IRON BIKE " the worlds hardest mountain bike stage race"
21st- 28th July
Limone Piemonte - Sause d'oulx (Italy)
I was more than apprehensive of this race the stats were intimidating and from what I'd heard this was an epic race with a very high drop out rate , time for me to get stubborn.
The initial prologue was around a classic Italian town. Cobbled , twisty streets with narrow archways .The town had come out in force to watch the spectical of a town prologue.
There was a lot of tanned euro legs on show I felt undertanned and very british!
It was a case of being overly aggresive to get a good position into the tight sections , I've often been accused of being a bull in a china shop so applyed that to my riding style complete with my grr race face. 2 caffine cliff gels hyped me up.
I was happy to wear the leaders jersey for the first proper day..... and what a long day it was.
139k is not overly far It's just the sheer amount of climbing and decending over such harsh , rough terrain that makes it take 12hrs. I was kind of shell shocked after that day ,I questioned how I would cope with this.
Technically it was quite frankly scary, now I like hard sketchy climbs and decents but you could actually die if you make a mistake here and being scared uses energy so I had to give myself a good talking too.
"You are wearing the leaders jersey now act like a leader , don't be a wimp".
Day by day, new day new legs , new head same jersey let's go.
Fabritzio the head Italian kindly told us "there are no danger signs because we would have to put them everywhere it's all dangerous".
The helicopter filming the race came so low you could feel the down draft it added an extra element to the race and he flew that onto small ridges and off the edges of mountains like it was a toy .
One day after a particularly long hike a bike and by that I mean bike on shoulders scaleing over rocks that I could barely get over for hours , I thought I had missed the 12hr cut off . I was 10k away from the finish at 11hrs and I had pushed so hard on the climbs to try to get the time then at the final feed I was told that it was 1hr 15 mins to the finish. I was heart broken , how would I face everyone? maybe I just curl up in the woods and not go back. I was angry I' d just lost the race because I hiked to slow I then went over the bars becuase I was trying to take the risks to get me in on time. I had a good cry, like a baby, in the woods in the middle of Italy and I full let it out swear words aswell.
As I exited the woods Ben and Lucy were there "c'mon its not over chin up" I climbed up to the finish and was 9mins out then along came Fabritzio "your in on time" . The fastest men took an hour longer so they added an extra 1hr to the time -RELIEF!
Food , bed , can't speak too tierd.
I woke up in the night from the pain in my legs even lying down hurts now, Lucy's first job was too cut my blister 's and try and patch them up , I had to switch the pain off and block it out.
Every day I had to remind myself to look at the view and really take in this amazing enviroment this is something special and I am so lucky to be part of it but hell it hurts.
Riding as fast as you can down a mine shaft between the tracks in the dark is a crazy buzz . At the entrance stood a geniune miner complete with a proper caving head lamp "Attentiona Attentiona" pointing at the cross section of tracks. Where the tracks meet you have to try and hop the junctions they were very slippy but you could not jump too high , the mine was low , although I am short so had extra head height. What a rush, then you could see a tiny speck of light ,the exit quick quick. Ironically the fastest man and woman through the mine was Matt Page and I who are both welsh! All the brits placed in the top 10 in the mines and we all had exposure lights need I say more.
I started to measure the climbs in hours not km's as the terrain was so hard that I couldn't relate my usual average speed to the distance plus when I was on foot I was frustratingly loosing time.
Spending the night at 2400m at a refuge was a real treat although to get there we had a 5am wake up call raceing started at 7am I arrived at the refuge around 4.30pm so it was classed as an easier day,my legs said otherwise. It felt like we were inside the mountain it surrounded us towering above us, it glowed in the evening light , the jangle of the cow bells ,the bark of a pair of rouge dogs, wild long haired horses and us- tired driven mountain bikers all huddled in this theatre of mountain bike dreams.A moment of clarity during a week of pain driven delusion this is why I ride.
The next morning we knew this day was going to be brutal. The first timed section was a descent of 4000 steps down a fort. When your legs and arms are already sore you just dred the thought of these stone steps.
My eyes were bouncing around in my head I could hardly focus dud dud dud dud dddddddddddd (the noise of wheels clattering down) I just had to walk some of them they were such long sets you had no where to scrub your speed and the turns between each set were 90degrees (check out Matt Pages GO pro footage on you tube).
Later in the day we had to take a chairlift,as I sat there I thought "Blimey I wish I had a safety bar" then I looked at the guy behind he had one , I looked up and there was my safety bar "Shit,keep very still" I couldn't reach it so it went from a serene relaxing chairlift ride to don't swing ,don't move don't look down, get me off ride!
We then had to descend a proper Dh track near Sestrere I adopted the hang your butt off the back position and held on for dear life , I wasn't very graceful but I was over taking people so I must have been going resonably quick I recklessly over took a 4 person bunch and thought I better not get too cocky , it takes a close shave to remind you that you shouldn't get complacent in these surroundings . Thankfully I was getting a lot of grip from my Racing Ralphs in the berms so I knew I could trust them when things got"loose".
I caught a brief glimpse of the surrounding beauty but I was time to get off this exposed mountain before this turned for the worse it was getting dangerous quickly .Dropping off wet loose shail when your legs are folding from exhaustion is very difficult, keeping your focus when you just want too close your eyes takes something deep inside you to push on .
The day was not over we had to descend a gorge, all the steps had colapsed into the gorge so we had to gingerly balance over crumbling rock and cross delapedated log bridges.The final climb back to Sestrere was so painful I was in a bunch of the 3 and someone called a sprint - well why not.
The only time I can win a sprint is after 12 hrs it hurt -that was one of the hardest days riding of my life.
The final day included another lively DH track which I absoulutly loved followed by a steep long climb the next descent was super steep and twisted through the woods caressing some roots with splatter of rocks to keep you switched on. These descents are as hard on the body as the climbs and they scare the hell out of me but I just can't help but enjoy the feeling they give me.
As I climbed that final climb into Sause D'Oulx with a motor bike lead in I felt I had conquered the world.
To finish this event took more than I ever knew I had , to win it was just a dream . This event is more than just a bike race it will take you to the edge and throw you off then dare you to climb back for some more.
The hardest mountain bike raid in the world is a big claim- a justified
claim for sure.
Less than 50% of people entered will finish this.
It is EPIC.