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.

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