Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Birkebeiner, Norway

It's difficult to imagine 18,000 people riding their bikes in one race. I wondered whether it would be truly possible to organise such a huge event, but the organisers of the Birkebeiner proved that it is. To see so many people, of varying abilities, out riding and enjoying their bikes was amazing. The race started in Rena and finished in Lillehammer, it was 95km and all riders had to carry a 3.5kg backpack throughout the race.

The race was unlike any other race that I have ever participated in: a fast race, soley on open fire-roads. There were no technical aspects at all, but with that many participants it would not be possible to include singletrails; slower riders rode on the right and faster riders over-took on the left. It was simple and it worked. Riders set off in waves at timed intervals throughout the day, and the elite women set off as a single wave together at 8.30am. The male riders ahead of us were all slower, meaning that we had a head-to-head women only race; faster men had either already started or would start later in the afternoon. I liked this format; I like racing women without the influence of men.

It's not a surprise that Pia Sundstedt (Finland) was the race favourite; after winning this race many times before, she had a clear race tactic which she executed perfectly: a slow start for the first 5km, followed by a series of attacks until the top of the first climb. These attacks quickly broke the field: first four girls were able to respond, then only three, and then just me. As we approached the first timing mat where the winner of the first mountain prize would be decided I was happy to ease off and let Pia cross first - she had after all initiated all of the attacks and, in my eyes, she deserved to take the prize; I had merely followed her wheel.

On the first descent I realised that in hindsight I should have replaced my 39T chainring for a 42T - Pia was able to pedal away from me while all I could do was free-wheel. I was unable to close the gap back to her and I rode together with Nina Gassler for the remainder of the race. This was nice because Nina and I have become friends after we first met in the Trans Germany in 2009. Nina had lost all of her gels in the early part of the race and so I was happy to offer her my wheel in return for hers on the descents - she, like Pia, had a 42T chainring and she was therefore able to pedal when I wasn't. 

I thoroughly enjoyed my brief stay in Norway; everyone, including the race organisers and the lovely family who welcomed me into their home, went out of their way to make me feel welcome. As I expected, Norwegian hospitality was excellent. Thank you!

Race results:

1 Pia Sundstedt Craft Rocky Mountain 03:08:26
2 Sally Bigham Topeak Ergon Racing 03:10:21
3 Nina Gässler Hard Rocx/Geilo IL 03:10:22
4 Heidi Rosasen Sandstø United Bakeries / Follo 03:17:41
5 Hildegunn G Hovdenak Sogn CK 03:20:17
6 Hanne Trønnes Ottadalen SK 03:20:37
7 Borghild Løvset Orkla CK 03:20:47
8 Ingrid Jevne Framstad Hard Rocx/Toten-Tråkk 03:22:43
9 Hege Linn Eie Vatland Flekkefjord SK 03:22:43
10 Mari Trønnes 03:23:05

A huge thank you also to Marian Kopfer who provided me with excellent team support, including mechanic, feedzone supporter, and driver :)

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