On the 12th of June, I rode the XBionic Cup Xperience. That’s nearly a month ago. A long time, but it’s an indication how long it took me to mentally and physically digest the event. It was ace though and I would do it again in a heartbeat. If you are interested in the long version, scroll down a bit. The short version of my race report reads like this:
I DID IT!
On Sunday (12th June) I completed the XBionic Cup Xperience, a 40km Mountain Bike Marathon in beautiful Borno, Italy. With only 3 months of mountain bike skills training under my belt (I am a road cyclist) this was always going to be a test of determination.
The route in the Dolomites included more elevation than the organisers initially indicated (2300m over 40km instead of 1700m over 45km) and the torrential downpours the day before the race had turned some of the ascents and descents into veritable mudslides. There was very little that was flat. The hardest hill was a black ski run with about 35% incline for about 1km and the longest stretch of uphill lasting for as long as 8km over mixed gradients and terrain. I completed the route in just over 4hrs, in one piece bar a few scratches and bruises – and a massive muscle ache in my legs. I was very pleased and quite emotional when I crossed the finish line in the town square.
If you would like to celebrate my achievement with me, you can do so with a small donation here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ChristineBertram
A big thank you goes to those who have already donated. Thank you for your kind messages of support, they kept me going when I considered (briefly) to just stay at the feed station and eat bananas for the rest of the day.
The longer, more epic version is below.
Here I was, at the start line of the XBionic Xperience Cup listening to the Mayor of Borno, Italy count down to zero in the town square. Cinque, wondering whether 3 months of MTB skills training would be enough. Quattro, a last check that the bite valve of my aquapack was open. Tres, a nervous look around at the other female competitors who mostly looked superfit and experienced. Due, a check that all my zippers are closed. Uno, a last deep breath and the focus on just to enjoy it, stay safe and arrive at the finish – no matter what.
Back in February, when I heard I had won in the BikeRadar and XBionic competition, I was wondering what I had let myself into. I am not a MTB rider, but the plan had been to get back on the MTB after some bad experiences and sort my riding skills, later in the year. Winning the competition required accelerating that plan and so I booked myself onto some skills courses. Thanks to the help of ChaseSkills I quickly progressed from the beginner course to the advanced course and the difference just within 2 weeks was astonishing. I discovered what I call my Happy Place, and it is probably the single most useful thing. The next weekends I spent riding the trails of Cannock Chase trying to get more confident, while also putting the hours in to manage the distance. The middle of June came around quicker than you can say blink.
A bunch of 400 riders dashing through the town was quite a sight to behold and the support from the locals this early on was incredible. I felt confident and waited for the first hill, which came rather quickly. And with it the first bottleneck. Having started after all the men, we got caught amongst the slower of them and eventually, it all ground to a halt. One of the Belgian riders told me ‘It’s ok to walk at this stage. There will be more of this.’ I was not best pleased because usually walking is just a no-no. Onwards and upwards. Literally.
The climbs that followed blew my lungs and legs away, and those of most of the other riders surrounding me, too. It got more technical on the uphills with lots of roots which were slippery from the rain in the days before the race and the paths muddy. Off the bike I was again, pushing as the rider in front of me nearly crashed and I did not have anywhere to go. I was glad, I was riding flat pedals and my shoes had some grip. The following descent and subsequent flat section provided only a short respite. The scenery was stunning though and reminded me of the Heidi books I loved when I was little. Green meadows and lambs and goats bleating, rivers happily gurgling when I floated along with a big smile on my face. The awakening was harsh though. If I thought that technical ascent was tough, I would be in for a big surprise. Big and steep.
I’ve cycled a fair few hills, but they were nothing compared to this beast. The path was paved with stones, not that slippy but not steady going either. It kicked up what I would think was about 35-40%. But not just for a hundred yards, no, it went up like that for, well forever. You did not need to speak Italian to understand the mutterings of the riders around. All but one, who clearly was superhuman, pushed their bikes. The sign saying 500m to the feedstation brought some relief, but it were the longest 500m of my life. There wasn’t enough energy drink, coke, energy bars, bananas and cake in the world at this point, but morally, they were an excellent pick-me-up. After a good rest, I got back on my bike and carried on.
The following descent was the first test of my abilities. Rocky, slippy with a few bumps thrown in for good measure. I kept repeating ‘happy place, elbows up, happy place, elbows up’. This had two effects: it got me lower on the bike which then meant I had my knees bent more than I usually do, which let the bike move around more, which made it all so much more stable and confident. I wasn’t going fast, but I was having fun and I could definitely do this. That bubble quickly burst though when the descent got back to that 35-40% with the more even stones, steeper in places and I decided that I’d rather walk the last bit, also a bit terrified by the other riders that threw themselves down the hill with no fear. At the bottom of the hill was a bike maintenance stop where I quickly stopped to get some stones out of my shoes.
An Italian official wanted my number. I had not come this far to only come this far.
An Italian official walked over and explained that I could not continue. I had passed the time limit. I feigned ignorance, I explained I was only doing the short route, that I really didn’t understand. He wasn’t having any of it. He wanted my number and he took it. He said I could go home via the road. Seriously?! Now it was me who was not having any of it. I had not come this far, to only come this far. And so I continued.
In a weird way, I felt much more relaxed now, just pedalling along, enjoying the scenery, waving at the marshals, saying Ciao! and Grazie! up and down the trails. Crossing little rivers, swooping around corners, going through little villages perched high on the mountainside, occasionally stopping to admire the breath taking panorama of the high mountains. I ground my way up to the second feedstation and had a chat with the marshals in English (horray!). They plied me with coke and cake and a single jelly baby that was all that was left. 11km to the finish and 7km to the next feedstation. I could so do this! How bad could the rest now be?
If that climb was something of a stunner, the following descent was its equivalent, except it was deep mud laced with roots all churned up by the previous riders coming through. I rode as far as I dared, which was quite far in my little universe, but nearly going into the ditch, I decided it was time to get off. I had next to no grip and I was not sure whether sliding down the hill was any safer than riding it, but the smiling marshals were ever so supportive and I was still going. The bottom part of the descent was lovely, trails and paths that followed had a lovely flow to them. That said, there was hardly a flat bit on this route, awesome descents went straight into steep ascents. But one thing never changed, the friendly faces of the volunteers along the route, the cheering locals and the frequent medical support who if you stopped would check you out whether you were fit to continue.
5km to go just before the next feedstation. Hoorah! I really needed the coke, banana and oranges as I was running a bit low on energy, but it was only 5km to go and the trails that were coming were amazing. For once gently climbing paths through woodlands with archeological sites along the way. One last nasty, rocky climb. Nearly home. By now I had figured out that and Italian 5km was definitely not 5km, and 500m were not that either. Returning to Borno, being directed in between the banners, riding through the narrow lanes with locals and visitors alike cheering you on was exhilarating and emotional. I had made it. Bottle empty. I was pleased.
An Xperience it was most definitely. It was the hardest thing I’ve done on a bike so far. But it also was one of the most fun things. If given the opportunity, I would definitely come back.
If you would like to donate to my chosen charities, you can do so here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ChristineBertram Thank you in advance!