I was doing my ride report for the Trans Hajar but frankly the report below pisses all over mine.
I was a complete mess on day 3. A 120 km stage where I completely blew. Horrible. Just Horrible. I lost about 40 mins to Youceff (the report writer). Some of this can be put down to the heat compared to last year. I did the Yitti Stage on Day 2 almost an hour quicker than last year! Day 3 was about 20 mins quicker. In hindsight I can be pretty pleased with my effort. I suspect what happened is that I put too much in on Day 2 (after Day 2 I was so tired I fell asleep as soon as I got home (after eating)) leaving me with no energy for Day 3.
Day 1- Time trial
Arrived early as the dedicated banana carrier for the race, so I decided to ride early as it was getting hot quickly. I had ridden the course a couple of times before, a hard 30% climb followed by a long section of rolling hills, then onto technical single track that was basically a goat track that we decided to follow, it meandered up into walking section over open granite outcrops. Really quite stunning unless you are killing yourself. So I rode 75% just saving my legs and yet trying to pull a top 5 position.
The majority of riders arriving from abroad came later in the day so it was not until the next morning that I discovered I did ride top 5, but about 7 mins down on the top guy! The winner was Rob Barel a dutch former world champion triathlete, essentially a guy who has had a life as a professional athlete, at one time giving Mark Allen and Dave Scott a hard time in Tri and beating them. He now races MTB as a fancy....strong and smart racer. I saw from the times that James Powers was just a spot behind me and also riding smart to conserve for the following 3 days of some serious climbing. The remainder of the leader board was populated by some Spaniards, one notably Luis Perez Rodriquez, a multiple stage winner of the Vuelta and long time Pro. Also a Swiss downhill rider who proved to be an Ox on long pulls uphill. Day 2 was about to start and given the time from the TT I was puckering just a little as things were a bit faster than this old man had anticipated.
After the TT we lined up the Top 20 2 mins front of the remainder of the race, given a nasty fast downhill 3 kms from the start and the possible results of some overzealous riding. So the start is on and we head full throttle straight up a serious gravel road climb, no steady, no spinning into the first serious stage, nope, flat out up the hill, at the top we are 10! The next 20 mins was about a 2% downhill over rolling hills, it was curvy and fast and you guessed it, it was ridden wildly fast, the Spanish train pulled as hard as they could, after 20mins we were 8 and I was just hanging on, like riding a motorcross bike. Just like the 7th or 8th time on a MTB this was new for me, I firstly didn't know you could draft on a MTB and secondly I didn't know you could ride so fast on one!
The road flattened and the Spanish guys started road attacking until we were 7, that would be me hanging on the back! Over some rolling tarmac hills they attacked 1,2,3 and I was out the back. I was caught eventually by one of the last guys to out the back and after both agreeing it was a wild ride we headed into the climbs and final 40kms together. The climbs were just plain nasty pinches one after another, about 10 or 15 hillls, hard downhills and hard up hills, we ran, rode and struggled our way out of them and into the long road back up to the climb home. I lost contact with my partner at a turn so I just rode steady ( couldn't go harder) to the final climb. On the final long nasty climb I was caught up by my previous partner and as I saw him appraoching I could see James riding up to us, he must have had an incredible day because we had ridden so fast down and hard back that he bridged all the time taken out of his group. We crossed the line at 3.30 krs about 15 mins down on the Spaniards and Rob Barel. I wasn't looking forward to the massive 114km next day, I was hot, dehydrated and tired.
I went home drank loads of rehydration salts, ate loads and wept about the day ahead, it was already shaping up to be a sufferfest over 5 hours.
Day 3 - Suffer Fest
There was a slightly different atmosphere at the start of Day 3, the legs were tired for everyone and the thought of 114 kms over some more horrible climbs weighed heavily on a lot of legs, mine included.
Today at the gun, the was no rush to race we rolled for 15 kms right up to the base of the 30% climb we rode in the time trial and yes, the Spaniards attacked and we were racing over the top and down a very technical descent we were in two groups, 5 in front and 3 in mine, we were chasing the 5 in front onto and over a rolling rough power line trail, eventually regrouping about 5 kms later, at this point a Spaniard who had been dropped on the tough descent was attempting to get back on, everyone who wasn't Spanish pulled to keep the group from reforming and creating another Vuelta road stage. Wasn't to be, over a 20kms section of rolling hills the group reformed and we were 8 again. At this point the Swiss punctured, as a contender for the GC and Armada automatically attacked shelling one guy, down to seven again we entered some of the most horrible terrain I have ever ridden on: a 15km section of river bed.
A river bed in Oman, known as a Wadi, is essentially round rocks from about 5 cms to 30cms across, they are loose and its like riding in soft cement, this section was just a suffer fest, Rob Barel attacked and the race blew into bits. There were riders in ones and twos all over this Wadi, it stayed that way the remainder of the race, over a massive climb I regroup with a Spaniard who had been dropped and a really strong partner from Day 2 before, they dropped me later on a climb so I was solo again to the line. With about 9 kms to go I was seriously shelled, the kms on the computer wouldn't reduce and I was riding into a block headwind with nothing.
You know those days when you need to get out of the seat on the flat convincing yourself its a false flat and you are accelerating, it was like that for the entire way home! I groveled over the line about 9 mins behind the animals in front of me, I had nothing left, so spent I couldn't stand up cause I have Time Trial butt cheeks.....on an MTB! Who the hell said MTB riding was fun! They obviously had never ridden wadi Quriyat before.I won't tell you what James looked like at the finish, at least he could crawl.
Day 4 - Piano....yeah right!
I must have called Piano, Piano 10 times on the line, thankfully its the same in Spain! We went easy for the first of the 60km stage, but after 3 kms there was a walking climb, too steep to ride the walk or jog up was not nice for stiff calves. I rode onto this little delight in the front, I dropped my chain at the base and was swamped, I was passed by the Top 10 guys and was chasing James up the hill. We struggled our way over the top and mounted our bikes and started to chase the 7 in front, we were racing through a fast single track over rock gardens and granite outcrops in the reverse of the Time Trial, I was dropped by James and another Spanish rider as they took a much neater line over some rocks, I chased them and regrouped coming out of the single track onto the winding rolling graded roads, a rider who was 20 seconds behind James on GC was trying hard to join us as he aspirations of dropping James and taking the position.
There was about 12 mins to the guy behind me and 10 to the guy in front, it was clear I wouldn't make the front guy so I just needed to ensure nobody took too much time from me and I would finish 7th. James ensured the guy 20 seconds behind him on GC didn't advance by pulling some nasty turns and dropping him in the rolling hills. 15 kms to go and all I can think is don't puncture, don't puncture! One last walk up the reverse side of the 30% climb, what hell this race was, who is sadistic enough to put in a poratge at the end os 4 day stage race that involved hiking up a massive climb, they are just sick. Over the top, James dropped, me chasing the Spaniard, chase as I might I crossed the line 30 seconds down and finished the most horrible MTB experience of my life in 7th!
So that's my take on the Trans Hajar MTB race, it was tough, much tougher than expected, it took me 3 days to recover, some nice easy rolling days even hurting the legs.
I learnt a lot in the 4 days, like I said that was the end to the 10th time I had actually ridden an MTB and not actually believing you could seriously draft on a MTB as its just so hard already I was amazed at how much like a road race this race actually was and frankly it took me by surprise. I learnt a light bike really matters in MTB racing, hard tail or not, weight is everything, especially as you get tired and you need to move that additional weight.
This race left me wanting more, I can do without the wadi beds, I love the single tracks, I liked being back racing again and it sure was value for money when you consider how many hours racing you got for your buck.
I finished day 3 with the thought that I would ever do this race again because it was so hard, if I had seen lake in the last 5 kms of day 3 I would have run him down, maybe next time I will race a little slower and not try to hang with the young guns cause it hurts too much, I must be getting old!
Salaam / ???? ???????,
Some photos of the race can be found here