Jennie Stenerhag

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Sakarya MTB cup and “test race” in Turkey


Already before the last race in Sweden and before I had to make the decision not to do World champs, had I gotten an invitation (through the Swedish cycling federation) to do the Sakarya MTB cup in Turkey. It was one XCO race and one XCM race and the XCM will be the World Champs in 2020, so I said yes to this opportunity to go and see the route and venue since Turkey does not feel like a country where you go on your own to recce a course. I had never been in Turkey before so even if my leg was still not 100% and I had only done very short and few rides the last 5 weeks I decided to go on this adventure. My only purpose of going was to gain some experience and see the area. I was the only rider from Sweden and so I travelled all on my own. It was a bit nerve wracking to do this trip alone especially since I could not get any information beforehand about the route, terrain, where the race was etc, all I knew was that the accommodation would be far from the race area and that a driver would meet me at the airport on Friday afternoon. So off I went…..


I have never seen so many people at an airport before! But there he was, my driver. As it turned out he was not the driver, we were 4 people and after waiting for 30 minutes in chaotic traffic the "designated" driver arrived. It was 5pm in a 25 million people town, so the traffic was a bit hectic! It took us about 3 hours to get to Sakarya and suddenly the driver just stopped the car in the middle of the road and went out to have a smoke. It turned out that he did not know which hotels we were going to and he asked us where to go. No one of the 4 of us in the vehicle had been in Turkey before… Eventually we figured out where we were all staying and I was at the last hotel and after driving around this town for 70 minutes I eventually arrived at my hotel, dead tired!


Unfortunately there was no place to ride on your own in the area, when I asked if I could ride on the XCM route on Saturday, they answered that it was too dangerous, not safe and there could also be wild animals… What wild animals could they have in Turkey?? So my only option to ride was to go to the XCO route and ride around there.  I wished I had done the XCO race since it was not too technical and at least I would have got a proper ride in. There were only 2 shuttles during the day, one at 8am for the ladies race and one at 12pm for the mens race. I had to be there at 4pm to register for the Sunday race so I decided to take the 12 o’clock shuttle. This one came at 12.45 and we arrived at the race venue at 13.15, poor guys in the shuttle,  their race started at 13.30… The shuttle was a normal bus and no proper place for the bikes, they were just placed where we could find space and when it was full just put them somewhere else…. I was glad I had stickers on my bike to protect from scratches. The only ride I could do was a circular route on tar around the XCO course which was hand built in a bike park. Everything was a bit chaotic and un-organized, but it was just something to accept and I really got to practice on taking everything as it comes and not try to be in control, it would just take extra energy.


Registration was a story on its own, everyone who did both races were to have the same numbers and timing chip for both days but after they finished the XCO the organisers cut the chip off their bikes, only to later realised that everyone needed them for the next day. We were sent back and forth 4 times between the finish line area where they did the timing and where they had had the registration the day before. Since I was the only one needing a new number I actually did not think I was going to get a number at all at one stage…


The distance of the course was the topic of the weekend, everyone was asking each other if anyone knew but no one knew. On the website it said we were to do 3 laps on a 35-kilometre course and total distance 105 km. When I arrived, I heard that it had been announced that it was now 88 km and we were doing a flat piece of 12km out and back to the lap. Then they said the ladies would only do one lap and our race was somewhere between 62-65 km. In the end our race distance was 52 km!!! Take it as it comes…


I slept really bad the night before the race, I was a bit worried and stressed about a few things, first of all not knowing anything about the course, normally I would have seen a part of the race course or at least know what kind of terrain to expect. And I was a little bit worried about how the leg would be and if I would manage to stick to my plan of not racing hard but be careful with the leg. The bus was to pick us up at 8 am for the 9.30 am start, I woke up early and fixed everything with the bike before I went to breakfast at 7 in normal clothes since I had time to change after breakfast. Some people already had cycling shoes on and I soon understood why. A guy asked me at 7.10 if I knew that it had changed and the bus were leaving at 7.30!!! Since there were no place to leave a bag at the start/finish area and I did not have a “person” with me, I went to the race as I was racing, nothing extra to warm up in, no extra bottles or any recovery for after, and I raced with my phone in my back pocket for the first time ever, I really felt super unprofessional when the others came with their service team with spare wheels etc… I must say that I was really missing to have someone with me.


On the program it said the ladies would start at 9am but since we now were going to do shorter than the men we could start all together at 9.30 so that was the new information. 30 minutes before the start it changed again, now we were all going for a neutral transfer all together to another starting place and there the ladies would wait and start 5 minutes after the men.


Eventually it was time for start, I was already exhausted after all of this and even though I felt fine on that first 10 km (which it turned out to be) flat section I felt as if I was going backwards as soon as we came to “the lap” and the hills started, the others left me as if I was standing still. My heart rate was super high and I felt like I was pushing hard but nothing happened, I really had to remind myself the whole time that I was not there for a result just to see the course but as a competitive person it is sometimes difficult to accept the situation. The climbs were steep even if there were not that long, the lap was 30 km with 1200 meters of climbing which is quite a lot in such a short distance. I raced a lot together with a girl from Turkey, it was nice to have someone around since they had said the course was not safe on your own (for some reason) and at one place a marshal was standing with a gun! This girl was stronger than me on the climbs but I caught her on the technical descents but eventually she got away from me on a climb which was so steep that I had to get off and walk and she managed to ride. When I eventually came down and was done with the lap and had the flat 12 km to go I could see her and I caught her and also passed, I felt good again when I knew there were no more climbs.


I don’t think I have ever done a race where the kilometres were ticking by so slowly, it was hot and with only one bottle I really struggled in the heat, I was so grateful that we were only doing one lap and 52 km, neither my leg or my body wanted to do any more on this day. The result is nothing to write home about but I am still very happy that I went to see the course and terrain. Even if I think this course will change for World Champs in 2 years time (it will definitely be longer) I have a picture of how steep the climbs are and how long and also the surface and the technicality of the descents in this area, which is something no one can explain you have to see it for yourself.


My leg felt ok during the race, even though I did not dare to push it too the max. There is still a long way to go before this leg is pain free and the interesting thing now is to see how it feels a few days after the race.


I met some really nice people and made some new friends, especially Renata from Czech Republic but was racing for Kuwait where she lives. She also did not do the XCO race and I met her at the first breakfast and after that I spent the 2 days with her and we quickly became very good friends, I was so happy I met her there since it would have been a bit lonely otherwise.


Overall it was a great experience and a good weekend, it was a bit of chaos and no one knew anything about anything, but it is normal in Turkey so you just have to go with the flow in the culture you are in ;). I actually cannot believe that I was only there for 2 days!! (4 with the 2 travelling days though)


The XCO course at the race venue, all hand made in the middle of a town.

My bike is ready for its last race ;) A new bike sponsor will be announced in a week or two:-)

Waiting at the hotel for the bus to pick us up

Renata from Kuwait, we quickly became good friends :-)

The bus has arrived!

You can fit a lot of bikes in a bus....

...if you just hand them up and squeeze everything in

Before the start of the Sakarya MTB cup XCM

Tired and thirsty after the finish in very hot weather

There was a really nice shop next to the hotel with nuts, dried fruits and spices :-)

And while in Turkey you must try some real Turkish delight ;)

Happy to be on my way home, it felt like a long trip even though it was short....


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