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Matt Page: Ironbike stage 3 report

I think there were a few tired bodies on the start line this morning and I was certainly one of them. My legs were feeling a little sleepy on the way to the start line and today there was no warm up to get them going.

Ironbike works on a rally style timing, you have special stages where you race against each other and have penalty points depending how far back you are from the winner and penalty points for being over the target time.

Todays stage started almost right away on a special stage. It was the first 20km or so and had a 900m climb and descent. Being so close to the start people were pushing pretty hard and I got a little carried away with the pace, pushing harder than I really wanted to. I recognised the riders close to me and tried to stick with them.

The climb was steep and hard and the descent was a bit crazy. For those in the UK without any knowledge of this event I would liken it to having a XC race up to the top of Snowdon and back down. I was nowhere near the pace of the top guys, but I didn’t do too badly.

So after what felt like an XC race there was now just another 80km left to go! The middle 40km was not part of a special stage, but the terrain was hard going. It started with a 20km climb on a very loose gravel road, where I was in the easiest gear all the way up and struggling for traction. After a few peaks and downhills that were nice and technical we eventually reached a stop about 60km in at around 1000m altitude.

By now, over half way in I knew that it was going to be tough to make it back for the target time. The climb from here went up to 1750m and it was mostly broken tarmac. You might think a tarmac climb is easy, but when it is 20-30% and unrelenting for 6km it hurts and it was slow. I was having to weave across the road to get up with the speed around 5-6 kph.

I passed the leader on the way up, he had a wheel problem that he was getting sorted by one of the mechanics, about 20 minutes later he sailed past me and off into the distance. There were only 3 people ahead of me on the road, so I knew I wasn’t the only one finding it hard.

Eventually I reached 1700m where the special stage started. It was a climb to 2400m which started on a singletrack and then led to an old military track which was steep and loose (as most climbs at Ironbike are!) for quite a time. The last 200m vertical was in the clouds and it started to rain as I crested the top.

The descent was pretty dicey with wet rocks but it was made worse as my fingers were all cramping up. I was just about able to hold the bars and brake, but it was extremely painful and I was struggling to concentrate on the track ahead which was narrow at times and had plenty of long rock gardens to really hurt the hands.

I have never wanted a descent to end as much as that one, but it lasted for 20 minutes. Reaching around 1700m altitude the track widened and smoothed out and I was able to stretch my fingers out and stop the cramp, bliss!!

From here it descended down to 1250m on a gravel track where the special stage ended. I was almost 8 hours in and still had 15km to go, although I knew it was mostly downhill and mostly tarmac. I wasn’t too confident in the corners, as it was still raining and the roads were wet plus it was narrow with cars coming the other way.

It twisted for about 8km with the final stretch being on a wider road where I was able to push harder, crossing the line after 8 hours 10 minutes. I will have picked up a few penalty points as a result, but only the 3 riders ahead of me actually finished within the 8hr limit. I was the 4th back, although the majority of the timing is done on the special stages, so the overall time usually has little or no bearing. I really underestimated todays stage and it nearly broke me.

With another 4 stages left I won’t be making the same mistake again, today had the most climbing of the 3 so far and my whole body is feeling the effects. My hands are sore, my knees hurt, my calf muscles are wreaked and my lower back is tired. I am not alone and I think there will be lots of people dropping out after today. My bike is still 100% though and Ben is doing an amazing job of keeping me and the bike in shape, he is far more than just a mechanic for this race!

Roll on tomorrow…

All stats are taken using my Garmin Edge 500 and uploaded to Garmin Connect:

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