Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Race Report: Rovaniemi 150 2014

This is a very special moment in my life, and I start this race report by saying my racing philosophy: you have to win yourself first. I have done that many times in the past, and I did it this time too. But this time I ALMOST won my first race ever!

I started preparing for Rovaniemi 150 in the summer, with Tahko MTB 180. It was a big disappointment with a DNF. But after that things started to get gradually better, and the last three months before the race were excellent. 

I had a clear, simple plan for the race. Go hard and keep the breaks very short. It would be very interesting race because temperature was 0°C...-1°C.

The start at 9:00AM was fast, as I expected. I was first in the lead but soon four riders passed me. At the first checkpoint, Porohovi, I was in third place. The riders in the front were riding strongly and opened a gap, but I didn't try to catch them because I knew that after the river, the course would get tougher. At the second checkpoint, Sinettäjärvi, we were nine riders together. On the Sinettäjärvi lake the same riders were again opening a gap, but I kept my own pace. After the lake came the notorious road section where I missed a turn last year, but certainly not this time. I was quite sure that we would be again together because a slow and tough climb follows. And just that happened. I was feeling good. After the descent a small road section followed and I was again dropped, but when we hit the next snowmobile track, I catched the leaders fairly fast. The same happened every time on our way to the third checkpoint. I was thinking that the leaders were burning themselves too early, because the race was still so early and after the halfway the course is really tough, except the longer road section. I was at fifth place in the third checkpoint, Vittavaara.

A couple of photos:

I lost contact with the leaders, but again, I catched them, and noticed that I was strongest on the softer snowmobile tracks. I wanted to go to the lead because the going was slow in the front. Passing is difficult on a narrow snowmobile track, and I touched one rider who fell. Apologies for that. After this section followed another road section and I was dropped again, but yes, on the next snowmobile track we were again together. The conditions were much faster than last year, but not superfast. There were still some sections that had to be pushed.

At the 4th checkpoint, Morajärvi, I took a short break to eat and filled my hydration pack. After that, the funniest section followed. Last year it was unridable but this time it was ridable to the small river.

Last year at this point, it was already dark but now that we were faster, you could see so much more of the surroundings and landscapes.

Marco Nicoletti and Martijn Boonman:

It was stunning!

This photo was taken by René Fischer:

I was third at the 5th checkpoint, Peurajärvi, but the top 7 was still very close. We were working together and the going was now slower and tougher. We arrived at the 6th checkpoint, Kuusilampi, together. I ate fast some of my freeze-dried meal that I made ready in a thermos bottle, and moved to the lead. I was expecting that following snowmobile track would be rideable but for the most part, it had to be pushed. As the darkness started to fall, I saw two reindeers on the track. As I got closer, they ran away. Martijn Boonman catched me and we were working together. After awhile, René Fischer joined us.

The long road section was next. Like last year, I stopped to pump more air to the tires. René and Martijn passed me. Later I passed Martijn but René was riding the road section fast. At one point, I saw his rear light, so the gap wasn't long. As we hit the snowmobile track, I catched René. I rode behind him for awhile but passed him on the way to the 7th checkpoint, Toramokivalo. A short eating break there. René didn't stop, but I was still feeling good and passed him again. This was the place where I really struggled last year, but now I was going strong. The tire pressure was just perfect for this section and it seemed that I was gaining on René.

As I entered the Norvajärvi lake, there was a headwind but I liked it! I was in the lead and I told to myself in my head: keep going, keep going. You can do it!

The section between Norvajärvi and the Ounasjoki river is tough and great. No sign of René behind me.

Last, 8th checkpoint, Porohovi. I just drank water from the other thermos bottle and emptied it on the snow.

My feeling was so great on the river. It felt like nothing could stop me. I saw the headlight of René in the distance but I knew that he could not catch me if I kept my pace. As the city of Rovaniemi got closer, I tried to see the Jätkänkynttilänsilta bridge. I saw it but after awhile it was difficult to see in the darkness. I just followed the snowmobile tracks in front of me and rode hard. Finally I arrived at a bridge, but noticed that it wasn't the same bridge we went under in the start. I saw Ounasvaara in front of me, and realised that I took a wrong route! I couldn't believe what was happening! I saw the right bridge and René. I rode as hard as I could but there was no way I could catch René. The finish was inside the Pohjanhovi hotel, and I came just one minute behind him!

Everyone was surprised in the hotel for the dramatic finish. René gave me a comforting hug. Also John Lackey from Alaska was there. He couldn't participate in the race because of a health problem. He had been also on the race course cheering us. Thanks John for the chat, it was so great race and ride for me, but the finish was so devastating. Marco Nicoletti came third and we congratulated each other.

Despite losing the race, I'm proud what I achieved and this is not the end. Will I come back to try to win it? Probably not next year, but maybe in 2016. I have something bigger in my mind for 2015. This race was one episode of an incredible journey in my life.

There are so many people that I want to thank.

First, my outstanding family, wife and daughter. You know what I mean!

My awesome sponsors: 9:ZERO:7, Lumicycle, Porcelain Rocket and Pyöristi.

My parents, Mira and Matti, and big brother Tatu.

My wife's parents. Tremendous amount of help!

All my adventure and riding friends in Turku area. You know who you are.

Alex and his team for organizing again a great event. Great work!

And of course all you readers that still keep reading my blog!

A gear related blog post will follow later.

LATE EDIT: the full results are online here: http://www.rovaniemi150.com/results.