Result: 3rd place
Sweden's best Marathon MTB Race
I've said it many times but it bares saying again: Snapphaneturen is the best XCM race in Sweden. Why? Because it has the most amount and the best singletrack of any race. If you place well in this race then you truly are a good mountain biker. No road biker will ever come to Snapphaneturen and think they will survive on pure cardio. If you're not good at technical trails then Snapphaneturen punishes you brutally. The race is not extreme in length, some 60 km long, but the technical nature means a low average speed and a racing time of around 3 hours for the quick guys.
Snapphaneturen was actually the first MTB race that I ever rode: It was back in 2011 and I hated it. I cramped up several times and ended up lying in a ditch waiting for my legs to stop spasming. The terrain is hilly and there are many steep climbs that kill your legs. As there is so much tough and twisty singletrack there are few opportunities for recovery. I've never placed very well in this race with just one or two top-10 places.
All my Friends are here!Many good riders had signed up this year and some of them were old friends and training partners. A quick check of the start list: young Jakob Håkansson, one of Sweden's best junior riders. Lars Hansen, Daniel Grass and Robert Eliasson, all three M40 riders and winners of multiple marathon races. Daniel currently leads the Swedish Marathon Cup and Robert won it last year. Rolf Svensson, usually racing M50, is as quick as ever and finished before me recently in the Swedish XCM championships. Once we lined up at the start we also found three black clad Danish Amaton rides. They looked very young and very pro on their Scott bikes. As we waited for the race to start someone pointed at the Danes and said: Those are the top 3 finishers for today.
Snapphaneturen doesn't divide riders into age categories; Everyone partaking in the long 60 km race either signed up for "Competition" or "Amateurs". There were some 60 riders starting in the Competition class and that's the class that I raced in.
The Danes are in the LeadThe race starts with a gravel road loop which has a gradual upward slope. For the first half it's almost flat but then it gets a little bit steeper. I started a bit back in the field but as the grade increased I moved up until I was in the top-10. The field was led by the three Danes and just behind them I could see Jakob and Daniel. Pretty much as expected. I felt good and it seemed that I didn't have to try too hard to hang with these guys.
After the start loop there's a twisty downhill section with a couple of bridges and some banked turns, then we loop back to the start/finish area. At this point the lead group had split up: The Danes were in front with Jakob and Håkan hanging in with them. I was in the second group with Robert and Lars. In between these two groups was "the yellow rider": Fredrik Hagerström.
We were on a long gravel road that sloped gradually upwards and we seemed to be gaining on the lead group and Fredrik who was in-between. I could tell that Fredrik was trying hard to catch the Danes on his own but not making much progress. We caught up with Fredrik and after a while Henry Churchill joined from the back.
Hold Back and Ride SmartI knew that the five of us were a very strong group. We were just some 10 km into the race and I wanted to get into my groove after the (always) hectic start. I had already made the mistake of going too quickly too early this season and I was decided in advance that I was going to ride smart today. However it seemed that everyone wasn't as happy with the situation: Fredrik and Lars were pushing ahead, getting caught up by the rest of us, and then sprinting ahead again. This went on for a while and then I decided that it was just not worth expending energy on catching them at this early point in the race so I let them go. Both Churchill and Robert seemed to agree with me and we formed a group.
At about halfway through the race I noticed that Rolf Svensson and Jakob Gawlik almost had caught up with us. I know the power of Rolf's diesel engine and I'm sure that if he's gotten this close he will join our group shortly. But it somehow it seems that they both get really close to getting on our wheels, sometimes just a few meters behind, but then drop back again. As far as I can tell they never join our group and after a while I don't see them behind us anymore.
Robert, me and ChurchillOur three rider group stuck together until just 15km to go. I was really happy with the cooperation that we had: Everyone helped pull on the gravel road sections. The singletrack was super nice and we held a high pace.
I checked my average watts and after 30 minutes it was 290W and again after 1 hour it had dropped to 280W. Considering the demanding terrain I knew these were very good numbers. I had the feeling that the pace we had was really good and I was half expecting us to start catching at least some of the guys that were ahead of us. The weird thing is that I couldn't see neither Jakob, Fredrik nor Lars ahead of us, not even in the long climbs or gravel road sections. At the time I was thinking: "Are they really THAT fast!?". It turns out I was wrong... more about this later
Churchill CrashesAs we came to a downhill section that I recognised from before and that I knew contained a couple of boulders I warned to the other guys and told them to be careful. A couple of years back my friend Erik Mattelin had crashed hard here and had to abort his race. Churchill went first, then Robert and l brought up the rear... And what do you know? In spite of my warnings Churchill crashed! He went over the handle bars as his front wheel got stuck but was extremely lucky in landing just between the rocks. He was back on his bike in second and we waited for him as he was blocking the trail.
Uphills and Downhills and a Robert who just won't DieWith about 15 km to our three rider group came around to the feeding zone. Churchill said that he needed to pick up a bottle and so we gave him some room. The pace stayed the same but it seemed that Churchill had some problems getting to his bottle because the next time I looked behind he was far behind me and Robert. I knew we had a long climb coming up so I kept a good and hard pace on the gravel road leading up to it. To my big surprise Henry actually managed to catch up! I was thinking: "Well, if he caught Robert and me on the flat gravel then he must've gone all-in. The next climb will kill him!". And with that in mind I went all-in on the climb. To my surprise Churchill hang on to my wheel. Robert actually had more problems following the Henry had.
Still, at the top of the climb I had about a 20 meter gap to Henry and Churchill and next followed the famous Trähuset Downhill. I've ridden this downhill section every year I've raced Snapphaneturen and never felt I'd done it very well. I almost always was caught by other riders. This time I decided that I was not going to waste the ground that I had gained uphill on my two competitors so I stormed downhill at full speed... and guess what! They never caught me!
Next came another long gravel road climb; I knew there was still some hills to cross before the climbing was done so I didn't rush itl and that meant Robert and Churchill caught up again. Churchill charged ahead almost as soon as I caught him and I took his wheel. Looking behind me I saw that Robert let us both go at once. He looked really tired and the gap grew quickly.
During the next downhill Churchill and I gave it our all and halfway down we found one of our competitors: Daniel Grass, standing with a punctured wheel. He had been far ahead of us and we hadn't seen him since he went away with the Danes.
Before the next climb Robert was magically back on our wheels again! He had caught us on the downhill. But then, as soon as we started climbing, he dropped back again looking as tired as before.
Up over the top of the climb I knew that we had the trickiest downhill in the entire race coming up. This part is very rocky with plenty of roots and some natural rock gardens that have to be passed. I made sure to sprint past Churchill in order to be first on the downhill. We had just been drenched in a rain shower and even though there was no mud all the roots and stones had become wet and slippery. I knew that I had to press the advantage that I had over Robert so I went downhill as quickly as I could, without taking crazy risks. The weird thing was that about halfway down I stopped hearing Churchill behind me. I had no illusion that I was a quicker descender than him: I had seem him ride very well during the race. A quick look behind and I couldn't see neither Robert or Churchill.
Surprise Ending10 kilometers to go and three sections left: Solhem which is a few kilometers of flowy singletrack that I know really well, then a section of gravel road that turns to a gradual uphill halfway through, and lastly the steep Hardrock Hill and the finish area.
Halfway through the Solhem area my front wheel starts skidding in a turn and I have to reach out with my right leg to prevent a crash... As soon as I extend the leg to the max the movement causes it to start spasming with a cramp. The cramp does not fully develop but I have to pull my leg towards me in order to avoid it from cramping up. I ride easily for a while waiting for the spasming to stop and as it does I hear someone behind me: "Don't worry about me, both my legs are cramping". Robert has caught up again!!! At this time I tought that Robert was like one of those evil monsters in a horror movie which just won't die no matter how much the hero tries to kill it.
Robert and I stick together through Solhem and as we get up on the gravel road and look behind there's no one coming up. We have nothing to worry about as far as getting caught.
During the next gradual climb on double track that leads up to Hard Rock hill I start to push as hard as I can in order to drop Robert by just holding a hard and steady pace. A guy with cramps in both legs should drop back... Robert does NOT. We do however catch one of the three Danish Amaton guys. He seems to have completely blown up and is barely moving up the hill at all. We pass him and he doesn't even try to get on our wheel.
At last, during the extremely steep Hard Rock Hill Robert finally lets go of my wheel. I know that even after this hill there's first a quick and twisty downhill and then the sprint to the finish line and if I even relax for a second Robert will be back on my wheel. I manage to hold him behind me and finish 5 seconds before him. I check the Strava logs afterwards and see that I have a peak of 768W during the sprint..
Now, as I cross the finish line and start talking to people I get some surprise information: Jakob, Fredrik and Lars, who were ahead of me, had made a wrong turn early in the race, which ended up being a shortcut, and had been disqualified. The group didn't even realise this until they crossed the finish line first in the race (at which point they had thought: "Where the heck are the Danes??"). This was the reason they had just disappeared! And all of a sudden I realise that I must have finished THIRD. A quick look at the results confirms this!