Sunday, 22 September 2019

Merida MTB Marathon - From Heaven to Hell in a minute

Merida MTB Marathon is a race that really suits me. It's 103km long and full of gravel roads and flowy single track. It's quick: 26-27km/h average speeds for the best riders.

I switched my rear tire from Racing Ralph 2.25" to Thunder Burt 2.1" the evening before the race to make the bike extra easy rolling. In front I kept the Racing Ralph 2.25" that was already mounted. I upped the air pressure about 0,1 bars over my usual to 1.6 up front and 1.7 in the rear.

I was really looking forward to the race. I rode it a few times when I first started racing mountain bikes and had some great results. The race is BIG in Denmark and all the best racers take part. I rode my last Merida in 2014 but then when the Swedish Marathon Cup got it's ninth race, Västgötaloppet, it always collided with Merida Marathon so from 2015 o 2018 I always rode the Swedish race instead. Now, in 2019, Västgötaloppet is no more so I got to ride Merida again.

Today's race was in brilliant sunshine, even though it was a bit chilly in the morning.

Things went great. We started with a group of about 30 riders up top. The bunch gradually got smaller until there were just eight of us left. I could see the winner from last year, Rene, in our group. Also Henrik Söeberg and Henrik Ahlbäck were with us. The pace was brutal (that's how the other 20+ riders were dropped) and the front guys just kicked ass all the time. I hung on to the tail and got a really good ride. I was thinking: "Wow! I'm in the top-10 of this huge race. This will be a great way to finish the 2019 season".

Then, at about halfway through the race Henrik Ahlbäck rolls up next to me and says that my rear tire is spraying pink Muc-Off tubeless fluid. He says that it stinks and that he's not going to be on my wheel anymore because he's getting it all over himself. I look down and notice that he's right. My spirits drop. I hang on to the group for a few more minutes but then the tire deflates completely.

I get off the bike, inflate it with CO2, and pray for the Muc-off tubeless fluid to seal the hole. It does briefly, I get on the bike. My group is long gone but I continue and go quite easily waiting for someone to catch up. A guy does catch up and we up the pace again... The tire holds air for about 2-3 km and then deflates again.

I start getting pissed off at this point but think: No, I won't let this get me down. This is an excellent time to practice using my puncture strips. I get the tool out, put a strip in, inflate with my second CO2 container (I always carry 3 CO2 containers with me). Again it holds for a while and then the tire deflates completely again.

At this point I decide that I'm going to abort the race. But I've gone almost 50km from the start and I need to somehow get back to my car. Okay, time to put in the spare tube. I get the rear wheel off and start to unscrew the tubeless valve... But it won't budge. I spend about 30-40 minutes trying to get it off and get the bolt about halfway off but then it won't go any further. I give up. I've completely shredded both my thumbs trying to unscrew the bolt. I'm bleeding from underneath both thumbnails. I also have pink tubeless fluid everywhere.

I hike to the nearest tech zone which luckily turns out to be just a kilometer away. I wish I had known this before I started with all the mechanics. I find a Swedish family who kindly give me a ride back to my car.

Imagine: I was in the lead group for half the race and manage to have the worst possible turn of events. Sometimes MTB just isn't all that much fun.

I've had problems with Muc-Off's tubeless fluid all year. This is the first year that I use it. I always used Stan's before. I think that this ends my experiment with Muc-Off: I'm going back to Stan's.

Also I'm very dubious whether I'm going to use Thunder Burt tires any more...

Thursday, 19 September 2019

One Weekend - Two Races

This weekend I had two races to chose from: Saturday was the last race in the Hotcup series (2 hours + lap) . Saturday my personal favorite: Snapphaneturen (60km).

Now typically as I love Snapphaneturen, and it's a long race, under normal circumstances I would prioritize that race and not do the Hotcup at all. A Hotcup weekend race is after all 2 hours+ long and it does affect the performance if racing the next day. This year however there had been a lot of rain all week and I knew that Snapphaneturen was going to be slippery and muddy and I don't perform well  under those circumstances. That made me decide to do both races as the Hotcup race would be in one of my favorite places: Tisvilde forest in Denmark. Also Saturday was looking sunny and the terrain in Denmark was dry.

I did prepare for a weekend of two races by cutting down on my training during the week. I did a single session of 9x9min. The TSS (Training Stress Score) graph of my week ended up looking like this:

So how did it all turn out? The Hotcup race was great: Sunny meaning I could use short bibs and jersey. The trails were dry and quick. I was fighting for fourth place but had a crash on the second to last lap and finished sixth in the end.

In this race I had my usual Thunderburt 2.1" in the rear for easy rolling.


What about Snapphane the next day? I switched to Racing Ralph 2.25" in the rear. This turned out to be an excellent idea. I didn't feel too shabby or tired funnily enough.  However the terrain was slippery and difficult to ride. I didn't manage to hang with the really quick guys, Daniel Grass and Robert Eliasson, who finished second and third. But I managed to stick with the next group containing my old pals Stefan Larsson, Jerry Olsson and Martin Wenhov for most of the race, only letting them go towards the end. I ended up 15th overall in the race (no age categories).

Comparing heart rate graphs between the first and second race is interesting.



Rested I had a much higher heart rate at Hotcup compared to Snapphaneturen. Also the more flowy terrain and dry tracks of Hotcup meant I could push harder and more continuously and that also probably led to a higher heartrate.



Saturday, 14 September 2019

Bockstensturen - The longest race 100k

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

Result: 7rd place in M40 (27th overall)

Bockstensturen, at 100km, is the longest race in the Swedish Marathon Cup ("Långloppscupen"). You'd think that it's also the quickest one so that the 100k would pass quickly, but it's not. It tends to take me around 4 hours to get around the course. This means an average speed of about 25km/h which is about in the middle for the races in this cup. It's a tough one. I've had some bad experiences here. Usually from going out too hard from the start.

Bockstensturen is also the first Marathon MTB race that I ever competed in. This was back in 2011.

Here are my results over the years:

Year   M40 plac.  Overall  Time
2012   30         ??       4h10m
2013   26         83       3h58m
2014   5          28       4h02m
2015   12         55       4h32m
2016   7          31       4h04m
2017   10         44       4h01m
2018   DNF
2019   7          27       4h06m

I think that objectively speaking I did my best ever Bockstensturen this year. I did place better in my cat in 2014 but my overall placing was better this year. Considering they had added a bunch of new singletrack to the track this year the time is probably my best ever as well.

How did it all go down then?

As always with Bockstensturen it's important to hang with the quick boys for the first easy part of the race. This is the 17km going out of Varberg and towards the forest. It's all asphalt and gravel roads / double track. We averaged 34km/h this year but then it was rather windy and blowing headwind / sidewind. I did manage to hang on to the tail of the lead group for this first part.

Going into the forest and the first few climbs I dialed back on my effort. I've had many bad races at Bockstensturen by going out hard and I had decided that I wasn't going to have another one. I could see Daniel Grass power ahead in front going away from me. On the second climb Robert Eliasson and Stefan Carlsson caught up and we formed a group.

Stefan Carlsson was going really quickly and Robert did his best to stay on his wheel. I thought that the pace was a bit too high at this early stage but I just couldn't let them get away. It would've felt like a failure. Stefan did get away from us anyway and left me and Robert with a group of perhaps 5-6 other cyclists.

After a while we had dropped the rest of the guys and it was just me and Robert. Then I had to let go off Robert's wheel on a tricky downhill. I saw him not too far ahead of me on the following gravel roads but I didn't want to push it to catch him. I was thinking that if he wanted me to join then he would slow down and allow me to catch up. When he didn't I slowed my pace to allow a couple of guys coming up from behind to catch up.

During today's race I would catch a number of cyclists who were not having a good day (and who are usually faster then me). During the first half of the race I caught, Henrik Öijer, Erik Mattelin and Viktor Ludvigsson, all elite guys, who were going much slower than usual. I also ended up catching Daniel Grass after a while. He wasn't looking fresh either.

During the second half of the race I had a three man group: An M30 guy and an elite guy. We helped eachother along nicely and had good cooperation. I did notice for the last 30k of the race that I was on the verge of cramping up but things went well anyway. I caught and passed an M40 guy in the last third of the race as well.

I finished the race in seventh place and I was very happy with that result. In a hypothetical M50 race I would've finished in third place.