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Breck Epic

Breck Epic. The race is rad. The courses are beyond fun. The vibe? Mid-90s mayhem.  This is what the 6 day UCI Breck Epic in Colorado sells itself as and it delivers.   The Breck Epic consists of 6 big back country loops that all start and finish within a mile of the bustling ski town of Breckenridge.  I’ve raced all over the World and hands down this race is one of the best all-round races out there.  The days are big but not huge, and the courses are a good balance of singletrack, double track and gravel roads.  Oh, and the fact you are racing in the middle of the Rocky Mountains is the icing on the cake! There’s only once catch, the courses start at an altitude of about 2800 meters above sea level and climb from there, all the way up to 3850 meters.  This means that oxygen is a very limited and a valuable resource.
And they’re off!
Coming off the WEMBO 24 Hour World Solo Championships in Brazil a couple weeks prior to the Breck Epic left me with a few question marks if I would be recovered in time for a shorter XC style stage race. Rocket legs or jello legs, to me, just getting a chance to race a bike for 6 days through Colorado’s backcountry was going to be a win!  The chief organiser, Mike McCormack, is a great character and one of the fairest straight shooting organisers out there.  His 3 rules are, 1. Don’t be a dick 2. Wear your helmet and 3. Don’t litter in our beautiful backcountry.  Who can argue with any of those?  I’ve been lucky to have raced three Breck Epics, the inaugural one 11 years ago, the Breck 3 day version in 2015 and now this years’.  It is a race that has always been great and each year they’ve been making minor improvements which are slowly building it into one of the World’s premier stage races. Staying with my buddy and 5 x Nepal National Champion, Ajay Pandit Chetri and his sponsor Penny, made for a great week as we would race our bikes hard in the morning, recover in the afternoons, and then eat large Nepali Dhal bhat meals for dinner to fuel up for the next day in the mountains.  It was a good routine and made for a pretty chill week, outside of the racing of course. The racing was interesting as some days were very fitness orientated and good for the big engines, while other days were pretty technical and better for the smooth riders.  It definitely takes a good all round rider to do well at this race and this year the race was stacked with them given its UCI S1 status which meant there were loads of Olympic selection points on the line as well as $ 30 000 in cash!
Stage 1 turned into a moody day as some dark clouds sunk into the valley.

Breck Epic Stage 1: Pennsylvania Creek, 58.6 km, 1737m

The Breck Epic started with some large black clouds in the background which had us all a little nervous at the start line as we headed into the Colorado backcountry.  The racing was fast with much of the course on double track quad trails with some fast flowy singletrack mixed in.  It was a bit of a gongshow at the start as we all tried to figure out our race paces at elevation. A lot of us went out a tad too fast which left us gasping for air and in the hurt locker!  Eventually we all found our place in the race, mine was in around 12th out of the 490 starters, right with Canadian mountain bike legend Geoff Kabush who was slowed down a bit by the lack of oxygen as he has had a busy season racing mostly down at sea level.  A couple hours into the stage the skies opened up with a heavy rainstorm hitting us riders and the temperature plummeting to around 7-8 degrees celsius.  All of a sudden the trails started to look more like creek beds as the storm left its mark on the day.  Rolling across the line my eyes were full of mud and the core temperature was dipping low so it was straight back to the hotel to jump in a hot shower fully clothed.  By the time Ajay and I were both cleaned up our hotel bathroom looked like a bomb had gone off in there!

Breck Epic Stage 2: Colorado Trail, 66.6 km, 2001 m

Day 2 was a highlight as we raced on a part of the 567 mile long Colorado Trail, probably the most scenic trail in the lower 48 American states as it traverses across the Rockies at an average elevation of 10 300 ft from Denver to Durango.  The day was dominated by sweet flowy singletrack which was in all time condition after the rainstorm the day before leaving it feeling like velcro to our tyres. I’m sure most of the Strava KOM downhill segments were broken this day as America’s top racers, along with a few of us Canadians and a Colombian blew through the scenic alpine terrain.  There was one epic descent which felt like it went on forever, eventually ending in a fast slightly downhill finish through an alpine meadow.  I was leading a group of 3 flying through the willows when I came around a corner to greet a 30 ft murky waterhole in which we couldn’t see the bottom.  It was sketchy flying in there full speed but thankfully we made it out the other side without getting thrown from our bikes by any ghost logs or rocks!  Towards the end of the stage the legs were finding an extra gear which pushed me within sight of the top 10.  Closing in on a couple riders with just a couple km to go my day turned sideways as my pedal clipped a hidden log sending me supermanning over the bars into a rocky landing only softened by a small willow bush. Bloodied and with a bent handlebar I finished off the day to come in 12th again.  At the finish there were a couple of other riders which had similar stories of crashing hard just before the finish which made me think that hidden stick was the culprit for more then just one crash.     
Backcountry riding is everywhere in Colorado.

Breck EpicStage 3: Circumnavigation of Mt Guyout, 63 km, 2164 m

Stage 3 at the Breck Epic is a real backcountry experience as the course heads up and over the continental divide twice circumnavigating Mt Guyout.  The trails were raw and rugged as the alpine terrain was littered with rocks. Going over French pass there was even a 300 ft snowfield still intact thanks to one of the snowiest winters in recent history. This provided good entertainment for the photographers as riders were going head over tea kettle all over the place. Once over French Pass the course climbs back up over the continental divide before hitting one of the rockiest and rowdiest descents of the week, dropping the riders back into the thick pine forests.  My day started great sitting in the chase group (5-7th) before hitting the first rocky descent leading into the long climb up French Pass.  At the bottom of the rough descent I could hear a hissing sound coming from the tires, it’s a dreaded sound for a mountain biker and soon enough I realised not 1 but both my tyres had side wall gashes.  It was crisis management as I plugged the tires, trying to make do with the 2 plugs, 2 CO2ss and 1 tube I had as reinforcements.  Too bad for me I ran out of resources to fix the two deflating tyres and was stranded.  Luckily a couple of buddies passed by and handed off the supplies I needed to get rolling again.  Back in the game I quickly realised that hundreds of racers had passed by and that it was going to be a long day trying to overtake anyone on the singletrack dominated course.  It was a bad luck day which ended any GC hopes, but in the big picture I was still riding my bike through a beautiful part of the world on some amazing trails which kept a huge grin on my face!  Towards the end of the stage we hit the Flume trail which traversed across a rugged mountainside, somehow getting us back to Breckenridge in what looked like some pretty un-traversable terrain.  It is amazing the trail work which has gone into the Brekenridge forest over the years which has ultimately created one of the world’s great mountain bike heavens. This is in large part thanks to to the Breck Epic and all that they have put back into the riding community.
The leaders, Luis Meija and Keegan Swenson riding hard through the Colorado Alpine.

Breck Epic Stage 4: Aqueduct, 66.3 km, 1972 m

After the ruggedness of stage 3, stage 4 at the Breck Epic was back on the fast front country trails as we raced around a fitness heavy course.  At this point most the riders were starting to feel the effects of racing at altitude for 3 days and the pace noticeably slowed down a notch.  After a couple hard attacks by Colombian Luis Meija, the lead group mostly stuck together as a big group of 16 riders would snake its way through the Colorado hills. After feeling great on stage 3, the legs were a bit heavy this day as I dangled behind the lead group for the whole stage, managing to pick off a few blown up riders by the end to come in 13th.  It seemed pretty common at altitude for riders to have a  a good day, followed with a slower day, much of this due to the fact that recovery is tough to come by when you’re living and sleeping just under 3000 meters!  Like every day, one of the highlights was the massive finish line buffet which was full of recovery drinks, fruits, cookies, chips and all sorts of different sources of great tasting calories.  As much as we ride at the Breck Epic I suspect alot of us riders go home a bit heavier than when we came thanks to these finish line feeding frenzies!

Breck Epic Stage 5: Wheeler Pass, 38.6 km, 1593 m

Stage 5 was back into the rugged backcountry as the stage climbed straight out of the gate up towards Wheeler pass at 3850 Meters.  It was an amazing climb as the trail wound up out of the forest and into the high alpine via a small goat like trail.  Towards the top it was only rideable by a handful of the top riders as we engaged ourselves into a slow motion battle high up in the mountains.  Geoff Kabush and I were both fired up for this day as we knew the backside descent was pretty rugged and we could likely land on the podium if we stayed somewhat close to the leaders up the climbs. I went over the top of the first rise in 6th place with Kabush 20 meters back as we sucked in as much oxygen deprived air as we could find, trying to stay close to the top 5.  This chase would last for an hour across the high alpine which was highlighted by the smell of bacon on top Wheeler Pass. Some hardcore Breck Epic fans had set up a Bacon BBQ at the summit  and were treating us riders to an early morning breakfast as we rode our bikes cross eyed from the exertion.  As good as the bacon smelt, it was hard to chew but just the taste of having it in my mouth reminded me of Canada and helped keep the stoke high as we suffered through the stage.  Eventually we hit the long and gnarly miners creek descent in which Kabush would pass me half way down as he tried to use his world class enduro skills to get him back into the top 5.  He would fall just 20 seconds short of the stage and roll in 6th and I’d come in a couple minutes later in 7th.  On Strava Kabush set the fastest downhill time down Miners creek while I came in 3rd, a small consolation prize for just narrowly missing the podium again!
Bacon on top of Wheeler Pass 🙂 !!!
Stage 6: Gold Dust, 47.2km, 1139 m The final stage is one for the roadies as the course heads up and over Boreas Pass (3503 M) twice.  The course is predominantly on fast fire roads and quad tracks with a bit of singletrack mixed in on the fast descent down the Gold dust trail.  Some of this trail follows an old flume which makes for some sporadic riding as the riders try to hold their speed while bouncing off the banks of the twisting track.  After 5 days of high altitude racing, I think this 6th day hits alot of the riders pretty hard as we try to convince the legs to giver for one more day.  Thankfully it’s a rather short one, and the views from the top of Boreas pass were amazing!  The best part about Day 6 is that it’s a doubleheader.  The finish line is a great atmosphere with many of the riders sitting around in circles in the parking lot shot gunning beers, laughing and grinning as they reminiscent about the past week of amazing trails.  The best part is that this is just the intermission before the legendary stage 7 which involves an awards banquet full of good food and stories from the week, followed up with some drinks out on the town.  This is the longest stage for some riders as the night life in Breckenridge is on fire during the summer months.  
Some of the pro field enjoying some cold ones together after battling each other hard all week.
For 2020 the dates are already set for August 16-21st.  As far as stage races go this one is one of the best deals out there and right now the entries are cheap, first come first served!   Thanks Breck Epic for another amazing week of riding and hanging out, it was one of the highlights of the year!  Picture Credits: Liam Doran @liam_doran_outdoors
Breck Epic Organizer Mike McCormack showing off the bad ass finisher buckle.

The Road to Brazil and the 24 HR World Champs 🇧🇷

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Canadian Double Header

Landing back in Canada Thursday morning from Mexico it was a quick turn around to get ready for a Canadian Double header race weekend with the Spakuwas 50 in Squamish on Saturday and the Ghost of the Gravel in Alberta on Sunday. The key was the ground support from Dik and his son Seth as they ran me around between airports, provided a base camp in Deep cove and kept the engine fed for the busy weekend ahead!

First up was the Spakuwas 50 which was also the BC Provincial Marathon Champs this year.  Trying to defend the title from last year I went out pretty hard with just Canadian Cross champ Michael Van Den Ham and young Fernie ripper Carter Nieuwesteeg able to follow.  We had a substantial gap as we ripped through some of the best xc trails in the World in the Squamish rainforest.  Riding my hard tail for the first time in Squamish, the Kona Honzo, I was breaking some old Strava KOM’s and then doing my best to ride her smoothly on the rough descents.   We were ripping but unfortunately we we ripped ourselves right off course as someone had stolen some race direction signs.  By the time we figured this out and were back on track we had lost 9.5 minutes (according to Strava) and found ourselves back in the mid 30’s.  We knew we were pretty screwed put did what we could to get ourselves back into the race.  The biggest problem was the traffic as we’d come up on lines of riders on the singeltrack which was costing loads of time trying to get through them.  Most riders were great at opening the trail for us, we tried to be polite but are sorry if we cut anyone off!   It was an interesting race as Michael and I were the two fastest riders so we were battling each other but we also had to work together if we wanted to try and get ourselves back into the race.  Unfortunately we ran out of trail with myself eventually coming in 2nd and Michael in 4th, with local ripper Eric Goodwin staying on course and taking the W.

Next up was the race to the Vancouver airport for a 6pm flight to Calgary.  Once my buddy Seth finished his race we hopped in his Dad’s truck, pit stopped at Booster Juice for some recovery fuel, the Ocean for a quick ice dip/ bath and then onwards into the Vancouver traffic.  We nailed it, arriving at 4:45 pm, and next thing  I was in Calgary waiting for my luggage and lining up a rental car.  By 11:30 pm I was in bed at my friends Wayne and Joani Worobecs in Cochrane for a little bit of shut eye to recharge the battery before Sundays race!

The  Ghost of the Gravel is Albertas premier Gravel bike race as it takes in 118 km of rolling gravel roads through the Alberta foothills.  The race started pretty neutral as 220 of us dodged around some mud puddles from an earlier rainstorm and eased into the fast and punchy course ahead of us.  My legs were feeling surprisingly fresh and my Kona Libre was feeling solid but my front tire had sprung a very slow leak which I couldn’t identify.  We had a big lead group of 30 + riders so I could sneak off the back and try to figure out the leak but this was to no avail. Putting a tube in would be too costly time wise so I used my Co2 to top up the tire and then launched an attack as I figured my day might be short lived.  Taking the KOM title up the climb of the day put $200 in my pocket and also blew apart the field with just 4 of us left off the front.  2 of them were roadie teammates,  Provincial champ Andrew Davidson and his buddy Warren Muir, while Kona young gun David Yexley was also up with us.  This essentially made it 2 vs 2 in the lead group as David and I knew it would be smart to ally up.   We worked well together helping the group stay together but eventually he would lose contact with us and I would be left to fight against the two teammates alone. 

The legs were feeling good so I figured it would be smart to attack these guys but the x factor was my front tire which kept losing air.  I would try to sneak off the back on the long climbs to Co2 it before Andrew and Warren would take notice, which worked pretty good as I could always chase back on.  My fingers were crossed the tire would eventually seal itself but this wasn’t my day.  With 15 km to go the teammates started launching some attacks which I could cover but it kept the pace up and meant there was no more time to stop to re-inflate the tire.  With 4 km to go we hit a paved climb which I tried to drop the guys on but they were riding strong and with the tire now at about 10-15 psi and slightly bouncing off the rim it wasn’t ideal.  With a 2km flattish roll into the finish the ball was in there court as the chances of sprinting to a win with a nearly empty front tire was minimal. 

Luck would briefly change though as 500 meters from the line a cowboy and his horse trailer would pull onto the road with his dog taking chase.  This added chaos which was a good thing as I had over 6 months of this sort of training in Nepal and southeast Asia last winter.  Weaving around the dog I then had the choice of going left into the oncoming lane to get around the horse trailer or to risk the inside right line.   Going right I figured it would block the other riders but the cowboy put on his brakes which meant we got around him to early which enabled Warren to come around to take the win. I would settle for 2nd while luckily managing not to crash with the front tire bouncing off the rim.  It was a pretty hairy finish to what had been a solid weekend racing bikes across two different provinces!  Next year I’ll try to refine the details of this doubleheader and cross my fingers for a  bit better luck as back to back wins in these tow great races is certainly in the cards.  

This weekend also capped a solid month long block of racing and signalled the start of some specific training for the 24 HR World Championships coming up in Brazil at the end of July.  Right now I’m taking a small break in Nelson as I head towards the Okanagan from Canmore on my Libre which is not only a great race machine but also built for big adventures.  Time to keep the wheels rolling…!

 

Mexico- Race Xcross Hidalgo

Mexico has always been one of the more interesting places in the World to race a bike with its combination of natural beauty, fun people and the excitement of racing through the uncontrolled environment of the 3rd World.  

The Teenek Race Xcross Hidalgo, known as one of the toughest mountain bike races in the Americas, is a 3 stage race across the mountains in the state of Hidalgo just north of Mexico City.  In its 9th edition it had nearly 300 km and 8000 metres of vertical gain as it traversed some pretty rough mountains. With 80-90 racers it was the perfect size to have a laid back atmosphere yet some tough competition!

  In 2008 and 2009 I raced the Transmexicana which went from one coast to the other over 800 km in 8 days.  It was one of the best courses I have ever raced and also one of the most memorable with every day being full of unorganized chaos often riding around lost in the middle of the countryside. I had heard from my friends that the Race XCross Hidalgo was a well organized version of the TransMexicana so when the opportunity arose to race it this year I jumped at it. It did not disappoint!

Arriving to the race start in the town of Pachuca at 2400 M was an easy 1.5 hr bus ride from the Mexico city airport.  After a couple days of acclimatization and eating tacos it was race day and we were off to tackle 80 km on Stage 1.  It was a pretty neutral start as we climbed out of town on some pavement but as soon as we dropped into a dirt road it was game on!  I let the other guys set the pace for the first couple km then launched an attack over a small hill to spice up the race.  A small gap would open which I would extend on the rough and rocky decent to follow. One of Mexicos top racers and multi time champion Tono Escarcega would have nothing of it and would claw his way back to me.   From here we went on to smash each other good for the next couple of hours of racing.  We would attack each other but then often come face to face with a 30% climbs which would have us cross eyed as we just tried to get up them without walking.  This took it’s toll on both of us and with 20 km to go we had one last stiff climb in which I barely managed to turn over my 36 T chain ring while Tono had to get off and walk.  Finally, he looked cracked, the only problem was I would crack a few km later and then had a long and suffer last hour to the finish line.  At one point 3rd place rider Juan Silva almost caught  me but I managed to dig deep to pull ahead for a 1 minute victory. Little did I know but last years winner Tono Escarcega pulled the pin at the last feedzone which opened up a bit of breathing room heading into the next stages.

 

Stage 2 was the queens stage with 120 km and 2800 m of vertical as we tackled one of the Worlds biggest half pipes!  After an easy first 10 km to warmup I set out on a solo mission to dedicate the day to a fallen comrade in Steve Stanko who had passed away on a freak climbing incident the week before.  Steve was known as the “godfather of cycling” in my hometown of Jasper and had played a big roll in my development of a cyclist over the years.  On this day there was a memorial for him in Jasper and a group ride with nearly 250 riders showing up to pay tribute to him.  Unfortunately I couldn’t be there in Jasper but I felt Steves wings on my shoulders as the legs were firing good this day eventually rolling in for a 20 minute + victory after 5.5 hours of racing.  The course was epic as we raced across the backroads of Hidalgo and dropped into a giant canyon at one point, descending all the way from 2400 meters to 1300.  It was 100% Mexican with Cacti everywhere, lots of locals out and about and loads of sketchy dogs chasing as we road by them.  Once in the canyon it turned into a bit of a jungle before setting out on a big climb out the other side of it.  After 45 minutes of climbing I crested the rim of the canyon to only we directed to drop right back into it and then onto another 45 minute climb out the otherside of it.  It was one hell of a big half pipe and made for a tough day of racing!  The finish of the stage was in a tourist town called Huasca, one of Mexicos famous “Pueblos Magicos.”  Post race a couple of us went to tour the Basaltic Prisms, a canyon full of columnar joints of basalt rock, it was unreal and apparently one of only a couple places in the world to have this natural phenomenom.  Mexico is certainly one of the most geographically and culturally interesting places I’ve ever travelled!

Back at race site racers were hanging out on the lawn drinking beer, listening to music and enjoying the fantastic atmosphere that the Teenek race organizers have around there events. For dinner we went to a street side Taco joint in Huasca and loaded up on some delicious tacos and enhciladas.  The Mexican’s sure now how to cook some damn fine food which also happens to be great fuel for riding!  Thankfully our stomachs also agreed with the food as eating street side in this part of the World is always a bit of a roll of the dice.

 

Going into Stage 3 we had just 70 km and 2000 meters of climbing between us and the finish line at the Cristo Rey statue in Pachuca.  With much of the course between 2500-3000 meters we could feel the altitude today as we raced on some rough dirt roads through the mountains.  I tried to keep a chill pace at the start to ride with the other racers for a while, but they seemed pretty fired up on the day and started attacking one after another.  Thus I attacked myself, riding away from the field for another solo ride to the finish.  It was a tough stage with some steep climbing but it also had some rad pieces of singeltrack mixed in. On the first piece of trail I came flying around corner in a tight ravine and saw a sheep up on the right hand side of the trail.  It wasn’t a grizzly bear so I though nothing of it but at the last possible second lamb chops jumped across the trail, I missed him but he was tied to a rope which clothes lined my bike and sent me crashing down the trail while at the same time yanking on lamb chops and causing him to come crashing back into my bike.  It was a sheep/bike racer yard sale but luckily we both got up unscathed. I remounted my Kona to continue onwards to the finish line with a extra surge of adrenaline to fuel the ride.  The rest of the trail was rad as it navigated over some rough terrain down a ravine until popping out into a cool Mexican town with cobbletstone streets.  Sitting up for a quick breather after the excitements on the trail, the next thing I saw were three dogs jumping at me from under a truck, one went straight in front of the bike, I felt like t-boning it but politely slammed on the brakes then used my water bottle to spray off the other sketchy beasts.  I don’t know if its just me but there seems to be more and more loose sketchy dogs around these countries like Mexico and Guatemala every year. 

The rest of the stage was rad as the course climbed up a steep fireroad into a forest at 3000 M before hitting pieces of single track all the way down to the finish line at Cristo Rey, sitting at 2500 M on a hill overlooking Pachuca. The riding reminded me a lot of Canada on this section.  The last 2-3 km was especially rad as we endurod down a ridge top on some flowing single track with cacti all over the place.  I managed to tag a Cacti with the back of my hand, ending up with 7 spikes sticking out of it.   It was a bit sketchy but I managed to pull one by one out while still making headway to the finishline. One of them broke off though and would require further attention from one of the race doctors later on but I figured that was a small price to pay for riding 300 km across the depths of rural Mexico!  The best stories were coming from the riders later on as apparently the sheep I hit earlier on got angry and started ramming the other riders as they went by.  Some of the riders came across the line with bruises on there thighs and some pretty wide eyes.

Like every day at the Race XCross Hidalgo the finish line atmosphere was great with music blarring, Mexican food been eating and on this day some local tequila/liquor being consumed to celebreate a successful 3 days of tough racing X Cross Hidalgo.  It’s races like these that really bring out the best in the mountain bike community.  Big days on the bike,  meeting new people, seeing new lands, adventures, challenges but most of all a chilled back atmosphere in which everyone seemed to be enjoying the simplicity of just being out there and riding there bikes.  I hear they change the course up every year as well which makes it that much more exciting to hopefully be able to return to defend the title next year.

 

Thanks Jorge, Bebeto, Veronica, Mariano and the rest of the crew at Teenek racing for making this a memorable trip to Mexico!

This Victory I have dedicated to Steve Stanko.  You left us too soon but you sure left your mark on this World.  You may be gone but your spirit will ride on with us forever!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dirty Kanza Round 2

The 200 mile Dirty Kanza gravel race in Emporia Kansas claims to be the World’s Premier Gravel event as 3000 participants race across some rolling farmland in the middle of America.  It was my 2nd year in a row down here and this year the course went North instead of south out of Emporia. The course was a big improvement as we snaked around the farmlands and grasslands of Kansas over a bunch of rolling hills and through some pretty gnarly terrain. X USA  mountain bike Olympian Jeremiah Bishop said it was comparable to the terrain they race down in South Africa at the Cape Epic each year, only they take mountain bikes for that one instead of skinny curly bar bikes!

My weekend started Thursday afternoon with a pit stop at Velo +, Kansas City’s local Kona dealer, to prep my Kona Libre gravel bike for the weekend and drop the supplies needed for the 2 feed zones at the DK. Walking into the shop fired me up for the weekend as Marco and his crew love bikes and it radiates through the atmosphere of the shop. These guys had volunteered to be my pit crew again for the weekend and it was a big reason why I was keen to give the DK another shot.  Last year I double flatted early in the race and ended up chasing mostly solo for 11 hours of the ride, eventually coming in 14th.  This year my goal was to avoid flats so I ran some bigger 700 x 45 C tires, they were a bit heavier then what most other riders were riding but with the rough terrain I figured it would be worth it.

Friday morning was spent relaxing with my buddy Ingvar and the Lauf crew from Iceland as they had generously taken me in for the weekend at there accommodation.  The afternoon was spent pre-riding a bit of the course, getting my new Libre to feel right as I was only able to get 1 ride on it before the race and registering down at the large Expo downtown.  After a big bowl of Quinoa it was off to bed early as race day would start with a 4am wakeup and 6 am departure!

The first 25 miles of the race started out pretty neutral as we all eased into the long day ahead but soon we hit a gauntlet of rough and rutted out roads.    Here the chaos began as riders started crashing and flatting all over the place.  There was a lot of sketchy riding going, especially from those riders sporting aero bars,  so I hopped on the wheel of Geoff Kabush as he had some smooth lines and generally finds a way to end up at the front of races. Unfortunately he soon flatted the road looking tire he was running, so I followed another guy, who crashed hard into a mud puddle, and then another guy bounced off me as he went down in a rut.  Eventually we hit some smoother gravel roads again with the lead group having gone from around 500 to 50 riders.  From here we hit some rolling hills and by the time we rolled into the first  feed zone at kilometer 100 we were down to just 17 riders in the lead group.  My pit crew was awesome with Marco from Velo Plus and Jordan from Kona getting me in and out of there in 30 seconds, just in time to catch back onto the group as it was charging and no one was waiting around. 

On deck next was 130 km to the 2nd feed zone through a series of short steep climbs and some pretty bad roads. It had rained a pile this spring causing a lot of sharp rocks to be exposed and some big ruts out there.  The biggest challenge though was the competition as it was way deeper then any year before with 5-6 World Pro tour Roadies leading the charge.   Our lead group had four of these guys in it, last years # 1 &2 from the race, 2 x USA Marathon champ Payson Macelveen, eventual winner Colin Strickland a few other guys.  I certainly wasn’t one of the bigger fish in this group but I was feeling good and the Kona Libre was rolling along great. 

 Around kilometer 160 the lead group had dwindled to 10 riders and the pace seemed to be slowing down a bit after a few peppery surges from the World Tour guys. On one of the longer climbs, Colin Strickland upped the tempo with just myself and another rider following.  Cresting the top I saw we had a decent gap, rolled around Colin, and told him “let’s go”.  He looked back at the chase group and responded that he didn’t like the split, and sat up to wait for them.  I did the same and we continued on.  5 miles later Colin would go off the front again, this time no one followed.  We all looked at the World tour guys to take up the chase but nothing was happening so I went to the front and started pulling through with 4 or 5 other guys.  Soon Colins gap had grown to 20-30 seconds and finally the rest of the group started to respond as we started a decent paceline.  Sitting 2nd wheel rolling on a smoother section of road my front tire randomly sprung a leak.   It was a  quick fix quickly sealing it and Co2’ing back up, but then it went again, this 2nd stop was the killer as the lead group was rolling hard now chasing Colin and I didn’t have the legs to close a 30 second gap on that much firepower.  Settling into a diesel mode I was still in good shape for a solid result as I knew a bunch of the guys ahead would eventually blow up and have mechanicals themselves and that I could move up a few spots from my current position of 9th.

A few miles later the rear tire sprung a leak, plugging and Co’2ing it, I was back rolling again soon but it would give out a few miles later requiring another plug.  This plug would also eventually fail, and with just 1 C02 left it was time to put a tube in which is never a good thing.  From here the day unfolded into a total meltdown as the lock ring nut on the valve stem was pretty much welded on.  In 15 years of racing I’ve never failed in removing a lock ring nut.  I have some tough fingers from tree planting so many years, but they were no match!  I used rocks and my multi tool to try and loosen it but there was no way.  I have no idea why that thing would be on there so tight but given it was a new bike it was something I hadn’t even considered to check.  Thus I hopped back on my bike and started riding the rim.  It was shocking how few riders passed me as apparently our lead group had destroyed the rest of the field pretty good!  

The problem was that I was in no mans land with no farm houses or anything around except wide open fields of grass.  Out of water, biking along at 12 km/hr, I figured it would be at least 2 hours to the next feed zone which wasn’t going to end well as it was a pretty damn hot day to not be riding with water.  Eventually I rolled by a farmers house with Grandma working on her yard outside.  I asked for some pliers and she went inside to search.  She came back with a couple cold bottles of water which were like gold to me, but no pliers.  She said she would keep searching and if she found them she would come find me on the road.  

So I kept biking along on the rim, with water now so I was a bit happier but also getting a little concerned for my wheel as I wasn’t sure how tough they made road wheels these days. About 10 minutes later I heard someone honking behind me as grandma came tearing down the road waving around a pair of pliers from her window.  Hell yah! I was stoked, the pliers easily removed the lock ring nut, grandma took off, I put in a tube and then went to inflate it only to have my co’2 head blow it’s o ring and fire the co2 gas everywhere but into my tire.  Having gone through 3 Co2’s I was now out and now either had to wait for someone to come along with a co2 or pump, or remove the tube so I wouldn’t destroy it and then keep riding the rim.  With 800 or so racers behind me still I figured someone would come by soon so started walking with my bike.  This got old really quick as carbon bike shoes aren’t good for walking on gravel roads, so I opted to lay down under a shady tree and catch some zzz’s until someone came bye.  I figured restoring some energy with a nap would be better then wasting energy walking 5 km an hour towards the finish line which was still 120 + km away!  After a short little nap I heard someone finally roll bye and luckily it was my buddy Jeremiah Bishop from the Canyon team.  He was also having flat tire issues and was out of co2’s but he gave me his head, which got me a little closer to air in my tires.  A few minutes later another rider came bye with a co2 and I was finally back in business!

Stoke to be ripping along with air in my tires again I set two riders in sight and started chasing them down.  Unfortunately this was a bad move as they road off course and eventually hit a dead end and then asked me which way to go.  Arggh, looking down at the GPS I rerouted a path back on course, cursed a couple times then continued on my ride.  I eventually rolled into feedzone 2 a while later where my amazing support team was anxiously waiting.  The support I had from Velo + KC, and Jordan from Kona was probably the best support in the whole race. I felt like I had let them down but hopefully I will get another chance to redeem myself in a future Dirty Kanza as these guys deserve to have a winning rider. 

 Fully loaded with tubes, co2’s, clifbars and water it was back on course to roll in the final 100 km to the finish in downtown Emporia.  It was a bummer to be out of contention after having such a good start to the race but sometimes it’s just not your day.  The plan now was to set a steady tempo to the finish and get some good training in the legs for the races yet to come this year.  It was pretty fun passing some riders I knew, having quick visits with them then continuing on.  Eventually I caught back up to Bishop and we road most the way to the finish together which was great to have some good company.   

The best part of the day was rolling across the finish in 12 + hours and then spending the next couple hours cheering other riders on and hanging out with my support team and some other riders which I only get to see a couple times a year at different races around the World.  The atmosphere at the Dirty Kanza is 2nd to none as there are riders from all different walks of life just out there crushing it, destroying themselves and coming across the finish line with huge grins of accomplishments on there faces. It was awesome to see some of the amatuers roll across the line after some pretty epic days out on the American prairies and to see so much satisfaction in themselves for pushing through what was surely some epic adventures for many of them.  It’s races like these that keep me inspired to keep racing and I hope to get another chance to redeem myself at this race as it is now up on me 2-0.  3rd time is usually a charm so I figure this race is worth at least one more shot!

 Huge thanks to Marco, Glen, Dean and James from Velo + KC and Jordan from Kona for the great support around the race weekend.  The Kona Libre I road is a bike that can win this race one day, and with the support I had, and the strong legs, all the pieces were there to have a big result.  That will have to wait, but for now my head is full of good memories and there are no regrets as all you can do is go out there and give it your best shot with whatever you have and then let the cards lie from there.   

I would also like to shout out to Dylan for lending me his Garmin to keep me (mostly) on course this weekend and the Lauf team from Iceland for taking me into there team accommodation and treating me like one of them.  It was a killer weekend all round and I’ll be looking forward to returning to Kansas soon!

 

For now it’s off to Mexico for a couple weeks of altitude training and a 3 day race called the Race X-Cross Hidalgo. 

 

Over and out!