We were greeted with warm temperatures, ideal for racing. The first few stages had centred around the small town of Stronie Slaskie, but today we were due to leave our Polish base camp and travel through the Sudety mountains to the village of Bardo, sixty-nine km away and incorporating over 2100 metres of climbing. The start of the race meant travelling through the streets of the town and the Peloton ebbed and flowed as it made its journey past traffic islands and roundabouts. Soon we hit the first hill and 600 metres of solid climbing lay ahead to warm the legs up and clear the lungs.
We hit the highest point of the race after ten kilometres and the road book showed the next sixty would be generally down. What it didn’t show was the amount of technical singletrack and the steep, rocky descents which lay ahead. A high degree of concentration was required to negotiate the heavily rooted and rocky singletrack. One rider had pushed his way to the front of our small group, provoking no small amount of angst from some other riders. As he struggled to ride smoothly, riders would squeeze past him until I eventually arrived behind him, he hit a large root and was catapulted over the handlebars. I never saw him again.
We wound our way through stunningly, lush forest and I began to worry about losing my way. That’s not to say the course is not well marked out – there are frequent signs, tape and painted arrows on the ground clearly showing the route. Having someone ahead helps a rider to concentrate on flowing through the corners and riding smoothly. It was therefore a blessing to catch Peter Selkrig and Garry James and spend a few moments following their lines. Ironically, four of us travelled a kilometre down a trail into a small clearing but we realised there were no arrows. Up the hill we rode before cutting through the trees to rejoin the race.
At times, we would emerge from the lush forest, the clearing offering up stunning views of the Sudety Mountains, a reminder of how beautiful the location is where we are riding. At other times, we plunged back into the forest and descended insanely steep single trails. These descents could continue for up to 300 metres and my fingers and hands were left burning from the constant pressure applied to the brakes. Needless to say, it is imperative to concentrate fully at these times and the day certainly claimed a few victims. I passed a French rider, who was holding his arm limply and when I asked him if he was alright he shrugged. At the final checkpoint, I informed the officials and was impressed to see how quickly they reacted in order to prepare medical care.
Most of the second half of this stage was ridden alone and so there was to be no sheltering behind other riders, leaving me to expend a lot more energy than is ideal to reach the finish. This stage definitely shook up the overall standings with big time gaps appearing between riders that were previously only a few minutes apart. Perhaps the Sudety MTB Challenge is starting to bite considerable lumps out of its participant’s spirit. I finished the day 13th (M2) and 58th overall in a time of 4.52.45. I remain in 15th place in the M2 General Classification but with Zbig now 6 minutes ahead after riding strongly all day while many of the other M2 riders losing large amounts of time. Tomorrow’s stage is shorter, at 44 km but extremely technical and essentially involving climbing all day!