Sunday, 26 August 2018

Snapphaneturen - Back on the Podium for the most fun Marathon track of the year

Bike: Trek Top Fuel 9.9 RSL  Rocket Ron 2.25 Snakeskin 1.45 / Thunder Burt 2.1 Snakeskin 1.50 bar

Result: 3rd place

Sweden's best Marathon MTB Race

I've said it many times but it bares saying again: Snapphaneturen is the best XCM race in Sweden. Why? Because it has the most amount and the best singletrack of any race. If you place well in this race then you truly are a good mountain biker. No road biker will ever come to Snapphaneturen and think they will survive on pure cardio. If you're not good at technical trails then Snapphaneturen punishes you brutally. The race is not extreme in length, some 60 km long, but the technical nature means a low average speed and a racing time of around 3 hours for the quick guys.

Snapphaneturen was actually the first MTB race that I ever rode: It was back in 2011 and I hated it. I cramped up several times and ended up lying in a ditch waiting for my legs to stop spasming. The terrain is hilly and there are many steep climbs that kill your legs. As there is so much tough and twisty singletrack there are few opportunities for recovery. I've never placed very well in this race with just one or two top-10 places.

All my Friends are here!

Many good riders had signed up this year and some of them were old friends and training partners. A quick check of the start list: young Jakob Håkansson, one of Sweden's best junior riders. Lars Hansen, Daniel Grass and Robert Eliasson, all three M40 riders and winners of multiple marathon races. Daniel currently leads the Swedish Marathon Cup and Robert won it last year. Rolf Svensson, usually racing M50, is as quick as ever and finished before me recently in the Swedish XCM championships. Once we lined up at the start we also found three black clad Danish Amaton rides. They looked very young and very pro on their Scott bikes. As we waited for the race to start someone pointed at the Danes and said: Those are the top 3 finishers for today.

Snapphaneturen doesn't divide riders into age categories; Everyone partaking in the long 60 km race either signed up for "Competition" or "Amateurs". There were some 60 riders starting in the Competition class and that's the class that I raced in.

The Danes are in the Lead

The race starts with a gravel road loop which has a gradual upward slope. For the first half it's almost flat but then it gets a little bit steeper. I started a bit back in the field but as the grade increased I moved up until I was in the top-10. The field was led by the three Danes and just behind them I could see Jakob and Daniel. Pretty much as expected. I felt good and it seemed that I didn't have to try too hard to hang with these guys.

After the start loop there's a twisty downhill section with a couple of bridges and some banked turns, then we loop back to the start/finish area. At this point the lead group had split up: The Danes were in front with Jakob and Håkan hanging in with them. I was in the second group with Robert and Lars. In between these two groups was "the yellow rider": Fredrik Hagerström.

We were on a long gravel road that sloped gradually upwards and we seemed to be gaining on the lead group and Fredrik who was in-between. I could tell that Fredrik was trying hard to catch the Danes on his own but not making much progress. We caught up with Fredrik and after a while Henry Churchill joined from the back.

Hold Back and Ride Smart

I knew that the five of us were a very strong group. We were just some 10 km into the race and I wanted to get into my groove after the (always) hectic start. I had already made the mistake of going too quickly too early this season and I was decided in advance that I was going to ride smart today. However it seemed that everyone wasn't as happy with the situation: Fredrik and Lars were pushing ahead, getting caught up by the rest of us, and then sprinting ahead again. This went on for a while and then I decided that it was just not worth expending energy on catching them at this early point in the race so I let them go. Both Churchill and Robert seemed to agree with me and we formed a group.

At about halfway through the race I noticed that Rolf Svensson and Jakob Gawlik almost had caught up with us. I know the power of Rolf's diesel engine and I'm sure that if he's gotten this close he will join our group shortly. But it somehow it seems that they both get really close to getting on our wheels, sometimes just a few meters behind, but then drop back again. As far as I can tell they never join our group and after a while I don't see them behind us anymore.

Robert, me and Churchill

Our three rider group stuck together until just 15km to go. I was really happy with the cooperation that we had: Everyone helped pull on the gravel road sections. The singletrack was super nice and we held a high pace.

I checked my average watts and after 30 minutes it was 290W and again after 1 hour it had dropped to 280W. Considering the demanding terrain I knew these were very good numbers. I had the feeling that the pace we had was really good and I was half expecting us to start catching at least some of the guys that were ahead of us. The weird thing is that I couldn't see neither Jakob, Fredrik nor Lars ahead of us, not even in the long climbs or gravel road sections. At the time I was thinking: "Are they really THAT fast!?". It turns out I was wrong... more about this later

Churchill Crashes

As we came to a downhill section that I recognised from before and that I knew contained a couple of boulders I warned to the other guys and told them to be careful. A couple of years back my friend Erik Mattelin had crashed hard here and had to abort his race. Churchill went first, then Robert and l brought up the rear... And what do you know? In spite of my warnings Churchill crashed! He went over the handle bars as his front wheel got stuck but was extremely lucky in landing just between the rocks. He was back on his bike in second and we waited for him as he was blocking the trail.

Uphills and Downhills and a Robert who just won't Die

With about 15 km to our three rider group came around to the feeding zone. Churchill said that he needed to pick up a bottle and so we gave him some room. The pace stayed the same but it seemed that Churchill had some problems getting to his bottle because the next time I looked behind he was far behind me and Robert. I knew we had a long climb coming up so I kept a good and hard pace on the gravel road leading up to it. To my big surprise Henry actually managed to catch up! I was thinking: "Well, if he caught Robert and me on the flat gravel then he must've gone all-in. The next climb will kill him!". And with that in mind I went all-in on the climb. To my surprise Churchill hang on to my wheel. Robert actually had more problems following the Henry had.

Still, at the top of the climb I had about a 20 meter gap to Henry and Churchill and next followed the famous Trähuset Downhill. I've ridden this downhill section every year I've raced Snapphaneturen and never felt I'd done it very well. I almost always was caught by other riders. This time I decided that I was not going to waste the ground that I had gained uphill on my two competitors so I stormed downhill at full speed... and guess what! They never caught me!

Next came another long gravel road climb; I knew there was still some hills to cross before the climbing was done so I didn't rush itl and that meant Robert and Churchill caught up again. Churchill charged ahead almost as soon as I caught him and I took his wheel. Looking behind me I saw that Robert let us both go at once. He looked really tired and the gap grew quickly.

During the next downhill Churchill and I gave it our all and halfway down we found one of our competitors: Daniel Grass, standing with a punctured wheel. He had been far ahead of us and we hadn't seen him since he went away with the Danes.

Before the next climb Robert was magically back on our wheels again! He had caught us on the downhill. But then, as soon as we started climbing, he dropped back again looking as tired as before.

Up over the top of the climb I knew that we had the trickiest downhill in the entire race coming up. This part is very rocky with plenty of roots and some natural rock gardens that have to be passed. I made sure to sprint past Churchill in order to be first on the downhill. We had just been drenched in a rain shower and even though there was no mud all the roots and stones had become wet and slippery. I knew that I had to press the advantage that I had over Robert so I went downhill as quickly as I could, without taking crazy risks. The weird thing was that about halfway down I stopped hearing Churchill behind me. I had no illusion that I was a quicker descender than him: I had seem him ride very well during the race. A quick look behind and I couldn't see neither Robert or Churchill.

Surprise Ending

10 kilometers to go and three sections left: Solhem which is a few kilometers of flowy singletrack that I know really well, then a section of gravel road that turns to a gradual uphill halfway through, and lastly the steep Hardrock Hill and the finish area.

Halfway through the Solhem area my front wheel starts skidding in a turn and I have to reach out with my right leg to prevent a crash... As soon as I extend the leg to the max the movement causes it to start spasming with a cramp. The cramp does not fully develop but I have to pull my leg towards me in order to avoid it from cramping up. I ride easily for a while waiting for the spasming to stop and as it does I hear someone behind me: "Don't worry about me, both my legs are cramping". Robert has caught up again!!! At this time I tought that Robert was like one of those evil monsters in a horror movie which just won't die no matter how much the hero tries to kill it.

Robert and I stick together through Solhem and as we get up on the gravel road and look behind there's no one coming up. We have nothing to worry about as far as getting caught.

During the next gradual climb on double track that leads up to Hard Rock hill I start to push as hard as I can in order to drop Robert by just holding a hard and steady pace. A guy with cramps in both legs should drop back... Robert does NOT. We do however catch one of the three Danish Amaton guys. He seems to have completely blown up and is barely moving up the hill at all. We pass him and he doesn't even try to get on our wheel.

At last, during the extremely steep Hard Rock Hill Robert finally lets go of my wheel. I know that even after this hill there's first a quick and twisty downhill and then the sprint to the finish line and if I even relax for a second Robert will be back on my wheel. I manage to hold him behind me and finish 5 seconds before him. I check the Strava logs afterwards and see that I have a peak of 768W during the sprint..

Now, as I cross the finish line and start talking to people I get some surprise information: Jakob, Fredrik and Lars, who were ahead of me, had made a wrong turn early in the race, which ended up being a shortcut, and had been disqualified. The group didn't even realise this until they crossed the finish line first in the race (at which point they had thought: "Where the heck are the Danes??"). This was the reason they had just disappeared! And all of a sudden I realise that I must have finished THIRD.  A quick look at the results confirms this!

Sunday, 12 August 2018

New experience: 6 hour race on an XCO course

LONG-duration races

I've been considering partaking in one of these long-duration races for a while now. There's a big race in Denmark that I have in mind called H12. It's a 12 hour race which you can race both as a team of 4 riders or solo. I've participated in H12 many times, but always in 4-man teams. It would be interesting to try it solo as well. This weekend I got the opportunity to try out a smaller version of H12 very close to home: The Musette 6 hour race in Malmö.

When considering these long-duration races the terrain and type of course is an important aspect. There are marathons that take 4 or even 5 hours to do, but they tend to be largely on gravel roads. The Musette 6 hour race is 100% twisty and turny singletrack. Not a meter of gravel road, or any kind of road for that matter. This makes riding for 6 hours much harder than it a typical gravel road marathon would take.

Musette 6h track
Comparing this race to H12 I would estimate that H12 probably has about 50% gravel road. That should make it easier. But then it's twice as long...

Musette 6h

Each lap of this race is about 4 kilometers long. It's 100% singletrack and has built section with drops, jumps and berms. It goes up down short but supers-steep climbs. There are few opportunities to relax and recover, in fact during the entire lap I only found two places to get out my bottle and have a drink. It's very good to know the track as you can optimise you speed through sections by not breaking too much.

I participated in this race mostly as an experiment and not with the goal of winning it. I did not practice-ride the track before hand. The day before the race I did a five hour easy ride, which was not optimal. I raced on my "training bike", my BMC Teamelite hardtail, because I want to keep my two racing bikes fresh for the important races. A full-suspension bike would have been much better.

I had decided beforehand to just rely on sports drinks for my energy. I didn't want to use gels as, to be quite honest, I'm very tired of them and only want to use them in important races. I did have some power bars in my back pocket but the track didn't give me any opportunity to ingest them.

6 hours is a long time to be riding 100% pure singletrack...

I started off quite happy and full of energy: The first lap I rode with my pal Fredrik (who did the race in a 4-mean team) and the next I got to ride with his girlfriend Jessica, who is also a dear friend of mine. So, yeah, the first hour was fun. I noticed that I was lapping at around 18 minutes and so a quick calculation gave me that I would do about 3 laps per hour, and that means 18 laps in 6 hours. That's a lot of laps...

I love to race, and racing is a great motivator for me. When I race I go 100% all-in. This race however I went in with the mindset that it was going to be an experiment; an interesting test to see what a 12-hour race could perhaps feel like. This may sound like a good idea in theory but once I was in the race going around the course I was somewhere in no-mans-land: I wasn't going hard, but it was still a race so I wasn't going slow either. Also the typical pain-relief that the adrenaline rush of a race gives me wasn't quite there. Which is why...

I'm in pain!

About halfway through the race I started noticing two things:

1. My left hand was in pain. Specifically the skin on the palm of my hand was chaffing. I have never had problems with this before. But then I wasn't using my normal "racing" gloves which have a bit of padding, I was using an old pair of gloves, that have no padding, and that I normally only use on my training rides. They've never given me any problems before but this ride was long...

2. My ass was in pain. Specifically the skin on my left butt cheek was hurting. Why? Well, again I was using a pair of old worn-out bibs that I would normally never race in. Each time the rear of the bike went over a bump it delivered a jolt of pain to my ass. Now, had I been on a full-suspension bike...

Had I been in race mode and, perhaps, had a clearer goal to achieve, these sorts of pains would not have been as noticeable. But here they were very annoying. I tried changing the grip that my left hand had on the handlebars as often as I could, but as the track is very technical I really had to hold on properly or risk crashing.


Between 3 and 5 hours into the race I had many thoughts of just getting off the bike and aborting the race. I hate aborting races. My friends were cheering me each time I went out for a new lap which was nice and helped. But what also helped was the fact that if I'd aborted they would've been there to witness it.

My pace dropped and my heart rate went down. The second half of the race I rode mostly in zone 2.

I finished the race. I'm happy with that. I'm also happy that I didn't get off the bike for any of the steep hills that each lap had.

Now, for the next time I do something like this: I HAVE TO TAKE IT SERIOUSLY

(The day after the race I actually got a mild cold so I don't think I was 100% well while riding the race)

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Swedish XCM Championships - The Gravel Road Race [UPDATED]

Bike: Trek Top Fuel 9.9 RSL  Rocket Ron 2.25 Snakeskin 1.50 / Thunder Burt 2.1 Snakeskin 1.50 bar

Result: 9th place

Photos @
Photos @

Quick summary

  • Good legs
  • Slightly worn from Sudety last week
  • A girl in the wrong place at the wrong time
  • Dropped chain followed by crazy chase

The Race - 1572 MTB Challenge

The race was advertised as being 87km, but when we arrived on site all the signs said 80km. It turned out to be 82km... but none of the officials knew. More about this later...

The course has a lot of gravel and even paved roads but it's still fun. Some shorter climbs, nothing major. There are singletrack sections but quite short ones. Nothing really technical.

A Girl in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

The start of the race went well and I felt good. There is no starting climb in this race and at this particular time (you will seldom hear me say this) this fact was actually good for me. As I have the six stages of Sudety in my legs (just a week back) quick burst of power are not working for me right now. I'm okay with steady state power though.

They started the M40 and M50 class together. Men Elite, Women Elite and M30 had started 5 minutes before us. As there were not decisive climbs there was quite a good group that held together. for the first 20km. I was close to the front of it so I'm not absolute sure how many of us there were. I'm guessing some 20-30 riders.

What happens after about 25km is that were riding a paved section and we catch up with one of the Elite Women. We'd previously caught a few riders from that group but quickly passed them. In this case however this Elite rider decides that she will hang on to our group. She does however not check behind her to see how many we are, instead she squeezes in in front of me. At that point she has about 5-6 of us M40/M50 in front of here (she's on their wheel and holding it despite of the high pace) and the rest of the group behind her. This works fine as long as we're on the paved road but I see singletrack coming up. At this point I yell for her to let us pass. She ignores me. As we start the singletrack section she's unable to hang on the the wheel in front of her and the 5 or 6 riders in front of her get a big gap. I can't pass her as the singletrack is incredibly tight. Once I do get past her the front group of riders has a gap of several hundred meters and as we get to the next gravel road sections they're barely visible in the distance. The top-3 M40 and the top M50 rider all turn out to be in this group.

Dropped Chain

About halfway through the race we have formed a good second group behind of the leaders. I recognize Rolf Svensson with whom I've ridden many races. He's at this point in second place in M50. There's perhaps 6 or 7 of us. The other riders are a mix of M40 and a  few M30 riders that we've caught.

We're going down a descent on double track at high speed. It's quite bumpy. I'm on Rolf's wheel... and as it flattens out and I try to start pedaling there's no resistance at all. My chain has dropped! I get off the bike to let the others past and quickly get it back on. It doesn't take much time but we're doing about 50km/h at this point so the gap that forms to the group is huge.

As I get on the bike again I make the decision to chase them down. There's still 40km of the race left and if I manage to catch up I can make good use of being in the group. I go all-in and give chase. I'm in the red as I start catching people dropping off Rolf's group. It takes perhaps 5km but I manage to catch them. At this point I'm pretty wasted but I'm hoping for an even pace with this group. I know that if there are any burst of speed up and inclines that I will be dropped.

87, 80 or 82km?

As I mentioned before it's unclear to me how long the race is actually going to be. It was noted to be 87km in the pre-race materials. But all the signs at the start said 80km. As we go past 70km this all of a sudden starts to become important. Somehow it's not important if you're going to do 80km or 87km at the start of the race. But as you're approaching the end of it and you're starting to feel really tired then it's quite important if there's another 10km to go or if it's 17km. I ask the other guys in the group (only three of us left at this point: Rolf, me and another M40 guy) and consensus seems to be 80km.

At around 70km we come to a hill and I just barely manage to hang on to the group by the skin of my teeth. Then shortly after there's another climb:  I'm dropped.

Now I really need to know how long I have left. I need to go as fast as I possibly can in my tired state in order not to be caught up by any other riders in my class. There are no signs at all along the course telling me the distances (which all other races have). As I pass a race official at a junction I ask him: He just shrugs his shoulders. At 77km, riding alone, I pass another official and ask again: He says 10km to go. I come to the conclusion that the race must be 87km as the pre-race info said. I ease back a bit as I need to conserve my energy for another 10km of racing.

Shortly after this a group of three riders catch me: Among them one M40 guy. Darned! This is bad! My legs are dead! I hang on to this group and just a little later we start to come towards the area that I recognize as the place were we started the race... But there still should be 5km to go!? The other guys start to sprint and I have nothing left in my legs and cross the line last in the group. So what was the total distance in the end? 82km!

I finish in 9th place. I'm pleased: I've done all I could under the circumstances.

The top three guys were a good way ahead of the rest of us. But I think that under the perfect circumstances I would have had a shot at the fourth spot.


Here's a video that Linus shot of me grabbing a bottle from my lovely friend Caroline at one of the feeding stations:



Power is interesting to look at after this race. I was using my Stages power meter so all the data is there. I have the average (lap) power on display at all time and I was quite surprised when I saw that about one hour into the race I was averaging 270+W.

Let's have a look at the power averages for the race:
First hour (first 1/3 of the race):  278W
Second hour: 239W
Third hour: 224W

The average for the whole race was: 246W. Weighted: 266W. This is way higher than any typical stage of Beskidy Trophy or Sudety Challenge which would typically average around 200W (240W weighted)


For the first time ever I used to combo Rocket Ron 2.25 in front with Thunderburt 2.1 at the rear. I really liked this. Even in a quick race with lots of roads as this one had the feeling is that the bike rolls nicely. On singletrack I really like the grip that I get from the wide front tire, at the same time not missing the lack of grip that the easy-rolling rear Thunderburt contributes. I think I will continue to use this combo in the future for marathons.