For the first time I would do CykelVasan on a full suspension bike, normally (and the past 3 years when I have won the race) I do this race on a hard tail with a Lauf fork, to make the bike as light and quick as possible. But without a bike sponsor and not knowing how recovered I would be when the time came for this race, I decided not to buy a hard tail this year and keeping the full suspensions I bought last year, since I use a full suspension more. In hind sight maybe it was the wrong decision and maybe I should have bought a hard tail anyway…
We drove to Sälen on Thursday and I absolutely love the atmosphere up there the days before the event, you can feel the excitement among the 24000 riders who will take on one of the different distances during the 3 days. It is amazing to see how this event has grown and how many people have taken up mountainbiking in Sweden!
I was nervous as usual, but a little less than last weekend. In the end of the day CykelVasan is “just” a bike race while the Swedish Champs decides my kit for the year, and I think I could still feel the relief of defending that jersey. We had tough competition from Norway this year, Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjå was the big name and with my injury I did not think I would be able to keep up with one of the best female mountainbiker in the world at the moment. If it would come down to a sprint I knew that Hildegunn Hovdenak would be dangerous, she beat me in a sprint at this race in 2014 and we have had many battles since then. My guess before the start was that it would come down to a sprint with the 2 Norwegians and Hanna Bergman, who is extremely good at this kind of race.
We started at 07.30 in a nearly 100 girls big start field, it is amazing to see so many girls in the elite group. It is growing year by year since CykelVasan started with the ladies race 45 minutes before the men and I am sure other races would get the same reaction if we had our own races. It was a slow start though, Åsa Erlandsson was at the front the whole way up the start climb, no one wanted to work. I think most of us were watching Gunn Rita and since she did not do anything no one else did. Eventually Hanna, Sandra and I started to take turns and as we were approaching the first intermediate sprint I ended up at the front a little too early, but I thought if I keep the speed high then no one wants to take the front and I might make it, and it worked, so I took the first intermediate sprint. The speed went up a bit after this, Hildegunn attacked a few times but I think we all realised that there were no danger since she basically attacked herself and it did not last more than 10 seconds each time. Gunn Rita picked up the speed a lot through the “Merida sprint” Strava section, she must have been the fastest girl through those 300 meters! We were still between 10-15 girls but shortly after the field got smaller and smaller and eventually we were only 6 girls left. I did not go on the following 2 sprints since I started to feel my legs (and leg) and was scared that I would not last to the finish. There was one time when I almost dropped and I wondered in my mind why I had taken that first sprint since it meant I had to stay for prize giving, otherwise we could have left after the finish… When we came to the only hill sprint I had a thought that I might give it a try but I was a bit taken off guard when I got hit by a bottle in my head when one of the girls mom was trying to feed only 200 meters before the sprint line… There is a hilly section (no long climbs though) around half way and both Gunn Rita and Hanna tried to get away here but I managed to stay with them even though I was very close of dropping on the last climb and had to dig extremely deep to manage to get back on their wheels. From here we were only 4 left, the same 4 I had predicted to be in the sprint. We all worked well together all the way to Mora without any real attempt to break it up. But with 1 km to go it all stopped, no one wanted to be at the front and we were basically standing still next to each other. Eventually Gunn Rita attacked with 600 meters to go, I immediately tried to go with, but she got a small gap and I worked really hard to close it down, which I did, but at the same time I gave the others a perfect lead out…. As I was about to pass Gunn Rita I saw Hildegunn passing on my right, I stood up to sprint and did what I could, but I had lactic acid coming out if my ears and could hardly feel my legs. Unfortunately, with only a few meters to the line I saw Hanna coming on my left and there was nothing left to do but to accept the third place. I was completely finished and of course a little disappointed at first but I soon realized that I was extremely happy to make it up on the podium.
It was a pitty that I was the one closing the gap at the end, at the same time as I don’t know if any of the others would have done it… And then it was that thing about the bike…. A bike sponsor would be very welcome ;)
Along the route. Photo: Happyride.se
2 meters before the finish line... Photo: vasaloppet.se
Podium with Hanna and Hildegunn. Photo: vasaloppet.se