Friday, January 27, 2017

Race Report: Fat Viking 150 2017

During the fall it looked like I would not do any race this winter. After three Rovaniemi 150 races in 2013, 2014 and 2016, Iditarod Trail Invitational in 2015, 'logical' step could have been Rovaniemi 300 but it was pretty much out of the question as it's just too expensive for me right now. Then came news of a new race in Geilo, Norway. Nina Gässler was organizing Fat Viking 150 km, taking place 21st of January. It sounded very tempting because of the location and high probability of proper climbing, but I was still very unsure to take part. After procrastinating and hesitating for unusually long period of time, I decided to participate, because a winter without a race would feel a bit empty. However, I didn't have enough time to train properly, and I wanted to approach Fat Viking more relaxed. Rovaniemi 150 last winter was very stressful as I set a very high goal, a win. I wanted to go back to my original race philosophy: to race against myself. And, these races are not only races for me, they are adventures too.

My training was characterized by snowless conditions and some crappy weather in December. Right after New Year I was sick with flu, and during the Epiphany I couldn't do my last key training sessions. But I wasn't concerned. After pretty relaxed training period it was clear that Fat Viking would be a good test, and indeed a race against myself.

During the last week before the race, Iditarod Trail Invitational training camp was going on in Geilo, and the news came that the weather is very mild and trail conditions have turned to ice in many places. There was also a few small changes to the race route. My initial reaction to the news was that this could potentially be a very strange, and extreme race. I had already 45NRTH Dillinger 5 studded tires on my Nextie rims, but some of the studs were moderately worn out. The question was if they would be enough for the race. Peter was also coming to race and we had planned to travel together, but in the last week some health issues prevented him to take part. Huge disappointment.

The profile of the 150 km race course. Actual distance was at least 167 km:

I travelled to Geilo with my friend Antti Sintonen who was of course racing too. Our schedule was a bit 'rough'. We arrived in Geilo just in time for the pre-race meeting at 16PM. I almost fell asleep there because I had woken up at 02.40AM in the night.

The race start was very early, 7AM in the morning, inside the garage of Vestlia Resort. Photo by Paul Arthur Lockhart:

Nina was also doing the race, and she led us with a neutral start out of the icy mess in the centre of Geilo.

Soon the first long and steep ascent started. Few riders fell down on the early steep part. Once we got past it, the surface got slightly better, and after some pushing it was actually rideable. The climb was long and steep! Soon we all were completely stretched out on the course. My 'engine' was just warming up but the longer I got on the climb, the better I felt. To my surprise I caught Antti Sintonen and asked if everything is ok. He replied that yes, but he just wasn't getting his legs to work properly. From there we continued together. As the sun was rising, the scenery opened up and it was spectacular!

The sunrise was magnificent:

Antti riding behind me:

At times we were riding with Mikkel Soya Bølstad and Daniele Andriano.
The best photos I managed to take before the rechargeable batteries unexpectedly died. I took these photos on the move:

The descent to first checkpoint was fast and fun, but I really loved to go up the long climbs managed to do fairly well on them. After the checkpoint more climbing followed and the scenery changed:

On the top, GPS and actual trail didn't match. Antti was joined by the Danish ride Rune Larsen, and I was fairly close to Daniele. Suddenly I didn't see Antti and Rune. I followed Daniele for a while, but our direction wasn't right, and I turned around, and found the correct route that matched the GPS track.

Then the 'ice hell' started. I tried to maintain moderate speed, but very soon I had some close calls to fall down, so I slowed down. I have had plenty of experience with icy surfaces in my home area, but this was on different level. It was extreme, very extreme. Also, clearly the best grip of my studs were gone. So it truly was not only extreme, it was insane! 

Daniele had also found the correct track and caught me. He was riding fairly well the icy parts, but I managed to catch him when we got out from the worst section.

We were getting closer to second checkpoint. First checkpoint was around 38 km mark, and the second roughly 50 km from the first. I looked at my GPS but it showed that I should continue straight. I thought that I should not miss it as we got straight to the first checkpoint. Then I thought that maybe the distance is slightly more than 50 km, because there was a few changes to the race route and we had to find the correct trail before the 'ice hell'. Paul Arthur Lockhart was taking photos there:

But the checkpoint didn't come up. Something was clearly wrong, and I stopped. Soon Mikkel Soya came behind me, and said that I missed the second checkpoint, it was in Dagali! Damn, I had been riding maybe 10 km past of it. I had to ride back because every rider had to check in and out at the checkpoints. And so I did, and I rode as fast as I could. I was in fourth place in the men's category (Nina was super strong and was not far away from Adam Erritzoe who was leading) but I reminded myself that I was racing against myself and forget the actual race. I realised that I had not zoomed in the GPS enough and that was reason for the overshot. Second checkpoint was on the right said of the road, and maybe 200 meters uphill. Jarmo Järvinen and Stefan Chmel were leaving the checkpoint when I got there.

I met Adam and Nina at the checkpoint and told what happened to me. It was a bummer, but anything can happen in these races, and this was first time when I was using GPS during a race. A new lesson learned.

I still tried to ride fast, and I catched Jarmo and Stefan on the lake. Now, the lake was very slippery too, but it had about 10 cm of overflow with a thin layer of ice on top of it. It broke through constantly under us. As Jarmo and Stefan stopped briefly, I shaked hand with Stefan as this was our first meeting in the 'real world'. This photo is taken by Stefan Chmel:

Riding through the lake was a bit scary experience, but great nevertheless. After the lake my brakes were unfunctional for a while but they regained full capacity after some braking.

It was dark as we got together to third checkpoint, which was the same as the second because we rode a round trip.

Riding the 'ice hell' again in the dark didn't feel good at all. I tried to maintain some kind of speed but I had to slow down to crawling pace on all of the worst parts. I really didn't want to fall down, and wanted to get to the finish in one piece. I also pushed my bike in many of the worst parts. Jarmo and Stefan were ahead of me.

My energy level was low in the end and it was pretty mental in the last big climb before the finish. I knew that I would make it to the finish but I was suffering.

In the finish, Bill Merchant was congratulating and shaking hands with every finisher. It felt great, because at times, it was like a nightmare out there!

My time was 16 hours 17 minutes, finishing in 8th place, 189.2 km by Strava and 191.4 km with 3252 meters (?!) of altitude gain by Garmin eTrex 30x. I was very happy with the first 88 km and rode fairly strongly. Overshooting the second checkpoint was a bummer but you always learn something new in these races, and I still managed to overcome it and finish the race in high spirits. I just feel so lucky that I can do these crazy things that are my passion!

I want to thank my family and parents for outstanding support, without them this would not have been possible. Also, thanks to my awesome sponsors: Kona, Rex and Porcelain Rocket, and all the previous sponsors too.