Virtual Race across the West 2020

We started thinking about virtual ultra-racing during the lockdown for Covid 19 Pandemic and it seemed such a lovely idea. Gave us something to work toward and kept us motivated in times we weren’t allowed to ride our bikes outside. Somewhere in mid May the restrictions in Slovenia were lifted so we could start riding our bikes outdoors again. Still with the season 2020 in the air, not knowing if any of the ultracycling races are going to be held at all, this was the event I was looking forward. Fulgaz and RAAM organisers were doing their best to bring a proper ultra race to the virtual platform. There were some glitches for Windows based system, but during the Test week all worked pretty good, with some drop downs here and there. Of course I was a bit worried about those, but never ever thought I would be complaining about the race course, which I love in real life.

The organisers told us they are making us do more climbing than in the real life race, to sort of make up for the lack of outside factors you would have in a real life race, Iike headwinds and rain and cold / heat… Seems like nobody of the guys responsible knows that riding the indoor trainer is NOT easier than riding the bike outside. There are actually quite a few arguments that it is in fact HARDER than cycling outside. Not only mentally, but also physically.

I started the race as I would in real life (and I had, some 12 times or so) or actually just a tad smarter / easier. My power was just a bit under what it would be in real RAAM/RAW, but curiously enough, around 6h in, which would put us around Borrego Springs - Brawley stage, there were 4-5 riders breathing down my neck, meaning less than 10km behind me. What? IRL I would usually be ahead of the field, with Christoph Strasser hanging either a bit in front or behind me. I tried not to stress about it too much and kept my power where I wanted it to be. By that time I already knew it was going to be a Grind as the average speed juts kept plummeting down and down. The reason? The course designers somehow forgot that after every climb there should be a descent. I mean literally there would be 3 climbs in a row, starting from bottom to the top, with no descent whatsoever. It was quite a disaster for the average speed and for my morale. 

In the first 24 hours of the race, I have covered 565km. Comparing with last year in real life RAAM - I have covered almost 690km! It was obvious that I have to change my strategy a bit as in real life I could do the race in 48-49h and actually do it without sleep or on power naps only. We waited for enough time that my advantage over the 2nd placed Simon Potter. It should be big enough for me to still have some advantage after I woke up from a 1,5h sleep. And so it was, 60km of advantage shrinked into 14km, but I was still the boss. In a few hours it was back at 35km, than 50km and it grew up to 85km by the time I reached 1000km. At about that time (47h or so) the disaster struck. My left hamstring started to hurt. Not suddenly, like it was some kind of bad move, the pain just started to creep in slowly. I had to be really careful when standing on the pedals to not hurt it more. I was beginning to get worried. Around 8PM Thursday, I had to stop as the pain was so bad. I just couldn’t push on the pedals anymore. The decision was to go for another sleep break while Irma called my crew member Grega, who is a great physio. Funny thing was that he was already on the way to surprise visit me and it didn’t take him long to be with me.

After working on the injured muscle, he made the inflammation mostly go away and he also comforted me with the words that nothing is torn, so I could continue as long as I could sustain the pain. I took a couple of Ibuprofens and I was back on the bike, losing some 2,5h in the process. Still in the lead though! I was so happy, I was really flying for the net few stages and my advantage nicely grew. It was the middle of the night, so the sleepiness was creeping in, too. Unfortunately so was the pain in my left hamstring. By the time I hit the next climbing trifecta (3 climbs in a row), it was bad, really bad. I could hardly turn the pedals. Stubborn as I am, I decided to grind it out. So I did, but during the last climb, I checked out the course ahead and that was a nail in the coffin. I saw that after an flattish Kona IM stage, I had to do the same trifecta of climbs all over. We are talking about climbs that took me one to two hours each and with gradients of 15+%. That was it, it was over for me. The pain and the fear of injuring myself further were enough for me to pull the plug.

People have been asking me what was the reason for my muscle failure and I tell them the truth - I don’t have a clue. It is true also that in my 36+ years of cycling I have never injured a muscle riding a bike. While crashing yes, but not while riding upright. So, it has to be the indoor trainer related. The bike just doesn’t move bellow you as well or as much as it does while free riding. Riding for 50+ hours basically non-stop on a course with the exaggerated climbing for sure added to the wear&tear. I will survive my torn muscle and get back, hopefully in time for my next goals for the season. 

In case anyone who reads this is thinking about organising a virtual race in the future, here are some numbers that show the problem of this year’s race course design. In the 83 stages of vRAW we had to climb 25.300+ meters of altitude. That is probably 25-30% more than in real life RAW and three Everestings. That is OK, we could probably all live with that, if only the descents weren’t forgotten in a big way. When you calculate the ascents and descents for the stages of Fulgaz vRAW, here is the result: we started on sea level at 0m and finished almost on top of Mt Everest, at 7.993m! More than 6000m higher than the actual finish in Durango, CO (1.988m). Need I say more?

What's next for me? First rehabilitation, lots of therapies and hopefully I can be back in full training in a few weeks. On July 24th-25th, 2020 I am going for a few World Records, watch this place for more announcements! We shall be going LIVE, follow us!

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