TITAN DESERT (Morocco)

Morocco is a geographical gem situated on the North western coast of Africa.  The predominantly Muslim country is covered by a dry desert, highlighted by the magnificent Sahara but also contains a huge coastline and the grand Atlas mountains.  On April 25th, 630 of us racers took charter flights from Spain to the town of Boumalne Dades, the start location of the 10th annual Titan Desert Stage race.stock-footage-animated-flag-of-morocco-seamless-loop

The Morrocan culture is special as the locals still go about there daily lives like they have for centuries, riding horses around, living off the land and fighting for a good life.  Riding around the hills and gorges before the race was rad, getting a glimpse of the locals lives and the scenery was astounding with the contrast of the dry dessert backed by the snow capped Atlas mountains in the distance.

The Titan Desert organizations was rock solid from the get go with virtually everything dialled in as they registered all us racers with ease and hosted us in a a wicked make shift village complete with traditional Haimas to sleep in, a large restaurant and even a bar with bean bags to lounge around in.

titan-desertThe 6 day race itself was intense with x Tour De France winners, National Champions, and a lot of the top European marathon racers in line to battle it out for the title of King Titan.  Stage 1 started with a bang as riders were attacking all over the place as we tackled a 115 km stage, with 2650 M of vert through the Atlas mountains.  At the summit of the first mountain I was sitting just inside the top 10 before we hit a sketchy descent down a very steep and rugged mountain road.  5 riders immediately blew by me, 2 of them I would pass later as they crashed hard into the ditch and another guy wrecked his wheel.  These guys were kamikaze!IMG_3438

Holding my own I was riding near a couple dutch riders, including there National Champ Bram Rood.  We were taking the switch backs and staying on course like you do in a normal race.  This was a bad tactic here as the Spaniards were cutting switchbacks, riding across open terrain and doing whatever they could to find the shortest way down the mountain.  This would typically be called cheating, but at the Titan Desert the rules are different as they allow orienteering, all that is required is that the riders pass the 4 electronic check points everyday.  Other than that its a free for all.  It took us a while to adapt to this idea, and cost a fair bit of time, but  soon we started playing there game.   Mid way through  the stage I was sitting in the mid twenties, getting demotivated and starting to see the race slip away.  Questioning my fitness, the switch finally came on and I started firing on all cylinders as I fought back to the front of the race.  Over the last 2 hours of the 5 hour race I cruised through the field, highlighted by dropping Óscar Pereiro who won the 2006 Tour de France.  He was riding in the top 10 but was struggling up the final climb as I buzzed by and worked my way into the top 5 before running out of real estate and hitting the finish line.IMG_3481

It was a great ride, as the competition level was deep.  Coming off  a busy last couple weeks flying between Vietnam, Indonesia, California, Canada and Spain I was unsure of the fitness, but it appeared the legs were on fire and it was going to be a good week!  Heading to my Haima for a post race nap I was in a peaceful state of mind, excited for the days to come, mapping out a strategy in my head to find a way to the top.  As I leaned on my right arm getting into bed, it suddenly collapsed with a loud “pop!”  Ah bugger, there goes the shoulder again.  Unable to get it back into place I walked over to the medical tent, where it took 3 doctors a couple minutes of pulling and twisting to get it back in its socket.  At one point they gave up, but then tried again, pulling even harder, as the alternative to get it back in place wasn’t ideal.  It tickled so much I nearly cried. Putting the arm in a sling, they told me my race was over and that I would have to ride in the support vehicles for the rest of the week.10417809_935975676453476_6614325792312674074_n

Waking up the morning of stage 2 after a rough sleep, I really didn’t want to become a race spectator and started to search for a way to keep riding.  I understood the doctors didn’t want me riding so they wouldn’t have to deal with my arm again, but in reality they should’ve sent me out of camp if that is what they wanted as the arm is in the biggest danger off the bike doing normal things.  In the past year the shoulder has come out three times, once getting out of a kayak, once getting out of a swimming hole in Australia, and once now going to bed in Morocco.  As far as I am concerned, being on a bike is a safe place as long as I keep it up right!  With this in mind I went to the organizers, got there permission to continute the race, then signed a waiver for the doctors.  They were still reluctant so I had my Physio  friend Jordi come and help explain the situation and after a lot of convincing was finally given my number plate back so I could keep racing.  With just 20 minute till race start it was a race just getting to the start line but I made it with seconds to spare.  I was planning to just ride the race at a nice tourist pace, but the riders in the mid pack were riding sketchy so I made my way up to the front were the pros were riding smoothly and much more safely.  Here I felt safe and would finish the stage in the lead group, still holding onto a top 5 in the overall GC.

Stage 3 was a gongshow with riders attacking all over the place as we headed over some small mountains with our IMG_3571backpacks on as we had to pack all our gear for the night as it was part of the Marathon stage.   Unable to ride the rough sections fast enough to stay up in the front, it turned into a hard day of chasing as we road through some ancient villages and into the outskirts of the Sahara desert.  It was a pretty flat day but the surrounding mountains were beautiful.   This night was a gongshow as they had two large tents set up for 600 of us riders.11169673_820858371336218_2156828474398742110_o

Sleeping with 300 dirty bike racers, 95% of them being male isn’t what dreams are made of.  Ear plugs and night shades can be used to block out some of the noise and light, but there was no solution for the smells.  I slept on the edge of the tent with my head sticking out the underside of it, which actually lead to a solid sleep.  Waking up in the morning getting ready for the race I found out someone had stolen by bike gloves off my bike over night.  Either someone in the top 10 sabotaging my efforts, or some dork stealing my gloves cause he lost his.  Getting to the start line I was further surprised when I realized I was pretty much the only guy in the lead pack that was still carrying his own stuff, as everyone else had hired teammates to be mules for them.  This lit a fire inside and when the start gun went off I took off at the front of the race with 2 other riders.IMG_3482

The other guys chased but we all had strong legs and soon had a 30 second gap as we charged into the 98 km flat stage.  The problem was that the lead vehicle kept changing course and there was little flagging.  We soon started following the lead helicopter, who apparently had no idea where the course went and was just following us to take shots as we raced into no mans land.  Hitting a highway a race official car finally caught up and directed us 90 degrees

from where we had come from back on course.  When the riders at the back saw what was going on they started cutting across the desert and soon we went from leaders to mid packers.    From here the day collapsed as three flat tires would kill any more efforts of staying in contention for a top 5.  Only having 2 tubes, this created a problem and in the end over 1 hour and 15 minutes was lost on the day.

Stage 5 was the Garmin, navigational stage.  The 102 km route was unmarked, all we had were the coordinates on our GPS’s of the 4 mandatory checkpoints and a couple feed stations.  The day started off with a 4 km stretch across the magnificent sand dunes which have become legendary in the race.  My friend Milton Ramos from Honduras has been on the podium 5 times at Titan Desert but had unfortunately gotten sick on stage 1 and was unable to finish.  Now out of the contention, he was still riding the stages for training.  He told me to follow him on the start of this day as he is known as the Desert Fox and can managIMG_3558e the sand dunes better than anyone.

All the riders took off in one direction, we hung back so the leaders wouldn’t follow us and then we took oIMG_3580ff in another direction, climbing over a small sand dune pass, through some bushes and then onto the huge dunes, as the other riders took the long way around.  From here Milton took off as he seemed to float across the dunes on his tires with about 8 psi in them.  Seeing his tactics I stopped and deflated my tires and was soon riding pretty well on the sand myself.  We had a huge lead and were the first ones to the 1st checkpoint, the problem was that riding the dunes properly required a lot of crashing and hopping on and off the bike which I couldn’t manage properly with the shoulder that was suppose to be in a sling.

 

Having nightmares of having to go back to the angry doctors to have them  fix my arm again I knew this wasn’t an option so raced across the dunes like a handicap that I was.  Eventually some other riders caught up and soon I drifted back to the high teens as we got off the dunes and onto the final 85 km of the stage across the desert. It was a ridiculous day trying to find all the checkpoints, I wasn’t riding very fast but my navigational skills were working good.  Meanwwhile the lead group of ten riders had big troubles and road around in circles trying to find all the checkpoints.   It was a giant easter egg hunt, mixed in with some hard riding.  This was also one of the most beautiful days of they race as we passed numerous oasis’s backed up agains the giant Dunes and could see Algeria far off across the desert.  At the end of the day the overall GC as shaken up really good as 7 of the top ten guys lost over an hour, with Colombian Diego Tamayo taking over the race lead.  Motivated for a good last stage I went to bed early this night but was soon awoken by bed bugs at 11pm,  it was a sleepless night as I scratched myself and ran between my Haima and the showers.  Eventually I crawled into my bivi sac on the edge of the camp and found a bit of rest before morning light.IMG_3463

Stage 6 was only 65 km long and pancake flat as we raced across a moon like landscape.  At the start the Dutch Champ Bram Rood attacked and road the first 10 km of the race off the front in 16 minutes.  It was a hard day as we all chased, when we got past the checkpoint it got even more insane as we were told that 3 riders had already passed it 4 minutes before us.  Huh??, 10 km in 12 minutes on mountain bikes!?  How come none of us saw these riders take off?  Rumour has it the 3 riders had signed in for the race and then road off into a town to hide before the race started, giving them a big advantage.  In the end the leaders of the real race would catch 2 of these guys, but 1 of them would end up winning the stage by 7 seconds.  I’m not sure what occurred there but it was clearly monkey business.  I left it for the other riders to figure it out as my race was well done at that point and I was stoked  to finish without having to re-visit my Doctor friends.

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The post race party was a grand show as we hung out in the giant courtyards of a nice hotel, watching race videos, awarding the winners, and getting served a 5 course Morrocan meal highlighted with a lamb Tangine, which is sheep roasted with prunes in a clay pot and a nice broth.  It was a long evening as the Spanish really know how to prolong an event as they served up 1 course every hour starting at 9 PM.   All in all it was a stellar finish to a crazy week.  Morocco is a special country and the race is a gem as it combines stiff competition, orienteering, adventure, and challenging tracks.  To win this thing it takes a lot of skill and fitness with some luck mixed in.   I have my fingers crossed I’ll get a chance to come back for redemption one day!

Now is recovery time as I figure out the next course of action with my damaged shoulder.  Resting up in the Spanish mountains at my friends Willy Mulonias house in Navacerrada just north of Madrid is a great base toKona-Cog-logo make a plan and get recovered from the African adventure.

Huge thanks to the Titan Desert organization for inviting me over to there race and to my title sponsor Kona for getting my bikes and gear ready for this trip!

Over and out!IMG_3596

 

Sea Otter Chaos- Onwards to Morocco

Sea Otter is a busy time of year as nearly everyone involved in the cycling industry gathers in Monterrey California to show off there new product and celebrate another year of racing/riding with a weekend full of events.  It’s a controlled gongshow and a great time as we get to meet our sponsors, catch up with other racers and hang out with our teams and all the front office workers.  Flying into San Francisco tuesday evening I awoke after a 2 hour sleep to catch the sun setting over the Golden Gate bridge.  It was an inspiring start to the trip and soon I was having dinner with my Kona team-mates,  catching up on the early season racing adventures.  Golden-gate-bridge-sunset

We have a rad team.  Barry Wicks is both our team manager and all rounder who can race with the best of them whether it is XC, Marathon, Stage racing or gravel road racing.  He is mostly in North America crushing races here and taking part in cool events such as the 200 mile Dirty Kanza.  Spencer Paxson is our zippy Indy Car from Bellingham Washington.  He rips up the XCO scene, often representing the USA around the globe and racing World Cups. He keeps us inspired to zip around really fast.   Kris Sneddon is a fellow Canadian from the Sunshine Coast and is one of the North Americas top single track riders and is nearly unbeatable at stage races such as the BC Bike race and Singletrack 6.   He also likes polar bear dips in freezing water.  Helen Wyman from the UK was our only rider on the Endurance team who was missing as her base camp is in England.  She is one of the Worlds top Cyclo cross racers as she races her Kona Jake the Snake  around the World and is always a podium contender at the World XC Championships.  We were sad she couldn’t join us for this trip as we had a lot of fun racing with her in Austrian snowstorms a couple years back!   dramatic-sea-otter

Spending the week with the team was great, going on team rides in the Redwoods, Mexican dinners, watching hockey, building up team bikes and sussing out all our new gear for the year.  The racing down at Sea Otter was crazy with nearly 100 Pro men tackling a tiny 2 minute per lap short track circuit.  The Worlds best short course racers were here and all the top North Americans.  Luckily I had a top 25 call up thanks to my UCI points and managed to stick to fellow Canadian Max Plaxton for the first few laps to stay out of trouble and ahead of the traffic jams taking place behind as riders would have to stand in line to funnel through a little gate in the middle of the course.  By the time the last rider got his turn to head through the opening, the leaders were already coming through on there second lap, so they got pulled.  It’s insane to race a bike this way, with only about 50 of the riders able to finish the 25 minute race.  After a busy spring of 5-6 hour rides, I surprised myself and managed to hang in there for a top 35 finish which is a great sign the top end speed is improving as it will be needed at the European Marathons in the months to come.

The XC on Saturday was sketchy as hell with 125 of us sprinting for the whole shot down the Laguna Seca Speedway.  I saw Christoph Sauser heading up the outside so I hopped on his wheel and was briefly in the top 10 before the course pinched off and he squeaked into the lead group.  I got schooled and had to hit the brakes to avoid a major collision with 100 riders going for it and went from top 10 to nearly 100th.  After this the course hit a rutted out dusty descent for 3-4 km in which all we could see was a dust storm as our bikes bounced blindly off rocks at a scary speed.  If I hit the brakes at all, 4 riders would blow by so it was necessary to keep speed to maintain any sort of start position.  This was interuppeted with a couple all out sprints up tiny climbs, before heading back into the descending chaos.  These max efforts were causing havoc on any sort of pacing plan.  Riders were firing all there bullets in the first 30 minutes to try and get a good position, but many of them had little fitness t4298o back it up and just ended up clogging the trails ahead of those of us who are accustomed to racing within our abilities and setting a manageable pace.

Soon enough we were at the bottom of the course and started climbing up some single track.  Here we lined up one by one in a row of 130 riders to head back up the hill, when one rider messed up it would domino effect and everyone would have to stop.  If you didn’t have the fitness to stay with the top 20 lead riders you were at the mercy of riding with a lot of guys that had a hard time riding the smooth singlet rack smoothly.   Some guys started running through the woods to improve there place in line, I caught one Latino doing this and gave him a good hockey shove into the bushes. It was a brief moment in which I felt I was winning.Kona-Cog-logo  The whole situation was mental, eventually the course would open up on double track in which it would be an all put sprint to the next bit of single track, which would be jammed up and give us a chance to rest again.  Towards the end of the first 17 mile lap, things started to space out and heading into the 2nd lap we got to race our bikes properly.  By this time I was way the hell back there, but managed to pass 20-30 riders on the  lap to move into the top 60.   It was a rough day on the bike although it inspired me to work on my starts as it is clearly a weakness in these short races.   These zippy XC guys can really rip for a couple hours which if I can add some of this talent to my Marathon arsenal it will make a deadly combo!11187427_10152706125366193_3729098304446928819_o

Sunday after Sea Otter we forgot about our bikes and headed off to the baseball game in downtown San Francisco with fellow Canucks Kris, Max Plaxton and the godfather Roger Bartells.  Roger lives down here in Healdsburg and has often opened his house to Canadian riders to come down and train in the nice weather and great riding terrain of North Cali.   Roger picked up club seats for us to the Giants vs Arizona Diamondbacks game.  They were rad seats and he toured us  throughout the ballpark and afterwards around downtown  SF, taking us to a rad Peruvian restaurant on the water for dinner where Barry and his wife Sarah met up with us.  It was a nice day to forget about riding and the bonus was we got to see one of the USA’s iconic cities in the process.

Heading back to Victoria for 2 nights was a chaotic time as I transferred new gear home, did normal life things, and re-packed for 2 months over in Europe.  There was some playoff hockey to be watched as well with my bro and cousin as there are 5 Canadian teams in the playoffs this year which is bringing all of Canada alive, of course except for Edmonton and Toronto as they are flat out awful at Hockey these days.   It was a bit tight getting everything in line for the Euro trip but everything neatly came in line just in time and right now I’m looking down on the Rocky Mountains enroute to Spain.  Huge Thanks to my cousin Tasha for helping with some last minute packing this am and an airport drop-off.   Hope you can join in on a trip soon!10906387_10152358139527706_1592002533080416566_n

The next couple days will hopefully be spent relaxing at my friend Willy Mulonias (organizer of the Mongolia Bike Challenge) house up in the Spanish mountains north of Madrid.  From there it will be into the  hands of the Titan Desert organization as they will fly us down to Morocoo to take part in there legendary 6 day stage race across the Atlas mountains and through some remote deserts from April 27-May 2.   It’s going to be a rad adventure and a good test and boost to the fitness levels as I continue the long and proper build up to the big races this year.  I’ve always been one  to lay down months of big base miles in the early season before slowly adding intensity.  This formula has worked great in the past as the body gets faster every week from April-June and then July onwards it is generally running at full throttle .11187168_10152706124376193_1116004555154005820_o

Huge thanks to Kona Bicycles for the new race rigs!  The King Kahuna 29’re hard tail will be the weapon of choice for this years European campaign while the Hei Hei Supreme dualie will be waiting on the sidelines to hop into some North American action later this summer.

Results from Morocco can hopefully be found here throughout the race:  http://www.titandesert.com
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Indonesian Tour-Canada-California

Two weeks in Vietnam was just enough to get a fine taste of a spectacular country.   The street food was top notch, the climate near perfect, and the local culture was great!  The schedule called for a trip over to Indonesia  for a training camp so the journey continued across the ocean…Indonesia-Flag-Full-HD-Desktop-Wallpaper

Last November during a race in East Timor I met Dr. Chet Collins who is a Physio Therapist from the States, currently living in Bali and working in the Middle east.  He had spent some time working on my sore shoulder which had been dislocated 4 times the previous year and was starting to tighten up and hinder my racing.  After just two sessions he had the shoulder moving freely again and it hasn’t been a problem since.  It was starting to tighten up a bit this spring so I was grateful when Chet said he could work on it and make sure it was in top condition for another year on the circuits!DSC01214

Overnighting at the airport in Singapore was a treat as they have everything in there including a movie theatre, outdoor courtyard for fresh air, free massage chairs, quiet zones with waterfalls, loads of good food, free internet, and the enjoyment of watching thousands of travellers transit through the area on there journeys around the World.  As good as it was, hopping a flight to Bali the next morning wasn’t hard to do!

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Vietnam Victory Challenge

The body was revved up after the tour down to the coast and I knew I had to keep the engine lit or else it would settle into recovery mode and make the 1st day26312 of the Vietnam Victory Challenge a real challenge.  Heading down to the “Valley of Love” to pre-ride the courses, I was warned by the race director Bob that the security guards may try to stop us riders from entering the tourist haven on our bikes but that we should just keep riding.

 

As I entered the gates to the Valley, two guards got up to wave me down, trying to get me to leave my bike and walk in.  Remembering what Bob had said I pinned it, splitting the two guards and getting a good gap before one 10515299_10152624236476193_5419671315692467780_ohad a chance to hop on a scooter to take chase.  I blitzed him as I made a couple sweet passes on the decent into the valley and was soon on the road to freedom.  All of a sudden another scooter came out of left field in front of me, I blew past him, he pulled a U turn and then my luck ran out as I hit a large climb and couldn’t out pace the angry guard.  Cutting in front of me, we came to a stand still, each talking in our foreign tongues.  It was rather ridiculous and we both cracked a smile as I pulled out my phone to call the race organizers to figure the situation out.  Even though Bob had organized us to be allowed to ride our bikes in the Love haven, the guards were on a power trip and escorted me out of the zone.  I proceeded to ride 1 km down the road and then back into the haven through the woods in which I finally got my pre-ride of the course in. (more…)

Vietnam

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The Vietnam adventure kickstarted when I heard about a new 3 day race called the Vietnam Victory Challenge.  Emailing the organizers to find out more about it I quickly received a nice offer from Bob the race director to help get me to the startline.   I knew I couldn’t pass on the chance to head to Vietnam but it was hard pulling away from a great winter in Victoria.  The weather had been amazing and training was going great with Mr.Plaxton and  Dan Prouxl and his National Team crew.    I was in a great routine, days were melting into weeks, and life was cushy.  A little to cushy for my liking as I was starting to lose that bit of excitement necessary to keep the edge and decided it was time to shake things up and leave base camp for a little adventure on the other side of the globe.

10343660_10152624234581193_2307485628357148034_nVietnam is a developing country and has had a rough history with most recently the Vietnam war from 1954-1975.  The country has rebounded nicely from the catastrophe and it’s 91 million citizens now enjoy a high literacy rate near 94%, and have one of the Worlds quickest growing economies.  They are the world leaders in Cashew and Pepper exportation, and 2nd up in Coffee and Rice which is impressive for one nation!  It has always been a country which has intrigued me as there seems to be a good balance of food, geography and cultural aspectes to it and a nice climate to boot. (more…)