I look at the forecast, it reads -19. All sorts of thoughts run through my mind about what it will feel like on the start line in just under a week.
I’m pretty familiar with the build up to big races so I’m not particularly worried about this one. Racing is how I make a living: I’m one of the lucky few who isn’t locked into a nine to five to pay the bills.
This race is different. Normally I have Adam (my pilot), Dan (my coach), and the British Cycling support staff around me before a race. As a unit, we are hard to beat (I think of us as the Spartans), and we have the medals and records to prove it. But this time it’s stripped back, more focussed; the weight rests on my shoulders, and mine alone. Usually when I race I’m on a tandem with Adam, with his experience, accrued through years of sitting in the peloton and reading races as they unfold in front of him. I rely on him to call the shots based on what he sees happening around us. I put all my trust in him when we race, I believe in him. But this time he’s not going to be there. Now I must put into practice all that I’ve learned from him in a race situation I’ve never been in.
Taking the Sonder Vir Fortis out in its natural habitat
Rovaniemi 150 is a race that takes place in Finnish Lap Land - inside the Arctic Circle. A far cry from the warm tarmacked and cobbled city streets of the Europe I’m familiar with. I came across this race online last year when researching a bigger project in the Arctic and it seemed like an ideal stepping stone to test myself in that harsh environment. I can use the fitness I have and together my experience of racing bikes with a past life of fighting the elements during Scottish winter: it’s like the perfect storm.
I approached Alpkit in March 2017 to ask for their support to try to win this race, they were keen to get involved. Two weeks later I returned to Alpkit HQ to collect a Sonder Vir Fortis Fat Bike, and a day after that I was on a train to Scotland for a 5 day bike packing trip with my good friend Ibrahim. Since then I’ve been living and breathing fat bikes. I have never had so much fun riding a bike as I have this Sonder fatty. And now I’m here, one week away from this Arctic Fat Bike race… Solo. Well, actually that isn’t entirely true, Ibrahim has agreed to come along as my guide.
'Training' in Scotland with Ibrahim
A year of training has got me to this point, and as I type this, I feel in pretty good shape. The only thing I would do differently would be to train specifically for this race. Instead my focus has been the four-minute individual pursuit at the Track World Championships in Rio. But hey, we all have to pay the mortgage somehow.
A one-hundred-and-fifty kilometre lap on snow and ice, I’m hoping I’ll get around. Well, I’m hoping I’ll get around faster than everyone else and stand on the top step with my Sonder Vir Fortis, for everyone who has helped me to this point.
There are eight check points during those 150 kilometres, which is essentially a big loop. We will ride over frozen lakes and rivers, forestry roads and single track mountain bike trails. According to race rules, you must carry some equipment for safety. This includes a sleeping bag, rated for the minus thirties, a sleeping mat, a whistle, and some lights. All logical stuff, should things go wrong, for giving you a chance of survival before a rescue. People carry tents and stoves and all sorts, stopping when they get tired and cold. My plan is to ride the route as fast as possible, with an approach like that of alpine climbing: the faster you get up and off the mountain, the less time you are exposed to the danger.
If you are interested in supporting this adventure, I am running a KickStarter project to have the super experienced guys at Dark Sky Media come and film the race. With the aim of bringing you along for the ride to see what a race in this environment is like from the comfort on your warm home. Head over to my KickStarter page for more information.