A few months ago someone told me about a stage race in Iceland. Since I have always wanted to go to that country, I did not have any other race that week and Craig was able to come with and race with me as team CBC, it felt like a given to go and do it. The organisers invited us to come and do it as they have the ambition to turn it in to a UCI stage race for next year. It is always nice to do a race from the first time and see it grow. We left Sweden for Iceland 2 days after CykelVasan and my parents came with to help and support us. We were all very excited about the trip.
It turned out that our biggest competition in the mixed category came from 2 other South African teams! Yolandi Du Toit and Ben Melt Swanepol from Team Garmin SA and Carmen Buchacher and Tim Ellerbeck from Team Velocity. We drove to Laugarvatn after registration and stopped at a beautiful waterfall on the way there, it was nice to explore a bit of the country as well! Our accommodation for the night before the start was just next to the Fontana geothermal pools so we went for a swim before dinner.
Day 1 Geysir to Husafell, 95km and 1100 meters of climbing
The first day started in Geysir and we had time to see one of the Geysers erupt just before start! There were only 62 excited riders in the field and of them 4 men’s teams were really strong and got away early on. We were soon riding alone with Carmen and Tim and took turns at the front for 22 kilometres. We managed to get away from them on a longer steep climb and could stay away for the rest of the stage. It was sometimes difficult to push hard when we could not see any other teams ahead or behind us. There were also no route markings so sometimes we wondered if we were on the right route! At a bigger junction with 10 kilometres to go we really did not know which way to go. Luckily I had the route in my Garmin but I had to stop, save the ride and reload the route to be able to follow it, we must have lost at least one minute on doing that. We still won today’s stage by 3 minutes ahead of Carmen and Tim.
The best way of describing the route is to imagine riding on the moon! Rocky and rough and no vegetation what so ever! It was really nice to see the clear blue colour of the glacier on our one side! I was fearing for the rest of the stage race since the first day was supposed to be the smooth ,not so rocky stage and I was riding my hard tail since I had been told (by the organisers) that it was a hard tail race, my whole body was sore from all the bumps!!
Team CBC before start with the Geysers in the background
At the water point on day 1
Day 2 Husafell to Hveravellir, 111km and 1300 meters of climbing
This day was all about the weather and the cold river we were crossing, we had been told that the temperature could drop 10 degrees from the start to the top of the mountain and we were going to cross a river on foot that had glacier water flowing in it. We also had a 50 km long rocky section to get through, it was clearly going to be a long day out there! I must admit that I was nervous for all the elements of weather and water! Once again we were riding on the moon in the middle of absolutely nothing and without the route markings (which were good today) one could easily have gotten very lost, sometimes we did not even see a route!
It all started with the bunch going wrong after 200 meters when we did not know which way to turn after a bridge…. The bunch stayed together until a small hill when the 4 men’s teams got away and we, the 3 SA mixed teams, ended up riding together. We soon dropped Yolandi and Ben Melt and shortly after Carmen and Tim also dropped off. We could stay away until the feed station after 44km which were where the rocky section started. It was really difficult on the hard tail and since I am used to riding rocky stuff on a fully I struggled more than Craig. Eventually Carmen and Tim caught us, got away, we caught them when Carmen fell, we got away, they caught us and so on. Eventually we ended up riding together from the 66 kilometre mark to the finish. It almost felt like both teams gave up on trying to get away. When we hit the road which were going to take us the last 20 km to the finish a really strong head wind hit us in the face and even though they had said it was going to be all downhill we had a lot of climbs still to do and in the afternoon this part was what everyone was talking about as the toughest on todays stage! I looked down once to see it saying 108km on the Garmin, only to look down a few minutes later to see the same number again… were we standing still?? On the last climb with 1,5km to go we finally got away from Carmen and Tim to just just win the stage. It had started raining and was 5 degrees when we came to the finish in Hveravellir 5 hours later. Our bags (or my parents) had not gotten there yet since it took 6 hours to drive from the start, there were just no roads. Luckily there were some hot geothermal springs where we could heat up a bit! The closest accommodation was a highland hut 40 minute drive away on the bumpy roads!
The second section of the water crossing on day 2, here Carmen and Tim and we are just up the road.
Craig fell in a slippery corner...
We are just behind Tim, rocks as far as one can see...
At the water point
At the camp at Hveravellir
Day 3 Hveravellir to Gullfoss, 85km and 650 meters climbing
It was 4 degrees and a cold wind when we got to the start, once again it was really difficult to decide what to wear. I did not want to be cold any more so decided to race with legwarmers and the thick race jacket. It was the fastest start of all 3 days and the 4 men’s teams took off immediately, we got away from Carmen and Tim from the start, then they caught us and we got away and so on for the first 10 kilometres until we got to the 30 kilometre long single track, there we could easily get away. This was a really fun section with some very tricky technical riding, but once again I missed my fully a lot! When we hit the gravel road again without seeing the other 2 for a long time I think we relaxed a bit too much and we had to pay for that when they suddenly caught us and the next 25 kilometres was a full on race with both teams pushing really hard on all the climbs to try to get away. None of us succeeded with that and with 15 km to go we got to a tar road and just rode together to the finish. They managed to take the stage win and we were very happy to have won the first ever Glacier 360 in the mixed category!!
Mom cheering us on at the finish at Gullfoss
The finish was beautifully set up with lunch next to Gullfoss, the biggest waterfall in Europe. We had been super lucky with the weather and we could all sit and eat and relax in the sun before heading back to Reykjavik.
Lunch after the finish
The following day we received our prize which was a whale watching rib boat safari and a nice dinner. In the evening everyone got together for a final drink on Vidöy island just outside town and from there we had a good view of the fireworks late in the evening, it was Reykjavik’s birthday this day!
Final party at Videy
It has been an experience and I would rather call it an adventure then a race. It is difficult to explain the terrain, the weather and the conditions to anyone, one needs to experience it. One thing is for sure, do NOT come and do this race on a hard tail! I would also like to thank the organisers and the volunteers for all there help and awesome hospitality. The race organisers have a lot to work on to be able to host a UCI stage race, they are willing and keen!
A huge thank you to Cape Brewing Company and ÅBRO for making this race and trip possible for us! It was really good to do a stage race together with Craig again and we were happy to represent CBC again!