After competing in Romania for the first time a few weeks ago, the opportunity to return to a country that’s clearly trying to develop it’s mountain bike talent and race calendar wasn’t one I wanted to miss out on.
Race organiser and local shop owner Octavian was really helpful in offering us a great hospitality package, so we packed the bikes up and caught a flight out from Luton to the city of Iasi.
From my admittedly limited experience of racing in Romania, it’s clear the organisers are passionate about creating interesting tracks with both a technical and a physical challenge.
For me as a climber, it’s great to go to a races that offer steep and sustained climbing, but also some unexpected features on the downhills too. You tend to find technical features here that British organisers are often scared to include for fear of making their race “too dangerous”.
One hurdle that also plagued my first trip to Romania though is the weather. It appears the country has a fair bit of rain even during the warmer months, which would be fine if it didn’t transform the otherwise dusty trails into a peanut butter-like clay.
It’s the type of mud that sticks stubbornly to your wheels, frame and shoes like glue leaving you with very little grip and a bike whose wheels regularly get completely stuck.
Arriving on the Friday, the weather was optimistically warm. It stayed so until midday on Saturday too, just as we arrived for a few sighting laps on the course, as it happened.
Sure enough, just a 20-minute downpour was enough to turn the track into an ice rink, making the first lap of the day tricky at best. Fortunately, with the air temperature so warm, all that was needed was a short break in the weather and we were back to a course that was dry and perfect for a solid pre-race effort and KOMs to boot.
In the dry, the course got two thumbs up from me. It was flowy, steep and contained just the right mix of tough climbs, fun downhills and fast, twisting flat sections.
As sod’s law would have it, the rain returned worse for race day and track for the Elite Men’s race was predictably a mess. After a decent start, the first lap was mostly composed of running and skating uncontrollably down the descents. Some of the local Romanian racers that were clearly more adept at riding in those conditions got away right then and there, whilst it took me until the half way point in the race to learn how to properly negotiate the uniquely slimy mud.
By that time, it was a case of trying not to break the bike or become mentally dejected and salvage some kind of result from the race.
At the finish, I ended up in 7th after a big crash in a rock garden and many more minor ones during the 2-hour race.
With some UCI points scored and a unique racing experience in the bag, it was hard to be anything but satisfied with how the weekend turned out.
You really have to feel for organisers like Octavian when the weather doesn’t play ball. They were sitting on a really excellent course that would have produced fast and close racing. In previous years, the race has been both wetter and drier than this edition, so it really is a lottery.
I hope to return next year and race for a strong result rather than simply trying to get around. The people we met over the weekend were nothing but helpful and friendly, and I think it’s a country to keep an eye on in the coming years.
Next up on my agenda is a big block of training before the British National Championships in both cross-country and Marathon disciplines, with the former being one of the key season goals. I’ll keep you informed of what’s going down and how my preparations are going…