Jingle bells? Wrong holidays!

I’m looking through my window. Heavy snow is falling consistently since last night. I was planning to go out on my bike this morning, as we have the first match of the season in less than two weeks. I better get the Christmas tree out and do some Xmas shopping instead.

Weather is quite bizarre this year. Past three weeks of sunshine and warm, high teens temperatures have made me eager to get out on my bike. And rightly so. End of March is that transition time where every training session matters. It used to be my time, where I would multiply my workload and pull away from the rest.

It’s not all bad though. The weekend was very busy and I must say, very enjoyable. I have made a quick decision to open the mountain biking season by entering my first enduro race in Poland. I have only raced once in Britain, and it wasn’t a proper showdown. Weather was rather extreme that day and it was very difficult to enjoy it. It didn’t discourage me though. My love for mountain biking still grows and I can see myself throwing myself at more races in the future.

The plan was to drive to the course on Saturday to have a look at the stages and at least get some knowledge on what’s the terrain like. I haven’t been to Mt Sleza for at least 20 years, and even then it was a family walking trip, rather than riding. The plan would have been perfect if it was a day later… The clocks went forward a day too late, as it was getting dark when I’ve finished work. Training had to be scrapped, I was going to ride it blind.

Early start and the hour lost by moving the clock meant a race to get there. It was good to see a very well organised event. All very well marked, a lot of going on, test rides, different events, a weekend of fun. My shop was there too, in charge of the Kross Bikes demo fleet, which was quite busy. Yeti Polska, Canyon Bikes, Kross, Kelly’s and Rose had their bikes available for testing, Szosa Magazine were there too. I got there with 5 minutes to spare… got changed and rode to the race office to collect my #173 number and a timing chip. Clever touchless system, rider gets timed automatically every time he crosses the gate. Event was organised by emtb.pl, a strong enduro community and was the first of three round series. A quick word from the people in charge and off we went… Not after some waiting though. 200 riders were dispatched in 30 seconds intervals to ride the test stage 0 to stagger the pack. Fun in the queue, jokes were flying everywhere, I had a good look who and what I was facing on the day. Bikes? High end, a lot of enduro orientated 650b machines and some older 26 rigs. I think I was one of few on 29ers. I know my Whyte could do with a bit more travel and a bit more aggressive geo, but I love this bike and feel confident on it. Gear? Well, that is a different story. A lot of people have seemed to pack a kitchen sink into their packs. Two helmets, body armour, headset presses, you name it, they had it. I like to travel light… I have forgotten my pump, had space for a tube though… Off we went after some 30 minutes waiting. Not bad considering the volume of contestants. Gradient was increasing I was getting past all the sherpas carrying their tents on their backs, I was feeling positive. After some demanding climbing we have reached the very top of the mountain. 2355 ft in one go. It’s OK. Time to get down. The minute I started descending it felt like I was in a tumble drier. Rocks and boulders emerging from the muddy soil. Speed was picking up, I was being thrown around like a pinball. Minute into the stage and I was cursing the lack of travel on my T129.

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I have managed to stay on and was making progress. As the stage went on, rocks became smaller and a beautiful flowy singletrack have emerged. Hallelluyah! Grin, power, speed. I have started picking up some riders, must have overtook at least 4 in the later part of stage 1. Pleasant end to a great stage. It had it all. Not bad I thought. Results later showed I was only fast in my head… Middle of the path. I didn’t know that at that time though. I was facing the mountain again anyway, so no time to dwell on that. Stage two was located… in the same place as stage 1 so some work had to be done. I had some satisfaction going past all those heavy bikes. I knew they had advantage in timed stages, but who was laughing now? :) Very early into the climb I have joined with one of my bosses, who was enjoying one of the test bikes in hand. We climbed, we talked, we laughed.

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Stage 2 had “The Wall”. I was made aware of it by a fellow rider from Szczecin with whom I was riding for a bit. “Make sure you keep going. Once you stop, you chicken out”. With that in mind I went off like a thunder. Still rocky but fast and flowy start this time. “When you get to the short climb, you’ll get to the wall”. I was dreading that bloody climb, nevermind the wall. To be fair I haven’t noticed the climb, but surely I was at the top of that wall… Loads of fans, cheering, taking pictures, filming, the most entertaining part of the course. I looked down and could not see the end of the descend. A long rocky downhill, and I was on a bloody 29 inch trail bike. I was going for it though. Sliding between the gaps, finding some unusual paths I have managed to keep going. Like the guy was saying, keep going.

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I went through it unscattered, only to unclip in the later less demanding part of the stage. Still I was quite happy with that. Later I found I was 36th. Stage 3 and 4 were on the Radunia side of the Massif, which is more earthy that Sleza. It can only get better, right? Well, no. When climbing on the road I have noticed that my rear derailleur had suffered a knock and was off by quite a lot. I knew I would not be able to climb if my lower gears couldn’t be accessed. I have stopped to make a quick repair (no tools taken!). As I tried to pull the rear mech, the whole hanger have pulled out of the frame and I was left with an all tangled up chain wrapped around my wheel, all twisted up between the jockey wheels and just managed to strip the freehub of my wheel. That’s the end of the day for me, I thought. Ah well, at least I’ll be home to catch the basketball, which was starting at 2 ;) Had a last go at the wheel, luckily Hope hubs are easy to put together, that went in ok, the hanger did not want to stay in the frame. The little bolt holding it in place had lost its threads and I had to hold it in place. After three attempts it went in, but was still heavily bent. I was happy enough though. At least I could go on. Radunia isn’t as steep as Sleza so Climbing was easier and I got to the top in one piece.

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Stage 3 was nice. Proper singletrack, the only thing I hated were quite long and punchy climbs! With my gears all over the place I had to run up one of them, which surely cost me some time. Legs were getting tired and I was running out of steam too. Getting up that mountain for the last time was horrible. Lack of ratio and very tired legs, were key factors to my desperation. The only thing that kept me going was the desire to finish the race. Bike was f..ked. I was destroyed, but I kept grinding on. What a reward though! Stage 4 was by far the most enjoyable. Awesome trail, a little bit of mud made it extremely tacky, but a bit slippery in places, I was having the best time of my life, before the disaster struck. Just after a quick descend there was a sharp left. Fair enough there were marshals shouting and pointing to the left. I was going at some speed and my eyesight wasn’t that great anymore anyway. I have narrowly missed the tapes, but what was worse I was now facing a sharp climb. I have shifted up and, surprise surprise, chain got stuck in between the spokes and the sprocket. I had to stop and pull it out. Took me 2 minutes I reckon. It was just before the end as well!! I got down cursing and swearing, but I was content enough to had it all behind me. Having looked at times it wouldn’t have improved my position greatly anyway. I am simply not good enough yet to be challenging first halfs of the field, although 74th out of 200 is not that bad. It was the first time I had seen the course, first time I rode there. I am now looking to do more of these, unfortunately remaining two races are on Saturdays, which collide with my work, so it will not happen. Perhaps some other races will appear, but then again, from next week on I am doing six Sundays of Speedway races on the trot, so it might be a bit tricky to fit anything else in for a while :)

We’re catching a bit of a break at Easter. Going to Polanica Zdroj for a few days, so might clean that bike from Sunday and actually see the damage. It is still dirty, I am a pro after all.

Happy Easter. Ho, ho, ho!

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