Race Through Poland – a one-stage, self-supported, long-distance bicycle race having its main part in the south of Poland. The third edition took place between September / October and led the contestants through the steepest and most challenging uphills in the Beskids, Tatra and Sudetes mountains in the south of Poland. With roughly 1,400 km and 19,000 m of uphills, and a time limit of 6 days, it’s one of the toughest races in Poland. With almost no experience in ultra cycling and absolutely no experience in ultra cycling races, it becomes a huge challenge to even finish the race within the time limit. My preparation was not the best either as I had problems with completing the gear – everything that prevented me from riding longer distances. But there’s one thing that was always in good shape, before, during and after the race – the mood. Even when I knew it’d be hard, my mood was always good. The weather forecasts seemed to be good, the route was great, what could possibly go wrong? When it comes to ultra races, they say that the most important thing is your mind. Yes, you have to be fit, you have to have strong legs. But you must be prepared for suffering too and this is the task for your mind. Let’s see then how it all ended up.
The start line at the Wrocław Velodrom, concrete and one of the shortest and technically most difficult tracks in Europe, was built in the 1930s. 10:00, nice but a bit of a chilly Saturday morning. Several dozen people with different levels of experience and different attitudes are here with one common goal – to face one of the most difficult ultra road races in the game here in Poland – the Race Through Poland. With an obligatory 4 checkpoints and parcours, and your own route between them, you have to be prepared for around 1,400 km / 19,000 m, which you have to conquer in the obligatory 6-day time limit. An idea that the clock never stops doesn’t make it easier at all – the more you sleep, the bigger chance you’ll be passed by another guy in lycra. Yep, no one said it will be an easy one. We’re here to fight, we’re here to suffer, we’re here to push ourselves to another level. For me personally, it was just about one major thing – with completely no experience in ultra endurance racing, I just wanted to get to the finish line in time. That’s it. Easier said than done!
The bike is ready too – a HVRT CF0, an ultimate speed machine, equipped with custom Baby Legs bags, shines bright like a diamond . I tried to pack as light as I could, so the most necessary things only, no sleeping bag or whatever. I also made small changes to the drivetrain, just to be sure that after a couple of hundreds kilometres, I’ll be able to climb even the steepest climbs. Hence the bigger cassette (11-34) and smaller chainring (34T). A 1:1 ratio sounds like plan. What else? 32 mm tires (no problem thanks to the huge tire clearance on the HVRT) for a bit more comfort, and aerobars for cutting the air on the flats.
The start is huge fun for all of us, with a police escort we shred the streets of the crowded city of Wroclaw. After a couple of kilometres, the race starts for real! Drafting and riding in groups – pairs is forbidden so it’s a bit chaotic now – everyone tries to find the right pace. Don’t forget the day is long and the finish line is far. After an obligatory 70 km parcour to the Tąpadła Pass, the wind is on our side – lay down on your aerobars and let it get you to the mountains. It’s gonna be a long day in the saddle, in fact the night too. As with most of the group, I decided to ride as much as I can during the first night. It gets more difficult later, so it’s good to push hard now when you’re fresh and strong. The HVRT seems to fly over the tarmac, it’s as fast as a proper aero bike and it’s just a simple pleasure to ride such a quick machine. The first ~400 km are rather flattish, this is in fact a kind of a transfer to the mountains where the second obligatory parcour starts. This one will lead you to the first checkpoint– a small village in the heart of the Gorce Mountains called Studzionki. But before I get there, I have to stop for a while – it’s 4 a.m. and I can definitely feel the fatigue now, so I decide to sleep for one hour or so. As I don’t have any sleeping bag or a mattress, I lay down on a bench with a Space Blanket on. Two hours later, I get up as I think it’s better to ride than to lie down on a not particularly comfortable bench while having troubles sleeping. It’s a cold Sunday morning when I arrive at the city of Myślenice where I have breakfast in one of the groceries called ‘Żabka’ (eng. the frog). This chain will be my main supplier of hot dogs, coffee and everything else I need to ride comfortably. Thumbs up! Time to hit the road again, the mountains are calling! After (almost) the whole night of riding, it’s gonna be a long day in the saddle to get to the first CP at Studzionki. ‘It’s gonna be a long day in the saddle’ – remember these words as they’ll be your mantra for the next few days.
It’s getting steeper and harder with every kilometre now. Beskid Wyspowy (eng. Beskid Island) is the scene of the first mountain stage of the race. As the name suggests there are a lot of ‘islands’ to conquer – every mountain seems to be a separate peak which means that after the super steeps climb, you have to go straight to the bottom and then do it all over again. And again, and again, and again. It’s tough when you’re in perfect form, it’s even worse when you haven’t had enough sleep and your legs are heavy. I’m more like a grimpeur kinda cyclist so I manage 99.9% of the climbs, but believe me, pushing the bike is a common sight here. I’m amazed how good the HVRT climbs – who said an aero bike can’t be a good climber too? In the middle of the day, I’m starting to feel the lack of sleep from last night. I sit on the ground and have a little nap. This first day in the mountains also brought me problems with my right leg. Adjusting the cleat helped with the ankle issues, but it wasn’t so easy with the knee. As I’ll find out later, the pain will be my loyal companion till the very end of the race. I end these two days and one night of riding with 544 km / 5,760 m of climbing.