Sunday, 26 August 2018

Snapphaneturen - Back on the Podium for the most fun Marathon track of the year

Bike: Trek Top Fuel 9.9 RSL  Rocket Ron 2.25 Snakeskin 1.45 / Thunder Burt 2.1 Snakeskin 1.50 bar

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 Lead

The 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 Smart

I 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 Churchill

Our 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 Crashes

As 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 Die

With 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 Ending

10 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!






Sunday, 12 August 2018

New experience: 6 hour race on an XCO course

LONG-duration races


I've been considering partaking in one of these long-duration races for a while now. There's a big race in Denmark that I have in mind called H12. It's a 12 hour race which you can race both as a team of 4 riders or solo. I've participated in H12 many times, but always in 4-man teams. It would be interesting to try it solo as well. This weekend I got the opportunity to try out a smaller version of H12 very close to home: The Musette 6 hour race in Malmö.

When considering these long-duration races the terrain and type of course is an important aspect. There are marathons that take 4 or even 5 hours to do, but they tend to be largely on gravel roads. The Musette 6 hour race is 100% twisty and turny singletrack. Not a meter of gravel road, or any kind of road for that matter. This makes riding for 6 hours much harder than it a typical gravel road marathon would take.

Musette 6h track
Comparing this race to H12 I would estimate that H12 probably has about 50% gravel road. That should make it easier. But then it's twice as long...

Musette 6h

Each lap of this race is about 4 kilometers long. It's 100% singletrack and has built section with drops, jumps and berms. It goes up down short but supers-steep climbs. There are few opportunities to relax and recover, in fact during the entire lap I only found two places to get out my bottle and have a drink. It's very good to know the track as you can optimise you speed through sections by not breaking too much.



I participated in this race mostly as an experiment and not with the goal of winning it. I did not practice-ride the track before hand. The day before the race I did a five hour easy ride, which was not optimal. I raced on my "training bike", my BMC Teamelite hardtail, because I want to keep my two racing bikes fresh for the important races. A full-suspension bike would have been much better.

I had decided beforehand to just rely on sports drinks for my energy. I didn't want to use gels as, to be quite honest, I'm very tired of them and only want to use them in important races. I did have some power bars in my back pocket but the track didn't give me any opportunity to ingest them.



6 hours is a long time to be riding 100% pure singletrack...

I started off quite happy and full of energy: The first lap I rode with my pal Fredrik (who did the race in a 4-mean team) and the next I got to ride with his girlfriend Jessica, who is also a dear friend of mine. So, yeah, the first hour was fun. I noticed that I was lapping at around 18 minutes and so a quick calculation gave me that I would do about 3 laps per hour, and that means 18 laps in 6 hours. That's a lot of laps...

I love to race, and racing is a great motivator for me. When I race I go 100% all-in. This race however I went in with the mindset that it was going to be an experiment; an interesting test to see what a 12-hour race could perhaps feel like. This may sound like a good idea in theory but once I was in the race going around the course I was somewhere in no-mans-land: I wasn't going hard, but it was still a race so I wasn't going slow either. Also the typical pain-relief that the adrenaline rush of a race gives me wasn't quite there. Which is why...

I'm in pain!

About halfway through the race I started noticing two things:

1. My left hand was in pain. Specifically the skin on the palm of my hand was chaffing. I have never had problems with this before. But then I wasn't using my normal "racing" gloves which have a bit of padding, I was using an old pair of gloves, that have no padding, and that I normally only use on my training rides. They've never given me any problems before but this ride was long...

2. My ass was in pain. Specifically the skin on my left butt cheek was hurting. Why? Well, again I was using a pair of old worn-out bibs that I would normally never race in. Each time the rear of the bike went over a bump it delivered a jolt of pain to my ass. Now, had I been on a full-suspension bike...

Had I been in race mode and, perhaps, had a clearer goal to achieve, these sorts of pains would not have been as noticeable. But here they were very annoying. I tried changing the grip that my left hand had on the handlebars as often as I could, but as the track is very technical I really had to hold on properly or risk crashing.

Finishing...

Between 3 and 5 hours into the race I had many thoughts of just getting off the bike and aborting the race. I hate aborting races. My friends were cheering me each time I went out for a new lap which was nice and helped. But what also helped was the fact that if I'd aborted they would've been there to witness it.

My pace dropped and my heart rate went down. The second half of the race I rode mostly in zone 2.





I finished the race. I'm happy with that. I'm also happy that I didn't get off the bike for any of the steep hills that each lap had.

Now, for the next time I do something like this: I HAVE TO TAKE IT SERIOUSLY

(The day after the race I actually got a mild cold so I don't think I was 100% well while riding the race)






Sunday, 5 August 2018

Swedish XCM Championships - The Gravel Road Race [UPDATED]

Bike: Trek Top Fuel 9.9 RSL  Rocket Ron 2.25 Snakeskin 1.50 / Thunder Burt 2.1 Snakeskin 1.50 bar

Result: 9th place



Photos @  Cykelkanalen.se
Photos @  Cykelkanalen.se


Quick summary

  • Good legs
  • Slightly worn from Sudety last week
  • A girl in the wrong place at the wrong time
  • Dropped chain followed by crazy chase

The Race - 1572 MTB Challenge

The race was advertised as being 87km, but when we arrived on site all the signs said 80km. It turned out to be 82km... but none of the officials knew. More about this later...

The course has a lot of gravel and even paved roads but it's still fun. Some shorter climbs, nothing major. There are singletrack sections but quite short ones. Nothing really technical.


A Girl in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

The start of the race went well and I felt good. There is no starting climb in this race and at this particular time (you will seldom hear me say this) this fact was actually good for me. As I have the six stages of Sudety in my legs (just a week back) quick burst of power are not working for me right now. I'm okay with steady state power though.

They started the M40 and M50 class together. Men Elite, Women Elite and M30 had started 5 minutes before us. As there were not decisive climbs there was quite a good group that held together. for the first 20km. I was close to the front of it so I'm not absolute sure how many of us there were. I'm guessing some 20-30 riders.

What happens after about 25km is that were riding a paved section and we catch up with one of the Elite Women. We'd previously caught a few riders from that group but quickly passed them. In this case however this Elite rider decides that she will hang on to our group. She does however not check behind her to see how many we are, instead she squeezes in in front of me. At that point she has about 5-6 of us M40/M50 in front of here (she's on their wheel and holding it despite of the high pace) and the rest of the group behind her. This works fine as long as we're on the paved road but I see singletrack coming up. At this point I yell for her to let us pass. She ignores me. As we start the singletrack section she's unable to hang on the the wheel in front of her and the 5 or 6 riders in front of her get a big gap. I can't pass her as the singletrack is incredibly tight. Once I do get past her the front group of riders has a gap of several hundred meters and as we get to the next gravel road sections they're barely visible in the distance. The top-3 M40 and the top M50 rider all turn out to be in this group.

Dropped Chain

About halfway through the race we have formed a good second group behind of the leaders. I recognize Rolf Svensson with whom I've ridden many races. He's at this point in second place in M50. There's perhaps 6 or 7 of us. The other riders are a mix of M40 and a  few M30 riders that we've caught.

We're going down a descent on double track at high speed. It's quite bumpy. I'm on Rolf's wheel... and as it flattens out and I try to start pedaling there's no resistance at all. My chain has dropped! I get off the bike to let the others past and quickly get it back on. It doesn't take much time but we're doing about 50km/h at this point so the gap that forms to the group is huge.

As I get on the bike again I make the decision to chase them down. There's still 40km of the race left and if I manage to catch up I can make good use of being in the group. I go all-in and give chase. I'm in the red as I start catching people dropping off Rolf's group. It takes perhaps 5km but I manage to catch them. At this point I'm pretty wasted but I'm hoping for an even pace with this group. I know that if there are any burst of speed up and inclines that I will be dropped.

87, 80 or 82km?

As I mentioned before it's unclear to me how long the race is actually going to be. It was noted to be 87km in the pre-race materials. But all the signs at the start said 80km. As we go past 70km this all of a sudden starts to become important. Somehow it's not important if you're going to do 80km or 87km at the start of the race. But as you're approaching the end of it and you're starting to feel really tired then it's quite important if there's another 10km to go or if it's 17km. I ask the other guys in the group (only three of us left at this point: Rolf, me and another M40 guy) and consensus seems to be 80km.

At around 70km we come to a hill and I just barely manage to hang on to the group by the skin of my teeth. Then shortly after there's another climb:  I'm dropped.

Now I really need to know how long I have left. I need to go as fast as I possibly can in my tired state in order not to be caught up by any other riders in my class. There are no signs at all along the course telling me the distances (which all other races have). As I pass a race official at a junction I ask him: He just shrugs his shoulders. At 77km, riding alone, I pass another official and ask again: He says 10km to go. I come to the conclusion that the race must be 87km as the pre-race info said. I ease back a bit as I need to conserve my energy for another 10km of racing.

Shortly after this a group of three riders catch me: Among them one M40 guy. Darned! This is bad! My legs are dead! I hang on to this group and just a little later we start to come towards the area that I recognize as the place were we started the race... But there still should be 5km to go!? The other guys start to sprint and I have nothing left in my legs and cross the line last in the group. So what was the total distance in the end? 82km!

I finish in 9th place. I'm pleased: I've done all I could under the circumstances.

The top three guys were a good way ahead of the rest of us. But I think that under the perfect circumstances I would have had a shot at the fourth spot.



Media

Here's a video that Linus shot of me grabbing a bottle from my lovely friend Caroline at one of the feeding stations:


Analysis

Power

Power is interesting to look at after this race. I was using my Stages power meter so all the data is there. I have the average (lap) power on display at all time and I was quite surprised when I saw that about one hour into the race I was averaging 270+W.

Let's have a look at the power averages for the race:
First hour (first 1/3 of the race):  278W
Second hour: 239W
Third hour: 224W

The average for the whole race was: 246W. Weighted: 266W. This is way higher than any typical stage of Beskidy Trophy or Sudety Challenge which would typically average around 200W (240W weighted)


Equipment

For the first time ever I used to combo Rocket Ron 2.25 in front with Thunderburt 2.1 at the rear. I really liked this. Even in a quick race with lots of roads as this one had the feeling is that the bike rolls nicely. On singletrack I really like the grip that I get from the wide front tire, at the same time not missing the lack of grip that the easy-rolling rear Thunderburt contributes. I think I will continue to use this combo in the future for marathons.


Sunday, 22 July 2018

Sudety Challenge 2018 - Live reporting

Final Standings Sudety 2018: Fourth place



Stage 5 (final) - Seventh place

  • 53km
  • 2200m altitude


  • Heart rate max/avg: 171 / 147
  • Power avg/weighted: 194 W / 237 W

The last stage was planned to be 55km long and have a total of 2500m of altitude gain. As you can see by the profile it was pretty much just hills all of the time. There was no particular climb to plan for or to save up energy for. However, just before the start, the race organizers told us that the stage would be shortened slightly with the second-to-last hill being skipped. We didn't get an explanation for this but it had been raining heavily during the night so that might have been why

The situation before this last stage was that I was 13 minutes behind Nicolai in third place, and the fifth placed guy behind me was about an hour behind. Now 13 minutes is a long time to make up, and after the stage was shortened it seemed even harder. My plan was to go out slowly, and if Nicolai had any kinds of problems, then I would give it my all. I had another reason, outside of Sudety Challenge, for this plan: The Swedish Marathon Championships are coming up in a week. Recovery will be hard as is, without having an absolutely murderous last Sudety stage.

So how did it turn out? Well, I was motivated to go hard on the climbs. But this last stage had the most crazy downhills that I have ever seen in any race. When I had to get off and run down the first downhill I still thought that it wasn't a big deal and powered up the next climb at full speed. But then there was another insanely steep downhill, followed by another and so on. On some of the downhills there were other competitors that rode downhill. But the steepest ones no one could ride downhill. And with each time that I had to get off the bike I lost more and more of my motivation to go hard on the next climb. This turned out to be the least fun stage of the whole race.

I crossed the finish line in 7th place. Not a good placing, but it didn't affect my position in the total standings in any way: I finished in fourth place in Sudety Challenge 2018.





Stage 4 - Third place

  • 58km
  • 1900m altitude


  • Heart rate max/avg: 171 / 153
  • Power avg/weighted: 206 W / 243 W



Today's stage started and ended in Gluszyca. I talked to the fourth placed dude in cat M3 (I'm in fifth), a nice Dane called Nicolai Madsen, and he said that he thought it was a mistake to go out as hard as we had on the previous stage. I concurred with him on that and decided to take it easy up the first couple of hills. I still managed 300W up the first climb but the pain was much less than yesterday. Legs, body, heart, everything was just feeling really good.

Nicolai and I traded places throughout the stage: In the climbs I would get ahead of him, while on the descents he would catch up. It was quite entertaining. Every time I thought I'd dropped him he would catch up.

I was able to push much harder than I thought up all the climbs because my body was responding really well. Checking my watts on the Garmin also showed very nice data.

On the long descent about halfway through the stage things were going quite well until I was about to do the last part which was super-steep: I checked my brakes just before going over the rim and noticed that my rear brake was gone! The lever just went all the way to the handlebar. Yeah, I had cooked my brakes! I tried quickly to pump the lever but it didn't help. My only option was to run, stumble and slide down the steep slope on foot. About 10 riders went past me at this point. At the bottom I pumped the brake a few more times and got it working again.




Now started the chase for Nicolai but it would take 15km before I caught him. The place that this happened was on an uphill segment full of loose large rocks. Now I'm on my full-suspension Trek but Nicolai is on a hardtail. Guess who was faster?

Now I was sure that at this point I was rid of him for good. But no, he caught up again! At the last feeding station I had again dropped him on a steep asphalt climb. I filled my bottle (the only stop that I did) and asked the people manning the station to pour water over my head. It was divine!

I sprinted on the last 6 km to the finish line but guess who caught me just before the end?

It was actually after we crossed the finish line that the really interesting things started to happen: Both I and Nicolai persumed that we had finished fourth and fifth, as on the other stages. The top two guys in M3, Santi and Yuri, are much quicker than the rest of us on each stage. Then there's another Danish guy: Björn, who is a bit down on the leaders, but still much faster than Nicolai and I. So it would make sense that we would place fourth and fifth again. But no, checking the list it said that we had come in second and third.

So what had happened? Well, it turned out that Björn had not come to the start of the stage at all for some (personal?) reason. He and his family had returned to Denmark. Santi had finished first (12 minutes up on us), but Yuri had broken his saddle and biked the last part of the stage without a saddle. He still just finished 5 minutes after Nicolai and I.

The situation before the last stage tomorrow is that I'm in fourth place, 13 minutes behind Nicolai who's in third. The last stage is the toughest one of the entire race: 2500 m altitude gain.

Now my good result was actually not just pure luck: Checking the power data shows that I had in fact done my best stage of the race power-wise: 206 W average power / 243 W weighted.

Top-10 after stage 4:


Stage 3 - Sixth place

  • 58km
  • 1900m altitude
  • Heart rate max/avg: 178 / 155
  • Power avg/weighted: 197 W / 237 W
Today's stage took us from Bardo, where we had spent just one night, and to Gluszyca. Bardo is altitude-wise below Gluszyca so most of the stage went uphill. But, of course, there was the famous enduro section at 19km into the stage...

We left Bardo on an asphalt road which started climbing gradually. This really suits me as I hate going hard from scratch. When I checked the stage profile map before hand and noticed that at about 10km there was a flat section before we went further up hill. I wanted to be in a good group for that section so I pushed the first uphill part rather hard. I average just below 300W for about 5km. And I was successful in my endeavour as the flat part, which turned out to be double track, went really quickly at the back of a quick group.

Then came the enduro section at 19km into the stage... It started well, but then perhaps halfway through, I was caught up and had to let a guy past, and then another one, and then my rythm was gone. It went okay though.

During the next climb I went hard again and was doing okay... But as I neared the halfway point of the stage I noticed that I was starting to feel weaker. I realized that I would have to slow down in order to finish the stage at a good pace. So from about halfway through until perhaps 10km left I left some riders past and just went at my own pace.

With the last 10km left I started to feel better and was actually able to speed up. I finished the stage well (which shows that slowing down was the right choice) and come in sixth, just seconds down on the fifth placed guy.

Interestingly enough looking at the power numbers they're almost exactly the same as yesterday's. So even though I felt I was going slow on average the stage went about the same as yesterday's.

One thing that I have forgotten to mention is that the heat here is scorching. I'm racing with a single 900ml bottle. On the previous stages I've only refilled it once, at the last feed stations (there are three for each stage). This time, even though it was the shortest stage so far, I was for the first time out of water when I got my bottle refilled. It was so warm that I started dumping cups of water over my head at the feed station and when the guy manning it saw what I was doing he just poured a while 5 liter water bottle over my head. GREAT! He might have actually saved me from losing more time on the stage.

Stage 2 - Fifth place

  • 60km
  • 2000m altitude


  • Heart rate max/avg: 177 / 159
  • Power avg/weighted: 196 W / 239 W

Today's stage left Stronie Slaskie and headed to the next village: Bardo. It started with a LOOONG climb again.

At the start we had two groups form rather quickly. I hate going hard right off the start, especially when I already have two stages in my legs, so initially I was towards the back of the second group of riders. During a small downhill just a kilometer out of Stronie Slasko I sped up and moved to the front of the group and when I noticed that the lead group didn't seem to be moving all the quickly I decided to bridge the gap. I found it funny that it was so easy but also that no one from my group tried to hang on to my wheel. I joined the lead group as the climb started getting steeper and the group broke up into smaller fractions. Strava has noted that first climb as being 8 km and 500 meters altitude gain and I did it with an average power of 267W.

Then came that downhill that the organizers had advertised as "DH frenzy" and I was nervous about.  The trail was brand new and therefore had lots of loose soil and it was super steep. I had to get off the bike a few times where I found it unridable. Unfortunately some of the other riders did find it ridable and whizzed past me.

The rest of the downhills went great and I felt brave. No one dropped me because I braked too much so that felt great.

Quite early in the stage, after perhaps 15 km, noticed that my rear tire was feeling a bit deflated. I stopped and felt it and yeah, it was down to perhaps 1 bar. It didn't seem to be leaking any more air (the Stan's fluid had fixed the leak) so I just gave it a shot of CO2. It held for the rest of the stage. It's hard to judge how much CO2 to inflate a tire with so I ended up with a very hard rear tire. After the stage I measured the pressure to 2 bars. Normally I would run between 1.5 and 1.6. Things were rather bouncy in the rear and traction was hard to find after that.

I crossed the finish line in fifth place, five minutes down on the two Danes who are in front of me in the classification. The dude who won my cat placed fourth overall, just second from the podium!

After this stage I'm still in fifth place overall. I have 10 minutes to fourth and 18 minutes to third place. My margin down to the sixth placed guy is a reassuring 20 minutes.



Stage 1 - Fourth place

  • 68km
  • 2000m altitude
  • Heart rate max/avg: 182 / 162
  • Power avg/weighted: 194 W / 235 W

The stage started with a long gravel road climb. I was eager to make up time after yesterday's fiasco. Perhaps a bit too eager. I averaged over 300W up the first climb which was LONG.

About halfway up the climb I was riding with two guys and saw a group of four riders just a bit further ahead. They didn't seem to be going all that fast so I decided to bridge the gap. That worked okay although I had to dig deep. But, as soon as I caught them the pace picked up and these four guys started chasing down groups of riders in front of us. I had hoped for a little respite when I caught them, instead I had to dig even deeper to keep up. I was doing 290W just hanging on the back of the group. NOT a good thing this early in the stage.

After this followed a quick descent on a gravel road full of lose stones. Everybody ended up riding on the patch of grass which was between the two wheel tracks. We were probably doing about 50km/h downhill and there were lots of turns. Quite exciting but also very scary. I let the quick guys go and concentrated on surviving.

More uphills and downhills followed. I remember an absolutely beautiful portion of single track at the top of one of the mountains where I rode between blueberry bushes and over roots. Almost like a fairy tale.

One of the downhills was steep and on roots going right across the path. This part was so darned scary because as soon as I braked my rear wheel skidded on the roots and totally pointed my bike in the wrong direction. Three times I ended up in the blueberry bushes and narrowly avoided crashing

Towards the end of the stage I noticed that my legs had taken a beating during that first climb. Second to last climb I averaged about 260W and the last climb I dipped just below 240W.

Probably the most rewarding thing during the stage was the last descent: Two guys had just caught me on the flat section on top of the last mountain and as we started descending, first on gravel roads, and then on vast grass fields, I passed them both and then put a lot of distance between us. That was nice. I felt cowardly on the descents yesterday but today I made up for that.

I crossed the finish line in fourth place and I climbed from 11th to 5th overall.




Prologue - Puncture and Bent Valve

  • 21km
  • 700m altitude


  • Heart rate max/avg: 185 / 167
  • Power avg/weighted: 186 W / 259 W



The prologue stage was ridden as a single start with 30 seconds between each competitor.  The stage was 21 km long and 700 m altitude gain in total. It started quite a fair bit away from the race village; 6 km uphill. The ending was in the race village so that meant that the stage was mostly downhill. We had checked part of the stage before hand and the first descent was quite tricky and dangerous.

I started really well and the first 3 kilometers uphill on asphalt and gravel road I had an average power of 330W.  However then came that tricky downhill section where I felt I had to take it easy. Perhaps a bit too easy. One guy caught up with me and blew past me (I did catch him in the next uphill). Still, just one guy got past me so I guess okay...? However, checking my times on that downhill section afterwards and comparing to Sandra's she had done it A LOT faster then me.

Then some more gravel road uphill and another tricky downhill. Just at the top of the downhill I hear a swooshing sound from my rear tire. I stop and I discover that there is air leaking out of the tire. I point the leak downwards and hope that the Stan's fluid will seal the leak. I stand like that waiting for the air to stop leaking but it doesn't. It's not leaking very quickly and the tire is not completely deflated. No point in trying to inflate the tire while it's still leaking... I decide to run down the hill. It was extremely steep and barely rideable anyway. When I get down to the next gravel road, after running for quite a while, I notice that the there is no more swooshing sound. I get out my CO2 and try to inflate the tire... But when I find the valve I notice that the valve core is bent at an extreme angle. I'm unable to unscrew it because of this. So I start bending it straight, while being careful not to snap the core, and try to unscrew again - not working, bend, unscrew, bend, unscrew. At last I'm able to unscrew the core and inflate using CO2. I lose a few minutes doing this but I'm able to finish the stage.

I finish in 11th place with a time of 1h14m. I'm some 10 minutes down on the first place guy.

Back in the hotel I inflate the tire to in order to see if there's a leak and at 3 bars of pressure the fluid pops and it starts leaking air again. I put a patch on the inside of the tire. I also replace the faulty valve core. I pump it back up to 3 bars and it seems to be holding now.

Now I have some time to make up on the remaining stages...








Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Sudety Challenge, 6 day stage race, starting SOON

  • 6 stages
  • 320 km
  • 11 345 m total ascent

The race starts this Sunday, 22nd of July!


First Time Ever

I've raced a few different stage races over the years but this will be the first time I compete in Sudety Challenge. Sudety is sort of a sister race to Beskidy Trophy, which I've raced many times. They both take place in the same area of Poland (though they don't share any actual locations). I'm expecting the same kind of fun and challenging terrain as in Beskidy meaning: Few gravel roads and mostly singletrack. Each stage has around 500 fewer meters of total ascent compared to Beskidy, while length-wise they are similar.

There is one big difference between Sudety and Beskidy and that is that you change start/finish location for the different stages, meaning you need to switch hotels. The good thing is that there are not six separate locations, only three. It makes sense however as finding six unique sections of trails for all the stages that all start and end at the same place would be impossible.

The race takes place in the mountains in the south of Poland where its borders meet the Czech Republic and Slovakia.




The Stages

The first stage is a time trial stage with cyclists starting individually. My start is at 14:50 on Sunday. The stage is 20 km long with a lot of uphill.
The rest of the stages are 'normal' ones.








Equipment



I'll be riding my Trek Superfly 9.9 SL RSL. I haven't used it that much since Beskidy Trophy. I've replaced the rear tire, put in new brake pads both front and rear, and topped off the Stan's fluid in the tires. Front tire was still fine.

Gearing:
10-50t in the rear, 34t up front

Tire setup:
Front: Schwalbe Rocket Ron 2.25 Snakeskin
Rear: Schwalbe Rocket Ron 2.1 Snakeskin

Tire pressure: 1.6 bars

Expectations and Form

Form has been going up lately. I came back from Beskidy Trophy a month ago feeling slightly unmotivated towards racing. But that passed the last couple of weeks.

I did my standard benchmark 9 x 9 minute session on my stationary bike last week were I managed an average of 326 watts. That's a new personal best.



Weight was a bit of a struggle and I was at 75kg four weeks back but I pulled myself together and as of this morning I'm under 71 kg. About the same as at Andalucia Bike Race and Beskidy Trophy this year.



It's hard to say something about what kind of expectations that I have on the race. I checked the list of starters and what surprised me is that perhaps 80% of them are from outside of Poland. My weight and power figures are about where they were before Beskidy Trophy and I finished that race in third place so perhaps something similar...?


Thursday, 5 July 2018

Hotcup #4 - All of a sudden: Good legs!

Bike: Trek Top Fuel 9.9 RSL, Rocket Ron 2.25 Snakeskin 1.40 / Rocket Ron 2.1 Snakeskin 1.40 bar

Result: Fourth in M40, eigth overall


Quick summary

  • Great form!!!

The Aftermath of Ränneslätt!?


Today's race was only four days after my disastrous Ränneslättsturen. Considering that I had pretty much hit a wall at 20km before the finish of that race and I know how much that costs in terms of recovery... I had no high hopes for Hotcup #4 today.

Things went great!

But what do you know? Things went great!

The course today was quick and flowy; my favorite kind. I started slowly but gained positions throughout the race. I could see the front group for the first half of the race but they were just out of reach. 

I finished in 4th place in M40, 8th overall


Post Race Data is Super!

So everything that went wrong at Ränneslätt went right today. Obviously two very different races. Today's Hotcup was 1.5 hours, Ränneslätt was 3 hours.

Watt data was very nice: 263 W average (weighted average was 278W)'

Heart rate was very nice too: 175 average, 186 max.

So body was responding well.

The four lap data looks as follows:



Monday, 2 July 2018

Ränneslättsturen - Dropped bottle, leaky rear tire and not making the right decisions

Bike: Cube AMS 100 C:68 SLT,  Rocket Ron 2.1 Snakeskin 1.50 bar / Thunderburt 1.50 bar

Result: Really bad


Quick summary

  • Dropped bottle after 5km
  • Leaky rear tire
    • Noticed rear tire was not behaving properly
    • Kept going on anyway as I was with good group
    • Went too hard to stay with group
    • After stopping and inflating was too tried to finish well
  • Last 20 km I was dead

Good start

The start of the race was better than the past few ones. I was able to go really hard and advance up the field. VO2max feels good in other words

The warm temperatures and sun had made the sandy roads at the start really dusty. As we turned into a gravel road at 3km the dust was so thick that people started breaking in front as no one could see where they were going.

Dropped bottle

Already after 5km I notice that my bottle has gone missing. This is my first dropped bottle this year. I was using my large 1.1 liter bottle for the first time this year and I'm guessing that the bottle holder is a bit worn out and flexed too much. My pal Bo-Rickard Jepson saved my life and gave me a new bottle at 21km. And then tried to give me another one at 42km but I dropped it after trying to stove it into my rear pocket. Thanks Bo-Rickard! I ended up just drinking 0.6 liters for the three hours which wasn't enough on this warm and dusty day.

Rear tire deflating

At around 20km I noitced that my rear wheel wasn't behaving properly. It was washing out wide in grippy turns and also the tire was bottoming out over some stones. I suspected that it had become deflated but I wasn't sure. I was in a really good group and I didn't want to let go of it. So I decided to ignore the fact that I should probably stop and do a quick refill with the CO2. After riding harder and harder to keep up with the group because the bike was more and more difficult to control I finally stopped at 50km to refill the tire with some air. I quickly checked the tire before inflating it and there was perhaps half the correct air pressure. The refill fixed it right up though and it didn't continue to deflate. My guess is that there had been a hole which had allowed the air to leak out but the Stan's fluid had fixed it.

Obviously I should have stopped earlier...

Dead legs for the last 20km

I had gone way too hard to keep up with my group and the last bit of the race I was just exhausted. People passed me left and right and I just suffered all the way to the finish line. The heart rate graph says everything: