Thursday, 15 June 2017

Beskidy Trophy 2017

Beskidy Trophy is a four day stage race in the Polish Beskidy mountains. This is the third year in a row that I'm doing the race. 

One thing that's very special this year is that after having sold this race to my Swedish mountain bike pals each year, a bunch of them decided to join me in this year's race. I have many of my training partners here and they are also some of the best Swedish mountain bikers: Martin Wenhov M50 (won the Swedish Marathon cup), Björn Österberg M30 (4th place Swedish XCO championships), Stefan Methander M50 (Swedish National XCO Champion), Jerry Nilsson (top-3 Swedish Marathon champs) Stefan Larsson, Oskar Persson, Rolf Svensson (won the Swedish Marathon cup and Swedish XCM championships). Of course my girlfriend Sandra is also here. She placed second overall in last year's Beskidy. However after her hip operation last Novemember and long recovery she's not in the same physical shape that she was last year.

For the race I'm using my new Cube AMS 100 C:68 SLT full suspension mountain bike. I'm running Rocket Ron 2.1 Snakeskin tires, at about 1.5 bar of pressure. For the first time ever I'm using the SRAM Eagle groupset with the 10-50 cassette and a 34T up in front. I've done a lot of work with setting up the dampers to get a smooth downhill ride. If a bike works well in the technical downhill section here at Beskidy then there's a lot of time to gain.

Stage 1

The weather was fantastic as I woke up this morning for the first stage. The stats for the stage were 59km and 2400m of ascent. Five major climbs all in all. And, as always in Beskidy Trophy, some extremely challenging downhill.

I had been placed in "sector 1", the first starting group, so there was no stress. As I rolled into the grid I had a chat with Henrik Söeberg who is the top Danish marathon M40 mtb:er and probably the favorite for this race. He told me how he had just placed fourth in a UCI-classed Dutch three day stage race. Tough opposition!

As the stage starts we go straight into the first climb and I can see Henrik leading the charge. He's up front pulling hard. I take a peek at my heart rate and I see it's already approaching 180, just minutes into the stage. Ouch! I let Henrik go and concentrate on keeping an even pace over this first climb. About halfway up Rolf goes by me but I stay on his wheel for most of the climb. The downhill following this first climb is wild and furious. I manage to hang in there. My goal with all the downhills is: Try to go fast and don't lose time while still not taking any silly risks.

The stage continues in much the same way: Steep uphills followed by crazy downhills. I see plenty of people with punctures, some chashes and one guy with what seems like a broken collar bone. At one particular downhill I'm really pleased with the fact that I'm able to outdistance two riders who were on my wheel at the start of the section.

Today is a Polish holliday with lots of people out walking in the mountains. The race is not on sealed off tracks and at times we share the same space as some of the people out for a walk. We also pass a few cottages that serve drinks and in some places it's quite hard to get by people. I try to great most of them with a polish "Chez!" (sort of like "Howdy" in polish) and most of them reply happily. That always puts a smile on my face.

I try two work a lot with my damper remote switching between lockout-out and open. The Cube is super stiff in the locked position, with no flex at all, so as soon as a climb gets the least bit bumpy I use the open settings letting the dampers do their work and absorb the bumps.

Having SRAM Eagle on the bike really helps in the super steep climb. There's a climb in the middle of the stage that has roots and is just unridable: Here everyone gets off their bikes and wals. However, at an even steeper ride towards the end of the stage I am able to stay on my bike and ride up the whole way, thanks to my low gearing.

I cross the finish line after 3h38m, 30th overall, and fourth in M40. I'm very pleased with the result. Henrik Söeberg wins M40, 11 minutes ahead of me. I remember in 2015, when Henrik also won Beskidy and I came in 9th place, then he was half an hour ahead of me in each stage. I have 8 minutes up to third spot, and the guy in fifth is three minutes behind me.

As for the rest of the gang: Rolf finishes in first place in M50, 3 minutes ahead of me, Björn is about four minutes behind me. Jerry and Oskar come in a couple of minutes behind Björn. Martin has had a really bad stage with cramps, as has Stefan Larsson. Stefan Methander has had multiple punctures and has run out of spare tubes. Sandra comes in at 4h22m in second place in her cat.

Results are here:

Stage 2

The weather report for day two promised massive amounts of rain. There was a downpour about an hour before the start but as we stood on the grid no rain fell. And, as it turned out, the prognosis was not correct and we rode most of the stage in the dry. Sure, there was some mud but no worse than normal.

I had managed just to squeeze into "sector one", the first group on the grid, by placing 30th overall yesterday. This time the stage started with a slightly longer section of asphalt before we went into the first climb. This was nice as the shock of that first effort was milder.

I ended up riding most of the stage with Rolf Svensson (the leader of the M50 category). He rides in a really nice steady pace so taking his wheel is pure pleasure.

I wrote "most of the stage" up above... At about 50km into the stage I noticed my front tire losing air. I got off the bike and felt the tire, it had just lost some of the air. I hoped the Stans fluid inside the tire could fix any puncture and gave it a blast of CO2 (I carry two cartridges). I got on the bike and managed to chase down Rolf again, and pass him, during the next downhill.

This didn't last long as my front tire started deflating again. I had two choices: Either try the second CO2 and hope that the leak will finally fix itself or put my only spare tube inside the front tire. If I use my last CO2 trying to inflate the tire, then if I actually have to put in the tube I'll have to inflate it by hand, using my miniature pump, which will take a long while. Just as I was contemplating this Rolf caught up and I asked him if he could spare a CO2 cartridge. He was kind enough to give me one of his. So I decided to give the tire another blast of CO2 and hope for the best. Back on the back, caught up with Rolf again. But, yeah, it didn't take many minutes for the air to leak out again...

Off the bike, and into the procedure of converting the front wheel from tubeless to tubed: Off with the front wheel, use the tire levers to remove one side of the tire, remove the tubeless valve, slightly inflate the tube, insert the tube, get the tire back on. Inflate using CO2.

This is the only spare tube that I carry which means that if I puncture again I'm in dire straits. I inflate the front tire much more than I would under normal circumstances because I can not afford a snake bite puncture.

I get back on the bike and start to pedal... And the rear end feels squishy. I get off the bike, feel the rear tire: It's soft... way too soft. I feel stressed out so I decide to ride on anyway. I ride down the next downhill, up the next hill, and start getting strike throughs in the rear. I take out my minipump and inflate the tire. Back on the bike, all the way down the next downhill, and into the technical zone where I have the techs inflate it to 2 bars (let's not take any chances here!).

Now there's just the last climb and descent left, about 20km. I'm really stressed out at his point so I go all in and start pedalling like crazy. There's a flat section on asphalt and I catch up with a bunch of people who all go on my wheel and after a few kilometers I'm tugging along some 10-12 riders. This only goes on for a short while however and soon we start swapping places in front and helping eachother keep a good pace. Nice!

The road starts slowly climbing and it doesn't take long for me to realize that I'm really really tired. I check the time and see that I'm going to finish the stage in just under 5 hours. While the whole thing with the leaking tires has been going on I haven't been thinking about drinking or taking my gels. I immediatelly take two gels in quick succession and drink most of my water.

The group starts to thin as the climb gets steeper and after a while there's just five of us. At this point I realized that I will not be able to hang on and let them go. This is very disappointing to me. I still manage to keep the pace up somewhat uphill and cross the top.

The last downhill is full of stones and I need to nurse my front wheel/tire/tube which, if I get a snakebite, means I need to stop until some other compeditor gives me a tube. At one point, durint the descent, I actually get a strike through!! I pedal on just waiting for the sound of escaping air... But nothing happens. I have survived a strike through with a tubed tire! It's unbelievable!

I cross the finish line in 10th place in my category. That's actually better than I expected. As far as I can tell I've only lost one place in the overall: I'm down to fifth in M40

Stefan Larsson ends up having a great stage and finishes in seventh place in M40. Björn has a terrible stage with a puncture early on and then, as he tries to fix the puncture, notices that his spare tube has holes. He ends up having to wait for someone to give him another tube and looses an hour on the stage. Sandra however ends up crashing into the front of a car while going downhill a gravel road while the car is coming uphill in the opposite direction. She ends up on the car hood and hurts her neck. However she still manages to finish the stage. Very brave and tough girl that! Sandra has however now decided to abort the race due to her injuries.

Stage 3

As we got up for the third stae of Beskidy Trophy the weather reports looked disasteruour. It had been raining, pouring down in fact, all night, and it was still raining in the morning. Also the forecast was rain all day. One hour before the stage start the organizers made the announcment: Today's stage will be shortened. Instead of 65km and 2500hm we will be riding the shorter 'Mega' version of the stage which is 45km and 1600hm.

I rode down to the start wearing my rain poncho but just at that time it wasn't raining. However, three minutes before the stage was about to start, as I took off the poncho, the rain started falling agaim.

Out we went, the rain pouring down on us, and somehow the field seemed to be moving a bit slower towards the first climb than on previous days. In the flat section, just before the first climb, all of a sudden I first saw Björn Österberg glide up next to me, and then also Stefan Larsson. Stefan had a great stage yesterday placing seventh in M40. He seemed ready for more.

The first climb started and the pace picked up. I knew the stage was going to be quite a bit shorter than expected so I tried to pick a pace that would reflect that. I was expecting a race time of around 3 hours. This first climb is up a cement trail doubletrack up to some sort of ski station at the top. The top of the hill is grassy and I was thinking that the descent was going to be hairy on wet grass. My legs were feeling good and climbing was quick and I noticed that I went over the top ahead of Rolf and Björn. Stefan I could not see anymore at this point.

Going down the other side was slippery and dangerous, as I had expected. It went well however and I stayed with the riders ahead of me.

At around 25km into the stage a long climb started and I had Rolf just ahead of me. We had a small group of perhaps 5-6 riders. However here Björn joined from behind with a couple of other riders. We started by going under a bridge where the path is flat rocks with a stream running across them. There rocks are extremely slippery and I remembered the section from previous years of Beskidy. I called out to the other riders: "BE CAREFUL! SLIPPERY ROCKS!" and everyone slowed down but that also caused some chaos in the group. We got over the section in one piece and started climbing up the mountain.

At around 30km, while going up hill, Rolf increased the pace and left our group. I also saw that Björn was falling behind with some other riders. I was left in the middle with what was left of the group. Things were still feeling good but there was no way I was going to keep Rolf's pace so I let him go.

A slippery downhill followed with mud and wet rocks. It took a lot of balls to stay with the pace but I actually passed a rider on this section. I felt in control in the downhills while still going fast. That's a good feeling.

As we were approaching the last 10km of the stage there was a section of singletrack going parrallel to the side of the mountain. The track was quite narrow with lots of wet roots. I was going quite fast and was alone at this point and didn't want to slow down as I saw roots going across the trail: I tried to pick up the front wheel a bit and get my weight in the back but as my wheels went over the roots they just disappeared under me and I was suddenly lying on the ground. I checked myself over but I was fine and back on the back within seconds. As I started pedalling again I noticed that a rider joined me from the back and I was just about to turn around and say: "Did you see that!? I just crashed!" when I noticed that it was Björn who said: "I saw your crash". I thought that was sort of funny.

The section that followed had some extremely muddy terrain with rain water filled holes that you had no idea if they were ridable or if they would catch your front wheel and you'd go over the bars. I took it easy going for safety, and probbaly frustrating Björn who was behind me. However I did hear him exclaim "Oh shit!" on at least on occasion.

This third stage has perhaps the toughest finish of any of the stage. The start and finish are not in the same place and so they have been able to create an uphill finish for the stage. It starts off on cement double track but then moves onto grass. Already on the cement your are in the lowest gear that you have just trying to keep your balance while going uphill extremely slow. However then you get to a section of dirt road (or grass if you want to go next to the road) where it's just so steep that everyone gets off and push their bikes for about 300 meters. We did so but as I got to the steepest section the grass was just so slippery that I couldn't stay on my feet even walking and I took a tumble. I had time to think: "That probably looked funny to whomever was watching".

The last few kilometers of the stage were still uphill but not as steep. My legs felt good and I sprinted over the finish line in 2h40m, just getting a gap down to Björn inte the last kilometer.

I finished the stage in sixth place and I'm still in fifth place overall in M40.

Rolf ended up having another good day, 2 minutes ahead of me, and won M50. He has a sizable lead in the M50 category. Stefan Larsson had a bit of setback compared to yesterday and finished last of "our" group.

Results for the stage are here:

And the totals are here:

Stage 4

The fourth and last stage is the toughest one with 3100hm and over 70km of riding. At this point it had been raining hard for the last 48 hours and with the previous stage being shortened we were not sure what the organizers would decide about the last stage. However the rain ended during the night and it was decided that stage 4 be run in its entirety.

Before the stage I was in fifth place in the overall. I had about 3 minutes up to fourth, but a couple of riders behind me within one minute.

The profile of the stage shows that there is one BIG climb just about halfway through the stage. My plan was to go easy up until that climb was completed, and then see if I had any legs left to sprint the last part of the stage.

Things started of well and going up the first climb my legs felt good. I had both Rolf and Björn behind me (not far though) and I was leading a group on an asfalt road down the first descent when there was a sudden right turn into a small gravel road leading up to a farm. I stood on my brakes and almost missed the turn but just managed to make it. But then, as we got to the farm, there ware no signs showing where the track went. The farmer came out of his house and started pointing and we made a u-turn going back. Other riders were coming down the same gravel road also very confused. Then we found the track again; There was another tight right hand turn just before the farm and the sign pointing the way was almost invisible.

I went from the front of the pack to the back of it. Next followed a really slippery tight single track descent with lots of mud. This was real hard to negotiate and I had to get off the bike to get down in once piece. The front of the group, with Rolf and Björn, escaped and I was left with a few riders behind me.

A new climb started immediately on asfalt and after a while I saw both Rolf and Björn further up the hill. At the top of the climb I had caught up with Björn, however Rolf had gone ahead.

Another descent followed which I took really quickly. After four days of riding you become really relaxed with the downhilling and I notice myself going quicker with each stage. This particular descent was one of the stony ones and at the bottom of it several cyclists stod still fixing punctures.

Going up the next climb all of a sudden I noticed Rolf approaching from behind. I had no idea when I had passed him but as he came up he said he had had a puncture. I asked him if he needed a CO2 canister (I had decided to take three so I had one to spare). He said he would take one if I could spare it. So I managed to repair the favour that he had done me on stage 2. Rolf went ahead on this climb but on the next descent I overtook him again.

Now came that long climb that I mentioned above. I was thinking that if I survive this one then I'm home safe. I went up the climb at a steady and even pace. When some riders caught up I didn't  try to take their wheels. I may not have been going super quick but things felt under control going over the top. Now there were just one descent and then another two hills to get over.

During the next LONG descent my rear brake started to make a metallic noise: The brake pads where spent! And I still had three descents in the stage to get down! I started to use the front brake as much as I could but doing that in these kinds of descents is really hard: If you lock up you front wheel then it will slide away from under you and you will crash. I got down the hill safely, allthough perhaps a bit more slowly that I would have liked to.

Now 20km and two more hills to go before the finish. The next climb went well but then, going down the second to last downhill my rear brake failed completely: The lever just went straight to the handlebar and there was no braking at all. This particular descent was quite trick went went rocks and mud. I tried going slow and it worked for a while but then I got to a place that was so steep I just couldn't stop the bike so I looked for a place to crash safely and just put the bike down. It went fairly well, I had crashed on my left knee again, for the third time during the race, and that knee was starting to look a bit haggard and rather bloody. Back on the back and I continued to descent.

I also got over the last hill, and down the next descent, while going slower that I would normally.

I finished the stage in fifth place, but unfortunatelly dropped one place in the total standings to sixth.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Beskidy Trophy coming up in less than 48 hours

It's almost time for this year's most important race:

Four stages in the Polish Beskidy mountains: 284 km and 10800 vertical meters

This is the third year in a row that I compete in this race. 2015 I placed ninth, then last year I came in fourth. Last year I did the race on my BMC Fourstroke with the SRAM XX1 groupset (32T in front) and the year before that on a Trek Superfly FS (also SRAM XX1 32T)

The bike that I will be using is my new Cube

For the first time ever I will be running SRAM Eagle (with 34T oval). This should be an advantage in the super steep and long climbs.

I've been doing lots of experimenting with the damper settings. The bike felt a bit harsh at first but it's smoother now.

 Weight wise I'm looking similar to last year:

I bottomed out at 70.2kg about a week ago but as of this morning I'm a smidge over 71kg


Sunday, 11 June 2017

Lida Loop - Mechanical problems + strategic considerations = DNF

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

Result: DNF

I was unsure about whether I was going to participate in this marathon for a while due to its proximity to Beskidy Trophy. Only three rest days in between. After missing the Hotcup race Wednesday I felt better about doing Lida Loop anyway. It had been three years since I had participated as it had collided with Beskidy both 2015 and 2016.

Before the race I had problem with my rear deraileur. The problems arose early Saturday morning when I let the wrong bike shop look at my bike on a totally unrelated task. For some reason they adjusted the B screw of my SRAM Eagle deraileur. I noticed that the bike no longer shifted properly when I left the bike shop but I was to be picked up for transport to the race just an hour later so I did the best with the situation and managed to sort of adjust it. I did some more adjusting on the morning before the race but couldn't quite get it perfect.

As the race started the chain was skipping on the third and fourth cog. I was worried about damaging the drive line, or snapping the chain so I tried to take it easy when this happened. However towards the end of the second loop (out of three) I got a branch in my rear wheel, had to step off the bike to get the branch out, meaning I lost my group. Then, shortly after that, while the chain skipped again, it actually fell off the front chainring. I fixed that and got on the bike again.

I went ahead but started wondering if there was really any point in risking the driveline further, and all this for what was probably something like a 10th place finish. Also I knew that if I aborted the race it would mean some 1h45m of intense riding, from which I could recover before Beskidy. If I continued and finished the race I would be up around 2h30m and would need more time to recover.

So I decided to abort the race. It feels like a good decision.

The morning after the race, with all my tools and in my workshop, I got the rear deraiileur fixed.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

My 2017 Race Bike: Cube AMS 100 C:68 SLT 29 Zeroblack

The bike that I will be racing the 2017 season on is...

Cube AMS 100 C:68 SLT 29 Zeroblack

Wow! That's a long name! Here's Cube's promotional photo:

I first got interested in the bike when I read some articles about it last Autumn. The talking point was the weight: 8.9kg! Wow! Even Cube's site states the weight at:

When I finally got the bike delivered (it was almost 2 months late) I checked it out and weighed it (without pedals obviously) and it came to....:

Now that's more than 8.9 kg! Okay, so mine is the 20" frame and perhaps the smaller frames are a bit lighter. But I seriously doubt that they'r half a kilo lighter. Also keep in mind that Cube supplies these bikes with very light tires: Schwalbe Rocket Ron 2.1 Liteskin in front, and Thunder Burt 2.1 Liteskin in the rear (weighing in at about 500 grams and 400 grams respectively)

Losing Weight

The wheels are really light at 1300 grams.

BUT they are not real Boost wheels, they just use adapters. Which is a bit of a disappointment.

I tubeless converted the wheels

Got rid of some very heavy rim tape:

The tires that I mounted are Schwalbe Rocket Ron 2.1 Snakeskin which weigh in at 550 grams each. Most marathon races I will use a Schwalbe Thunder Burt 2.1 Snakeskin at the rear which is 50 grams lighter.

The brake disks are light, but You can save almost 100 grams by going with Ashima. I have purchased a couple of Ashima ones which are going on the bike.

The saddle is all carbon fiber, no padding... and VERY light!

The seat tube is just a regular carbon one... not particularly light

Same for the handle bars... not that light.

I replaced the handle bars with with one from Bike Ahead and saved about 100 grams. Also it looks nicer

The grips are foam grips but HEAVY. I replaced them with my own ones

So I mounted some light pedals, a bottle cage and Garmin mount. And the weight came to...

The Final Verdict

9.42 kg

Remember the original weight was WITHOUT pedals, and with Liteskin Thunder Burt in the rear. So I've saved perhaps some 300-400 grams.

But How Does the Cube Ride?

It's a very nice bike. I've ridden four races on it now and it feels very quick. I was surprised that I felt that I could trust the bike at once lean into turns. It's very quick to react and feels more like a XCO bike than an XCM bike.

When it comes to damping performance my BMC Fourstroke is a lot more subtle and goes better over roots and rocks. I'm not sure if this is because the Fourstroke has the old Fox CDT shocks which have three different settings, the new one has the Fox Stepcast with only two modes. Or if it's because of the different geometries of the two bikes. The Cube is half a kilo lighter than the BMC.

Another difference is that the Cube feels lighter in the front than the BMC Fourstroke does. That's a good thing obviously.

I'm still working on adjusting and trimming in the dampers on the Cube so that part could get better with some more experimenting.

Here's just a bunch of photos of the bike