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Iron Bike Italy 2013

20th July - 28th July

Matt Page - Iron Bike 2013

RWD Sponsored rider Matt Page completes the gruelling Iron Bike Challenge in Italy. See how he got on below!

Iron Bike Day 1

Iron Bike Day 1 - Matt PageThis year the prologue was the same format as last year, an urban crit around the start town of Limone Piemonte. It means very little for the overall, ot her than handing out the leaders jerseys. Its a great way to get the town involved and held at 8pm when the town is busy. A very simple format, two laps of a 1km circuit through narrow streets, alley ways including a flight of steps. It fast, furious and great fun. Two heats are held, odd numbers and even numbers then the fastest 30 go into a final.

I had a good heat, finishing 2nd and went into the final comfortably. The final was hard work, 5 minutes at maximum effort and I wasn't able to hold onto the wheels of the top guys, who were the Fojtek brothers (Ondrej Fojtek was 2012 winner) and was pipped to 3rd by a fast finishing Spaniard. With the evening fun over it was time to get some food, relax and get ready for the real racing

Stage 1:

68km
3200m ascent (not including Heli-lift)
Maximum time limit: 9hrs

A relative warm up for Iron Bike, especially compared to last years monster 140km epic. This year was a mere km with m climbing. Still not an easy ride, but a good way to get riders ready for the long days ahead.

The stage start was the same special atmosphere with the helicopter flying over head and then into we were off! A quick spin down a road then into the first climb, which was a reasonable 500m climb up a steep track. It separated the pack nicely, although not part of a special stage so there was no huge serge of pace. I climbed in a group of 8-10 and this stayed together over the top and through the next section onto the early sections of the second climb. Following the same path as last year I recognised the route as we gently climbed through a beautiful valley and towards the start of the first special stage.

The special stage started at the 48km mark and I knew what to expect. A long, steep and loose climb meandering upwards and onto a ridge then over to a lake. It was the first real chance to see how the Pivot LES would be with a 120mm fork and I was really happy, no front wheel lift even on the steepest bits. The track was mostly rideable Iron Bike Day 1 - Matt Pageto the lake, although a very loose at times. From the lake it kicked up and the final 1km was hike-a-bike including a long section through the snow that was still on the ground. Walking is definitely my weakness at Iron Bike, but there are perhaps a few early signs of progress from last year. Having more suitable shoes helped as well, Fizik M5's with a more flexible sole and addition of some rubber football studs to the front. Through the climb stage I was passed by the Fojtek brothers and one other Spanish rider, but didn't loose too much time. From the start of the downhill I was keen to get going, so lowered the saddle and went straight down. We were warned in the briefing the previous night that it was a dangerous descent and there would be big patches of snow. Last year it was completely snow free, so quite a difference. I managed to pass the Spanish rider and hopefully make up for lost time. It was super rough, really rocky with boulders at times and difficult to maintain momentum. With the special stage finish line in sight I had a slow-mo over the bars as my wheel got stuck in a 29er size hole between boulders, thankfully no damage done.

At the end of the special stage finish we had a 30min wait before the highlight of the day: A helicopter lift to the top of another mountain! A special metal bike rack had been made which held 15 bikes and hoisted those off to the top of Cima Rima then it returned to pick riders up, 5 at a time. It will go down as one of the most memorable experiences I've ever had. The “landing pad” was rather insane for the take off but the top of the mountain was even more extreme with the pilot having to land perfectly on a piece of rocky ground barely big enough for the skids and with a 2 metre wall right in front, rotor blades almost hitting. Only at Iron Bike!! No doubt its partly because they can, being relatively small in terms of rider numbers and having the facilities to do so, but the main reason it because there is only one way up and one way down, so without a helicopter lift it would be impossible to race down.

From the top, having collected the bike it was time to hit the final run to the days finish. A 13km descent, from the peak of Cima Riva at 2500m to the finish Vinadio fort at 850m. I was the 2nd rider to start, just behind multiple time winner Radoslav Sibl. He was running down tricky sections where I was riding and holding me up near the top. The singletrack was absolutely incredible but there was also nowhere to pass. Eventually he made a mistake and I got passed. From there it was one of the best descents I've ever done, starting with narrow rocky singletrack higher up then into the trees and loamy singletrack and finally onto a loose, gravel track that I remembered having a few brown trouser moments last year! No such worries this year as my brakes were performing brilliantly, no fading or loss of power. I knew I was going to get a good time as there were no riders in sight, so as we hit the flat at the bottom I pushed hard to stay ahead and crossed the line as the first rider back, although I was pretty gutted to later find out that I had been beaten by just 10 seconds on the second special stage. So the bike has been unbelievable, light and fast on the uphills and way more capable than previous years on the downhills. Many people question why I run a dropper seatpost and until you come here to see the crazy downhills for yourself you will always wonder.

Iron Bike Day 1 - Matt Page

Tomorrow the “warm up” stops and more typical Iron Bike riding starts. More distance, more climbing and a 3000m peak of Monte Bellino. It is guaranteed to be snow covered near the top, but hopefully most will be clear as I remember it being a very special downhill.

Current overall position:
5th
(5th SS1, 2nd SS2)

All photos credited to Nerys Evans

Iron Bike Day 2

Stage 2:

86km
4800m ascent
Maximum time limit: 13hrs
Time taken: 7hrs 50min

If yesterdays stage could be considered a warm up by Iron Bike standard then today was definitely the real deal. 3 major climbs, a 3000m peak and a total climbing figure to make any rider wince. Whats more, unlike yesterday almost all todays riding would be special stages, meaning no let off and full gas nearly all the time.

Iron Bike Day 2 - Matt Page

It was a 5am wake up call for a 7am set off, or at least for the first group off. We were set off in wave in reverse order and individually in the top 10 which made is 7:20 by the time I left. The first 14km was steady as it was the only section outside of a special stage and proved to be a good warm up. The first climb of the day was new to me and new to Iron Bike I think, from the bottom at 1100m it was a 13km climb to the summit at 2440m, very steep at first, then eventually easing but becoming loose. I started within myself, not only thinking about the special stage or even the day but the week as a whole, with 8 full stages now is not the time to put myself into the red!

I was passed by the Fojtek Brothers, Jan (2nd overall) and Ondrej (4th overall) and they were flying, a little later Radoslav Sibl (leader) passed but nowhere near as quickly but he seemed to be blowing pretty hard but was a little encouraging for me! It wasn't until right at the top that Elias (3rd place) passed so overall I think I did OK. A few kilometres of traverse followed and then a 1km steep climb back to another pass at 2450m. From here it was a brilliant alpine descent with flowing singletrack and some rougher sections all the way to the finish of the first special stage at 1700m at the 40km marker where there was a feed stop. Everyone was buzzing after the descent and with some time to spare the top riders were able to take plenty of time to refuel before setting off again. Another brilliant descent followed, although as it went through several small villages and crossed a few roads it was untimed. Reaching the valley at 1200m it was scorching hot despite the altitude it was showing 27 degrees and I was really feeling it.

Iron Bike Day 2 - Matt Page

A steep tarmac climb then took us to the start of the second special stage, which was a monster climb to the peak of Monte Bellino at 3000m! I've done the climb in both previous Iron Bikes but we were starting from a different point, avoid a killer “portage” section. I was the first to start, but soon followed by all 4 top riders and the blitzed passed, way too fast for me to contemplate staying on. Elias dropped off fairly soon after and only pulled away gradually. The climb to Bellino is almost 20km, gaining 1800m which works out at a rather painful 9%! I was pretty comfortable the whole way up and seemed to cope with the altitude near the top better than previous years. Elias had gained about 5 minutes by the top and I could see a Spanish rider chasing hard behind. It is all rideable to 2800m, then follows a traverse and the final section is a really steep hill to the summit. Just before the summit the Spaniard appeared on the ridge and I am sure he took a short cut onto the top. I reached the summit just before him and hoped that I'd be OK going down, although my stomach was in knots and feeling pretty ill. The descent is one of the best I've done. Seriously technical with it starting on a scree slope, then going to singletrack and being so high up there was the occasional bit of snow to cross. It lasted for about 40 minutes, reaching a neutral feed zone by which time my hands really needed a break.

At neutralised feed stations we can take up to 15 minutes which is not counted as part of the special stage timing, but as soon as we head past the timing mat it resumes. I used about 10 minutes and while waiting realised I'd made up about 8 minutes on the descent over the Spanish rider (no.11 plate). After the feed station a up and down section followed, then a track through a series of villages (at race speed this time!) and then onto the last climb of the day. Compared to the previous two it looked small on the map, only 700m vertical rise but having done the same climb in 2011 I knew it would be a sting in the tail. Memories had faded a little and I was not expecting it to be quite as painful as it was! Seriously steep in places, winding through paddocks of cattle to a pass at 2300m. A few drops of rain were falling, which would have been pleasant if it wasn't so humid, sweat was really pouring from my head all the way up. Rider no.11 passed me going really quickly and I saw him also pass Elias just before the top. The descent I remembered being quite “special”, starting with an near vertical pitch then a series of drop offs and into a unrelenting steep track through the trees without a single chance to let off the brakes, for the entire 700 vertical meter descent. The brakes were absolutely stunning, again no fade or pump, although my arms and fingers were getting seriously tired by the time I neared the bottom. The rain had made it really slippery with plenty of roots, rocks and a slippery muddy track to make it even more difficult. I chose to be a little conservative, not wanting to crash but rode it all and reached the bottom in one piece and without any offs. Just a few hundred meters from the bottom of the slope to the finish line and I was very relived to cross and sit down for a well deserved recovery drink! Today was definitely a proper Iron Bike stage and will have finished a few people off for sure. Massive climbs and technical descents with no time to rest.

On paper tomorrow looks easier, but I know better than to just go off the map we are given!

Current overall position:
6th
(7th SS1, 6nd SS2)

Other British riders:
Simon Hawken: 24th
Michael McCutcheon: 22nd
Luke Harrison: 66th

All photos credited to Nerys Evans

Iron Bike Day 3

Stage 3:

68km
1270m ascent
Maximum time limit: 13hrs
Time taken: 5hrs 25min

Looking at todays route map it looked like an easy day, just one climb and a long descent. I know this race better than to expect an easy day and the 11 maximum time limit was a clue that this was not an easy stage. The race briefing gave us full details, which was that it would be at least 3 hours walking! Our route was around one of Italy's highest mountains, Monte Viso, which has a peak of 3841m. We were not going quite as high as that, but would top out at 2750m.

At the start of the day we had the luxury of a chairlift out of the village of Pontechienale, then at 2350m we started the first special stage straight away. A short but steep climb, then a traverse and into the singletrack. It was rideable for all of about 500m, then turned savage with big step downs and massive exposure on the right hand side. There were chain railings to hold onto on our left and a several hundred meter drop on the right. At one point we passed a memorial for someone who had died, presumably falling. It was extreme and in no way shape or form a MTB track. It went on for about 4km, then a brief rideable interlude before we crossed a funky narrow bridge and were given the bad news. “It's all walking from here”. Great.

Iron Bike Day 3 - Matt Page

We were still racing, so I was keen to try and keep moving but any previous thoughts I had on improving my walking/carrying speed were obviously wrong as I was inching up. The track was steep with natural steps on roots and rocks from 1900m to 2700m. It seemed to take forever and reaching the top I was looking forward to a good descent as is usual at Iron Bike, but although most of the climbing was over, it stayed un-rideable crossing boulder fields for as far as the eye could see. We eventually hit a refuge, from which point the map was showing a 500m descent to the end of the special stage. I rounded the corner to even more climbing, then when we started to descent it was just boulders and snow. Not even Danny Mac would have been able to ride down, let alone little and very tired me on a XC bike! After 23km the misery ended, we hit the end of the special stage and I let off a sigh of relief and a few expletives mixed in there. Of the 23km, less than 5km was riding. I was sore and beaten up, my legs had been battered from the pedals, my ankles twisted and my quads were in agony from all the stepping up and down. From here it was just tarmac and dirt roads down hill all the way to the base camp at 60km, the worst stage of Iron Bike I've done in all 3 years. Later in the evening we had a special stage within the town of Cavour that we were staying. It was 2 laps up “The Rock” which is a lump, 150m high sticking out of the ground. It could have been lots of fun, but my chain jammed on the second time down the descent and left me even more angry! Later that evening I was able to reflect and although my stage times were poor I was still in 6th place. I always have a bad day at Iron Bike, I just hoped this stage would be the only one!

All photos credited to Nerys Evans

Iron Bike Day 4

Stage 4:

86km
3700m ascent
Maximum time limit: 12hrs
Time taken: 7hrs 5min

Upon waking up, the first thought I had was OMG, my legs hurt. After yesterdays ordeal my quads were in agony. I was reluctant to get moving, especially as we had another run up “The Rock” on cold legs. It was a late start to get the town involved and well past 9 by the time I started with the temperature already 27 degrees! The special stage up the rock went OK, not too crazy but my legs did seem to work at least!

After the fast start to the day we had a long climb up a mountain that I am familiar with after previous years. It was crazy hot, well above 30 and although some of the trees provided cover it was still hard work, being steep and loose in places. Thankfully it wasn't a special stage so I just tapped a steady pace out. Thankfully there was an extra water stop on the climb and it was very welcome! Reaching the top there was a small descent then another long but steady climb which topped out at 1750m. It was only the top few hundred meters vertical when the cloud rolled over that it cooled down slightly, still mid 20's though.

Iron Bike Day 4 - Matt PageA fun, technical descent put a smile on my face from the top, dropping down root and rock steps, passing lots of riders who were walking. It continued for a while, then into singletrack switchbacks and eventually into a fast fireroad descent with lots of rounded drainage channels that made for great jump take offs! Reaching the bottom we immediately started climbing again, from the village of Villar Pellice at 450m to 1000m was all on steep asphalt, the temperature lower down was still crazy and I was stopping at water basin along the way up and holding my hands under the cold water after reading something recently about the British Army saying it was the best way to cool down. It seemed to do the trick, although I was sweating I could cope with it.

From 1000m we started special stage 2, immediately it went to gravel and it was steep and very loose. The first 5-6km were all hard work and I had to stay seated almost the whole time, which was hard for me. It was just about rideable to 2000m, although very hard and then a hike to the summit at 2250m. I knew the climb well, so I was expecting it and also dreading it after yesterday. Thankfully I was able to walk and push the bike for almost all of it and avoided big steps which really seemed to help and I was going as fast as I could. At the top, the first 100m or so was unrideable but then turned into a fun singletrack and then onto a wider gravel road with sketchy corners and switchbacks all the way back down to 1400m. A sting in the tail before the end of the special stage was another steep climb to a refuge, about 150m vertical but it still really hurt.

I was relieved to finish the special stage and hoped it would be enough to keep my position. The final 20km was relatively easy, almost all downhill on a gravel road then a bit of asphalt into the town of Torre Pellice where the locals were out to clap us in. After yesterdays poor stage I felt pretty good and in a much happier place. Hopefully there isn't too much walking left as thats where I suffer. I'm in a real battle with 2 other people, all fighting for 5th spot but with 4 stages left there is still a huge amount left and anything can happen, and being Iron Bike it usually does.

Current overall position:
6th

Other British riders:
Simon Hawken: 23rd
Michael McCutcheon: 40th
Luke Harrison: 62nd

All photos credited to Nerys Evans

Iron Bike Day 5

Stage 5:

80km
3500m ascent (not including chairlift)
Maximum time limit: 12hrs
Time taken: 7hrs 40min

The longer this race goes on, the harder the recovery becomes, especially after a hard stages it can be really difficult to get everything needed done as well as getting enough sleep. I don't think I would even consider doing Iron Bike without having a supporter, or at least consider trying to race it. With Nia unable to make it out to support this year due to work commitments, I put a call out on Facebook to see if anyone was able to help support Simon Hawken and myself. Nerys Evans was up for the challenge, perhaps not really knowing what she was letting herself in for, but her support has been vital during the week so far. Having my van and supplies at each camp and taking the pressure off us time wise. Mid way through a stage race this long, I think there is a natural lull in moral at times. Not close enough to the finish to think about the finish and tired and hurting after a few hard days in the saddle.Iron Bike Day 5 - Matt Page

This morning, the day of stage 5 I really struggled to get myself going. I was really tired although at least my legs felt better which was at least something. At 8am riders started heading off, again in reverse order so it was 8:25 when I left. I'd got about 1km when I realised I'd forgotten my camelbak, which has absolutely everything I need. A quick U-turn and luckily the van was still there, otherwise I would have been in really big trouble.

The very first part was a gentle road climb, then onto smaller roads and eventually a dirt track. After 16km we hit “The Steepest Road in the World™”. Ok, so it might not be that, but it gained 850m in 6km and was very severe in places, beyond 25%. Riders (including myself) were weaving all over the road to get up, which was causing trouble for a few cars braving the road. At the end of the road we hit Rifugio Barbara (1750m alt) and this was the starting point of the first special stage. I decided to be tactical and started immediately after Luca Ruffa, who was just a minute or so behind me on GC. There was a short technical traverse where I got a 30 second gap and then onto a long climb on a military road. This was quite an amazing sight and must have taken ages to build, snaking all the way up the mountain. The gradient really suited me and I kept the gap to the top, at 2400m alt. I remembered the climb from Iron Bike 2011 and also the descent, which I knew would be bumpy and fast. I tried to make the most of the gap, but there were some big rocks and I remember the leader broke a rim here in 2011 and I also passed Jan Fojtek who had punctured, so I decided not to go crazy.

After a refreshing river crossing we headed onto a smoother gravel descent, which was lightning fast and as I soon realised, very popular with walkers and 4x4's! There were a few really close calls and I was probably taking more risks than sensible, but I wanted to keep the gap onto the next climb, which was a killer! Starting steep, then going steady before finally going crazy steep but annoyingly still rideable as my legs were screaming. I caught sight of Luca behind me and he was much stronger on the steeper pitches and soon got passed me. Not long after it turned to a hike-a-bike and I thought my chance was over. It was perhaps 2-3km walking and I managed to keep the gap to 2 minutes as we passed over the colle at 2450m. I was really hoping it would be a technical but rideable descent, but the first 400m was unrideable and I feared the worst. Thankfully it became rideable, all be it still very technical and I pushed on, catching him fairly soon and making the most of the remaining 700m vertical descent. The special stage finished in a village called Pralli and I'd managed to put a 2min gap in, which I was over the moon with.

Iron Bike Day 5 - Matt PageAt Pralli there was a feed stop, then a bit of luxury, we had a chairlift that gave us 1000m of free ascent. From the top it looked simple on the road map, a tiny climb then a long descent, but I've done this twice in reverse, so knew it would be challenging. I was right behind the 3 leading Czech riders and followed them as the track traversed then past an old monastery or something similar, then we started climbing. We went up a few kilometres when I realised I hadn't seen a sign in a while, so decided to start heading across open land towards the peak that I knew we should be heading to. Eventually I found the track, but had lost at least 5 minutes in the mix up. I pushed as hard as I could to the top, which was mostly hike-a-bike and summited at 2700m. The descent was really tricky, but possible for the majority of it although there was a small section involving a clamber across some car sized boulders. We joined another military road, which was really rough and loose and decided to let go a bit and hope I didn't puncture. It went on for several kilometers to another feed station where the front 2 riders were eating. I knew there was a real possibility of a stage win, although there was 10 kilometers left, half of which was a technical traverse then the remainder a steep technical descent.

The opportunity was too good to miss and I seemed to get a second wind and I was running up any section that was impossible to ride and pushing as hard as possible when I could ride. The track was amazing but on the edge of a steep mountain and a mistake in the wrong place would have been a disaster. I become really super focused and just went for it, reaching the final col I knew it was downhill to the finish, although it was very technical I enjoyed every minute of it! There were drops, switchbacks, roots and rocks and I just felt absolutely at home on the bike. Towards the bottom a massive rock hidden in the grass hit the rim through the tyre and I feared the worst, but luckily it held air and I crossed the line as the first rider back. That didn't really mean much, except I'd beaten the Czech trio, so I had to wait until 9pm when the results were released and a little disappointed to see that I'd been beaten to the win by 4 minutes over the final stage. If only I'd not taken that wrong turn! The good news however is that overall I'd put time into the 2 riders close to me and moved up to 5th place.

Tomorrow we head into the mine, the only Iron Bike stage I've ever won and I'll be hoping to do the same again this year.

Current overall position:
5th
(5th SS1, 2nd SS2)

Other British riders:
Simon Hawken: 21st
Michael McCutcheon: 37th
Luke Harrison: 61st

All photos credited to Nerys Evans

Iron Bike Day 6

Stage 6:

90km
4100m ascent
Maximum time limit: 12hrs
Time taken: 7hrs 06min

Today I slept through my alarm for the first time, tiredness has reached a new level and writing this at 6pm I feel like crashing out, but with just 2 days left I hope I can keep things together. Despite sleeping at 1000m it was still a hot and sticky night in the tent, but at least everyone is in the same boat as its a rule of the race that everyone must sleep under canvas.

After getting ready I was actually pretty excited about the stage mostly because of the special stage through the mine. Last year I won it, although I got caught behind loads of riders so as soon as we were let off I set off pretty hard, trying to chase all the riders ahead of me and get a clear run. The first 5-6km was a steady climb, Ruffa (7th place) hugged my wheel the whole way up and also down the next descent, which was mostly loose gravel and the bottom was asphalt. A long, gradual climb followed to the start of the mine at around 23km. I was the second person to start the mine stage, although there was no sign of the first, so I hoped he had set off long before me and I'd have a good shot at it. I set my Go Pro ready to film, then set off. Annoyingly it beeped at me less than 2 seconds after going over the timing mat, so no footage sorry!

Iron Bike Day 6 - Matt PageThe mine is bonkers and so much fun. It is a pitch black, cold and damp 2km tunnel through a working mine that is shut off for the day. There are narrow gauge tracks that you must ride between and every now and again there are junctions and points that are like ice and you must lift the front wheel over. Being my third run through I vaguely remembered the direction and where the junctions were, so pushed on where I could and was cautious when needed. I caught the first rider with a few hundred meters to go, but a quick shout and he moved right out of the way, barely slowing me down at all. Emerging the other side and straight over the timing mats it was the clearest run I've had.

I'd pushed hard, so was out of breath but the pain wasn't over. Although the mine was a special stage, another started immediately with no chance for a break and included a 400vm gravel climb, which was relatively easy then a fun descent, starting loose then into some fantastic singletrack. Right near the end there was some poor marking on a 180 degree bend and I ended up 1km down a road with some confused people at a feed station. I asked where the finish was, but no one seemed to know so I headed back up and eventually found the track, but the mistake had cost me 4 minutes. When you are fighting for every second and having a close battle with other riders, 4 minutes is a massive margin and especially so when I feel it was absolutely not my fault. A little later another 2 riders made exactly the same mistake and they then sent a bike up to remark it.

There was nothing I could do at the time, so decided to carry on and head to the next timed section. This was an altogether different beast, 10km long, 1000vm ascent climb then a crazy downhill. I remembered it all from the previous 2 years, but it was even more painful than I recalled. From 1200 to 1800 was rideable, most of it possible in the big ring but reaching 1800m it turned uphill very steeply on a hiking trail and continued for several kilometers to the peak at 2100m. I felt incredibly slow and was probably leeching time on this section to other riders. Reaching the top and a sigh of relief but the first few minutes was too risky to ride and I had a huge moment there in 2011, so decided to be a little cautious. When I did get on it was still a bit sketchy and I had a scary moment doing something I coach people NOT to do, riding sat down with feet out! One big stone and I was lifted in the air, bouncing down, somehow managing to stay with the bike and not crashing. After that it mellowed a bit and I rode way more than I did last year, simply because I was more confident on the Pivot LES than last years bike. A 3 degree slacker head angle and 20mm more travel made a huge difference. A neutralised feed station was half way down the descent, which was a little odd but I still decided to stop and then got told off for taking too much Cola!

The remainder was really fun, down a really old stepped stone pathway and the final section a super fast loose track where I had some full on 2 wheel drifts. It could tell I was losing height quickly as my ears were popping every 30 seconds or so.

Iron Bike Day 6 - Matt Page

Reaching the end of the special stage I thought that was the end of the target/maximum stage time too, or at least that is what we were told at the briefing the previous night so I started to cruise back and not worry about the time. The final 20km was evil and I'm sure the organisers use it as a way to frustrate everyone, winding up and down and through little villages then a track alongside a river that constantly undulated before eventually reaching the bottom of the fort. From this point we had a 1100m climb to the end of the day and I knew it was a brute, but since we could cruise I didn't have to panic. We climbed up an old walking or cart track which was in no way designed for bikes, being few degrees too steep and way too loose. Last year I had a tantrum walking up, but this year I knew what to expect and time actually passed pretty quickly. From 1600m it was rideable and 6km before the end we crossed a timing mat. I was pretty confused and was told that this was the end of the stage and looking at my time I was 6 minutes over the target time. Not a huge deal, as it would only mean 6 penalty points but frustrating none the less.

The last 6km was easy enough on a dirt road to our nights stop at Rifugo Selleries, one of the most stunning places I've ever been, although unfortunately this year it is completely surrounded in clouds, so we can't even see the helicopter pilot do his crazy dive off the side of the mountain!

Iron Bike Day 6 - Matt Page

Almost as soon as I arrived back I quizzed the race director about the timing issue and the marking earlier on and was greeted by a blank face. He was absolutely not interested and refused to accept the marking was incorrect or at least confusing despite several of us going wrong and it wasn't until everyone else started to complain about the timing issue that he neutralised the stage from the end of the special stage. So with a big chunk of points lost today, I've really got my work cut out to hold on to 5th as I know I will loose a massive chunk on the climb up Chabberton, especially as the downhill is not timed. My only hope is to fly down the Fenestrelle fort and do well on the final day. The only good news from today is that I won the mine stage again! This time cracking the 5 minute mark, setting a new record of 4min 54sec.

Tomorrow we cover two of the most infamous sections of Iron Bike, the Fenestrelle Fort and Mt Chabberton (3200m).

Current overall position:
5th
(10th SS1, 5th SS2)

Other British riders:
Simon Hawken: 22nd
Michael McCutcheon: 34th
Luke Harrison: 59th

All photos credited to Nerys Evans

Iron Bike Day 7

Stage 7:

90km
4300m ascent
Maximum time limit: 11.5hrs
Time taken: 9hrs 6min

In every stage race there is a queen stage, that is the hardest or biggest day of the race. Today was the Iron Bike 2013 queen stage. A descent of the Fenestrelle Fort and climbing Mt Chabberton. In between and afterwards, another 80km of tough riding. I'd been partly looking forward and partly dreading today all week because last year it ended my race.

Iron Bike Day 7 - Matt Page

Somehow I managed to sleep through the constant chorus of cow bells through the night at the rifigio and awoke feeling fairly good. It was an 8am start with the usual reverse starting order and plenty of time between riders to allow for the Fort. The first 10km was mostly downhill and while it was OK, my mind was on the steps. Arriving at the steps (1800m alt) there was a small queue, so I waited a while and let everyone go first and left a 2 minute gap. The only rider setting off after me was Mauro (6th place rider), who was happy to wait. I set the Go Pro up and off I went!

The first section outside is simple, then it goes inside and I completely forgot about how rough that section was. I had a mini off, managing to step off before it got out of control and walked a few steps. Back outside I remembered it exactly and rode everything I did last year. I did have another mini off on a 90 degree right that I didn't ride last year. It knocked my chain off and that took a while to get back on. As soon as it turned back inside, I walked. I didn't want a repeat of last year! Back outside and to the finish it was simple enough, through a series of gravel switchbacks down to the finish. I clocked a time of 10:22, which gave me the win by just 1 second, although it wasn't until much later in the evening that I actually found out.

Iron Bike Day 7 - Matt Page

After my heart rate had settled slightly I set off again, ready to tackle the next 50km to Chabberton. One thing I keep forgetting is to never trust the race book elevation profile, which showed a gradual 30km climb. It was anything but! Constantly going up and down on the side of a steep hillside. It was a relief to reach Sestriere and from here we took a gondola from 2000m to 2700m. The downhill wasn't anything to write home about, mostly down ski pistes and even had some monster steep climbs in it. After just over 50km of riding I arrived at the bottom of Chabberton. I took the time to eat a bit, fill my bottle up and had 5 minutes to psyche myself up for the climb ahead. Looking up from the bottom the mountain is very imposing, standing right above and with the old gun tunnels barely visible on the top.

Starting at 1300m and finishing at 3200m over about 15km in distance. I have massive respect for the mountain and in 2011 it took me 2hrs 40min to reach the top. I knew I would have to do much better this year, or 5th place would be out the window. At first I felt rubbish, my legs were dead and I was breathing heavily. I was in the inner chainring from the start and slowly got myself going. The climb is fine to ride to 2000m, being mostly on gravel forest road. Then it turns nasty very quickly, with a series of very steep and very loose switchbacks. It was here that the Fojtek brothers passed me and also where I got off for the first time. Next year (maybe!) I will bring a 24t front chainring. From here to the ridge at 2700m it is only partially rideable and in worse condition than 2 years ago as rock falls and made some places impossible to ride.

I was passed by a few more getting up the the ridge, but I was able to get back on and ride here so made some ground back and improved my position. I was amazed by how well I was coping with the altitude, riding far more sections than I did 2 years ago. The top was in sight and this seemed to spur me on, breathing really heavily but I kept pushing as hard as I could. Reaching the top I was exhausted and checked my watch to see the time. 2hrs 17min, over 20 minutes faster than 2 years ago and 6th fastest on the day! I think at least half of the time difference is because of the 29er. It has way more traction and makes it possible to ride in places than smaller wheels struggle.

After a few minutes to take in the view it was time to descent. The first part is possible, although steep and very loose but with care it is fine to the ridge, at which point we drop off the other side and head into France! From the ridge it becomes too rough, rocky and loose. Big boulders block the trail and in places its a mixture of scree slope and rock fall, meaning progress is slow. Today the organisers had set a 7hr target time, which you aim to get within to avoid time penalties of 1 point per second. In reality it never really concerns the top riders, but today 7hrs was just impossible for everyone. With Ruffa Lucas ahead of me I had to limit the damage on the remaining 15km.

Iron Bike Day 7 - Matt Page

Into Claviere the singletrack is superb, then you head out and to avoid the main road you head off onto some Via Ferrata style tracks... but without the ropes, because this is Iron Bike after all! After a mental track in a ravine a short climb and fast descent we arrived at another chairlift ride, this time a much shorter one. Arriving at 1700m we had 10km remaining, which as usual was a sting in the tail, especially after such a tough day. With Sestriere in sight we headed up through the trees on a really steep track, before eventually relenting at 2100m altitude and dropping into the finish town.

A huge sigh of relief after what was definitely the hardest day of this years Iron Bike! Unfortunately, Mauro had a really bad crash on the Fort, breaking several bones and is in hospital. It is a real shame, as we were having a great battle for 5th place and I wish him a good recovery.

Current overall position:
5th
(1st SS1, 6th SS2)

Other British riders:
Simon Hawken: 22nd
Michael McCutcheon:

All photos credited to Nerys Evans

Iron Bike Day 8

Stage 8 (Final Day):

60km
2700m ascent
Maximum time limit: 6.5hrs
Time taken: 4hrs 5min

Like many other stage races, Iron Bike finishes with a relatively easy day. That is, easy compared to the rest of the week and not just a walk in the park! In the book it was 55km with 3 major climbs and 3 descents.

Before setting off, it was easy to see that people were definitely glad to make it to the final day and there was a lot of excitement and a little nervousness around. I'd already got it in my head that I'd push hard right through and try and be the first rider back. We were well spaced out to start as we caught a gondola from Sestriere at 2000m to one of the higher peaks at 2700m. The clouds were looming and the weather wasn't looking too promising, but as we started heading up it was looking a little brighter. The first special stage started immediately at the top and has become a staple at Iron Bike for the last 3 years at least, a DH timed section from 2700m all the way down to 1400m. I've always wanted to win the stage, but despite 2 good finishes I've never managed it.

Reaching the top, I set off flat out and into the first section, which was part of a DH mtb run, complete with big berms, doubles, drops and loose corners. It was great fun and although I kept telling myself I had more to lose than to gain I disregarded it and continued to push. In the middle section there was some fantastic singletrack and just a few pedalling bits. The final section to the bottom was through a village, weaving along narrow streets, round a really fast loose corner and a flat out section to the finish line! I didn't know how I did at the time, although it felt pretty good with only one small mistake where I overshot a corner. It wasn't until much later after the finish that I found out that I'd won the stage by 54 seconds! Not bad going for a 16 minute special stage!

Iron Bike Day 8 - Matt Page

Continuing with my idea of going flat out all day, I went straight through the first feed station. I decided to carry 2 TORQ bottles today, rather than a bladder to make refills easier later on. I was also carrying 5 TORQ gels, which would hopefully be enough for the day. We were straight into the biggest climb, from the valley floor at 1300m it climbed right up to 2400m. It was a very easy, straightforward climb all on very smooth tracks and I managed to stay in the big ring the whole way. I was passing people frequently and getting cheered on and a few people were reminding me that it wasn't a special stage. Just before the top I passed the 2 Spanish riders from Buff who were the leading pair and the first on the course. They were being tracked by the race helicopter, but they stopped at a feed and I pushed on. A very steep final section to the top led to an amazing downhill and now I was in front, the helicopter was tracking me!

The downhill was one of the sweetest of the week. Not overly technical, but very fast and flowing with enough to keep me on my toes. I was going to use the descent to recover, but since the helicopter was tracking me and filming really closely it spurred me on and went a little faster without taking too many risks. After a sweet 20 minutes of singletrack we hit a road and I caught up with the 2 lead motorbikes that were marking the course! The helicopter was still tracking and they must have thought I was crazy pushing so hard. It was brilliant fun racing against the motos, seeing if they could keep up. They would stop to mark the track, I'd speed past then 10 seconds later they would come by again and we kept it going for almost 30 minutes, right through Cesana to a climb where they pulled away and as I went into the trees I also lost the helicopter, which was a relief as I eased up a touch!

After a section that meandered through a few small villages where people were out to watch I arrived at the 2nd and final timed stage of the day which I knew it well from previous years. I stopped to top up a bottle and had a quick chat with Caeser, the race owner who had been following in the helicopter, his only words to me were “loco, loco!”, translated meaning “Crazy, crazy”. I was only stopped for 30 seconds maximum then on my way, starting the long climb from 1350m to the top at 2100m. At first it was a steep and loose gravel road, climbing to just passed 1600m, then some singletrack traverse to a village called Desserts, where we had a steep hike through a gulley. It was only a few hundred meters and reaching the top I thought I could now pedal to the finish! From 1800-2100m at the summit was back on gravel roads and the clouds had blown in making visibility greatly reduced. I was glad to have the Garmin and check the elevation so I knew how close I was to the top.

Finally reaching the top, there was a neutralised feed station. Here you can take up to 15 minutes and it doesn't affect the special stage timing, but I wanted to head off pretty quickly. The marshals had other ideas though, “You can't go. The track is not marked, it is not safe. Please wait 15 minutes”. I hadn't slogged myself to wait for other riders to catch me, so I tried to persuade them to let me head off earlier and after some bartering I waited about 5 minutes before starting the descent, with the special stage timer on again.

The final descent of the event is crazy and really fun. In 2011 I almost lost my bike off a big drop and last year I was walking sections but this year I was feeling more confident and rode everything, all be it with a few slightly scary moments on the drops higher up! It had a bit of everything including a rock garden that must have lasted almost 1 kilometer! Ouch.

Iron Bike Day 8 - Matt Page

Breathing a sigh of relief as I crossed the special stage finish line I guessed I'd done enough to secure 5th overall, although wouldn't find out until later on. It wouldn't be Iron Bike without a sting in the tail and the last climb to Sauze d'Oulx is just that! Steep, loose and it goes on and on. 55Km came and went and the final altitude of 1600m also went by, then finally I arrived at the town... only to see that this year the route was different. My heart sank, the signs pointed us away from the village and up a steep climb. I rode a bit, then relented and had to walk. I was cursing and muttering under my breath and even out aloud and if Fabrizio the race director had been there, he would have had it! I could picture his face laughing at us as we grovelled up “Hey, it's Iron Bike” would be his words. After an “extra” 3km and several hundred meters of climbing I popped out of the woods and crossed a timing mat, an extra surprise!

“Congratulations, you have finished”. There was no one there apart from 2 marshals and it was a bit of an anti-climax and in my head I wondered if the last climb was a conspiracy to stop me crossing the line first! I sat down, grabbed a drink then less than a minute later everything changed, “OK, follow the motorbikes, they will take you over the finish”. Woohoo! The final run into the town centre was fantastic, the streets were busy and hundreds of people were out watching. I could hear the tannoy sounding as I got closer and had loads of support and cheers as I rode the final 100m and over the finish line!

I stopped, had a quick interview with Fabrizio then was told, “OK, you must go back up and do it again, the TV camera missed it”. I couldn't quite believe it and could only laugh about it as I rode back up 200m, turned around and rode back over the ceremonial finish line again, to the same big cheers. The cycling equivalent to a lap of honour? Of course, I'd not won the race, but it felt great all the same and especially so when I heard that I was 40 minutes ahead of anyone else!

Later on I found out that I'd finished 4th on the final special stage, to comfortably hold onto 5th position overall and equal my result in 2011, although this time the level of competition was much tougher. It was my 2nd time as an Iron Bike finisher in the 3 years I've entered. Not too long later Simon Hawken crossed the line, who finished 21st overall and was the only other British rider to be a finisher. This year the event was just as hard as ever and the stats are pretty scary.

8 stages. Almost 700km with over 30,000m climbing. 120 people entered, 90 made it to the start line. 45 finished.

The head of the race was dominated by the fast Czech riders:

1st: Ondrej Fojtek (CZE)
2nd: Jan Fojtek (CZE)
3rd: Radoslav Sibl (CZE)
4th: Joseba Albizu Lizaso (SPA)

This year the top Italian rider was Mauro Canale, a very popular local rider who finished 7th. With Ruffa Luca 6th (SWI) and Belgian rider Dieter Luypaert finished 10th there were 6 different nationalities inside the top 10.

“The hardest MTB stage race in the World” has lived up to its reputation and I don't think there is anything quite like it anywhere else. Despite being stupidly tough it has enormous appeal and I love the racing and all the emotions that it gives. Nothing else I've ever ridden demands a more rounded rider or fitness. To be a finisher at Iron Bike is a tremendous achievement and its an event that I would absolutely recommend to anyone who wants a challenge. Physically I was spent, mentally stage 3 broke me and every other day brought unique challenges within my mind to overcome.

Iron Bike Day 8 - Matt Page

So who is up for Iron Bike 2014? Put my name down again!

Final overall position:
5th
(1st SS1, 4th SS2)

Other British riders:
Simon Hawken: 21st – FINISHER!

All photos credited to Nerys Evans


UK Distribution Partner Announced

RWD Brakes are pleased to announce an exclusive distribution deal for the UK territory with Sussex-based Upgrade Bikes Ltd – one of the UK's premier bicycle component distributors.

With other high-end brands such as Lezyne, Kinesis UK, DMR and X-Fusion on their books, the RWD portfolio will match perfectly with the company's ethos. RWD Brakes Managing Director, James Hall commented: "We're really excited about working with the team at Upgrade Bikes over the course of the next few months. Out of all of the UK distributors, we identified Upgrade back when we first started as being the perfect partner for us, given the success that they have brought to their other brands partners. We're more than confident that their team will do us proud."

The first stock order is scheduled for dispatch to Upgrade's warehouse in mid-February following the brand launch at the Core Bike show at Whittlebury Hall, Silverstone in late January.

For further information, visit: www.upgradebikes.co.uk

2012 Nutcracker XC Series

RWD - The Nutcracker XC Series 2012 Official Headline Sponsor
RWD Brakes are proud to announce sponsorship of the UK based North of England Nutcracker XC race series again in 2012.

The series, organised by North Yorkshire event company Bikelicker Events Ltd goes into its 3rd year in 2012 and provides XC racing on some of the best terrain that England has to offer. Not only that, but it's racing on the trails where RWD disc brake pads were born, so of course we're naturally passionate about these events!

2013 Event List

We will be in attendance at many large events throughout Europe in 2013. Details will become available here during October 2012

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