Sunday, 26 June 2016

XCup #4 - XCO racing at a bike park! FUN!

Result: Ninth place (overall, no age categories)

Bike: BMC Teamelite XX1. Specialized Fast Trak Control (front and back), 1.5 bar. NoTubes ZTR Valor wheels.

Today's XCup race was held at Vallåsen Bike Park. This means real downhill racing. Lots of action!

I decided on the Teamelite over the full-susp Fourstroke as I wanted the lightest possible bike for the climb up the hill. Sure, the full-susp would've been a bit better downhill, but I felt it wouldn't make up for the 1kg advantage in weight going uphill.

I was a bit worried if I had fully recovered after the Bike Four Peaks race which ended one week ago. It turned out I was!


The start went well but going up the first part of the long climb was terrible. I was getting passed left and right. But, magically somehow, this only laster for a couple of minutes, and then I was passing the people who had just overtook me.

I ended up behind Luke and Björn. But as we got to the downhill section the went away from me. I ended up having a bit of a battle with Anton for the first two laps before he tired in the uphill. Then Daniel Grass on the last two laps. I managed to stay just ahead of him across the finish line. I finished ninth. Very happy, mostly with the fact that recovery has gone well.

Heart rate data looks good (while not brilliant): 172 average, 185 max.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Bike Four Peaks - Too fat and too slow downhill

Bike Four Peaks

4 stages
206.5 km
8145 m altitude gain
600 starters from 23 countries

Stage 1 and 2:

Bike: BMC Fourstroke FS01 XX1
Groupset: SRAM XX1, 10-42, 32T chainring AbsoluteBlack oval
Wheels: Bontrager XXX
Tires: Schwalbe RocketRon 2.1 Snakeskin (1.6 bar, front and back). Tubeless.

Stage 3 and 4:

Bike: BMC Teamelite XX1
Groupset: SRAM XX1, 10-42, 32T chainring AbsoluteBlack oval
Wheels: Stans Notubes ZTR Valor
Tires: Specialized Fast Trak Control 2.0 (1.6 bar, front and back). Tubeless.

Stage 1

10th place (out of 209 finishers in the Master category)

The rain stopped just before the start of the race which was good. However it had been raining for weeks so EVERYTHING was wet, soaked and muddy. I managed to get transfered up to the A2 starting group which was good.

As the race started there was quite a lot of chaos with a tight field at the start and cyclists trying to advance left and right. I took it easy and allowed myself to drop back through the field. Taking risks in the first few minutes of a four stage race is just silly. Especially as the stage starts with a loooong climb. The fast will get to advance and the slow will drop back anyway. So why rush it?

I advanced up through the field during the first climb. I saw the lead group ahead and we were picking up cyclists dropping off that group. I ended up taking the wheel of another rider and he pulled me to the top.

After a bit of up-and-down on slippery gravel roads we got to the "Maxxis Enduro Challange" which was the Hangman Trail (part of a bike park). You can see it marked in orange on the profile map aboce. This was your typical man-made downhill track with berms and banked turns. Quite steep in places but not dangerous. However, it was wet, slippery and muddy so the normal lines didn't work. Also the track had been ridden so much in the wet conditions that it was full of holes. Going down quickly was out of the question as you either would slip off the track or hit one of the holes too hard. I took it easy, got passed by two guys, not too bad.

Nest followed a relatively flat section on mostly asfalt roads where a group formed. Cooperation wasn't great but we got to the second and last climb quite quickly.

I started in the middle of the group going up that last climb but quickly noticed that I wasn't able to quite keep up. I tried going up at my own speed and slowly dropped down to the back of the group. Heart rate actually dropped below 170 a few times, not a good sign. Towards the top of the climb I accellerated and was able to rejoin what was left of the group.

The pace on the quick roads towards the finish line was quick and I felt that my legs responded better again. Finished in 10th place out of 209 finishers in the Master category.

Summary: I don't think I'm fully recovered after Beskidy Trophy. Average heart rate was low today. Also I'm a bit fat after two weeks of vacationing and good eating. I haven't had access to a scale yet so I have no idea exactly how fat I am.

Stats show very low average heart rate for the first stage:

Stage 2

18th place

Today was a sunny day and even though it was a bit chilly in the early morning and it had been raining during the night it looked well for the stage so I chose a short jersey and bibs. Also, I was hoping for drier trails.

Almost at once we went into this huge climb of 700 altitude meters. Up up and up on gravel roads for what seemed like an eternity. But it went well, heart rate was well above 170, which is all I can expect from a second stage. I picked up positions all the way up.

That climb was followed by a really short downhill or gravel roads and then up a shorter climb again. This continued for another climb (see the profile above) and then we were approaching the top of the mountain. The third climb went a bit slower but I felt that I was holding my own quite well. Heart rate was down to about 165 but it felt ok.

I had studies the profile map in advance and saw that after the third climb we had a section of single track (marked in red) which I was looking forward to. So far in the race we had had very few single track sections and so I had little use of my full suspension bike. It just mostly cost me (in weight) in the long non-technical gravel road climbs. However once we got to the single track section it turned out to be totally ruined by too much usage and there were roots sticking up so high that they were impossible to ride over. We had to get off the bikes multiple times. Also fence after face with small narrow gates where, again, we had to get off the bike to pass. So, not much riding, but a lot of carrying the bike.

In one of the rooty section, where I had to get off the bike, I got a nasty surprise that told me that I had been pushing a bit too hard: a painful cramp in my right leg. My only choice was to wait it out... It ebbed out, came back, ebbed out, and came back, a total of four times. It didn't cost me too much time but some five or six riders went by. Psychologically it was tough.

After this rooty section the last part of the stage was approaching: The bike park downhill track. This, as yesterday, was man-built with berms, jumps, steep sections and other terrible stuff that I almost never get to ride in Sweden. Yes, I was slow, and more people went by. It seems that before this section (which is short: it took me 8 minutes) I was in 13th place, after the section I was in 18th!

So, yes, crossed the finish line in 18th place. Not too great. But the time difference to the top-10 was not too great. However I was A LONG way down on the first place finisher. Somewhat depressing. Average heart rate was a LOW 157 bpm. So, yeah, I'm definitelly NOT recovered from all the biking (Beskidy Trophy mostly) that I've been doing during my vacation.

Well, well, tomorrow is another stage....

Stage 3

12th place

So I did some thinking after stage 2. I pondered about this race, Four Peaks, and the terrain of the stages and I came to the conclusion: Four Peaks is mainly a gravel road rally (which we call "grusvägsrally in Swedish) with A LOT of climbing. It's 95% paved and gravel road. Both uphill and downhill. Every stage has a technical Enduro segment, which is about 8 minutes long. That's out of a total of about 3 hours of riding time. Very little singletrack. So the question I asked myself was: Why the heck am I riding a full suspension bike?? After having this realization I went about getting my BMC Team Elite ready for racing (instead of the FourStroke that I had been racing so far). The Team Elite is 1kg lighter exactly. AND it the soft rear which will help me! I decided to run the wheels that were on it; The carbon NoTubes Valor with the Specialized FastTrak Control 2.0. They're similar to the Rocket Ron 2.1 Snakeskin that I was running on the FourStroke and I wanted to see how they compared in the same terrain. This turned out to be an EXCELLENT decision.

Rain rain rain rain... and cold! Today's stage didn't look promising. As we parked our car at the starting area 30 minutes before the start (the stage started in Kirchberg which meant we had to take the car to get there) the rain started pouring down. The temperature was 11 degrees at the start area (in the valley). Luckilly they were handing out rain ponchos which we got to wear as we were waiting for the stage to start.

The first 5km of the stage were under pace car and we were led through the center of Kirchberg, where there were roadworks. So total chaos ensued with people trying to go around different obstacles that were put in place by the workers fixing the road. I took it easy of course... totally pointless to stress about at the start of one of these stages.

Soon we were led into the first climb. I decided to take it a bit easier than the first few days. I was still advancing steadilly through the field. Things felt good. It's really nice to not be going all out at the start of a stage (which I always do) but to stay just below the pain threshold. There was a longer second climb coming up so it seemed like the smart thing to do. Temperature however dropped to 5 degrees at the top of the climb. Cold! (I was running short bibs).

The gravel road descent went excellently. I was actually chasing down riders and overtaking them for a change. I felt that the FastTrak tires gripped a bit better than the Rocket Rons. This may be due to the fact that the rear Rocket Ron was getting a bit worn after 4 stages of Beskidy (yeah, Rocket Rons have SOFT rubber and wear quickly). Or perhaps the Fast Trak is a grippier tire?

Pretty much the same story for the second longer climb. I was pacing myself quite well. Also here the descent went really well.

However, after this section, something weird happened. If you have a look at the profile map you can see that the second descent is followed by a paved road / bikepath section.  Here, for some reason, I went totally bonkers. All of a sudden I felt full of energy and power (did I take a magic gel??). I went down into my aero-position and went all-in. I chased down riders and groups most of whom took my wheel. So after a while I was leading a fair group around. When catching up with two quick riders (the last that I could see on the road) I just took their wheel for 10 seconds, and then I decided to get up and sprint away from them. I still don't understand where I got the idea that this would be a smart thing to do.

Just after this paved section we got to the last climb of the day. And you'd think that all this crazy hard riding would make me tired in the uphill. It didn't. I went quicker uphill than I had gone all day and overtook about 10-15 riders going up. I felt amazing!

But, then, of course, came the Enduro section. Going downhill. This particular downhill section turned out to be both better and worse than the previous ones. Better because it was mostly natural, not so man-made as the two previous ones. But much more dangerous as there were drops and small jumps which came totally unannounced. I later learned that there were some pretty bad falls in this section and some riders got pretty badly injured. I made it down, as usual, and didn't lose as much time as on previous downhill sections.

I crossed the finish line in 12th place. In the totals I climb to 11th.

I'm defnitelly riding the TeamElite again tomorrow!!

Oh, and for the bad news: I lost my Garmin Edge 810 somewhere in the downhill section. Bad news in several respects: I have no data for this ride, I can't use the Garmin in tomorrow section. AND I have to buy a new one. Yeah, and if that was all: As I knew I had lost it in the Enduro section, just before the finish, I decided that I would try to find it. So I went, on foot, all the way back up the hill, following the trail, and when I didn't find it, back down. This took about 2 hours. NOT the best type of after-race recovery.

Stage 4

Today was sunny. It's funny because it's been every other day rainy and every other day sunny, and the same way at Beskidy Trophy two weeks ago. I decided to continue with the hardtail Teamelite as it had worked so well on the previous stage.

Today's stage had to big climbs, and finished with another enduro section. The second climb being the longest of the two. The enduro section was twice as long as previous stages. I rode without a Garmin so I had no idea where in the stage I was but the layout was simple enough: climb, descend, climb, descend. Not too much to keep track of.

My legs didn't feel great as the stage started. The small accellerations that occured on the flat at the start with the field all bunched up really hurt. I started thinking that this was going to be a tough stage.

On the first climb I started out quite easy as I knew there was the second HUGE climb coming up later. I started noticing familiar faces, bikes and team dresses of the people around me while going uphill. It seemed that I was with the same group of people as the stage before. This made me feel good as it meant that I wasn't going all that slowly.

The first descent went well: I've noticed that during these mountainous stage races I relax more and more on the descents with each new stage. Today I was going downhill quicker than before and actually overtaking some riders on the gravel road downhills.

The second climb, the long one, actually turned out to be a bit varied. This is actually obvious in the profile map. The first part climbed more steeply, then came a somewhat flat part. Here I had the luck of having this super-strong tall guy just race past me, and I decided to take his wheel. So we started team-trial riding and we the speed was realyl good. The previous group that we had climbed with fell back. This was a really positive feeling. However, after the flat part we got to the next section of the climb which turned out to be super steep. We climbed and climbed, almost all the way in the lightest gear. Just as I thought we were approaching the top there was a turn and another part to climb. Still, it felt good and I was just passed by one or two riders here. I passed many more however.

As we got to the downhill part I didn't know quite what to expect. We had been told at the start that it was going to be muddy and wet. And it was. But it was the most fun endure section of all the four stages. Mostly because it was more natural than made made. Even though it had the banked turns at the end, where it went through a bike park. I felt that the downhill went well, even though I did get passed by quite a few riders.

After crossing the finish line I was a bit disappointed to find out that I didn't come in better than 17th. In the total standings I dropped from 11th to 13th place.

Total rankings here

Conclusion and summmary

It's super fun to be able to try out different races throughout Europe and especially the stage races. This was my first time participating in Four Peaks. My referenes are Beskidy Trophy (which I've raced twice) and Trans Schwarzwald (once).

Four Peaks is different from both Beskidy and Trans Schwarzwald. Like Trans Schwarzwald all of the climbing is done on either gravel roards or asfalt roads and most of the stage is on one of these two roads types (some is also on paved bike paths). Now, most of the downhill is also on gravel road. However, each stage has a section going downhill through a bike park. This is 'proper' and technical downhill. This is where it differs from Trans Schwarzwald which has no downhill of this technical kind. Beskidy Trophy, on the other hand, is much more singletrack riding, both uphill and downhill. And the tracks are all natural, not man-made as in Four Peaks. This means that Four Peaks has two types of terrain: really nice roads and super technical downhill paths. However, if you look at the stage the downhill only takes about 8-10 minutes on each stage. So, while racing Four Peaks, 95% of the time you are riding on roads of some sort.

Okay, moving on to my result: 13th place. Am I happy? NO! What went wrong?

First a little background story: We've been on vacation for almost four weeks now. Vacation started by racing Beskidy Trophy (and finishing fourth). Then we went biking around Croatia for one week, and then Slovenia for another week, before driving to Austria to take part in Four Peaks.

So what happened?

1. Not fully recovered from Beskidy. To fully recover I should probably have done very little biking between Beskidy and Four Peaks. But we were on vacation to enjoy some beautiful mountain biking in Croatia and Slovenia. So that's what we did...

2. Too fat. Yeah, I in spite of all the biking I did gain some weight during this time vacationing. We love food, cakes, ice-cream, and chocolate and we consumed a lot. I weighed myself just after coming home: 75kg... one day later I was down to 74... then 73... so probably some water leaving the body. But lets still say that I weighed somewhere between 3-4kg more than at Beskidy. This is really bad in a race where there's so much climbing.

3. Too slow in the downhills. Looking at the Strava sections for the enduro segment of each stage I lost between one and two minutes on that part on each stage. And that's just the enduro section, there were other downhill parts as well.

Will I race Four Peaks again? I'm not sure. Maybe I'll do a comeback in a few years. Not next year however.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Mountain biking in Croatia and Slovenia

After competing in the Beskidy Trophy we travelled south for two weeks of mountain biking in Croatia, specifically the Istra peninsula, and then Slovenia, in the Alps around the small town of Idrija. Here are some photos from these rides

This week we're off to Austria to ride the four-day stage race Four Peaks