Wednesday, November 18, 2009

La Ruta de los Conquistadores

Me and our host Federico Escalante at the starting line Day 1 of La Ruta

After missing my favorite race La Ruta de los Conquistadores last year due to a broken foot, I was really looking forward to racing again. This was my 6th time racing La Ruta!!

After lots of rain, the Carrara (the national park that goes through rainforest) was the muddiest I have seen it. Although the race organizers had re-routed part of the course we hiked through deep mud for a couple of hours. The wheels got clogged up instantly if you didn't carry your bike on your back. I was in second place when we entered the mud, and after a couple of hours I could spot Adriana Rojas, the Costa Rican woman who was in first. She was really strong, and I lost her when we got back on "normal trail". The first day was 64.5 miles with 10,300 feet of elevation gain. I definitely didn't feel my best and at the end I lost over 10 minutes to Adriana! My time was 7 hrs 12 minutes for the day.

Day 2 featured some of the steepest climbing I have ever done, maybe THE steepest. The first climb of the day was a gravel road with 5 or 6 paved corners. The pavement had big rocks in it and was definitely not level. When I looked down at my Garmin, it said 30% and then I was going so slow it turned off!!! I was able to ride the whole section, but sometimes it seemed like it would have been faster to walk. I finally caught Adriana near the top of the last climb and then was able to put a couple of minutes on her on the technical down-hill. Day 2 was 44.5 miles with over 10,000 feet of climbing!!! I finished in 4 hrs 58 minutes.

La Ruta Legend Heart Akerson finishes day 2 with a smile on his face
Heart was way off course when a local guy spotted him and gave him directions back to the race. Heart finished the day in the dark!

Day 3 goes up the volcano Irazo and has a top altitude of over 10, 000 feet. Since we had to be shuttled to the start-line we had to be up at 3:30 again for a 6 am start. I had forgotten how steep the beginning of this day was.... I felt pretty good during this climb and reached the top in a little under 3 hrs. It was a quite chilly on the way down, really foggy and drizzly. After riding through water and mud I didn't take the time to lube my chain because I was trying gain as much time as possible on the rocky down-hill. When I chain-sucked my chain got caught between the big ring and chain-stay and for some reason I had a hard time trying to pull it out. Luckily I finally succeeded and that was actually my only "mechanical" during the entire race, so I can't really complain.

The rest of the down-hill was on wet pavement in the fog and I was taking it pretty easy because I didn't want to crash or miss a turn! I was happy with my day. I finished in first place with a time of 4 hrs 52 minutes. A couple of times I had to stop and ask some locals for the right way...

End of Day 3

Adriana Rojas was still in the overall lead by 4 min 50 seconds with only 1 day left of racing. I thought my only chance to make up the time would be on one of the 2 climbs in the beginning of the day, because the rest of the day is all down-hill or flat.

Me and Heart at the starting line of Day 4

It had rained all night before the start, and it was still raining in the morning. Luckily it wasn't cold. The rain actually felt good as we started riding. We had a long neutral start out of the town of Turrialba. I am usually not very speedy in the beginning of a race (old age), but I was doing my best to keep from getting dropped by the front group. As we started climbing, I knew I was going to have a strong day despite sore and tired legs. I was in a group with Adriana and 5 or 6 men when we reached the first check-point at the top of the first climb. The second climb of the day is on steep gravel and I was able to leave the rest of the group behind. Unfortunately there is a long, gradual paved down-hill after the climb and 3 of the guys caught me. I had no idea how far Adriana was behind me, but I assumed she was right behind the guys, so I sprinted across the first rail road bridge with my bike on my shoulder.

I was able to hook up with 2 other racers on the flats. One was Cory Wallace who rides for Kona. He had some kind of derailleur issue and that's why he was riding near me, he had been racing in the front the first few days. Cory had to stop several times because his chain kept falling off, but he had no problem catching back up. Cory and I lost the other rider at one of the bridges. He was a little nervous walking on the slippery trestles, especially after I almost knocked him over one time. I was wondering if Cory thought I was going to have a heart attack I was breathing so hard trying to stay on his wheel. Meanwhile he looked like he was out for a easy spin...

The last 2 hrs were a combination of rail road trestles and riding through flooded gravel roads paralleling the beach. It rained the entire time. The puddles were deep enough to reach over my bottom bracket, and sometimes we just had to get off and wade through knee deep water.

When I finally crossed the finish-line I knew I had done the best I could that day, but I wasn't sure that I had made up the near 5 minutes. It was a nervous few minutes standing by the finish line hoping Adriana wasn't going to show up. Despite a crappy first day, I was able to recover and win La Ruta for the 4th time! I was so happy to end my year with a La Ruta win!!

This guy lost his saddle during the race, and used a coconut for a seat!!!

Eric and Karen, the official time keepers, had to work long hard hours in the rain.

Many thanks to Roman, Pipa, and all the La Ruta volunteers for making this another great event.
Thanks to my favorite time keepers, Karen Harrison and ERIC (also my favorite mechanic :-)
Thank You so much to my awesome sponsors Magura, Kenda, and PTLG
Federico for being a wonderful host and taking such good care of us while in Costa Rica!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Knickerbocker 8 Hr in Cool, CA

The Knickerbocker 8 hr MTB race is part of the "Leave No Trace" Series put on by Global Biorhythm Events. The other races are 24 hrs of Boggs Mountain, 24 Hrs of Cool, and Tahoe Sierra 100. After racing at Tahoe Sierra 100 and talking to Jim Northey who is the enthusiastic organizer of all these races, I decided it would be fun La Ruta training to do the Knickerbocker 8 Hr race. Auburn is only about a 3 hr drive from our house, so it was a fairly easy trip on Friday afternoon.

Le Mans start

After a quick Starbucks stop on Saturday morning, we drove the 10 miles from Auburn to Cool. The race started with a very short run to the bikes, and as 200 people hit the single track the dust was brutal!! You literally couldn't see the ground in front of you and I took it pretty easy because I had no intention on crashing. After the first loop the dust settled, and the course was fun! Each loop was approximately 12 miles with 1700 feet of climbing. It was almost all rolling single track, with a few steep sections. There was a checkpoint after 7 miles, with lots of helpful and cheery volunteers.

My goal was just to stay consistent, get a good training ride in, and have fun. At one point I thought I might be able to get 8 laps in, but as I had to stop a couple of times to get my chain cleaned and re-lubed at the check point, I realized that was going to take way too much effort. 7 laps was plenty of riding for me. I ended up with 84 miles and a little over 10,000 feet of elevation gain in 7 hrs and 9 minutes.

Me and Melanie Dominguez who won the overall series and got to ride home on a cool scooter!

Hanging out with Tinker and Roger- my pen pal I met on ebay.

Tinker- who didn't have to ride that many laps to take the overall title of the series, also won a hard-earned scooter for his efforts. He was really excited about the scooter and said he wouldn't think of selling it, because he had to race hard for it. After the race, the volunteers started BBQing hamburgers and we stuck around for a while before heading back home. Jim told me that he only found 3 gu wrappers on the course after the race, and filled 3 bags of recycling, and only 1 with trash. Pretty good for 200 people racing for hours.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

BMX at Santa Clara Pal Track

After checking out Joe Fabris getting schooled by 12 year olds (his own expression), Eric and I decided to join Joe, Lori, and some other brave "old people" at the Santa Clara Pal BMX track last Friday night. For 10 dollars you get the chance to practice for an hour and a half and then put yourself to the test against others on a mini bike. Another dollar gets you a bmx bike and a full face helmet for the evening.

After picking out our bikes and helmets, Lori and I rode one lap outside the track with Joe, and then it was time for business. We got some brief instructions about how the handle the bikes on the pump-track, and then we were off to the starting gate. (It's possible this is not the correct term, but I don't know all of the bmx lingo)

Our Team Kit

BMXing is pretty much the absolute opposite of what I usually do on a bike. I like to race for hours, and this sport involves an all-out effort for approximately 60 seconds. After lining up at the gate and attempting to balance with the front tire on the gate and both feet on the flat pedals, you take off down a ramp as soon as you can after the gate goes down. There are 7 spots at the gate, and I have to say I was a bit uneasy about "racing" 4 year olds. Although they were clearly more seasoned than me, they didn't know much about holding a line. After the initial little down-hill you hit a bunch of bumps where you have to pump your way forward to create momentum. There are 3 banked corners where you pedal like crazy to catch a little speed before going in to the next bump/pump section.

I fit right in with the kids!!!

I was in Moto 22 (for novices)

After riding around for about an hour, I sort of got the feel for what you have to do to pump your way around the track, but it was still difficult to keep the bike on the ground. Eric, who used to race BMX when he was 10, clearly picked this skill up much quicker than me. Even though he rode a rented "cruiser" with a 20 inch wheel (I had the REAL thing, with 16 inch wheel) I had to laugh when I saw him on a mini bike.
Eric lining up for his race in the Cruiser Class

After practice, there was a short break before the races started. I am not sure how they figured out which moto (heat) we were in, but it was all posted on a board outside "the office". It was crowded at the gate with small people who all looked like they knew what they were doing. The kids were all business in their snazzy kits, wearing chest, shoulder, elbow, and knee protection, while I was in jeans and the mandatory long sleeved shirt.

Luckily, there were only 2 other people (adults) in my moto, so I didn't have worry about anyone crashing in to me. As soon as the gate went down I was left in the dust by my competitors. HOLY SMOKES!! What was wrong with my legs??? Oh yeah, that's called lactic acid, and it sets in after about 30 seconds of all-out pumping and pedaling!! I shouldn't have stopped riding after practice!!! Instead of feeling rejuvenated from the little break, my legs felt like lead. And as if one lap wasn't enough, I was supposed to race 3 times!!! Lori Fabris being a few years older and much wiser than me, decided to limit her efforts to the practice. After 2 races I decided that hanging out with her and watching the races was much more enticing than racing myself. Joe, Jeff Townsend, and Eric didn't seem at all bothered by racing for 45 seconds followed by hanging out for 15 minutes. They all completed their races, and kicked some serious butt!! Eric got 2nd in his moto. The guy who beat him must have been a serious pro, because he was performing all kinds of tricks in the air, doing manuals (aka wheelies) and made it look so easy. Joe also placed 2nd in his moto, and Jeff 3rd.

I would highly recommend this activity to anyone who is not too proud to get their butt kicked by a bunch on 12 year olds!!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tahoe Sierra 100

After riding an extra 30 miles last year because of a wrong turn in the first edition of the Tahoe Sierra 100, Jim Northey was kind enough to give me a free entry into his race this year. Jim claims I "need to keep my head up while racing, I claim the markings were misleading :-) Whatever the case may be, I was looking forward to giving this race another go.

Eric and I drove up to Soda Springs fairly early on Friday in order to miss traffic, and to get a little spin in before dark. The Ice Lake Lodge where we were staying, is situated right on a lake in a beautiful area. After picking up my race number, we had a nice dinner at the Lodge with our neighbors Steven and Cathy "Seaweed". Steven "the Weedman" was also giving this race a 2nd go after bonking at mile 85 last year. We both wanted to turn our bad luck around this year.

The race started promptly at 7 am, and the group of around 200 racers took off on the dusty 8 mile downhill. I was being cautious because the group was stirring up so much dust it was very hard to see the ground. There were big sharp rocks and loose gravel that could definitely flip you over the handle bars. After 10 miles of gravel road we hit the first check-point where I tossed my arm warmers. I had not looked at the course profile, so had no idea where the climbs where, which sometimes is kind of nice, at least when you are feeling good. I was feeling really strong from all the climbing in Italy.

When we reached the 2nd checkpoint at mile 21, we got onto a really fun single-track for about 16 miles. We were climbing some really steep and rocky trails, and there were actually some short hike-a-bike sections to break things up. The descents were loose, rocky, and FUN!! I felt like I was back in Italy at some points. I think the rough riding there really helped me out in this race. I passed one rider on this section, but besides that I was on my own from this point on.

Even though it didn't seem that hot, I was feeling both of my calves twinging with little cramps, so I kept taking my salt tablets. After more gravel road through national forest, I finally stopped at the checkpoint at mile 50 to fill up my dry camelbak. We went by this checkpoint twice. After the checkpoint there was another fun single-track and then we looped back on a gravel-climb. Having no idea how far ahead of second place I was, I asked at the checkpoint, and they reassured me I was over 15 minutes ahead. I am not sure why I asked, because I have come to never trust any information I get out on the course, whether it is about place or distance.

I have to say that this race was very well organized this year. There were lots of checkpoints and volunteers. The place where I followed the wrong arrow last year, had a flag person pointing us in the right direction. I was relieved after passing that spot. We finished going back up the same 8 miles we had come down. I felt much better than I had expected. Overall, I felt really good the whole time. I only stopped briefly at two checkpoints and my only complaint was that my neck was killing me from all the rough riding.

I finished in 8:57:40, and at the finish line, Jim was very excited to see me in first place and under 9 hrs. Apparently he had a 100 dollar bet with someone about my place and time. He also had bet that I would finish in top 10 overall, but he lost there, because I was 13th!
The men's pro division was won by Tinker Juarez who killed the rest of the field despite a short detour. If Tinker doesn't let his age (48) slow him down, I guess I still have a few more good years in me too :-)

Thanks Jim for putting on a first class event, thanks also to all of the volunteers out on the course!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Podium and Thank You

Top 3 Women

Me and Luca Rostagno- winner of the Open Men's Category

After a week of hard riding and tough competition, I was able to finish at the top of the podium. I was closely followed by Katia Tomatis, who is a very strong but super friendly competitor. Eric and I had a really great time during our stay in Italy and at Ironbike.
Thank You so much to:

Roberto, Vanna, and Ginny: For having us in their awesome stone tower home and being amazing hosts before the Ironbike.

The Organizers and Volunteers at Ironbike who work extremely hard all year to put on a week of "The world's hardest mountain bike raid"

Magura- Matt, Jeff, and Jude for giving me GREAT forks and brakes that can withstand the rough conditions of this race, and for their support!!

PTLG- Rob, Neeraj, and the rest of the staff to help me out with my aches and pains!!

The Kobins- My parents, Sofia, and Ulrika for coming all the way from Sweden to follow us, cheer us on, and provide support during the race. TACK!!!

All LaRutaLou blog followers- I can't believe how many people are actually interested in my racing. Thanks for your support and for reading my stories!

Eric- For EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!! You are the best!!!!

La Ruta Lou :-)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mt Chaberton- Final Day

Up to 10, 300 feet- Mt Chaberton

Helicopter views of Mt Chaberton

Finally!! The last day of Ironbike. After a brutal week of riding, Ironbike doesn't let up even on the final stage. Although there is less than 30 miles of riding, we have to climb close to 10,000 feet in that short distance. This off course, includes the 6000 foot climb up Mt Chaberton to the fort. We started the first special stage right out of the camp. After a bit of a descent, the climb began. The first hour or so was on a quite mellow gravel road. I was keeping a pretty good pace and was able to put some time on Katia. There had been some confusion about the results the previous day, so I wasn't sure exactly how far ahead I was, and I couldn't afford to lose by too much during either of the 2 special stages. As the trail got steeper and elevation higher, I could look down the switch backs and watch Katia gaining on me.

Rocky trail on Mt. Chaberton

When the trail gets steeper and rockier, you have to be a very efficient spinner to carry enough momentum to make it across the technical , loose sections. As the altitude was increasing, so was my breathing. Katia passed me with a friendly "good job Louise" and as much as I tried to stay on my bike, I wasn't able to keep a high enough cadence for riding but had to get off and start pushing.

The trail (if you can call it that) gets so steep that most riders have to carry their bikes on their backs in order to make it up. Pushing seems less energy consuming to me. The trail was so loose and steep that you really had to dig your feet in, to keep from slipping down. Sometimes you had the option of taking switch-backs or going straight up the side of the mountain. I was so out of breath that I chose the switch-backs.

Steep switch-backs

Still able to push the bikes

All I could think about was that I couldn't lose too much time, and I was pushing as hard as I could. My breathing was out of control with the high altitude and effort. When I finally reached the top and saw the yellow arch I was completely done! But, I had made it!! I gave Katia a big hug, she definitely deserved this win, she was very very strong! The altitude and effort made me pretty nauseous and I wasn't able to eat or drink anything, so I took off with Katia and her team mate Claudio for the long bumpy descent.

We were going down the same trail we had come up so at times we had to slow down in order to avoid colliding with the racers still coming up! We descended about 3500 feet to the checkpoint that was the start of Special Stage number 2. I tried squeezing down a little bit of food and filled up my Camelbak, because the second special stage is no cake walk either. Katia and I took off together. We now had a steep single track climb ahead of us. About half of the trail was ridable, and the rest we had to push. I reached the top just ahead of Katia and then we had a technical, steep, slippery single-track to descent. I was feeling good and could ride most of this section. When I reached the gravel-road descent I had dropped Katia and tried to keep going as fast as possible without being completely out of control. We finish with an extremely steep (at least it seems this way after 7 days of hard riding) 10 minute pavement climb through the streets of Sauce D'Oloux to the finish line. I was beyond happy to cross the finish-line!

Very happy to finally finish after 7 days of brutal racing

Katia crossed the finish-line just a couple of minutes behind me.

Stage 6 Pragelato to Cesana

52 km with 2353 meters of climbing (32 miles with 7765 feet of climbing)

With the end in sight we were all looking forward to our first "short" day at Ironbike. The imposed time for the day was only 5 hrs. The way this race works is that if you finish the whole day under the imposed time, you get no penalty points for that day. For each minute over the imposed time, you accumulate 1 penalty point. During the special stages you are compared to the winner of the stage. Each second you are behind the winner gives you one penalty point.

We all gathered at the bottom of one of the olympic ski jumps and when each of our names were called, we walked up the stairs and started the special stage by riding down the jump. It looked very steep and a couple of people crashed and slid down the jump.

Waiting for the start of day 6

Riding down the ski-jump was the start of Day 6

After riding down the ski-jump (which wasn't as scary as it looked) we started paralleling the river where we had finished the previous day. After a short flat but rocky section, we started a climb which was very steep. There was some riding and lots of hiking. After 4000 feet of elevation gain we finally reached the top. Then we had a really long gravel down-hill toward the end of the time trial. After a while of flying down the road I spotted my dad and figured I must be very close to the end. 6 km later, I finally reached the check-point where the rest of my family was hanging out. My dad had hiked up 6 K to watch us fly by for a split second. He later told us he found a short cut back down, but he had been hiking for about an hour and a half to get up. This hard stage took me 2 hrs and 25 minutes.

A little bike-pushing

The next time trial started right after the check-point. It had a long, but more comfortable dirt climb and finished with a really fun technical single-track. At one point, Filippo Barazzuol, who was in the lead at the time, yelled my name and made a pass so fast rocks were flying around him. Giant rocks started rolling right in front of me. It was pretty amazing how fast he was riding. After finishing the last special stage, there was actually plenty of time to make it to the finish under the imposed time, so I was enjoying the views and sunshine. After a while I passed Filippo who was laying outstretched in the grass on the side of the trail. I asked if he was ok, he didn't look injured, and he said he was just napping because there was so much time...

Finish-line and camp

After only 4 hrs and 20 minutes of riding, there was so much free time to relax! I was actually really tired, the special stages were hard and hot. I was still in the lead, but couldn't afford to lose any time, so I had to race really hard.

This was unfortunately the last day my Swedish family were going to be with us before heading back to the airport in Turin. After a nice shower and the daily massage, I had cappuccinos with them at a picnic table outside the hostel which served as base-camp for the day. I was really sad to see them go, but glad that they had been able to spend almost the whole week with us (even if they only got to see us a few seconds here and there on the course).

In the evening, Eric and I walked into town with Paul Facer and Robert Matusek. Eric, Paul, and I decided to skip the pasta dinner in favor of pizza! It was so good to sit in a restaurant, eat food that actually tasted good, and have a little wine! We got back to camp just in time for the Italian race briefing. There was some very emotional Italian arguments going on amongst the racers and organizers about some of the leaders missing a turn the previous day. From the looks of the racers this wasn't resolved to their liking in the end... Our race briefing was significantly shorter just describing tomorrows stage and especially going up the infamous Mount Chaberton. At the end of the day, Katia and I finished both special stages within a second of each other, even though we weren't riding together!!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Stage 5- Fort and Olympic Ski Jump

89 km (55 miles) with 4066 meters (13,400 feet) of climbing

I wasn't feeling my very best when rolling out of Torre Pellice, but the race doctor gave me something to settle down my stomach again. Luckily, we had a 70 km transfer until the first special stage even started. We had 2 big climbs, and I was being really conservative, because I wanted to make sure I felt ok by the time we started the time trial. I can't really remember anything significant about this part except for that people at the checkpoints were asking if i was feeling ok: " Tutto Bene??"
The Race Doc following the Ironbike on his Dirtbike

The last climb was 1400 meters (4520 feet) of climbing, and we ended at this little restaurant (see below), where there was a checkpoint. I left the checkpoint with Hamish, one of the Brits.

From the checkpoint we had a long decent before finally reaching the Fort which was the beginning on our first special stage. Eric came up with the idea of bringing zip ties, so I stopped before clocking in with my chip and zip tied the petzel light I was carrying to my helmet. There were conflicting data on if we were going down 4000 or 8000 steps, but there were a lot. We started going through a few pitch black tunnels, and I got off my bike. Even with the light I couldn't see, and I didn't want to risk crashing.

Descending from the Fort

I was able to ride some of the first steep stair cases but it was very rough. My quads felt like they were going to cramp. Once the stair cases started making turns, I had to get off and run carrying my bike on one shoulder. Once you stop, it is almost impossible (at least for me) to get back on your bike. There were some really fun tight switch backs toward the bottom of the hill. i clocked out at 15:58. The Kobins were standing at the bottom of the hill. I think they were a little nervous....

After riding out of this checkpoint, we only had a couple of miles before the 2nd time-trial started. I was feeling pretty good. We had a fair amount of climbing, but for the most part it wasn't that steep. We followed a river and were going up and down without too many long climbs. I finished this stage in 1 hr 1 minute at the Olympic ski jump in Pragelato.

When we finished we each had the chance of riding up the ski-jump for bonus points. For each centimeter we got past the first white-line (see picture) we earned one bonus point. It was actually pretty fun, but hard. You can't quite tell how steep it is from the picture, but it is STEEP! Also, the fake grass covering the jump is super slick. Once you fell off the bike, a couple of guys had to catch you, and help you walk across the slick surface.
Eric making it past the white line..

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Barge to Torre Pellice

Stage 4 from Barge to Torre Pellice- 91 km with 4117 feet of climbing

When we pulled out of Barge in the morning, we had a 600 meter warm-up before the start of the first special stage. The time-trial looked as if it was approximately 10 km on a trail around town. The finish was back in Barge so it didn't seem like it should be that hard.

Right away I missed a sharp turn between some buildings. A couple of ladies were standing next to the turn waving their arms, but I couldn't understand if they were trying to say "keep going" or "turn around". Moments later a couple of riders including Katia came by and made the turn so I stared chasing them. For me, this was probably the hardest time-trial of the whole week. It was super steep and extremely rocky, and I was totally anaerobic from the very beginning. As I came up behind Eric, he could tell it was me from my breathing and he cheered me on as I couldn't say anything because my lungs were about to explode and I was hyper ventilating!! I kept Katia in sight, but I was completely maxed out. After what seemed like forever, we had a pretty technical descent and with the adrenaline pumping, I was flying down the loose, rocky single track yelling at people to get out of my way. I caught Katia pretty quickly, she let me pass, and then I kept yelling "scusi" (excuse me) so people would hear me and let me pass. Katia was able to hang on in the beginning, and I only beat her by seconds. It took me an hour and a few seconds to complete the first special stage.

Steep down-hill section at the end of 1st special stage

My parents and sisters were standing at the end of the special stage. It was fun that they were able to watch us finish. For me, this was probably the hardest time-trial of the entire week, very painful!! After filling up water, Eric and I took off together for the 50 km transfer. We had lots of very steep climbing before we reached the next time trial and Eric and I got separated shortly, and I ended up riding this part alone. It was a really hot day as we were now at a lower elevation (at least in the beginning of the day), but there were several spots to get water along the course. The last 4 km before the start of the 2nd special stage is a hot, steep paved climb that follows a fast, inviting-looking stream. Looking at my Garmin, the grade varied between 15 and 23 percent for 4 km. I was looking forward to the special stage with another "Lou-climb".

Along the 2nd Special Stage

I stopped only briefly at the checkpoint before I took off. Katia was still there, and I wanted to be able to leave before her so I could ride by myself. The gravel road was winding up the side of the mountain and you could look down and see way back down through the fog. Halfway up there was a patch of snow with the famous "IB" road marker. We topped out around 2500 meters before starting a really rocky rough descent. It feels like you are riding down a dry river-bed. After a few minutes of descending, I spotted a helicopter and a bunch of people standing over a rider laying on the ground in a particularly rocky spot with water. It didn't look good at all.... Turned out, this was the leader of the men's race. Seeing that kind of thing, slows you down a little, I wanted to make sure I got to the bottom in one piece. The stage finished on steep pavement, and I clocked out at 1:18:54. We finished the day, which took me 8 hrs 48 minutes, in the town of Torre Pellice.

Our camp this evening was at another sports facility. Half of the hockey rink served as tent-camp while the other half was set up for dinner. After eating some potatoes and rice-mix, I had a long, hot shower and a massage.

Dinner in the Hockey Rink
Tent camp inside the hockey rink

After dinner, which actually included chicken this evening, there was the usual race briefing. Fabri started the briefing by talking about the spirit of Ironbike, the volunteers working for free all year, how sometimes things weren't so professional during the race.... Turns out, at the 2nd special stage the previous day, the first 6 men had not been able to clock out because the helicopter had not been able to get the computer box to the end on time. Fabri explained that the 2nd stage would simply be thrown out for the day. I wasn't the only one disappointed by how they handled this situation. It is hard when you race your buns off for 2 hours, just to hear that it didn't count for anything. I also needed the extra 90 seconds I had put on the second place woman. There was no arguing to be done, the judges didn't speak English anyway...

There was a short awards ceremony after the briefing, I was still in the lead, but not a very comfortable lead.

3rd Stage: Back to Italy: Jausiers to Barge

103 km (64 miles) with 2659 meters (8775 feet) of climbing

Day 3 started with breakfast in the RV. Ulrika was nice enough to get up at the crack of dawn to make us scrambled eggs. Normally it would have been a delicious breakfast with espresso, bread and cheese, but my stomach was not cooperating this early and I had to force down the food. We started with a long transfer section and within kilometers, Eric ripped his rear tire on a sharp rock. I was riding together with Katia and some of her friends, but wanting to avoid starting the special stage together with her, I took a bathroom break and slowed way down. For me, it is much easier and less stressful to do the time trial alone and at my own pace without having to worry about someone else. I was also still struggling with my stomach so I wanted to take my time and be ready for the first special stage. At the checkpoint I was able to get something from the race doctor to settle down my stomach. I took my time and waited for Katia to go ahead of me. Eric showed up after a while, he had been able to rip a poster of a wall to patch the large tear of his tubeless tire.

The first special stage was a tough one. The trail is rough and rocky and, you are on and off the bike a lot, both on the ascent and descent.

Granny gear climb

Rough downhill section

Lots of rocks

I never did catch Katia during this stage. Eric was able to catch up with me during the extensive hiking section but he waited for me at the checkpoint and we did the long paved descent to the second special stage together.

A little bike pushing...

The second special stage started in a small town. Katia and several of the top racers from the men's division were sitting down, eating and relaxing. I pulled in, but immediately swiped my chip and took off for the time trial. I knew this was another climb that would suit me. Middle chain ring, 12 kilometers, first on pavement, then a gravel road. I felt really strong and was able to hang with 3 of the fast men for quite some time, so I figured I must have put some time on Katia. After a long descent we finished at a checkpoint were the helicopter was parked on a tiny patch of land. The only refreshments that were available was fizzy water, wine, and some sliced salami on a rock. I decided to take off right away since the finish was only 15 km away and it was mostly downhill. I ended up riding in with 3 of the guys.

While I showered, got a massage, and hung out with my family by the RV, Eric had to work on getting a new tire from the mechanics. It is really hard to get done with a long day of racing and then spend hours cleaning bikes, doing mechanic work, and getting ready for the next day in the heat. Luckily we had Jan (my dad) - the master bike washer and tent erector with us!!

We had dinner with Hamish and Paul, 2 nice guys from England. After dinner there was an awards ceremony. I wasn't sure that I was still in the lead, but I heard my name called, got to shake hands with the town mayor, and received a giant basked of wine and food. We were warned that there would be some fire works going off at 10:30 that night. As we were getting ready to go to bed, there was a sound as loud as a bomb exploding. This was the start of the elaborate fire works which went on for about 30 minutes. My parents couldn't believe their eyes and ears, and the fact that this tiny town was able to put on such a show.