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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!       

 

Trans Costa Rica

Trans Costa Rica is a 4 day UCI S2 stage race in its 3rd edition which includes 3 marathon stages and a time trial up a Volcano. Costa Rica is a mountain bikers paradise with its mountainous terrain, tropical climate and very friendly and enthused mountain bike culture. This World Class event is the perfect showcase of what this heavenly country has to offer as the organizers have found a way to bring the emotion of riding a bike through a beautiful setting, combined with one of the highest levels of competition seen anywhere in a North or South American bike race. 

I’ve raced down here on numerous occasions, taking on both the legendary La Ruta de Conquistadors mountain bike race and the UCI 2.2 Vuelta de Costa Rica 12 day road stage race, 3 times each.  It’s one of my favourite countries to pedal a bike in as the cycling culture is huge with only soccer eclipsing it.  It’s also one of the more challenging countries to ride in with some insanely steep climbs, a hot climate, and the potential for epic mud days if it rains and also a very high level of local competition.  I knew it was going to be a humbling experience  with the all-star lineup of riders the organization had lined up for this pure climbers race. But I like the challenges and love Costa Rica, so put my name in the hat!  In the past Costa Rica has had some big problems with doping but this was the first trip down here that I felt I was competing against a clean field as the culture seems to be changing.

Joining 8 other pro riders at a private hotel the organizers had arranged for us was the perfect prep for the race. We showed up a week before the race which gave us a chance to properly acclimatize and get in some training beforehand.  The highlight of the week was travelling with the 7c cycling Team down to the town of Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast to participate in a round of their national Marathon series.  The race was like the Paris Roubaix of Costa Rica as we raced on some rough gravel roads through a very hot and steamy tropical environment.  Most of us foreigners landed in the top 12 which was a great kick off to our trip although we were all pretty dehydrated and destroyed at the finish line.  It seems that 1 race effort is needed in these climates to properly acclimatize so we were all crossing our fingers we’d be set for the Trans Costa Rica to come!

After a few days of rest the big show, the Trans Costa Rica, kicked off on Thursday, May 9th, with a 70 km Marathon stage on the slopes of Poas Volcano.  Close to 200 riders tackled this challenging course with some of the best climbers in the World present from Columbia, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Switzerland, Norway, Guatemala, all the top Costa Ricans, and myself, not one of the World’s greatest climbers, but the current World Solo 24 HR champion.   I knew I was in over my head so decided to set a diesel pace from the start.  The first climb was around 20% gradient and the crazy mountain goats  sprinted up it like their lives depended on it. I set my watts at 450, and soon found myself in about 50th position.  It was shocking how crazy everyone was going but then the firework show started as riders started detonating themselves one by one.  I was confused why so many of these guys decided to blow themselves up 5 km into a 70 km stage with over 2500 m of climbing but it was amusing to watch and good for me!

Poas Volcano is a training playground for many of the local Costa Rican riders as it has numerous paved roads navigating over its slopes, offering some great climbing practice as the elevation changes from 900 M to 2600 at the top.  I have trained a lot on the Volcano myself but nothing compared to the course we were riding on this day as the organizers had us racing through coffee plantations, down slippery single tracks up crazy steep dirt roads and down some rowdy washed out descents through the jungle foliage.  Between the epic climbs and rough descents we would break out into some openings with gorgeous views of the Central valley, 1000 meters below as well as both Volcano Poas and Barva staring straight down on us.  

The racing was tough as there was nowhere to rest, but also very engaging as the field was super deep, which meant you were always battling with another rider.  Having started out slow I had the joy of catching riders one by one.  Some of these riders really didn’t like getting passed and would ride out of there comfort zones to try and battle me as long as they could, often sprinting ahead only to blow up again.  In a race with so much tough climbing it was important to pace oneself as once you blow up in this type of environment there is no coming back!

Crossing the finish line in a sprint for 8th with local star Paolo Montoya was a great cap to day 1 of the Trans Costa Rica.  My goal coming into the race was a top 15 so I was stoked to be top 10 but also realized that I had set the bar pretty high as a few of the other top riders had troubles this day.  The finish line was at the Doka Coffee plantation which provided a great smelling and relaxing atmosphere on the slopes of Poas.  Everything about the race was super pro which I think impressed a lot of the riders as often you only get this sort of treatment at races like the Cape Epic or some of the top end stage races in Europe. 

Stage 2 was a 14 km time trial up the slopes of Volcano Barva with riders leaving every 30 seconds, except for the top 10 which had 1 minute gaps.  I usually don’t ride by a wattage meter but figured I’d give it a go this day.  The legs felt amazing and the watts were reading 450 which was crazy high but I figured I’d ride this high tempo as long as I could sustain.  Pretty soon, 1 rider passed me, then another, and I then I began wondering how this was possible.  If I was pushing 450 watts they must’ve been doing over 500!  As a 3rd rider nearly passed me I finally quit looking at the power meter and started going by feel again, now the meter was reading 500 + watts, way over my level, but now I started to suffer and felt like I was racing again.  Apparently the power meter was malfunctioning, so I turned it off and then and rode a normal race to the top of the Volcano.  It was a tough go with some insanely steeps pitches, roads that you just hoped you could get up, let alone race them.   The last few km of the race we rode into a thick rainy cloud, got drenched, hit the finish line, then turned around to b-line it back to the hotel before we froze up to badly.  Half way home our group of 3 hid out for 20 minutes as a proper Costa Rican monsoon moved in turning the roads into rivers.  It’s amazing how quickly the climates turn down here but thankfully it is generally a warm wet, so there is nothing to really worry about.  It seemed I’d end up drenched everyday down here, if not from a rainstorm then from just sweating my butt off in the warm humidity!

 

Stage 3 was the Queens stage as it took in 72 km and nearly 3000 M of climbing in the surrounding mountains of Costa Rica’s Central Valley.  The start was at 6am as they were afraid the heat would be an issue this day with the course dropping down to near sea level.  Instead, another rain storm moved in and we started the race wet and slightly chilled as we tackled the insane climb up to Rancho Macho.  This climb is legendary as the road points straight up into the sky with some pitches over 30% and even our mountain bike tires would spin out on the wet pavement if we weren’t careful.  It’s one of the Worlds wonders as to how they ever paved this thing in the first place!  Again the idea wasn’t to really race up these pitches but to rather just get up them. We would ride straight up as far as we could and then would need to start doing the paper boy move (switch-backing back and forth across the road) to get up there without going to deep into the red zone.  After this rude awakening to the day we hit the top of the climb and were soon sliding our ways back down the mountain on a muddy and rutted out double track.  In some places it was so steep all you could do was manage your sliding speed, bouncing in and out of ruts and holding on for dear life.

There we numerous crashes, but the farther we went down the easier it was to slow down as our bikes became engulfed in mud making it difficult for the wheels to rotate.  Crossing a river at the bottom looked more like a bike wash station as 6 of us stood there giving our bikes a bath so they could somewhat function on the next climb.    The day turned into a a proper Costa Rican back-country adventure as we pushed our bikes up some steep climbs and then surfed them back down the slimy descents.  Toss in some more Costa Rican ramps of 30% + gradients and it turned into a real trudge to the finish line in El Rodeo.  With a stage time of 4 hours to come in the top 20, it wasn’t the longest day on the bike, but every kilometer in these environments you had to work for with little time to rest!  The biggest challenge outside of the mud were the humid conditions which had us white guys sweating like fountains.  I was lucky to have support from my friends, Ronald Jimenez, and Henry Perez as well as the 7C Cycling team, which meant I had bottles waiting every 10-15 km of the race.  It was one of the first times I’ve never been dehydrated in a race down here as I would go through a bottle every half hour of the race. 

Being early in the year and trying to build up for the World Solo 24HR , I decided to ride to and from each stage of the race.  It was a great way to warm up and cool down for each stage with pit stops at Sip for frozen smoothie bowls being the highlight of the day as we tried to keep the energy levels topped up and our core temperatures in check!

One of the battles of stage racing in foreign countries is trying to get the proper rest and diet in-between stages.  The diet in Costa Rica was not a problem with so many fresh fruits, veggies and a carb heavy diet readily available. The fresh papayas, pineapples and mangoes were the highlights!  Rest was also good for us at the Casa Primo but unfortunately my roommate had come down with a sickness so it was making for some rough nights.  After 2 near sleepless nights I made the call to change things up as 3 nights in a row of bad sleeps is when problems start to arise.  Luckily I have good buddies in Costa Rica and the Kona dealer, Paulo Valle came over later in the evening to take me to his house for a solid night’s sleep.  After 8 hours of rest I awoke with a new freshness, ate a bowl of oatmeal and papaya for breakfast, then threw on my pack to ride to the start.  It was a bit of a maze of a 15 km ride but I managed to get there just in time to hit the start line with the 400 other riders for the final stage of the Trans Costa Rica.  

With the 2 race helicopters hovering overhead we took off on a faster rolling course with just under 2000 meters of climbing over the 72 km stage.  Rolling out in such a big group is always sketchy as a lot of riders from farther back will swarm the front jockeying for position as we pace ourselves behind the neutral role out car.  At one point a big ball of chicken wire got wound up in one guys back wheel, essentially ending his ride as his bike skidded to a stop at 35 km/hr. Thankfully we all stayed upright and soon the road pitched up to 20% allowing the race to start as the field blew into pieces.  After having a couple rougher days I was a bit hesitant to how the legs were going to go this day and opted to save energy and draft off the back of the lead 30 rider pack.  This idea was a poor one as we soon hit some single track and I would get stuck behind some pretty sketchy riders, losing over a 1 minute to the leaders.  From here it was into chase mode as I could see the race helicopter hovering over the lead group just over the next hill, but they were likely flying which makes it pretty damn hard to close any gaps at this level.  Ripping through a Mango orchard there were yellow mangos littered all over the course with their juicy insides flying everywhere.  What was a bit dangerous were the solid green mangoes still hanging from the trees which would bounce off our helmets like rocks. At one point a branch from a Mango tree hooked onto my helmet snapping my head back until it luckily breaking off before giving me any serious whiplash.  

This stage was a nice relief from the previous climbing fests as there were a few flat parts in the course as we raced through farmer’s fields, past coffee plantations and on a few sections of purpose built single track.  Zipping past riders 1 by 1 I soon found myself in the chase group with a bunch of Latin Americas top racers including Lico and Pauolo Montoya from Costa Rica, Guatemala’s National champ, Johnathon De Leon, and a previous Columbian National champ.  I had never been this far up in a Latin American race so it was rad to ride with these guys but soon I found the pace a bit slow, so increased the tempo on a climb with only Paulo managing to match it.  From here we worked well together picking off a few more riders and eventually found ourselves in 5th and 6th in the race.  With just 15 km to go, the battle was on for a top 5!  We hit a big climb together, I tried to ride him off my wheel but he was a bit stronger on the day and would instead drop me just before the top as we hit a huge crowd.   What we experienced next was out of this World. A huge crowd had assembled on top of the KOM making basically one big mosh pit as we chased each other through it.   There were smoke bombs going off, guys throttling chainsaws by our legs, people throwing ice water around and the pure utter chaos of people yelling and making noise however they could.  I was starting to crack but the energy uplifted my body into an extra 100 watts for a few minutes before cresting the climb and then realizing that I had just ridden way over my limits I was now going to pay for it.  

5 km from the line, Spanish rider Josep Betalu would fly by me but I managed to dig deep to hold onto him and eventually we sprinted for the line with myself grabbing 7th just ahead of him.  It was an epic finish as we rolled into a bull fighting stadium full of crowds, media, a big expo and lots of crazy Tico action.  It was the icing on the cake to what had been a World Class event racing in one of earth’s most amazing geographical areas.  The race is the result of a couple whose passion is cycling and who have put their hearts and souls into the event.  I have raced against one of the organizers Da,x Jaikel, many times and it’s these kinds of guys that have a deep love for cycling that know exactly how to put on a race and what the racers like.  His wife Adriana and he make an amazing team and it is going to be exciting to watch this race grow in the years to come! 

Post-race the adrenaline was still flying so after a couple hours relaxing with the other riders I hopped on the bike to ride back to San Jose.  The direct route was 45 km on the highway, but that would be sketchy so I took the scenic way on the winding roads further up the Volcano slopes.  The first part of the ride was great but after 50 km I started to crack and at the same time a huge thunderstorm moved in drenching me in seconds and turning the roads into rivers with crazy lightning flashing about.   I hid out with a couple local bikers for 45 minutes but soon had to step out and brave the storm as the sun goes down early in this part of the World and I had no lights.  The other problem was that my phone was now wet and unusable meaning I had lost my navigation back through the maze of roads to San Jose.  It was a bit of a guessing game but I would eventually roll back to the hotel 3.5 hrs after starting this cool down ride, drenched and famished but with a big grin on my face after what had been a pretty epic past 2 weeks of training and racing in Costa Rica!  Next years dates for the Trans Costa Rica are April 30, May 1-3! 

 

Huge thanks to Dax and Adriana for putting on this race and for inviting us down for an unforgettable experience.  Also to The 7 C Cycling team for welcoming us on board and treating us like royalty for 2 weeks. To Henry Perez and Mario for the feed zone support.  To my buddie Paulo Valle for the in country support and great rides between races and of course to my Costa Rican Family, Ronald & Angela, for the home away from home.  Also to Kona Bikes for the ongoing support and  for developing such a great hard tail bike (Kona Honzo) for any conditions!  Off to Canada to kick off the season there before continuing the build up to 24 HR Worlds in Brazil,  with the 200 mile Dirty Kanza followed up with 2 weeks of racing and training up at altitude in Mexico.

Over and Out!

Trans Costa Rica photo credits: Josue Fernandez

 

 

Costa Rica UCI Marathon- Trans Costa Rica

Popping down to Costa Rica after the Whiskey 50 in Arizona was a bit of a homecoming after having spent so much time in the country from 2007-2015.  My buddy, Paulo Valle, who is the Kona Rep down here picked me up at the airport and off into the Latino culture we went.  The first stop was at the Chiropractor to try and get my back sorted out as it locked up good at the Whiskey 50.  Paulo dropped me off at his guy and I got cracked like never before.  At one point the Chiro yanked as hard as he could on my head pulling my spine straight, probably lengthening it a good couple inches.   The next two days I was pretty sore but my body felt back in tune. Next up we took off on a couple rides to acclimatize in the tropical environment.  One day on the roads of the central valley and another day on some rad jungle single track up in the mountains.  The trails down here are rad as they are basically tunnels through the jungle foliage which is very similar to Jurassic Park.

After a couple chill days up in the mountains, Paulo dropped me off back in San Jose to join 8 other Pro riders from Europe and Columbia that Dax Jaikel and the Trans Costa Rica had invited down to race.  They have us set up in a small boutique hotel with chefs, support staff, and a masseuse for two weeks as we prepare for one of the Americas premier stage races, the 4 day UCI Trans Costa Rica from May 9-12.  We’ve been treated like royalty and can’t say enough about how much this group from the Trans Costa Rica is doing for the state of mountain biking in there country. 

This past Saturday we drove down to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast to take part in the Copa Endurance UCI Marathon series in a very hot a humid part of the country. Dax and the TransCosta Rica team organized the trip and had us staying in some sweet lodges in the jungle the night before the race.  This was the real Costa Rica that we all dream about as we all shifted into tourist mode for the night. For dinner we dined on Casados, Costa Rica’s typical food consisting of rice, beans, salad, plantains and either fish or chicken.  Race morning came early and soon we were at the start line with nearly 400 racers to tackle a fast 82 km course on some Paris Roubaix style roads with lots of cobbles and some rolling hills.  

It was a road race on mountain bikes as the large lead group slowly dwindled from the hundreds down to around 25 as we hit the final 35 km of the course which included some nasty short climbs.  The weather had been tolerable for the first half of the race but now the sun was scorching down and the max humidity had us all dripping like leaky faucets.  After a rough Whiskey 50 it was a pleasant surprise to be riding without back pain and the legs were firing surprisingly well for one of the first race efforts after a huge winter of dieseling around the Himalayas. The race was getting tough though as riders started attacking every steep climb, which came at us one after another like a series of max effort intervals.   Every descent we’d try to recover the best we could for 20-30 seconds before sprinting up the next wall.  This is the pain cave we racers live for although the first session of these efforts every year is damn tough!  

The lead group eventually dwindled down to 15 riders when a couple Ticos ahead of me overshot a corner, leading myself astray into the ditch. Luckily I kept the bike (Kona Honzo) upright but had to scramble back up to the road losing the lead group.  Chasing hard the gap came from 20-10 seconds but then sat there for quite a while as I was at the limit with no more gears in the legs.  Then came a tough decision as I came around the corner to a feedzone with 25 km to go.  Out of water I knew I should stop but it would also end my chances of catching back to the lead group.  Thus I aborted the effort to find water and sprinted hard to latch onto the leaders.

 

Once there my buddy Ole from Norway gave me a sip of his water but in the back of my head I new I had just made a kamikaze move as I was already dehydrated and racing another 45 minutes plus in the 37 degree jungle heat wasn’t going to end well without H2O.  I was a ticking time bomb and 5 km later my race in the lead group came to and end as my fuse ran out.  With 15 km to go the challenge was now to get to the finishline before any of the 380 racers behind me caught back up.  A couple Ticos from the 7C team did catch me and we would roll into together for #’s 10,11 and 12 on the day.  It was a rough last few km but having some company helped ease the pain of riding through some intense dehydration.  To save the day, Frans one of the support staff from 7C got me an ice cold bottle of water from his motorbike which was engulfed in 1 sip and helped ease the rough trudge to the finish.  It was weird as the body went from sweating profusely to nothing, and then to goose bumps.  It probably wasn’t a good sign but thankfully the race wasn’t crazy long.

All in all it was a pretty rad experience to race so hard through such a unforgiving environment in Costa Rica.  It was shocking how quickly the body went from feeling fine to barely surviving. Apparently the jungle environment isn’t very kind to a Canadian who’s used to riding around in the frozen mountains of Nepal and Canada!

After the race we got even more dehydrated as we tried to each lunch in the open air hotel dining room.  I went through two t-shirts and probably 3 litres of water while trying to get in some recovery calories.  Eventually we made the escape to a AC filled car as I joined my co patriot from Canada, Mathiue on the drive back over the volcanos to our base camp in San Jose.  The day after the race, Mathiue, Ole and I decided to treat ourselves to a 4 hour trail ride in one of Costa Rica’s mountain bike parks in Ciudad Colon.  It was rad, but left us dehydrated again and in need of a couple rest days. 

 

After 2 days of rest we are rehydrated and ready for Tommorow as we start the big one at the Trans Costa Rica!  Go go climbing legs 🙂

 

Pura Vida!   

2019 Calendar

The 2019 race schedule is shaping up into a solid one.
 
After a great winter of training over in Nepal and surrounding countries the season is now focused around North and South America.  The idea is to keep the time zone changes to a minimum as the focus will be to transform the huge base built in the Himalayas into race form, tackling some Western Canadian classics a couple tough stage races in Central America and the 200 mile Dirty Kanza.  July-August will be prime time with the 24 HR World Solo Championships down in Brazil followed with some stage racing and the Canadian Marathon Championships in September.  After this the focus will shift to some adventurous stage races over seas to cap off the season.  Diversity has been key to keeping the mind and body motivated over the years and this year is no exception with the race split across a variety of disciplines:
 
6+- MTB Stage Races
5- Marathons
2- Short BC Style Marathons
2- Gravel road races
1- 24HR MTB race
1- Short Track
1- XCO?
 
 
Feb 13-16 Samarathon Desert UCI S2 (Israel) 
March 9 Walling 100 (Nepal)
April 26-28- Whisky 50 ST and XCM
May 5- Costa Rica Marathon UCI 
May 9-12:  Trans Costa Rica UCI S2
May 25- Nimby 50 (Pemberton, BC)
June 1- Dirty Kanza (Kansas, USA)
June 7,8,9- Race A-Xcross Hidalgo (Mexico)
June 15- Spakuwas (Squamish)
June 16- Ghost of the Gravel (Alberta)
June 29,30- Okanagan24 
July 5-11: BCBR ? Or Climbduro (Alberta)
July 27-28: 24HR Worlds (Brazil)
August: Breck Epic + Leadville or Mongolia Bike Challenge
Sept 7: USA World Cup?
Sept 14: Canadian Marathon Champs (Quebec)
Sept 26-29: Epic Israel ?
Oct: ?
Nov: Yak Attack?
 
 
 

Samarathon Desert (Israel)

Israel is a Middle Eastern country of 8.7 million people located on the shores of the Mediterranean sea.  It has a predominantly Jewish population and is regarded as the biblical Holy Land.  Racing a bike in Israel has been on my to do list for a long time as I have heard many conflicting stories about this country which has had more then its share of conflict since its independence in 1948.  Riding a bike around a country is my favourite way to feel its heartbeat and stage races specifically allow us to get deep into the countryside without having to think too hard.

The 4 day UCI Samarathon Desert was a great way to see the southern Arava desert of Israel. Their organization has built a great event which allowed us riders to just show up, shut off our minds and ride our bikes through a very beautiful part of the World.  Joining 300 other riders in the event’s 5th year, we covered nearly 230 km through the desert with close to 40% being on nice single track.  Coming from Canada we are spoiled with the trails we have, but I was definitely impressed with the quality of riding that was offered to us in Israel.  The scenery was pretty epic as well, with cliffs, canyons, sand dunes and some great views of the mountains of Jordan in the distance. 

Race wise my partner, Soren Nissen from Luxembourg, and I weren’t too sure what to expect with our early season form, especially with the field being full of Israelis top XC racers.  Rolling into the 20 km prologue we were both pretty tired after a huge effort just to get to the start line.  My trip had taken 3 

days from Pokhara, Nepal and was highlighted by 2 delayed flights, a missed flight, 48 hours hanging out in Katmandu and eventually a 2 am arrival in Jerusalem. The next day we went on an 8 hour tourist trip down to the race start near Eliat.  At one point we rode out into the desert to visit a local Bedouin family.  The Bedouins are desert dwellers who are generally Arab Nomads.  A lot of them are urbanized now but make a living showing off their traditional ways of life such as camel riding and desert camping.  It would be cool to come back and explore this part of the culture a bit more one day as living in the desert seem like quite a tough existence.

In the prologue I did my best to stick to Soren’s wheel as we had to pass over 15 teams as we were given one of the last start positions in the time trial format.  The course was a ribbon of smooth single track through a very rocky and unforgiving desert terrain.  Luckily we escaped unscathed but lost over a minute on the Israeli leaders, signalling that the days ahead were going to be a tough battle.  After the stage we were told it was just 25 km back to camp, and there would be a tailwind, so we opted to ride.  It ended up being closer to 40 km, mostly into a headwind which left us both dehydrated and with some hunger pains.  The scenery was amazing though with the mountains of Jordan to the east and a high desert plateau leading to Egypt on the right.  This part of the country was really skinny with just 50 km

Credit: Zack Uchovsky

separating the 3 countries!

Heading to Stage 2 we missed the bus transfer back to the start as we thought it was 6:15 am not 6am.  At 6 we had loaded our bikes and then went back to our tents to gather a few things.  Returning at 6:15 we found all the busses had left so hitch-hiked with the Samarathon media team.  Unfortunately our bikes didn’t get unloaded with the other racers at the race start and were now on a bus headed towards Egypt.  Thankfully one of the volunteers chased the bus down and got us our bikes just before the race start!  

This day the race started with a big climb up to a desert plateau at 500 meters.  I set the pace dropping everyone except the Israeli team in the leaders jerseys.  Soren sat back and analyzed the situation.  He told me the Israelis had struggled to hold my wheel so we made a tactic that I would attack going into the next single track and he would sit at the front letting the gap grow.  He would then attack and bridge over to me.  This tactic worked brilliantly except once Soren caught back up he started to cramp up really good allowing the Israelis to close the gap again.  The riding this stage was awesome as we rode some trails on the edge of a ridge overlooking the dry desert below.  It was a very dry climate but the temperatures were perfect for racing, sitting in the low twenties.   Towards the end of the stage Soren and I would break away from our Israeli competitors and put 4 minutes into them by the finish to overtake the pink leader jerseys. The highlight of the stage was the final single track climb to the finish which switch backed its way out of a box canyon. This was also the KOM of the day in which there was a side competition to see who the best male and female climbers were on the day. A Russian rider won the overall, although I’m sure Soren would’ve claimed it if he hadn’t stuck with me as a good teammate.

Once back at camp we settled into our Villa camp on the edge of a small lake in Timna Park.  It was a real oasis in the desert with beautiful rock walls surrounding us.  The restaurant on site served some great food for us racers and showed off why Israeli cuisine is so popular around the World.  The highlights were the Shakshuka, hummus, tahini and falafels- although pretty much anything after a long day of racing generally tastes good. The awards ceremonies in the evenings were entertaining events with one of the race organizers, Nimi, putting on a bit of a comedy show and the pictures of the day would allow us to see just what beauty we had missed while our heads were down pushing our pedals as hard as we could.  The awards would often go past 9pm, and the race days would start with 4:45-5 am wake up calls.  This combination led to some short nights!  I guess this is why the race slogan was “Ride hard, live Harder!”  Being a 24 hour racer these short nights probably played into our favour as I’m used to riding tired while Israeli’s XC racers are likely used to being a bit better rested!.

Stage 3 was the Queen’s stage and took us 85 km across a desert plateau before dropping down a cool canyon and then on some rough river beds back to the race finish.  This part of the race felt pretty wild and let us really soak in the outback of the desert.  We extended our lead a couple minutes  as the Israelis crashed at one point while trying to follow our wheels.  Being the polite Canadian I started to ease up to let them catch back up but Soren reminded me that they had refused to stop for a pee break earlier in the stage when things were calm.  Coming from a road racing background,  if the jersey leaders aren’t respected in the peloton then they will put the hammer down later on if things go sideways. He was right so we took off and we had 6 motivated Israelis trying to chase us down into a nasty headwind.  I was suffering this day but Soren single handedly held off the charging Israelis while I went cross eyed just trying to hold his wheel.  At the finish we were both pretty spent as we weren’t just battling the race but we had also both picked up a small flu bug somewhere in the previous days.

Credit Yoav Lavi

It was a rough night as we both got sicker and the early morning wakeup at 4:45 came much too early.  Going to breakfast there were only 10 other people there out of 300 riders which probably signalled we weren’t the only ones struggling with the early mornings.   With a 5 minute GC lead we had some time to play with but the 52 km final stage was suited for the punchier Israeli XC riders.  The Israelis got away from us on one of the early climbs but Soren would set the pace on the fire road sections and myself on the single track, which kept the gap from growing to big.  A few spectators on course would tell

Credit: Yoav Lavi

us the gap was 3-4 minutes, we think just too stress us out, when in reality it was just between 1-2 minutes. The riding this day was amazing as it was on a new purpose built single track through Tinma Park.  They sure have put a lot of work into the riding in the desert and it was a real treat to race on.  Rolling into the finish in 3rd, just over 2 minutes down of the leaders, meant we had successfully held onto our Pink leader jerseys and taken the title at this UCI S2 ranked stage race!  What a great way this was to kick off the year! It certainly wasn’t an easy victory, but that makes it that much sweeter.

The action didn’t stop the days after the race as time was spent in the city of Tel Aviv, and of course riding.  Tel Aviv is on the Mediterranean Coastline and is the country’s economic and technological hub.  It is also party central and has a 24 hour lifestyle.  We were pretty tuckered out from the race so settled on some more relaxing activities.  I tried a recovery ride on the coastal bike path but this turned into one of the sketchiest rides of the year as it was littered with out of control e-bikers and e-scooters.  Old men with beer bellies would overtake me and glare down as if to ask why I was going so slowly.  Because I’m actually peddling my bike while you guys have your e-bikes set up so you don’t 

even have to touch the pedals!  I was thankful to make it back to the hotel intact.  In the evening my friend Yoram picked me up to take me up to his farm in Northern Israel for a few days of riding in the Carmel mountains. It was interesting how different the environment was up there with lots of greenery and rolling hills.  

To cap off the trip Yoram, teamed up with a local Kona dealer Erez Golan to take us on the famous “Sugar trail” from Jerusalem down to the lowest place on earth at the Dead sea which is -430 M below sea level! It was a sweet ride as he flowing single track went past Mosques and some Bedouin settlements. One of the coolest things was to see the relationship that our Israeli hosts had with some Palestinians in the area as I have heard so much about their conflicts in the media.   To finish the day off Erez hosted us for a night of Steaks in which he BBQ’d up 5 different delicious cuts and opened up a cooler full of beers and champagne.  The hospitably of our Israeli friends is what truly made this trip one for the ages.

Credit Zack Uchovsky

 

The days in Israel ended by getting combed over by the tight Israeli airport security.  This was the toughest security I’ve ever gone through as they took everything apart and even took my bike pump as they were afraid it was a weapon.   I escaped before they had time to probe me as I’m sure that was next. Now back in Nepal It’s time to rest up a bit before the next adventure up in the Himalaya’s as this trip to Israel was a tiring one.  My mind is full of great memories, especially from the Samarathon Desert which reminded me a lot of the laid back atmosphere we have at the BC Bike race and Singletrack 6 in Canada.  I’ll be crossing my fingers for a chance to return to the Holy Land again someday soon!.

Credit Yoav Lavi