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Matt Page: Ironbike stage 5 report

We were warned last night at the briefing that today was going to be a very tough stage. It was quite long, but the hard bit was 3 major climbs each with at least 1000m vertical climbing and several “portage” or bike carrying sections. Tomorrow is also set to be the hardest today of the race, so you would think it wise to go steady today.

I chose not to think about that, but to go flat out from the start and hope to make up some places. There was no warm up today, it started with a special stage and it went uphill from the go. It was a gravel track from 1150m at the start to about 1600m at which point it became a singletrack that was mostly unrideable.

I rode it tactically today, starting at the same time as the 3 riders ahead of me, knowing I needed to stay ahead to make up ground. I had a fair gap by the time it came to the carrying sections, but they closed the gap pretty quickly when walking.

It was a push/carry for a few kilometers to 2000m altitude at which point it went back onto a old military road, so the gradient was pretty good. The gap at come down to about 10m to the guys I was trying to keep ahead of, but on the riding section I put another big gap in.

It was rideable to about 2400m when it turned back into singletrack and was a push/carry through along a mountain track, walking over rocks the size of cars. It was really hard for me with my little legs and I was loosing ground all the time. Some people were flying up, I had no idea how they were able to walk so fast with a bike on their back over such difficult terrain, especially in cycling shoes. The walk lasted for quite a while, reaching a peak at almost 2700m.

The gap had come back to just a few meters again, but on the downhill I pushed on and they were out of sight pretty soon. After another short pushing section we rode joined a downhill track at the top of a chair lift. It wasn’t too extreme, but it was steep with a few jumps and one step down gap jump that I didn’t spot until I was on top of it – luckily I had enough speed!! Reaching the bottom was the end of the first special stage and I was ahead of the three people in front, which felt fantastic!

It was a short road transfer to the start of special stage 2, which was the entrance to a mine! I’d heard about this at Ironbike, but it is pretty mental. It is a 2km flatish tunnel with narrow gauge rails all the way through a mountain, pitch black and about 8ft wide and not very high. I had my Exposure Diablo, so had more than enough light. I kept low, pedalled hard and had to jump over any junctions and points along the way, as they were wet metal and super slippery. It was wicked and something I will never forget. The special stage continued after the mine, going downhill for a few kilometers before turning off onto a narrow broken tarmac road.

It climbed from the valley floor at about 850m all the way up to about 1500m on the same winding road, then turning to gravel until 1800m, the gradient was good most of the way so I pushed quite hard. After 1800m it was a push/carry up the side of a mountain, with no real track just a few bits of tape and spray paint to follow. It went on for several kilometers, finally ending at 2150m. I had put quite a bit of time into the people behind on the road/gravel climb, but could see someone was gaining on the carrying sections.

From the top I was hoping for a nice descent, the helicopter was on the top and the crew were on the mountain. As I started to ride down they said something in Italian – probably “Walk down” because after about 10m on a seriously steep slope I had a big moment and nearly went over the bars. Somehow I saved it and decided to walk the top few hundred meters.

There are absolutely no warning signs in the event, so you have to treat everything with a bit of caution and ride things as you come across them, nothing like events in the UK. From there down it was mostly rideable, but frustrating as there were a several sections too steep or too dangerous to ride, which spoilt the flow. It hit a muddy doubletrack for a while descending into a village where we were pointed down what looked like a nice track. It was deadly!

The ground was really wet still up high and the descent was an old walking track, barely used by the looks of it. It was built using stones and they were like glass. I tried riding it, but had a few small crashes and there was a vertical 100m+ drop to one side, which would have been instant death if you got it wrong. I walked the rest of it, which was hard enough, slipping and sliding all over the place. It might have been rideable if it were bone dry, but it was a bad idea to use it in the wet.

I let off a big sigh of relief as I finally hit some rideable double track, which was fast and sketchy but at least it didn’t have the same massive exposure to one side. A couple of kilometers later I crossed the end of special stage 2, 70km into the day. No one had passed me at all on the second stage, so I think I did OK there.

From the end of the special stage there was just the small matter of the 20km and 1100m climb to the base camp, but at least it wasn’t part of a special stage and I had enough time to cruise it. I crossed the finish line after 8hrs 32min, one of the hardest days yet but also one of the most satisfying because I had done quite well. Base camp is up  high tonight, at a “refuge” called Selleries, over 2000m up. I’m hoping that I have moved up a few places today, as I was in 9th but the results have not been put up yet.

Tomorrow is the biggest day, it has the most climbing and the most distance and include the enormous climb up to Mt Chamberton at 3200m. I hope the legs are good for me, I’ll be needing them!

All stats are taken using my Garmin Edge 800 and uploaded to Garmin Connect.

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