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Norway Part 2: The North & the Skaidi Xtreme

Landing in Alta in Northern Norway wednesday afernoon, Anderl and I headed over to the docks, hopped on a boat for a 1.5 hour scenic ride through the fjords, and were soon docking in the community of Hammerfest, the last big community before the North Pole!  From here we were in the hands of Odd-Peder, his wife Suzanne, and the rest of the Skaidi Xtreme team.    They felt like family from the get go as they took us up to there house overlooking the ocean for coffee and treats to kick off the Skaidi Xtreme adventures!  

The agenda around the Skaidi Xtreme was chalk full, as we ran around building bikes up, checking into the Scandic hotel and then heading up to a plateau overlooking the ocean to host a bike training camp for the local kids.  It was great to see over 30 local cyclists come for the training session with the 8 of us pro riders.  The kids were very polite, outgoing and easy to teach. After the training camp we headed to the opening ceremonies for a feed of fresh Halibut and to meet some of the community members and the other riders that were going to be involved with us in the adventure filled days to come.  

Thursday, was the “Different Experience” day.  Each year the organizers of the Skaidi Xtreme set up a day to explore the Norwegian culture up north.  This year we road our bikes 2 hours to a highpoint above Hammerfest and then down a pretty gnarly descent to the ocean for a beach side picnic.  There was a Mexican type beach right beside us but with the polar temperatures of the water and climate I’m sure it’s one of the least used beachs in the World!   Following a feed of Norwegian cheeses and meats, it was off to catch a old boat for a 2 hour ride down the fjords to the race site in Skaidi.   This boat ride was rad as a small storm blew in, making it feel like a real expedition in a far off land. Again more food was served on board, lots of fruits, cheeses and waffles.  We were beginning to wonder if they were trying to fatten us up so the local heros would have a chance at winning the Skaidi Xtreme on the weekend.  

Landing in Skaidi we road 6 km through the rain to the hotel setup, ate more food, then headed out to a local river for some Salmon Fishing. Then back for more food, fresh Salmon (which we didn’t catch), and off to catch a bit of rest.  Friday morning we were invited up to visit with a Sapmi family.  The Sapmi people inhabit the Northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland and live a semi nomadic lifestyle living of catching fish, fur trapping and reindeer herding.  They live in rounded tent like structures and teepees, and reminded me quite a bit of the Mongolians living Nomadically across the steppe.  We sat by the fire, drank some cowboy coffee, ate fresh reindeer meat, had a las0oing competition and then it was off to pre-ride parts of the Skaid Xtreme course.

This night nearly turned into a real Xtreme adventure as I was to move into a Sampi tent for race weekend as the race hotel was booked up.  I was keen on this until I found out it meant sleeping with 7 other riders just inches apart.  From past history I know it’s never a good idea to sleep with a bunch of middle age bike racers as the snoring and the middle of the night bladder control issues means there’s usually not much peace or quiet.  Thus I became a gypsy for the weekend moving my cot to small cabin nearby, which was also the HQ for race supplies so was pretty busy in the daytime but peaceful at night.  My luggage was in luggage storage in the hotel and the bike followed wherever I went.  Being on the road most the year it’s important to keep sleep at a premium or else the tank can run dry really quick! 

Skaidi Xtreme.

The Skaidi Xtreme is a 41 km race across the rough arctic tundra surrounding the village of Skaidi.  It’s a mixture of quad trails, reindeer routes and a few purpose built singletracks. This year there was a strong international field with top riders from Denmark, Great Britain, Iceland, Norway and even one Canadian 😉   It was a fast start as few of us tried to make it hard for everyone else in the 5 km start loop.  This blew the race apart and 8 of us were left going into the 6 km lap two which was full of steep rocky climbs and some fast, techy decents.  Unfortunately I flatted in this loop, requiring a couple stops to plug the tire and re-inflate it, costing over a minute.  From here it was  into chase mode for the next 30 km of the race as we entered the final lap,which took us 30 km across the tundra, up to a radio antena and down a rad, purpose built, technical descent.  I moved back up to 5th pretty quickly and could see the 4 riders ahead as the vistas were huge and the course often looped back on itself.  It was good motivation, but I also had to be careful too keep an eye on the trail as there were lots of wet marshy spots, big rocks, and holes in the ground that required proper line choosing. 

One section we entered a small birch forest and were treated to some sweet riding maneuvering in and out of the trees, going over small rock ledges and trying to stay out of the surrounding mud bogs.  It was the total opposite of the road race style Birken the week before in which we averaged over 32 km/hr on smooth gravel roads! 

With 10km to the finish,I caught Icelands National champion, Ingvar and we had a nice battle with myself pulling away on a rugged, overgrown descent.  Ben Thomas from the UK was in 3rd and was all of a sudden in sight, with the gap narrowing to around 20 seconds at one point.  I ran out of trail to catch him and would cross the finish line in 4th.  This was one of the most entertaining and gruelling 40 km I’ve done outside of Canada in recent memory as the competition was great and the course was very dynamic.  It was great to have the good legs again and I’ll be looking to keep them fired up as the Canadian Marathon Champs and WEMBO World Solo 24HR Champs are just around the corner! 

Post race things kept wound up at the race venue with a big BBQ, onsite music and a beer gardens.  My Norwegian buddy Thomas and I would take a break from the party for a bit and biked 1 hour up to the highest point of land we could see.  It was a stunning 360 view from the top with the Ocean in sight, a herd of 30 reindeer running across the tundra in front of us, and alpine vistas which stretched as far as the eye could see.  In the far off distance we could even see the NorthCape, what people often think is the northern most point of mainland Europe, just over  2100 km from the North Pole.  There are actually a couple other pieces of land nearby which are a tiny bit closer but not as dramatic so the North Cape is the touristy one.  Following our little cool down it was back to the festivities and on to the race banquet which was full of fresh reindeer, copius amounts of wine and some locals that wanted to get rowdy.  

Sunday morning my  Luxembourg friend Soren Nissen, local rider Ingen and I opted to ride our bikes the 86 km back to the airport in Alta.  The rolling terrain was great to ride as we crossed a couple bushy river gullies, across a moon like landscape then down past a beautiful lake to the area’s headquaters of Alta.  Racing is always fun but riding the day after and exploring new areas is often the icing on the cake. With the pressure off, the body being primed from the race, and a few friends to enjoy the ride with it is always a highlight of these trips. 

Next year the Skaidi Xtreme will be Sept 7th, with registration opening Feb 1st.  Stay up to date and see the race video on there Facebook page  and look for an updated website soon at www.skaidixtreme.no

Picture Credit:  Skaidi Xtreme and Frank Rune Isaksen (except the top 2)

Norway Part 1: Lillehammer & The Birkebeiner

The Norwegian part of the Euro trip started with a 3 hour flight with Wizz air from Romania to Oslo. There I was to wait two hours for my buddy Anderl to show up.  Our Norwegian buddy Thomas would then pick us up and we’d drive 2 hours north to Lillehammer, home of the 1994 Olympics and the site of the legendary Birkebeiner xc ski and mountain bike Races. Birkebeiner means birch-leg, and is a person strong in adversity and who is never overwhelmed by hardships.

Waiting for Anderl, I found a comfy place to get some work done and soon enough Anderl was sending messages, asking where he could find me in the airport.  I told him I was sitting in the only coffee shop near the exit on the main floor, impossible to miss.  I waited and waited and eventually Anderl sent another message saying he’d been everywhere and started to question which airport I was at.  He was flying domestic from Northern Norway, while I was flying International from Romania so I assumed I would be at the main airport but couldn’t figure out why it was so damn small.  Upon further review, I opened google maps to pinpoint my location and was shockingly 180 km south of the real Oslo airport, right in the middle of a farmer’s field in south Norway.  WTF I thought, Wizzair said Bucharest-Oslo, not Bucharest to a hay field in the middle of no where. 180 km is a long ways away to still be calling it Oslo. I’ll be calling Wizz Air and asking for my money back as they are falsely advertising they fly to Oslo.  Luckily Norway has a sweet train system and with a $100 ticket I was on a 4 hour journey to Lillehammer by luxury transit.  

From here the trip was solid.  Thomas, Anderl and I had a good couple days getting ready for the 15 000 rider, 84 km Birken race on the weekend.  The Birken has been held since 1993 and commemorates a journey that Birkebeiner loyalists made in 1206 to carry the heir to the Norwegian throne, 1 yr old, Hakon Hakonsson, across the mountains by skis to save his life.   Hakon would later go on to become King and ended the Norwegian Civil War.

We pre-rode the finishing stretch which involved a straight descent down a ski run in which Thomas hit 100.1 km/hr.  The last 2km of the course was a sketchy finish with high speeds, hairpin corners on gravel and slippery grass, thus we rode it a few times to pick out the proper lines.  Between riding the course, we’d hang out on the roof of the Scandic hotel, experimenting eating Norwegian brown cheese on different foods and listening to country music.  The best brown cheese combination was on a rice cake with hummus, and Norwegian Salmon 🙂  Although brown cheese on an apple was also a good combo.  Thomas and I would also find a new backpack sponsor called USWE.  Part of the Birken, requires riding with a 3.5 kg pack to mimic carrying baby King Hakon over the mountains.  USWE had the best looking packs at the pre-race expo so we started talking to their reps and eventually ended up each with a kick ass race pack.

Birken:

Race day started with a 1.5 hour drive over to the race start in Rena, which was at 3:30 pm, hours after the 10 000 + amateurs had raced.   It felt like we were coming to the scene of an apocalypse as the streets were pretty quiet but you could tell something huge had just occurred. Following a short warmup and weighing our packs, it was off to the race start with about 250 other elite and Junior racers.    It was a bit of a crazy start as everyone jostled for position on the narrow roads.  Every time there was a drive way or any opening on the side, riders would sprint to try and move up a couple places.  Being the polite Canadian I soon found myself around mid pack, a long ways from the front, sandwiched in with nowhere to go. 

Cresting the top of the first 6 km climb things opened up a bit as we hit a fast descent on loose gravel.  Apparently half the riders in the race were road racers, as I quickly moved up 50+ positions on the downhill and then found myself hike a biking up the next lose uphill as there was a bottle kneck of riders.  It was chaos, but luckily I had practiced running with my bike a lot at the last race in Romania, thus passed another 20+ riders.  Cresting the top there was a lead group of 6 getting away, followed by a chase group of 12-15, and then my group with another 8+ riders.  Unfortunately I was the strongest guy in the group which meant I spent all the time at the front, trying to catch up to the lead group before the race got away on us.  The gap would close from 30-20 seconds but I was riding over my limit and new I’d have to back off soon.  Just as it looked like the race was gone, 2 Norwegian powerhouse’s rolled by on rigid hardtails with carbon time trial road wheels.  It took every ounce of energy to just stay in the draft of these guys as they must’ve been pushing well over 500 watts.  It was a free ride back to the lead group, which soon swelled to 30 riders. 

 

From here it was a full on road race often going 40 km/hr+.  Guys would pin it for 1-2 minutes, in which all I could do is go cross eyed and pedal my bike as hard as I could, crossing my fingers the pace would let up before the engine detonated. And then everyone would sit up and we’d cruise along at recovery pace. This went on for an hour until we hit a decisive 5 minute climb, 60 km into the race and with just 25 km to go.  The roads we were racing on were hardback dirt and were just like pavement, thus the roadies went to the front and blew the race apart on this punishing climb.  I would’ve liked to have been feeling better, but was having a tough day and was one of the first to get shelled from the lead group and would race in the last 22km with what was left of the shrapnel.  Just before the sketchy descent down the ski run, a group of 8-10 riders would roll up on my wheel.  I thought, “oh shit, now I have to actually pin it down this sketchy ass descent or else lose 10 positions.  Luckily I was riding my full suspension Kona Hei Hei, which meant no one was getting by me before the finish, and I’d roll in 22nd.  Not the best day on the bike, but it was definitely a memorable one!

The following days in Lillehammer were spent between eating brown cheese, relaxing at the Scandic hotel, and trying not to go broke.  Norway is one of the most advanced countries I’ve been to as they really seem to have life figured out over here. Almost everyone is active with the ones wearing Swix shirts tending to be the fittest and probably richest. Throughout the countryside people seemed relaxed and happy and there is lots of nature all over the place.  The biggest downfall is it costs a fortune to be here.  1 day in Norway is equal to about 2 weeks in Nepal expenditure wise.  Going out for sketchy chinese food is $70+ dollars,  drinks at a bar, $15-25, a small yogurt at a convienance store, $6.

In between trying not to go broke we went on rides with local legend Lars Ragnar Manengen.  Lars was Norway’s top racer for awhile and is now a bike guide based out of Hafjell.  He took Anderl and I on some rad trails on a plateau 400 vertical meters above Lillehammer,  it reminded me of riding in the Canadian alpine, only a bit more tame as much of it was pasture land.  Eventually our time in the Olympic village ended and it was time to catch a train back to Oslo (the real Oslo airport) and then fly 2 hours north to Alta.  Here we would meet up with  Odd Peder and his team at the Skaidi Xtreme to start a few days of nordic adventures before tackling possibly the World’s most northern race, the 41 km Skaidi Extreme.

 

Romanian Adventures @ the Carpathian MTB Epic

Romania is a Southeastern European country with close to 23 000 000 inhabitants including the infamous Dracula character.   Geographically its trademark is the Carpathian mountains which are in the forested region of the Transylvania region and are considered to be one of the last truly wild parts of Europe.  Having a chance to go there to race the 4 day, Carpathian MTB Epic (UCI, S2) was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up so off to Eastern Europe it was!

The race itself was based out of the Fundata resort, 4 hrs North of the captial city of Bucharest, and just minutes away from Dracula’s castle in Bran.  With a 10 hour time difference from Canada I showed up a bit jet legged so opted to spend Wednesday riding down to Bran to check out one of Romania’s many medieval towns, highlighted by its fortified churches and castles.  The beauty of riding a bike is that it gets you straight into the culture and its people while simultaneously getting the blood flowing and the body back on line after a big travel day.

My buddy Frederic Gombert flew in from France and arrived late Wednesday night.  He too wanted to get over his jet lag so Thursday morning we went for an easy pre-ride with our new friend Miroda from South Africa.  Our pre-ride turned into a bit longer and tougher then expected as the shortcut we opted to take back to the resort ended up being a solid hike a bike and pretty soon we were 2.5 hours into a “recovery ride”.   We came to a private property sign just 3 km from our home base back at Fundata. Thankfully the locals were warm and welcoming, opening the gate and letting us cross through there pastures. This was a small prelude of both the warmth of the Romanian locals and also what was on deck for us at the Carpathian Epic.  

Later this afternoon we tackled a short 10 km prologue to officially kick off the CarpathianMTB Epic.  It was underestimated as we road down some gnarly old school straight shot descents and soon had to ride up some insanely steep gradients back to the finish line.  My body was in shock as I tried to push over a 36 T-45 gearing. I was ready to walk but my buddy Fred was just behind me and my manly hood wouldn’t let me get off the bike.  Thus I grinded the gears over at the slowest rpm possible.  By the finish line I was cracked and stunned as it’s only once every 5 or 6 years that a 36-45 gearing will let me down but apparently racing in Romania was going to be an exception.

Post race we headed up to the restaurant for a big Romanian buffet full of all sorts of meat, delicious cheeses, potatoes, cabbage, and a few other white starches.  Apparently they don’t like eating green things too much over there but we certainly had our fill of heavy proteins and Carbs. It reminded me a bit of the Mongolian cuisine.   The setting for all our meals during the race had an epic view over the Carpathian mountains and turned into our hang out spot between racing.

A Romanian 4 star resort is a little different then a Canadian 4 star resort, and while it was comfortable, we also had one giant street light and one spotlight shining straight into our room.  A Belgium rider had the same problem, so he put his extra bed and mattress against the window to block the light.  Fred and I occupied both our beds, so instead we unscrewed the light from the spotlight, and then slept with black shirts over our heads to try and get some darkness.  The shower also shot straight into the room making it a swimming hole, unless we crouched in the tub and washed ourselves like we were kids in a tin basin.  The WIFI they promised was also non existent, I brought these issues up to the front desk but they just turned there heads and told us they’d fix it later.  I’m use to sleeping in a tent in a ditch somewhere so I could really care less about this stuff, but if you’re going to charge $100 + a night for something then I’ll raise my voice in hopes of getting any silly problems fixed for the next occupant.

Stage 1 I showed up nice and early, 20 minutes before race start, but apparently had already missed the UCI call up.  I tried to negotiate with the UCI official, but these guys can take them selves pretty seriously, thus I had a nice start position at the back of the 150 rider field.  It was sketchy trying to ride through the field on marbly gravel roads but I made it up to the chase group just before the first 10 km climb.  The lead group of 12 riders were already long gone, part of the joys of racing a UCI race in Europe with top riders from 20+ countries on hand.  I attempted to bridge up to the lead group but the 20-25% hills were kicking my ass one after another and pretty soon I had a full meltdown as my back was unhappy and the legs were even more unhappy trying to push over the 36-45 gearing.  All my smaller chainrings were at home as I never use them, and I had unsuccessfully looked for a smaller one after the Prologue the night before.  Apparently when you race in Eastern Europe you better show up with everything you need as spare parts are sparse.  

Reaching the first feed zone at a mountain pass was stunning as we had 360 views of the Carpathian mountains.  I stopped for 10 seconds to fix my seat and was immediately scolded by the UCI officials for fixing my bike in the feed zone and not tech zone which was 3 feet to the left.  Whatever, no one else is around, but as I know these UCI guys like to show off there powers so moved a couple feet to the left to continue fixing the problem.  Grabbing some food I took off, hike a biking straight up a pitch to the mountain summit and then embarking on some amazing high alpine riding. The body was still in meltdown mode as I sunk into the 30+’s but I kept on telling myself to push through it.  Eventually the legs came back on line and I started moving forwards, passing riders again and slowly gaining some momentum.  It’s amazing how fast the mind can switch during a race, being on the edge of a complete breakdown, to making small gains and getting the momentum back in your favour. 

Mid race I could see my buddy Fred about 3 minutes ahead, straight up this huge hike a bike section.  After spending last winter hiking around the Himalayas I used these hike-a-bikes to my advantage and caught a few riders, including my buddy Fred just before a 15 km descent through the alpine on a great, technical rocky trail. This turned into one of the best 30 minutes of riding I had all year as we pushed each other, passing riders, and getting ourselves back into the race.  It was sketchy in sections, dodging sharp rocks, skidding down wet grassy slopes, and bouncing off tree roots in the forest below.  By the bottom of this Romanian Enduro we had moved ourselves back into the top 15, a position I’d hold to the finish, while Fred would crack and drift back a few spots.  

Again after the race I searched for a smaller chainring as I heard Stage 2 would be even tougher.  One of the local Romanian teams had some, but were unfortunately unwilling to sell off any of them, or loan one out for the last two days of the race.  Fair enough, I was in direct competition with them, and it was my fault for not packing one. That being said, if anyone from overseas is competing against me in Canada  and needs help one day I will go out of my way to make sure they get it.   After being on the travellers side of the game for most my life I know the challenges that comes with being away from home and have some Karma to repay as I’ve had great help all over the World.  

Stage 2 was pretty short mileage wise but a real hardmans day.  Somehow they packed 3300 climbing meters into 59 km, and it had more hike a bike then you could shake a stick at.  Luke Way at Balance Point Racing has been giving me coaching guidance for years and after the last visit he told me to work on my slow cadence efforts to really put some stress on the leg muscles to lower the blood oxidation levels.  I took the steep climbs at the Carpathian Epic as the perfect spot to practice this, but it also took its toll as I would push the low gears way past my limits and after 2 hours of this I had detonated my legs. 

Finally hitting the top of the last Carpathian Mountain on the stage, I was all geared up to make some spots back up on the descent.  Shockingly the decent went in a straight line, through the rhubarb and grass down the mountain.  It seemed whoever flagged the course just set there GPS on a straight line down the mountain and then started hanging flags up.  Once out of the bushes, it eventually turned into a skid trail and near the bottom a skid trail with boulders littered all over.  All in all it took 12 minutes to go down what had taken over 1hr and 15 minutes to climb with much of it being at – 30-47%.  My arms burned at the bottom and my brakes were likely melted into the rotors.  From here to the finish the body was in shutdown mode, likely from going over my limit trying to grind up the last 2 mountains with no ability to spin with the big gears.  Eventually I’d roll in 20th, just glad to be over and able to start the recovery process for the final stage.

Stage 3 was more of a normal marathon, 60 km, 2500 vm, and no hike a bike :).  Starting the stage out slow, I’d wind it up going over a grassy descent, passing 10 riders via letting go of my brakes and taking a sketchy outside line.  I’d lose a bit on the next punchy climbs but the course was predominantly downhill to start going over some rough cattle trails which played in my favour.  Eventually I’d settle into a group from 11th-15th place as we started a long 12 km climb, first up through a giant canyon, then onto a fireroad and eventually ending on some rooty singeltrack.   A lot of these gravel roads were full of tourists hiking around looking down at there phones which made it interesting trying to weave around all the oblivious hikers.  

I kept getting dropped from this group of Euro climbers,  but I’d use the rolling singletrack across the top to gain contact again.  Most the trails in Romania were like rough Canadian hiking tracks. In my mind these are some of the funnest trails to ride as they are raw and rugged and my Kona Hei Hei was eating them up.   The backside descent was fast, and ended on a straight pitch down a loose dusty slope, a similar theme to the week.  It wasn’t super technical but it was pretty rad how the Romanian riding was so diverse every day with every type of riding imaginable.  The final climb to the finish was 12 km up a tight river valley surrounded by Transylvanian forest.  It resembled the west coast of BC and the slight 3-4% gradients were much nicer then the 20%+ gradients that had dominated the race the first few stages!  Crossing the finish line in 10th on the day marked the first solid ride I had since crashing hard on stage 4 at BC Bike Race back in July, and moved me up to into the money and 15th overall in GC.  It was reason enough to enjoy the festivities later in the day as the organizers put on a huge Romania BBQ, complete with tables full of wine and beer.  Apparently Romania is the 10th largest supplier of Wine in the World, and home to some of the best cheese and free range meat I’ve tasted so we had a nice party. 

Overall the experience in Romania was top notch.  The organizing crew put on a great race and the atmosphere was nice as every stage started and finished in the same race village.  The riding reminded me of the old TransRockies classic in Canada, a nice change from all the new school berm filled, smoothed out IMBA trails. The following morning all the racers cleared out and I settled in for a relaxing day to try and recupe some energy as I had an adventure planned the following day, planning to ride back to Bucharest via the backroads.

It’s interesting how the locals often try to talk you out of these sort of adventures in there countries as they try to make it sound more dangerous then it actually is. Over the years I’ve learnt to trust my own instincts, take a few precautions and then get on with whatever little adventure I have planned.  With a smile on your face and an open mind, this World is usually a pretty welcoming place.

The ride back to Bucharest was top notch as I planned out a 185 km route via the backroads.  The first 80 km snaked its way out of the Carpathian mountains on some dirt roads, going through some pretty cool mountain towns full of impressive churches.  It was good to see how well kept the Romanians keep there countryside.  The 2nd half of the ride was across Romania’s agriculture flat lands and was a good mixture of small paved roads and farmer dirt roads.  Every couple hours I’d pull over at  little road side stores to refill on water and snacks.  There were always Romanian country folk just chilling outside these rest stops and they were pretty curious to what a Canadian mountain biker was doing in there kneck of the woods.  I learnt a bit of Romanian this way and had alot of hand shakes and good travel wishes.  

Reaching Bucharest the traffic picked up so I hopped on the sidewalks for the last few km of the ride before checking into the Rin hotel near the airport.  The next day my friend Elena from the Carpathian MTB Epic offered to give me a tour of her city so I hopped on the bike, this time with sandals and casual 7mesh clothing, and took the scenic way into town via the many bike paths through the parklands.  The city itself was pretty rad, full of the largest parliament building outside of the pentagon, lots of historic buildings and many neat cultural things to see and do.  Bucharest use to be called a mini-Paris and has some cool places to check out.  A week in Romania was a good taste of the country but the more you see of a place the more plentiful the opportunities open up to explore it further.  I’ll hope to have a chance to come back one day to continue exploring this Balkan country.  

For now it’s off to Norway for a two week adventure including racing both the legendary Birken in Lillehammer and then the Skaidi Xtreme  way up North above the 71st parallel.  Here we come Scandinavia!

Carpathian MTB Epic Photo credits: MPG Romania

Singletrack 6

Singletrack 6 has grown into a great multi day race in BC as it incorporates a tour of some of the most beautiful towns in Canada with some great singletrack riding.  The days are short at around 30-40 km which makes it appealing to the average rider as generally you are done racing by mid morning and then have the rest of the day to take in other activities and appreciate the beauty of small town Canada.  

This year the race started off with the first 3 stages in Golden BC. This allowed us racers to settle in for a few days as we raced some great trails in the surrounding mountains.  Golden is a gem as far as mountain adventure goes as its squashed between the Rocky mountain and Monashee mountain ranges and is surrounded by true Canadian wilderness.  

Stage 1 we headed to the Moonraker trail network and were treated to a day of fast flowing single track through the woods with some breathtaking views along the edge of a dramatic canyon.  Coming off an injury at BCBikeRace I opted to take a relaxed approach to this stage but this backfired as the body never switched into race mode and I slowly drifted out of contention.  This was partly due to taking a rest week before the race as I tried to give the body all the R&R it could get so it could be ready to race ST6.   After the race we kicked into tourist mode and road our bikes around to the coldest swimming holes in town to chill off from the 30 degree scorching summer heat!

Stage 2 was a short 30 km as we took in a steep and gnarly course on Mount 7.    After being dormant in Stage 1 I opted to take the opposite tactic and go for it from the gun. This fired up the adrenaline and at least I would get a good training day out of it if nothing else.  Surprisingly the body came online and I would set the pace for the first 45 minutes up a rad new climbing trail with just race leader Justin Lindine  being able to keep pace.  We hit the gnarly, straight shot descent back down the mountain with a slim gap over some North Americas finest Enduro riders and new they’d be coming in hot.  Using a dropper post for the first time ever in a race, and 3rd time outright, I was a bit sqiurrley as I adapted to the new riding style.  Half way down we came to a sharp left hand turn, Justin lost his front wheel and ate some dirt while I narrowly made the corner then proceeded to miss the next corner coming in way to hot and ending up in the bushes.  From here 3 riders ripped by, Evan Guthrie, arguably Canada’s fastest XC descender,  past World Cup DH winner, Tomi Misser, and Enduro ripper Alex McGuinnis.  The rest of the stage was a fun 8 way battle as we jostled for position.  My back would slowly seize up as I drifted out of contention for a podium spot as we raced some raw and punchy trails though some rock outcroppings.  At the finish line we took off our game faces and put on our smiley tourist faces and again went on a search for the best swimming holes in the area. 

Stage 3 was an interesting day as we took a Gondola up Kicking Horse Resort to start the stage.  I’m a believer that you should earn your elevation so was planning to ride up the mountain to the start line but was politely asked not to due too safety requirements.  This was too bad so instead I road to the base of the Gondola to get a good warmup in and then was lifted up the mountain to a stunning alpine setting with a surrounding 360 degree mountain view.  It was a rad place to start a race as we zipped up a 10 minute fire road climb, descended a bit, climbed a 10 minute single track climb then were treated to a huge 800 meter vertical descent to the valley bottom below.  

Off the start I set the wattage meter around 390 which was a bit more conservative then normal but given we were at 2000M elevation I figured it would be a solid effort.  Surprisingly the other riders drifted back pretty quickly and I found myself with a nice lead early on.  Heading down the first descent with the dropper down I road a bit haywire and hit a rock hard, consequently slashing a hole in the tire.  It was a quick fix as I engulfed a gel so I could use the wrapper to fix the sidewall and then popped a tube in, co2’d it and was off again, maybe in 50-60th place but still potentially in the race.  A minute later the tube would burst out of the sidewall and suddenly I went from being a bike racer to being royally screwed.  Another racer dropped a spare tube as I started to look for a better solution to fix the huge gash in the tire.  All I had was a credit card which I tried stuffing in there but it was pretty ridged and looking quite awkward as it bent out of shape .  Another racer saw this gongshow happening and dropped off a proper tire boot.  With the tire now properly  sealed I went to Co2 the tube only to find the valve stem wasn’t quite long enough for my deep dish rims,thus the c02 canister burst into the air.  Now out of co2’s I asked another racer for a pump hoping it would work better.  All in all this flat tire turned into show stopper as I found myself in dead last place in the 260 rider field by the time the wheels were rolling again. 

 In a race that is 95% single track this is a bad thing as passing people one by one can take forever and also uses alot of energy as the only passing option half the time is to ride off the trail through the rhubarb.  At one point I came to 12-15 riders walking up a switch back and opted to get off and straight line it up through the bushes to get past them all.  It was good for everyone as they wouldn’t have to waste time pulling over for me and I could save my breath having to ask 12-15 times to get by the group.  Eventually I hit the huge decent to the valley bottom and quickly decided to pull the shoot as it was too dangerous and not worth it to try and sneak by any more riders as the risk of a pileup was substantial on the bermy descent.  Thus I settled into a very cruisy ride, hydrating, eating and coming to terms that I was no longer off the front going for a stage win but rather off the back on a leisure ride.  It turned into a joy ride as the pressure was off and I could now really appreaciate the great trails and could even stop at the feed zones to take advantage of all the goodies there which are unavailable when we are racing full gas.

Stage 4 was 1.5 hours down the road in Revelstoke so after one last sleep at my great host, Jana’s place, it was on the highway early to get ready for another kick at the can.  Being out of contention in the GC I opted to make the stage into a hard training ride and set the pace up the first climb which was a great 30 minute climbing trail.  In years past we would climb more fire roads at ST6 but this year the organizers seemed to find trails everywhere so virtually 90-95% of the stages were on some twisting single track.  After a while my back would again begin to seize and slowly I’d drift off the lead pack as they pushed each other hard on the amazingly flowy single track that Revelstoke has to offer.   

The great thing about ST6 is that even if you’re having a rough day, it’s still a great day on the bike as the trails are that good and the atmosphere around the race is positive and laid back.  My only grudge is that some of the days are under 2 hours which seems like a shame when there is so much more good riding to be had in the areas.  I figure if we’re going to get dressed up to ride our bikes for a day we might as well do that and spend at least the whole morning riding our bikes rather then just a couple hours before breakfast 😉   With the racing over for the day it was time for activity number 2  and 3 on the day, swimming and then exploring the great little community of Revelstoke.

The beauty of the race this year was that you could spend the first half in Golden, then after racing Revelstoke, head straight to Silver Star or Vernon and spend the 2nd half of it there, thus just having to pack up once during race week.  This made things pretty chill and turned the week into a real bike holiday.  

Stage 5 was on the legendary Kalamalka lake course which wound up a pretty epic 1 hour plus climbing trail before an old school, rough and dirty descent back down Big Ed to the lake below.  It’s one of my favourite days of racing in Western Canada as its rough, both physically and technically challenging and ends up at a beautiful lake to swim in.  Unfortunately I opted to sit this day out as my knee injury from BCBR was getting worse everyday and it would consequently torque the back out of joint and lead to some sub par riding abilities.   Pulling out of races is rough but I knew

 

coming into the week that I was rolling the dice. Sometimes it’s smarter to just save it for another day.   I was still stoked though to be along on the journey as the ST6 travelling bike circus is always one of the funner weeks we get on our bikes each year and the bike racing is just part of the overall experience. 

Stege 6 was up at Silver Star resort and took in the newly opened BeWolf trail which is a IMBA style route with endless flowing berms.   I’ve never had a chance to ride it but from the feedback I was getting it was pretty rad as the first descent seemed to go for ever before a pretty chill climbing trail took the riders back up the mountain.  Local hero Evan Guthrie would take the last stage and the overall GC, narrowly beating 45 year old Tomi Misser by just under a minute after the legendary downhiller had held onto the lead all week, demonstrating that age isn’t much of a factor these days. The girls field was very interesting this year with a good battle in the top 6 each day with Jena Greaser taking a convinccing victory while the other girls battled and jockeyed for positions behind all week.  

TransRockies is well known for holding good after parties and this one was no exception as the riders gathered in the alpine village of Silver Star to bullshit and flashback on a great 6 days of riding through the Monashess and Okanagan.  Next year ST6 will take a break as the organizers will be focusing on bringing back the legendary TransRockies Classic.  This race was at one time arguably one of the top 5 stage races in the World as it adventured across the Rocky Mountain valleys and high alpine passes between Panorama and Fernie BC.  With wilderness camps each night and some longer 100 km + courses on a mixture of fire roads, overgrown paths and trails it’s a true adventure through a remote and wild part of Canada.  I’ll be looking forward to this one!  Big shout out to the organizers at TransRockies-Singletrack6 as they have been putting on great events for years and have always taken the time to give back to the local riding communities and helping the local riders get into a a World Class race in there own backyard.

 

Photo Credits to John Gibson @ Gibsonpictures.com

Rock Photo credit: Jean McAllister @darkhorsecompany

Canyon Creek- Golden, BC

BCBR-Canadian XC Nationals

BC Bike Race:

BC Bike Race is always a highlight of the year as we get to race some of the best trails in the World in our own backyard.  This year was no exception as my Kona teammate Kerry Werner and myself tackled the 7 day stage race with 620 other racers which included the deepest field ever of Elite riders.   After winning the race in 2016 and pulling up sick in 2017, my goal this year was to regain the title.  Day 1 in Duncan went pretty well with 8 riders all coming within a couple minutes of the leader, Geoff Kabush.  This set the stage for a battle royal in the coming days.

Stage 2 in Cumberland started with 5 time Cape Epic winner, Karl Platt from Germany, and myself breaking away on the first climb to set a high pace for the day.  The group would come together over the top of the climb before Kabush and I started attacking each  each other which gave us a gap on the rest of the field as we raced about 5-10 seconds apart down the amazing trails in Cumberland.  They were a bit slick from a light rain shower the night before and I hit a slippery slab rock on a steep pitch and went hard into a tree. My bike (Kona Hei Hei) took most the impact while my shoulder took the rest.  Stopping briefly to readjust my brake and shift leaver, the chase group of 3 riders came barreling by down the descent.   On the next climb I would get by them and tried to close the now 30 second gap to Kabush before he hit the last 15 km of trail to the finish as I knew he could open a large gap on us if we weren’t on his wheel.  Unfortunately I came up few seconds short of getting on his wheel, blew up a bit, and would eventually cruise in to claim 5th on the day, nearly 3 minutes down of Kabush.

Stage 3 in Powell River is always a favourite as the 50 km course flows through mossy old growth forests on a new generation network of XC trails. After a rad night of camping near the Ocean we geared up for one of the flatter stages at BCBR.   Karl Platt broke away early from the group as we rode at a steady pace before the one decisive climb up Aloha trail mid race. Pushing the pace up this climb I dropped everyone, then waited briefly for my teammate Kerry and Rocky Mtn ride Quinn Moberg to join in as I figured the 3 of us could work well together to the finish and hopefully put some time into Kabush and the other riders behind.  Unfortunately, Kerry would drop his chain about 10 minutes later and would have to stop to fix it.  With Kabush just 10 seconds behind with some other riders there was no time to stop to wait for Kerry so I opted to keep it pinned and possibly catch up to Platt who was ahead and then be able to team up with him to the finish.  The next 1 hour of racing was hard as Kabush and a couple riders worked well behind to keep the gap at 10-30 seconds while I closed the gap from 2 minutes down to 20 seconds on Platt before rolling in for 2nd on the day. Unfortunately Kabush and the other boys would roll in 9 seconds later which meant I had burnt a pile of matches for not much gain.

Stage 4 is the Queen stage at BCBR as  the course is the most physically demanding heading over 60 km over a mixture of fire roads and trails to Sechelt.  The legs were feeling great this day but after breaking away early without anyone coming along I decided to sit in with the lead group and save all the bullets for a late race attack once everyone was a bit weaker.  With 20 km to go there was a good climb and then the final 10 km included some good single track to the finish which my teammate Kris Sneddon and I had scouted out earlier in the year.  Patiently cruising along, waiting for the final climb, our group of 5 was cruising down a overgrown fireroad at nearly 40 km/hr when I ate shit  It was an easier part of the race and I made the mistake of losing focus a bit.  Not being able to see what was coming due to the riders ahead my pedal clipped a rock and I rocketed over the bars into a rock garden landing hard on my ribs, knee and arm.  My buddy Quinn Moberg sacrificed his race to stop and help me, along with the lead moto that was following our group.  I was pretty sure I had broken some ribs and possibly my knee as blood was coming out and everything was numb.

 It was a full yard sale with my gps, multi tool, sunglasses and energy food all over the place so I started searching around for everything.  Eventually I got back on my bike to find the stem and brake levers all distorted, so after fixing this I started slowly riding to the finish trying to find the fastest way back to town to see a medic.  After a couple minutes of riding the adrenaline really kicked in and the knee loosened up a bit which allowed me to set a steady pace to the finish line which included catching 3 riders and coming in 4th on the day.   From here it was straight to the great Medic team at BCBR to get checked out.  They did an initial clean up and assessment of the wounds and sent me off to the Hospital for a further analysis and stitches.  Patched up, they were guessing a rib was broken, gave me a bunch of pain killers and sent me on my way.  

Stage 5, waking up after a pretty rough sleep I popped a couple more painkillers and headed off to the start line. Now sitting 4th overall, 8 minutes out of the lead and with a bunch of bandages on the wounds it seemed the best days of the race were behind me.  Heading up the first climb the legs actually felt ok so pushing the pace a small breakaway formed with myself, Karl Platt and American Jeremiah Bishop. We worked well together for the first 40 km of the stage before French rider, Francois, amazingly bridged up to us solo from the chase group behind.  It stunned me as he was blown apart at the end of Stage 4 but now he was looking fresher then anyone.  Trying to drop him on the last single track climb before the big decent to the finish, he turned the tables and in turn ended up dropping all of us and going in for a decisive stage victory.  The final descent down to the finish is a classic on this stage and left all us riders grinning ear to ear as we were now headed back to the mainland for the last 2 stages.  

Stage 6 on the North Shore was a short 18 km race on some pretty gnarly trails.  After the big effort the day before, I woke up after a patchy sleep and could hardly walk on my knee or really get out of bed properly with the sore ribs.  It was a survival day and after getting through the stage it was back to Dik’s place in Deep Cove for an afternoon curled up in his basement trying to recoup a bit before the grand finale in Squamish the next day.

Stage 7 in Squamish is always a favourite as the 50 km stage is a mixture of fire road climbs tied into some great trail networks.  It was a tough day in the saddle but I was pretty keen to try and hold onto my 4th place position so I made the effort to stay with 5th place rider Karl Platt for the stage.  We had similar riding styles on the climbs and descents and enjoyed a great ride together to cap off another amazing week of singletrack racing at BCBR.   It was also my birthday and it would be tough to ask for a better party then the one BCBR threw that afternoon and evening to celebrate the end of the race.  Stage 8 went pretty deep into the night before it was time to shut it down and get ready for our Canadian XCO Championships the following weekend in Canmore.  My teammate Kerry had a great first BCBR riding a steady race all week to take 3rd place overall once the dust settled. 

 

Canadian XCO Championships:

After missing the Canadian XCO Championships in Canmore last year due to illness, I was stoked to have the opportunity to race this year.  It’s the one time of year all the top XC riders from Canada get together which makes it pretty fun to be out there training and riding together for the big day.  The race itself  was damn hard as the 4 km course was relentless with a mixture of steep pitchy climbs and technical descents.  It was one of the toughest courses I had ever ridden when you combined the physical and technical aspects over the course of 7 laps.  The pace was full gas from the gun as our top World Cup riders took off with the rest of us in hot pursuit.  Unfortunately I was missing the top gear and would have to settle into a steady endurance pace for the day which doesn’t factor well into these full gas 1.5 hour races.  Riding just inside the top 10 it was still a pretty rad day as the course was lined with friends and family cheering loudly which created a great atmosphere.  With two laps to go I was in no mans land, not quite able to get up to the chase group from 8th-5th, and a big gap to the rider in 10th behind me. Thus it turned into a pretty cruisey ride for the last couple laps in which I soaked in the atmosphere and just enjoyed riding my bike. Rolling in 9th wasn’t quite what I was eyeing up but it capped a solid day on the bike as these short 1.5 hr races are a fair bit different then my specialty of 24 hours. Post race was a party at the finish line as the pressure was off and we enjoyed our endorphin highs under the impressive Rocky Mountains looming above.

On Sunday Mike Charuk and I formed a Kona team for the team relay with two of Canada’s up and coming XC stars, Emily Johnston from Cumberland and Jake Yells from Campbell river.  Both these riders are in the U17 category but wholly shit can they ever ride hard.  The team relay normally conists of 4 riders, but we only had three so I did the first and last laps while the young guns did laps 2 and 3.  I was blown away how fast my teammates were riding so the pressure was on me to not drop the ball on the last lap.  We wound up taking 2nd in our category and 6th overall.  After watching these two ride there is no question the future of Canadian XC racing is looking bright!  Big shout out to Mike Charuk for being such a great coach for these young riders and for organizing our team for this event.  

After the highs of both the BCBR and the Canadian Championships the past two weekends the body shut down pretty hard this past week.   The downtime has been good to finally give the body a small break to heal up and recover from all the hard racing and crashing.  Another Canadian Classic, the 6 day ST6 stage race is set to take off on Saturday in Golden BC.  I’ve been looking forward to this one but at the moment the cards are up in the air on whether the body will be ready in time or if a small break might be smarter to let the wounds fully heal up before the 2nd half of the race year which will include the Canadian Marathon Championships and defending my title at the WEMBO World Solo 24 HR Champ in Scotland 🙂   

Thanks Candace Mihalcheon for the Pictures from MTB Nationals!