After the inaugural Accursed Race 2024, we caught up with Mason rider Weronika Szalas to see how her brand new ISO dealt with the task of this challenging new endurance event. Weronika rode from her home in Poland to the starting line in Bosnia and – after achieving 1st place among women and 6th place overall at AR24 – has continued her journey.

Congratulations on the first-place women’s result at Accursed! Do you feel happy with your performance and were you expecting to get a top 10 result for your (first race of the season?)?

Thank you! I was doubting myself whether I could fit within the time limit before the race, mainly because I've never ridden in such technical terrain and for so long, so finishing quite ahead of that was definitely a nice confidence boost. I was quite amazed that my body was capable of riding 200km/4000m+ a day for over 8 days in a row in such a terrain with an average of 3-4 hours’ sleep every night. I find it fascinating how the body adapts along the course and how you can control it with your mind. I definitely didn't expect to get to the top 10.

How did being in race mode feel compared to your touring mode en route to the event? Did the ride to the start line prepare you well? 

I'm travelling quite slow while touring. Not just in terms of speed but also the time I take to stop – to take photos, talk to locals, appreciate a view, sit in a small cafe and just observe the surroundings, find a nice camp spot, cook, swim in the lake, etc…

Race mode stripped most of that away but the joy came with big intensity too, from elsewhere. It's the simplicity of being handed a GPX and then only pedalling and making sure you have enough food and sleep. Also experiencing the full circle of a day – moments before it gets bright, sunrise, sunset, midnight silence... Riding in the rain, witnessing the play of the clouds, or riding away from a storm. Passing a small remote Albanian village as it wakes up in the morning. All of these situations that you wouldn't probably encounter because, for example, you don't ride at night. And of course, the aspect of unity with other riders. Knowing that they are on the same course, each living their own adventure with their own ups and downs, that makes it somehow a shared experience too.

Summing up – I enjoy both. Race mode is definitely more intense and needs some more processing time afterwards. 

Touring mode is more sustainable over a long period of time and way more gentle on your gear and your body as you can take time to look after both a bit better. 

Would you change anything with regards to your race pace, or strategy? Did you have a plan?

No, I didn't have a plan. I knew I should do around 160 km a day to finish within the time limit. I did that on the first day and it was hard so in the next days I wanted to ride a bit longer to give myself a buffer in case I feel worse at some point and will need more rest. But then I was able to maintain riding 'a bit longer' till the end. 

I don't think I could change my pace but if I knew my body was capable of such a thing I could probably do some more preparation beforehand regarding to planning where the resupplies were, double checking equipment (my pump didn't work well) or preventing saddle sores (didn't have to deal with them before). But sometimes it's things you find out along the way - it's a part of it.

What were your race highs? 

The top of every hill – and I can assure you there were many. Riding over high plateaus, long descents in the forest, every first and last light of the day, the peacefulness of the nights.

What was the lowest or worst moment?

When my knee started to really hurt on day 3 or 4 and then I woke up in the morning and couldn't pedal. I thought of scratching at that point. I had to walk/stretch for 2h until it decided to work again. I was afraid to go to sleep in the evening as I was expecting the same to happen the next morning but surprisingly it was ok.

What was the best thing about the ISO? Did it make a difference to your riding?

It's an amazing and very capable bike! I planned to use it for this summer’s touring adventures and when I decided to do the Accursed Race I thought it didn't make sense to change the bike for those 10 days. The course was rough and after the first day I wasn't sure if I'd be able to tackle the technical bits without suspension but in the end it I was able to ride most of the ascents and descents, it was perfect for climbing and I felt like I was flying on good gravel and asphalt. In retrospect I would probably put a suspension fork on it for the race but it was logistically complicated as I was touring both before and after the race. The dynamo was very useful when it came to powering my lights in the night and charging my navigation during the daytime. I could power both entirely from it! 

Was there anything you'd change about the new bike?

Hmm I don't think I would change anything about the ISO in particular – it's great as it is and for the purpose it's made for which is tackling a wide range of terrain. I might stick on thicker tyres if I plan more rough adventures – it can fit up to 2.6" on 29" wheels, which is great. For the future, I would be keen to try a mountain bike to see how I can take my off road skills a bit further. I've never had one before.

Where will you be taking you and your ISO next

I'll stay around Balkans for a bit longer to explore them more in depth - I'm heading towards Serbia, North Macedonia and maybe Greece. Then I plan to tour around Kyrgyzstan in August - my long awaited dream. And I'll see how much energy I have left by then but I know I can't sit still for too long. I'll let the journey unfold itself.

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