For almost two years I have been preparing for this, training many hundreds of hours and covering thousands of kilometres, optimising my bike and equipment and also preparing myself mentally: the Bohemian Border Bash Race was to be my highlight this year and continue my small series of successful ultra-endurance bikepacking races.
And I wanted to show myself and “everyone else” that I can also do it on my own, that the other two races were no coincidence and that above all I can ride “properly”, be relatively in front and keep up.
But you can tell just by reading that there are a lot of expectations and plans. And when everything is focused on one event, it can quickly become frustrating if something doesn’t work out.
And of course something happened that I didn’t expect: my butt got sore. Or as they say: I rode a wolf and had to scratch from the race after just under 1,000 of 1,360km.
I’ve never had problems with my backside before. Of course, there were sore spots from time to time – especially when training on the roller – but that was usually quickly remedied with zinc cream and a little care.
And I always take a second bib with me so that I can change my trousers. But unfortunately that didn’t help this time.
Because apart from the actual inflammation, which made sitting in the saddle and riding very painful, especially off-road, it also affected other extremities. The compensatory movements of my body then caused my lower left leg to cramp, my leg to go numb from time to time, my knees to hurt and my Achilles tendon to become noticeable in the other leg.
I then adjusted the saddle height accordingly, which also led to relief, but rather increased the inflammation on my bottom. As a result, I had to get off at Checkpoint 6 with a heavy heart.
Of course I’m still sad about it, it took me a while to come to terms with the disappointment and I’m also a bit angry that I didn’t get this inflammation under control.
But the longer I think about it, the more reconciled I become with myself. If such ultra races were easy, they wouldn’t be so appealing to me either. And apart from very demanding routes, challenging circumstances and the dependence on the right bike and equipment, there are often smaller factors, such as physical health and injuries, that can be decisive.
And when one of these factors strikes, there’s not much you can do. That’s just the way it is with our passion and sport. So: get angry for a moment, then analyse, change if necessary and move on.
Up until 5 minutes before the start in the early morning of 2 September, I had no strategy for the race. The course was very demanding and therefore difficult for me to assess beforehand.
I had the comparison to the Atlas Mountain Race, which has almost identical distance and altitude data. Here I finished relatively untrained, poorly equipped and in a pair after just under 7 days.
Alone, of course, I was faster, was much better trained and should be able to cope better with the BBBR. But this much in advance: you can’t compare the two races and I would say today that the course in Bohemia is more challenging than the one in Morocco. Morocco is more technical and has other surprises, but you can ride much easier. Bohemia was mainly ups and downs, peppered with hiking sections and MTB tracks, followed by asphalt sections and steep climbs again and again. This wore you down and ensured that there were always “breaks” in the rhythm and then also wore you out.
But one minute before the start I knew: I’ll try to ride as far ahead as I can and as long as I can and then we’ll see. And that worked very well. The first 50km were also a small elimination race. A small group quickly got away from the front, and the winners came out of that group. Behind them was a group of about 25-30 racers and me among them.
Little by little the group thinned out and after the first climbs the order of the next days became more and more clear.
I found my rhythm and tried to keep up with the riders in front of me, which of course took a lot of energy, especially on the climbs. I was a bit slower here, but then I usually caught up again. On the first day, we rode a lot in small groups, before the peloton became more dispersed over the next few days and we rode alone.
My first goal of the day was the first checkpoint behind Oberwiesenthal at km 200, which I reached in the afternoon, took a short break to eat something and then continued. Eating didn’t work out so well on the first day. My stomach didn’t allow much due to the exertion, so I had to rely on my power bars and gels. But that wasn’t good either.
But I still had enough reserves and so I went into the first night. After 270km, I decided to end the day together with Markus, a fellow rider. We spread out our bivouac bags in the cold and moist night.
And as I think about what happened next, I notice that I can’t really remember things clearly and that the days weave into each other.
Anyway, Markus got up again at around 3am and left. I needed another 15 minutes and then followed him.
We rode through the darkness, looking only at the GPS and the cone of light, looking forward to the dawn. The advantage was that you didn’t see the climbs or how long they were. I always found that very pleasant. And the cool temperatures are also more pleasant to ride in before the heat and sun of the day hit. In that sense, we were really lucky, because the weather was more than fine. If I imagine having to ride parts of the route in the rain, that would have been immensely more challenging.
The second day was also a day of truth, because that’s when you usually notice whether you are well trained, have managed your strength correctly and whether your body is powerful enough.And CP 2 is the right yardstick for that. But first I passed the Ghost Bikes checkpoint in Waldsassen, where I could get something to eat and refill my drink.
I didn’t stay long, because the middle of Europe and the next stamp lay ahead of me. But this checkpoint was not easy to reach: a steep ramp, which reminded me a lot of the Old Soviet Road at the Silk Road Mountain Race, led up a 940m high mountain and after a root passage I finally stood in front of the Midpoint of Europe. A quick stamp in the booklet, a picture as a reminder and on we went.
And here my memory became less precise: the track always meandered along the border between the Czech Republic and Germany. But it went well, even if it was more difficult than the day before. The asphalt part was much less and the altitude metres more. After 220km, I ended the day in a rather noble refuge on a climb somewhere in the forest. A little later Markus arrived, who also had this hut on his list. We were still riding in the top 20-25.
After a few hours, I set off again at around 4 o’clock. It went on up and down. I tried to eat better today, or to eat regularly at all. I hadn’t been able to do that the previous two days, which of course had an impact on my performance at some point. So I planned fixed meal breaks in larger towns. My first destination was Cesky Krumlov and Checkpoint 4. It wasn’t easy to get there, so I didn’t reach this beautiful medieval town until the afternoon.
Unfortunately, there was no stamp here and so I didn’t rest any further and set off to ride the then directly following climbs out of the town still. It was worth it, though, because after a few kilometres I arrived in Kaplice in the early evening.
Here I took the opportunity to eat something again and thought about how I should deal with the sore spots on my bottom that were making themselves felt.
Despite regular cleaning and lots of cream, it didn’t get any better. I blamed it on the high asphalt share of the first day and all the riding in the aerobar, which led to the rubbing. I also had a relatively new bib. Relatively, because I’ve always ridden the same model, this one was just newer, but already used. However, the padding has probably been changed compared to the previous model and was made a bit thicker. That could also be a reason, although these trousers have been worn in for a few hundred kilometres – but unfortunately not on routes longer than 130km.
And while I was thinking about it, two Norwegians come rolling up, travelling as a pair.We have a similar pace and had met again and again. They were thinking of getting a hotel room to take a shower.Actually, that was a good idea, especially since I was quite satisfied with 180 daily kilometres.And a shower will certainly help my butt, too…
The next morning, after a few hours of sleep, I was back on the bike and on the road at around 3.40 am.Checkpoint 5 was on the day’s schedule.But it wasn’t that easy and my Strava entry from that day says “Just hell”.
I found it very exhausting, because in addition to the normal ups and downs, this time the route also led a lot through woods and meadows, with a lot of gravel and on small tracks. In addition, the heat and sun got to me, which cost additional energy. Sweat, dust and friction were also a painful mixture for my backside. I could no longer sit properly, as soon as it went off-road, the knocks on my butt over the saddle were hardly bearable. And where I could sit, it took a few minutes before I could sit properly, the pain had subsided and I could pedal.
But a highlight of the day was CP5 at the Iron Curtain/Zelezna Opona. Here is an abandoned village on the border between the Czech Republic and Austria, which had to make way for the former iron curtain because of the border. I would have liked to stay here longer and have a look.
But I was in the Race, so after a short break at the old border fence I continued.
A little later I caught up with two other riders and together we stopped for dinner and decided to make it to Zdar nad Sazavou, one of the big towns on this part of the route. I know this area here because we used to holiday here a lot. Beautiful, but the effort meant I couldn’t enjoy it all.
We rode into the night, each to their own. The food was good and I had good legs. The sunset was fantastic and after the almost hundred kilometres of crap before, a few kilometres on good roads really did me good. Especially for my butt. A little later I had to change the shifting battery – all the shifting in the days before had drained the energy. Normally a battery like that lasts 1,000km, but when you have to shift gears so much, it goes faster.
I was starting to get tired, because the very early start to the day and the few hours of rest over the last few days had an effect, of course.I was all the more pleased when I saw the light of two fellow travellers in front of me, standing at a well-built bus stop with lights, doors and windows, and asked if I wouldn’t like to crash here.Without further ado, we turned out the lamp inside so it was dark. Then we rolled out our mats and were asleep shortly afterwards.
The last day
As usual, after a few hours of rest, everyone set off again on their own. It was already shortly after 4 o’clock when I started on my way. But there was no joy, because I had considerable problems getting into the saddle. It took three attempts to get into the saddle at all. And then I sat there cramped and it felt as if the bike was misaligned and I was sitting much too far forward and twisted on the bike. My body cramped up as soon as my butt touched the saddle. What a bummer! But after a while I got used to the pain, I can’t perform like that.
Up to this point I was riding very well and was in 15th place. According to my planning, after this day there would have been only one and a half/two days maximum to the finish and that should have been feasible.
In Zdar, however, I first found paradise in the form of a petrol station that was already open and offered lots of pastries, coffee and sandwiches.Wonderful.I stuffed myself, refilled my drinks and food and rode through the morning rush hour. But the butt did not cooperate. The next 80km to Checkpoint 6 were an ordeal and when I rolled into the sports field in Chocen, I had to make the tough decision to finish the race here in 15th position.
I booked a train back to Bad Schandau via Prague and met Samuel, who was right behind me in 16th place and also had to stop here because of a painful butt. Together we went back to the camp. I was so disappointed in myself that I brought forward my return journey to Hamburg and didn’t take part in the Bohemian Border Bash Camp.
The thought of a party and happy people was unbearable for me and also not justified. If you don’t finish, you shouldn’t party. That was, of course, an emotional view of things and not a rational one. But better for me. And in the meantime I’ve got a good grip on it again and can look forward to new goals.
Regardless of the outcome of the race, I was able to gather a few experiences that I would like to share with you or ask you for advice:
You will probably ask me this: I have been riding the Pedaled Odyssey Long Distance Bib for many years and have had very good experiences with it.At the beginning of this year I bought a new model, as the old bib had worn through.Unlike the old one, the padding of the new one is a bit thicker and yellow. But it fits well and I rode it a lot before the race in Bohemia. But the thickness of the padding may have been one reason.
The other maybe the saddle. I used the same Gebiomized saddle that I used at Silk Road. I didn’t have any problems there. But maybe the intermediate fitting on the bike and trying out different saddles led to a small misadjustment, which then tipped the scales. But here, too, I was able to ride the saddle extensively in the current setting beforehand and didn’t notice any problems. In addition to the Gebiomized, I also tried saddles from Ergon, SQ Lab and Specialized. The Specialized one was raised at the back and a bit wider. It was very comfortable, but it creaked a lot and the stays were loose very quickly.
But it had a different width than the saddles before. At the first bike fitting, the computer measured my sit bones and hip movement and spat out the Gebiomized for me. I then selected the same widths for the Ergon and SQ Lab saddles. At the second bike fitting, I was told that the previous measurements were all wrong and that I needed a wider saddle. However, the second bike fitting was not sustainable and I fitted back.
You see, there are a few possible sources of error that could then also lead to the seat problems. Maybe I’ll have a look at the SQ Lab 614 saddle. But first work on the trousers and choose a thinner pad. I still have the Gore Long Distance Bib, which has a thinner pad. Then I’ll ride them more and see.
And of course I’ll use butt cream…. But I’ll try Mirfulan now! Thanks to Jochen Böhringer for the tip!
I rode with a 32/10-52 gear ratio. This is of course ideal for steeper terrain with luggage and also has a “Granny” gear just in case. However, I noticed that my fellow riders often rode with harder ratios, but were nimbler uphill and also off-road with it. If I leave aside the sometimes 20-year age difference, the Norwegians, for example, were my age, but with a normal gravel gear ratio, much more agile on the mountain than I was. I usually had to let myself fall back and then cranked up more slowly.And I also pushed where they were still on the bike.We were then equally fast, but still. I got out of the saddle every now and then and just pedalled at a higher cadence with a heavier gear and was able to keep up well.
But if you do that all day, you’re stoned. And at the end, after a few days in the race, it was often the case that I went into the mountain, then my heartbeat went very high and with it my breathing and I had to wait until the strength was back in my legs. And then crank slowly on. I also had that in Kyrgyzstan, but only after 10 days.
So what could it be? The other bikes were not lighter than mine. Do I have to train differently? I have done training programmes that demand higher cadence at higher wattages and I do that regularly. Or is it age, lack of talent, lack of strength or just fatigue? If you have any tips on how I can get better, please let me know.
The BBBR was also the first real test for the SRAM AXS and it proved itself. The shifting performance was very good and I only had to change the battery once. But that was a matter of 2 minutes. The battery runs down more quickly (3 days) due to the higher shifting frequency, but I was then able to charge the empty battery with the power bank.
In terms of gearing, I would stick with 32/10-52, but am considering possibly going up to 34 at the front. But that ties in with the point above about power on the uphill.
I bought new power batteries: 2x the Nitecore NB 10.000, which has a very low weight of only 150g and a good energy yield. I was able to charge my headlamp 3x with one battery and my phone 3x as well (from 30% to 100%). And then there was still energy left. I wouldn’t have needed the second battery, but since I didn’t know if I could recharge it somewhere, it was there just to be on the safe side.
Once again, I was very happy to have Aerobars with me. I used them very often and not only for speed. Very often I also rode off-road and uphill in the hangers. That was very relaxing and a pleasant change for the upper body. It also gave me advantages in fast passages and a higher basic speed.
I still ride the Klite Bikepacker Ultra V2, which is powered by the SON28 Nady. In addition, I have the Petzl headlamp, which provides a decent light with 900 lumens, for example when going uphill and the Klite can’t shine fully. There’s nothing to change, but I’ve also looked with interest at people who have ridden with battery lamps (Lupine or Supernova) and produced impressive light output. Do you have an opinion on this?
Hub dynamo vs. battery for such events over several days? And which lamps (handlebars and helmet) can you recommend? How is it with the batteries – don’t they run out pretty quickly after riding at night for several hours? Or is my concern exaggerated? And what about the weight?
Well, there’s nothing to write about here, because nothing happened. No flat tyres, no damage. The Schwalbe G-One Bite rear and Ultrabite front (50mm) were inconspicuous and good. Every now and then the G-One Bite rear spun out on wet grass or dry gravel, but that was ok. The tread on the rear G-One Bite is a bit worn after 1,000km, but that’s normal.
However, I could have imagined the Mezcal in 2.25 inches for this race. That would have given a bit more security, because the off-road sections were often very rough. But overall top and the G-One Ultrabite in the front also did a good job.
MTB riding training
One thing I can still improve is my off-road riding technique. I’m very confident and fast downhill, but there’s still more I can do, especially when it gets a bit more technical. You can always tell whether someone is coming from an MTB or a road bike. The MTB riders cruise through the terrain on their gravel bikes, so you can hardly keep up. And I tend to be more cautious and prefer to brake or even push briefly. But in such passages you can make a decisive gap in the race, which is why it can’t hurt to deal with it once in a while. Also with driving safety. You can never have enough of that.
Actually, everything was right. I will reduce it even more next time, depending on the weather, of course. The combination of bivy sack, Cumulus X-Lite 200 and Uberlite mat was just right and appropriate for the temperatures. At night it was around 5 degrees, but it was always warm in the sleeping bag. Next time I will massively reduce bars and gels. This time I was a bit ambitious with more than 1kg. I’ll also leave out some more clothes. But basically everything was top for me and not too heavy.
So, that was my story and my experiences. I already have new projects and ideas and as soon as my butt is able again, the training will start.
And if you are looking for a real challenge on the level of the “big” Bikepacking Races, the Bohemian Border Bash Race is exactly the right place. And even if I can’t imagine competing there again at the moment, I don’t want to rule it out…