Monday, February 24, 2014

Racing Qatar - Transhajar

          Transhajar is a four day mountain bike race in Oman which I knew about for a long time, but somehow I never even considered going. Until this year when everything nicely clicked together. My old bike got just too old and I brought a new bike from home. Ultimate mountain bike championship was being postponed and delayed, so I could at least some racing on my new machine and put my training in use. So I signed up on the last minute, booked flights and car and was looking forward to easy four days biking and chilling out reading in silent Omani mountains.
          And everything started exactly as planned. At Muscat airport I got everything sorted very quickly, so I could without pressure go to nearby Carrefour to buy some food for long after stage afternoons and evenings and to buy a tent, because I somehow lost mine and Ondrej’s was just too big. I found a nice one for 35 ryials and by midnight I was already in the race camp setting it up.
          The first stage was 40k time trial so whenever you got ready, you could walk to the start line and ride the stage. So I planned to sleep enough, have easy breakfast, assemble the bike and without stress start around 11am or midday.
          The problem was that it took me much more time to put the bike together than expected. But it was my mistake that was doing something for the first time! Obviously my brake discs bent during transport so I had to try to bend them back, which I was doing for the first time with a tool I bought few days back. Took some time! Then I really wanted to go tubeless, but because floor pump didn’t work and compressor was not around yet, I wasted four CO2 cartridges to pump the wheels. And it took even more time! Then because it was for the first time tubeless on those tires, I discovered quite a few big holes which the sealant took some time closing and the tires felt leaking a bit anyway. Also I didn’t know the right pressure I had to put to feel comfortable on these tires in tubeless setup, so I pumped them too low and it felt kind of wobbly.
          Anyway…when I saw temperatures rising considerably and wind picking up I was little bit in rush and when I started at 11:45am, I was not calm and focused as I should have been.
          Maybe I was not calm, but I was super motivated! I had new bike which I knew was fast, I liked flat fast stages where I thought I was the fastest, it was a time trial so I said to myself “Let’s give everything now once I see where I’m in the standings I’ll see what to do next J” and I wanted to beat Les to get some confidence for the Ultimate championship. So I started as fast as I could towards the first uphill.
          There came a new surprise. The terrain was very different than I knew it from Qatar. Steep climbs on loose rocks mixed with dirt, sharp turns with sudden direction changes, huge wadi boulders washed out by floods, soft wadi gravel pots being same dangerous as sand, but much less visible…basically the terrain was completely new to me!
          So after I climbed the first super steep winding uphill, where I had to even push the bike for few meters, there was same steep downhill. There I had to stop and tighten my badly assembled head tube. The downhill itself was something I haven’t done for many many years. Steep and scary track on loose stones and dirt with deep drops lining sharp curves.
          Then came some easier flat terrain, but it was no mindless Qatari desert track! Turns, humps, holes, big stones here and there…then a bit of tarmac and again under some trees and crossing dry streams. You couldn’t drop your focus for a single second and had to pay attention to everything. And if the traps on the ground were not enough, you had to follow route marking not to get lost!
          And I was in the struggle. One side wanted to pedal hard and race 100%, but the other side was getting a bit scared and unconfident from all the new things around which I didn’t have any recent experience with and which I kind of forgot how to deal with! And the bike didn’t help. I was constantly watching and worried about the tires losing pressure. I was listening to brake discs squeaking in calipers. We were not one unit. I was torn. I was distracted. I was thinking about the finish. It was not good. It was a mistake L
          When I was approaching the half stage turn point under the highway from a little downhill I looked at my Garmin route and saw it coming somewhere after 200 meters. Then I suddenly saw a race marshal and markers going to the right already.  In that moment I felt the racing me decide to immediately turn to not to lose time. Unfortunately it forgot to check the speed and the ground and in the next moment I heavily landed on the loose wadi gravel, where my front wheel got stuck and threw me forward and sideways!
          It happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to let go the bars and landed directly on my left shoulder with all the weight. I got up, made few jumps and sighs and immediately started checking the damage. Firstly it seemed that everything was ok, but then I remembered “When you fall on the shoulder, that’s when the collar bone gets broken!” and I started to inspect my left collar bone with the fingers. And then the first shooting pain struck my arm and then I touched a sharp edge and crack on the collar bone!
          “Shit! That’s it!” I thought, but didn’t panic. I asked the marshal to call the organizers, but he didn’t have the number. So didn’t I, so I took my bike, went up the highway and rode 1k to nearby petrol station to seek help. There were basically two streams of thoughts in my head. One was thinking about what would happen now and how to deal with broken bone and the other was realizing that the race is over. The first one was stronger, so only after I found an Omani who took me back to the race village from where organizers took me to hospital in Muscat and back, I started to feel sad!
          I saw all the things I arranged and which got wasted, I saw all the bikes and bikers around chatting about riding the next stage, I saw all the unpleasant things which were coming, but mainly I saw the unfinished race which ended just after one hour. I completed 20 out of 300 kilometers L
          The next morning when everybody left for the second stage, I packed up, rebooked the ticket and got ready to go back to Qatar. I couldn’t stay there any longer, because it would break my heart. I said bye to Les when he came back, gave him all my supplies I bought and left for airport.
          When sitting there, reading a book and washing this experience away in the Irish pub, I started to think a bit differently about it. “If something was supposed to happen, nicely broken collar bone is the best thing what could have happened”. Then I remembered how I felt during the stage and thought about it as a lesson learned…as a sign…as a warning. Then I realized that I would have more time for some other things, because I would have to skip any training for at least a month.
          All the bad things will be sooner or later replaced by some good ones! And everything bad is good for something, so who knows. Life goes on! I think I needed a break anyway J

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