With Hamish back out from the UK we were both set to tackle the C1 SRAM Liga in Kolding, Denmark for the final race on our Scandinavian tour.
Both races in Norway and Finland were located at schools and Kolding was no different – it makes a lot of sense if possible given the hard standing facilities that are already in place. On arrival at the venue we were very impressed to see the infrastructure that the organiser had put in place. Unlike previous Danish races we have been to the event looked very professional and was running like clockwork. This was likely down to the UCI C1 status and the fact that the race was also classed as the Nordic Championships.
Hamish had raced in Kolding two years previously so was keen to see what changes, if any, had been made. The major amendment was the location of the start/finish area up at the school which required a long transition section down and then back up from the main body of the course. So the lap started with a long tactical downhill fire road section into the forest before narrowing quickly onto an off camber uphill left hander and the first section of singletrack. Certainly a mental note as a potential danger spot on lap one. The track punched up and down the hill, taking in a recently built long rock garden (a nice feature), before the first more sustained double width tarmac climb. After that it was more of the same, littered with some sections of fast fireroad, before a gradual climb back up to the arena.
The whole course had a bit of everything with a good mixture of short sharp punches and a couple of slightly longer climbs to get your teeth stuck in to, along with challenging technical descents. The only real problem was the length of the lap, which I clocked at 6.3km – over the UCI maximum length, but as long as they got the lap numbers correct we were quite happy.
On Sunday we awoke once again to consistent heavy rain battering on the decking outside our accommodation. When we first arrived in Denmark we were greeted by blue skies and sun, but by race day that was a distant memory. After a quick check of the conditions once we got to the course in the afternoon for a scheduled 3.30pm start, we opted for the first time this season to roll our Conti X-King wet weather tyres. It was looking very sloppy and with no sign of clearing the conditions were only going to get worse.
Up until race day the organisers had everything running perfectly, but unfortunately at the last minute a few things went awry. Firstly the UCI upped the number of laps to six, clearly too many in the dry let alone a mud bath. Secondly they had to delay the start of the Elite Men’s race after everybody had finished warming up and were gathering to be penned before gridding because the Elite Women’s race was massively over running due to the number of laps. You would have thought a good reason to reduce the Men’s back down? No, six it is, better prepare for a long one! Finally, they only gridded the first two rows after which it was an every man for himself mass gallop. They also had to rush the start before the second placed woman came into the finish straight.
Hamish lined up on the second row and I was on the ball enough to snag myself a place on the edge of the third, unfortunately on the inside of the first bend, but much better than row six or worse like some who were playing it more laid back before the start.
Off the line Hamish had a flyer and immediately tucked into the top 5 around the start loop before dropping on to the lap proper and the infamous downhill fireroad section. I got more caught up off the line and was squeezed out slightly on the first bend. Still, I pushed up around the open section and was inside the top 20 entering the singletrack.
As always, when you have a super fast start and no way of stringing the bunch out before the singletrack I got caught in the inevitable queue. Thankfully I never came to a stop but was soft-pedaling in a long line, which is easier said than done over slippery roots and rocks.
Hamish made the lead group but by the second lap was starting to dangle off the back, unfortunately the cold he had picked up and tried to ignore was knocking some of his top end power, and the stiff dead legs he woke up with in the morning as a result didn’t smooth out. The conditions were brutal and, combined with a monsoon at half way, the track was taking no prisoners. A section only mildly challenging in the damp becomes carnage in the grease, and the climb that you could power over out of the saddle turns in to a sit down, weight back, and grind it out.
Once the track started to open up I was able to charge through the field, making use of the tarmac climb to reel in the positions with no danger of crashing out in the process. By the start of lap four I made contact with Hamish who was still sat not far out of the top 10. Despite the conditions I managed to make very few mistakes the whole race, save for one padded tree collision, and had good legs to push on the open sections. With how demanding and long the race was my whole body was really fatiguing towards the end, and cramp started to set in for both of us at times with two to go. All you can do in that situation is give yourself half a second spin it out the best you can and then keep pushing on. By the finish I took 11th place, a good result for my third race back from injury.
Hamish came in behind in 18th trying to limit damage. He frustratingly shed a few places on the last two laps as the race entered marathon distance times, but in a very strong field of Central Europe and Scandinavian riders, and not in the best health, it was a solid ride.
A lot of respect to the large number of spectators who braved the weather to be out on the course supporting and cheering everybody, certainly one of the best atmospheres we have raced in outside a World Cup.
Bad weather inevitably meant a huge clean up operation, which dragged well in to the evening, to make sure all the bikes and kit were back to new before leaving the following morning. Another little glimpse in to a small budget team. But we are building and results are on the up.