Stage 1 – Tour de Stronie Slaskie
After yesterday’s short, 15 km prologue, the real Sudety MTB Challenge started today, with a 65 km course that included 2423 metres of climbing. Starting in the beautiful park in central Stronie Slaskie, the course quickly turned off the main road and onto a steep climb on gravel and forest trail, the sun beating down at almost 30 degrees. Some of the descending that followed was extremely technical – nothing but roots and sharp rocks, and all but the best riders were forced off their bikes at times. There followed a series of tough, long, and quite steep climbs of around 15% gradient, and more technical descending punctuated by extremely fast forest trail downs.
After about three hours of racing, storm clouds that had been hovering around for a while dumped down, and the already slithery trails became treacherous, particularly a final descent, a tiny mud chute that was so steep it was nearly impossible to walk down.
The winning man, Poland’s Bartosz Janowski, rode an unbelievable 3:20:30, and Netherlands’ Laura Turpijn won the women’s race in an equally impressive 4:18:44.
I have never seen riding quite like this in Australia, and the Euro’s willingness to point their bikes down any slope and skate down belies the stereotype that European – and marathon – racing is not technical. That said, on the three or four twisty corners on the course, I wished the Euros would get a move on!
We were really cheered by the small crowds on the sides of some of the incredible descents. It seems there’s nothing the Poles like to do more on a Monday than take the day off work and hike 30 kilometres up a mountain in pouring rain to cheer on some heroic mountain bikers!
There were some pretty tough times in the heavy, cold rain, particularly the mud, but nothing was quite as tough or took anywhere near as long as the handwashing that followed in our tiny hotel washbasin. Seeing the weather report for the rest of the race has also been somewhat challenging.
The internet says
“The average annual precipitation for the whole country is 600 mm (23.6 in), but isolated mountain locations receive as much as 1,300 mm (51.2 in) per year. The total is slightly higher in the southern uplands than in the central plains. On the average, precipitation in summer is twice that in winter, providing a dependable supply of water for crops.” Yippee.
On a personal note
Today was not a great day for the Subaru-MarathonMTB.com Team. Mike was great, but my legs were screaming from the start. I’m not sure whether to put it down to jetlag, or not enough long climbs in training (it’s hard to get a ride of 2000m of climbing in around Sydney without training for 6 hours), but I’m still quite optimistic that I can ride into the race. On the upside, my technical riding and descending is better than it’s ever been, and much better than it was at Transalp last year (although my climbing is much worse!).
We’ve found the competition in the mixed pairs category here very tough – really high calibre – particularly the teams in first and second. Mike and I placed fourth today, and are in fourth overall, with about 2 minutes 30 seconds between us and third place, which is what we’ll aim for!
A longer stage of 68 kilometres around the other side of Stronie Slaskie (it’s called the Vuelta A Stronie Slaskie) that should be even tougher given that the rain set in this afternoon. Did someone say ‘mud’?