Back in November last year I began coaching someone in Norway, he ran a bike race, his passion for the event was obvious from the beginning. It didn't take much to persuade my fiancee and me that we needed to visit Skaidi Xtreme. Flights booked, we signed on for the 'Different Experience' and we were ready to travel. Odd Peder runs a distribution company with business partner Kim called Fun Biking, they were now promoting and selling my coaching services in Norway so the trip would be a great opportunity to meet existing clients and create new interest.
Apart from seeing some images from my Norwegian coaching clients and reading the race website we were flying into the unknown, it felt like a proper adventure was about to happen. As the plane flew through the clouds as we approached Alta airport we got our first glimpses of the huge expansive countryside we would be exploring over the week. Snow peaked mountains, glistening lakes, mile upon mile of unspoilt landscapes. As part of the Experience Package we were collected from Alta and driven to Hammerfest where we stayed for a few days before transferring to Skaidi for the race. Look reindeer! More reindeer! Wow quick let's stop the car and get some photos. A real novelty to see these huge animals in the wild, for the locals these reindeer are often seen walking through gardens and city streets! The landscape was huge, it took 2 hours to drive from Alta to Hammerfest and we only passed a few tiny villages in between.
We arrived in Hammerfest which is the furthest town north before the North Pole! Built around a bay with around 10,000 inhabitants it was originally built for the fishing industry but is now busy with people working for the oil and energy companies. When I say busy it's completely different to home in the UK, traffic rolls freely, most people walk or cycle to work or to the shops, children from a young age can take what is often quite a long walk to school. The huge hills which extend to mountains surround Hammerfest, this would be our playground for the next few days. On the Experience we enjoyed some fun rides with the race organisers on their local trails, we were whooping for joy and had big smiles most of the way.
On Wednesday I had a workout to complete, first up were a few 10 minute threshold intervals above the airport, it was most difficult to keep focused with such beautiful views. I then rode back to the hotel where my fiancee Pippa was ready on the electric bike we'd borrowed. We'd been told about this 30 minute climb through some amazing countryside which sounded like a good place to ride and suited my next 20 minute set of micro sprints! Pippa could easy keep up on turbo mode and once my workout was done we enjoyed some endurance miles and photo taking. That evening I helped out at a skills coaching session which was great fun, some of the kids had real promise, they'll be winning Skaidi Xtreme one day. That evening we were invited to enjoy dinner with the sponsors, around 100 people gathered for a tasty meal with a choice of either whale or halibut.
On Thursday we packed up our bags and took the short bike ride from Hammerfest to Forsol for lunch on this beautiful white sandy beach. After lunch we caught the ferry from Hammerfest, we felt a bit reluctant to leave having had such an amazing few days but knew that the experience would continue once in Skaidi. The ferry ride around the north coast of Norway before heading inland provided more jaw dropping views. Another short bike ride and we arrived in the Skaidi hotel. Skaidi has a tiny population with just a few houses but is a weekends or holiday location with many people from Hammerfest and Alta owning lodges here. With just a petrol station and a small corner shop this was a very different location to Hammerfest. That evening we enjoyed more tasty fresh food cooked by the same chef, the salmon was absolutely amazing, fish at home will never taste as good again!
Friday we got our first opportunity to ride some of race course, the trails were very different to Hammerfest. It was like racing through a huge moorland or common at home but with huge hills and many kilometres of amazing singletrack. The trails were rough and the ground slow rolling, every metre you had to work for, this wouldn't be a big group race, it would break up early and turn into a solo mission. The wind would be a factor but it wouldn't be possible to slipstream through these tricky trails, you try to follow someone's wheel and you'd soon make a mistake. Friday lunch was provided at the local reindeer farm. Friday night there was more yummy food and a concert at the race venue.
Suddenly it was race day, apart from Wednesday's workout the past week has felt more like a holiday than a race week. It was time to focus. I was motivated to put on a good show in front of my coaching clients but there were around 10 very quick international participants including Soren Nissen who'd already won the race twice. 11.30 the gun went and we stormed out of the arena to a big cheer from the crowds that had gathered, this was a big family event and many of the locals had also come out to support the event. My legs felt strong and I lead most of the first 5km loop keeping out of trouble on the trails, the pace was enough to create a small selection of about 10 riders as we passed through the arena for the first time. The next climb was critical and I knew I had to lead, it wouldn't be possible to closely follow someones wheel through this rocky wet staircase climb. I didn't look around until near the top but could tell there weren't many people left behind, just Soren and the cameraman on his e-bike. The race was on!
At the end of that 6km loop we started the big 30km loop, we tackled the same staircase climb, Soren led this time and I was first to make a mistake, a guy as quick as this doesn't make it easy for you to close a gap. The gap opened and closed for quite some time with me stronger in places and Soren stronger in others. It was from the highest point of the race where the chance of winning really slipped away, I'm still nervous descending after my crash in July and if you aren't relaxed on the bike you start making mistakes. On one long descent Soren disappeared into the distance and Vidar caught and passed me. I stayed with him for a while but on the Deadwood Trail he gaped me. I was glad to get off this part of the route which I'd not practised and back onto familiar ground nearer the hotel, I was so strong on the climbs I thought I could still finish second place. You don't have many days when your legs feel like there's no resistance but today they did anything I asked without any argument. Unfortunately there wasn't enough uphill to try and catch Vidar but approaching the finish I was proud of my third place. I finished the line absolutely buzzing and gave one of the race organisers Susanna a huge hug. Soren Nissen took his third Skaidi Xtreme win, Vidar Mehl came in second and I was third. In the women's Hildegunn Gjerstrud Novdenak took the win, with Rakel Mortensdatter Birkeli in second, Anne Helenne Reiten in third, the Norwegian trio beating off the international competition. The event is so much more than just a race, it's an experience. It was a shame I could not speak any Norwegian on the stage when we did post race interviews but I think the commentator did a good job of translating, the crowd laughed, applauded and hopefully realised how thankful I was to be in Norway. It was a big crowd, not like at home in the UK where everyone finishes their race and goes home, here everyone stayed for the presentations and food which was included in the entry price of anyone doing the Experience Package.
Saturday afternoon we enjoyed use of the hotel swimming pool and sauna where we met several other racers and had a great chat about the race and coaching, despite English being a second language for the Norwegians everyone was so friendly and interested in talking to us. That evening we enjoyed a three course gourmet meal in the hotel with hundreds of other competitors and event sponsors. We were exhausted from the race but the evening was the perfect ending to a perfect week in Norway. This event is so much more than just a bike race, it's an experience like no other, there is so much passion put into making Skaidi Xtreme a success by the huge organisation crew and volunteers. See you next year Norwegian coaching clients and friends, thank you for such an amazing week.