The weather was great and the trail was dry but not dusty. I got a decent start but my lack of experience in competitions such as these lead me to ride defensively in the beginning so I more or less just joined the flow. During the first lap we saw some traffic jams and no less than two bikes catching fire =)
Note: The thumbnail is linked, not copied, and it leads to the photographer's site (www.bildeffekt.se) which contains many great photos from the event. One lap was 20 km in length and the goal is to do as many laps as possible during 155 minutes. The winner of my class did 5 laps and I am very satisfied with the 3 laps I completed being so novice at this.
My only other previous experience was when I participated in Stångebroslaget earlier this year and that was a truly painful experience trying to get my motocross bike (KX450F) to take me through extremely muddy forest terrain and it kept stalling and draining my energy having to kick start it all the time. For this race I had bought a WR250F enduro bike instead and that made all the difference in the world. I didn't stall it once while riding, only 3-4 times when I crashed.
05:30 - Alarm clock goes off. Time to get some stuff out of the fridge and pack it into the cooling bags to meet up with my race mate.
06:30 - Trailer with bike hooked up to the car and we head off on the 320km journey down to Eksjö where the competitions is being held.
10:00 - Arrival at Eksjö. Registration and carried all the stuff to the pit area for the service stops. We brought 2 spare wheels in case of flat tires, petrol, water, power drinks, tools, extra gloves, extra goggles, environmental mats, and some other bits and pieces.
11:30 - Rode our bikes to the inspection area where they were approved for the race. Then headed off to the start area where we lined our bikes up along side another 1000 bikes.
12:15 - Got dressed and packed our camel backs. I skipped my motocross top and just had a t-shirt and body armor. I overheated big-time at Stångebro so I needed to to all I could to keep the temp down. I also packed an extreme amount of fluids. More than anyone else with a small backpack filled with 2 x 2L water and 2 x 0.5L Powerade. I wasn't going to dehydrate this time!
12:30 Arrived back at our bikes at the starting line. 15 minutes to go.
I was placed in the last line of the 30-39 year-olds, and then we had the 40-49 and 50-65 year old riders starting 5 minutes after us. As the start went I got a clean launch and settled into the tempo fairly well. It was quite a few traffic jams and pileups the first half lap so I got to eat some mud, watch a bike on fire, and pushing and shoving my way past every here and there.
The terrain was quite dry but also quite rocky. Sometimes the front wheel would catch a rock nearly sending me off the bike but I completed the first lap without any crashes. I also found out that my new bike, a WR250F, was extremely kind to me and I didn't have to work nearly as hard as at Stångebro which also meant that I didn't have to drink any water during the first lap... Great, 5L fluids on my back for nothing =)
I skipped the service stop on the first lap. I had all the water I needed and the bike didn't need any petrol yet so I decided to press on and save myself from pushing the bike through the service area in the blazing sun. Better to stop somewhere in the shade later on to drink saving me energy and time. So I did, about half way into lap 2 I found a nice shaded area just off the trail so I stopped there, drank water and a Powerade, then continued.
There is a section of the track called "Berget" (Mountain) which is a steep and very slippery section which is definitely the most challenging part of the track. The first lap I chose to take the "easy" way around it because it was heaps of traffic and I didn't want to get stuck in it, or cause additional jams for that matter. Now, on the other hand, I decided to go for it on the second lap and I cleared the hard path quite easily.
Not long after "Berget" my front wheel caught a rock on a descent which sent me and the bike flying. I tried to stay on the bike but failed and my knee got twisted to a point where it hurt a bit, but not excessively much. When I picked the bike up and carried on I tried to lift my leg back to the foot pegs and it felt really really strange... I couldn't make out if the bike had been damaged or if my leg was totally messed up. Maybe adrenaline was keeping me from feeling that the leg is wrecked I thought...
The awkward feeling remained and something just didn't feel right. I managed to turn my foot back and forth, wiggle my toes, and lift my leg despite the strange feeling and as I rid another few km I came to the conclusion that it must just be a combination of the bike having had a slight deformation by the foot peg and me being tired that caused the awkward feeling.
I reached the service area after lap two and as I got off the bike I contemplated whether to call it a day and be satisfied with completing two laps or go into the service area and fuel up me and the bike for a third lap. I chose to the latter. I didn't come all this way to give up with time to spare.
I stayed in the pit area for about 15 minutes. Dropped my backpack and replaced it with a single camel back with 2L of water. Ate a snickers bar and some "Dextrosol". Poured half a bottle of water over my head and took off again.
On the third and final lap I was starting to get really exhausted. My arms weren't strong and my legs started to cramp up when I was standing so I had to sit down a lot more which meant my ass took a beating on the rocky sections. I can feel that today (the day after.) I kept quite a slow tempo but managed to speed up every now and then. A lot of riders completing their 4th and 5th lap were lapping me at this stage and I always knew when they came as they shouted from behind to make their presence known.
I reached "Berget" for the last time and I had already decided to take the easy route - but for some reason I didn't. I launched myself up the hard section of slippery rocks and about half way up the bike slid to the side and I had to jump off. No harm done to me but the previously awkward feeling foot peg was standing straight up and I though, great all this way to mess up the bike so close to the finish... turned out it was just stuck a bit so after giving it a good kick it was back to just being awkward again.
Not long to go now... I can hear the speaker making announcements in the background. I come to a long whoop section along a concrete barricade where I had done some wheelies over the whoops the previous laps. Shifted up to fourth and gave the throttle a good twist. I saw two spectators standing by the concrete barricades about 100m ahead of me and just as I approach them I jump off a whoop just to see my front wheel hitting the next one sideways... I wobble big time and nearly go over the handlebars. In the corner of my eyes I see the two spectators jumping back to avoid potentially being hit by a bike and an exhausted rider. Somehow I regain control over the bike and I managed to glance over at the spectators and give them a nervous smile just as I pass them. That's it now - no heroics from now on.
I rolled over the final whoop sections and I enter the last windy section on the big grass field that leads up to the checkered flag. I did it... and despite being very far from the top of my class I am happy with my result. The winner did 5 laps in 2 hours 58 minutes and I did 3 laps in 3 hours and 18 minutes. I finished in 232 place.
Here is a helmet camera that someone wore during the first lap in my class. The rider wearing the camera finished in 250th place but I can't spot myself anywhere in the footage. "Berget" can be seen at around 24 minutes in to the video. And it always looks easy on video - try it before you decide whether it really is easy or not =)