I look at the long range forecast, it reads -19. All sorts of thoughts run through my mind, as I think about what it will feel like on the start line, in just under two weeks time. I’m pretty familiar with building up to big races and I’m not particularly worried about this one, more excitement run’s through my body than fear or failure. It’s been a year in the making and it feels like its starting to come together. Racing is how I make a living, I’m one of the few lucky ones who isn’t locked into a nine till five to pay the bills. My mortgage payments depend on my ability to suffer, to put myself through the wringer, break down barriers in my own mind and hurt more than everyone else I’m racing against, and most importantly, cross the line first. When I write it down in this way, being a professional cyclist doesn’t sound so glamorous. Often, people tell me how lucky I am. Yeah I’m lucky to be diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition and ride for British Cycling’s Podium Program and ParalympicsGB, well maybe the latter, but it’s not all sunshine and podiums. The idea of my job sounds great to most people, however the reality is very different. But it works for me.
This time around, this race, this dream, is a bit different. Normally I have Adam, my pilot, my coach Dan, and the British Cycling support staff around me before a race. A unit, like the Spartans, we are hard to beat. A strong team, with a reputation of being big race performers. We have medals and records to say so. But this is different, stripped back, more focused, the weight this time rests on my shoulders, and mine alone. Normally when I race, I’m on a tandem with Adam, and his experience gathered over years sat in the peloton, reading races as they unfold in front of him. I rely on him to call the shots, based on what he see’s 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, all I have learned from him, I have to put into practise, but in a race situation I’ve never been in.
Rovaniemi 150 is a race that takes place in Finish Lap Land, the latitude placing it’s competitors inside the Arctic Circle. A far cry from the warm tarmac’d and cobbled city streets, of the Europe that I’m familiar racing in. I came across this race online early last year, while researching a bigger project in the Arctic. I thought this would be an ideal stepping stone, to test myself in that harsh environment. I can use the fitness I have, bringing together my experience of racing bikes, with a past life of fighting the elements during Scottish winter climbing. To me it sounds like the perfect storm, so to speak. I approached Alpkit in March 2017, asking for their support to try and win this race. It was a long shot and thankfully they were keen to get involved. Two weeks after that meeting, I returned to Alpkit HQ, to collect a Sonder Vir Fortis Fat Bike. A day later I was on a train to Scotland for a 5 day bike packing trip with my good friend Ibrahim Park. Since then I’ve been living and breathing fat bikes. I have never had so much fun riding a bike as this Sonder fatty. Which has lead me to this position, two weeks away from this Arctic Fat Bike race solo. Well that isn’t entirely true, Ibrahim has agreed to come along as my guide.
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 for this race. Instead my main focus has been the four minute individual pursuit, which Adam and I will race in mid March, at the Track World Championships back in Rio. But hey, we all have to pay the mortgage somehow. I’m not to worried about my ability to ride between 10-30 hours in one go. This time last year I rode the Mallorca 312, a full lap of the island, all three hundred and twelve kilometres solo. In August I rode Deloitte’s Ride Across Britain, or Lands End to John O’Groats. Nine days, nine hundred and sixty odd miles on my fat bike. So as a one off, one hundred and fifty kilometre lap on snow and ice, I hoping I’ll get around. Well I hoping I’ll get around faster than everyone else, and put myself and my Sonder Vir Fortis on the top step, for everyone who has helped me to this point.
There are eight check points during the one hundred and fifty kilometre race, which is essentially a big loop. We will ride over frozen lakes and rivers, forestry roads and singe track mountain bike trails. The race rules dictate, you have to carry some equipment for safety. These include a sleeping bag, rated for when the mercury drops to the minus thirties, a sleeping mat, a whistle and some lights. All logical stuff should things go wrong, 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 the theory similar to alpine climbing. The faster you get up and off the mountain the less time you are exposed to the danger.