Korso XCO, Finland & SRAM Liga Kolding, Denmark.

Fluid Fin Race Team continue their tour of Scandinavia, racing the Korso XCO in Finland and finishing up at the SRAM Liga in Kolding, Denmark. Seb Batchelor reports from both.

Korso XCO, Finland.

Put it down to determination or stupidity, take your pick, remarkably given the circumstances, I came away with 6th position at the C2 Korso XCO in Finland at the weekend.

Just over two days before the race, I went down with a nasty virus which really put my whole body in a bad place. Initially I thought I was just tired from the drive from Horten in Norway down to Copenhagen, combined with a slight case of travel stomach, but as the hours went by, and during practice day, everything really intensified.

Despite bouts of abdominal pain and sickness that had me unable to do anything but adopt the fetal position and feeling completely exhausted the whole time, I managed to summon the strength to go and pre-ride the course.

Korso is conveniently located only 15 minutes from Helsinki Airport, which we were constantly reminded of as the race venue was below the flight path. However, it was a nice spot on the outskirts of the town and in a densely wooded region dedicated to mountain biking in the Summer and XC skiing in the Winter.

The track was a long 5.8km, mainly flat, and therefore fast, affair but to avoid an off-road crit style race (unfortunately common in the UK), there was a huge amount of rocky, rooty and very slick singletrack which required 100% concentration all of the time. I discovered this in practice when a slight lapse left me quickly on the ground – it was not that steep, but when terain like that is that slippery, you always have to be switched on. With a reasonable start loop, I was confident that I’d be able to move through early on, before entering those long singletrack sections.

I made it to race day staying really positive, despite what my body was telling me and eating only small quantities, but more frequently than usual, as this helped to manage the worst episodes. All I was hoping for was to avoid having to curl up in a ball before the start – would they hold the gun until I could sit upright on the bike? Luckily I made it through my warm up and rolled to the start without delay.

After the start, I navigated my way around the rider in front of me on the grid, who had a shocking jump, and moved up to conclude the start loop just sat inside the top 10. During the first full lap, I could tell that my body didn’t have very much to give; my energy felt low and the power to really push wasn’t there. It was clearly going to be a race of doing the best I could with what I did have, and try to make use of every little rest section (few and far between on a flat course)! I had hoped that this would then allow me to open it up as much as possible on the wider sections.

It proved that a few riders had gone off too fast to hold pace and I started to come back through the field from the second lap onwards. Riding in a small group, I realised that I was riding much smoother and more easily through the technical sections of singletrack. I used this to my advantage and attacked into one of the sections – once I had a clear trail ahead of me, I was able to ride away enough on the tech parts, so as not to be caught on the fire road sections. In stark contrast to the weekend before in Norway, I made very few technical errors and rode remarkably smoothly on my hardtail throughout the whole race.

Into the finish, I couldn’t quite make up the last few seconds to take a top 5, but given the stomach pain, nausea, and total lack of energy during the race, I was pretty pumped with the outcome. 

Getting badly ill, (which I am now starting to recover from), could be seen as frustrating and annoying, but instead I’ve taken real positives from the way I rode and can now see it as another good step on my racing comeback ladder.

SRAM Liga Kolding, Denmark.

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. Therefore 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, 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 every man for himself mass gallop. They 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 he 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, didn’t wish to 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 into 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 only a few mistakes throughout the race, save for one padded tree collision, and had good legs to push on the open sections. However the additional demands and length of the race started to take its toll and my whole body was really fatiguing towards the end. This was also followed by cramp, which started to set in for both of us, with still two laps to go. All you can do in that situation is to give yourself half a second to 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 European 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.