Sunday, 1 December 2019

Mountain Biking in Slovenia's Coastal Area

Mountain Biking around Korte and Izola / Slovenia

December is here! Let's look back on this summer's mountain biking adventure in Slovenia

In June, after Beskidy Trophy, we headed south for a vacation in Slovenia.

This year, instead of the Alps, we chose the coastal region close to Izola.

 Map of area around Korte / Slovenia

I got the idea after watching some videos of the downhill track in the area:

Kmetija Medijan

We decided on booking an apartment in Tourist Farm Medijan (or in Slovenian: Kmetija Medijan)

A traditional meat burek

Mountain biking around Korte / Izola / Portoroz

Korte MTB rack

The village of Korte

Izola Coastal Area

Three Countries Bike Ride

I went for an adventure ride that included three countries in one day: Slovenia, Croatia and Italy

Slovenian Croatian border
Slovenian Croatian border

Just across the Croatian border looking back into Slovenia

Nice Benzes in Croatia

Lucia / Slovenia

Italian Border

Italian Border

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Heino Fall Race - Beating the (ex) World Champ!

Bike: Trek Top Fuel 9.9 (2019) Racing Ralph 2.25 1.5 bar / Racing Ralph 2.25 1.5 bar

Result: 11th place overall

Heino Fall Race is my favorite autumn race. It takes place in Denmark and it's a quick and fun race with surprisingly many climbs (for Denmark which is extremely flat). The trails are flowy and entertaining. We do two laps of a track with a total of 45km.

There are always a bunch of really quick Danish racers that take part. This year we had the M40 World Champ; Jens Gorm Hansen, elite dude Benjamin Justesen and my usual opposition, and friends of mine after so many races together: Thomas Kyrum-Stein, Henrik Albæk, Henrik Søeberg, Niels Bay Petersen, Jeppe Hjort and many more quick cyclists. A surprise wild card was Danish World Champ from 2016, Annika Langvad.

The race started and we were off. The first part is a gravel road loop which after just a few hundred meters goes into a climb. The field split up directly and I was left with the second group at the top. In the next downhill and straight road section I  managed to sprint back up to the lead group of perhaps 7-8 riders. Then came the second climb and I had to let the group go. At this point of the race, just a few kilometers in, I was left in no man's land for a while as I saw the small lead group ahead of me but realized that I had no way of catching them. I cut my speed, rested, and waited for the group behind to catch up.

I hadn't seen Annika Langvad up until this point in the race but when two cyclists catch up with me it's her and a young guy. They set off at a crazy pace and I held on for dear life. In spite of this we were soon caught by a larger group. As so often in the Danish races, big strong guy Jeppe Hjort was pulling everyone along. Henrik Søeberg was also in the group, and so was Thomas K-S.

This group held together for a large part of the race. On the climbs a few of us would sprint ahead and get a temporary gap, but then Jeppe would pull the rest of the group back together and we'd be some 7-8 cylists again. We caught Niels Bay Petersen after a while and he also became part of the group.

On the last lap things started happening. First World Champ, Annika, got a puncture. Next, as we came to a part which is thick with trees and branches hanging over the trail, and we were lapping backmarkers, Niels took the chance and sprinted ahead.

Just a few kilometers before the finish line Henrik Søeberg also got a bit of a gap and in the chasing group was I, Jeppe Hjort, and a young guy. On the last gravel road leading into the finish Jeppe just set a murdering pace and actually managed to catch Henrik Søeberg as he pulled us along. So the four of us finished together, with me last of the group in 11th place.

So that's the story of how I beat the (ex) World Champ (Annika Langvad)  :)

I had a little talk with Jeppe Hjort after the race and gave him kudos on how amazingly hard he can pull on the gravel roads. I was curious so I asked him about his FTP. His respone: 403W, but then I weigh 95kg!

I had to take a look back over the years at my results from this race:

Year  Time  Placing       Time behind 1st
2019  1h45m  11           5m
2018  N/A    Puncture
2017  1h56m  7            10m
2016  1h50m  12           9m
2015  N/A    Snow Storm
2014  1h47m  13           10m
2013  1h52m  24           11m

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Merida MTB Marathon - From Heaven to Hell in a minute

Merida MTB Marathon is a race that really suits me. It's 103km long and full of gravel roads and flowy single track. It's quick: 26-27km/h average speeds for the best.

I switched my rear tire from Racing Ralph 2.25" to Thunder Burt 2.1" the evening before the race to make the bike extra easy rolling. In front I kept the Racing Ralph 2.25" that was already mounted. I upped the air pressure about 0,1 bars over my usual to 1.6 up front and 1.7 in the rear.

I was really looking forward to the race. I rode it a few times when I first started racing mountain bikes and had some great results. The race is BIG in Denmark and all the best racers take part. I rode my last Merida in 2014 but then when the Swedish Marathon Cup got it's ninth race, Västgötaloppet, it always collided with Merida Marathon so from 2015 o 2018 I always rode the Swedish race instead. Now, in 2019, Västgötaloppet is no more so I got to ride Merida again.

Today's race was in brilliant sunshine, even though it was a bit chilly in the morning.

Things went great. We started with a group of about 30 riders up top. The bunch gradually got smaller until there were just eight of us left. I could see the winner from last year, Rene, in our group. Also Henrik Söeberg and Henrik Ahlbäck were with us. The pace was brutal (that's how the other 20+ riders were dropped) and the front guys just kicked ass all the time. I hung on to the tail and got a really good ride. I was thinking: "Wow! I'm in the top-10 of this huge race. This will be a great way to finish the 2019 season".

Then, at about halfway through the race Henrik Ahlbäck rolls up next to me and says that my rear tire is spraying pink Muc-Off tubeless fluids. He says that it stinks and that he's not going to be on my wheel anymore because he's getting it all over himself. I look down and notice that he's right. My spirits drop. I hang on to the group for a few more minutes but then the tire deflates completely.

I get off the bike, inflate it with CO2, and pray for the Muc-off tubeless fluid to seal the hole. It does briefly, I get on the bike. My group is long gone but I continue and go quite easily waiting for someone to catch up. A guy does catch up and we up the pace again... The tire holds air for about 2-3 km and then deflates again.

I start getting pissed off at this point but think: No, I won't let this get me down. This is an excellent time to practice using my puncture strips. I get the tool out, put a strip in, inflate with my second CO2 container (I always carry 3 CO2 containers with me). Again it holds for a while and then the tire deflates completely again.

At this point I decide that I'm going to abort the race. But I've gone almost 50km from the start and I need to somehow get back to my car. Okay, time to put in the spare tube. I get the rear wheel off and start to unscrew the tubeless valve... But it won't budge. I spend about 30-40 minutes trying to get it off and get the bolt about halfway off but then it won't go any further. I give up. I've completely shreddded botth my thumbs trying to unscrew the bolt. I'm bleeding from underneath both thumb nails. I also have pink tubeless fluid everywhere.

I hike to the nearest tech zone which luckily turns out to be just a kilometer away. I wish I had known this before I started with all the mechanics. I find a Swedish family who kindly give me a ride back to my car.

Imagine: I was int he lead group for half the race and manage to have the worst possible turn of events. Sometimes MTB just isn't all that much fun.

I've had problems with Muc-Off's tubeless fluid all year. This is the first year that I use it. I always used Stan's before. I think that this ends my experiment with Muc-Off: I'm going back to Stan's.

Also I'm very dubious whether I'm going to use Thunder Burt tires any more...

Thursday, 19 September 2019

One Weekend - Two Races

This weekend I had two races to chose from: Saturday was the last race in the Hotcup series (2 hours + lap) . Saturday my personal favorite: Snapphaneturen (60km).

Now typically as I love Snapphaneturen, and it's a long race, under normal circumstances I would prioritize that race and not do the Hotcup at all. A Hotcup weekend race is after all 2 hours+ long and it does affect the performance if racing the next day. This year however there had been a lot of rain all week and I knew that Snapphaneturen was going to be slippery and muddy and I don't perform well  under those circumstances. That made me decide to do both races as the Hotcup race would be in one of my favorite places: Tisvilde forest in Denmark. Also Saturday was looking sunny and the terrain in Denmark was dry.

I did prepare for a weekend of two races by cutting down on my training during the week. I did a single session of 9x9min. The TSS (Training Stress Score) graph of my week ended up looking like this:

So how did it all turn out? The Hotcup race was great: Sunny meaning I could use short bibs and jersey. The trails were dry and quick. I was fighting for fourth place but had a crash on the second to last lap and finished sixth in the end.

In this race I had my usual Thunderburt 2.1" in the rear for easy rolling.


What about Snapphane the next day? I switched to Racing Ralph 2.25" in the rear. This turned out to be an excellent idea. I didn't feel too shabby or tired funnily enough.  However the terrain was slippery and difficult to ride. I didn't manage to hang with the really quick guys, Daniel Grass and Robert Eliasson, who finished second and third. But I managed to stick with the next group containing my old pals Stefan Larsson, Jerry Olsson and Martin Wenhov for most of the race, only letting them go towards the end. I ended up 15th overall in the race (no age categories).

Comparing heart rate graphs between the first and second race is interesting.



Rested I had a much higher heart rate at Hotcup compared to Snapphaneturen. Also the more flowy terrain and dry tracks of Hotcup meant I could push harder and more continuously and that also probably led to a higher heartrate.



Saturday, 14 September 2019

Bockstensturen - The longest race 100k

Bike: Trek Top Fuel 9.9 (2019) Racing Ralph 2.25 1.5 bar / Thunder Burt 2.10 1.6 bar

Result: 7rd place in M40 (27th overall)

Bockstensturen, at 100km, is the longest race in the Swedish Marathon Cup ("Långloppscupen"). You'd think that it's also the quickest one so that the 100k would pass quickly, but it's not. It tends to take me around 4 hours to get around the course. This means an average speed of about 25km/h which is about in the middle for the races in this cup. It's a tough one. I've had some bad experiences here. Usually from going out too hard from the start.

Bockstensturen is also the first Marathon MTB race that I ever competed in. This was back in 2011.

Here are my results over the years:

Year   M40 plac.  Overall  Time
2012   30         ??       4h10m
2013   26         83       3h58m
2014   5          28       4h02m
2015   12         55       4h32m
2016   7          31       4h04m
2017   10         44       4h01m
2018   DNF
2019   7          27       4h06m

I think that objectively speaking I did my best ever Bockstensturen this year. I did place better in my cat in 2014 but my overall placing was better this year. Considering they had added a bunch of new singletrack to the track this year the time is probably my best ever as well.

How did it all go down then?

As always with Bockstensturen it's important to hang with the quick boys for the first easy part of the race. This is the 17km going out of Varberg and towards the forest. It's all asphalt and gravel roads / double track. We averaged 34km/h this year but then it was rather windy and blowing headwind / sidewind. I did manage to hang on to the tail of the lead group for this first part.

Going into the forest and the first few climbs I dialed back on my effort. I've had many bad races at Bockstensturen by going out hard and I had decided that I wasn't going to have another one. I could see Daniel Grass power ahead in front going away from me. On the second climb Robert Eliasson and Stefan Carlsson caught up and we formed a group.

Stefan Carlsson was going really quickly and Robert did his best to stay on his wheel. I thought that the pace was a bit too high at this early stage but I just couldn't let them get away. It would've felt like a failure. Stefan did get away from us anyway and left me and Robert with a group of perhaps 5-6 other cyclists.

After a while we had dropped the rest of the guys and it was just me and Robert. Then I had to let go off Robert's wheel on a tricky downhill. I saw him not too far ahead of me on the following gravel roads but I didn't want to push it to catch him. I was thinking that if he wanted me to join then he would slow down and allow me to catch up. When he didn't I slowed my pace to allow a couple of guys coming up from behind to catch up.

During today's race I would catch a number of cyclists who were not having a good day (and who are usually faster then me). During the first half of the race I caught, Henrik Öijer, Erik Mattelin and Viktor Ludvigsson, all elite guys, who were going much slower than usual. I also ended up catching Daniel Grass after a while. He wasn't looking fresh either.

During the second half of the race I had a three man group: An M30 guy and an elite guy. We helped eachother along nicely and had good cooperation. I did notice for the last 30k of the race that I was on the verge of cramping up but things went well anyway. I caught and passed an M40 guy in the last third of the race as well.

I finished the race in seventh place and I was very happy with that result. In a hypothetical M50 race I would've finished in third place.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Outdoor Sydfyn - The Perfect Race

Bike: Trek Top Fuel 9.9 (2019) Racing Ralph 2.25 1.5 bar / Thunder Burt 2.10 1.6 bar

Result: 3rd place in M40

Outdoor Sydfyn MTB is one of my favorite races. The reason is that the track is bloody fantastic. For a marathon it's a technical track with almost all singletrack, except for the transport section to and from Faaborg (the city where the race starts). You can clearly see its technical nature by observing the low average speed: well below 20km/h. If this was a typical Swedish marathon the average speed would be somewhere around 25km/h or higher due to tons of gravel road sections.

The race is a bit of a drive away in Denmark, and not on the closest island from us Swedes either but another island further away. Luckily I had my young pal Emanuel with me to keep me company. He's really quick and has a great future ahead of him as a cyclist but he hasn't done a lot of marathons yet so I'm trying to coach him a bit.

I had participated in this race on two prior occasions: in 2016 when I came fifth, and then last year when I was in a good position with just a few kilometers to go but managed to take a wrong turn at a crossroads and didn't notice before crossing the finish line.

The layout of the race is pretty simple:
There's a bit of asphalt and gravel roads leaving Faaborg. Then three laps of a track which can be divided into two sections:

  1. Up and down grassy hills
  2. Tight singletrack on built trails with trees and stubs swishing by your handlebars.

We did the long version of the race, "Den Grusomme", so we had three laps to do of this track.
Then back to Faaborg on some gravel roads mixed with singletrack.

It was a warm day and I was expecting about 3 hours of race time. I had set out an extra bottle on the track. The funny thing is I ended up drinking just the bottle I had on the bike (900ml) and that worked out great. I always do finish 500ml of sports drink in the hour leading up to race start so I'm properly hydrated and energized.

I lined up on the front row of the grid and as the race started we all went out in joint formation. After a few kilometers we can to the first climb and here the pace got frantic. I managed to stay with the lead group of perhaps 10 riders as we got to the first lap of the track.

Going up and down on the grassy hills we got a bit split up but then as we entered the tight singletrack section I could hear riders starting to bunch up behind me. Yeah, these tight twisty trails are not my strong suit. Trees and branches are mere centimeters away from the handlebars and there are hidden roots and tree stubs which are just waiting to get stuck on your pedals.

As we got back out on the open grassy hills with the steep climbs I managed to leave the other riders that had caught me behind again and there was just one guy still holding my wheel. We stuck together for the second lap of the track actually talking quite a lot. I knew him from Beskidy Trophy this year so it was quite a social thing to ride and race at the same time.

Just at the start of the second lap I had a first-ever: I bee stung me on my ankle. I actually felt the sting, looked down, and saw that it had stung me through my sock. I brushed it aside. It did ache quite a lot for about 15 minutes and I did worry a bit about it swelling up. But nothing happened and the pain passed. (The ankle was still swollen 48 hours later)

At the start of the third lap I upped the pace just a little bit and he dropped back. I ended up riding the third and last lap alone. The funny thing with these kinds of tracks is that I get quicker and quicker for each lap as I get used to the terrain and relax more and more.

After the end of the last lap there was just the transport section of about 10km going back into Faaborg. My legs felt really fresh and the body was in on it so I pushed hard even though I could see no one coming up from behind. What did happen is that I started to catch some riders. I caught up with and passed two riders and sped by them quickly in order not to give them a wheel. Nearing the finish I could see that I had almost caught another rider and I started sprinting to catch him. At this exact time however he looked behind, saw me, and sped up. I almost caught him but finished 9 seconds behind putting him in second place and me in third.

I waited for Emanuel a long time after crossing the finish line and when he didn't turn up I started to worry a bit. Then, one hour after I had finished, I saw him in the starting area. He was very wobbly on his legs and I got him a chair so he could sit down. It took a few minutes and then he puked his entire stomach contents out. Emanuel had not had a good day. He did recover quickly however and before leaving we got to enjoy some home made ice cream together.

Ice cream with Emanuel after the race