The Rovaniemi 150; A Race Across the Arctic Circle (Santa's Hometown)
December 23rd, 2016
December 23rd, 2016
Scott likes fat bikes and bike packing, and generally pushing himself to the limits in cold or difficult situations. All this with a full-time job and fathering responsibilities. We could learn a thing or two from Scott, but just don't leave any cake near him. Seriously.
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Long before I finished my last 24hr race, I had decided that I needed to do something new and I had penciled in the Rovaniemi 150; a 150km fat bike race across the Arctic. After waiting on a few other things to be resolved, boom, I entered!
A few months of smashing around on the fatty in Surrey and a weekend of pushing my bike through the Cairngorms, and catching a chest and head cold two weeks before the race (as I write this I am still full of cold) and we were on a plane bound for Rovaniemi.
Rovaniemi is marginally below the Arctic Circle itself, so it is cold and utilitarian, due to its location, and being leveled by the retreating Germans at the end of WWII, but it, and the Finns, are welcoming and warm and there is a great array of restaurants, little bars and tours to go on. There is also Santa's Village, which we visited on the Friday before the race along with many of the other racers and organisers. After that I had a few days to sort the bike out and meet some of the other racers.On the Friday after visiting Santa we had a mandatory equipment check-in and a race briefing that covered the rules, as well as safety and rescue, for three races occurring at once; the North 66, Rovaniemi 150 and Roavve 300 (only two guys had entered this). Then, the only thing left to do was do a final bike check, pack and head out for some carbs.
The next morning was game time, a big breakfast, another bike check and off to the start line on the frozen Kemijoki and Ounasjoki rivers. After signing in, there was time to wish our new friends good luck as we ventured out into the unknown.As we lined up, with only a minute or so to go, I noted that my front tyre had lost pressure since checking it back in the hotel. I made a decision to start, get clear of the other racers and then sort it out later. As we passed under the main bridge after 14km of frozen river I stopped and calmly inflated the tyre to a better pressure.I had planned to finish in under 13hrs, and this meant I needed to be mid bunch at least, so I now had to make up some time on the river, as it was frozen and fast. I set about doing so and by the time I reached the 1st Check Point I had made good time. The four leaders had grouped and worked well together until the end of the race. Hats off to them regardless of riding as a group.
I pushed on, at my own pace, a little higher than planned. I knew I would pay a little for this later as my race prep had not been the best and I was still full of cold. I was also on a learning curve as sections of the trails needed a calm and well paced approach, not a trail riding approach, otherwise you would find yourself wrestling with your bike to wade out of balls-deep snow. I learned this the hard way.
well paced approach, not a trail riding approach, otherwise you would find yourself wrestling with your bike to wade out of balls-deep snow
At Check Point 2 I had caught a few more places, including a friend, Ian, and I had passed fellow Alpkit rider, Paul, earlier on the soft snow section. Ian and I joined another guy with a suspiciously light looking amount of mandatory gear and sped across 11kms of the frozen Sinettajarvi lake. After this the course undulated all the way to Check Point 3 and I slipped away from the others. I was 6th at this point. I was quite surprised by this, but was feeling my cold a little as the climbs made me breathe heavier than normal.A few kilometres of technical trail to a road allowed me to slip away even further without much effort, but once on the road, I started to suffer and for a while I couldn't eat and breathe whilst riding, so the next 10km dragged somewhat. The two guys just behind me soon caught up.We pedalled together for a bit, but then I had to ease up. They moved away and I wouldn't see them again.
I pushed on through the next few Check Points without seeing another racer until I arrived at Check Point 6, Kuusilapi, a little wooden hut and the furthest point north. Check Point 7 was another 35km. I needed a rest here to clear my lungs and nose and take on water. In all, I was probably stopped for 10 minutes as I did what I needed to. The rider behind me, came through as I was ready to head off, so I followed his tyre until a couple of sharp climbs caused him to falter and I managed to ride away (for about 15 minutes anyway). We trudged up onto a plateau in soft snow and across its expanse. The rider behind, also pushing, seemed to float on the snow as he walked pass at speed. I said "Hi" but he looked broken and focused and moved away quickly.
The light was finally starting to go and I had about 60km to go from here.
Soon there was a little downhill. We both remounted, and as I wandered into the soft snow I flew over the bars, right in front of one of the marshals on his snowmobile. The Dutch guy went out of sight. As I got onto the double track ,and soon the road, I started to feel really good and ate and drunk lots as I pushed on. The light was finally starting to go and I had about 60km to go from here. At the next major road crossing Maria yelled "Go Scott, Go!". A little further along the next road section, she and another marshal drove past and gave me a wave and a grin.
By now I had turned my lights on and even put my beanie back on. The double track meandered on and on. It undulated and at times was steep and cut up by riders' foot prints. I had found my mojo and rode all these sections, and even found loads of speed on the descents, seeing some flashing lights in front of me. Slowly and calmly I closed in with 50km in front of us.
I buried my head the best I could, found a gear that stopped the searing thigh pain and got down to business at a massive 6.9kph
I came to the some great single track that led me on to the final lake, Norvajarvi. As I turned down the lake, I was hit by the worse headwind I have every experienced. I buried my head the best I could, found a gear that stopped the searing thigh pain and got down to business at a massive 6.9kph. After much pain, I turned right and had some relief. Back onto the river, after 2kms, I had 11kms of headwind to deal with, all the way to the finish.
In the End
I pushed on and tried to raise the pace, but I was drained by now. I had to stop a couple of times to feed and drink as I couldn't breathe, ride and refuel all at once (stupid head cold). I pushed on and soon was in Rovaniemi again. I wheeled my bike into the lobby of the Pohjanhovi hotel to finish in 7th place after 12hrs-16mins-58sec. I was so happy with this result considering I could have had better prep and better health during the race, but regardless, what a race. It was amazing out there racing in that environment. The organisers and all his helpers had laid out a great course through amazing wilderness and I will certainly be back again. I am still stoked and smile when I think of this race.I couldn't recommend this race enough. Even if you take it as just a fun and exciting adventure. Don't ask questions, just do it! Ask me nicely and I might even loan you some kit. :)
Kit Thank-yous to:
- Alpkit - for the wicked bike packing kit and winter woolies. Filo, Filoment, buff and beanie.
- Wolf Tooth Components - for the brilliant drive train upgrade.
- Cycleworks - for the service, the bike, the winter boots and just being legends.
- Weldtite - for the TF2 'All Weather' that works great in the snow.
- Endura - for the stealth pants and windtex pro (custom Cycleworks) jersey.
- FortyBelow - for shipping my over boots cover so quick.
(Photo: Nicola Jordan and myself, Sasmojo)