It's taken me a couple of days to write anything about this race. My emotions are mixed and my motivation is, well, low. First the details: 77km point to point XC race from Quebec City to MSA. The race starts in the heart of old Quebec, which the signs say is The Nation's Capital -- who knew? It's beautiful either way and it sure feels PRO having such an impressive town shut down for your little bicycle competition.
Our group -- me, Neil, Anna, Trish, Dave and Imad made it to the start just fine and assumed the position near the front of nearly 500 racers. Things rolled out for an 11km "neutral" start through the streets of Quebec City with a police escort. Like I said, PRO. This start may have been neutral but it was sure full of thrills and spills. First Dave hit the deck. He picked up his brand new Jet 9 (first ride on it!) off the pavement unscathed. Trish was not so lucky. She clipped someone's wheel with her hands in her back pocket and went down hard. The road rash would have been manageable for the next 4hrs but this was not:
Carbon rails = weak. Nobody knew any of this crash carnage was happening until hours later at the finish line when Trish greet
ed us in street clothes and bandages. She was okay but disappointed to miss the race.
Following the action-packed start the motorcycles pulled off and dumped us on a gravel road climb reminiscent of the CBC road at Camp Fortune. Things strung out quickly. Neil was well positioned near the front with our friend Tim Carleton from Toronto not far behind. Imad and I sat in the next group. Dave and Anna presumably not far behind us. The next two hours of rugged hydro cut did me in. This is where my emotions are mixed -- the race was fantastic but I was not. I knew after about an hour that my legs just weren't firing. This was the fourth big weekend of travelling/racing in a row and I was cooked. My spirits sank fast and I slipped into survival mode. Neil was dealing with his own setbacks around this time as well - a flat tire and a botched repair cost him what would likely have been a top 5 placing.
It wasn't long before I realized that this was going to be a very, very long day. The hydro cut opener would have been the deciding feature in a race like, say, Crank the Shield but here it was just the beginning. This was a course to be respected. My body and mind were protesting ever louder and the rocky climbs just kept coming. At one point I came to a paved section and could see Imad in the distance. I thought, "what the heck..." and time trialled across the minute or so gap. Just as I closed in the course made a 90 degree turn from the road into a ditch. Weird? Yes. On the other side of the ditch was what would be the pivotal feature for me. A nasty granny gear ascent on a technical trail that seemed to last about 15 minutes. I cracked. Imad rode/walked away up the climb and another handful of people passed. I was genuinely stumbling pushing my bike.
I had looked briefly at the course profile and knew there was two big climbs before a bomber descent into MSA. I was glad to have the first one out of the way but was dreading the next. Somewhere around hour 3 the course started to climb yet another rocky hydro cut doubletrack. It was a tough, rolling climb that I figured must be the final climb. Then the course turned into a clearing with a chairlift base. Were we at the BOTTOM of the hill? Seriously? From there things got really hard. I put it in my easiest gear (26 x34) and hoped for the best. Glancing down at my speedometer was not encouraging -- 5kph -- and working like an animal. The slope was very steep, loose and exposed to the sun. I was shattered and it just went on and on. Were we going to climb the whole freaking ski hill?! More or less. I gave up on watching the data but I'm told it was about a 400 metre elevation gain over a few kilometres.
At the top a friendly volunteer shouted encouragement and directed us onto what looked to be the final descent to the finish. I have raced at MSA before and know just how technical the trails can be so I was kind of excited for this last bit. I figure I'm pretty good at this stuff... but not after the toughest 3.5hrs of my life. Hitting the first steep rock sections I was having difficulty standing and steering. My hands could hardly squeeze the brakes. After maybe 10 minutes of traversing the ski hill on crazy hiking trails Neil appeared! He had dealt with his tire issues early on and steadily gained ground. His presence was motivating and he guided me down the last descent. I was amazed at just how long it was. I guess I'm showing my inexperience here -- I have not raced out West in the "real" mountains -- but it really was humbling.
And then it was over. Wow. Tim was at the finish line having scored an impressive 8th place, Imad crossed in 14th, Neil 18th and me in 20th. Dave came in shortly after in 34th with Stuart Blunt not far behind. We were all within a few minutes of each other so I guess it was hard for everybody. And there were something like 480 starters... still, I wasn't thrilled with how my motivation wilted out there. It's the end of the mountain bike race season though. And it's been a good run! But maybe one weekend too many.
Despite all my cursing and complaining on the course I would highly recommend this race. It's very well organized and the course is second to none. Just be prepared for 1800 metres of steep rocky climbing, stream crossings, mud bogs, white knuckle descents and leg cramps! I'll be back next year.