Double Header: Spakwus 50- Ghost of the Gravel

This past wednesday I woke up to the news that one of my best friends in the World racing circuit had passed away while racing in Sri Lanka.  Nepals National XC Champion, Narayan Gopel was swept off a damn while leading the race and drowned in the river below.  This news brought me to the ground in tears as he was a Brother close to my heart. He rose from one of the most difiicult situations in this world and worked as hard as anyone I ever met to get where he was.  This was climaxed with him winining the Nepal Championships this year, a long time dream and one most well deserved.  He brought a light to World wherever he went with his endless laughter, positive nature and smile that kept us all in good spirits.  Life’s not fair sometimes and the fact Narayan was taking away from this World at the young age of 33 wasn’t right.  The only escape from the pain of losing him was on my bike the next few days as otherwise my head would fill with emotion as I was on the edge of slipping into a depressive state. 

Having a double header race weekend on deck, unpacking from one trip and getting ready for 3 weeks of training in the Rockies, there was alot happening.  My head wasn’t in it as I was starting to question the way this World worked.  I figured I better get my ass out there and pedal my heart out for Narayan this weekend as I know he would’ve done the same for me if the positions were reversed.  Narayans death was a reminder this World can change in a heartbeat and that we shouldn’t take any day for granted as any day can be our last.

Saturday: Sp’akw’us 50- (Squamish, BC) 

It was an emotional ride at round #4 of the BC Marathon series in Squamish.   Spakwus 50 is the replacement race to the legendary Test of Metal and brought nearly 600 riders too the startline.  Dwayne Kress is known for putting on great races and this one was no exception with nearly 40 km of the best trails Squamish had to offer.  I went to the front 15 minutes into the race and thought “sorry boys but this race is for my brother Narayan”. From that point I upped the tempo on the first climb until everyone was dropped and then kept on the gas..  This ride was for Narayan and my body and mind went into autopilot for the rest of the day.  I didn’t know most the trails I was riding nor did I have much rest in the days before the race but the emotions took over.  During the ride all I thought about were the good times with my brother Narayan and how he would’ve done anything to have a chance to race in Canada one day.    That day won’t come, but I took this one for Narayan and soluted him at the finish line as I know he was watching from above.   

 

Intermission:

After the race my buddy Dave Vunic and I had a bit of time to get to the airport to catch my 7 pm flight, but we got stuck in the increasingly sluggish Vancouver traffic.  Pulling up to the airport at 6:11, Dave took off for the Ferry and I packed my bike in a record time of 3 minutes and then rushed to get checked in. West Jet is great to fly with, leenent when need be and they don’t charge for carrying a bike anymore which is pretty rad.  My friend Wayne Worobec picked me up at the Calgary airport @ 10 pm and then it was off to Cochrane to change tires on my Kona gravel bike, fill some bottles and prep for the 120 km Ghost of the Gravel.  After a patchy 5 hour sleep it was up and off to Water Valley, Alberta to sign in and get ready for day 2 of the doubleheader.  

Sunday: Ghost of the Gravel- (Water Valley, AB)

The legs felt like lead for the fist hour as the 240 rider field quickly dwindled down to 8-10 riders.  The roads were really fast but also had a fair bit of climbing in it which made things tough.   American Pro roadie Phil Gaimon was in town as a guest rider as his sponsor Cannonade was a big supporter of the race.  I heard through the grape vine he was talking about just going for a hard ride with us and showed up without race numbers on.    I was a bit confused when he kept going to the front and drilling it but figured it was just part of his “hard ride” tactic. There was a KOM early on which Evan Bayer sprinted for and then we went into a bit of a twisty and slippery descent.  It was rad as I finally had a chance to show off the handling skills of my new gravel  bike from Kona and dropped everyone except Andrew Davidson and Alberta mountain biker Issacc Niles.  Phil would claw back on with Evan on the next climb and we would continue a pretty hard pace with the 5 of us taking turns at the front.   Mid race Phil would blow the field apart through a couple of steep rollers.  We did our best to catch him but he was riding strong.

 

Eventually it was just Alberta Road Champion, Andrew, and myself working together trying to bring down the 30 second gap to Phil.  We could gain on the flats but he would pull away a little every climb.  The fact we were both rolling wide treaded cyclo cross tires while Phil was on smooth rolling road tires definitely didn’t help our cause.  I was surprised just how smooth these Albertan gravel roads were.  After having tire troubles at the Dirty Kanza in Kansas a couple weeks earlier I leaned on the side of safety in tire choice this day but it back fired.  Going into the final climb, 4 km from the finish, it was apparent Andrew and I weren’t going to catch Phil. Having no clue if he was in the race or not we didn’t know if we were fighting for the overall prize purse or just the leftovers.  Unfortunately Andrew had the fresher legs and used his smaller size to drop me on the last climb and would roll in 2nd, or 1st (depending on Phil) and myself a few seconds later in 3rd or 2nd.  

It was a relief to finally shut down the engine after a busy weekend as there was alot of travel and not much rest between the back to back races.  The Ghost of the Gravel was a race I always wanted to do and it did not disappoint. The organizers did a great job as they covered all the bases and hosted a solid event.  The course was rad rolling through the Albertan foothills with snow capped Rocky Mountains as a back drop.  My only complaint would be that the roads weren’t technical or rough enough to give us mountain bikers an advantage over the fitness freak roadies 😉

 

In the end Phil would step on the top of the Podium to claim the $500, a big bag of cookies and the title at the Ghost of the Gravel.  He was the strongest guy there but to me it was a weird move to show up without any race numbers on and to be telling people you were just there for a hard ride. It added a bit of unneeded confusion to the race.  All I know is if  a mountain biker shows up at a race without a number plate on then they’re not in the race. I guess I’m still trying to figure out this road cycling culture. 

It was great to catch up with the Albertan racing crew at the post race BBQ. It’s not often I get back to my home Province to race but when I do it’s like a small family reunion.  I’ll be looking forward to returning to the Ghost of the Gravel in the years to come as it has all the makings to become a big time race.  After seeing how successful the Dirty Kanza is, while offering a similar type of event, there is no question this one should take off.  The Ghost of Gravel is more of a race as it has fully stocked feed zones, course marshals, course markings, commissars and in my humble opinion the terrain on the boarder of the Rockies is far more entertaining then racing though the middle of America’s cow pastures.

 

Huge thanks to Dwayne and his family for hosting us in Squamish for the Spakwus 50 and Wayne and Joan Worobec for the airport pickup, food, and place to crash in Cochrane before and after the Ghost of the Gravel.  Now it’s time to buckle down these next 2 weeks in the Rockies and sharpen the top end for the races ahead.  First up is the BC Bike Race  July 7-13th and then the Canadian XCO Championships July 20th in Canmore .  Thanks for the pictures Spakwus 50, Ghost of the Gravel, and Candace Mihalcheon.

 

HardHat Time.

 

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