The 5th edition of B-HARD Ultra Race & Brevet was the biggest and toughest one yet. We will keep the intro very brief and let the racing action speak for itself but it has to be said that, this year, the riders list made for a world-class event, with some of the fastest ultracyclists on the planet appearing at the start line. And surely enough – the race didn’t disappoint!
A calm before the storm
B-HARD Ultra Race & Brevet, edition no. 5, started on 10th of June at 5 AM, with very nice weather and plenty of smiles on 90 riders’ faces. However, that was to change later in the day. A thunderstorm passing over the CP3 area had caused problems for mid-field and especially tail-end riders which lead to several scratches.
But let’s see how the day unfolded. It was a fast start to the day, especially for the main contenders, so we had seen Christoph Strasser from Austria overtake all the riders ahead of him and arrive as the first visitor at CP1.
Behind him, we had seen several riders swap positions throughout the day, except Adam Zaziabl from Poland, who had been sitting in the very strong 2nd position ever since CP2. With just few minutes to spare, behind Adam we had Francesco Pizzato from Italy, doing a very quick and effortless ride on his first ultra race. At CP4 (366 km), Adam was trailing Christoph by only half an hour, so the night ahead of us was definitely going to be exciting.
CP4 was a point where the 1200 and 600 km routes split for a short while but also a place where the 1200 field split into those riding on a 4-day plan and those wanting to finish sooner rather than later.
Going back to the storm, the fastest riders managed to escape it only just, while the mid-field and especially several tail-end riders got hit hard and practically unable to continue – both those in the race and the brevet category.
Still, the storm had come and gone and many of the riders continued riding and arriving at the (dry) CP4, albeit a bit later than they planned, while Christoph had already passed CP5 at this point.
The fastest domestic rider after the first day was Darijo Barešić, while the fastest female was Cat Smith from the UK – and this stayed the same until the end of the race. In the pairs category, riders (or rather – pairs of riders) had been swapping places throughout the day due to different riding styles.
Going back to the pointy end of the race, we had seen Christoph pass CP6 at 3 AM, which was earlier than anyone ever had in history of B-HARD and which was a clear indication of level of the pace he had been doing. Behind him, Adam was still stomping on the pedals as hard as in the beginning of the ride but he was soon to get some company.
Alas, Robert Muller from Germany, the very last rider to have left the start line, had slowly been picking up the pace throughout the first night and – despite a setback due to a puncture earlier in the evening – he was now sitting in third place and quickly catching up with Adam. Actually, he caught up with him literally at CP6 (602 km), arriving at the same time as Adam and leaving the CP as the new second-placed rider.
At almost half-way of the route, the next few riders coming in short succession were Daniel Burtscher from Austria, Martin Neitzke and Leonard v. Hammerstein (both from Germany).
Speaking of punctures, shortly after CP4, Francesco suffered his first puncture, out of five in total on the race, each of which had counteracted his efforts at riding fast. Coupled with an unfortunate close encounter with a van stopped in the road and sustaining a shoulder injury and broken aerobars, in the end he finished in the (still very high) 6th place.
Ups and downs
CP7 marks the start of the HARD part of the B-HARD route, quite literally too, with mountain pass upon mountain pass all the way to the finish line. This seems to have suited Robert perfectly, as the 2.5 hour gap between him and Christoph, who had a small crash in the meantime, was melting at an alarming pace.
This was shown by the fact that Christoph was the first rider up the highest point of the route, CP8 Jahorina at 845 km and 1670 m/elev, while the quickest rider up this segment and the winner of SKODA King of Mountain competition was indeed Robert.
Backtracking through the field, the 2nd day started nice and dry for most people taking a more leisurely approach to riding B-HARD (if you can say that in the same sentence at all).
However, in the afternoon of the 2nd day, a huge rainy cloud mass encompassed the whole route, so practically all the riders were having to deal with riding in seriously wet weather. This also goes for the BRM 600 brevet riders, that were finishing their ride on the 2nd day in the afternoon.
Still, the action up front was hot hot hot, considering the gap between Christoph and Robert had shrunk to just 9 minutes and 30 seconds by CP9 at 988 km! Super close racing and, of course, neither of the riders stopped here for long, so the 2nd night was fireworks in the making.
He who sleeps weeps
Indeed, at about 2:30 AM, Robert caught up and overtook Christoph near the top of a longest uphill section in Bosnia and opened a small gap afterwards, courtesy of Christoph having to stop for a quick power nap.
Robert, not having slept at all since the start of the race, got wings by his newly gained lead of the race and flew up the last 14 km climb up to 1500 m/elev in rain with ease. After that, there was nothing to stop him reach the finish line first. Even the nature worked in his favour by knocking a tree down, although this had presented more trouble for the support car than the riders behind him.
The rain had finally stopped on Robert’s approach to Banja Luka, where he appeared at the finish line just 52 hours and 17 minutes after he had left the same location a couple of days earlier. Christoph finished shortly afterwards, just 48 minutes behind Robert after 1215 km of riding and racing, while Adam came in in the 3rd position, just barely outside of the 50h category, clocking the time of 60:09.
Going back to the CP7 region, unfortunately it was still under constant rain during the 2nd night and the 3rd morning, which had caused for yet more people to abandon their challenge. All those riders that persisted throughout the whole day of riding in the mountains in the rain, reached CP9 safely, which was their final resting point before the last day or riding.
The pairs category was ever so exciting, with German and Spanish chasing down the local pair, that had opened a bit of a gap, due to the strategy of less stopping and sleeping during the first two days and nights. However, this strategy was to came back and bite them during the 3rd night, where they had overslept their planned schedule.
Here comes the sun
The fourth day finally brought weather that cyclists could only wish for, especially considering the terrain that laid ahead and the beautiful views that the faster riders had to miss.
At the finish line, riders were coming in throughout the previous night and during the day, including the winner in the “Gentleman” category – John Sherlock from the UK at 72:11. We had welcomed the aforementioned fastest rider in the female category – Cat Smith from the UK, that managed to beat her own plan by one minute, finishing at 79:59. The actual time limit for the race category was 90 hours flat and the last rider from the bunch to stick to it was Jakub Jandik from Slovakia, at a respectable time of 86:48.
Of course, that doesn’t diminish the efforts of riders that have persisted even though they were set to finish outside of the time limit – the heroine and hero of B-HARD. Tina Žarki from Slovenia, the only rider riding in regular sneakers, fnished at 104:51, while Lanterne Rouge of B-HARD 2023 was Sascha Pseiner from Austria. He had done a really strong start but a series of errors and mishaps made him finish at 111:59, never giving up in the process. Chapeau!
Going back to the pairs category, CP9 was the place that got most of the pairs together. The local pair of Minja Đorojević and Luka Gajić were the first to leave CP9 but hot on their heels where two other pairs, this time Spanish and Italian one, that were riding rather strong and gradually closing the gap towards the finish. In the end, our local pair managed to snatch the win in this category by only 17 minutes of advantage. Another super-close race!
In the LRM brevet category, all of the riders that reached the finished line managed to do so within the time limit for this category, which as per the rules allowed for an additional 1 hour and 25 minutes.
This year’s route was already most demanding to date but in the end, due to adverse weather conditions, B-HARD turned out to be “B-SUPER-HARD” – to rephrase Christoph’s comment at the finish line. Consecutively, more than 3rd of the field of the riders on the list got DNF’d.
Still there’s always next year and we are very eager to see you in June of 2024!
Complete results list: https://www.bhardultrarace.com/2023-results
Photos by Jadran Čilić & Nikica Atlagić