Sudety Mountain Bike Challenge (tagline ‘no bullshit, no compromise’) starts with a prologue around Stronie Slaskie today. and Mike Blewitt and I will be racing it for Team Subaru-MarathonMTB.com in a mixed pair. Stronie Slaskie, in the picturesque Sudety mountains in Poland, is 16,000 kilometres from Sydney – so we thought it best to bring you up to date on how we got here, and how we’ve prepared to race on the other side of the world.
Mike and I have done lots and lots of training together, and while almost every ride degenerates into an argument over who was half-wheeling whom, it’s been good to get used to each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and point out what annoys the other about their riding. I hate it when Mike wisecracks when I’m suffering. He hates that I always forget to unlock my fork. Sydney sits on so much sandstone that you could almost believe the place was underwater until the 1980s. It’s reasonably flat (certainly there are no mountains), and it’s been a frosty winter. These aren’t ideal conditions to prepare for racing over muddy, rooty mountains in summer, but we’ve done our best to simulate the kinds of conditions we’ll find in the Sudety region.
We’ve sought out Sydney’s deepest, darkest, mossiest gullies and really pushed ourselves to ride technical terrain. Often we’ve found ourselves on walking tracks – politely ignored by dog walkers as we politely ignored them, neither of us strictly supposed to be there. I’ve never done so much rough, exploratory riding on barely discernable singletrack, never ridden so many uncanny lines, never tackled so much moss and rocks and wet roots. Although we’re racing on our Bianchi Methanol 29 SL hardtails, having a dual suspension (a Bianchi Methanol FS) to train on has definitely helped my confidence, too. I hate cold weather, so the fact that it’s been winter has actually worked in my favour, toughening me up for Poland’s variable summer. I’m pretty fortunate that I work freelance so for the first time in my cycling life – that’s about a decade – I’ve been sleeping until dawn and riding later in the day, when the frost has melted. Still, there’s been lots of rainy, muddy, freezing cold rides and I certainly feel it’s hardened me up a bit, just getting out no matter the weather. Mike and I have both invested in excellent quality cold weather gear – a lot of it from our sponsors at Netti, and I now nearly believe the old saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing. Nearly. It’s all in my bag now sitting next to me as I write this, ready for the worst South-West Poland can throw at me.
I’ve also been going to the gym. Along with a very tough program from my coach Anthony Shippard (lots of long rides, climbing, and work at threshold), once a week I’ve braved the grunty guys and MTV dance channel to lift weights at the local gym, where I always have to suppress a feeling of smugness when the huuuge gym boys pull on their little gloves before they grab the bar – I’ve got callouses for that! Since starting there, I’ve certainly got stronger, particularly in the upper body, and it should come in handy: Sudety will involve lots of extremely steep, long, technical descents, and after practising on the course yesterday, I’m sure all the DOMS has been worth it.
The reason that Mike and I both get along famously AND argue a lot is that we’re both perfectionists, and while I’ve been training like mad, doing every kilometre, every effort, every stretch, every session on my program, he’s been beavering away at our bikes getting them just exactly right. We’ve made sure both bikes are setup with full cable outer and XTR sealed end caps so the shifting runs smoother for longer. Our brakes are using sintered pads and ‘full fat’ rotors (with 6 bolts each) for strong braking in wet or dry. Tyres are a little heavier, with a Maxxis Ardent Race (quite beefy!) on the front and Ikon on the back, both with the excellent EXO casing for sidewall strength, and setup tubeless of course.
We may be some of the last MTB racers to hang on to our beloved Shimano 2×10 gearing, but beside the fact that neither of us can afford the change to 1×11 just yet, we do find the wider spread of gears comes in handy on long, mountainous stage races. I run goldilocks chainrings – 24/38, and Mike your more traditional 25/39. We use Cannondale SISL cranks for a greater variety of gearing options in future. The rest of the drivetrain is mostly XTR, although with XT chain and cassette due to the high probability that we’ll be throwing them away in a week. Mike is running his Kappius KR29 wheels, but I have a set of the new ZTR Valor carbon wheels that Jetblack have provided the team with. They’re only about 1300 grams, have a wide rim and a low spoke count and are so far very comfortable, and very light. Just what you want for an XC, marathon, or stage race.
We have used some well proven parts from Mt Zoom too, just stuff that is light and works beautifully, like their carbon bars (I’m on 660mm, Mike is on 710mm) top caps, jockey wheels, seat clamps, bottle holders and alloy bolts. We’ve also brought along a huge collection of spares, including a spare bike seat, tyres, chainrings, bottom brackets, the lot. Then there’s kilos of race food: 78 gels, 24 caffeinated gels, 48 bars, a 1.6kg tub of electrolyte drink powder, another of energy drink powder, and yet another 1.6 kg of recovery drink. Then we have some protein drink sachets, too. Phew!
Then there has been the long journey here. I’m extremely fortunate to have accrued enough miles on Star Alliance flights to have reached gold status, so for the first time in my life I’ve been allowed into an airport lounge, and having extra baggage allowance has been a dream. I believe that flying is an art, and I always take carefully planned snacks, tracksuit outfits, sleep aids (pillows, eye mask, earplugs, buff, hoody, etc.) on board with me, as well as compression gear and a million toiletries. We arrived pretty fresh after sleeping quite well on the 22-hour long haul to Zurich via Singapore, but then undid a lot of that good work when we drove for over 12 hours in two days to get to Poland, arriving two days ago, and that’s tough to recover from.
After a reconnaissance ride yesterday over the 15 kilometre prologue course I’m glad we’ve done all this preparation. The route starts with a tough but steady ski field climb on gravel, but turns extremely technical – the first descent is a brutally steep slide down flat, flinty rocks and over slanted roots. Then there’s mud, moss, more rocks, more climbing, and super-fast downs to finish. All there is to do now is eat properly and rest up before our 3:50:30pm start, and pray that the rain pouring down across the rest of Europe stays away from us. This race is going to be an incredible adventure, and it all starts in a few hours!