By Michal Smieszek (Fatbike.com.pl)
Poland – a country behind the “fat curtain”; where there is no snow but white bears are still seen crossing the streets of it’s cities and villages.
Well… that is only a quarter of the “real truth” – indeed I have seen some “polar bears” slowly crossing my street…every Friday at midnight.
But sometimes we do have snow showers, and most importantly we do have nice fatbiking movement here. And that’s not a surprise – our mountains are really beautiful, with plenty of trails ready to accommodate fatbikers and their machines.
And so here we come with third edition of “Monteria Fat Bike Race Gory Stolowe” – a unique event in this part of Europe, located in Gory Stolowe – “Table Mountains” – a 42km long mountain range in Poland and Czech Republic and a part of the Sudetes. The uniqueness of the race is not only the presence of fatbikes, but the location – the Polish part of Table Mountains is a protected National Park, which very rarely opens its gates to mountain bike events. The speciality of Table Mountains are the sandstone formations which have eroded through millions of years to form plated structures with sheer mountain ledges. The labyrinth of giant rocks is a must see for every tourist and self-respecting bikepacker.
Since the first edition, the start and finish line of Fatbike Race (FBR) are placed in Karłów, a very small tourist village located under Szczeliniec Wielki, the highest peak of the range (919m above sea level). Since the very beginning (2016), our fatbike race has immediately gained the attention of the MTB maniacs and fatbike lovers. It is not a surprise, as the project emerged at the best moment possible – fat bikes were everywhere and the fat audience needed just a small signal to gather and show off their monster machines.
The first two events turned into great successes, and I can certainly say that FBR has become an obligatory feature in the cycling season. It needs to be emphasized that from the very beginning, FBR was targeted at those participants who do not seek extreme racing, but rather prefer a chill-out style of competition. And so the first two race courses were easy, with fairly low height difference and their difficulty mainly depended on weather conditions. Boring? Well…I wouldn’t be that much critic. However, there was something in the freezing air, as race organizers confirmed in early November that the 2018 edition will be by far different from what we have come to expect.
And so the warm-up for Monteria FBR 2018 had officially begun with heavy supplementation of good old Scotch Whisky accompanied by fatty pork roasts. This time we take no prisoner during FBR – no damn mercy for the tiny tires. In order to achieve it, some of us needed to get fatter than ever before. You say Vee Tire 3XL? You should have seen my belly after Christmas Eve…
The eagle has landed…on the 1st of February finally sat his fat ass on the flat rocks of Table Mountains. Our crew arrived happily with wives, lovers, and children. We expected the beautiful deep snow dunes. Instead we found scraps of snow and grass. OMG! Didn’t we pay enough for the weather forecast? Let us pray, like Phil Collins taught us: “touch the screen, ‘cause Jesus He knows me and he knows I am right”. And merciful God heard our prayers, and late evening brought snowfall, that covered the grass and rocks with a white quilt.
Friday was spent on preparing for the night prologue – a 3 km short time trial, which became an entry part of our local fatty festival. The days trip through the prologue route made us realize very quickly that the Saturday marathon would be a challenge – mud, ice and snow and green grass sucking the heavy tires of our fatties. A real four seasons challenge.
At 6 PM sharp first knights took off on the trail. 3km proved visibly who is in good shape and who has overdone with supplements. The race organizers did not change any part of the course but this time weather dictated the conditions . What remained unchanged was the cool atmosphere warmed by the spectators and climatic torches set along few bends.
The best ones finished the prologue under 10 minutes. Among the winners was one my teammates – Bartek, who lost only by a mere 5 seconds to the first finisher in fatbike category. Believe me, he spat out his lungs only to be told that only the first place receives the glory. He did not hide his resentment of the whole situation. And it is not about the prizes nor the splendor, but a simple “shake of the hand” for the pain and blood left on the trail. Despite this injustice, the fatbike.com.pl crew properly honored him later that night. Well, we were only concerned that the next day he might have higher alcohol content than lactate in his blood!
Saturday morning welcomed us with sun and light freezing. A quick, refreshing breakfast and one last beer and whisky in the camelback, and we’re ready to hit the road. Our brave hearts were enlightened by the great view of dozens of fatties waiting at the start line. With even more joy we watched fatbikers representing age category way over official “Master’s” minimum or the young padawans.
The fat monster started slowly to move. Blood and sweat and fat tears poured down through his veins. The fat mass flooded meadows defining the race route. From the very first meters I knew that this edition of Monteria Fatbike Race was to be be a hardcore journey filled with joy and pain. The light snow we saw earlier quickly vanished under aggressive fat tires turning the solid ground into a mud bath. Just fu.*@!# great! My pair of 4.8” Maxxis Minions proved to have enormous traction, but at the same time were sucked by the wet soil and grass; preventing me from reaching racing velocity. Not to mention my belly, which created even higher rolling resistance….
The first part of the route led along the track well known from the previous two years, with the only difference being that this time it was way more demanding due to the variability of the ground – snow, mud, ice .., gravel, muddy forest mulch. To be honest, I shouldn’t really complain – thanks to this, the race course required something more than a strong calf. Strong psychology, self-control and good driving techniques were the key to pass the most demanding sections.
Well, my colleagues definitely were better prepared for such racing conditions and disappeared rapidly out of my sight; so I was a lonely warrior on the trail. Unfortunately the worse and most interesting part was ahead of me. This year, race organizers added about 10km of extra trail with a relatively short but exhausting uphill section and even more exhausting downhill parts that were better suited to Enduro full suspension bikes than hardtail XC fatties. Add never-ending puddles of mud on the theoretically flat sections and you can imagine me dying more than once. The last time I resurrected was when I realized that I might not finish the race in the 3.5h limit. What a shame would it be…and the punishment from my wife – silent nights, zero sex….only fat Big Mac for the dinner without a cold pint of beer.
I raised like mythical Phoenix from the ashes and speeded up, only to find out the the Greek tragedy is not over yet! I’d reached the bottom….of the 4km long uphill that was not likely to end. My carbon fatty cried out giving almost the last breath and so did I. The only thought that kept me alive was that after each ascent there is a descent. Well, there was one, one kilometer of road covered with pure ice. Brake or not to brake that’s a question of life and death. The answer is: brake slowly, just not to go faster than the car speed limit . Was 50km/h enough? Hell yes! Just enough to reach the finish line in time. Just enough to be welcomed by my wife, daughters and my mates…..and some nice girl serving high octane hooch for the racers.
“Oh that’s the way uh-huh, uh-huh I like it! Uh-huh, uh-huh…!”
Let me end my report with this famous but slightly adapted quote:
“I think now, looking back, we did not fight the fat enemy; we fought ourselves. And the fat enemy was in us. The Monteria Fat-Bike Race 2018 is over for me now, but it will always be there, the rest of my days as I’m sure my fat will be, fighting with lungs and legs for what Rhah called possession of my soul..”
See you girls and boys next year on the Monteria FBR 2019!
And Team Fatbiking.eu – you’re very welcome in Poland.
Photos: Cris Froese Pics