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Time flies and we’re well in to the New Year now, with many new experiences, races, training plans and most importantly many new smiles on the horizon for sure. Last week was the first new experience for me, a race across three days, on a fat bike, on snow, in the Swiss Alps…
So this was something that was on my calendar for a while and an event that I didn't really let phase me. After all it was only 20 miles a day, how hard could that be?! Let me tell you.
In the week leading up to the event, weather warnings had been issued throughout many parts of Switzerland with high snowfall and temperatures dropping well below freezing, 26 degrees below freezing!! After hearing such reports, to say I was sceptical is probably about right - I mean how many people have seen -26 before, let alone ridden a bike in it!
Well fortunately, the sun shone upon my arrival to the event and the stunning town of Gstaad warmed up just a little. Stage 1 of the Snow Bike Festival began in the centre of Gstaad, with a5km lead out behind a pace vehicle, taking in many of the snowed over paths and pavements for a picturesque beginning to what was going to be 3 days of hard, hard work!
As the pace vehicle on stage 1 pulled aside, the racing or in my case spirited riding commenced.
With a long and steep climb up an icy mountain road, focus was key to making it up without putting a foot down, many riders bunching back up here as it became apparent who the climbers in the group were. Not knowing exactly how hard riding a 4.80” tyre on snow would be, I played it safe and wore several layers to defend myself from the cold (cold of which was freezing beards and water bottles solid alike!) but I began to overheat hugely. Sweating in -16 temperatures shows just how hard my body was working to ride up red ski pistes. Finishing day 1 of the event in a mid-field position was a success for me, I couldn't wait to get back to the event HQ for a coffee!
Day 2, stage 2 was then upon us, a slightly longer day in the saddle and a day that would incorporate two large climbs, each about 40 minutes in length. This for me is a long climb, back home in Shropshire I’m lucky to have a 10 minute climb and even then I wouldn't be racing up it!
This stage was proving to be a tough one, with 2 energy gels and a banana later, I crossed the line3 places ahead of day one and would then stand in 24th overall.
The evening of day 2 held an eliminator race and was an awesome addition to the lengthy stages that didn't suit me too much, the eliminator race consisted of a 100m uphill sprint in to a technical downhill. In two minds of whether to race the eliminator or not (due to a rather large lunch) I considered it worthwhile riding over to the start for a watch, then whilst stood there in jeans and a hoody, my name was called to the start alongside 3 other opponents. Well I couldn't turn down a race could I! Sprinting hard out of the gate saw me hit 1st place in both heats and to then follow that up with a 2nd place in the semis. Boom, final time! I was happy to make it this far full stop, perhaps looking slightly intimidating in my causal non-cycling attire the gun was fired and the final started. I was really looking for a solid result in this final but a very poor start with not being able to clip in meant that my three opponents were able to sprint away. Once clipped in, I managed to claw some time back but not enough… I’m confident I could have shown the pro competition who was boss when it came to the eliminator, but now I’ll just have to wait until next year.
Day 3 and I was knackered, the eliminator race the evening before had really finished my legs off. Stage 3 was one that I was just looking to complete and then lap up the incredible atmosphere that the Snow Bike Festival was creating. With only a single long climb, I was basically a passenger on my bike but remained on the rivet for what parts I could. An hour and a half later and the end was in sight, maybe a little deprived of oxygen I ended up missing a direction sign and only a single corner away from the finish I went the wrong way! Letting back past, 4 riders that I had worked hard to take in the final stages of the race. Despite my efforts to claw back those places, I just didn't have the legs to do it and finished the final stage in a respectable mid-field place again, finishing 29th and top British rider in the overall. I tell you one thing, those lead riders have some lungs!
All in all, this experience for me was an eye opener in many, many ways. To see how quick pro-marathon riders can be on snow was an inspiration; I’ve already spent hours in the gym since the event last week in prep for the next stage race! Riding in sub-zero temperatures at high altitudes really demanded a lot from my body, more than I was expecting and the whole riding on snow thing isn't as easy as it looks or sounds, just trying to keep the wheels straight takes effort, and much more than I thought.
So to say I underestimated just how challenging 20 miles of riding a day could be is about right. Would I do it again, yeah I think so…Being correctly equipped was so key to making it through to the end and ensuring I could enjoy myself as much as possible along the way. Thankfully I had Sealskinz on my side with the Highland XP Glove to keep the fingers warm and dry even in those polar bear climates, not to mention the Thick Sealskinz Socks and Lightweight Overshoe to keep the cold off my toes too! Massive thank you Sealskinz.
Anyhow, I hope you’ve enjoyed my run through of the event and maybe I’ll see a few of you there next year - Snow Bike Festival, check it out!!