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Matt Page finishes 5th in Ironbike stage race

Ironbike is the hardest MTB event in the World, without a doubt.

After the monster Stage 6 I think everyone was looking forward to the final day, which although it was the easiest of the week, it would still have the stats to match almost every UK enduro event.

Today’s start was rather unlike any other Ironbike stage, as it started with a Telecabin ride from the Base Camp up to 2700m above Sestriere where the first special stage started from and finished  several kilometers later at 1450m and was totally downhill, amazing!

Of course Ironbike likes to make everything a little harder, so we started in reverse GC order, which meant all the faster riders starting last and having to do lots of overtaking. The downhill was fantastic, racing through singletrack, loose doubletrack and through a few small villages to the bottom.

I finished 6th on the stage, with only 27 seconds to the first rider. All 5 riders ahead of me where Spanish, they are super fast on the downhills, especially when it is loose, great to try and follow and watch.

From the bottom of the downhill there was a transition section of about 30km, with a few climbs topping out at just over 2000m. Pretty early on I realised that my legs were empty after yesterday, so I went really steady and kept eating whenever possible. About 50km in we hit a crazy ravine, going into it there were a series of incredibly tight switchbacks, most of which were rideable and good fun.

There was a really steep drop off the edge, but it was a walking path with a single metal guide rope, which gave me a bit of a safety net so I rode the switchbacks I could. Then the switchbacks ended and we were faced with a crazy steep and very eroded staircase that seemed to go down forever. The steps were wearing away and at times there was no guide rail.

Having to carry the bike down was rather interesting and pretty scary, one slip and you wouldn’t be able to stop – and SPD race shoes don’t give you all that much grip when walking! I made it down very gently and then we rode a walking trail that crossing a river on log bridges for another few kilometers.

Eventually at the 40km point special stage 2 started, which was a 20km long and had a climb from 1300m to 2100m and back down. It started steep and loose, but I put everything into it, knowing it was the last special stage and I didn’t want to loose 5th place.

I was counting down the vertical meters left, but there were a few downhill and traversing sections, so it took a while to get up. The top section was less steep and wider, which suited me better. Reaching the top it was a case of seatpost right down, weight off the back as it was super steep from the start and carried on getting steeper with some big rocks and rock drops along the way. It was one of the best best descents of the week – a brilliant final descent! I guessed I had done enough to secure 5th position and that turned out to be right.

Reaching the bottom in good time there was just the small (for Ironbike!) 400m vertical climb to the finish at Sauze d’Oulz, but being Ironbike it took riders up 350m then back down 200m before finally climbing the steepest road possible to the finish where the whole town came out to greet the riders, to give a brilliant atmosphere. Crossing the line, becoming an Ironbike finisher is the achievement I am most proud of in all my cycling career.

I finished in 5th position, which is more than I hoped for and I really want to come back again next year (with smaller chainrings!) because I have never experienced such a fantastic event, the riding, the scenery, the organisation and the fellow riders make Ironbike truly special and I am looking forward to taking part again next year.

I spoke to the eventually winner, Milton Ramos from Spain after the finish, he has entered plenty of hard events, including La Ruta and stated absolutely that Ironbike is MUCH harder than La Ruta, which some people believe to be the hardest.

Ironbike stats from the Garmin Edge 500 & random info

Total distance: 586km – Total climbing: 26593m

Highlights:

  • During the week I didn’t suffer a single mechanic problem (big thanks to Ben Jeffery for being a fantastic supporter & mechanic!)
  • I had more interesting moment than I can remember, but no major crashes
  • Day 2 had the craziest descents
  • Day 6 was the hardest overall
  • Mt Chaberton needs to be seen to be believed
  • Old school Fiat Panda 4×4’s seem to be dotted about all the high mountain climbs
  • Ironbike wake up call beats an iPhone alarm hands down
  • Managing to avoid eating Pasta for breakfast every day was a relief!

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