This years Canadian Marathon Championships took place on a rather short but very challenging 62 km course in arguably Canada’s capital of xc singletrack riding, Squamish BC. The course designed by race organizer Dwayne Kress and his crew was a tour of some of the highlight trails intertwinded with a bit of fireroad to mix it up.
The night before the race I opted for a solo camping mission along one of Squamish’s fireroads. Hiking 2 minutes into the woods finding a stellar campsite pitched on a 20 ft cliff overlooking a small river down below. With a mossy forest flooring, the sound of rushing water and some fresh air this made for a great nights rest. The next morning I woke up and hiked down to the river for a chilly dip. This was is better than any cup of caffeine and immediately shook all the cob webs out of the system. When I got out of the water I looked up to see a race official on the other side of the river setting up the start finish arch. This was great to find out camp was just 300 ft from the startline and made for easy preps. It was just a short wade across the river t0 the race start and I could easily return to camp for last minute preps.
From the get go it was evident a tight race was going to be on hand as a number of Canada’s top XC riders were on the start line including Canadian XCO Champ Geoff Kabush, holder of 12 National Titles (8 xc, 4 cyclocross) and fresh off back to back 12th place finish at the World Cups. My teammate Kris Sneddon and I new he would be a force and had a plan layed out to give Kona its best chance at glory on the day. Early on we would set the pace breaking apart the elite pack into a group of 5 including rising xc stars Evan Guthrie, Evan Mcneely and Kabush. It became clear that the two Evans were already getting stretched thin, and that Kabush had no interest in taking any pulls or doing work at the front of the group. Kabush is a tactical racer and he was already pulling some strings to get the race in his favour.
To counter this I launched a mini attack up the first climb, with Sneddon letting the gap go, causing Kabush to chase. We would get a small gap coming out of the first singeltrack section onto a fireroad in which again he just sat on my wheel claiming to be tired and not willing to work. I sat up, waited for the other 3 and then we would cruise the fireroad for 10-15 min before hitting the next patch of singletrack, this time Kris going off the front. This worked great with Kabush having to burn a few more matches chasing back up. Just as he caught Kris half way up the 25 min legacy climb, I also caught on and went off the front again, dropping Kris and stretching Kabush thin. Again he would catch my wheel as we headed down the Angry Midget decent and back onto a fireroad in which he would just sit there on my wheel. Going into the next singletrack he launched off my wheel and attacked, and slowly pulled away using is technically superior skills. Not long later Kris would come by on a long descent, this was no surprise as he has had his A++ trail riding skills this summer already claiming victory at both the BC Bike Race and Singetrack 6.
For the next 45min-1hr the race would stay this way with Kabush leading, Kris 45 secs back, and myself another 45 secs back. Mentally this was a tough time as those guys were out of sight and we were riding a lot of technical trail really hard. All I could do was hang on and try not to lose any more time at best. Thoughts started going through my head that this wasn’t going to be my day and I started comforting myself by making up excuses that the course was just too short and too technical for my abilities and that 3rd place was still very solid against these two.
This lasted for a few minutes until I got angry at myself for thinking this way, got out of the saddle sprinted all out for 30 seconds to get the adrenaline firing, sprayed water across my face, essentially trying everything to snap out of this negative mindset. I cursed a couple times and then put every once of energy into the pedals to at least stay close to these guys so I would have a chance to real them in on the next climb or in case they blew up or mechnicaled. Going through the last feed the gap was still around the same, with 15 km left to go it wasn’t looking very bright but once I hit the legendary 5 pt climb everything changed as I looked up 3 switchbacks to see a labouring Kabush.
This lit a fire under my ass, catching him at the top was a huge rush and it quickly became evident he had blown through all his matches and was a very hurting man. Not too long after I started to catch glimpses of my teammate Kris which was suprising as we were going through a long singltrack section. This alerted me that he must also be running thin on matches and I told myself to just chill and not make any mistakes in the next bit of trails. After that there was about 4 km of fire road in the last 6km of the race which I was confident I would have the leg power to outride him at this stage of the race. Once on the fire road I caught up to Kris and charged past him. Getting about a minute gap on the small climb was just enough to allow me to cruise the last section of trail and then sprint home on an all time high of adrenaline and endorphins to defend my National title and earn the right to wear the Maple Leaf for another year!
If there was one race all year I wanted to win it was this one. With the shorter distance, technical course, and level of riders showing up to contest for the jersey there were a lot of question marks. If I started thinking about it too much it would’ve been easy to mentally lose the race before it started. Instead the lead up to the weekend was perfect which boosted the confidence that this thing was winnable if all the cards played out right and I had some luck. Too boot I had my Kona Hei Hei Supreme dialed in which was the perfect bike for the rough course.
Growing up Kabush was a rider I looked up to as he was always down to earth, approachable, stood for clean racing and hauled ass! Too this day I have the upmost respect for him, for what he has accomplished and for going through the dark doping era as what seems to be one of the few clean riders who was at the top. He pushed through this dark time in the sport and to this day has been dominating the North American racing scene and preaching the “Race Clean ideology.” It was hard having him sit on conserving his energy in this race and then having him launch a massive attack, but that’s bike racing and Kabush is well known for being one of the wisest most tactical racers out there. Luckily Kris and I had a plan coming in and stuck too it. It worked out great for both of us and it was a full team effort to finish 1-2 again this year once the dust settled. It was the same picture last year as Kris and I road away from the field working together to build a massive lead and then opted to sprint it out. It’s a bummer there can’t be two winners in some races but when it comes down to business we both know we will play fair and fight it down to the line once we have tried to work over the rest of the field.
After the race we had big plans to head up to Whistler to watch the finale of CrankWorx but after the dust settled it seemed wiser to chill around Squamish for the evening to let the day soak in over a couple ciders and another peaceful night in the woods. The rest of the weekend was rad going on cruisy spin with the Balance point crew, burgers in Whistler with Neal Kindree, a trip to Kona USA to re-supply for the next round of races, a night with Dik and his family in North Van, a North Shore ride and then a nice boat cruise back to Victoria to recharge for some fall time adventures oversees!
Huge thanks to Ryan Edwards, Ruedi Schnyder, and Spencer Paxson for the feed zone support.