I had been curiosity watching this event since last year, until one day I unexpectedly received an invitation from the organiser to take part in this challenge. Initially I approached it as something unrealistic, late in the calendar, far from home and expensive. I pushed back the decision to turn up at the UBS start day by day. However, when the time came to pay the entry fees I seriously started to collate the pros and cons and finally, after a long analysis, I decided to visit Sardinia for the first time.
This was also an opportunity to test the cycling outfits produced by veloci.eu and naklejkinarowery.pl. For all the time I have been searching for the perfect cycling garment, one which, regardless of the distance, weather conditions and load, will pass the test. You will find conclusions at the end.
Ultrabiking Sardinia UBS790 - what it is?
The UBS790 is an Ultra Biking Sardinia bike marathon starting in mid-October from Alghero in Sardinia, Italy. The 790km route with 14,000 metres of elevation gain has been laid out in a loop visiting some of the most interesting places on the island. What tempted me the most ? The weather, temperature and the special character of the place. According to internet portals, it is one of the most beautiful island in Europe, tempting with magnificent views, characterised by many high and rocky shores, deep bays, headlands - a veritable fairy tale. On top of that, the population, in the cities and larger towns looks normal, but in the countryside away from the urban agglomerations, population density and traffic is minimal. The organisers mentioned that it is an ideal place to ride alone and celebrate the views alone. This was indeed the case; relative to what we encounter in Poland, Sardinia offered solitude at its self-sufficient best. This is also the formula in which the UBS is run, you can only take part in two categories, alone without support or as a pair.
Before I came to Alghero I went through a series of tough talks with the sponsor and finally it worked out, a budget was found to fund UBS. As is usual with a sponsor, the commitments go both ways, I get the money, but in return I have to work hard for it. Well, according to the contract signed, I will have to provide miscellaneous services to the property in Łoziska and the president of the property, my wife Ela Rogóż, until the end of 2024 (it means forever and I like it).
The logistics were quite simple, air transport provided a direct transfer from Katowice to Alghero and back. I decided to get from Warsaw to Pyrzowice by car, because the buses were running at inappropriate times, and if I had chosen this form of transport I would have waited at the airport for six hours while waiting for my flight, and on the way back I would have had to wait for the bus for several hours. The cost of the air tickets amounted to 1,300 PLN, plus fuel and parking at the airport and two days accommodation in Italy. The total cost was PLN 2,100, not including food and essential purchases on the spot. Comparing the costs to Maraton Północ Południe, it was more expensive, but not including the entry fee, slightly more expensive.
My start time was scheduled for 6:38am on Friday 13th of October, so there wasn't much time left in the morning for slow preparations. I had everything ready the day before, so I ate a light breakfast, drank decaf coffee, put normal sneakers on my feet and with the lights on with my bike on my left and my bag on my right, I walked to the start line. I guess it looked comical from the sidelines, but I didn't care.
In the UBS village I was the only one who had dragged my belongings with me, but there are rough logistics involved. The start is on Friday morning and my plane leaves to Katowice at 10am on Sunday. I wanted to get on it at any cost because I wanted to cast my vote in the parliamentary elections before the constituencies close on Sunday. The calculations showed that I would make it in time, but in order not to prolong the return logistics, I decided to go straight from the finish line to the airport. In theory, everything seemed to point to success, it just had to happen without any major navigational mistakes or mechanical problems. I wasn't worried about the latter, as I had my bike prepared by one of Warsaw's best mechanics, Dred Morivious.
Competitors start on the route from 6:00 in one-minute intervals. At 6:38 I hit the road - me the speed demon and a mountain biker like no other 😊 According to the regulations, from 18:30 to 07:30 it's compulsory to wear a reflective vest and full front and back lighting, which means there's less than an hour to go until relatively bright conditions. We set off in a southerly direction and along the coast to turn left onto the island at the height of Villaggio Turas. The start wasn't easy, as with minor adjustments up to kilometre 34 it is uphill all the way. I started 6th from the end, so only 5 riders could overtake me in the first part of the course. The start interval was small, so I was humbled by every rider in front of me and focused on getting to every red flashing light in front of me. My body was charged with endorphins, my muscles with glycogen and it was warm, which was good for my mood. A great adventure was beginning.
From kilometre 50, which is exactly when I left the coast, another climb started, which would last more or less until kilometre 80. Two hours have already passed since the start, so the sun has not started to bother me. Nonetheless, the route required mobilisation, as you have to climb almost 1,000 m uphill for 30 km. The gradient did not knock you off your feet, but these were not the several-kilometre steep climbs we are used to in Poland, here you had to work non-stop for well over an hour, and this is not the most difficult part of the route. I must admit that this is what I feared the most, the lack of acclimatisation to less inclined but long climbs. The strength was seemingly there, and I'm not complaining about stamina either, but I set out on this route with many doubts. On paper the profile looked fairly easy, but it was clear from last year's finishers times that this was not going to be a fast and easy ride.
photo: somewhere on an island
Driving up from the village of Cuglieri, I passed the ruins of Casteddu Ezzu castle, built on the basalt hill of the Monfiferru massif. The structure remembers the old days of Sardinia, stories of political intrigue, love and betrayal. I regret that I did not have time for a longer stopover. After reaching 800 metres above sea level, there is a 32-kilometre correction downwards.
photo: Casteddu Ezzu ruins
The descent ended in the village of Abbasanta in the province of Oristano and I continued on through Ghilarza to one of the largest artificial reservoirs in Europe, Lago Omodeo, whose waters hide archaeological remains and a fossilised forest from 30 million years ago. The infrastructure developed around the lake is a good place to fill up bidons and replenish food supplies. However, I had everything, so I didn't stop for a moment. Admittedly, I was in the mood for a not-so-morning coffee already, but common sense told me that it would be more useful in the evening than at this moment.
photo: Lago Omodeo Lake
Even before the start, I was wondering about the food strategy. Should I use the available infrastructure or have everything necessary with me? This is not Poland, where for every 5km of the route there is one petrol station with food open 24 hours a day. Here it's different, there are fewer grocery shops and at most automated gas stations you can only sit on the concrete. There is no food available at any time as in Poland.
The day before the marathon started I did my shopping and prepared 8 cheese and salami sandwiches, topped off with 6 Clif oat bars and 8 gels. All this weighed a lot and will certainly cause me a lot of problems on the climbs, but I will have the mental comfort and reassurance of having energy reserves in my bag. The question of water remained, and here the riders came to the rescue by setting up fountains along the route instead of listing shops and petrol stations. All of this meant that in those forty-odd hours I only stopped once for pizza and coffee, the rest I had with me, and I fetched water from the public intakes. Today as I analyse it retrospectively I don't know if it was a good strategy. Probably if I had known the island and the infrastructure I would have gone lightly, but I was a stranger and didn't want to take the risk. How much did I lose on this? - I don't know, but I certainly lost.
photo: public water supply
Immediately after passing the lake, another series of climbs began, which from kilometre 114 continued with minor descents until kilometre 209. Right from the start, the sun was effectively trying to make the ride less comfortable. It was very hot, plus the region was less populated. People were not visible and there were noticeably fewer cars on the streets. I was on my own, analysing the distances bearing in mind that the first checkpoint is at kilometre 265, and around kilometre 250 the first mountainous part of the route ends, followed by an almost 100 kilometre fairly flat transfer along the west coast up to the town of San Teodoro. It was fast, or rather faster, the sun was going lower and it was getting cooler so the comfort of the ride was also higher.
Suddenly I felt the rear wheel start dancing on the road, I looked back, there was no air in the tyre. I rolled on as it was downhill, so almost on the rim and cut tyre, I tried to brake. I stopped under an overpass in the shade, the motorway running above me rumbled by. I started the inner tube change by removing the Tailfin. The bag is great, but because you have to remove the rear wheel, a complete disassembly is required to remove the axle. It only now occurred to me how many steps it takes with the Tailfin on to change the inner tube at the rear. And so I turned out to be a clever guy, as I left the bag grille mounted only on the latches and did not tighten the optional bolts that connect the latch planes on the axle tabs. If I had had to unscrew the miniature screws on the left and right sides of the axle, I would have lost an extra dozen minutes. With the skill of an experienced mechanic I replaced the inner tube, this time inserting a rubber with an 80mm valve into the tyre. Using a CO2 cartridge I inflated the inner tube. It took some time to disassemble the bag, change the inner tube, fit the wheel and reassemble the bag, I could see that 3 or 4 people had overtaken me in that time. Each of them asked if I was OK and if I had everything I needed. Sticking to the principle of self-sufficiency, I tell them to keep going.
photo: somewhere on an island
I jumped on the bike and start the chase. In the middle of the chase it occurs to me that I am an idiot for not checking the inside of the tyre to see if there is anything there that could cause further damage to the new tube. It's Friday the 13th so, after about 4 kilometres, another lack of air manifests itself in the rear wheel. With indescribable annoyance I repeated the procedure, which this time took place in full sunlight. More riders overtake me, but I don't care anymore, I roll the tyre out on the inside and pray to find something. There it is! I've got you, a pitted piece of wood or bush, round, resembling a stone set in a ring only with sharp edges. I scooped the thing out and fitted a new inner tube. This time I have a 60 valve, my cone accepts it, but as bad as it is there is no option to inflate it with a CO2 cartridge, it sticks out too shallow. So I assembled the pump, screwed on the hose and blew a few dozen times, corrected with the cartridge on the relatively inflated inner tube and put the bike and bag together. I will never take a 60mm inner tube again, it costs too much time. I don't have a spare just two broken inner tubes in the bag. Now that the vast majority of the riders have gone to the front I accept this with humility, it's hard, if something happens again I'll be patching. Standing ready to ride, I took out a sandwich and calmly eat while observing the surroundings. I noticed miniature shits left on the road by some animals and protruding from these shits small fragments of something I found in a tyre. The situation was quite comical as I eat my sandwich and analyse the composition of the local faeces. But the conclusions were spot on, these little Polish-like rabbit poops hide hard and pungent fragments of some kind of bush, undigested by the animals. From this point on, rich in this knowledge, I avoided every single black element lying in front of me on the road. I have less than 20 kilometres of descent left to the checkpoint, for all the action with the inner tubes, I will be there after dusk, and I had planned to be there earlier.
At the checkpoint I stamped my brevet card and started on my garmin the next section of the route. I rested for a while filling my bidons with orange juice and decided to move on. If I wasn't in a hurry to get to the plane I'd probably stay here a while longer. It was evening, the town has a typical holiday atmosphere, there were tourists strolling through the streets and the smells of good Mediterranean food were coming from everywhere. I inhaled the smell of fried calamari, swallowed a pastry and set off, downhill for a while, then through some byways and uphill. The city lights had disappeared, it was dark and it got awfully hard and slow. From the lamp's perspective it didn't look like it was steep, but it was, the speed slowed down and I rolled like a cylinder trying to negotiate the steepness. The sun is long over the horizon and yet sweat was dripping from my chin and elbows, topped off by sizeable drops running down from my knees into my socks. At the time I thought I had simply eaten too much, that my body was digesting and didn't have the strength to ride, but no, this was one of the steeper parts of the route. There was confusion in my head because, after all, it was supposed to be flat and it wasn't. Now that I look at the profile it is indeed flat just there with this small exception.
photo: route and profile
The first night has begun, I leave the west and enter the interior of the island, the target being the north coast where the second checkpoint is located. Complex calculations are going on in my head as usual. I keep estimating how many kilometres I should ride in 24 hours to arrive at the finish line in a comfortable time. Basically, 400 kilometres, or half of it, gives me a 2-hour reserve, but there is also a big danger that if something unexpected happens I will quickly lose that reserve, which was highly likely as I no longer had a supply of tubes. I'm aiming for 450-470 kilometres per day.
Overnight in some places the temperature dropped to 12 degrees, but most of the time it stays at 16-18. It's warm, but reduced glycogen levels and fatigue have left me feeling chilly. I've put on arm & legs warmers and over that a preventative vest. It comes in handy even on the short descents that go slowly at night. It was dangerous, with the occasional animal flashed in front of me, and I was afraid I'm about to crash into a deer or wild pig. Besides, in the back of my mind all the time is the fact that I'm riding without a spare and any less attentive movement could result in me having to spend a long time fixing it. I tried to be careful, on the downhills I swithced on the headlamp on my helmet, which is compulsory equipment here. The whole bit was quite pleasant, the terrain similar to what I have around the house so I settled on a starter and consistently followed my plan to get home.
zdj. finally flat and fast
Just before dawn I passed another artificial reservoir, Lake Coghinas, but it was dark, I couldn't see the water surface just felt the cooler gusts of air. Exactly 24 hours after the start, I have 470 kilometres on the odometer, this night section was fast, there were some climbs, but compared to the initial parts of the route, shorter and less inclined. I remembered from the profile that from 400 kilometres onwards the route gave a solid kick upwards all the time, but it also gave you a rest, and on quite solid sections.
photo: Castelsardo like a postcard
It was about 100 kilometres to Castelsardo where the second checkpoint was located. My plan was to be there at midday, but a good combination of the morning temperature, food and mood meant that I was there an hour early. There's a solid long descent into town, and the views I get to see as a result are phenomenal. The beautiful coastline, the mass of yachts, the charming streets, the colourful buildings, the luxurious hotels and the postcard-perfect castle towering over it all are mind-blowing. Castelsardo was once the centre of wickerwork, as you can see by driving through the streets of the town. It's a good place for a checkpoint, as the onward direction of the route clearly points back to Alghero, with around 230 kilometres remaining. Estimates suggest that I'll be there by midnight, but I'm making allowances for the fact that I haven't slept, so accept that it may be a few hours later after all.
I didn't stand on the point for long because it was so hot that when I didn't move on the bike I started to glow from sweat and sizzle like a sizzle on a frying pan. This mobilises me to continue riding. Just out of town, after turning left I entered a climb that I remember today as one of the most challenging. It was about 14 kilometres with varying gradients, but the worst thing about it was that the uphill system was stopped by the wind, I was riding in an oven. To this day I remember every turn of the crank and every drop of sweat breaking on the frame. A hill with windmills loomed in the distance, indicating that it was more than certain that the organiser had routed the route there, plus I realised that these windmills are not here for a reason and any turnaround could meat the strong wind. The surroundings were unfavourable, the sun was high, all the roads exposed, windy or windless in places and hot. I was praying to leave the region already and drive into more wooded areas closer to Alghero.
Eventually I dropped out onto a flat section, I lay down on the aerobar and felt the speed, I overtook two riders and entered the village of Oschiri at a really satisfying speed. I had food with me but the smell of pizza enslaved me, I stopped by the road and ordered a meal, it was stronger than me. I was sitting outside consuming the pizza and the flies were eating me, they wouldn't let me alone, I dodged to no avail. It must have been interesting for the guests sitting at the neighbouring tables, eventually I got up and finished my meal by walking down the street and holding the pizza in my hand. I hate those moments when I feel ashamed, but on the other hand, I had no control over it. I puted the uneaten parts of the pizza in my bag and moved on, because the time calculated in my head did not include this stop.
photo: blood, sweat and tears
The whole up and down continues invariably to the end except that I have begun to drift off into the arms of Morpheus. It's getting dark and I've started to stop more and more often to change position and wake up, to top it all off I'm feeling quite a fluctuation in temperature as the icy air is licking me some places. I knew that fatigue was to blame for this situation, but I didn't give up until the end. The final 12-kilometre climb is a total letdown. It was a straightforward climb, but the accumulation of all the hills pulled a desperate ..., how much more!!! out of my throat. At the summit another sign brings me closer to Alghero, I let myself go on the descent, the brakes already howling in pain so that I couldn't stand it myself. This caused me to go slower when passing through some towns, I didn't want to make any noise at night. From Villanova Monteleone there was a beautiful winding descent that led to the finish for 24 kilometres. The danger was that I couldn't concentrate one hundred percent anymore making it slower than I would have liked. In Alghero there was a fete, it was a Saturday evening, the crowds in the streets, the music thumping. I dashed through town with my noisy brakes, and headed along the coast to the finish line. Finally, after 42 hours and 52 minutes, I arrived at my destination. Phew, I manage to pack up and get to the airport. It's amazing that the question in my head was how much time I had left until my departure and not which one in the clasification I showed up at the finish line.
The UBS is not a difficult marathon, the distance and total elevation gain is not great, yet in these conditions I felt this route to be strongly demanding. I always thought I did well in the mountains, here I solidly revised my opinion, I do well enough. Looking at the UBS participants it makes a big difference where you live and where you train. I'm not an outstanding cyclist, but looking at everyone competing at UBS it's safe to say they are outstanding. It's worth going there and competing against them. I recommend it. You will be respected, from registration to check-in to the finish line you will feel looked after and important. This is a credit to the whole UBS team and their positively hyperactive Giampy. The great team.
photo: Ultra Biking Sardinia Team
In order not to be left without a word of criticism, I only want to write about two things that puzzled me. The first is the obligation to announce on the public group if you want to make a stop longer than 30 minutes. I understand safety considerations, but in a race setting this communicator becomes the ideal board for strategy building. But it wasn't the race so this comment perhaps should not be made.
The second thing that surprised me was the number of pre-event annoncements. There were 6 in total and in my opinion at least 2 too many. I am quite peculiar, as I like to have information given briefly and concisely, but I understand those for whom the start and the whole pre-start time is a ritual, where the cyclical and frequent communication of the organiser heats up the whole environment of the race.
I strongly recommend Sardinia in October, it is beautiful, especially on the bike. And if 790km is not enough for you, Giampy and his crew will be working on a 1000km version. Follow them, because it's worth it.
The story is quite interesting, because up until now I thought the kit I was riding in was irreplaceable. Once upon a time, as part of the Babska Korba scholarship, I had the opportunity to work with a talented girl from Piła. The contact broke down, we saw each other from time to time as part of online training. I didn't pay attention to what she was wearing, but a few weeks ago at one of the training camps we met again and this time I paid attention to what she was wearing.
It looked very professional, the whole set was well thought out, the colours, the cut, the design, the layout of the pockets, the joining of the fabric. I have never analysed garments in such detail, but this time all these elements caught my eye. I decided to give it a try and stuck my plump and soft body into a size M. I usually aim for an S, but in this case one size up was just right.
I was worried about three things I hate, that my belly would stick out so much, that the graphics would show unnatural patterns, that the whole thing would ride up my bum when the pockets were loaded, and that lying on the aerobar the cut of the sleeves would cut my armpit bends.
I rode 800km in quite demanding terrain and quite warm conditions and I have to honestly say that the product is really comfortable. The pockets are rigid, hold heavy gels on the back and there is easy access to them. I didn't have to unnaturally reach over my back to get in. The material stayed on my body, the zipper was centrally where it should be at all time, and after almost two days I had no chafing on my body.
It's too early to declare that this is the best product I've had, but my recent experience encourages me to test further and a wider range of products from this brand.
I know what you're thinking right now. He's been given the shirts and is frothing with delight to give back. Anyone who knows me knows that I don't ride for the proverbial 'socks' and since the start of my cycling adventure I have been firmly independent and have the comfort of being the one to decide who I promote and when. Whenever I come across something worth sharing or recommending - I will do it.