Saturday, 26 September 2015

Västgötaloppet - FINALLY!!!

Result: 3rd place

Bike: Trek Superfly FS 9.9 SL, Racing Ralph 2.1 SnakeSkin - 1.7bar

Västgötaloppet is the nineth and last race in Svenska Långloppscupen. It's a late adition to the cup, only joining it last year. It's also one of the quickest (least technical) of the races. The terrain suites me and I did well in it last year. There's quite a lot of gravel road racing with some good climbs. The starting climb is long and hard and the last 10km is mostly uphill. This year we were promised 40% more singletrack than previous years. This was good!
My form had been rather bad lately and so my motivation was quite low too. I had gained a couple of kilos while working in London during last week. My lacking motivation was noticable in the fact that I did not race-prep my bike and also was quite casual with my training in the week leading up to the race: I just commuted by bike every day during the week.

Results: Västgötaloppet

The race started and we immediately started climbing up the first long uphill section on asphalt. I soon noticed that a gap had opened up to the lead group and I accelerated to join them. Once I got with the group I noticed that Martin Wenhov was at the tail of it. Very impressive as Martin previously had some problems with races where the climb started early on. The climb continued on gravel roads and the front group started to split up. I was somewhere in the middle, ahead of Martin but I also saw some other guys go off the front.

After a while the climb turned into level single track and then a slight downhill over grassy and muddy single track. The pace was quick and I was trying to stay with the guy in front of me. I came on the brakes at one point and directly noticed that there was absolutely no grip and my rear wheel started drifting to the right at once. I tried releasing the brakes in the hope that the wheel would get back in line but it was too late: the rear wheel slipped and I found myself on my back. The fall was quite light but I was worried about getting run over from behind. I got up quickly and noticed that Martin passed me. However I was able to rejoin at the back of the group.

Once out of the single track section we got onto quick gravel roads and the pace got really frantic. I passed Martin at some point and then never saw him again. We had a group of some 10-15 riders, I was at the back of it. I noticed that Rolf Svensson was there. Being in a group with Rolf is always a good sign: He's one of the quickest riders so if he's around that means you're going quickly, also Rolf never ever gets tired so he's a good wheel to follow.

Shorter single track sections followed and mixed up with new parts of gravel roads. Short and frantic climbs. The group got smaller and smaller and we caught up with riders. Rolf was there all the time doing the hard work pulling the group along. I knew that my form was not good and my only hope was to stay with this good group as long as I could, and once I was too tired I would let go and hope that the damage of riding alone would not be too great. I had no hope of following Rolf all the way to the finish, especially as I knew that the last few kilometers were mostly up hill.

At about 20km into the race we passed Robert Eliasson who was standing at the side of the road fixing his bike. I felt sad for him as I knew he had to place well in this race to keep his third place in the total cup standings.

After 40km we came back to the start-finish area to go to the next loop. At this point I was at the front of our group but there were two young riders also there who were driving real hard. After leaving the stadium I had to let them go. I wasn't quite sure where the riders behind me were but soon some of the guys caught up and we were a group of some 6-7 riders again. Rolf was there, of course.

Having looked at the altitude profile before the race I understood that the hard part would be comming up with about 10-15km left of the race. Now, as we reached that point and started climbing on the gravel roads there was just me, Rolf and another guy. I was at the back. I fully expected to get dropped but I managed to cling on. Rolf holds a very steady and even pace making it easy to hold his wheel.

Somewhere around here we also caught up with a rider with the number 450 on his back  (M40 category). He had been with our group previously but had gone off the front when a couple of young elite riders had increased the pace. Now he was with us again.

At the quary with just some 5-6 km to go we caught up with Mikael Johansson. Now, afterwards when looking at the results, it is clear that this was the leading four guys in the M40 category: The guy with 450 on his shirt, Rolf, Mikael and I.

In the last few kilometers up towards the finish we keps more or less together, however I lost sight of 450. I still, today, don't know when he left us.

At the last climb, with just 2km to go there were just three of us: Rolf is first, then me, and Mikael  behind me. Mikael comes around both of us and sprints up the hill. I try to accellerate but the back side of my right thigh starts to show signs of cramp. I have to ease off. Rolf also speeds up, he's not able to follow Mikael, but he starts getting away from me. At the top of the climb Mikael has gone away, and Rolf is perhaps 30 meters ahead of me.

The last kilometer towards the finish is on grass and some quick short climbs. I give it my all, and to my surprise, I start getting closer to Rolf. After a while I catch him and decide to start my sprint early: I go straight past him. I don't look behind so I have no idea if he takes my wheel. I sprint for the finish and just have a quick look behind with 100m left. I seem to have a slight gap.

I cross the line 1 second ahead of Rolf, 19 seconds behind Mikael and about a minute behind 450. I'm in third place! After three years of racing in the Swedish Långloppscupen I finally got on the podium!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

XCup #7 - Still battling uneven form

Result: 9th

Bike: Trek Superfly FS 9.9 SL, Racing Ralph 2.1 SnakeSkin - 1.5bar

After spending the whole working week in London teaching a course and therefor limited training (a few runs on the hotel gym exercise bike, boring) I needed some intense biking. XCup in Käglinge provided the venue. It's a tight and technical course. The race setup is 60 minuter + the lap, which in this case meant 4 laps. Form had not been great lately so I had no high hopes.

Result: XCup #7

The start and first couple of laps went well. I was battling it out with Christian Skoglund and Rolf Svensson and hanging on. But when the third lap came round all the energy just left my body. Martin Wenhov caught up from behind and flew by. I was actually thinking about calling it quits after the third lap but decided that I needed this, as an intense training session, if nothing else. The funny thing was that during the fourth lap I started gaining on Martin and passed him. However another young Danish rider managed to pass us both. Looking at the lap times my third lap was the slowest one by far. Weird - Usually when I get tires towards the end of a race the laps just get slower. Also Strava said that I set a personal best on the lap (I've ridden this track many times during the years) so something was working ok. Just the strange tiredness that suddenly pops up... This has happened a few times during the last few races.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Swedish National Marathon Championships (XCM)

Result: 8th place

Bike: Trek Superfly FS 9.9 SL, Racing Ralph 2.1 SnakeSkin - 1.7bar

The venue for this year's marathon championships was Ånneboda. This is a location that was new to me and terrain that I have never ridden before. I had heard that it is quite hilly and that especially the last part of the race is really tough. The race is 75km long and has a loooong starting gravel road climb.
Leading up to this race I had a rather bad period in my training. The cold that I had 2 weeks ago had passed but my body seemed not to have quite recovered. I had a really bad race the previous weekend at Bockstensturen which had me worried. Also, when I tried to do an intense training session last Tuesday I was not able to perform at high intensity for more than a few minuts. I ended up aborting that session. So I really had no expectations for this race, I actually told my racing partner, Jessica, that if I didn't feel well during the starting hill then I would abort the race.

Results: XCM 2015

As this was the National Championships we started in groups in our age categories. So first the two elite categories (men and women), then M30, then us in M40, and so on...

The race started with a long gravel road climb of about 5 minutes. For me the first few meters felt really terrible and I was quickly dropped to the back of our starting group. However after just a few hundred meters I started advancing through the field and at the top I had passed Rolf Svensson and caught up with Mikael Johansson, two of the giants in the M40 category and both usually finish in the top-3. Just after the summit of the climb I also caught up with Nellie Larsson who had started at an amazing pace. 

Just after the climb there was a section of quick gravel road where I tried to advance a bit further up the groups. Once I was in the same group as Jerry Olsson and Mikael Johansson I relaxed and tried to conserve some energy. However it seemed that the pace got a bit slower. This led to a lot of riders catching up from behind and the group grew in size to about 30-40 riders (from all different classes). I ended up blocked in at the middle of the pack and even though I tried to make my way to the front it was pretty much impossible as we were packed tight and the speed was really high. I saw that Jerry had a nice position close to the head of the group.

As I had very little previous information about this race (only the elevation profile) I didn't know when the first stretch of gravel road would turn onto single track. Typically you want to be at the front of a group when you move into single track because when riders try to squeeze together there's the risk of queues. This is exactly what happened now as our gravel road turned into tight single track going into the forest. Unfortunately I was way too far back in the field and it got so tight that people had to get off their bikes.

Once into the single track things did speed up but I never saw Jerry again. I picked up the pace to make sure that I would not be at the back of the pack in the next section and so I moved up the field. Our group was between 5 riders and up to 20 as during the gravel sections people would catch up from behind. However after about halfway through the race our group did thin and there were no more than five of us, one of the riders being Mikael Johansson.

Mikael Johansson went away at the head of our group and I was not able to follow. Also, I felt it was a bit more strategic to stay with my group of four riders. I could see Mikael up ahead and he was on his own so I thought that he would have a hard time. Our group had a good pace going as gravel road switched to single track, back to gravel road and so on. There were a lot of really fun downhill sections with lots of roots and rocks where my wonderful Superfly could do what it's best at: eat up rough terrain at amazing speed.

I knew that with about 20km left the race would start to climb gradually upward and things would get tough. And at about the 20km sign I started to get really tired. Not just the 'normal' kind of tired but a deeper kind, something that I felt had to be related to my poor health in the last few weeks. At this point I had to let my group go during a long climb and I saw the four riders move ahead of me. However the gravel road climb turned into bumpy and rough single track and, to my surprise, I was able to catch up again.

I stayed with the group until there was 15km left when I finally had to let the go again and for good this time. I think that I was probably in fourth place at this point in the race. Other riders caught up with me but I was too tired to be able to follow during the climbs and saw them disappear away on the gravel road climbs.

With 5km left I found some energy and upped the pace and I was able to actually catch up and overtake one of the bikers who had previosuly overtaken me.

I crossed the finish line in 8th place. Something which I, under the circumstances, am very pleased with.

Jerry finished in second place in M30 and Martin also came second in M50. Great results from those two guys. Nellie finished fourth in the Elite category which is also a great result.

No heart rate data here due to bad sensor

Just before the finish
Before the start

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Bockstensturen - Complete collapse

Result: 12th place

Bike: Trek Superfly FS 9.9 SL, Racing Ralph 2.1 SnakeSkin - 1.7bar

Bockstensturen is the longest of the races in the Swedish Marathon Cup (Långloppscupen) at 100km. It's also traditionally one of the muddiest mostly because the terrain often doesn't quite dry up and is also very sensetive to rain. This is WITHOUT it raining. This year, the prognoses was for rain during the entire race.
The race is really a three part affair:
1. The start is at a castle in the town of Varberg. You first have a few tight turns getting out of town, followed by a few roundabouts, the asfalt road for about 10km. After this you move onto open gravel roads (double-track). If it's been raining this part is full of puddles and mud. Accidents do happen here. Also some parts have big stones and can cause punctures (I've had this happen to me in 2013).
2. After 16km you come into the forrest and it all starts with a big climb. Follows is a mix of gravel road, single track and quite a lot of climbing. A lot of it quite steep. The latter bit of the forrest ride has fewer climbs compared to the first. So most of the climbing is done up until perhaps halfway through the race. This whole section is also where you get all the mud, puddles and slippery stones and roots. There are some challenging downhills, all depending on how muddy it is.
3. At about 75km you leave the forrest area and come out into fields and gravel roads. It's mostly gravel roads but some parts are over soggy fields which take a lot of energy. Towards the end, when you're approaching the finish area, you follow the coast line on single track. This is perhaps the most fun part of the race,  but you're usually too tired to enjoy it.

Results: Bockstensturen 2015

Well, what can I say? Everything was going 'ok' (not great, but 'ok') until at about 60km. At that point I got a right leg cramp where I had to stop but it passed quickly. Unfortunately I lost my group there (a good one) and had to struggle on by my own. But the leg cramp wasn't a disaster however a few kilometers after this all energy left my body and I started struggling. My heart rate got lower and lower and I felt worse and worse. Groups caught up with me, I managed to follow them for a short while, and then I had to let go. The last 5-10km were a total disaster. I have not felt this bad in a race ever before. It's really best illustrated by my pulse curve:

I was told by friends that I was in fact in sixth place when this happened. No too shabby. I strongly suspect that this has something to do with my cold which didn't pass until a few days before the race. I tried taking it easy after the cold, appart from the first day where I did the Cricket Race. Perhaps that was a mistake,

What else is there to say? Well, it was feeling quite ok up to about 60km. One of the elite guys came up from behind (number 24), a talkative and quick guy. He had some good technical skills. I noticed that he took all the slippery and muddy descents really quickly and that I couldn't let him go there and then sprint to catch up on the gravel roads (which I did at first) so I started descending at his pace. This was quite exciting and somewhat dangerous. But I managed.

Oh yeah, and it was a mudfest. The muddiest and wettest race I've ever run.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Six-day cold and some Cricket Racing

After a six-day cold with no training I was feeling better and back at work.  The long period without training had left me feeling a bit stressed out though (not to mention restless). An important race coming up on Saturday (Bockstensturen) and the National XCM Championships next week.

The best would be to go for an intensive session already today, on my first well-day, and then take it a bit easier the other two days before the race. But it's a bit risky training on the first day after a cold.

I did have a nice opportunity for an intense session as the local "Wednesday Sprint" group were having their annual  Cricket Races. This is a race that takes place on grass, on a short course of perhaps one kilometer. You race between three markers. On each lap the last rider gets eliminated. These races tend to be super intense as you go all-out throughout the race. Going all-out also may be bad for my post-cold body. So I had myself a dilemma.

I decided to go for a slow ride and join the Wednesday Sprint group once I got to their Cricket Race and then just watch as they were racing. However, upon getting to the event the racer in me was awoken. And yes, I did end up racing. Three heats all in all and I finished first, second, first. Heart rate was predictibly through the roof peaking at 192.

Let's hope this wasn't a mistake...