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Glacier 360: Two Shimano colleagues on a mission!

Follow the adventures of two friends and Shimano colleagues, Pieter and Dennis in this daily blog of their participating in the XC multi-day marathon stage race, the Glacier 360° in Iceland. The course covers 290 kilometres in 3 days through the untouched Icelandic highlands, the full 360° around Langjökull Glacier.

Day 1 - travelling

By Pieter Vincent
After a short night - which wasn't even restful because I was thinking all the time about the stuff I needed to take with me - I woke up at 5:30 am. First destination was Brussels airport.

I was to meet Dennis in arrivals. He would be more difficult to spot than usual because he’d dropped a few pounds in preparation for the race. He is a stage-race veteran with South Africa 36ONE already under his belt. With three kids and a demanding job to juggle he still found time for some impressive training rides. On the other hand my training hadn’t been as intensive. I crammed in a few hard weeks of mountain biking but was largely relying on muscle memory from my road racing days.

Arriving there was quite an experience. We went to the check in desks to drop off our bags. Having a bike with you seems to be a nice conversation starter. People wanted to know where we are going to. When we explained that we are going to Iceland for a bike race, they wanted to know all the details. It turned out that Dennis was unpacking his bike to show and explain things about his bike, while waiting for check in.

After a 4,5 hour flight we finally arrived in Iceland. The landscape was impressive. Actually the whole island is rocky and we didn't expect that. At least not around Reykjavik.

We went out for a short ride to stretch our legs, do some sightseeing and grab some food but with the time difference being 2 hours behind our Netherlands home it felt like a long day. We headed to bed early. 

Rocky landscape and cloudy weather. The weather forecast is not looking much better for us...

Day 2 - Final preps for the race

By Dennis Schmitz
After a good sleep, even though it doesn't really get dark outside and insomnia is just around the corner, we started off with a healthy breakfast of some typical Icelandic Skyr and got on our bikes for a short preparation ride, because at 2pm we had to drop off our bikes and register for the race.

Skyr, part of the Icelandic cuisine for over a thousand years.

After a short spin around the city we headed for the registration and race briefing. We started with collecting and assembling our race numbers (18-1 and 18-2) and time tracker. During the race briefing it was pointed out several times; “make sure you dress up because the weather can change dramatically. Wind coming from the glacier can drop temperatures to 5 degrees in no time”. Well noted! We also received a big 75-litre bag in which all our gear would be transported from one camp to another.

Back in our apartment the organizing began. What to wear, what to bring to the start, double checking everything and making sure we were self-sufficient. You really don't want to break down half way as times to get to riders in the Highlands can run up to 2 hours. By that time you are part of the glacier I guess... 

Last short spin, riders briefing and numbering our bikes

After loading up on carbs with the now mandatory Italian food it was time to check our gear one last time and put our legs up to prepare for the next three days of suffering. The next morning we would leave at 6 am and start at 10 am for stage one, racing 95km and 1412m in altitude through what is praised over and over again as one of the most unique landscapes in the world.

Day 3 - Stage 1: it hurts. It really does

By Pieter Vincent
After yesterday’s rider’s briefing I knew it was going to be tough. We woke at 4:30am to catch our transfer to the start, the famous and beautiful Icelandic Geysir. In between warming up we were treated to a few impressive eruptions. 

10:00: start of the race. The pro riders immediately formed the first group. We were in the second group and had a perfect start catching rider after rider until Pieter crashed in dramatic fashion. Twenty riders at least passed us and it was a matter of surviving for the rest of the day.

Even without the crash it was a hard race. The wind was so strong that sometimes even in the downhills we struggled to ride more than 15km/h. After our second checkpoint Pieter’s back was getting a bit better and the pace picked up. Still, as the field began to string out a Norwegian team passed us. For a while they disappeared into the distance but when we reached some sandy, single-track trails towards the end of the stage, we came closed in on them.

Without any communication Dennis and I had the same thought, we should give it everything in the last 5 KM.

Just before the river we were close behind them and we used the river crossing itself to pass them. With a final sprint from our side, we made sure that they wouldn't catch us again.

We finished the first stage 29th of the 43th teams. The bikes and the clothing held up to the conditions well so, apart from cleaning ourselves and the bikes there wasn’t too much to do but rest and recuperate.

Day 4 - Stage 2: Iceland is all about: ROCKS!

By Dennis Schmitz
Stage 2. This one looked really hard. The longest stage, the most altitude meters, really cold temperatures and several rivers to cross. Plus a nightmare of a geographic profile.

After a cold night in our tent we really needed to get warm again. So we spent some extra time at breakfast fuelling for the stage. Then quickly packed all our gear for transport before heading off to the start line.

When the race started we pushed it hard from the beginning and got in the lead group where the pro riders were setting the pace. We were able to stay in the front of the pack even through several break ups. That was until the seven-time Portuguese XC champion and Olympic athlete, David Rosa, pushed the pace even further on a long climb and we let the lead group go. We hooked up with another team keeping a sustainable pace and completed the first quarter of the race within the first hour.

After the first river crossing through ice cold water we took it a little easier since the race was still long and we were in a good position. After two more river crossings we came to the first checkpoint. After that we faced the hardest part of the day; literally a brutal 40K rock garden which messed up our backs and wrists big time. So it basically was getting to the finish line from that point which eventually took us through three more freezing rivers.

The last 20k was divided in a fast gravel section on which we pushed the pace one last time until we hit the last 8k to the finish line where the gravel road turned into one big collection of rocks again.

After a very hard day in the saddle with 1557m of climbing, seven river crossings and a brutal 40k rock garden we finished 4th in our category, taking us from the 8th to the 5th place overall.

Day 5 - Stage 3: PODIUM!

By Pieter Vincent
We still really can't believe how this stage transpired. We went to Iceland with one mission: simply to finish the race. Even after the good results in the first two stages, we still weren’t thinking that we could end up on the podium.

We started this stage in 4th placebut had to make up almost six minutes on the team ahead to pass them.
The start was a tough one. Everything was painful after the first two stages and we again had a lot of rocks to contend with. We both crashed twice and both thought about giving up. There was a lot of shouting and cursing. Sometimes quietly under our breaths, sometimes audibly enough to scare away the wildlife. At least we had a soundtrack to the day.

When we arrived at checkpoint 1 after 43KM, the whole plan changed. The team in 3rd place, was just behind us. I saw their numbers and we moved on.

I asked Dennis if he was open for a real TeamShimano effort for the second half of the race and told him that I checked the numbers this morning and that the team we have to beat is still behind us.

We agreed to put in a real Team Shimano effort in the second half of the race to put as much distance between the next placed team. So for the last 42KM we went full gas. Dennis followed my lead in the technical and downhill sections and I could benefit from his shelter when we had some strong headwinds. We passed team after team. I still couldn't believe that we could take the 3th place. Finishing was already a great result!

When we finally finished, I hit the start button on my stopwatch.. The minutes were passing by and nobody was coming through. We made up the six minutes and then some so we took 3rd place in the stage and overall.

After every stage we were thinking; “Okay, nice result, but keep on thinking about finishing in one piece, not the result. So much can happen out there on the glacier.” We were completely spent but so happy and surprised with our performance.

After a few weeks of healthy living and eating it was burger and beer time – and to hell with the expensive Icelandic exchange rate  – and the prize giving ceremony.

Burgers, Vodka Redbull and sleeping at the AirPort

By Dennis Schmitz
Taking 3rd place in the men's category gave us an energy boost and made us forget about the suffering. You know what they say; ‘pain is just temporary, victory is forever.’ The podium ceremony was all about vodka redbull and seemingly endless burgers.

Later that night came our transfer back to Reykjavik. for our 6am so there was only one thing for it – legs up, trying (failing) to sleep after the Red Bull and trying to forget the brutal Icelandic highlands.

Written by: Pieter Vincent & Dennis Schmitz

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