my Duke Lucky Jack wheelset which weighs in at 1280 grams.

Brakes

Standard SRAM brake discs:


Were replaced by light Ashima ones:


Axles

Standard axles:



SRAM axles without handles:



I realize that these are no massive weight savings but I do them for two reasons:

  1. The handles are practical when removing the wheels but they can get stuck on things like rocks or roots and vegetation.
  2. They're relatively cheap!


Unoptimized stuff

Some stuff that I did NOT optimize (yet?):






Does anyone want to sponsor me with some light parts? :)
 

Tires

I've opted for Schwalbe Racing Ralph / Racing Ray 2.25 Snakeskin. This is a combo that's good for the kind of stages races that I will do in the mountains this year. They weigh in at just a smidgen over 600 grams. For Swedish marathons I will run lighter tires, specifically Schwalbe Thunder Burt 2.1 Snakeskin in the rear. So that will shed about 100 grams of weight.



Pedals

I got my hands on the new Shimano XTR 9100 pedals. They came in at 314 grams:



Total Weight

The weight with the standard Kovee Pro wheels and wide Schwalbe tires comes in at 9.83 kg. This is race ready with Shimani XTR pedals (310 grams), bottle cage and Garmin out front mount.



With the Duke race wheels and lighter tires the weight will come to approximately:

9.5 KG