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MTB Kerala (South India)

Off season was rolling into it’s second week when the opportunity came knocking to take part in India’s first ever UCI ranked race, a 32 km XCO event in the South Indian province of Kerala.  It was a fully comp’d trip to a place I always dreamt of travelling too so after not much thought, off season was put in to intermission and I prepared to head off to India!

A couple weeks back I had finished a 24 hour challenge on the Annapurna Circuit and a 3 day, 300 km bike tour back to Kathmandu from Pokhara, so there was some residual fitness in place.  The problem was the couple extra offseason pounds I’d put into storage, and the fact XCO races require a high end which is quite different then the diesel engine I use for marathon events.  Their were question marks but sometimes you just have to go with what you have and give it your best shot when cool opportunities arise!

The adventure started with meeting the Nepali National team riders Roan Tamang and Laxmi Magar at the bike station, along with there coach Prayesh who was going to accompany them on the trip.  Roan and I did some last minute bike work on our Kona Hei Hei’s before boxing them up and jetting off to the airport to catch our 2pm flight with Nepali Airlines to Bengaluru.

With any luck we’d land in South India by 5pm, drive 5-6 hours and be at race sight in Kerala before midnight.  Not a chance, not on this side of the World! First the Nepal airlines flight was delayed 3 hours till 5 pm, then we got stuck in Indian customs for over 1 hour as they can be quite strict with entrance into there fine country.  Finally through that hoop the next step was meeting the Kerala MTB organized transportation outside the airport for the 250 km drive south.  Two guys were there but there bus was lost so we waited another hour before it finally found us, loading up at 10 pm for what they now informed as was to be a 9-10 hour journey through the night!  Thinking we raced on Saturday I figured we were now officially screwed and almost turned back to Nepal right then.  

We’d come this far already, so hopping on the bus was the easiest option, although I dread any sort of vehicle transit on this side of the planet for numerous reasons.  First we drove for 3 hours, stopped at 1 am for chicken Biriyani, then drove farther with our driver almost falling asleep 3 times, once claiming we had a flat tire while he got a few zzz’s. We told him to take all the sleep he needed, just don’t kill us!  It was an amazing drive, we went over 250 speed bumps, nearly hit 7 cows, swerved in and out of dogs and chickens and arrived at the race hotel at 7 am.

Now we slept, then ate some rice dosas for brunch, then tried to find the race course but rode around lost for an hour as the directions some of the locals gave us were just random guesses.  Finally locating the 4 km course through a beautiful tea plantation we did a lap and then asked a volunteer which day we raced as there was still some confusion.  She confirmed it was Saturday and showed us the schedule on her phone, so we went out for a couple more harder laps to try and get our travel ravaged bodies primed for the race.  After riding back to town we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, eating and prepping our bikes.

After a big carbo loading dinner of rice and different curry’s we went out to meet our Indian racing buddies at there hotel across the street.  They all seemed pretty relaxed considering we were going to be racing India’s first ever UCI ranked XCO race the following day. What made things more confusing was the fact that almost all the other riders were showing up this day, which seemed not very smart given that a lot of them had travelled over night from different parts of the World.  Some from Germany, others from Iran and most of them from neighbouring Asian countries, 14 nations in total were present for this race.  As more confusion sank in, the Indian riders informed us that race day was actually Sunday now.

We had no idea who to believe anymore but after further investigation the race was indeed Sunday which was a big relief! Saturday, our bonus day, we spent on a sightseeing bike ride with our Sri Lankan buddies  through the green Indian countryside, visiting temples, rolling through tea plantations and soaking in the South Indian culture.  This part of India was like a different country to the North part of India, with thick jungle foliage, relatively fresh air and a pretty laid back culture. After our 2nd carb loading dinner in as many nights we started to worry a bit about how many extra pounds we were going to pack on this trip as the rich, carb heavy Indian food is prime for putting on weight.

Sunday was race day, it was tough not to overeat breakfast with fresh rice dosas and iddly coming out of the kitchen but we kept our heads on straight and managed to escape without sabotaging our race preparations.  After a short 30 minute ride to race sight we were overwhelmed by the huge local crowd which had amassed and the professionalism of the event set up which included team marquee pits and tents for each nation.  My Canadian tent was jammed full of spectators so I ended up hanging out in the German tent which was tucked away from the chaos!  

At 9:30 our race kicked off with the riders going crazy on the first 2 km climb before the fast descent back to the finish.  Going diesel pace I kept the front of the race in sight with an Iranian rider, Farzbad, leading the field.  Each climb he’d gain 20-30 seconds, then I could get 15-20 seconds back on the descent.  This went on for 6 laps with his lead almost reaching 1 minute.  Not sure what was left in the tank it was go time if I was to ever catch him as there were just 2 laps to go.  

I risked the descents a bit more and pushed with everything on the climbs, catching up to Farzbad at the bottom of the last descent with 1 lap to go. Immediately attacking I gained a 5 second advantage but Farzbad closed it and was now right on my wheel. We were both on our limits, unable to shake each other as we raced up the punishing climb.  In my head the race was to the top of the climb as I figured if I could go into the descent first I’d likely take the win.  This meant going a fare bit over my limit a couple times when Farzbad tried to come around me to take the lead.  I suffered a lot and had to shut my brain off to the suffering for a couple minutes, but made it to the top first and took the descent fast, keeping Farzbad at bay.  He would slide out on the last corner before the finish line and I would cruise in for my first UCI XCO win and the $2500 first prize!

It was pretty wild at the finish line with a huge crowd, bands playing and interviewers coming in to ask about the race while we tried to catch our breath.  This went on for ages, with the crowd coming in for endless selfies, which was cool for a bit but soon I started to get light headed and was ready to faint.  There was no end to the selfies but I had to escape before I passed out so snuck away to find some water and recollect myself after what had been a very demanding race.  

The rest of the afternoon was great, supporting our friend Laxmi in the Women’s race, eating loads of Indian food, and then going to the awards ceremony which went on for hours. The highlight was the Canadian National anthem playing while they raised the Maple leaf up the flag pole to celebrate the victory!  It was a great experience but soon the sun started to set, and there was no sign of the ceremony ending, so we riders tried to escape so we could ride back to town before darkness.  The problem was we had to get through the huge selfie crazed crowd, which nullified any forward movement.  Our efforts were doomed but suddenly the whole crowd turned to a car showing up on sight, which apparently contained one of the countries top movie stars.  We were forgotten and could escape, as the Indians went crazy, screaming and jumping up and down for their movie star. 

Back at race hotel we had a few minutes to shower before rushing down to the lobby to wait for the bus that was going to take us to the final dinner party at 7 pm. This is when the real adventure started. We waited till 8:15 till the bus finally showed up.  People were getting hungry and two riders had flights to catch in the middle of the night from an airport 3 hours away, but we assured the dinner was 2-3 km away so we went with it.  After driving 2 km north into town the bus stopped for 40 minutes to wait for some other people, then pulled a u-turn and drove right back past our hotel.  Now 9pm, we were starving and ready to jump out at the hotel but were guaranteed it was just another couple km to the dinner party.  Gone this far already we decided to go with it but weren’t prepared for the 45 minute drive on winding roads into the middle of the Jungle to come.  From here we were told to get out and hike another 2 km!  What a gong-show, I was worried for the two riders who had flights to catch but a this point all we could think about was food and decided to hike into the jungle as directed.  

It was starting to feel like a scary movie, as I figured a Tiger or some bush people would jump out of the jungle next, but sure enough we found a resort after 20-30 minutes of hiking and our dinner!  It was spicy and burned our bellies but anything after waiting 7 hours since lunch was going to taste just fine at this point. Now close to 11 pm we were all ready to pass out after a pretty epic day. The next challenge was finding a way back to the hotel as the bus that dropped us off wasn’t leaving till it was full which likely wouldn’t be that night with the way things were going.  Eventually we convinced a race official to drop us off, past midnight, for a couple hours rest, before the Nepal team had a taxi arranged for 4:30 am back to Banguluru.  Not keen on another 9-10 hour car trip I had alternate plans to ride half way 

with Indian national team rider Kiran to Mysore then grab a bus, 4 hrs direct to the airport.  The ride was great, through a national park with elephants and deer all over the place, but as things go in India I missed the first bus which meant waiting 1.5 hours for the next bus. This one would drop me off 1.5 hours before my flight if all went as planned, a little tight as I still had to box my bike and meet a Steadfast Nutrition representative to pick up some nutrition for the Nepali training centre and its rider back in Kathmandu.   

Shockingly the bus was on time, which was necessary, as I still needed to find Roan and Laxmi at the airport as they had my bike box.  They were waiting as planned and helped me pack my bike as I ran around trying to find the Steadfast nutrition representative. Luckily I found him quickly but now had two big boxes of nutrition to deal with as we jammed stuff in bike boxes and then ran to the check in counter, getting there a few minutes before closing. From here we paid some extra $ to Indigo as there $150 tickets soon turned into $250 with bike charges, taxes, and random fees.  Up next was a red eye flight through Delhi, with a 6 hour layover, before a 7 am flight back to Nepal.  For some reason things never go very smoothly in India but it’s always a memorable adventure.  It is a truly incredible country, and its chaos keeps dragging me back. Time and time again it has found a way to suck every last once of energy out of my body bit I’m sure I’ll be back for another round in a short time!

Now back to Off-season.


Annapurna 24, Round #3.

A ride like doing the Annapurna Circuit in a day or a World 24hr mountain bike championships requires alot of pedalling and not too much thinking.  It’s all about one pedal stroke at a time so when I left Besisahar at 12:15 am on the morning of November 26th the only thing in my head was to enjoy the solitude of the Nepali night as I set out on what’s traditionally been considered one of the greatest trekking circuits in the World. Pedalling my way out of the jungles of Besisahar and up the tight Marshyangdi river gorge towards Manang, there was a stillness in the night as the usually bustling Nepali countryside was sound asleep.  There’s usually a million excuses to push the abort button before these big adventures and to live a more comfortable existence, but as long as I’m alive and healthy enough to do these adventures, I plan to be out there going for it.  I’m grateful to have these opportunities that so many don’t have and want to live life by the day, trying to soak up the beauty of it while I can.  Hopefully a few are inspired to go for it and follow there own dreams as life is too short to not be out there going after whatever makes you smile.  I’ve found the tougher something is, generally the bigger the rewards will be, thus pushing the limits can be well worth the challenges! 

This ride always heightens my senses as the effects the altitude has on my body going from 800 M-5416 M, in around 12 hours, has been fairly dramatic in the past and something I’m still trying to figure out.  The first concern was the cold, as this year I was going light, pushing for a new fastest known time (FKT).  I wanted to do the ride self supported, packing all the necessary gear and clothing, except for 2 food caches of Clif Bar products along the way.  50 km into the adventure, the temperature was dipping into the negatives as I cruised through the village of Timang at 2500 M.  Between permit check posts, food & water stops, clothing changes and bike maintenance there are a lot of stops which can eat up the time. I was focusing on reducing these as much as possible, thus waited till the body was starting to freeze thoroughly before increasing my riding attire with the 7mesh clothing in my backpack.  Jersey and shorts was getting a bit thin for the freezing night!  The coldest part of the ride was around 3000 m, cresting up from the narrow cliff side winding roads of the Marshyangdi river gorge and into the vast Manang valley.  The sky was starting to lighten from the black of the night, but the sun was still an hour from touching down as the temperature dipped to -7 celsius + whatever wind the speed of my bike was creating.  It was cold but once the sun hit me the temperature would rapidly increase +10 to 15 for the day.

Riding into Manang, one of the most idyllic villages on the circuit, near the boarder of Tibet and Nepal, signalled the first real stop of the ride. Dropping into the Alpine village teahouse to pick up a food cache, have a tea and change clothes, was a welcome intermission.  The most challenging part of the journey was ahead, the 1900 m, 22 km section up to the top of Thorong La Pass.  A nice surprise was meeting my Dutch friend Nienke  who was on a grand bike traverse of the Great Himalayan trail from Nepal’s Western border.  We had 15 minutes to visit as I prepared for the next part of the ride. It was inspiring to see someone else out their pushing there limits, chasing down a dream as the ride that she was on was something nobody had ever tried before by bike.  After the small break, I was soon mounting back up onto my Kona Hei Hei and off towards the looming Pass!

The 17 kms from Manang to Thorong Phedi is spectacular as the jeep road is left behind and replaced with flowing single track. It’s a gorgeous ride through the high alpine with the huge 8000 m Annapurna Massif looming in the background.  This is also when the ride gets punishing as the 4000 m + elevation means the 20.9 % of oxygen in the air which we experience at sea level, falls to around 12.7 % as the lower air pressure decreases the effective oxygen levels.  This means the riding starts to get really hard, especially after 9 hours on the trail. This was where I fell apart the last 2 years during the attempt, so this time there was extra focus to keep a steady rhythm as the body and mind both started to push back from the big effort of the day.  The other challenge was to not stop for photos around every corner as it was a bluebird day with the surrounding white Himalaya giants in all their beauty.  The Annapurna Circuit became one of the World’s greatest treks for a reason. There may be jeep roads scarring up the landscape nowadays, but the magnificence of the biggest mountains on earth sure hasn’t changed!

Reaching Throng Phedi, base camp for the Worlds highest commonly used pass, was a relief as I stopped in to see the kind teahouse owners , loading up on water and some treats before hitting the 5.5 km, 20% climb to the top of the pass at 5416m.  Year after year the owners of the teahouses along the trek have given me food and water during this effort and won’t accept any form of payment, a testament to the best part of Nepal, its people.  In year’s past I have taken a nap at Phedi before heading off to the pass, and it has crushed me. This year I opted to keep the momentum rolling and hit it right away.  This time being accompanied by the local legend of the Manang Valley, Snow Monkey.  Snow Monkey grew up in Manang, spending his life exploring every nook and cranny, chasing snow leopards around and guiding tourists throughout the region. Having been over the pass 130 times, there wasn’t any better company I could have.  He was on his sturdy mountain horse, with a video camera, documenting this part of the journey as I pushed towards the crux of the ride.  During the Yak Attack race, my time from Phedi to the top is around 1 hr 15 minutes, during the Annapurna 24 I’ve never been able to eclipse 3 hours.  The first year I probably should’ve turned around as a stiff blow of altitude sickness hit, leaving me dizzy, nauseated and using my bike as a crutch as I basically crawled over the pass, getting there just before sunset.  It was amazing but not something I wanted to repeat.

 This year things went well for the first 2 kms to high camp but then the dizziness, fatigue and the feeling of drunkness set in.  Snow monkey rode around on the ridges above, documenting the show as any ego I had from winning the Yak Attack race a week earlier was blown away.  Creeping towards the pass  I felt like a skid trying to stumble home after a big night out on the town. It was depressing not being able to ride my bike anymore, any attempts would quickly end with my front wheel veering off the trail as my vision was getting cross eyed.  It was a struggle but after 3 hrs and 5 minutes I reached the top of Thorongla Pass at 5416 m!  It was a stunning day, calm, warm and not a trekker in sight as they tend to get up around 4am to head over the pass.  I was on a FKT attempt but some moments in life you can’t pass up. This was one of those moments, being up in the heart of the Himalayas with my Nepali brother, Snow Monkey, on a pass people often spend over a week getting to.  Thus we soaked it in, ordered some tea, relaxed and forgot about everything else for a while. 15 to 20 minutes later it was time to roll, Snow Monkey had a ways to get back home before dark and I still had over 100 km of rough Himalayan trails and roads ahead!

Rolling off the pass their was a 2500 m vertical descent ahead, mostly on some brake burning single track. It’s an epic descent with the 7th highest mountain in the world, Dhaulagiri (8167M) in the distance. With daylight starting to fade it was full speed ahead to make the most of the easy travelling down the Mustang valley before hitting the dark of night for the 2nd time on the ride. Ripping past trekkers who probably started from Besisahar 7-10 days before put a grin on my face as I was getting to see in one day what was going to take them 2-3 weeks to experience!  Seeing the full Annapurna Circuit in one day is a sensory overload which seems like more of a day dream then reality.  I can thank my Kona Hei Hei bike for that as their isn’t any other way in the World to see this legendary trek in a day from the ground.  

Riding through the Mustang valley the energy was high as trekkers were stumbling around, temples dotted the landscape, and the geography of the mountains in the semi arid, often desert like landscape was simply mind blowing.  Stopping a bit more now to change clothes, load up on water, and to get my Radical lights ready for another dark night ahead was eating up the time quicker then I liked.   12-15 hours into an effort like this the body often starts to rebel a bit and looks for any excuse to pullover for a breather.  It can be a challenge to keep the wheels rolling but that’s the only way you’re ever going to get anywhere!

 This section through the Mustang is getting busier every year as the Nepali and Chinese governments are trying to build a bigger road between the countries.  More and more Indians and Nepalis are also visiting the area as there economies improve and more people have time and money for adventure.  For riding this means there are some dusty sections, but knowing the area well I was able to take some side trails and secondary routes which kept most of the ride away from the increasing traffic.  Stopping at the Dutch teahouse in Tukuche for a 2nd food cache also signalled the setting of the sun.  One year I would like to finish the ride before hitting dark for a 2nd time, but this year the ride needed to start a bit later so I could try and avoid the road closers in the Kali Gandaki gorge.

The Kali Gandaki sinks to 800 M above sea level, and is the deepest gorge in the World, being flanked by Dhaulagiri (8167 m) to the west and Annapurna (8091m) to the east.  It’s also the last 45 km of the Annapurna Circuit ride as the road descends down from the hanging Mustang valley at Kalopani (2500m) to Beni (800 m).  They’ve been working on this road ever since I came to Nepal for the first time in 2014. You would never know it as the surface often resembles a river bed more then a road.  With a ride time of 18 hours, and just 45 km to go, the sights were set on trying to eclipse 20 hours this year.  Stopping to take some clothes off, setting the lights and refuelling, it was time for one last push.  Unfortunately this late push was thwarted by Nepali time, rounding one corner shortly into the descent and encountering a roadblock with nearly 30 cars and 40 + motorbikes jammed up.   The roadblocks were suppose to be from 2:30 to 6:30 everyday, but it was nearing 7!  It was tempting to blow the blockade but they were knocking big rocks down off the embankment onto the road which made me decide to obey the traffic control.

Around 15-20 minutes was lost before the ride could continue.  The motorbike guys asked where I was going, and they laughed when I said Beni.  “That’s too far for a cycle!”.  I asked where they were going and they also replied “Beni”.      What they didn’t understand is that my mountain bike would be much faster on the rough decent then there motorbikes.  As the road opened a bunch of them blasted by me, but soon I was weaving between them as they got bounced all over the road.  A couple of there egos seemed damaged by being passed by a cyclists as they tried to race me for a bit but there was no hope as there bikes got rocked by the horrific road conditions.  “Adios fellers!, I’ll be eating Dhal Bhat in Beni by the time you suckers arrive!”  From there it was one of the longest 2 hours of cycling I’ve had all year as the road conditions were dusty and muddy with a fair bit of traffic coming up. A good portion of the ride is on the edge of a giant cliffside which just appeared as a black hole in the dark.  Caution had to be taken as I rattled my brains on what is for sure one of the worst roads in the World.  It is also a bike destroyer as there is no way to keep any oil on the chain with the wet and dusty conditions wreaking havoc on the drivetrain and pivots.  The sounds coming from the bike were depressing but I could pay little attention to it as full focus was needed to avoid the boulders, holes, animals, cars and everything else imaginable on the road.

Passing through the trekker haven of Tatopani is always tough as it would be a comfortable place to end the ride. Unfortunately the Annapurna Circuit doesn’t end until Beni, a further 22 km down the gorge, so the pedals kept turning over.  Usually this part of the road improves a bit but this the construction has been focusing on widening the road and they have left a huge mess.  The last 10 km ride basically looked like a pig sty as they’ve been flooding the road, and tearing it up at the same time, leaving ruts, puddles and mud everywhere.  Over the 6 years I’ve been riding down this gorge, the conditions have gotten worse!  Eventually one day they plan on paving it all the way to China, but with the unstable slopes above, geographical challenges of Nepal and there questionable road building skills it will be a miracle.

Rolling into Beni bus park at 8:48 pm signalled the end of my 3rd Annapurna 24 hr attempt, and also the setting of a knew FKT of 20 hours and 33 minutes! The crowd went wild at the finish line, fireworks went off and champagne sprayed everywhere!  Or, in reality one dog barked and a kid asked me for a chocolate and was wondering where I was headed.  I stopped my garmin to document the ride then looked up to see Usha coming down from the village above.  What a treat it was to have her there after a long day out in the mountains.  The first year a cop stopped me in Beni and threatened to arrest me for coming in so late after we argued for a few minutes about where I came from. You came from Jomsom, “no sir, I came from Besi”.  No you didn’t, you came from Jomsom and left way to late!  Eventually I agreed so the conversation could end and then he found a dungeon for me to stay in at his friends house.  Having Usha there with a hotel arranged, Chicken Dhal Bhat on order and a giant hug made things a 1000 time better.

This year the fundraiser brought in $5110 CAD for the Nepali Cycling training centre in Kathmandu.  This is enough to keep the centre going for another year and hopefully some is left over to arrange another training camp with the Balance Point Racing coaches from Canada or a high altitude camp for the riders.  It will be up to the Nepal Cyclists Ride to Rescue team to decide how they best want to use the money as they have proven time and time again to be very diligent with the funds, making the most of whatever help people give them.  I’d like to send out a huge thank you to everyone that supported this fundraiser again this year!  The generosity of people during the past few years  has been amazing. The plan is to keep this fundraiser or something similar going in the years to come to make sure what has been started in Nepal is carried through as long as the Nepali cyclists can use the support.

For now it’s time for some time away from the bike.  Whether that is beaches in Thailand or trekking in the Himalays is yet to be determined 🙂   

Annapurna 24 Fundraiser

The 220 km Annapurna Circuit has often been voted the best long distance trek in the World.  It goes through a variety of climate zones from the tropics at 750 m to the Arctic at 5416 m and a variety of cultural zones from Hindu villages in the foothills to Tibetan culture in the  Manang and Mustang valleys.  Mainly to due the high altitude, it generally takes 2-3 weeks to trek it or more recently with the construction of some roads, 7-10 days to bike around the circuit which encircles the Annapurna massif and crosses two separate river valleys.  It’s one of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever ridden and also most challenging due to the high altitude and cold weather.  

In 2017 I set out on an attempt to see if the circuit could be done in less then 24 hours.  This coincided with a fundraiser to try and open a Cycling training centre in Kathmandu for the Nepal national mountain bike team.  The ride nearly ko’d me as I suffered from altitude sickness and stomach problems, barely scraping around the circuit in 23 hours and 57 minutes.  The great part was the fundraiser for the training centre blew all expectations as people generously donated over $3000 USD.  With this money the training centre in Kathmandu was open and our goal had been accomplished.  With the success of the first year, and the need to conquer some demons after having gotten my ass kicked by the Annapurna Circuit the first attempt, I opted to go for a 2nd attempt last year, this time learning from my mistakes and also acclimatizing better, I managed to knock over 2 hours off the time coming in at 21 hrs 27 minutes.  The real highlight was that people donated over $7000 USD to the Nepal training centre which enabled it to be open for another year, a massive high altitude training camp to take place for 9 riders, and the ability to bring over some coaches from Balance Point Racing in Canada to test, bike fit and educate 18-20 Nepali National riders.


This year the goal was to fundraise enough to keep the training centre going for another year and try to knock some time off the current fastest known time around the Circuit.  Not being quite as acclimatized as last year there were some question marks, but the body has been running stronger then ever this year so I opted to give it a go.  On Nov 23rd I set off from Pokhara, riding 80 km via the backroads to Besisahar, the gateway to the himalayas. The Idea was to rest a day then head out at 12 am on Nov 25th, but unfortunately a small stomach bug hit which delayed the start a day. Heading out at 12:15 am on November 25th the 3rd attempt to round the Annapurna Massif in a day was underway!  The stomach was still not 100%, and it was a pitch dark night under a new moon as I pointed my Kona Hei Hei full suspension mountain bike up the dirt road heading to Manang.  Annapurna 24, round #3 was underway!


To be continued…


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.


Breck Epic

Breck Epic. The race is rad. The courses are beyond fun. The vibe? Mid-90s mayhem.  This is what the 6 day UCI Breck Epic in Colorado sells itself as and it delivers.   The Breck Epic consists of 6 big back country loops that all start and finish within a mile of the bustling ski town of Breckenridge.  I’ve raced all over the World and hands down this race is one of the best all-round races out there.  The days are big but not huge, and the courses are a good balance of singletrack, double track and gravel roads.  Oh, and the fact you are racing in the middle of the Rocky Mountains is the icing on the cake! There’s only once catch, the courses start at an altitude of about 2800 meters above sea level and climb from there, all the way up to 3850 meters.  This means that oxygen is a very limited and a valuable resource.
And they’re off!
Coming off the WEMBO 24 Hour World Solo Championships in Brazil a couple weeks prior to the Breck Epic left me with a few question marks if I would be recovered in time for a shorter XC style stage race. Rocket legs or jello legs, to me, just getting a chance to race a bike for 6 days through Colorado’s backcountry was going to be a win!  The chief organiser, Mike McCormack, is a great character and one of the fairest straight shooting organisers out there.  His 3 rules are, 1. Don’t be a dick 2. Wear your helmet and 3. Don’t litter in our beautiful backcountry.  Who can argue with any of those?  I’ve been lucky to have raced three Breck Epics, the inaugural one 11 years ago, the Breck 3 day version in 2015 and now this years’.  It is a race that has always been great and each year they’ve been making minor improvements which are slowly building it into one of the World’s premier stage races. Staying with my buddy and 5 x Nepal National Champion, Ajay Pandit Chetri and his sponsor Penny, made for a great week as we would race our bikes hard in the morning, recover in the afternoons, and then eat large Nepali Dhal bhat meals for dinner to fuel up for the next day in the mountains.  It was a good routine and made for a pretty chill week, outside of the racing of course. The racing was interesting as some days were very fitness orientated and good for the big engines, while other days were pretty technical and better for the smooth riders.  It definitely takes a good all round rider to do well at this race and this year the race was stacked with them given its UCI S1 status which meant there were loads of Olympic selection points on the line as well as $ 30 000 in cash!
Stage 1 turned into a moody day as some dark clouds sunk into the valley.

Breck Epic Stage 1: Pennsylvania Creek, 58.6 km, 1737m

The Breck Epic started with some large black clouds in the background which had us all a little nervous at the start line as we headed into the Colorado backcountry.  The racing was fast with much of the course on double track quad trails with some fast flowy singletrack mixed in.  It was a bit of a gongshow at the start as we all tried to figure out our race paces at elevation. A lot of us went out a tad too fast which left us gasping for air and in the hurt locker!  Eventually we all found our place in the race, mine was in around 12th out of the 490 starters, right with Canadian mountain bike legend Geoff Kabush who was slowed down a bit by the lack of oxygen as he has had a busy season racing mostly down at sea level.  A couple hours into the stage the skies opened up with a heavy rainstorm hitting us riders and the temperature plummeting to around 7-8 degrees celsius.  All of a sudden the trails started to look more like creek beds as the storm left its mark on the day.  Rolling across the line my eyes were full of mud and the core temperature was dipping low so it was straight back to the hotel to jump in a hot shower fully clothed.  By the time Ajay and I were both cleaned up our hotel bathroom looked like a bomb had gone off in there!

Breck Epic Stage 2: Colorado Trail, 66.6 km, 2001 m

Day 2 was a highlight as we raced on a part of the 567 mile long Colorado Trail, probably the most scenic trail in the lower 48 American states as it traverses across the Rockies at an average elevation of 10 300 ft from Denver to Durango.  The day was dominated by sweet flowy singletrack which was in all time condition after the rainstorm the day before leaving it feeling like velcro to our tyres. I’m sure most of the Strava KOM downhill segments were broken this day as America’s top racers, along with a few of us Canadians and a Colombian blew through the scenic alpine terrain.  There was one epic descent which felt like it went on forever, eventually ending in a fast slightly downhill finish through an alpine meadow.  I was leading a group of 3 flying through the willows when I came around a corner to greet a 30 ft murky waterhole in which we couldn’t see the bottom.  It was sketchy flying in there full speed but thankfully we made it out the other side without getting thrown from our bikes by any ghost logs or rocks!  Towards the end of the stage the legs were finding an extra gear which pushed me within sight of the top 10.  Closing in on a couple riders with just a couple km to go my day turned sideways as my pedal clipped a hidden log sending me supermanning over the bars into a rocky landing only softened by a small willow bush. Bloodied and with a bent handlebar I finished off the day to come in 12th again.  At the finish there were a couple of other riders which had similar stories of crashing hard just before the finish which made me think that hidden stick was the culprit for more then just one crash.     
Backcountry riding is everywhere in Colorado.

Breck EpicStage 3: Circumnavigation of Mt Guyout, 63 km, 2164 m

Stage 3 at the Breck Epic is a real backcountry experience as the course heads up and over the continental divide twice circumnavigating Mt Guyout.  The trails were raw and rugged as the alpine terrain was littered with rocks. Going over French pass there was even a 300 ft snowfield still intact thanks to one of the snowiest winters in recent history. This provided good entertainment for the photographers as riders were going head over tea kettle all over the place. Once over French Pass the course climbs back up over the continental divide before hitting one of the rockiest and rowdiest descents of the week, dropping the riders back into the thick pine forests.  My day started great sitting in the chase group (5-7th) before hitting the first rocky descent leading into the long climb up French Pass.  At the bottom of the rough descent I could hear a hissing sound coming from the tires, it’s a dreaded sound for a mountain biker and soon enough I realised not 1 but both my tyres had side wall gashes.  It was crisis management as I plugged the tires, trying to make do with the 2 plugs, 2 CO2ss and 1 tube I had as reinforcements.  Too bad for me I ran out of resources to fix the two deflating tyres and was stranded.  Luckily a couple of buddies passed by and handed off the supplies I needed to get rolling again.  Back in the game I quickly realised that hundreds of racers had passed by and that it was going to be a long day trying to overtake anyone on the singletrack dominated course.  It was a bad luck day which ended any GC hopes, but in the big picture I was still riding my bike through a beautiful part of the world on some amazing trails which kept a huge grin on my face!  Towards the end of the stage we hit the Flume trail which traversed across a rugged mountainside, somehow getting us back to Breckenridge in what looked like some pretty un-traversable terrain.  It is amazing the trail work which has gone into the Brekenridge forest over the years which has ultimately created one of the world’s great mountain bike heavens. This is in large part thanks to to the Breck Epic and all that they have put back into the riding community.
The leaders, Luis Meija and Keegan Swenson riding hard through the Colorado Alpine.

Breck Epic Stage 4: Aqueduct, 66.3 km, 1972 m

After the ruggedness of stage 3, stage 4 at the Breck Epic was back on the fast front country trails as we raced around a fitness heavy course.  At this point most the riders were starting to feel the effects of racing at altitude for 3 days and the pace noticeably slowed down a notch.  After a couple hard attacks by Colombian Luis Meija, the lead group mostly stuck together as a big group of 16 riders would snake its way through the Colorado hills. After feeling great on stage 3, the legs were a bit heavy this day as I dangled behind the lead group for the whole stage, managing to pick off a few blown up riders by the end to come in 13th.  It seemed pretty common at altitude for riders to have a  a good day, followed with a slower day, much of this due to the fact that recovery is tough to come by when you’re living and sleeping just under 3000 meters!  Like every day, one of the highlights was the massive finish line buffet which was full of recovery drinks, fruits, cookies, chips and all sorts of different sources of great tasting calories.  As much as we ride at the Breck Epic I suspect alot of us riders go home a bit heavier than when we came thanks to these finish line feeding frenzies!

Breck Epic Stage 5: Wheeler Pass, 38.6 km, 1593 m

Stage 5 was back into the rugged backcountry as the stage climbed straight out of the gate up towards Wheeler pass at 3850 Meters.  It was an amazing climb as the trail wound up out of the forest and into the high alpine via a small goat like trail.  Towards the top it was only rideable by a handful of the top riders as we engaged ourselves into a slow motion battle high up in the mountains.  Geoff Kabush and I were both fired up for this day as we knew the backside descent was pretty rugged and we could likely land on the podium if we stayed somewhat close to the leaders up the climbs. I went over the top of the first rise in 6th place with Kabush 20 meters back as we sucked in as much oxygen deprived air as we could find, trying to stay close to the top 5.  This chase would last for an hour across the high alpine which was highlighted by the smell of bacon on top Wheeler Pass. Some hardcore Breck Epic fans had set up a Bacon BBQ at the summit  and were treating us riders to an early morning breakfast as we rode our bikes cross eyed from the exertion.  As good as the bacon smelt, it was hard to chew but just the taste of having it in my mouth reminded me of Canada and helped keep the stoke high as we suffered through the stage.  Eventually we hit the long and gnarly miners creek descent in which Kabush would pass me half way down as he tried to use his world class enduro skills to get him back into the top 5.  He would fall just 20 seconds short of the stage and roll in 6th and I’d come in a couple minutes later in 7th.  On Strava Kabush set the fastest downhill time down Miners creek while I came in 3rd, a small consolation prize for just narrowly missing the podium again!
Bacon on top of Wheeler Pass 🙂 !!!
Stage 6: Gold Dust, 47.2km, 1139 m The final stage is one for the roadies as the course heads up and over Boreas Pass (3503 M) twice.  The course is predominantly on fast fire roads and quad tracks with a bit of singletrack mixed in on the fast descent down the Gold dust trail.  Some of this trail follows an old flume which makes for some sporadic riding as the riders try to hold their speed while bouncing off the banks of the twisting track.  After 5 days of high altitude racing, I think this 6th day hits alot of the riders pretty hard as we try to convince the legs to giver for one more day.  Thankfully it’s a rather short one, and the views from the top of Boreas pass were amazing!  The best part about Day 6 is that it’s a doubleheader.  The finish line is a great atmosphere with many of the riders sitting around in circles in the parking lot shot gunning beers, laughing and grinning as they reminiscent about the past week of amazing trails.  The best part is that this is just the intermission before the legendary stage 7 which involves an awards banquet full of good food and stories from the week, followed up with some drinks out on the town.  This is the longest stage for some riders as the night life in Breckenridge is on fire during the summer months.  
Some of the pro field enjoying some cold ones together after battling each other hard all week.
For 2020 the dates are already set for August 16-21st.  As far as stage races go this one is one of the best deals out there and right now the entries are cheap, first come first served!   Thanks Breck Epic for another amazing week of riding and hanging out, it was one of the highlights of the year!  Picture Credits: Liam Doran @liam_doran_outdoors
Breck Epic Organizer Mike McCormack showing off the bad ass finisher buckle.