Fruška Gora MTB XC Marathon – slow but steady wins the race!

I haven’t posted much in recent times – as I mentioned, with having a baby and a heavy workload I can either sit here writing about mountain-biking in Serbia or go out and do it, but doing both is pretty much impossible, so riding wins :).

But I had to write a quick note about an event I NEVER miss – the Fruska Gora MTB Marathon, which I have written about many times before.

Fruska Gora XCM – again!

Well, it’s over again for another year, and I am really pleased with how it went. Firstly, this year was a big first – there were more competitors than ever before, including many riders from abroad (why weren’t YOU here!). In fact the Great Marathon which I rode, as I always do, if at all possible, the 50 mile/80 km route, was won by Wouter Cleppe, a Belgian rider who rides in Bulgaria, who finished in a pretty awesome time of around 4h25m – nowhere near Boris Popović’s record of 4:06-ish, but considering he doesn’t know the route (and there is plenty of opportunity for getting lost), whereas us locals know it with our eyes closed, pretty darned impressive!

But I wasn’t out to beat anybody much but myself – I was aiming to come in under 6 hours, it’s what I had trained for over the winter. The first year I rode the event I did 6:56 (pretty slow, that was pure survival mode, really!), in 2009. I did 6:18 – hey, almost 40 minutes faster! And this year I finished in… 5:54:45. Yes!

Not only that, as it turned out I also won my category – the local Marathon Masters cup! Yes, another podium (got a bronze in the first race of the season), and a gold at that! Shame the presentations were very late in the day and I didn’t stay to actually stand on the podium… But I beat a couple of guys I thought I could never beat too, who totally flaked out, no idea what happened to them, and fully HALF the field either DNF’d or DSQ’d.

The only real downer was that Pavle Barać, the former Masters XC League national champ wiped out really badly early on in the race. He hurtled off a new, unmarked drop built by downhillers in the middle of the path on a fast downhill (!), which also claimed Boris and nearly got Cleppe too, as well as a number of other riders, though Pavle got the worst of it with concussion and a broken collar bone. Otherwise I would never have got close. But I guess part of the point of MTB is to finish in one piece, too… I knew the drop was there, it’s been there since last year, I guess local knowledge is a big deal there.

Here’s an amateur video of one of the early descents. I come through straight after the guy who gets stuck in the ditch, at 1:22, a full minute after the race leader. HOW does he gain a full minute a mere 4 minutes into the race?!

Race performance

I feel I have very much vindicated my efforts to train all winter (190 hours on the bike since November = 3500km/2200 miles, not too shabby I reckon!!) and follow a proper training program (Friel), especially with respect to effective base training. The result I got (a full hour quicker than my first year!) I think belies my VAST improvement because I finished the race – not to be immodest – EASILY, with barely any feeling of fatigue, never mind the utter exhaustion I have felt in the past. Most my time I think was gained on the descents, where I have become FAR more confident, and can now ride the entire course without dismounting for any of the descents, and am significantly faster downhill in general.

My one small regret is not upping the tempo on the ascents, but taking a very conservative energy strategy of riding mostly in zone 2 and 3, which got me to the finish line with ease, but probably cost me an even better time. This was partly because I had gone heavy on the base training, but wasn’t entirely happy with my higher-intensity and anaerobic training and felt this strategy was the safest. Next time I need to aim at a pace which will encroach on my lactate threshold and make the whole thing a lot more painful and greatly increase the risk of bonking, but possible bear dividends of a significantly better time.

So, 5:30 next year? TOTALLY doable, I am sure of it. But with the weather always an unknown in this event, I have no idea whether I will get another stab soon. You can sure I will be writing about it here, though!

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