I have always wanted to do the Birkebeinerritet in Norway but since I started with MTB it has clashed with some races in Sweden. “Birken” is the biggest MTB race in the world with 26000 participants spread over different races starting Friday and ending Saturday! It should be on the “to do list”of every mountainbiker! It is a non-technical race with mostly smooth gravel roads so anyone who owns a mountainbike can take part! One reason why I have been wanting to do this race is because a very good friend of mine from Norway has been involved in the race a lot through her previous work and now her boyfriend is involved and they live next to the finish!
My biggest supporters and I packed our camper early Wednesday morning to drive the 5 hours to Rena, the start place of the race, allowing me to ride the route. They dropped me off and I saw them again 4,5 hours later at the finish in Lillehammer. I had 92km to ride and they had 120km to drive! It was a stunning route and I am glad I did it before, if nothing else to see the surroundings which I did not see on race day! It is always good to see the route beforehand to know what is coming and also to see where the 4 sprint prizes were, I saw 3 out of 4.
The route is made up of fast smooth gravel roads with lots of climbing, so a bit different to the normal MTB races. Another difference is that it is obligatory to carry a backpack weighing at least 3,5kg! Birkebeinerrittet has a historical background from 1206 when the people from the political party Birkebeiner rescued the 18 month old boy, who later became their king, from the opposite party by taking him on skies over the mountains. In 1932 the skiing race Birkebeinerrennet was founded and since a few years back it has also been a cycling race during the summer. This is the same background as CykelVasan (which also has a history that goes back to an old king and was a skiing race from the beginning). All participants need to carry the weight of a child.
We went to Kristin and David when I was done with the ride, it was so nice to see them, we have actually never met anywhere else other than South Africa even though we live “close”! Thursday was spend sightseeing and resting. Friday I went to check out the last 2 km of the course which in its own way was technical. 2 years ago the leading guy in the elite men had a 1 minute lead coming to the downhill with 2km to go and he lost his lead there, so it would be critical to know the end of this race! I practiced a few times and decided exactly which line to take. Afterwards we travelled to Rena to spend the night there.
We started at 8.50am on Saturday morning, there had been start groups leaving from 7am so around 3000 cyclists were already on the route ahead of us. We had to pass a lot of them which was not easy at times… Since I had not done the race before they had seeded me in ladies B, all the other top girls were in ladies A, so I started 50 meters behind my closest competitors, felt a bit strange. Ariane was there and she was in A… We started a bit slower than I had expected up the first 10 km long climb so at the top I attacked hard to take the first sprint prize! We were 4 girls who got away after around 16km on the only technical section of the course, it was Ariane, Hildegunn, Borghild (my 2 normal Norwegian competitors) and I. Unfortunately everyone did not want to work to stay away so at around 45km a big group of girls came back to us. I managed to take the second sprint prize as well at 26km. Hildegunn attacked a lot and looked very strong on the day, I went on all her attacks but did not have the legs to work with her to get away… We lost the rest of the girls on “The raisin climb” after 60km and eventually it was the same 4 girls + a HiTec when we came to the last 2km of the race. I also managed to take the 4th sprint prize, so I took 3 out of 4 since I knew where they were:-)
I had decided that I could be 2nd down the first downhill, no further back than that and Ariane took the downhill first, then I. She got a small gap but I caught up then she got a small gap again on the next downhill and I caught up again, when we entered the “corridor” with maybe 500 meters to go and 4 corners I was on her wheel, unfortunately a guy and a motorbike got between us and I had to break, I get passed them and on to her wheel again and in the second last corner we were almost next to each other, she gets the inside line and another guy comes on my inside and he sprints me!!!! I have no chance to even try… A second place at my first Birken a meter behind Ariane is my result for the day.
Once again I am a bit disappointed that the ladies does not get a free track at the end of races which normally ends in a sprint (fast non-technical races) and it is a bit of unluck if a man gets in the way. I hope that we will see a change in this regard for next year since it is happening at race after race.
I want to say a big big thank you to Kristin and David who took such good care of us and helped me in so many ways in the preparation and planning for this race, also handing me a bottle along the way! And of course thank you to my parents and biggest supporters for coming with me for so many days so that I could prepare in a good way!
The live TV show from race day, you find our race here and there from around 2 hours and our sprint is at 4.42.41 – 4.43.49 and at 4.45.07 – 4.46.34 and my interview at 4.49.32 but it is in Swedish;)
The Norwegian TV showed this afterwards.
It was a really beautiful route!
Kristin and her son Noah