Skaidi Xtreme, the Norwegian event that is so much more than just a bike race. Name another race where in the days before you go on guided rides around the trails of the world’s most northern city, go on a speedboat ride, eat dinner with event sponsors and fellow competitors, and after the race party late into the night under the northern lights!!
A short plane ride from London to Oslo, then Oslo to Alta, followed by a quick bus or ferry ride takes you all the way from the hustle of the UK to the rugged landscape of Hammerfest and Skaidi which are the destinations of this memorable event. This would be my fourth visit to this beautiful location, through the years I’ve made many friends, quite a few of them now being coaching clients. It’s a privilege that each year I get to travel to this special location to race my bike and see all these great friends.
After the thrills of the speedboat rides and riding the trails at Hammerfest we travelled down to Skaidi the morning of the event. After the high pressure of winning national champs a month ago and with world champs in two weeks this event is another opportunity to just have fun whilst still racing hard. After winning last year there was an expectation to win again but until race morning there were no nerves. I knew from previous years where I could make the race hard for my rivals and where I could make the winning move.
During my warm up the legs didn’t feel as good as the last couple of races, this is hard for the confidence but on the start line I knew the body could perform, I just had to believe and dig deep to find the limit. As soon as we hit the first climb everything clicked and I knew the legs had showed up again today. I hit the gas early and could repeat the same effort on every climb.
On the early climbs the pace whittled the group down to a select few and by the time we began the main climb up to the mast it was just three of us left in contention. On the early climbs I’d been able to force a gap but on the downhills my rivals Tormod Weydahl and Falk Håkenstad-Bråten could chase back on. This was going to be tricky to win.
Entering the main climb again I pushed the power through the pedals and could hear my rivals breathing getting harder. I made sure to lead into the technical rocky part of the climb where it paid to be able to pick your line with a clear vision of what was ahead. In years past this climb has been a river with water flowing down off the hillside but today it was much drier and therefore easier to negotiate. That said it was still a huge challenge and all three of us were on the limit, all making mistakes which led to the lead changing between us several times. I made several mistakes and each time could chase back to the rest of the group but was burning matches to do so. By the top it was just me and Tormod together with Faik in sight just behind.
From the mast on top it was all downhill. We avoided the herds of deer roaming the land where we were racing but each downhill Tormod could put me under pressure. Heading down to Deadwood he had a gap but I didn’t panic. That was until I clipped a big rock with my rear wheel, at that point I was feeling close to my limit. Safely down through Deadwood and onto the next small climb where I would catch Tormod. The trails at this point were pretty hard going, the organisers had put in weeks of work to build new bridges across the wettest sections but these bridges were slippery and in between them there were rocky streaming crossings, muddy gravel roads torn up by trucks putting in new pylons on the hillside and technical singletrack descents where you quickly lost the altitude you’d worked so hard to gain.
Once we were off the hillside which towers above the race venue I knew it was nearly crunch time. Just two climbs remained, but that meant two more technical downhills. I think we both knew this was going to be an all out battle. From the bottom of the next climb I lit things up, punching once again and opening a gap. The spectators on this hillside got a great view of two athletes pushing one hundred percent. Into the downhill and Tormod was able to sail back onto my wheel. By this point I’m wondering what I need to do to win this race! One last opportunity coming up, the climb up past the hotel. Its steep and crowded with spectators. Perfect for me to lay down those watts. From the base of the climb to the very top it’s maximum effort, nothing spared. I have a gap but it’s not quite enough, again Tormod catches me on the descent.
Tormod and I have 2 kilometres remaining. The tarmac stretch back towards the arena and the narrow singletrack into the finish line. It would be a sprint finish for the corner off the tarmac into the trail. Whoever got there first would win. We ramp up the speed until we are side by side, elbow to elbow charging for the corner, I’m on the inside, Tormod on the outside. He has the direct line into the trail, I’m heading towards the course tape and marshals on the corner, I have to hit the brakes. I slot into second.
I’m on his wheel but it’s too narrow to try an overtake. The finish line is coming. The commentator is hyping up the crowd but I blank out the sound, everything goes silent. We exit the trail and have 10 seconds on gravel to the line! The finish is not a straight line, I take the right-hand side but run out of room as the barriers curve into the finish line.
Second place. There’s some disappointment not to win but I gave absolutely everything so I can be happy with the result. Over the line and the focus disappears, the sound of the commentator and crowd reaches my ears again. It’s time to celebrate with friends and coaching clients. Our men’s race is just a small part of the event with 160 kids taking part in their races Saturday morning. With thirty percent of the entries being female, this event is setting new standards, inspiring new cyclists young and old.
With the racing over the party begins and continues late into the night. For most in Norway this is the final race of the year so it’s their chance to celebrate and wrap up the season. We wine and dine at the banquet, enjoying the final hours of an amazing day and long weekend in Finnmark Norway. That was Skaidi Xtreme 2022! If you want a different experience and want to visit somewhere extraordinarily beautiful then I’ll see you at this event next year.