When I came to Norway a couple of years ago, Hans Jørgen told me about a Wednesday evening summer XC series around Oslo that he used to do as a child. We never managed to go in 2012, and neither did we have the motivation for it last year. But this year, the races are permanently inked into the training diaries.
I have my first race licence; a Norwegian one, with UCI international compatibility so I can race in the UK! And at 700Kr for 9 races (or 200kr per race) it was a no-brainer to enter the whole series.
It’s sort of a beginner friendly format, with race times around the hour mark for adult classes. But at the same time, most of the best XC athletes in Norway race, so it’s a bit manic out there. The women start last, and altogether, so the front riders quickly catch the slower men from the earlier starts, while the fast elite men are already passing. Thus the first lap became a game of chicken; holding a line, using elbows, and some aggressive riding.
The course was great. A couple of days of gentle (ish) drizzle meant puddles. On the whole, the course was damp, but stick-to-the-ground-damp, not better-to-have-a-canoe-wet. With several hundred riders on the course at the same time, the puddles quickly turned mud-fest-like, reminiscent of the Southern XC a few weeks ago. But these sections were short lived.
Unlike the races I have competed in in the UK, this course was technical. An initial sprint, was followed by a steep climb, and then into a fairly flowing, mildly technical root/rock section. Luckily the granite rocks remain grippy in the wet. So it was an interesting combination of slippery roots and grippy rocks, with wet mud in between! The flowing section then turned into 1km of gentle uphill, interspersed with steeper rock slab sections. The gentle uphill was a continuous rock garden. Holding a line here required mental strength to stick to the plan, the balance and technique to get over the rocks and keep pedalling. I should point out that in the UK there are challenging A-lines, longer B-lines, and finally the ‘Chicken Run’ in places around the course to provide variety. This 1km section had no such things. It was easier to choose a line based on how many riders were ahead. If a line was clear, better to take that. The first lap I was often just following the leader with many walking sections due to the shear number of riders. On the second, I started to find my own lines a bit more, and by the third I was riding the vast majority as the routes were predominately clear of riders ahead of me.
Then we had a 500m downhill section with a bit of loamy mud and off-camber roots, before a northshore section and 1.5km fast riding back. Just after this was a moderately technical downhill. More speed=less technical. It seems the Norwegian girls haven’t understood the concept of brakes. I was very impressed at how they rode the downhill sections, just unweighting the bike at speed and floating over the rocks. On the second lap, I gained confidence and was able to match them, but it felt a bit hairy at times! A small mud fest and back through the stadium for a steep muddy climb (really starting to feel like Crow Hill last week now), before a muddy technical descent that I really nailed everytime. Not my strength; muddy, rooty, downhills on narrow steep trails, but I found a good line and went with it. Happier with these now. A final technical twisty trail before a really soup-like mud descent on the alpine hill.
Out of four elite women, I came third. Although on paper I’ve only had one rest day (yesterday), in reality it’s been 54hours between my last session on Monday and the race. As someone used to training twice a day with about 10 rest days a year, taking a 54hour break was really hard. It contributed to being unable to access the power I have, but it didn’t prevent me turning my lungs inside out! But I rode mostly a technically good race, challenging myself to ride new lines, and improving my confidence in adverse conditions. I was 6 mins behind the winner, who races at UCI XCO/XCE races for Norway, Ingrid Sofie Jacobsen. The standard of the field was probably equivalent to a BC National Series in the UK, so I think this will be great training!