Saturday, August 27, 2011

Race Report: Merida MTB Finlandia 2011

There are two big mountain bike events in Finland: without doubt, nowadays the biggest is Tahko MTB, but the second biggest is Finlandia MTB, or Merida MTB Finlandia as Merida is currently the main sponsor of the event. I have never participated in Tahko MTB, although I have wanted to take part for many many years. But in Finlandia MTB I have been every year since 2003. (I was also in 1999 but the course was different and only 50 km and the event was arranged  by a different organization). There is simple reason for this. Finlandia is organized in Messilä/Lahti, which is only a 2.5h/200km car drive away from my home. But Tahko's home is Nilsiä, just above Kuopio, and it's a 7h/500km car drive. Time scheduling, logistics and economics makes Finlandia very easy to take part.

Actually it's a little suprising that Finlandia is not the biggest and most popular event. The terrains of Salpausselkä are really gorgeous, and the race course includes lots of nice singletrack. The course is physically really hard. The long distance (70 km announced distance, but the real distance this year closer 75 km) consists two laps, and gains total elevation of 1380 meters. There are four really steep, hard climbs in the end of the lap that really tests your body and mind.

In 2003 I fell love with the toughness of the course. I didn't know what to expect. I had the impression of 1999 event and thought that in addition of being a race, it's also a motion event. I had only my hydration pack with water and one single energy gel. The impact: I have never bonked so badly! I had to even stop a couple of times to keep going and survive, but in the end I survived and reached the finish line.

After 2003 I prepared much better for each participation. In 2006 I was in good shape and I had really good start for the race, but a puncture and front derailleur problems ruined my race. My best time is from 2008, 3h59min06sec. Last year I rode with a singlespeed, and it was a fun experiment. This year the natural choice of bike was of course my fatbike, 9:ZERO:7. And yeah, the goal was to have fun!

Usually I have been here alone, but for the first time I took my mother with me (logistics) and he took all the photos here. We arrived in Messilä well before the start and I had good time to eat and prepare. The weather was looking great. Temps near +20°C, some sun, some clouds.

My 907 caused a lot of attention:

Social media updating routines:

Looking calm:

Always meeting some familiar people:

Looking forward to a funny day:

The start:

After the start I found my own rhythm fairly soon. This summer I have done very little any intense, hard bike rides, so my plan was more to enjoy this event than 'race', but I felt so good that I soon found myself riding pretty well in my own standards. I was thinking that my overall time could be something in the range of 4h20-4h30min, and the first lap would take about 2h. Everything worked just as I have planned. It's so fun to ride technical singletrack with a fatbike, as it's so easy! All the dangerous descents went really well, as 3.8" Larrys have pretty amazing traction. I was able to ride all the last three climbs with the lightest or 2nd lightest gear. The time of the first lap was 2:05:16.

Heading out for the second lap:

After the first lap I have had sometimes a feeling 'hey, am I really going to do this again?', but it always goes away, and did so also this time. After all, this is a sprint race for me and after multiple 24-hour solos everything else feels pretty easy.

The second lap went also well. My experience with this event seems to be very useful. Despite my lack of fitness, I was able to gauge my effort near perfectly. The last four climbs are really hard and I knew that I had to preserve some energy for them. I was again able to ride those three climbs all the way. Even the first one would be rideable but there is one technical spot that I haven't been able to ride over. To my suprise, I ate only two energy gels, one bar of Snickers, a couple of salt cucumbers and a little raisins. Still no bonking effects.

Coming to the finish:

'Race face!':

HR and altitude data:

Official finish time 4h31min18sec. This effort made me really happy. It was fun but at the same time it was a good test of my current fitness and I was suprised that my average heart rate was 158 bpm and maximum 181 bpm.

My Finlandia medal collection:

The 1999 medal is missing from that photo, but it's somewhere. In that respect this was my 10th anniversary race but on the other hand the real 10th is next year. And of course my aim is to be there!

Thanks for TWD for putting up a great event again, and thanks mom for logistics and photos!

More photos HERE.