My preparations for the race were not good because of a cold just a few days before the race. So my expectations were quite low for this year’s result as my body felt week and sleepy after the sickness and a long car ride from Denmark to Sudety.
Nevertheless I decided to have a preview at the prologue Saturday afternoon. This turned out to be a good decision as there were a few difficult sections on the course.
My starting time was set for 14:23 Sunday afternoon so it was quite a long wait from breakfast till race start. My body didn’t seem to be in perfect condition, but I was determined to give it everything, which I did. I went with all I had on the first climb hoping to recover a bit on the first descent, which proved difficult because the descent was very bumpy and quite technical. Nevertheless I had enough energy to keep up some promising watts on the second climb before the last descent towards the finish line. After a little less than an hour in the saddle I made it across the line as the first rider. Now I had to wait and see if anybody would be able to beat my time. At 17:00 I knew with certainty that I had won the prologue which came as a huge relief. I knew then that I was in the fight!
The first stage started and ended in Stronie Slaskie. A stage I was quite familiar with from previous years. I knew that it was important to be in front when the route turned off the road and on to the first climb. So the plan for the first stage was clear: stay in front no matter what!
As we turned on to the first climb I was leading the front group and decided to give it all I had and try to create a gap. At the top of the first climb I had a gap of approximately 1 minute and 30 seconds. From there on I kept pushing but I soon hit trouble, as I was starting to suffer from stomach cramps which meant that I wasn’t able to take on any energy for the last 40 kilometres of the race. On the very last climb I was passed by two teams due to my lack of energy. But I managed to keep it together and cross the line as the first rider in the solo category.
The next morning I was pretty done and I knew that the second stage to Bardo would be very demanding. So I opted for a more conservative strategy for this stage. The idea was to follow the winning team from the first stage. After 18 kilometres I was in front together with the leading team and we followed each other on a 25 kilometres long and technical section on the Polish and Czech border. A very nice section by the way, with a lot of roots, stones, technical up and downhills. On the last climb of the day I was able to leave the team behind before the last descent to Bardo which always proves difficult. Somehow I picked up a puncture but I managed to limp the bike across the line in first place anyway.
The third stage was the shortest stage of this year. But it was not an easy one. Everyone went like crazy in the beginning of the race, especially Sönke Wegner(second in the GC) seemed to be very strong and he was pushing like hell! After a long single track section with berms and jumps he managed to create a small gap but I was able to close the gap on the following climb along with the leading team. The last 30 kilometres of the stage consisted of a lot of small climbs and quite a lot of single track. At some point with approximately 20 kilometers to go I was able to leave Sönke Wegner behind along with the leading team. I managed to keep a good pace all the way to the line to take another win and gain critical time in the GC which showed to come in handy the next day.
The next morning I learned that the leading team had DNF due to a crash and a broken collarbone. I then decided to try to follow Sönke Wegner on the 4th stage to defend my overall lead in the GC which was about 20 minutes at the beginning of the stage. With approximately 30 kilometers to go of the 4th stage I picked up a puncture when following Sönke Wegner on a downhill. My tubeless liquid was not able to seal the tire so I had to stop and insert a tube. This meant that I had to go very easy on the downhills for the rest of the day to avoid snake bites. Beside the puncture I also lost my water bottle, so I had to ride 15 kilometres before getting a new one. Under normal conditions 15 kilometres without water is no problem but in the baking sun and 30 degrees it proved to be quite tough. I have never been so happy to receive a water bottle, as I was on that day. With my new water bottle I went on a charge the last 15 kilometres to minimize the loss but I still had to go slow on the downhills. In the end I came across the line in 4th position, but lost 7 minutes. That meant that the gap in the GC was approximately 13 minutes at the beginning of the last stage.
The tactics for the last stage was to defend my overall lead, and what is the best way to defend? It is to attack. So that is what I did. On the first climb I went in a steady hard pace to create a gap and break the moral of the other riders. After creating a gap I rode very carefully on the downhills and gave it all I had on the uphills. I won the last stage with quite a huge gap and took the overall win.
I can now look back on a week with a lot of suffering and some sweet single tracks and downhills as a reward. What a race it was! The route was challenging but it was not too difficult to ride. The number of kilometres spent on tarmac and on open gravel roads has been brought down compared to previous years which most of us regard as a positive change. It is the fourth time I have done this race and I must say this year’s route is the best one I have tried. I can only recommend the race for next year’s race calendar. A lot of people are using full suspension bikes with good reason. But a normal cross-country hardtail with a dropper may do the job just as well.
photo: Sudety MTB Challenge / BikeLife