No other event on my calendar affects me quite as much as Iron Bike. Widely regarded as the toughest MTB stage race in the World and most definitely the hardest thing I’ve done on the bike. Even finishing is an achievement and I class finishing 5th in 2011 as one of my best achievements on a bike.
What makes it so tough is a killer combination of huge mountains, long days and technical terrain. Under estimate this event at your peril! Of 140 starters, roughly 40 finish each year. Last year I was one of the unlucky ones, after a crash on the penultimate stage whilst descending the 4000 steps Fenestrelle Fort I hurt myself and was unable to continue on the remaining 80km and 4000m climbing that the day would have had in store and as a result was not an official finisher. The year before despite leading the race, Ismael Ventura had to withdraw on the penultimate day whilst ascending Mt Chabberton. Iron Bike relishes in the fact that its a tough race and being a finisher is one of the biggest achievements for any Mountain Biker.
For the third year I will be back at Iron Bike and my only real aim is to finish! I’d love a podium place, but that is only something I will allow myself to think about in the second half of the event. For 2013 Iron Bike is celebrating its 20th anniversary and to make things even tougher its an extra day longer, now 9 days total with a prologue and 8 full stages.
The full route is not disclosed until the day of the event, but going on previous race stats I am expecting in excess of 35,000m climbing and over 750km distance. I will probably be on the bike for an average of 9 hours a day, the shortest being around 6hrs (excluding prologue) and the longest can be over 12hrs, even for the top finishers. The race is a rally raid format, with special stages and liaison stages. Time penalties and cuts offs are in place on every stage, anyone outside of the maximum time will be out of the race. The special stages form the majority of the stage as a whole, on a typical stage of 70km I would expect around 50km of timed special stages.
My preparation for Iron Bike has been better than previous years. In 2011 I didn’t really know what to expect and last year I tore ligaments in my thumb just 2 weeks prior which hampered final prep. This year I have had plenty of time to ride in the mountains and living at altitudes of 1300 and 1800m I will hopefully have some benefit, however slight for the high altitudes I will experience. I’ve also manage to drop a few kilograms and am the leanest I’ve been this year.
I’m also really pleased with the bike I’ll be riding, my Pivot LES which I believe is the best machine I’ve had available to date for the race. The perfect Iron Bike machine is a tough one to nail down, but for me it would be lightweight 29er hardtail, but also something that has a slack head angle for the super technical downhills, a dropper seatpost and brakes that don’t fade on long descents. The Pivot LES ticks all these boxes and I am extremely confident going downhill on it, even more so now that I have upped the forks to 120mm. My only slight worry is the front end might be a little too high now for the crazy steep climbs. I have a stem with more rise, so I may add that if I find the front coming up.
I’ve also got some support for the race, which is vital to do well and have a top masseuse on hand to provide support following each stage. I’m ready for the best bike race on the planet! I’ll be providing daily blogs, pictures and strava links and many of the major media sites will also be posting progress from myself and other British riders.