Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Vaude Trans Schwarzwald 2015

Result: 7th place

First three stages: Trek Superfly FS 9.9 SL, Fast Trak Control / Rengade Control 2.0 - 1.75bar
Last two stages: Trek Superfly 9.9 SL, Fast Trak Control / Rengade Control 2.0 - 1.75bar

Vaude Trans Schwarzwald, a five stage race in Germany with 10400hm and 400km in total. There's a summary of the complete race at the bottom of this article, in case you don't want to read all the details of each stage.

Day before Race, introduction

We arrived in Germany today. Picked up our starter's package and checked in to the hotel. We also had time to do a quick bike check and to spinn our stiff legs for a while. I topped off the Stans fluid in both tires.

The race starts tomorrow, Wednesday. I've only had two days of recovery since Finnmarksturen, which is not optimal.

I will be racing my Trek FS Superfly SL. It should be the optimal tool for this race. My initial plan was to use the Racing Ralph 2.1 tires, but after looking at tomorrow's stage in Google Earth I've decided to run my easy-rolling Fast Trak / Renegade combo instead. The stage looks like it consists of mostly gravel roads. I may change to the Racing Ralphs later on. I've also decided to run a 34T chain ring, instead of switching to the 32T. It's a long stage with lots of climbing but the altitude gain is spread out over a long distance so the climbs may not be all that steep. Again, this is for the first stage only. I will probably change to the 32T later on.

Temperatures for the first stage tomorrow are looking crazy high!

First stage

Fifth place on the stage! Very pleased! This is out of 100+ riders in my category (Master 2).

Very warm! Ran out of drink between the first and second feeding station, but only for a few minutes, and again between the second and third, this time for 15km! Once I got to the third feeding station I drank an entire bottle and took another one with me.

The stage turned out to be a bit longer than advertised: 122km and 2500 meters of climbing. It was mostly on gravel roads (and some paved ones even). The amount of single track was just a few percent. That doesn't mean that it wasn't fun though. Many exciting descents and beautiful nature. The 34T chainring and Specialized Fast Trak / Renegades worked well on this terrain. None of the climbs were steep enough that I needed a lower gearing. I was running 1.8 bars which is WAY higher than I usually do but that worked well too. There were some messy single track descents but nothing spectacular.

I let the big boys go on the first climb. There was just no point in going that hard on a stage this long. We got a good group going quite quickly. Our group kept picking up riders who were dropping back and we dropped off riders at the back who were not able to hold on. I was at the front of the group most of the time. Towards the end there we were four riders who left the rest of the group. Two of the guys went away and left me and an Italian guy. During the last two climbs and last 20-30km I did start suffering a bit. The last bit went okay though and I finished just under 5 hours.

I'm a bit worried that I may have gone a bit too hard today. We'll see tomorrow. 165 average pulse and 182 max.

One decision that I have to make for tomorrow is whether to use a 32T chainring instead of the 34T that I used today.

The stage tomorrow is 77km and 2300hm. So almost the same amount of climbing as today on a stage that's much shorter. This means things will be a lot steeper!

And, well, yeah, the weather will be EVEN warmer!

Second stage

Today's stage was 78km and 2300hm.

After finishing fifth in the first stage I was in start box A1. This meant that I was called into the start box by the announcer. Very cool!

The stage started off with a looong climb of almost 20km and 700hm. I let the quick boys go after about 5km and found a good group. I was suffering from the long first stage and had to let the group go with about 5km left of the climb. Got caught by another group which I managed to stay with until the end of the stage. I felt that I finished quite strongly and in good shape.

I finished the stage in nineth position.

The terrain today has been almost exclusively gravel road. Almost no single track. I did get kind of bored towards the end. Some nice descents but nothing more exciting than that.

I managed to minimize my losses by only finishing a few minutes behind most of my compeditors in the M2 category. In the total standings I'm still jn fifth place.

Changing the 34T for a 32T before stage 2

The race pack (plus spare tube taped to the seat post)

Third stage

Again a longer stage of 86km and 2300hm.

The legs were stronger today. I took it easy from the start as I was feeling a bit worn. Again a group formed which gradually grew to about 10-15 riders.

At about 20km we noticted that we were catching up with a larger group of about 20 riders. This was at a start of a hill and so 3 riders in our group sprinted ahead hoping to catch this larger group, I managed to attach myself to one of their wheels and got up with this better group. Here the pace got really quick (and I never saw the rest of the old group). Things were going nicely and I was feeling stronger and stronger during the climbs.

At about 40km, while going downhill over a wooded area with a lot of branches over the path I heard a loud crack, like a branch snapping in two. At the same time my bike shook. I know that when a branch gets caught in your bike and makes a noise that loud, something else has to break, other than the branch. I stopped and had a look at my bike: The cage of the rear deraileur was angled in towards the wheel. I could ride the bike but there were all kinds of weird noises coming from the deraileur. I noticed that if I tried to reach the two lightest gears the cage wanted to touch the spokes of the wheel. So I was limited to gears 3 through 11. Also, the chain kept derailing from the lower pulley wheel so I had to stop and lift it back onto the pulley wheel at regular intervals (mostly in the climbs). As there were still 46km to go there were some serious climbs left.

I managed to make it to the end of the stage by doing a lot of climbs on high gears and very low cadence. The legs got a real workout today.

After checking the results I saw that I had come in at 11th place. In the total standings I've dropped down to sixth place.

I visited the Vaude Trans Schwarzwald service team but they didn't have a single XX1, X01 or X1 deraileur. Which I thought was kind of strange because it's a common component. I would say that at least 20% of the riders here are riding bikes with that rear deraileur. So I've made the decision to tide my Superfly SL hardtail (which I had lucklilly brought with me for just this sort of incident). After riding three stages here I feel that the lightness of a hardtail may actually be superiour to the extra comfyness of a full-suspension bike.

The broken rear deraileur cage (notice the chain going beside the pulley wheel)

Getting the hardtail ready for the fourth stage (moving over the 32T chainring and the Valor wheels)

Fourth stage

Today's stage was 75km and 1850hm. The stage was actually more downhill than uphil. This is an interesting thing that occurs in stage races where the start and finish are not in the same place. Some stages go uphill, others downhill. 

I had changed to my hardtail due to the failing rear deraileur yesterday. I could've changed deraileurs, had I wanted, and then ridden the fully today. But as I've learnt more and more about this race I start to realize that with the terrain being mostly gravel roads and UPHILL you just want as light a bike as possible. The hardtail is about 1kg lighter than the fully and I felt this would be an advantage.

It had been raining the whole night... hard! And the weather forecast promised more rain during the stage. However, the ground was more or less dry and no rain fell. In some places there was some slippery grass and perhaps 3-4 places with mud. But there was nothing that that even my easy-rolling tires could handle. 

I had been moved down on the starting grid to slot A2. Demoted from A1 as I had lost my fifth place in the total standings. Still, this was not an issue as every stage starts with a climb which splits up the field directly.

Warm-up was minimal. This is the fourth day and my body is rather worn out. I may have made a misstake with not warming up enough as when the race started and we went immediatelly into a climb (yes, the climb actually started right after the starting line) my whole body felt really weak and it was as if my whole upper (!) body ached as I tried to push my pulse over 150. I quickly realized that I just needed to take it easy for the first part and let my body settle into it.

A group formed quite quickly and I recognized many of my competitors from the previous stages. As the stage proceded I started to feel better and the legs got working. I spent most of my time at the front of the group. We picked up riders all the time who were dropping back. During the whole stage only two guys went away ahead from us.

This stage contained the most single track of any of the stages so far. That doesn't really say much. Perhaps, out of the 75km of the stage some 5km may have had been single track. There were still some rather fun down-hill segments on single track. And especially the last few km to the finish which were on a track with some jumps going downhill all the way. That was A LOT of fun! I actually surprise myself by writing this because this sort of terrain would've scared me before. Instead I was at the front of our group bombing down the track and distancing the rest of the riders.
One scary moment today was when we hit one of the single-track sections going steeply uphill with a steep drop on the right hand side. I was in fourth place in my group and the guy leading the group (probably the strongest guy we had in the group) all of the sudden leaned right and fell down the drop with his bicycle tumbling over him. It looked really dramatic and he probably fell at least four meters before the bushes caught him. We all stopped to look if he was ok and he immediatelly got up and started pushing his bike up the steep incline. He seemed ok but I never saw him again during the stage.
So I ended going across the finish line with good legs and quick pace. Checking the results showed that I had come in at 6th place. I was very pleased with this. I still however lost one place and I'm down in seventh overall now.
So, the last stage starts tomorrow and I have 2.5 minutes to make up to get to sixth place overall, almost 10 minutes to fifth. And the seventh placed guy is 6 minutes behind me. Tomorrows stage is ONE LONG CLIMB! It's the shortest one of the whole race, but it still looks very daunting.

Fifth and final stage

The final stage of the race was also the shortest one, 67.5km and 1900hm. However, looking at the profile of the stage one came to the realization that it was almost all uphill! Especially the last 20km which were the steepest and most difficult. The stage finished at a ski complex, at the top of the hill.

The weather was the worst of the race. 14 degrees C and rain. The difference compared to the two first sunny stages was 20 degrees C!

Going out for the last stage I was in seventh place overall. I had about 2.5 minutes to gain on sixth place and 10 minutes to get to fifth place. In spite of it being the last stage I was feeling really stoked and eager to go hard.

I warmed up better this time and as we started the last stage we went straight into a climb. This time the first climb went much better than the previous stage and I saw my pulse go well above 160. A good sign!

After the first climb I started attacking and jumped from group to group. After about 10km I ended up in the same group as Sabine Spitz, the overall leader of the women's category (google her name in case you don't know who she is). I knew that there were some serious climbs coming up and that I may have to let go at some point, but there was a section between 20km and 40km which was relatively flat (allthough going uphill all the time) where I knew that being in the group would be an advantage.

Entering the last 20km there were two climbs of about 300hm each and then finishing with a climb of 100hm. The section was going uphill all the way so there was very little respite between the climbs. So at this point I fully expected that I would have to let go of the group. However it turned out much better than I thought: Yes, I had to let go of Sabine and a couple of other riders. But the majority of the group instead got dropped behind me. These last climbs were crazy steep with me just managing to climb parts of them without getting of the bike and walking. Actually, there was one section parts where it was so steep that walking was the only way.

Being encouraged by the fact that I had dropped most of the group (and hopefully some of my main compeditors in the M2 category) I sprinted for the finish. The last climb being up a ski slope and again ridiculously steep.

I finished in fifth place. After checking the total standings I was a bit disappointed to find that I had missed sixth place overall by a measly 14 seconds and I was just over a minute behind fifth place.

Seventh place overall in my first Vaude Trans Schwarzwald. Considering that I probably lost 10-20 minutes in stage 3 where I broke my rear deraileur I was very pleased.


Vaude Trans Schwarzwald 2015 was a great experience which I enjoyed immensly. The result, a seventh place in M2, was a big part of the enjoyment. The fact that I had my rear deraileur fail on the third stage,  was very annoying, because, as it turned out, I was only a minute after fifth place in the total standings after the last stage. Had that incident not ocurred I would have been in fifth place.

So first some reflections on the race, in genereal, and then some about how I performed

Vaude Trans Schwarzwald, terrain and tracks

The reflections on this race will have as a basis my experience with The Beskidy Trophy stage race which I did in June. These are the only two stage races that I have ever done. I am sure, however, that I will do many more.

The terrain that Vaude Trans Schwarzwald takes place on is something like 99% gravel roads, paved roads, wide trekking paths and jogging paths. A very small part of the terrian is what we mountain bikers refer to as "single track". Does this make it boring? No! There's plenty of adrenalin filled action to be had on quick and steep descents, even some downhill sections, and riding the gravel turns at breakneck speeds. So it's fun! But compared to The Beskidy Trophy the terrain is not as varried, and Beskidy has a lot more single track.

There are a lot of climbs in the race, some long and winding and some shorter and very steep ones. The good thing here is that very very few climbs are so steep that I had to get off and push the bike. I can only remember one or two such climbs. And I was running a 1x11 setup with a 32T front chainring. Again comparing with Beskidy, perhaps the most boring part of that race is that there are long sections there that are so steep that you have to push the bike, sometimes for 5-10 minutes (I was running the 32T-setup on Beskidy).

The tracks are easy enough so that you can ride them on "quick rolling" tires. I used Specialized Fast Trak 2.0 in the front and Specialized Renegade 1.95 in the rear. You want something with good puncture protection, I used the "Control" variant of my tires as opposed to the "S-works" which are thinner. Even for the last stage which was wet they not-so-grippy tires worked fine. Also, due to the easy terrain, I ran quite high air pressure in my tires, some 0.2 bars more than I would otherwise.

Due to the nature of the race riding in groups becomes imporant and groups stay together through much of the race. I noticed that the riders that I had around me were much the same during all the stages. Gaps develop during the climbs but people catch up in the descents and on the flat. Not that there is that much flat. The race is mostly either up or downhill.

The race gathers very tough opponents. This year there were many pros, winners of world championships, previous winners of Cape Epic and Trans Alp.

Now for some words on logistics. Vaude Trans Schwarzwald were extremely helpful in that they found a girl in their massage staff to drive our car from stage to stage. This was because we needed the car right after the last stage in order to catch our ferry back to Sweden. I can not thank them enough for this. Had we not had our car we would have been more dependent on their shuttle service... which brings me to the shuttling around: We had the hotel package. There's also the option to sleep in sleeping bags in schools are gyms during the race. Now, if you do this, then you get to stay in the town where the start/finish is on each stage. However, if you, like us, order the hotel package, then your hotel is not in the same town as the start/finish (well, ours wasn't on any of the stages anyway). This means that you need to make use of the shuttle service that Vaude Trans Schwarzwald provides. So the scenario then is this: You finish the race, was the bike, put the bike in the bike park, wait for a shuttle buss to leave and take you to the hotel (this can take a while), unpack your bag (that the shuttle has brought) at the hotel and shower, wait for the shuttle to take you back to the start/finish area where dinner and the prize ceremony is, eat, take the shuttle back to the hotel, sleep, and in the morning, after breakfast, take the shuttle to the start. As you can read there's a lot of shuttle waiting and riding going on. Perhaps not what you want to do when you really need to rest for the next stage. In our case we had our car which is a big plus because we didn't need to wait for the shuttle, and we ended up eating at the hotel instead of going to the joint dinner.

So the last part is perhaps the only major negative bit of the race. And of course, you can avoid it by not using the hotel package. You save money, but then you get to sleep on a floor in a sleeping bag.

Still, overall, I give the race maximum points. It's great fun and I recomend it warmly!

My race

When planning for this race I first thought that perhaps a top-5 finish would be something to aim for. Then I saw the entry list and noticed that there over 100 riders in my category. So then I wasn't sure. I ended up finishing in seventh place and it's something that I am really pleased with.

The lead-up to the race was not optimal: I did manage to take it fairly easy during the week before the race, but on the Sunday, just three days before Vaude Trans Schwarzwald, I did have an important marathon mtb race, Finnmarksturen, which I had to race. Finnmarksturen also turned out to be a really intense race for me where I did go all-in and also did completely empty myself of energy. So after this I had two rest days, one of which was spent in a car driving to Germany.

Before my first stage race, The Beskidy Trophy in June, I had read up on some others rider's experiences with stage races on mountainbike. Some had gone out too hard on the first and second stage and had had to pay for it on later stages. So for the Beskidy Trophy I did try to take it easy on the first stage. I'm not sure how I succeeded but I know that I didn't go all in during the first long climb at least. I feel that I got stronger and stronger during Beskidy and the last stage was probably my best one. This with no previous experience of stage racing. So for Vaude Trans Schwarzwald I did the first stage at almost full speed. And the first stage went really well (fifth place and a position in starting grid A1).

Now, the second stage didn't go all that well; I finished ninth. And I lost some time on my compeditors. This may be due to me going too hard on stage 1, but perhaps also a consequence of Finnmarksturen the weekend before Vaude Trans Schwarzwald started.

Where I lost a lot of time was on the third stage with the broken rear deraileur. Somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes is my estimate. This is where I lost my fifth place in the total standings.

Fourth and fifth stages went really well with sixth and fifth place finishes.

It's interesting to watch my average pulse for the five stages:
165, 155, 150, 149, 149
Max pulse:
182, 173, 168, 169, 168

I think the climbing in all the stages went well due to the fact that I have lost a 1-2kg in the last few weeks. The technical bits, the downhill parts, went very well and I managed to distance many riders and catch up with others during those parts. I ended up looking forward to the next technical downhill after a while. There's a lot of group riding in this race and being smart, hanging on to wheels really close, making efficient turns, knowing when to press hard to hold onto a wheel, and when not to, is really important. I think I did well in those aspects.

I did the first three stages on the full-suspension bike and, after the rear deraileur broke, I did the last two stages on the hardtail. The weight difference being 1kg between the bikes and with the terrain being very even and easy the rear suspension does not get much work and I should've riden the hardtail on all the stages. The easy-rolling and light Specialized Fast Trak and Renegeade tires were also perfect.

To summerize I think this was one of my best races of this season, so far, and I'm really happy about the result.

All the results are located here

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