Riding the TorTour UltraCross Cyclocross Stage Race

Three days of mud, gravel, sub-zero temperatures, and flat-out racing. An invitation to ride the world's first ever cyclocross stage race, seemed like an opportunity that couldn't be missed...

Race Report: Stage 2 - 74km - 1,530m elevation

I pushed from the gun - trying to hold my own in the front group. 

I didn't quite push hard enough though; before long, the five front-runners had got a gap, and I was left in the chasing pack. Nothing for it... solo bridge time.

It turned out to be a long bridge to cross. Almost an hour of sitting at threshold, trying desperately to regain the wheel of the last rider in the group ahead.

Eventually I made junction. Exhausted; I clung to the wheels. By now the two professional riders were long gone into the distance, and our small second group comprised of two Swiss junior riders (one the U23 National Champ), a super-strong German, and myself. 

Up. Up. Up. Today was a day of hunting vertical. From vineyards, through forest, and then up above the snow-line. 

Ice and boulders lurked beneath the thin layer of white dusting. I took caution, after the German rider wiped out in front of me. The two Swiss juniors were fearless though - long gone on the technical descent.

Fortunately, there was more climbing to come. A chance to regain some of the ground lost from my timid descending. 

Chasing wheels, running up stairs, hurtling round corners, praying for grip.

The last twenty kilometres flew buy. Joined by two Frenchman racing in the team classification, we powered on down through the valley, on cycle track and single-track.

In the last 5 kilometres our small group splintered. The two Frenchman sprinting off, whilst I managed to draw out a small gap too. Legs burning, I eventually crossed the line.  

I finished 4th on the stage, and moved up to 4th on General Classification as well. 

What an incredible event. I need to race 'cross more often...

Solo bridge across to the lead group - it took a good hour at threshold

An hour at threshold, to make the junction

Stage 2 took us up... into the snow

Proper snow

Incredible scenery, to distract you from burning legs (Photo: APIX)

The finishing 20 kilometres took in some fast paced cycle paths and blue skies

What a race

Sun on the finishing straight

Final Rankings - Spot the Brit

Race Report: Stage 1 - 80km - 830m elevation

Endurance bike racing is a battle of attrition. You've got to know your limits; ride within those limits; and hope that your limits extend further and deeper than your competitors'.

It makes for a rollercoaster ride. 

You might start at the back of the pack, and spend the first part of the race working your way up through slower riders. You'll find a small group of similar ability riders, and hopefully you'll work together - to make progress on the lead group. Then, as bodies tire, and will power fades, the group will get whittled down... leaving you sprinting against a small group of riders, whose limits are similar to yours. 

That was how today's stage of TorTour CX panned out: There was no let-up from the word go, and before long I found myself in a good group. We worked together through open fields, forest roads, sharp inclines, and muddy single-track. By the time we reached the final 10 kilometres though, what was once a group of 15, was now a two-up time-trial.

The legs felt good, and the everything seemed to work well. I placed 5th on the stage, moving me up to 5th on Solo Male General Classification, too. Tomorrow, we head to the hills...

Kit choice for the first stage of TorTour Cyclocross

Working my way up through the field

Racing on the open flatlands (Photo: Apix)

Challenging riverside trails

Stairway to Hell (Photo: Apix)

Superb trail conditions (Photo: Apix)

A stunning day's racing (Photo: Apix)

The weather conditions proved favourable again, with the sun coming out in the afternoon

Refuel - after a chilly, but enjoyable day's racing

Race Report: Prologue Stage - 23km - 640m elevation

From the gun... 

The sound of pedals clicking into cleats, and knobbly tyres buzzing on tarmac lasts only a handful of seconds. 
Then you hit it. 'The Wall'.

Pebbles ping from beneath tyres; heart rates jump to high heaven; lungs are shocked into a frenzied gasping fit. The prologue of the TorTour UltraCross might only be 23 kilometres long, but each one of the 8 laps starts with a 25% leg burning kicker.

The first ascent of the climb instantly strings out the field; riders jostling for places, just as they are scrabbling for grip.

I start mid-pack, in the 200 strong field. By the top of the first climb, I can see the Elites riding off into the distance; but I've placed myself in the forward ranks of the following pack.

Lap after lap, 'The Wall' continues to cause havoc. There is little time on the top of the hill for your body and mind to recover, before you swoop down, and hit it all over again.

As we come round to lapping riders, the game intensifies. You try to hold wheels, as you weave in and out of other riders; it's like a conga line going in and out of moving bollards.

I have good laps and bad. The last two aren't so strong, and at one point I have to put my foot out on a loose section of gravel. Valuable metres and seconds lost.

Still, I cross the finish line after 49 minutes of racing; with a finishing position of 7th in the Solo Men's Category.

A decent start... but there's still a lot of racing to go. 

Rider briefing - numbers ready

Ahead of the carnage

Calm before the storm

And it begins...

Flat-out racing

Prologue done. Beer in bottle cage. This is a proper cyclocross race.


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