When I think back over the last week I remember so many great moments, many happy memories, Skaidi Xtreme is not like many events where you turn up, race, and then go home, this is a lifetime experience you'll remember forever. From my centre aisle seat on the plane I'd catch glimpses of snowy peaked mountains but the complete beauty of Finnmark Norway isn’t entirely revealed until the ferry transfer from Alta airport to Hammerfest.
A 3 day experience is hosted by the event’s organiser in the days preceding Saturdays race. A guided ride around the Hammerfest trails where you ride high into the hills presents you with the rugged natural terrain, photo opportunities galore and your first sightings of reindeer! On Wednesday evening several of the elite participants helped with the weekly youth cycle skills training sessions, an opportunity to meet the future Norwegian superstars. A dinner with the race marshals followed and this presents the scale of the event. The reindeer tacos were delightful!
Thursday was an action packed day with everyone moving from Hammerfest to Skaidi via a beautiful ferry ride, a fishing trip, lunch on the beach with fresh fish and lamb. Hvaldimir the beluga whale first noticed near Hammerfest in April this year wearing a camera harness supposedly trained by Russian authorities for espionage has become a local in the town’s bay. Hvaldimir joined the ferry on its journey swimming along side and when the ferry stopped the whale entertained the bike racers with high fives! An amazing memory no one will every forget! Soren Nissen is a fishing enthusiast and often travels to events with his own fishing rod, he was clear favourite for the fishing trip and bike race! A social 40km road ride to Skaidi followed. I actually skipped Thursday’s activities, with lots of coaching work to do I opted to spend the day working, so I stayed in the hotel until check out time, then rode to Skaidi, then continued coaching work in the evening. The ride should have taken about 2 hours but it was too difficult not to stop on nearly every corner to take photos and video. Reindeer casually walked the roads and the scenery was just mesmerising. My favourite bits were the diversion roads for cyclists that took you around the tunnels, these otherwise closed stretches of tarmac were blissful kilometres.
On Friday we had the chance to ride some of the race track, familiarise ourselves with the trails and check conditions. Afterwards we visited a reindeer farm for lunch with meat cooked on the fire, there we practised lassoing reindeer (just the antlers) and sat around the camp fire telling stories and making new friends. I hosted a meet and great mid-afternoon in conjunction with Fun Biking who sell my coaching in Norway, it was a great way to meet existing and potential new clients. I only get to meet my Norwegian clients once a year and it's so rewarding to see face to face how much they enjoy their training. I was somewhat top trumped by Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå’s meet and greet but she’s a legend so it’s understandable, now an ambassador for her bike brand she continues to race for fun. A music concert that evening hosted the opening party with fantastic food and entertainment.
Saturday dawned and it was time to focus, after 3 days of fun now it was serious. The race would be a battle of champions, Luxembourg vs Iceland vs Britain vs the best of Norway. After a week off and a couple of easy weeks in August I didn’t think I'd be near my best but my warm up efforts were beyond expectation, I felt really strong. From the start gun I led much of the first 15km, keen to put pressure on others and pick my own lines through the tricky muddy tracks. However after only 10 minutes I whacked a big rock with my rear wheel, sealant spewing, I rode on hoping for it to seal and seal it did, big relief! Others weren't so lucky with Ingvar Ómarsson losing over 5 minutes mid race with a split tyre.
Soren Nissen and myself had edged out a lead and were trading turns on the front seemly pretty even in abilities. I actually gapped Soren mid race and this gave me confidence that I could win. I'd already set out with an aggressive strategy, it was a one-day race, why hold back. Soren did close the gap and took the lead ahead of me on the tricky switchback descent off the mountain, opening a 10 second gap, the pressure was on. Fortunately, I was strong enough to close the gap on the rougher trails further down the mountain.
Getting close to the finish, just 2 climbs remaining, what could separate us. The pace was high with Soren repeatedly attacking, we were both on our limit. I actually felt near the top that I could have ridden round Soren to further increase the pace, maybe that was my opportunity to win but I didn’t take it. 500 metres from the top of the final climb I had settled onto Soren’s wheel following him closely. He made a mistake on a slippery bridge and I was forced to dismount. A few bike lengths opened, in that split second the race was decided. I chased with everything I had left and did begin to close the gap but I was now over my limit and ended up losing a few more seconds to the line. 10 seconds was the difference between Soren winning his 4th Skaidi Xtreme and me finishing 2nd. Lars Granberg finished 3rd. In the ladies the Swedish champion Jennie Stenerhag took the win ahead of Gunn Rita and Siril Pettersen. A big award ceremony was followed by a banquet and party back at the hotel. This is the final race of the year for the Norwegians so they partied hard till breakfast! My credibility was all but lost on the dance floor, pints of cider are needed before my best dance moves are revealed!
So many events you turn up, race, then go home. This event is so much more than just the race, it's an experience. I leave here with new friends and many new memories. If you want to explore Finnmark Norway there is no better way than to join Skaidi Xtreme in 2020. The icing on the cake was standing outside the party at 1am in the morning watching the Northern Lights. What a beautiful adventure.