What makes the hardest Mountain Bike race in the World? How about 600km over 7 days with 27,000m of climbing in the Italian Alps!
In July I picked the hardest Mountain Bike event in the World as my first ever stage race. Starting from Limone Piemonte racing over some of the highest peaks in the Alps, including the mighty Mt Chaberton at 3131m the event finished in Sauze d'Oulz 7 days later. Not only would the distance and climbing figures make the riding hard but the terrain is challenging both up and down giving bikes and kit the ultimate challenge.
Day 1 started hard, but compared with the later days it would be one of the shortest days, with 93.5km and a huge 3560m the route was never flat and the descents were incredibly technical while the climbs were relentless, steep and loose. I finished in 6hrs 18 minutes and placed 11th overall out of the 140 starters.
The following days became harder, with Day 2 being a particular highlight of the week with a climb to the top of Monte Bellino at 3000m and the incredible never ending descent off the other side that I will never forget. Day 2 was the hardest single day of riding I have ever done to that point, 118km with 4076m climbing yet I still had another 5 days afterwards.
Day 3 had even more climbing, totalling 101km with 4262m of climbing, the trails were hard going, while day 4 looked hard, the weather decided to turn making it a incredible mental challenge as well as physical, with zero visibility and temperatures well into single figures it was my lowest point of the week. The meagre 72.5km and 3500m took 7 hours and 40 minutes, showing how tough it actually was. Despite a bad day I had managed to move up to 9th position overall.
Day 5 was a long day, but I pushed hard and relished the tough riding, finishing the 91km and 4520m climbing in a time of 8 hours and 30 minutes. The day also included a short trip through a mine! 2.5km of pitch black mine shaft, where we needed a light to see where to go which was another experience I would never forget! I was the 2nd fastest through the mine section, just 20 seconds off the fastest time. I also moved up to 7th overall, continuing the slow but steady progression up the leader-board.
Day 6 was the big one; the one everyone was fearing. A long day with lots of climbing and the highest altitude of the event – Mount Chaberton. We reached the bottom of the climb having already covered a very tough 70km and now faced the 2000m climb to the top, at 3131m. Looking up from the bottom, the gun turrets from the WW2 fort were just visible yet it seemed an impossible challenge. I set off to challenge myself against the mountain and reached the top in 2 hours 41 minutes, but still had a long way until the day's finish at Sestriere. The massive day eventually took 9 hours 51 minutes, covering 111km and 4613m of climbing and had moved up again to 5th overall. The hardest day of riding I have ever done!
With just the final day to go, everyone left in the event was looking forward to a slightly easier day, yet it was still harder than almost every UK event I have done. After 5 hours, 4 minutes with 2968m we were greeted by the town of Sauze d'Oulz and I could finally relax, knowing I had finished the IronBike. Of the 140 starters, less than 50 people finished after 7 brutal days of riding I managed to hang on to 5th position. My first ever stage race, the hardest race in the World. I had survived and have some amazing memories to take from it.
Unlike many other riders I had absolutely no mechanical problems during the event, despite the terrain being the roughest and most challenging I have ever encountered. Sensible kit choices played a part, but the biggest factor was having Ben from Wiggle as a supporter for the entire event. He kept my bikes in perfect condition, allowing me to concentrate on recovering after each day's massive effort. To finish in 5th position in my first ever stage race, which also happens to be the hardest race in the World is a fantastic achievement and something that I am very proud of.
The next event for me is another stage race, although a little closer to home this time, Trans Wales where I am hoping for another top result.