Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Lidingö MTB 2014 Race Report (Jon's version)

Sunday Team Form Multisport competed in Lidingö MTB 2014. Unlike our multisport competitions where David and I compete as a team, Lidingö MTB was an individual event and while we stayed together for the first 8 km, a series of events led to a situation where we had very different experiences. But let's start at the beginning, shall we?

All smiles at the starting line
The weather on Sunday was cold (-1ºC) but sunny when my alarm went off at 5:45 AM. I had packed all my gear the night before but still needed to eat and make up liters of sports drink. At 7:00 AM I picked David up and we were on our way to Lidingö, far too early it turned out for our 9:40 AM start time.

Being surrounded by water, Lidingö was even colder than Knivsta and we were nearly shivering at the start, but when the start pistol sounded for Start Group 10, we were on our way and quickly warmed up. My goal was to come in under last year's average finish time of 3 hours and 18 minutes and we started off at a good pace, completing the first 6 km (of 62 km) in just under 19 minutes, including a stop at the first water station to take off our jackets.

At 8 km, disaster struck as we started up a short but steep hill. I felt my chain jump on the rear sprocket and then the guy behind me yelled "Oh, your chain fell off!" At first, I thought he meant that my chain had jumped the sprocket, but he literally meant my chain had fallen off, as in it had broken and was laying on the ground behind my bike. A bit of panic set in at first, but I had fortunately packed a chain tool in my seat bag and I was able to shorten the chain a link and repair it. Feeling better, I hopped back on the saddle and proceeded 50 meters up the hill before I heard a familiar sound and realized that the repair had not taken. My chain tool had jammed when I was pressing the rivet back in and I had forced the chain out with a yank, probably bending the link a bit. So I found myself repairing a chain for the 2nd time while essentially everyone from the final two start groups passed me by. The 8th kilometer took me 29 minutes, and I went from 587th place (of about 1300) to 1,172nd.

Early in the day. Before the dreaded chain break.
 Nevertheless, I was on my way again and now had the beautiful course mainly to myself. There's not much traffic when you're at the back of the pack and I was really able to enjoy some of the fantastic scenery that Lidingö has to offer, as well as to rethink my goals. As I started to pass some of the people from start group 12, I decided that I'd try and see if I could finish ahead of that group, essentially overtaking them along the rest of the course. It was a long time before I even saw someone with a start number that didn't begin with "12", but eventually some of the 11's and even 10's and 9's started to appear and by the 30 km mark I had passed 126 cyclists.

My bike was not in perfect condition as I had shorted the chain considerably with the 2nd repair. I decided to stay on my middle front ring (I have a triple crank) since the large ring was restricted from any of the lower gears on the cassette and I didn't want to risk jamming the chain again. But the rear derailleur was skipping a lot and I was really worried about the stress on the chain, so I tried to keep shifting to a minimum. Then just before 30 km the chain jumped off the rear cassette and I had to stop and realign everything. Another kilometer into the course, the chain jumped a second time during an uphill shift and when I turned around I saw that the rear derailleur was just hanging by the cable, completely severed from the rear bracket. To my dismay, it was not the bracket that had broken, but the derailleur itself.

Downhill is easy on a single speed. It's the uphill that's tough!
Now I was really thinking that my day might be over. 32 km into the race and I have no rear derailleur. But I am persistent if nothing else, so I removed the derailleur and shorted the chain enough to get it around the middle ring on the crank and the middle gear on the rear sprocket. This looked promising, but two pedal turns on the trail and the chain shifted itself down onto the 2nd smallest gear on the sprocket. Without a derailleur, chains want to be aligned straight and this was the natural position. Unfortunately, now the chain was too long, so for the 4th time of the day I was sitting on the side of the trail shortening and repairing a chain. They say that practice makes perfect and for me that was true, because this final repair seemed to hold and I was able to bike, albeit in 15th gear only.

I had lost another 22 minutes on the side of the trail and I was once again at the back of the pack as nearly 100 cyclists passed me while I worked. But I was happy to have not given up and I set a new goal of crossing the finish line at whatever cost (even if I had to run across!)

Actually a single-speed bike turns out to be not so bad--it's a totally different experience than riding a bike with a derailleur as you really feel connected to the drive train without all of those springs dampening the force on the pedals. The gear I was in was manageable and I was able to hit 40 km/hr on some of the downhill slopes and still climb most of the uphills by standing up and just pedaling really slowly and hard. In fact, it wasn't that different than all of those spinning classes I did over the winter with Anna at Form when we cranked up the resistance and stood pedaling at a slow cadence, visualizing a steep slope in front of us. But all of that exertion caught up with me at the 56th kilometer. On a big uphill slope I jumped off the bike to run and my left leg completely seized with the worst cramp that I've ever experienced. At first I couldn't move, but eventually I managed to squat like a baseball catcher and start to stretch it out. It took close to 5 minutes before I could actually get up that hill, but I did and at that point there were only 6 km left.

Once I saw the 5 km flag on the course, adrenaline took over. I knew I was going to finish, even if it was on foot. But that wasn't necessary as my beloved Felt Nine-Eighty held together and I crossed on two wheels, holding my broken derailleur high in the air as I rolled over the finish line, 4 hours and 17 minutes after the start.

I converted my MTB to a single speed to finish the race
What an experience! This was my first MTB-only competition and I loved it, despite all of the mishaps. Beautiful scenery & weather, friendly participants and a really well organized event led to a massively fun adventure. The registration for next year's event has already opened and the organizers are offering a special price for registering before May 31. I haven't signed up yet, but who knows?

Here are a few stats from the race:

  • Total distance: 61.6 km
  • Total elevation gain: 999 m 
  • My average pace: 3 min 4 sec per km
  • My average HR: 158 bpm
  • My final place (overall): 1063
  • My final place (in my class): 886
Lidingö MTB - 61.6 km of mountain biking just outside of Stockholm




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