Sunday, 28 July 2019

Finnmarksturen aka Swedish XCM Champs - Run over, run down, and crashed

Trek Top Fuel 9.9 (2019) Racing Ralph 2.25 1.5 bar / Thunder Burt 2.10 1.6 bar

Result: 11th place in M40

HOT, it's damned HOT!

Yeah, it was hot. Already arriving at the hotel on the evening the day before the race it was hot. And it got even hotter on race day. I don't really have a problem with hot races, just as long as I get enough to drink. I placed out two bottles halfway through the race. I thought I would probably need one extra bottle as I was expecting to race for about 3 hours.

The race, Finnmarksturen, is a regular  part of the Swedish Marathon Cup ("Långloppscupen"). This year they got the extra honors of also hosting the Swedish XCM Champs. The course had been extended from the regular 72 km to 80 km, mostly ny adding singletrack.

I was in good spirits: I knew my form was good. I had actually done my race-prep the day before by taking three Strava KOMs. Maybe a bit too hard though for the day before a race? I was about to find out...

Uphill start

I managed to find a good spot on the grid and as the race started I managed to stay with the leading group all the way up the starting climb and until we veered into the first singletrack segment. I remember from 2017, when I last did this race, that I had lost touch with the leaders before getting to the top of this first climb.

There was some gravel road after this where things settled down and I was able to look around: The usual suspects were there: Robert Eliasson and Stefan Carlsson. After a while we also caught up with Daniel Grass. This were looking a lot like a repeat of the previous weekend's race in other words.

Run off the track and crashed

At about 25 km into the race we were going downhill on narrow singletrack with a bunch of roots. I was in the middle of a group of perhaps 10 riders. I had let a small gap of perhaps 5 or 10 meters develop to the rider in front of me. All of a sudden a rider start trying to pass me from behind but there's not enough room for him to get by. His passing on the left but his handlebars get tangled up with mine and we both go down. I hit my left leg rather hard and I'm unable to get up or even push my back out of the way. He gets up and keeps going without even saying "sorry". I take a couple of minutes to let the pain pass. Then I start inspecting the bike. The front wheel has rotated 180 degrees and the brake levers are all twisted. I manage to get everything sorted and get back on the back. Two or three groups have passed. My mood is rotten, I'm pissed off, and my motivation to perform well has just disappeared. I think about aborting the race but decide to go on for a while and see what happens.


I find a new group to join and we go past the halfway point of the race into the second loop which consists of a number of climbs. I still feel unmotivated but at this point I decide that I'm going to finish the race. The problem here, when my mood turns bad, is that I get sloppy with taking my gels and picking up my spare bottle. I decide to get by on the bottle that I have and just pick up the extra drinks that we get at the feeding stations. This turns out not to be quite enough and towards the end I'm all out of water and REALLY thirsty in the blazing heat.

Overtaking on asphalt

Going up the lats climb (Leo's hill) I pass three M40 cyclists and feel good about that. However just after there's some rough terrain and they manage to catch up and pass. With 4 kilometers left we get out into a short asphalt section. I decide to go all-in here and blast past all three riders so quickly that they're note even able to take my wheel. I pass the finish line in 12th place in M40. I guess I've done what I could with a bad situation. Daniel Grass (who I was with when I crashed) places 5th in M40, Robert Eliassson comes in 10th place.

Monday, 22 July 2019

Engelbrektsturen - Good form!

Trek Top Fuel 9.9 (2019) Racing Ralph 2.25 1.5 bar / Thunder Burt 2.10 1.6 bar

Result: 8th place in M40

Quick decisions before the race started

I changed the rear tire at the beginning of the week and mounted a Schwalbe Thunder Burt 2.10" Snakeskin. This is the lightest and most easy-rolling tire that I have. It fits this race as it's mostly gravel road. I had done two training sessions with this setup and the tire held pressure well.

Arriving at the race in the morning with  my travelling companion Daniel Grass there was plenty of time to warm up and then put my bike in the box an hour before the start. I decided to ride the gravel road part of the start of the race that leads to the first climb. I had done about 4 kilometers of my warmup when I heard a hissing sound from my rear tire. I stopped and had a look. Air was leaking out of a hole in the center of the track and I saw pink tubeless fluid squirting out. However as soon as the pressure dropped a bit the leak sealed itself.

Quick decisions were on order. As I saw it I had two options: Either throw in a tube or inflate and hope for the best. I decided to go back to the car, fill the tire with a bit more tubeless fluid and then inflate it back to 1.6 bars to see if it held. Good thing we got the the place early!

There was a bit of bubbling when I inflated the tire again but it held air. I put my bike in the box and checked it just before the start and still no leak. So... things were under control... or were they?

Getting splashed

The race started... we were on the gravel road... And after 3 kilometers I feel my calves getting splashed by something. For a brief moment I wondered if it had started raining. I looked down: Pink tubeless fluid all over my legs. I wondered how it must've looked to the cyclists behind me. I'm guessing they were getting splashed too. Still, as before, the leak sealed itself as soon as the air pressure in the tire had dropped just a little bit. I kept going and the tire felt normal... no strike through or weird behaviour in the corners.

Here I'm thinking: I'll ride until I start feeling the tire bottoming out over roots or rocks and then I'll stop and inflate it using CO2. This is a bit of a stressful way to do a race however as all the time you're thinking: Is my rear wheel behaving normal? Did I just have a strike through? Did it was out in that last corner? Everything seemed okay however.

First and second climb

Engelbrektsturen has two climbs following eachother 4 km into the race. I like climbs so here I go all in. As per usual the first bit of the uphill I'm pretty much going as fast as everyone else but about halfway up people around me get tired and I start advancing. I pass Robert Eliasson at some point (there's this great photo of both of us going up the climb)

I also pass the M50 dominant Stefan Carlsson who I will be racing against next year when I also join that age category. He tends to be a slow started but when he gets going he's unbeatable.

At the top of the second climb I've left a big group of riders behind me and I see two lone riders ahead of me. I quickly sprint up to them and we form a group of three. However there's no will to go hard here and soon we're joined by the group that's chasing us.

Fast Forward

Engelbrektsturen is an incredibly quick race. Mostly gravel roads. Sure, some singletrack, but even that's really quick and flowy. During the race I was thinking that it almost felt like watching a video in fast forward.

Our group catches up with Daniel Grass and three other riders quite quickly and so we grow a bit more. I think there were probably around 20 of us at this point. Daniel has been doing really good this year with several podium finishes in M40 so I'm thinking that the fact that we caught him (and have Eliasson and Carlsson with us) means that I'm probably in a good position.

In a messy section we catch Erik Mattelin, who races in the Elite category, and usually is much quicker, but seems to be having some problem with his bike. The problem is that Robert, Daniel and a few other riders manage to get around him while I and the rest of the group behind me, get stuck. After I manage to pass Mattelin I go all in in order to catch the runaways and manage to do so on the next climb. Legs feel great and I fly up the incline!

I'm still unsure about the status of my rear tire but I feel no strikethroughs. In a messy section with about 12 km to go I have to let Eliasson, Carlsson and a couple of riders go again because I'm unable to take the turns quickly (could be my rear tire was washing out a bit there). Daniel is stuck behind me and politely asks if I can let him pass. I tell him there's no way as it's just too narrow. He jokingly says that I'll have to walk back home after the race (we had taken his car north).

After this messy section, going back on the gravel road, I pull hard in order to catch up again and also because I have a slightly bad conscience for holding Daniel back (I try to pull him back up to the guys who've left us). After a while Daniel goes around me and covers the rest of the distance but I'm too tired to follow. I'm still left with the rest of the group on my wheel.

With about 10 km to go in one of the last climbs I feel a cramp developing in my right leg. The muscle spasmes but the cramp doesn't develop fully before we're back on the gravel road. I ride with the rest of the group to the finish but I'm unable to sprint strongly and finish last with two M40 riders ahead of me.

Final position: 8th in M40. 36th overall. This is the best overall position that I've had in Långloppscupen all year. I'm pleased.

I'm 30 seconds behind Daniel Grass in fourth place and two minutes down on second place in my cat.

Power and heart rate were good:

I check the air pressure of my rear tire after the race: It's 1.03 bar. I started off with 1.6! The rear of the frame is splashed with tubeless fluid. When I later try to clean the bike I notice that the tubeless fluid has fused with the dirt and I have to use alcohol to get it off the bike.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

SWIX Uddevalla MTB - Speedy and fun!

Bike: Trek Top Fuel 9.9 (2019) Racing Ralph 2.25 1.5 bar / Racing Ralph 2.25 1.6 bar

Result: 15th place overall (out of 900 riders)

The Venue

Swix Uddevalla MTB is another first-time-ever for me this year (as was Kolmårdsbiken earlier this year). I really love trying out new races for the first time. I love the feeling of the unknown and of a new adventure.

Checking out the stats are results from previous years told me the race was a quick one with average speeds close to 30km/h. The length of the track was 68 km. Also a lot of Norwegians take part. The location is close to the border with Norway. I had to drive some 360 km to get there but that was okay as I can do that in the morning (race start was 11:00) and I don't have to book a hotel stay.

In advance I asked my pal Robert Eliasson about the race (as I could see in the results that he had several good placing from previous years). He told me that the track was quick and not very technical. Perfect for me in other words.

I got in touch with the race organizers in advance and asked them if they could seed me with the front group and they quickly replied that they could and gave me a starting number of 36. This turned out to be very fortunate as there were 40 of us (race number 1-40) on the front line... And then some 900 racers behind!

No age categories or classes in this race: Everyone competed with everyone else.

The Start

I saw Robert Eliasson at the start and we warmed up together. He was also seeded among the 40 front starters thanks to his previous results in this race.

The start was a bit special. We lined up in a wide line 40 of us top-seeds. Behind us were all the hundreds of the other racers. There were motorcross-type starting blocks which lowered as the starting gun sounded. I had no idea what I had to expect or how the first part of the track went. As I left the line I noticed that it all started on an actual motocross track and with a wide left turn... And I was all the way on the right hand side due to my seed of 36. This meant I had to take a wide left turn to get through the turn and a bunch of riders slipped in between. Then we were riding on an actual motorcross track for the first kilometer or so with sandy tight turns. It was pretty chaotic and I was far behind the leading guys... probably in place 60+.

As we left the motorcross track we got on gravel roads and I started advancing through the field. I overtook riders left and right. I wondered if I was too far behind to ever catch up with the quick guys. Robert was so far ahead I couldn't even see him.

Then, as I thought I was going really quickly up the field, a funny thing happend: A slim young guy in blue kit passed me! "Darned!", I thought, and here I was thinking that I was the fast one. I immediately latched on to the young riders back wheel and he helped pull me up the field. This pace got really murderous and I was in the red for a long time just hanging on to "young guy". But then, after perhaps 20 minuters of passing slower riders, a miracle: I could see a small group of riders ahead and one of them was Robert!

The Middle

When we caught up with Roberts bunch we formed group of some 10+ riders. At this point I realized that I had been in the red for a long time and that I needed to catch my breath. However "young guy" immediately went to the front of the group and on the next short climb he pulled hard (he did this on all the climbs) and I gave in to my impulse (instead of following reason) and got right on his wheel and pulled hard up the climb. I lost Robert at this point and didn't see him again until after I crossed the finish line.

The terrain that followed can be summed up as a mix of gravel roads, quick single track, short climbs, quick and tricky descents. Even though the terrain is technically easy the sheer speed at which you're going makes the riding difficult and tricky. There's a lot of loose gravel and rocks and many tricky turns. If you brake you lose ground and need to make it up again. It's definitely not a race which can be dismissed as technically easy as the speed makes it hard. In that way it's quite similar to Lindingöloppet MTB (and nothing like Wasaloppet MTB).

Going up all these short climbs felt great and I kept going to the front of the group and pushing hard (together with "young guy"). There was also an older rider in yellow kit who took a lot of turns at the front. He seemed very strong. After about half way through the race there were 8 of us left in the group. Pace was high and we picked up single riders who had dropped off the leading group from time to time. No one caught us from behind,

As we were approaching the 50 km mark there was a point at which three riders got a bit of a gap. At that point I was at the back of the group and had to sprint hard to catch up with them. Just as I did I noticed that we had just gotten to a climb. What I didn't know was that this climb was the only long climb of the entire race. It was really long. Having just gone quite hard in the section leading up to the track I had to let four riders go as I couldn't match their pace uphill. Behind me the other tree riders also dropped back. After the climb I looked around and noticed that I was alone with some 15 km left to the finish. I decided to wait for the other three riders to catch up.

Cramping up Towards the End

As our group of four formed we went quite hard at first but then noticed that we were not catching the four riders who had gone ahead. We settled back a bit but the pace was still high. At 10 km left I started having some feelings of almost cramp in my left thigh. I noticed that I could not stretch the leg fully without risk of developing a fully blown cramp. I could still keep up with the group however. Then just a couple of kilometers later (8 km to go) suddenly I got a real cramp in my right thigh muscle. It wouldn't go away and I had to stop for a few seconds. I screamed out in frustration and pain. 

After standing still for a minute or so the cram went away and I was able to ride on. Of course my group was gone.

Typically in these situations, when you lose your group towards the end of the race, it's really hard to keep up the pace. You have no way of judging how quick you're going and it's easy to lose motivation and focus. I knew I had to get the last 8 km to the finish without allowing the chasing groups to catch me. Eight kilometers is quite a long way to go solo. I got on with the job and soon noticed that I could see the other three riders ahead of me as soon as I got to a climb. That meant that I wasn't going too slow. I was never quite able to reconnect with them but crossed the finish line just 30 seconds behind them. Funnily enough the next rider that crossed the line behind me was Robert. I finished in 15th place overall and that seemed like a good result.

Good watts and good heart rate!

Sunday, 7 July 2019

European XCM Championship - Disaster!

Bike: Trek Top Fuel 9.9 (2019)  Racing Ralph 2.25 1.5 bar / Racing Ralph 2.25 1.6 bar

Result: 15th place in M45

The idea of participating in the European (Veterans) XCM Championsships in Norway was sort of an afterthought. I had found out about it just before Beskidy Trophy. The situation was this: The big goal of the season was Beskidy Trophy. After that I had a two week vacation planned in Slovenia. I've done this setup for the past few years. My preparations for Beskidy always include a lot of weight loss getting down to 70 kg by starving myself. In Slovenia, in the two weeks after, I want to be able to enjoy myself and part of that is eating as much as I like of the wonderful food that the region offers. When I realized that the European champs was just two weeks after Beskidy and thereby at the end of the vacation I was thinking about my options:

  1. Stay lean throughout the vacation and try to keep my weight at 70kg (I even thought about bringing scales so that I could measure my weight).
  2. Enjoy my vacation, eat the lovely food, bicycle in the super terrain, have fun, and let the weight be whatever it may be.  Get the maximum out of my vacation days meaning get back to Sweden the just in the nick of time, repack the car, and drive the 900km to Norway the next day. 

Even though I train a lot and take my racing semi-seriously there's a limit to how much suffering I will take. Bicycling, and racing, has to be fun. I needed my vacation and wanted to enjoy it fully. So I decided on option 2.

The European Champs event was on a race that takes place every year called Furusjoen Rundt. I knew almost nothing about the event except that it included a lot of mountains and climbing. That's the thing that first attracted me to the race as I love a good uphill. The location was about 100km north of Lillehammer in the Norwegian mountains. The course was 73km and 2200 meters altitude gain. Expected finishing time was around 4 hours.

The race was on Saturday. I drove all across Europe from Slovenia to Sweden the Thursday before the race arriving home late in the evening. Then got up early Friday morning to fix my 2019 Top Fuel for the race. Now the bike that I had with me to Beskidy, the older 2017 Top Fuel had no brakes (as you can read in my Beskidy Post) so I couldn't use that. The 2019 Top Fuel was at home waiting for it's new Fox SC 32 Factory fork. The fork had arrived while I was away. My good pal and mechanic Lars Jönsson mounted the fork to the bike. Then I had time for a 30 minute test ride (where everything *seemed* to work okay). After that I packed the car and started driving the 900km to the race arriving there at about 10pm.

The morning of the race I got up early and drove to the venue. It was raining all the way. The start was at about1000m altitude and as I got out of the car the temperature was around 8 degrees C and it was drizzeling. In two days I had gone from 35 degrees C and sunshine in Slovenia to this close-to winter weather in Norway. As I unpacked the bike from the car I could see snow on the mountain in the distance. Wow!

While warming up (and, yeah, it took a lot of WARMING up) I met my pal Norwegian Roar Sollie. It's a funny story because we had first met some 6-7 years back when we both rode a Danish race called Merida Marathon. In that race we had ridden most of it together and both placed really well. Since then Roar has had some amazing results and is an ace mountain biker. Other well-known face were also there like my Danish pal Palle Egbert. Some Swedish pals were also there like Max Ashton (who did a great race!).

I was freezing so much at the start that I decided to wear both a long-sleeved base layer, jersey, and wind jacket. I wanted to take the wind jacket off after warmup but I was just shivering too much.

The race went terribly so I'll summarize it rather quickly:

  1. The terrain is like nothing I've experienced before. It started with a long uphill which became so steep that we had to get off the bikes and walk about halfway up. When walking uphill I noticed that the rocks that we had to step on were so slippery that I couldn't get any grip at all with my shoes. My thought was: Frak! Are we going to ride DOWN these slippery rocks!? The rocks were covered with moss and the rain just made them super slippery. I haven't encountered this before.
  2. There was a infamous downhill at 40km that everyone had warned me off. That downhill turned out worse than I had imagined. The added problems was that when I got to this section we were caught up by the leading Elite guys (who had started one hour behind us). I had to interchangebly get off my bike because I didn't dare to ride parts of the downhill and then again get off the bike when I had to let another Elite guy pass me. In the end I just lost my motivation totally and my mood turned sour and I just ran/walked/slipped down the rest of the downhill for what felt like half an hour.
  3. I had multiple minor mechanical problems. My gears worked poorly and I dropped my chain multiple times because of this. When I got home I noticed that the B-screw on the deraileur was poorly set. My saddle slipped on the rails and came to rest in the rear-most position. That made doing downhills really hard as I could not get my ass behind the saddle. And to top things of a small metall plate that protects the frame just by the cranks came of and lodged itself between my front chainring and the frame. I was able to move it about a little so that it no longer disturbed the operation but it keps rubbing agains the frame and cranks and made metallic noises throughout the race.
Instead of finishing in the projected 4 hours I crossed the line at more than 5 hours... In 15th place. Which may not sound bad but there were only 18 guys in my class who actually finished the race so...


I talked to some of the veterans of this race (who have done it several times) and they say that it's a wonderful race in dry conditions and hell if it's wet. I agree with this assesment. I will NOT be doing this course again. It just gets too dangerous for my poor technical skills when conditions are like they were this year.