Riders on the stormThis year, the MTB events of the Powerade-Garmin series are geographically split in two, with those before the summer break in the Sudetes (western mountains of Poland), and the rest, after August, in the Beskids (Carpathians, more east in Poland). For me and all Wroclawians, from the transports point of view, being close to the Sudetes represents an advantage, just like the others are too remote, especially when we can't stay overnight (despite we afforded ourseleves a little whim with Wisła).
This is why I didn't want to miss Stronie Śląskie, last Powerade-Garmin marathon reasonably close to my hometown before the summer break. I was also keen in competing in a full Giga marathon this year (I rode only the medium distance in Karpacz and Wisła), to see if I improved since last year. And Stronie Śląskie is a beautiful area, on the foot of the 2nd summit of the Sudetes, Śnieżnik, owning the highest piece of route in all the 2012 marathons season, with a passage near the Śnieżnik mountain hut (1208m). This event took place in Międzygórze in 2011 and earlier, but it is just a story of town hosting the event, most of the route remained.
Fears were hovering over the development of the event till a couple of days before, for climatic reasons: a huge storm had occured in all Lower Silesia the Tuesday before, with rain pouring non stop and lightnings during the whole day. Current weather at this time of the year tends to be very stormy. Another storm, similar in intensity, was forecasted for the day of the race, raising many fearful voices in the forum on the race's site... Fortunately, the expected storm took the great decision to occur the evening and the night before, leaving a clear blue sky on Saturday morning, and, last but not least, a relieving wave of fresh air, sweeping prospects of temperatures similar to Wisła the week before, with all the water issues during the race. The counterpart of this was that many local rivers were said to be swollen, following all these recent rainfalls...
Only few of my biking mates were attending the event, others being already on holidays. From my team "Daleko Jeszcze ?", Mateusz and his girlfriend were attending the Mega distance, as well as Janusz, a friend from last year's night-ride who shared the drive with me. Michał, lucky owner of the full 29 Specialized Epic, also owning a physical condition well above mine, was the only one of the team to attend the Giga. But I met some other folks on the starting list, like Kamil, teammate of Janusz and unconditional competitor in all rideable events in Poland, as well as Grzegorz, Albert's friend with who I rode a part of Karpacz last year.
Plus a face that suddenly seemed familiar, a beautiful female rider in a blue jersey: Joanna Jabłczyńska, famous Polish actress ! I had heard of her interest into mountain biking, assiduously relayed by the medias, unfortunately less for her achievements than those cycling outfits betraying perfectly her appetizing silhouette. But I ignored she was so fit to take part into today's Giga category ! Forgive me for not having posed with her on a photo, my friends would have thought I am a pervert.
Everything had gone well this time in the preparation, excepted two minor issues: I had forgotten my number from Karpacz at home, forcing me to purchase a new one with the chip inside, and I noticed a bit late (5mn before the start) that my front tire, kind of soft, needed some pumping !
A ride in the cloudsThe start was given from town square of Stronie Śląskie, a bit tiny for the event, and all riders soon escaped the park's grass to move into the streets for a while. The usual chess game happened, with frustrated riders starting from the back sectors willing to catch back, and those slowing down the movement. But we weren't an excessive amount or competitors in the Giga (140), which didn't cause too much issues.
However, my goal that was not loose Grzegorz from sight, with who I wanted to stick as long as possible, failed from the start. He was still fitter than me that day, he and finished 15 earlier without giving me a chance to catch him back on the whole distance. As for Michał, he started much earlier and it was already written that he would ride another tempo. When the first sharp slope occured, whose abrupt start made most of us pushing bikes, everyone was in the right position. I realized at one point that by some coincidence, I was pushing side to side with Joanna Jabłczyńska ! But as I sat again to pedal, she kept walking.
The first part of the ride took us on the foothills of Czarna Góra, on a trail I recognized from an excursion long time ago. Few shord climbs and a couple of steep descents animated the prologue. I had gained several positions in the rankings, passing some people already suffering in the climbs.
Later started the long climb which I recognized as the main one of the route, reaching the Śnieżnik mountain hut. I kept passing several people, and as we reached the hut, no one had overtaken me yet, apart from couple of top riders who had tire issues. The route had gone even a bit further south than the hut, in the surroundings of Mały Śnieżnik, visiting a magnificent area. I definitely need to return there to explore more alone.
A beautiful blue sky strewn with gentle white clouds regularly screening the sunshine, made conditions perfect for riding, with adequate temperature. Wet ground wasn't so far an issue, as most trails were made of stony/gravel tracks, letting the water go and carrying very little mud so far.
The descent took us back to the forestry track running aside the main ridge, and we merged for a while with the Mega route. Mega competitors had started at 11, one hour later, but due to our diversion to Śnieżnik, Giga and Mega riders found themselves merged for a while. During a steep portion of climb that occured at this moment, slow Mega riders were a bit an issue and Gigas had to shout for space. But we splitted again at the second buffet where Megas were to ride down and Gigas to ride up on a sharp trail.
So far I had done quite well, catching back a significant amount of competitors, and loosing only very few positions. Despite the lack of kilometers this years, Karpacz and Wisła had definitely improved my condition, and I felt like a fighter that day. I was secretly hoping to catch Grzegorz in sight, but this didn't happen.
Entering VietnamIt was said by the organizers that this marathon was proposing "all kind of surfaces", and so far it had been kind of too easy, with these large gravel tracks. Something had to happen, with more difficult places, but we didn't know what yet.
The second half of the marathon was a 20km ride on the main ridge of the geographic area we call the "white mountains" (Góry Bialskie). It is a quite deserted and remote area in Polish mountains. I had visited this area some time ago, but only side trails, not the one running on the border ridge, crossing areas classified as natural reserves. The glance at the map and these "reserves" had focused my curiosity: how does it look like ?
So far we were riding a land rover track aside the hill, but suddenly a sharp trail that everyone had to walk took us to the main ridge. The start was nice and entertaining. A tiny singletrack was swinging between the roots, dwarf vegetation and blueberries. Here and there we could see the red and white concrete milestones marking the border with Czech Republic. But, as it rode to a depression, the soil started to be wetter and wetter, resembling more and more like a peatbog. First, it was some puddles here and there, that could sometimes be diverted left or right. But later, the whole route was made of this. I found myself walking in the deep wet peat, carrying my bike.
The scenario repeated itself countless times. Some hillet, due to the slope, would temporarily get rid of the wet soil, and then it was possible to ride again... when the trail wasn't too stepp: blueberries roots were also wet, and rear tires behaving random, with totally no grip. Then, a short ride down, to negociate not too quickly, as pleinty of tricky roots, especially those set in diagonal, would propel yourself straight into the berries... Then, on flat portions, peatbogs to walk in, again and again...
We "rode" 19km in it. People having 29ers, and light people, including few I had seen long ago pitifully struggling in climbs, seemed to manage better, and overtook me like butterfluies. Well, I don't look for an excuse... During the climb of Rudawiec, just after two girls passed me, I realized that my body was shaking from everywhere, heartbeat reaching rare level, feeling thirsty and hungry. My body urged me to make a break. I ate few cereal bars and drank all the rest of my water. Thanks to this break I made it to the top of Rudawiec, last hill, followed by the final ride down from this ridge. I found myself totally alone, previous riders being well before me, and next ones out of sight so far.
Obviously, this portion had been fatal to my high expectations for this event...
A relieving MarianneWe merged to a large track, that went steadily aside the mountains, with a surface also increasingly flat. I recognized the track of the long remote valley Biała Lądecka, leading to Bielice. As I recovered, I cycled fast, hoping to catch back some people. I did, during a portion where cobbles caused troubles couple of riders not having full suspension.
A last buffet in Bielice allowed me to drink and refill my bottle. There was a last climb to switch back into the valley of Stronie Śląskie. Fortunately, the gradient and the surface, gravel, were gentle during most of it, and I managed to contain growing feelings of cramps till the top. I passed again few people who did not seem to have anticipated this last fantasy. Well, the whole route cumulates 2500m of ascent, there must have been a last one !
The pass led to a tiny asphalted road, going slightly downwards. To good to be true ! I locked the suspension and started to push like if at the end of some stage of the Tour de France. This was nothing else than Marianne's road , built a century ago, named after the Queen of Netherlands. One of the very few that allows climbing so high on a road bike in the Polish Sudetes (see the trail). I felt myself so well, that I regretted a bit my break on Rudawiec, final portion of the peat bog.
Last descents with cobbles allowed me to keep the same tempo, unlocking the suspension. Not only riding down, I pedaled with the smallest gear ratio, hoping to catch back a last rider not owning full suspension. I saw one when entering Stronie Śląskie, but failed to catch him for seven seconds.
Mixed feelingsAs we drove back to Wrocław, the gentle white clouds that made our marathon so cool had suddenly turned into threatening dark cumulus. Janusz and me drove back to under a pouring rain that sometimes made the road barely visible, with not neglectible risks of aquaplanning... For sure Stronie Śląskie had been a lucky one regarding weather !
Due to the easy ending, I felt myslef fresher than after Karpacz and Wisła, and I watched for the results with growing regrets about my lack of perseverance in the peat bog.
I am 93th over 140. Michał, despite looking unsatisfied with his result (52th!) took me 45mn. Grzegorz, who awaited for my arrival and congratulated me, some 15mn ahead of me. Perhaps the profile of this marathon, more "rolling" favoured his style of cycling, as he lives in the flatlands of Warszawa (On the opposite, his Karpacz's Giga had shown lack of acquaintance with rough terrain). Kamil was the guy who was three positions ahead of me, despite I had not recognized him during the race (we passed each other many times, remembering his Whirpool jersey). And, as for the Polish Actress, she made it to the end, one hour later ! Well done Joanna, being able to complete a Giga is not a gift to everyone.
Folks having ridden the Mega summarized their race feelings slightly else. Most of the route had been different, almost only on these large gravel tracks. Far to be the hardest Mega in the season, but an interesting one.
So, I have done my Giga of this year. After three back-to-back MTB marathons , I feel like making a break. The festive atmosphere and the race-appeal of MTB marathons is fun, but too much is tiring. I feel like riding a bit alone like I used to do so far.
On the other hand, I feel deserving a bit of self-satisfaction. I am realizing that most of the folks I am comparing my result with, are more or less the same profile: singles with a good job, dedicating all their free time to training and bike-related purchases.
I have a kid going to kindergarden with who i dedicate most of my time, a wife who worked all week-ends till May. We had a gruelling academic year. To get to similar achievements, I was running home in the snow during the dark February commutes. I think I can be a bit proud.