Continued from Part 1
by : John Lackey
Race Day Part 2:
At the next vantage point about 10 km on, the race had actually started to come back together, the top 9 were still all close, but at this point Kara was only about 4 minutes back from the leaders. This road section was a bit longer and as she pedaled Kara’s rear tire began to get softer and softer. She filled with air and continued on. Once again they diverted into the woods and I would have to wait for another 10 km to see how the race had evolved.
This section was a bit slower than the previous ones and it took a while for the racers to reappear, but when they did, it was Toni, René, Martijn, Marco and Joe still occupying the top 5 places with the next few straggling behind over the next 8 minutes. Kara had lost time and I feared that she had to change her tube after I saw her last. When she did finally appear, she was 22 minutes behind the leaders and still riding good. She said that she did have to change her tire. It had taken around 20 minutes having to pump up that huge tire with a little hand pump. As a side note, we had tried to find CO2 cartridges the day before, but none of the shops in town carry them in the winter, so she was hoping that she wouldn’t have a flat, but it didn’t exactly work out that way
After another 5 km of road with a lot of climbing, the race went back into the forest and out of sight. This time for a long slow section. When Kara turned off, I was surprised to see that her closest competitor, Jane Chadwick, was only 5 minutes behind. Fortunately, with this section reported to being one of the slowest and toughest in the race I was confident that Kara would do well since that is her preferred terrain.
Into the woods.
I coaxed my rental Honda Civic hatchback up a road where I really should have had a four wheel drive vehicle to make my way to the next spot where the race hit a road. Just when I was getting nervous that if I got stuck I might be stranded for quite a while, I found the race crew waiting for Álex who was still traveling ahead of the race making sure that the markings were in place and the course was passable. I talked with them for a while and after Álex arrived he said that the trail was pretty slow and guessed that the first racers probably wouldn’t be here for another two hours. They loaded his snow machine on the trailer in order to bring it to the next section where the course hit the trail which was after about 20 km of road.
When the racers finally did come through, after about two hours as Álex had predicted, the sun had set and the last light was fading. It was still Toni and René in the front with Martijn, Marco and Joe following just behind, after that racers started coming at about 3 minute intervals until I saw Kara about a half hour behind Toni. She had made up some good time on this section and was actually riding ahead of a couple of the others at this point and in 7th place. She stopped for a snack and reported that it was a beautiful ride until she got to Checkpoint 6 (Kuusilampi) at which point they crossed a small outflow from the nearby lake and then the trail turned to crap, punchy and soft and she had to push for about an hour and a half. After that the course started to get better and she could ride until she finally came to where I was.
Stopping for a quick bite to eat before 20 km of road. You can see Yannick’s headlamp in the background.
Now there was 20 km of road to recover before heading back out to the wilderness. She set off and with the huge tires and relatively low pressure her pace was a bit slower than the two behind her and they overtook her and rode on. After about 10 km of generally downhill road the racers cross a main highway and the river, at which point the road begins to climb out of the river valley over a series of rolling hills.
On the bridge before the road turns upward.
I leapfrogged Kara a few times until the end of the road where I found Gerard looking at his bike and cursing. He was having a tough go, apparently his tubeless system had been giving him trouble and had burped a couple of times so he had put a tube in and then he had another flat, and on top of that he was having shifting trouble, so he could only use his top 4 gears. I encouraged him the best I could, given the circumstance, and cheered him on as he rode off into the dark. Just then Kara rode up and stopped to have another snack. She was starting to get tired, but was still determined. She followed the others into the dark and now I would have to wait a long time before I would see them again.
Gerrard cursing his luck.
The next section proved to be arguably the most difficult portion of the race, some 25 km of soft hilly snow machine track that was only partially rideable. The uphills were too soft to get traction so the racers pushed, and although they rode down the hills it was too soft to carry much momentum so it was tough going all along. I wouldn’t be able to see the race for about 3 hours so I headed back into town and refilled on snacks and water.
Race Day Part 3:
I grabbed some black tea and some delicious reindeer sausage and crackers and again tested the limits of my rental car as I drove to the next vantage point only to find that Toni and René had already came through. Marco passed by as I drove up and followed shortly by a few more. Yannick came by me in 7th place and at that point I saw another headlight way off in the distance. It took Kara almost 10 minutes from the time I saw her to the time that she finally reached the road. It was a slow section of mashed potatoes and snow machine ruts under a dead straight powerline. She was definitely tired now, but reports from the last checkpoint were that she had an hour and a half lead on Jane at that point, so she was pretty happy about that.
The last section of road before the finish.
After just a short 1 km on the road, the race turned off onto Norvajärvi lake, which in the last two editions of the race was a miserable push through overflow and deep snow. This year however, Álex had convinced the local trail groomer to take the grooming machine out there to set a track across the lake and it worked great, the riders made great time and there was no pushing required. After that the racers crossed another road and then made their way back to the river and toward town. I cheered each of the riders on as they embarked on the last leg of their journey, then rushed to the finish line.
I didn’t have to wait for long before I saw a headlamp in the distance. We were expecting to see Toni since he had gone through the last checkpoint with a 10 minute lead, so it was a bit of a surprise to find that René had overtaken him on the 10 km finishing stretch. As he rode in to the hotel and finish, I noticed another light coming from the wrong direction, recognized it as Toni and he was cruising. He had taken a wrong turn and had ridden around a small island in the river just 1 km away from the finish, adding just enough time onto his race to allow René to overtake him within sight of the finish. It was a great race by both of these guys, a heartbreaker for Toni, and a well-earned win for René, keeping his head about him and pushing hard to the finish.
Marco Nicoletti (3rd), Álex Simón (race director), Toni Lund (2nd) and René Fischer (1st).
Marco rolled into the hotel in third and was quite satisfied with the result, sitting down and as soon as he received his award grabbed a beer at the bar. Joe came through in fourth and had a crew of ladies waiting for him there cheering when he made his way through the door to the hotel. He appeared quite satisfied with his ride as well. At that point I made my way back out to the river in anticipation for Kara’s arrival. Martijn finished just as I was leaving the hotel, and Daniele and Yannick were making their way in as I waited on the river for Kara.
You can see quite a long way down the river, and I strained to see a headlamp in the distance. When I finally saw caught a glimpse of the light it was far away and faint, it took Kara nearly 20 minutes to reach the bridge in town where I was standing. She wasn’t moving too fast at that point, but was pretty excited to be done when she finally made her way through the door to the hotel.
Just a few hundred meters to go.
Álex congratulated her for her first place finish in the women’s division, and she also claimed the distinction as the first ever woman to finish the Rovaniemi 150, and was one of 8 riders this year to beat the previous record time on the course.
Done! Álex and Kara at the finish.
Knowing quite well what Kara would want after the finish, I had manage to smuggle a Dogfish Head 120 minute IPA into the country in the bike box, so after the congratulations and chatting with the race crew we retired to our rented apartment and Kara drank her well-earned beer at around 3:30 am.
Overall this was an exceptional race with great organization and beautiful scenery. Also don’t let my report or photos fool you, there was plenty of riding out in the wilderness, I just couldn’t get there to get pics of it. There are around 40 km of road in the race total, mostly 1 to 5 km stretches sprinkled throughout the first half of the race, and one long 20 km stretch, but the rest of the course more than makes up for those with challenging terrain and beautiful scenery. I’ll be back to this one, hopefully on a bike instead of behind the steering wheel next time.
Finally, I have to give a shout out to the race organizers, and especially Álex Simón, for organizing a great race. Álex puts in countless hours of his time to organize everything, clear and mark the course. Also his crew of race timers and checkpoint helpers stayed up all night to keep the info flowing and the racers happy. Of all the winter races I have done, this one definitely has the best organization that I have seen. Thanks so much to Álex and the whole crew. Also a big thanks to Greg Matyas and all the guys at Fatback Bikes/Speedway Cycles for keeping Kara and I rolling.