As a semi professional racer I have limited opportunities to travel due to other work commitments, I have limited sponsorship resources, for these and other reasons its crucial to make the most of every race weekend. When issues occur like teammates being ill or bike mechanical it’s incredible frustrating but when race organisers let you and thousands of other competitors down it’s a big disappointment.
My race schedule this season includes a few classic races I return to each year, but also includes races in many new places, these adventures are what keep me excited. Romania was one of the new countries I was ready to explore. We had a few days to practise the Faget Marathon course which would host a round of the UCI World Marathon Series. We avoided the hustle and bustle of Cluj Napoca staying just outside of the city. The scenery was absolutely stunning and the trails great fun to ride. It was well worth having those extra few days to see the area because on race day it’s hard to take in the surroundings when you’re so focused on the job.
I travelled to Romania with British rider Tom Bell. He was racing Saturday’s Napo Cup UCI Cross Country race, organised by the same people as the marathon. On dry dusty trails Tom raced to 2nd place, a great start to our weekend of racing and a big motivation for the following day.
Saturday night, it starts to rain and doesn’t stop till morning. Whilst most people probably had a little cry I was excited knowing I could take advantage of the situation. During warm up we heard rumours the race distance had been halved to 40km due to the bad weather, surely it’s a joke!? Can it be that bad? Bang goes the start gun, the race is underway, I feel good and am well positioned in top 4 with the field stretching out behind us. We weren’t told at the start that the race had been shortened so it must be full distance? It’s stopped raining now, the mud is getting sticky. Into a grassy clearing and my front wheel stops turning, that mudguard I fitted is just collecting mud. Oh! Panic. Over 5 minutes I was there trying to free my wheel from that concrete type mud and pulling off the zipties holding my mud guard on. Top 5 gone, top 100 gone… Oh! Not giving up. Can’t give up.
Off I go again, the mud was not so bad once at the top of the first 40 minute climb. Overtaking loads of people was actually quite fun but I’d rather have been at the front with the leaders where I should have been. I was enjoying the conditions now sliding through the not so sticky mud but was aware the kilometres were quickly disappearing, the race had been rerouted and shortened as rumoured! The race was going to be sub 2 hours so I was now going at it like a cross country race sprinting up climbs. Could I catch the top 10, even the leaders!?
On the penultimate long descent I caught a big group of 10, after practising the course I knew this descent so overtook the group quickly making an effort to not allow any of them to get on my wheel. On the last climb I was with Tom who’d been in that group I’d caught, we could see more riders ahead, we motivated each other to push the pace. Down the last descent into Cluj Napoca overtaking another rider and sprinting to the line.
What’s my result? Why’s there so many people already finished? A load of people who’d been behind us missed a turning and accidentally took a short cut. They were then in front of us and even the lead motorbike! Oh! We were left confused and frustrated, we were told the results would be sorted and posted online later, the F5 key on my laptop is pretty worn out now having refreshed the results webpage so many times!
The hours of muddy clean up, working on my coaching business, eating a big pizza and finding a long route to ride the next day was a good distraction whilst we waited for the race results to be published. However the decision was made to cancel the results! A sad decision for all the people who spent large quantities of money and time coming here.
I’ve been a victim of poor race route signage before, I’ve lost big race result including National Championships whilst leading, but organisers/ commissaries have never cancelled the race results for me. When I’ve gone the wrong way I’ve always ridden back to the point of deviation and re-joined the route. To cancel the results is an unprecedented decision. It was obvious who went the wrong way because they finished in front of the lead moto, they didn’t mean to and it’s harsh to disqualify them but why punish hundreds of other competitors who did go the correct way? I rode my hardest to recovery from those early mechanical issues, racing all the way back up to the top 10, only to then be striped of the result. The race organiser was unfortunate with the weather, this can’t be helped but there were a few places route signage should have been better, there are clear guidelines for route signage and the commissaries should have made sure these were being followed. Should race organisers be held responsible for issues like poor route signage? Do the UCI need to make the guidelines clearer? Do commissaries need to take more action to ensure guidelines are followed? Does poor route signage put riders safety at risk?
The race has plenty of positives and I’m sure Faget Marathon will be a great event when the organiser puts right the issues of this year. The concept of having the Napo Cup UCI Cross Country on the Saturday and UCI Marathon on the Sunday is perfect for many of the top riders collecting UCI world ranking points. The race is easy to get to with Cluj Napoca international airport just 30 minutes car journey away. The trails and scenery are spectacular, we had an extra day in Romania so on Monday we rode west into the Vladeasa mountain range and enjoyed a fantastic 5 hours of road cycling in some of the most amazing scenery I’ve seen.
I can take some positives from this weekend, once again I rode well enough to have finished top 10 at a UCI World Series Marathon, I kept headstrong when things weren’t going my way and the form seems to be there. Bring on Belgium Mountain Bike Challenge in 2 weeks time.