Monday, 29 June 2015

Ränneslättsturen - Digging deep

Result: 5th place

Bike: Trek Superfly FS 9.9 SL, Fast Trak Control / Rengade Control 2.0 - 1.7bar

Ränneslättsturen is the fourth race in Långloppscupen (I missed the third race of the cup while I was away racing the Beskidy Trophy). It's one of the races that I can reach from home base without a sleep over. There's a fairly large amount of single track in this race (for a marathon). It's also the only race in the cup with sections of A-lines and B-lines.
My two team pals Jerry Olsson (M30) and Martin Wenhov (M50) were along for this race and we're usually quite well matched so I had hopes of some cooperation.

Results: Ränneslättsturen

Race story:
The start went well and I was in contact with the front group throughout the first part of the race. One unusal thing about Ränneslättsturen is that there's no starting hill to get over. This means no thinning out of the field. I don't really like this because it leads to a lot of hectic riding with tight and dangerous situations. I don't like using my elbows and I almost never do. So there was a crash after just a few kilometers and it occured just a few meters in front of me. I managed to avoid getting tangled up in it but I had to slow down to go around the mess. After this there was a lot of sprinting to get back to the front group and this cost energy.
After things started to settle down a bit  I could see Jerry at the head of the group where I was in the tail. He was going strong and perhaps some 20-30 meters ahead of me. Each time I looked behind me I could see Martin holding on to my wheel. There were a few times when the guy in front of me lost the wheel in front of him where I had to sprint to keep with Jerrys group. This cost some energy and I think, in retrospect, that some of those sprints were unecessary. Martin was smart and just held on to my wheel.
The hectic nature of the start of this race also meant that my heart rate was going through the roof and I never could quite reach my bottle long enough to have a sip. So the first drink I had was 30km into the race, MUCH too late. Same thing with gels; I could not reach one until then. This meant that for the entire race I ended up not drinking more than 1 litre of fluids and using just 4 gels. This is far from enough.
At just before halfway through the race I frst saw Martin in front of me as he went to the head of our 4-5 man group (Jerry's group had left us by this time) and pulled up a shorter gravel road climb. I noticed by this time that I had a hard time hanging on and I was already started to get tired.
I hung on for a while but when we entered a technical single track section half way through the race I realized that I would have to slow down. I did so and was passed by a few riders. After checking the split times after the race I now know that I was in second place (in M40) at this time.
I continued to ride on my own for about 10km and then, at about the 50k mark, Atle Hansen, with a huge group of riders caught up with me from behind. I accelereated and hung on to Atle's wheel for dear life. This worked better than expected and our group got thinner and thinner all the time. With about 10k left Atle went ahead with 2-3 riders and I hung on to a smaller group behind them. There was perhaps 4 of us. After a while, on a gravel road section, I decided to try to bridge the gap up to Atle's group (and leave the rest of my group behind). So I very optimistically stood up and sprinted, successfully leaving my group behind, but after bridging about 3/4 of the distance to Atle's group I ran out of steam. This left me really tired and the group of riders that I'd left ended up catching up with me again and passing me.
I did find a wheel to hang on for the last 10k of the race and finished the race completely and utterly exhausted. I was very surprised and pleased to learn that I had come in at 5th place in M40, less than one minute down on third place. Also, Martin was only 1.5 minutes ahead of me. It also gave me real joy to learn that Jerry had won M30 and Martin M50. My partner, Sandra, did even better however and won her first race in the ladies Elite category.

Conclusion:
This is the first time that I have come so close to complete exhaustion and still been able to finish the race really well

Epilogue:
I got the shivers when coming home after this race and ended up not going to work the day after because I was feeling so poorly



(Ignore the ridiculously high max heart rate, it's a glitch. Max was 189)

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Hotcup Race #4 - Third place

Result: 3rd place

Bike: Trek Superfly FS 9.9 SL, Racing Ralph 2.1 SnakeSkin - 1.6bar

The fourth race in the Hotcup series offered a wonderful quick track with some short but steep climbs and descents. Being a weekday race it was a bit shorter at 80 minutes + the lap. Having done the extremely though Austrian race just a few days before this one I didn't know what to expect from my form. Also, a bit worried about over training before the important race this weekend (Ränneslättsturen).

Results: Hotcup #2

Race story:
I hung on the the front group of 6-8 riders (with Jerry Olsson in the lead) for the first half of the race. I however kept losing them on the short steep climbs. I don't think I've ever felt so slow climbing. However on the flat I kept pushing it and catching up again. My speed on the flat felt incredible.
After letting go of the front group I had a fight with a Dansish rider for the rest of the race. On the climbs he would leave me behind and then I'd chase how down on the flat. On the last lap he really left me far behind on one of the climbs and I thought that I would never manage to catch up. But I did and when I came up behind him I just flew past him and then never saw him again.
I was so pleased with my speed when I crossed the finish line that I was almost a bit disappointed when I learned that I had not won the race.

Conclusion: I may have some extra body fat left after my vacation that's slowing me down in the climbs






https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neW8BBZXito&feature=youtu.be

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Alpe Adria Bike Festival - Three Country Mountain Bike Race in the Alps

Result: 5th place

Bike: Trek Superfly FS 9.9 SL, Racing Ralph 2.1 SnakeSkin - 1.6ar

This is a fun race that I did for the second time. It's mostly on gravel roads but it's fun anyway because of varying nature of the race. It starts off in Austria, goes over a mountain with the first climb taking almost an hour (1000 vertical meters), into Slovenia, and down the other side of the mountain on gravel roads with insane speeds and fun turns. Then into Italy for a while, and back to Austria. All in all it's 105km and 2000 vertical meters.



Results: Alpe Adria Bike Festival - Mountain Bike

Race story:
As the race starts with this huge climb it doesn't really make any sense to try to stay with any other rider or group. You just go at your own pace and see how it goes. I can sustain a heart rate of about 170, or slightly more, over an hour, and so I tried to keep an even pace up the mountain. I succeeded mostly with my heart rate running around 172-175 for most of the climb, dropping down to 170 towards the end. I was passing riders all the way up but there was a group of riders that went away right at the start.
After the long climb there's an equally long descent on the other side. It's on loose gravel road with a lot of turns and serpentine turns. It's fun, fast and manic and if you're daring enough to stay of the breaks you can go really quickly. It took me 20 minutes this year, which is 2 minutes faster than last year. Last year I was getting passed on this section, this year no one passed me, instead I passed 3--4 riders. The funny thing is that I only gained about 50 seconds on the long climb before this descent. So my skills as a mountain biker have improved more descending than my better shape has made me quicker in the uphill.
After getting down the hill I was able to catch up with another rider. The next part is quite flat going past Kranjska Gora (in Slovenia) and we took turns at the front and the speed was good. However after a while he seemed to get tired and I was on my own. I realized that with half the race left there was no idea in pushing hard so I tried to take it quite easy and wait for the next group to catch me.
I got caught by a group of 4 riders and shortly after that we picked up another rider. I had no problems keeping up with this group. However I didn't want to end up in a finish sprint with these many guys so I tried to get the group down in size by sprinting up some inclines and hoping some one or two of the other riders would take my wheel. However, this did not work, and I only managed to leave the whole group behind. Again, with the distance that was left to the finish line there was no point in pushing on myself so I just let them catch me again.
The finish of this race is a bit special: You ride on a strolling path next to a large river going into the Austrian town of Villach. A couple of hundred meters before the finish line there's a sudden turn and you go up a flight of about 20-30 stairs. It's not possible to go up them on your bike so you have to get off and run up them. After this there's an uphill sprint finish on cobbles which is about 200 meters. Now, the stairs are only wide enough to take one biker at a time. So if you're first up the stairs you tend to win the sprint.
So with 1000m to go there were the six of us in the group, and I had just switched to the front of the group. I pedal normally for a few seconds and then I stand up and to an all out sprint. After a few hundred meters I look behind me and I can see that at least two riders had taken my wheel. However I manage to get to the stairs first, run up them, and sprint across the finish first in my group.



Friday, 19 June 2015

Mountain biking in Slovenia for two weeks

These photos are mostly from the area around Idrija, but some are from Velika Planina and Kanal

Idrija / Bela


Idrijski Log

Javornik Bike Park

Javornik Bike Park

Javornik Bike Park

Kobalove Planine

Kobalove Planine

Kobalove Planine

Hlevishe

Hlevishe

Hlevishe

Hlevishe

Velika Planina

Velika Planina


Velika Planina


Velika Planina


Velika Planina


Velika Planina


Kobalove Planine


Hlevishe

Kanal

Kanal

Javornik Bike Park

Javornik Bike Park

Idrija / Bela

Idrija

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Beskidy Trophy - EPIC!

Result: 9th place

Bike: Trek Superfly FS 9.9 SL, Racing Ralph 2.1 SnakeSkin - 1.6bar

Beskidy Trophy consists of four stages. Each stage is between 60 and 85 km long and has between 2500 and 2900 meters of climbing. 600 cyclists in total take part in the race and there are two distances to chose from: Classic and Mega. Classic was the tougher one and the one that I signed up for.

I had never done a stage race before. Being the overly positive kind of cyclist that I am means I always risk going out too hard. With a four day stage race this risk becomes even greater and the consequences more severe. I had read a few blog posts from other racers taking part in multi stage events and how they described going out too hard on the first couple of stages and then paying the price. My plan was to try to hold back a little during the first stage. More concretely I had planned to keep close watch on my heart rate and to try to not allow it to go above 170 during the first stage.

I decided to ride on the full suspension Trek Superfly FS 9,9 SL. Sure, the weight would hurt me in the climbs but with between 4 and 6 hours in the saddle each day I would want to sit down as much as possible to save the legs. So full susp was the smart choice.

As for preparation and equipment; Stage races are not about gaining seconds on your opponents but about consistency. So I wanted to avoid equipment failures, crashes and, of course, hitting the wall (I also got to add "bad navigation" to that list after stage 3). I decided to run tires with thick sidewalls and good puncture protection, however with the long distances I decided to compromise and also have relatively easy rolling tires. I settled for Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.1 SnakeSkin, both front and back. I ran 1.5 bars of pressure in the front and 1.6 bars int he rear. Tubeless setup of course. As for equipment that I brought on the rides: Two spare tubes, multitool, CO2 * 2, chain link, minipump, cable ties, tape, tire levers, bottle of Stans fluid.

I was unsure on whether to run a hydration pack or a water bottle (the FS frame just has the single bottle holder). But as there were three water stations during each stage there would be plenty opportunity to stop and fill up the bottle. I usually never stop at water stations because I feel I lose too much time but with a race of this length a few seconds don't matter. So I decided to race with the single bottle.

First stage - 62km, 2400m ascent


The first stage has no seeding and you get to start in the order that you arrive in the starting box. I managed to get there quite early and so I got to start quite far forward. The starting hill was long and mostly on gravel roads. The descent after gave me my first shock of the race: very steep and very technical. In fact I managed to crash halfway down it but without any worse consequences than a scrubbed knee. This sort of terrain continued throughout the stage: Climbs, sometimes on gravel roads, at other times on tricky single track, sometimes so steep that you had to get off and walk. And then manic, technical and crazy steep descends. I finished eighth in the stage, 24 minutes down on the stage winner in M40 (incidentally one of my main competitors in the Danish cups: Henrik Söeberg).

Second stage - 84km, 2800m ascent


The second stage was the real killer of the race: 84km and 2800m of ascent with one huge climb. I did manage some intensity during the first climb of the stage, but after that my pulse gradually got lower, as expected. The stage continued without any major incidents. I managed to complete all the climbs without dying and the descents went without any crashes. I felt that the places that I really lost some time was were I had to get off the bike and walk. A 30T chainring or even a 2x10 setup would have helped. I finished the stage in sixth place, 31 minutes after Henrik Söeberg who again won M40. I climbed to seventh place in the total classification.

Third stage - 64km, 2500m ascent


The third stage was more of the same stuff as the two first ones. A bit easier than the previous one. However some extremely tricky descents meant that I lost some time on this stage. However, the real time loss came when I, close to the finish, missed an sign where the track turned left (I had no one near me at the time) and continued on a gravel road, downhill. It took a while before I realized that I had missed a turn off and all in all I ended losing 10 minutes. I ended up placing 10th in the stage and fell to 9th in the total classification.

Fourth and final stage - 69km, 2800m ascent


The last stage was not that long but had a LOT of climbing. In the total classification I had 5 minutes of time to gain if I wanted to climb to eighth place which occupied by Lars Storm. I saw Lars early in the stage but went away from him in the first few climbs. However, half way through the stage, in one of the climbs, he caught up with me. I expected him to leave me behind but he just took my wheel. After a while I noticed that he had started to lose ground. My legs felt fresh and I decided to push it.
The last climb was on paved road I was joined here by a guy on a road bike. We had a nice race up the whole climb with me sprinting past him at the end. I had really good legs this close to the end of the race.
I finished the stage in eight place, some five minutes ahead of Lars Storm. However in the total standings he was still 20 seconds ahead of me. So that navigational error on stage 3 cost me eighth place in the total standings, I finished ninth.

Conslusion and summary of Beskidy Trophy:
Without knowing anything about the race in advance or my competition for that matter, I had hoped to finish in the top-10 and this I achieved with my ninth place finish. I would've placed eigth if it wasn't for my navigational error on stage 3. So I'm pleased with this. However, some of the guys who took part and that I've raced before in other races (Atle Hansen, Henrik Söeberg) where really far ahead of me in Beskidy so dubious about if I performed all that well.
As far as fun factor goes this race has it all though. The variation in terrain in incredible. I was suffering a lot during the steep climbs, especially the ones where I had to get off and walk, but also having so much fun. The race can be described in one word: EPIC! It ended up exceeding my wildest expectations.

This was my first stage race and so I don't have much to compare with. However I've talked to other people who have done other stage races and they all say that this is one of the toughest and also one of the more technical. I would say that if you're not comfortable with difficult descents you should not do this race. If you're in good shape you'll do great in the climbs but you'll lose a lot of time going downhill if you don't let go off the brakes.
My bike was equipped with SRAM XX1 and I had changed from a 34T cog to a 32T for this race. In retrospect I would probably be better off with a 30T. The sections which are flat and where a tall gear lets you achieve a high top speed are very few. However, a 2x setup would be even better than 1x11.