Victory at 9th Tortour!

My August in the last nine years has been reserved for participation at Tortour ultra-cycling race, Race around Switzerland in other words. Organisation-wise surely the best ultra-cycling race in the World. Switzerland and Tortour have grown to my heart after my first participation and victory in 2009. It is a beautiful country with great cycling infrastructure where cyclists are equal participants in traffic. A country where I can go to a cycling trip with my kids without being scared for our lives and where the government encourages the cycling commute to elementary schools.

Let’s leave that and focus on my 9th participation at Tortour. After a hard RAAM I haven’t fully recovered, the pain in my feet after some hours on the bike was still quite severe. In spite of that I have finished my first London-Edinburgh-London brevet in length of 1.440 km at the end of July. But for Tortour I decided for a shortened version of classic 1.000 km, so I registered for a Challenge, “only” 525km long. I knew that in 36+ hours of a classic Tortour, I would suffer way too much for my liking. Cycling for me is the most beautiful sport in the World, so even for the hardest events, there must be some fun. You know what they say - “If you are not having fun, you are not doing it right!” Challenge was a great goal for me and after looking over the results from previous years, I decided I want to finish in time bellow 20 hours, with my secret wish of finishing faster than 19 hours.

As it is a shorter ultra event we asked our long time crew member Borut to join Irma. Borut has been with me to numerous RAAMs and Tortours. Joining him and Irma was our youngest dougther Tea, who’s long time wish was to join my crew. By all means a welcome cheerleader and a motivation for possible crises during the race. A few days before the race my long time friend Brane has expressed a wish to join us and we welcomed him with opened arms. His only and last time of being in my crew was at my first ultra-cycling experience, setting the qualification for RAAM and Slovenian national record in 24h cycling - in Kostanjevica, 17 years ago.

The start was on Friday with prologue on Thursday, so we departed from home on Wednesday morning. The first night we spent with our friends Janezic family. My silent hope was they will bring me luck again as we have spent the night with them before my first victory in 2009. Ivanka, Evgen and Klara were as hospitable as ever. I made a short recovery ride after arrival to relax the muscles after a long drive. We spent the evening eating Ivanka’s excellent lasagna and talked long into the night. Thanks for making us feel at home in Switzerland!

On Thursday we headed for the check-in, the crew meeting before the race and the time for prologue was there. It is one kilometer long with a finish into 17% climb. That kind of explosive effort is by no means my forte and I have never finished at the top, so my expectations were low. I warmed up well and paced myself on the flat before sprinting all the way to the top of the climb. The result was suprising, I won the prologue in my category and with that the best starting position. If we look at the absolute results, I would finish 6th in the youngsters category, which is still a great result comparing to my previous years’ experience. As I had a feeling than my race will be more with the youngsters, the winners result caught my eye. Elmer Rico posted an admirable time, 13 seconds faster than mine. That meant he is as strong as a bull and I expected him to be the one I fight with the next day.

After dinner we tried with an early sleep, but sooner than at 9PM wasn’t possible. The alarm went off at midnight, so less than 3 hours of sleep should suffice before the race. A quick breakfast and we were off to the start at IWC arena. The temperature was pretty high for the night in the first Time Station 16-18°C. I started pretty fast, because I didn’t want my competition to catch or pass me. We started 30 seconds apart and before us there were solo competitors at the long route and solo female racers. Welcome “targets” to catch and pass, especially during the first stage and some less in the next two. My average for the first stage was 38,5km/h, after that it was going down with the harder and harder climbs on the menu.

The race started to become real when I learned from my crew that before mentioned Rico was closing down on me. He started some 20min after me, so he was going strong as I expected. I expected him to catch me, but still had some hope that he might overestimated his strength and wouldn’t last for the whole 525km. He passed me for the first time after Chur Control Point and than we passed each other a couple of times. He passed me again climbing the Oberalp Pass. He was going strong! He made a compliment that I am strong as a machine. I thanked him and said something about his machine being a bit stronger than mine. ;) He finally left me behind over Sustenpass. At that time my feet were screaming with pain and also my power output wasn’t where I wanted it to be anymore. Even so I kept pushing the pedals and hoped that the power will be back after the descent and in the next stages. On the top I had my first break of couple of minutes for a feet massage.

I was still suffering on the next climbs with my 36-25 gearing proving to be a bit insufficient for their steepness. Aside the pain in my feet, my legs were still turning at speed on the flatter parts. I had to take of the shoes from time to time to massage myself and fight the pain. At that moment I thanked for my decision of doing a short version this year. The second placed “junior” has passed me for some time, but his speed dropped after that so I passed him back and never looked back. My speed was getting better again and without a couple navigation errors I could be some minutes faster. The black clouds that threatened us for the last hours only materialised some 10 minutes after I finished. Out of nine Tortours this was the first one without a drop of rain! The cyclists still on the road were less lucks and some of them really had to cycle in dangerous circumstances. Some trees were down and had to be climbed over with the bikes on the shoulders. 

In the youngsters category the victory went to Rico Elmer, as expected. Second was Marcel Knecht-Ruegg who beat my time for 9 minutes. In a sense it was a repeat of RAS, where I convincingly won Masters category and finished just a couple of minutes behind the second placed racer. I was extremely happy with my time, as I exceeded my expectations with time of 17h 42min and an excellent average speed 29,6km/h! I can say I am not done with racing yet. As soon as I resolve my feet issues I will be happy to chase top results again.

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