As we were now accustomed to in this race, the first climb was long, but, for once, not technical, and was followed by a fast descent allowing enough time to recover for the next, slightly longer hill. Part of this descent involved a steep drop down a long mud slide – not for the faint-hearted but incredibly satisfying when the bike slid, rather than rolled, to safety into the distant abyss. As is the norm in these races, I soon recognised some of the riders around me, those who are my physiological equal. Indeed, it is possible to judge how well you are going on any given day by ascertaining which of these riders are ahead or behind you.
I caught Mike Blewitt and Imogen Smith at the Mechanical Aid Point and we rode together for a few kilometres. Rain started to fall, and bearing in mind my poor performance the previous day when I became wet and cold, I toyed with the idea of pulling on a light rain jacket. Mike and Imogen had already decided to do this but as I prepared to pull the jacket out, the rain stopped and the sun appeared briefly, but enough to convince me to discard the idea. When American Elite female, Megan Chinburg , moved past Imogen, I followed her wheel up the next short climb whereas Mike and Imogen failed to respond. We worked together for a while but on the next long descent I left Megan behind to seek out other riders further up the course. We were now riding across the border in the Czech Republic, but the dreaded mud and accompanying angst failed to materialise. The singletrack was incredibly enjoyable and flowed rather than frustrated. There was one section, however, which involved wading through knee deep mud and slime but this was for only a relatively short time and the trails returned to their benign ways.
Eventually, we crossed back into Poland, and for the first time in this race, we were riding on sealed roads. I had caught Peter Selkrig and Garry James at the bottom of the descent and I cheekily rode in their slipstream. Assured of second place in their category, they were riding in a relaxed manner and appeared to be enjoying their day out. We were now on the final climb of the event and this proved slightly more technical than the previous ascents. A lot of walkers were in this area and they appeared bemused as to why so many bikers were struggling with body and machine up these steep and rocky mountains.
The course spat me out onto a main road and I found myself in a convoy of cars, jumping Tour de France style, from behind one to the next. I was cautious not to miss the turn off back into the single track, having gone off course just two days earlier. The final descent proved less technical than I had imagined, and I finished the race as strongly as possible. I crossed the finish line, extremely satisfied with my performance, which was a vast improvement on the day before. I finished in a time of 4.46.50, 15th in M2 and 62nd overall. I maintained my overall position of 15th in the M2 category and finished the whole race in a time of 22 hours 44 minutes.
The Sudety MTB Challenge is a fantastic race, which incorporates numerous technical trails in stunningly beautiful surroundings. I would wholeheartedly recommend this race to experienced riders, looking for a true mountain bike experience. No doubt it is a tough race and it lives up to its motto of ‘no bullshit, no compromise’. The climbing can seem endless, be it on and sometimes off the bike, the steep technical descents must be ridden with one hundred percent commitment and the fast descents without fear. Thirty-four countries and five continents are represented, with a strong Euro presence and a high calibre of rider, but the atmosphere is exceptionally friendly and Race Organiser, Grzegorz Golonko,has managed to develop an event incorporating well managed accommodation, ample refreshment, well organised mechanical and medical support, friendly drivers and a great team of masseuses and highly professional photographers. Personally, I can’t think of a good reason for not returning to the Sudety MTB Challenge in 2015.
Post Race Comments:
Phil Welch (Australia M2) - A brilliant introduction to stage racing in Europe. I will definitely be back next year!