Racing World Championships: 24 Hours vs 1.5 hours

After winning a 3rd straight World 24 HR mountain bike championship in Brazil late July I was planning a couple weeks of racing and training in 

Colorado then a lengthy break to recover from what had been a busy season thus far.  What I’ve learned in my life is that plans change quicker then the strike of lightning. Lightning struck just 3 days after taking victory in Brazil when I received a surprise email from Cycling Canada saying I had been selected to represent Team Canada at the XCO World Champs in Quebec at the end of August.  It was a shock as racing XCO Worlds hasn’t been on my radar for nearly a decade as the fast paced 1.5 hour races aren’t really my thing.  This was an opportunity of a lifetime to get a chance to race the biggest mountain bike race in the World on home turf so I gave it the thumbs up! I then started hoping for a miracle that I’d recover in time from 24 hour Worlds and find some sort of leg speed too keep up to these XCO sprinters. First on deck  was a pre planned two week trip to Colorado to race in the 6 day Breck Epic and do some training at 2900- 4000 meters above sea level.

Breck Epic was a struggle as the body was still hungover from the 24 hour effort a few days earlier but worst case I figured 2 weeks at altitude would get the body fired up for the rest of the season.  With just over a week back in western Canada to train before heading out to the east coast, I tried to binge on intervals to get the body back up to speed.  This season was 100% focused around getting the hat trick at 24 Hour Worlds so most of the training was spent doing long rides at diesel pace.  A lot of this was bike packing 6-12 hours a day across SE Asia, Nepal and British Columbia.  It worked out great for Brazil, as the body was fitter then ever this year, but the big diesel miles definitely knocked down the top end speed!  It was going to be a long shot to have any form to compete with the Worlds best at sprinting around a 4 km track but I figured there was an outside shot the body might come back super over compensated after back to back 24 hour and 2 week altitude blitz I was on.  It was a shot in the dark, and it went a little off target!

Spending the 5 days before Worlds, staying with the Kona Factory Gravity Team in Mont Sainte Anne was pretty rad.  They are a great crew, fast as shit on there DH bikes, and they know how to keep things relaxed.  Miranda Miller liked making fun of my compression socks, and the fact that us XC riders pay for full bike seats, but only use the tip of them.  At one point Jackson Frew and Connor Fearon hopped on there Process’s 153 and came for a cruise around the gnarly xc course with me.  Unfortunately the UCI officials were taking there jobs seriously and kicked my DH teammates off the track, they said for not having race plates, but I think it was because there baggie shorts, flat pedals and flapping t shirts didn’t fit into the dress code.

All week the weather was flip flopping between rain and sun. Usually this doesn’t matter too much but on the Mont Saint Anne World Cup course it does matter.  It is already pretty tough with a couple legendary technical sections, but once it rains the rock on course gets an icy like surface making it a bit of a nightmare to ride on.  Both the Juniors and U23’s raced on a slick track and there were some gnarly crashes.  As we lined up for the Elite races on Saturday the sky started to spit some water at us which kept everyone on edge but luckily it held off!

Starting #91 out of 95 elite men made for a bit of a rough start as the course hit a couple bottle necks early on in which we’d just stand there and patiently wait while Nino and the others sprinted off the front of the race.  Moving up 7 spots I was making some room but then a bunch of riders road outside the flagging on one jammed up turn and suddenly my buddy Ingvar from Iceland and I were DFL!  Trying to move up from this position in a World XCO Championships is tougher then imagined as everyone is fit as shit for a 1.5 hour sprint and there is no pacing except max!  On the climb up to the Beatrice I made up a handful of places, then caught a few guys on the rough descents and was getting into the mid 80’s with a few more riders in site.  The momentum was building but then on a pretty easy dip in the course my front wheel lost traction sending my body slamming into the ground.  It felt like a hard hockey hit as my chest took most the impact and my head was spinning with stars as I quickly got up to try and keep my position.  From here my race went south as a few guys got by and I was still seeing tweetie birds around my head.  What kept the day going was the noise of the Canadian crowd as they were out in force supporting the Maple leaf.   The climbs up La Beatrice and La Marmot were especially loud and helped keep the legs spinning over as the body was in full suffer mode.  The decents on course were awesome with la Beatrice requiring a full commitment down a steep rock garden, with the other main decent starting with a pretty good launch off a jump before hitting the rock slabs of La Patriot. This compared to the paved streets and fast gravel roads of the last World 24 Hr Champs in Brazil was quite the contrast!

The thing about current XCO racing is the courses are typically 10-12 minutes a lap and with the 80% rule it means riders start getting pulled as soon as they are 7-9 minutes down from the leader. Losing 3-4 minutes on the first lap due to traffic jams, means there isn’t alot of time to play with after that!  In this Worlds, 5o some odd riders finished, while the rest of us got pulled and instead had first row seats to watching Nino claim another World Title.

The experience was unforgettable, although I would love to come back and have another shot when the body is in prime form.  I think I’ll be sticking to my forty of endurance racing though as that’s what my diesel is made for and I do appreciate riding more then 4 km of track in a race.  The thing that is nice about XCO racing is that it doesn’t require much planning compared to 24 hour racing.  No lights, no extra bike, no spare tubes or tools, and just 2-3 gels is enough to get you through a race.  This compared to organizing 7000 + calories for a 24 hour race, trying to get two bikes to the other side of the World, having enough light and batteries for the night and figuring out a way to stay alert for a day of racing and to keep the stomach from going sideways, it was a pretty relaxed approach getting to line up for just a short blitz on a saturday afternoon in Quebec.

It is wild thinking of the contrast between racing XCO Worlds and 24 hour Worlds within 5 weeks of each other.  I road the same bike, a Kona Hei Hei at both events, with just a smaller chain ring and less pressure in the tires for XCO Worlds.  Other than that not much is the same.  XCO Worlds you race a 4 km lap  x  7 for 28 km.  Meanwhile at World 24 champs it was a 29 km lap x 16 for a total of 465 km. In XCO racing you hold your breath on some of the decents, in most 24 hour racing you dream of some technical trail.  Preparation wise XCO racing  requires 1.5-2 hour rides with lots of max 30 second to 4 minutes intervals.  For 24 hour racing, big 6 hour days with lots of high threshold seems to do the trick.  Bike Packing is my top choice for this.   I think the crossover from 24 hour racing to XCO racing is doable, but you would likely need 10-14 days of rest after the 24 hour race, and then 3 weeks of proper short duration, high intensity XCO training to convert the body into sprint mode.  I’m not sure if I will ever get the chance to race both a XCO and 24 Hour World Championship in the same year again but I would be keen to try as I think it is a puzzle that could be solved alot better then it was this time.     

I would like to send a big shout out to Matt Dupelle and the Kona Gravity team for taking me into there crew for the weekend and Cycling Canada for giving so many of us a shot to race our home World XCO Champs in Quebec! And of course a huge thanks to the rowdy Canadian crowd that showed up in full force to cheers us on!

Next up, the reports from finishing 2nd at Marathon Nationals in Quebec and then  3 weeks of racing and adventuring in the far off lands of India…

Over and out.


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