D'Artagnan and the three musketeers
It's been now two years since I participate, more or less regularly to bike marathons Poland. It all started with my Spaniards expatriate friends, then with the team "Daleko Jeszcze", which includes Wojtek, Michał, Mateusz, and others that I know less.
Wojtek is since one year my inseparable friend, largely due to the fact that he lives 100m far, which allows us to often train together. But I also greatly appreciate his jovial nature, his enthusiasm, and his way of never taking him self too seriously. I like to tease him about the sometimes eccentric way he dresses by bike, for example its white socks and his inseparable scarf around the neck, but this apparent amateurism hidden in him a true predisposition to sport and some talent.
Michał is a common acquaintance of my Spanish friends, he works not far from me and we eat together from time to time, also with Cesar, at the restaurant of the Santander Bank. Single and owner of a Specialized Epic 29er carbon equivalent to 3 months of salary, he takes his cycling passion to heart, does not like to loose. I appreciate his honesty and punctuality, although its tendency to show that he knows everything sometimes a bit annoying. Ruring races, he knows everyone, he is the typical example of "bike-socializing" ...
Mateusz, a childhood friend of Michał, also measures himself regularly to us, it is the fourth musketeer. Her long hair and his "Jesus" look hide steel legs, and complete the square in the same order of performance in "Daleko Jeszcze". Another particularity and not the least, he has a girlfriend as keen as him in biking, who often accesses female podiums... They both live their passion fully, luck that I envy, and I also appreciate for their simplicity and boundless generosity.
Only Michał, Wojtek and I were supposed to participate in the adventure that follows, but the following story will add the last actor.
Grzegorz Golonko and his events
The four of us have repeatedly participated in editions of the competition cycle called "Powerade MTB Marathon", universally recognized as the best organized, the most beautiful but also the most demanding of all mountain races in the country. Unlike some other competitions, they are less commercial, less participants take part, but the level is tougher, and the routes are designed by enthusiasts. Participants often help each other and fair-play prevails. Rare is the phenomenon of traffic jams. The queen distance, "Giga", never presents any repetition with an average of 80km marked and secured route.
A man holds by himself the whole organisation of this "traveling enterprise". Former cycling champion, his name is Grzegorz Golonko. During each event, he is omnipresent, overlooking the race in many key spots, helping occasionally bikers in trouble to restart. He is fully living his passion, in permanent contact with its "participants", including via the forum. One notable anectote was when in 2011, he bet that no one would achieve the mega distance of the Złoty Stok marathon in less than two hours, otherwise he would run on all fours around Złoty Stok's market square. Not less than eight managed to do reach 2h ! He kept his word...
Grzegorz Golonko does not only organizes the Powerade marathons. He also is the inventor of the Beskidy Trophy and the Sudety Challenge, two stage races. One is the star-shaped and last four days, the other traveling over a week. Recently, he also lauched the organization of triathlons since this year ...
Beskidy MTB Trophy is the oldest of these competitions, and reached in seven years an international reputation, crowned in 2013 by the accession to S2 status of UCI mountain stage races alongside with the Alpentour, the Andalucía Bike Race, or Cape Epic. It consists of four equivalent Giga-distance races, largely exceeding 2000m of total elevation (3000 for some stages!), punctuated by highly technical passages. The gorgeous background, through the dark forests and bucolic pastures of the mountains of the Beskids, is also a main asset. The Beskids, "Beskidy" in three languages, refer to this region of the chain of the Carpathians. Start and finishes of every stage take place in Istebna, mountain resort not far from the point of convergence of three borders, Polish Czech and Slovak.
Since the apparition of the Schengen zone, some stages go through some or all of the three countries, making it quite symbolic with a certain aura. All four stages appear on the map as the petals of a flower, each reaching a local prominent summit : Czantoria, Rysianka, Wielka Racka and Klimczok. During these four days, Istebna becomes a true "Trophy village" as the one for example at the Roc d'Azur. "Trophy" is nowadays known all over the Beskid thanks to advertisements displaying the date, and local villagers converge along roadsides to attend its passage, haranguing and encouraging mountain bikers.
Michał already took part once, and a French speaking friend of mine in Warsaw, Albert, three. Both sopke to me about it passionately. This year, Wojtek also decided to try its chance, and de facto invited me to join in. The event usually takes place during a long week-end in early June in Poland. I hesitated for a long time and decided relatively late, with no certainty from an organizational point of view; I did not want to abandon Dorota and my son Mikołaj during 4 days to fulfill my fantasy of selfish husband. But all worries were cleared when it turned out she was not free Friday and Saturday at the university, which in all cases prevented us from going on some holiday, and her mother came to help. It was to be this year for me, otherwise I would probably never have another opportunity.
The very late end of the winter did not facilitate our physical preparation for this challenge. For which, if one wants to enjoy it and not to survive, requires training. The snow really melted as late as mid-April, and an injury in the knee, contracted during running, did not facilitate my task. However, we all started well ahead with indoor training including jogging, spinning, and even rowing, to which I introduced Wojtek. The ergometer rowing exercise has a high added value in the perspective of mountain biking. From the moment ice disappearead, we made to make trips over 100km on road bikes, and mountain bike really started in early May.
Wojtek, very ambitious, even afforded a training camp in Spain during March, and rented a bike again while on vacation in Crete later. Previously being in a similar condition to his, I must say that I completely unhooked from that moment ; Michał, traditionally number one in the team, who also intensely trained, and Wojtek, were undoubtedly well above my level. Which of the two would be the best in 2013? A first marathon in Złoty Stok, in the Sudetes on the Giga distance, gave us the opportunity to check the forces in presence. Wojtek and Michał both had a technical issue (flat tire for one, pedal to the other), but Wojtek handily won the match ... The Cold War was brewing in perspective of the Trophy! As for me, I confirmed my grip on third place in the team, winning with Mateusz during uphills.
Then came the evening of Thursday May 29th when Wojtek's Toyota and my Focus, parked in the Stronska street, were gradually loaded with bikes: 6 in total ! Everyone was taking a "beta" spare bike ! Wojtek usually uses a carbon KTM, as well as a moderately old aluminum Unibike, usually his city bike. Michał, fan of 29ers, apart from his Epic, had a steel framed Surly Ogre, also 29". As for me, the Qbikes accompanied the Tomac. I did not really planned to use it, but its compatibility made it a pool of spare parts.
We arrived late in Istebna at the accomodation Michał had found: several twin wooden houses, a bit kitsch and usually dedicated to the ski season, for the occasion invested by bikers from all over Europe, especially Northern Europe. Our neighbors, in this case, were Russians. 430 participants took the start, totaling no less than 20 nationalities. Obviously, the Poles were the most numerous, unsurprisingly also many representatives of neighboring countries: Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
But more surprisingly, an impressive contingent of 90 people came from Denmark, making this small flat peninsula the second Nation of Beskidy Trophy. Other scattered countries completed, and, as for me, I had the great honor to represent France all by myself !
Stage 1 (Czantoria)
Since few days, all our concerns were focused on the weather. So far milder, the big disturbance which would cause during the following weeks all the flooding of the Danube and the Elbe, was in its debut, the exact day of competition... Everything was dry the day before, but we woke up in a vision of dripping forests. This is why we all thought about taking a second bike, in case one of the stages was to happen as filthy mess. This was precisely the case today.
Wojtek and Michał weren't in any case willing to unnecessarily use their carbon frame and opted for their Unibike and Surly. As for me, knowing only too little the reliability of the Q-bikes in extreme conditions, I decided nevertheless to take the Tomac. We went to get our numbers and got dressed in long leggings and sleeves. Wojtek, besides of his scarf and white socks, even opted for his bright blue shoes covers, which gave him more than improbable look for a Trophy competitor ! We also put waterproofs on, but once we settled in the start corridor, rain miraculously stopped, and we hid them hastily in our bags. Long minutes that preceded the countdown gave me the opportunity to examine the peloton. Everywhere, faces of well-versed cyclists, the same look in the eyes that reflects both a cold determination mixed with immense generosity in the effort. The same expression in men and also women, who later will prove they were not here by random.
There was precisely one, about fourty, next to me, and a look at the number indicated that she was Danish, so I asked the question that intrigued me: "Did you all pass the word to each other to get here ?". Amused, she explained that the same club, used to "drive down to Poland," gathered just by itself almost half of the Danes. But the lure is also explained by the fact that for Denmark, country that has at best dunes, Polish mountains are among the fastest to access Plus, the competition is very beautiful, and compared to those in Germany, much cheaper. I will eventually meet Inge repeatedly during the stages and we will become friends.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1, start! The column of bikers, ephemerally still clean, rushes on the asphalt, which quickly leads to the first climbs in the forest. Soon, Beskids mountains announced the color. Hundreds of cyclers who have gone before us transformed in less time than it takes to say it the peaceful forest track into a quagmire. Michał steps off, Wojtek gets stuck and blocks the derailleur; This is Grzegorz Golonko in person, here by chance, which helps him to restart, not without a skeptical look on his outfit and steed ... One hour later, I recognize the Stożek Wielki hut, and we are at the peaks level, undulating climbs and descents. These ones are deadly slippery, and my lack of technical penalizes me blatantly as countless cyclers passes me. Wojtek and Michał volatilized since long. Here is a particularly steep fragment, where just like me a Czech guy prefers to go on foot. We chat friendly and I joke about the fact that he's riding at home, since we are momentarily Czech hillsides. But he suddenly puzzles me: "Were you there, two weeks ago, during that competition at Lake Garda in Italy?"
We crossed Czantoria, and after a new scabrous descent, we find downside the very first buffet. These offer bananas, oranges, biscuits, energy drinks, but also a mechanical pit-stop where unlucky cyclists can quickly fix a mechanical problem. The crowd jostles: bikes are all dirty and first damage are numerous: punctures, twisted wheels, broken chains, brakes pads already worn out (!)...
"Eric!" I notice Michał who has just finished his turn: "Guess what happened to me, I broke one spoke !". To his disapointment, the mechanic guy hastily eliminate the recalcitrant spoke with a pruner. "Next!".
"Holly shit... My Surly is worth nothing in this mud", he complains while switching with the epic story of the descent which allowed him to clear fifteen riders (at the cost of the spoke...). We ride and walk together for a moment thereafter. We are now entirely on the Czech mountainside, going up and down successive sawtooth as we are crossing through every valley transversely. Michał disappears on the descent leading to the second buffet, but to my surprise, I find him there again another time: "Eric, shit, I f...ked a second spoke ! Too bad, I will ride cushy until the end! I must at least finish ...". We ride again together in the long climb that gradually brings us back to the Polish border.
A long mederately inclided slope, though not very steep, requires all riders to push the bike : mud, a thick oily clay, prevents any adhesion of tire, whatever their size and shape is... I make good use of this moment to eat my fix of chemical substances : tube gels with high carbon and vitamins, fruit enriched marmelades, energy sticks and fruit pastries, flavored magnesium vials for cramps ... My camel-back is also filled with water enriched with "Isostar" isotonic powder ... This menu will be my lunch for four days, as well as most of the crowd.
Rain restarts falling as I reach the third buffet, during I decide to put on my raincoat again: I was still caughing as late as a few days ago, and I intend to maintain my health as much as my bike. Michał skips the buffet without stopping for a drink.
Stark pain appear in my knees during the last climb. Also, my rear derailleur, saturated with mud, becomes increasingly hard to move, and responds late when I need to change its position, which is quite unfortunate during portions alternating bumps. I decided to slow down a little, and end quietly. A last descent full of ultime perverse turns saturated with mud took us back to Poland, via a the bed of stream that we cross. The sound of the speakers suddenly announces the imminent appearance of Istebna stadium, in which we pop in totally unexpectedly, bursting out of a wood. Michał arrived ten minutes ago, and Wojtek about thirty. He is as cheerful as usual, despite the loss of his boot covers, destroyed in this genuine trench warfare. "Try to figure out with worn Saguaro tires, I almost believed myself like during one of these snow rides in December !". Michał, looking severe, followed immediately with the loss of the two spokes.
We returned to the house, where Russians were already queuing at the hose to clean bikes. I get acquainted with one of them. "Where are you from? Moscow? How many kilometers far?". Amused, my friend replies they traveled by plane, and a vehicle was in charge of transporting bicycles. "We usually come to Beskidy Trophy and Sudety Challenge, because at home we don't have too many mountains, you know ...". Before adding "Sometimes the Alpentour too". "It's a bit more expensive though?", I asked. "Actually we don't care. These are the sponsors who pay". Surprised, I answered that indeed they are lucky, before changing the topic: "So, how was it for you today ? Not too much damage?". "Well, I finished sixth," replied Alexei Pinguchin, local champion in Russia and representative of the Merida team. "And you?". Listening to the list of my misfortunes, with compassion and without any hypocrisy, he gave me few advices. Alexei is the exception that seemed to confirm a rule: apart from him, the rest of the Russian troop is as talkative as... Russians...
Once the shower was taken and the dinner eaten (spaghetti, of course) came the unavoidable moment of bike check and maintenance. Michał and Wojtek did not care so much as I did, they were to take their other carbon #1 bikes the day after, as the weather forecast was said to be sunny. Most of the things were fine on the Tomac, brakes paradoxically did not suffer too much, perhaps because I walked a lot ... But a look at the derailleur and cable was strongly needed. It turned out that the mud, only due to the countless gear changes, went as high as mid-length inside the tube ! For the next day, I decided to implement a trick seen during today's stage: to protect with a plastic folio and a tape the open rear part of the cable... My bike will go like this for the next three days, it works.
Wojtek had just featured his KTM with 2.2" Maxxis tires. Problem : the new width barely tolerates under the U-fork, the presence of the bender-fender plastic mud-guard is just purchased. "Wojtek, remove this stuff, this will waste your day tomorrow, with all this mud," I repeated in vain: "Look, Eric, there is still 2mm of space, it will be fine !"
Stage 2 (Rysianka)
The night is weird, like all those usually following my Giga marathons: endless thirst, rapid pulse, heavy legs in the morning. Less commonly, a pain in the right knee, as if it had forced inward. I discovered later, using only my second pair of shoes, that it was due to worn pads pedals. The sun is a pleasant surprise in the morning, but soon tempered by the waterlogged grass: it rained all night. The ritual is the same: lunch, stretching, Isostar, and energy bar. The start is at 9am.
Today, short outfits are mandatory, and I take a lot of water for this stage significantly longer than yesterday. We stick the elevation profiles on the frames, long-shaped stickers representing elevation, distance, and buffets. Nice surprise : the stage was slightly shortened because of the mud, but the elevation total increases of 300m! Less paths, but instead more roads going above or below ...
The peloton rushes, but visibly less enthusiastic than yesterday's start: I have a feeling that many have made the mistake of riding the first day like a single-day marathon... This results in a general movement of sudden slowdown during the first climb, magically taking the pace that was his at the end yesterday. The goal of the day is Rysianka, highest point of the entire event, topping at 1300m of height. Remote from Istebna, it requires on the map an approach and a return via paths across, cumulating here and there many more anecdotic ascents and descents . The total reach almost 3000m of climb!
During the first climb out of the asphalt, I notice a rider in red suit looking for something in the river below. What a bad luck I tell myself, finding that he looks like Michał. When I get closer, it is indeed him ... "Michał, what have you lost?" I shouted. "The screw of ...". I don't have time to hear all. I'm just glad not to have such a sophisticated bike. The route takes us back to the "ground level", where we ride under a motorway viaduct. The first buffet comes, followed by the long climb to Rysianka.
I am chatting with Inge, the Danish met the day before. Water flowing down from the night on the mountainside, gradually forces everyone to walk. Inge, lighter and less penalised by the lack of grip, managed to ride longer and farther. At mid-height, the climb offers a temporary flat break, before returning to the steep. A familiar voice pops behind me. "You know, Shimano stuff is better because ...". Michał is chatting loudly with a guy in green. "You broke a spoke ? What happened my poor Michał?", I asked. "I broke the chain and the tools fell into the water." His monologue continues, gradually mutating into a comparative of brands. "Pedal and shut your mouth !" suddenly shouts the in green jersey, exasperated by the lack of space. Michał doubles the intensity and disappears ahead in silence.
The higher we go, the more the soil is waterlogged, which is not a good sign. We reach a long portion below Rysianka, where the track is just a huge battlefield of yellowish clay, in which hundreds of predecessors struggled. Everybody is pushing the bike, and there is nowhere else to walk: too steep above and below. But the problem is not only this: glue-like clay gets so dense that the pedal-derailleur-chain system quickly becomes invisible through a cube of that constantly grows and grows... I try to carry my bike on my shoulder a couple of times, but too heavy ! I finally decide to plunge my whole hand in this useless baggage and remove it with my fingers.
A man of a certain age, owner of a bright yellow 29er, is experiencing the same problem: we "unclay" together, laughing at our misfortune, despite the language barrier that prevents us to communicate: he's from Belarus. He will also become of my "road-friends", and we'll repeatedly exchange greetings as we meet in the next days.
Later, still walking, I come across bands of white velcros, trampled in the mud. I have the feeling I recognize them, and a grin appears on my face. Grin that turns into laughter when fifty meters away, I recognize Wojtek's bender-fender mud-guard, lying half-dead in the mud. Stealthily, I slipped into my bag to surprise him tonight ...
We cross Rysianka, on which stands a refuge. Hikers swarm, and some are visibly exasperated: "Tell me, my good man, there is still a lot of you guys?" asks an old man thundering, in vain. Comes the steep descent, without transition. Once again, I pay cash for my lack of skills: I walk as everyone ride down. When the slope becomes affordable, I convince myself to give it a try, if them, why not me? Am I that penguin? I mount the Tomac. I somehow master a hundred meters before a rut send me graze in the back-side: I felt ass first into the gutter. Come on... A little walk later, time to avoid some roots, and I retry somewhere a little more stony, stones mean grip! My wet and glowing brakes sing as loud as a Castafiore. But during a jump, I fall again, without gravity. But my number is broken ... I resign myself to walk for good. Then I pass two competitors repairing a flat tire. Then, at the end of the rocky descent, I discover a quad of rescuers loading a mountain biker on a stretcher... Shocked by this vision, this comforted me on the other side a little about my behaviour: Why taking risks if it results in this kind of trouble ? Even a flat tire?
While reaching the second buffet, I discover that they are short of beverages: previous riders used all Powerade glasses to clean mud in their chain! Fortunately I have a good supply. Strategy is again the word that comes to mind: my chain is in the same state and keep jumping. Since a river flows down the road, I walk down and deep in its bed, I rinse the bike, with large sprays of water. Ten minutes sacrificed, but I have it like new. I overtake later several guys struggling with their recalcitrant derailleur. But my advantage will only last a moment: new clayey portions will quickly get over the newly found cleanliness. However, sun shines stronger and stronger, and the soil seems dry as we go across this endless stage.
We ride back under the motorway, the last buffet before a final everlasting climb bringing us up and down once more, for a story of height difference that makes us reach the planned 3000... The gaps between riders are now large, guys ahead and behind are increasingly rare. I made the last climb with a Dane with who I got acquainted too. I am infinitely grateful to him our chat, as this last climb seemed so long. We caught up with another group of Danes, with whom he melted, and I went ahead. As I reached the final climb a wall, I decided to allow me to break a little rule regarding strength. Immediately punished: Broken chain ! I'm in big trouble now.
Danes pass me, and my friend yells at me "Do not fix, walk ! There's only descents now". Noticing how the chain is dirty, I decided to listen to him and hid it in my pocket. However, the "top" of the hill was is long enough, and forced me to walk a mile before being able to ride down with my only weight. The grass was soft, and I found myself running through it. This little jogging was pretty good for my legs. After the descent, some portions of paved road lead me gently to the finish line. The Danes just arrived five minutes ago, my friend was right, and I thanked him.
Wojtek won once again, he finished two hours before me, and one hour before Michał, looking more frustrated than ever. But things happened before my arrival: Wojtek goes back home, and he's already packing...
The official reason: His company stuck him on a business trip from Monday, which is not very reasonable the day after the arrival of a Beskidy Trophy. But there are at least three others... Once alone, he explains that his girlfriend is kind of angry. "Wojtek, you should not have rented a bike in Crete," I replied... But it also seems that Wojtek, the intrepid man who denies any strategy, has ridden the two stages at maximum... He owed me he was not too sure to be able to continue the next day, even if he had such possibility. A final, taboo but glaring of evidence: The discord between Wojtek and Michał became obvious. Between a self-proclaimed favorite and an outsider whose casualness irritates, hierarchy and egos are hustled. All this might have remained unnoticed if maintainance on the Specialized did not take more importance than dishwashing or keeping the flat tidy... Bikers are men of character. Incompatibility of temperament, this sometimes happens: we really discover ourselves during extreme conditions.
Wojtek phoned to Mateusz, who is already on the road to replace him during the last two steps. I'm a little disappointed that he goes, he is also embarrassed, he was so pleased when he knew I was coming. In order to relax the atmosphere a bit, I take from my bag the mud-guart: "Look, I have a surprise for you". Everyone laughs. Learning about my chain break, Wojtek on his turn takes a quick chain-link from his the bag: "This is a SRAM one, I made a mistake at the shop, I have Shimano ... This is for you, good luck Eric for all following stages !"
The rain restarts falling in the evening. Michał and me revise the bikes inside. Mateusz, accompanied with his girlfriend Dorota arrive at 23pm. Mateusz also took two bikes, the good one and the beta! Plus the one of Dorota, although she does not participate.
Stage 3 (Wielka Racza)
"It's the royal stage!" Keeps repeating Michał, as talkative as usual, as soon as we wake up. Despite the good feeling of the day before, the mere fact that that stage will be the longest, highest and most technical of all, pleases me only moderately. Mateusz is doubtful, not knowing what state of mind to adopt between the verve of Michał,my "blues of the Soldier", and the harsh reality of the statistics: mileage and vertical drop, supposed to jut out the 3000m ! And clouds are back, not auguring the best. "Damn, I wonder if I will not ride my bike more than eight hours today" finally drops Michał, which achieves to scare us. Mateusz chooses to ride his "beta" bike, as the others did during the first day. As for me, I am taking more water than ever, and countless gels and energy bars. As we reach the start, we learn that the distance and height have been reduced slightly due to the mud again, and I note with satisfaction that a significant part of the peak Wielka Racza, summit day, was shortened.
What is now the routine morning of the start is repeating itself once more. But I have a feeling that many people are missing: yesterday's stage was deadly, and a selection between those who spared their strength and thoses who did not occured in the meantime. For some time, I try to stick to Mateusz, but I quickly abandon the idea to ride at the same pace than fresh man. The first meters offtrack are, to my big surprise, not slippery at all : it has not rained during the night and the heat of the day before dried the soil.
But suddenly, a surprise, I must be dreaming: The first to stop for technical issue today is again Michał. On the side of the road, I notice him struggling with spare inner tubes ... I asked him what happened and proposed help in order to have a clear conscience, but I could not help laughing in my beard, thinking about his perpetual discourse on everything about bike maintenance. After the numbness of my own race start, my heart is gradually recovering and gets into the pace, I find back my legs. Some sharp climbs succeed to each other, which I all ride on the machine, while many succumb to the lure of walking...
The first buffet appears quite early in the stage. Since I took a slightly excessive amount of water for this shortened stage, I choose to skip it, continuing my way at good pace. It do the same for the second, not seeing the need to consume additional water while for the time being I have very little used my own reserve. After a few sharp and fast descents is looming the long and steep climb to Wielka Racza. People overtaken at the buffet try to take me back by starting briskly, but those will not keep on this pace. The climb is long ! The gravel track makes no issue with grip, and locked on the horns on my handlebars, my legs turn like a clock. I reach the summit an hour later in a total haze.
A thick drizzle is falling, I know that the descent will take some time and I stop to eat some of my food, drink, and put some clothes on. I expected that the descent is long and I am not mistaken : it is technical, mud reappears with the rain. Further downhills later in the woods, I meet the same problems than during previous stages due to mud saturation. Some which I overtook in the climb take me back. For a few moments, below the summit, we ride through a beautiful singletrack banked in an open landscape on the hillside. Too bad the weather is such, in other circumstances this must be a great place to ride.
Today's stage is intriguing because it is the one that takes us through the three countries. We rode along the ridge, and when the third buffet appears, I notice that the license plates or cars around are all Slovaks. On this one, I finally stop to eat cookies and bananas. Since the sun reappeared I remove my raincoat covered in mud.
Just before leaving, someone yells my name : Michał just arrived. I just thought of him and began to wonder why he did not catch me back so far, worrying that he had to give up. This is fortunately not the case, but neither the form neither the mood seem to be with him today. I actually suspect that he left a lot of bullets yesterday in his futile chase with Wojtek ... I must leave him, as I got here few moments ago and I start feeling cold, which does not seem to please him either ...
Further portions of singletracks saturated with mud and water follow each other. But I discovered a technique that I immediately regretted not having used more before: riding in the grass of the adjacent meadows. And there are many in the end of this stage ... This method has two advantages: not only it spares the bike with dirt, but it also washes it! Speed and gears glow again of cleanness. Disadvantage: vegetation sometimes hide tricky traps ...
Riding this way, I overtake a fair number of competitors which this muddy mess seems to deplete increasingly, many of them walking resigned. In some valley, we cross a torrent in its bed, and pass without realizing it the border to Czech Republic. A few kilometers later, we get back to the road, which leads us to the roaf toll of Jablunkov Istebna: return to Poland! The last kilometers reserve two or three climbs on the road. I realize again that Michał did not catch up with me so far, and not without a touch of sadism, I take pleasure to finish the stage strongly in order to secure this small victory. A final piece of forest that contained some BMX circuit worthy fantasies separates us from Istebna, whose the music from the speakers were already taunting us for a little while.
Michał arrives when I finish to eat my soup at the finish line. This is not the time to tease him ... "It sometimes happens, there are days like this..." I consoled. Mateusz, the fresh man of the day, finished some significant time ago already. The hair still wet from his shower, his grin tells he guessed what tragedy had happened, without having spoken yet ! Dorota, his girlfriend, cooked us a delicious meal for which we were all grateful, exhausted ... The daily inspection of the bike, now a routine, reveals an advanced brake pad use, but for the last stage, this should be fine...
Stage 4 (Klimczok)
The last morning is tough. It feels like if we were there for at least a week, everything has become routine. Movements are slow, resigned. It seembs to be my turn to realize how many bullets I left yesterday during my little moment of glory.
But outside, shines a ray of light. Hope is in the air. First, this light is the sunrise of a pristine blue sky that gave no rain during the night, suggesting a stage worthy of the name. The other light, and this one all cyclists who reached the end of the 3rd stage know it, is the prospect of being a "finisher". If we are still here, it is inconceivable to give just before the consecration. Third happy surprise, a brief consultation on the internet forum test tells us that the length and elevation, once more, were reduced, due to the high fatigue felt by the entire peloton and high rate of abandon. The last stage is reduced to 50km and 1900m . Phew!
After the second climb, the sun start to shine strongly, and I know that Klimczok, summit of the day will be the longest. I started with quite a lot of clothes due to the fresh morning, and I only have a sleeveless shirt underneath. Too bad, I will finish the Trophy in the "Rambo" fashion...
So far, all trails are dry and Klimczok is no exception to the rule. This northern Summit far from the main range is housing a ski resort, whose parking lot we cross. A strange interlude of civilization in the middle of the summital wilderness. The fantastic atmosphere of these trails, free of mud, somehow pass the sponge over the events of the previous calamitous days. A tough descent, which I manage to my great satisfaction to master from start to finish, takes us back to ground level in less time than it takes to tell. Since the beginning of this Trophy, despite my disappointments, my efforts are beginning to pay and I feel more and more skilled in downhills.
I approach the penultimate climb cautiously, but some "walls" on its final part will finally make me pass them through in strength, overtaking on the way a few competitors. The end looms. It is less and less about calculations. The finish lines is coming, the final assault is getting closer!
The descent drops us in the heights of Wisła, and we cross the dam of the reservoir of the Vistula sources. I know the end: the road along the presidential palace, the Kubalonka pass and a fragment of track taken while hiking with my wife and my son last autumn. I never imagined that my next visit would take place in such circumstances! These sweet memories make me redouble with energy, I dedicate aloud my final sprint to them. A dozen of competitors will be overtaken in my last climb to Kubalonka, entirely done on the middle plateau. Four days have transformed me into a warrior. Fatigue? A remote souvenir: the days are now all the same!
A heavy stormy downpour begins to fall at the pass. The descent to Istebna takes place largely on small paved roads: there is not much more to manage apart taking turns carefully. People are more numerous than ever on the side. But a few kilometers before the end of stage, we cross the final fragments of forest and meadows, soaked by the rain of the previous days. Blinded by excitement, I push again, stronger than ever : I do not want to let anyone take me back.
And suddenly, the fault: diagonal branches submerged in a puddle trap me, the bike, unstoppable, fly over me, while I do a long glide forward. But to my surprise, I get up in perfect state, with nothing but a slight scratch on the knee: it did not hurt more than a good rugby tackling on the Twickenham grass... One group is reaching me back. Electrified, I immediately jumb back on the bike in their pursuit. Some streets through Istebna, and here is finally the dreamed moment. Last overzealous sprint and raised fist. The Green T-Shirt "Finisher" is given to me on the line.
Michał, is just finishing to summarize today's stage with gestures in front of a television camera, and while seeing me, followed immediately: "Interview him ! it is the only French!". Mateusz also recently arrived, we are all three of us within a range of 20 minutes. Bikes washed, we eat the last meal, again lovingly prepared by Dorota in a suddenly very relaxed atmosphere. The joy and relief reign. Wojtek calls us from Wroclaw to congratulate us. No more sneaky tensions, Michał is the chatterbox he has always been, but right now I don't care. He and I have the Finisher Tshirt and share a beer. After all, this is a fun character, I like him, and without this side of him, this would not be true Michał.
The house is finally washed, cars loaded, and time coincides with the awards ceremony. Obviously, Of course, we are far from the podium ... After the ceremony, all finishers pose for a group photo, in an atmosphere a little like a "teenagers camp". But what a camp ... Then we leave for a final fifth stage, not less long, the drive back to Wroclaw, completed at 22pm ... But how good to sit in a chair!
Epilog and conclusions
My ranking is 259th after 25 hours of race. Approximately 115 of the 430 initial participants gave up ! Michał is 221th, an hour before me, and the tandem (theoretically fraudulent) Wojtek-Mateusz climbs to an envious 156th Place.
I am relatively satisfied with the mechanical statistics of these four extreme days: I have done them all with the same set of brake pads, something which seems to be rare (perhaps for the simple reason that I walked so much downhill!). I had zero puncture and flat, something rare too. My damage has been only the chain break at the end of the 2nd stage, and to a lesser extent, the moody derailleur at the end of the first. I have lost at all not more than five minutes for technical reasons, to which I can perhaps add the wash in the river. I crashed three times without gravity. Paradoxically, during the two days of good weather ...
Obviously, qualifying "mid-ranking" my 259th position is questionable given the number of dropouts. These are of various types: Mechanical ones, accidents, health reasons, or those who simply did not show up the next morning. To those who would argue that "yes, but" I would simply say that if they really were able, then why did they not do. For those who invoke the no-luck after a fatal fall, break, or damage, it does not hold up either. Trophy is a race we must deal with a state of mind a little like "Paris-Dakar", where not only physical condition counts but also preserving its steed, and yourself. I rode 4 days carrying a backpack full of tools and spare tubes. Everywhere I saw the risk, I walked down, despite the often felling of being ridiculous.
I reviewed the bike every night, and often reluctantly. I'm no expert in maintenance, but I always followed the same line, the one of good sense, and the motive "prevention is better than cure". Finally, as we talk about health, I am also coughing like many. But I managed.
Next days revealed the true extent of sequels. Positive and negative ones... So yes, in four days, for sure, my body has changed: calves, thighs and buttocks have gained volume and vigor never seen before. 25 hours of stress on the handlebars have also strained forearms and triceps, as if I had spent my time doing pushups. Despite gloves, the skin on my hands became horn, encrusted with soil, after countless gear changes. But my whole body also cashed. Severe pain in the back, like for example during simple things like tying shoes, or in shoulders, were felt for a whole week. Week during when I went to bed every day at 21h, and having an ogre appetite, eating like two in the cafeteria at work, in front of stunned colleagues.
In summary, I would never have believed how the human body can become accustomed to such extreme conditions, but also how it needs the equivalent time to re-walk the path the same way back. If you ask me what should be done in order to prepare itself properly for Beskidy Trophy, or what I would have done if I had been able to better prepare myself, I do not beat around the bush: ride, ride, and ride. Not only on the road. As many miles as possible on ground as similar as possible. Late winter did not ease us the taks for sure, but I think I have done the bare minimum.
Many of my "brothers in arms" of this Trophy are single or have for some reason a lot of time to dedicate to this kind of thing. For me, young father, this was not always an easy task to reconcile everything. I would even say that for someone too "normal", without the will of rowing against wind and tide, without this little grain of madness, this is mission impossible. This Beskidy Trophy will first and foremost remain a great experience on many aspects, beyond the sports horizon.
Another beautiful experience of Poland, of a region of Europe, beyond borders, people, on the bike or not, who belong to this world. People, as described above, necessarily all special. And finally with a trip through the friends, and the discovery of them, a lovely fable of our amateur microcosm, full of anecdotes that have not finished being told ...