Sunday, May 12, 2013

Root Rockin' in Beachberg: 2013 Spring Chicken Enduro

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Kona Hei Hei Supreme: XC Whip!
How long did it take to get used to +25 degrees celcius in the Ottawa Valley? About a day. Summer. In  May. Amazing. The gravy train was a-rollin. Three races down, regular Tuesday night leg-rippers going off without fail, all the guys on either refreshed or new bikes; all was aligned for the Spring Chicken Enduro in Beachberg on Saturday, May 11. Then the weather happened.

Rewind to, say, ten years ago, when Rodd, Pascal, Jacques, and I (as I recall...) fielded a team for a 12-hour race in Beachberg. Sweet little cabin, great singltrack, fun guys; we were all set for a great race. Then came the rain. Before long, the clay trails were virtually unrideable, and, eyes consuming mud, I missed a turn and rode 20k out and 20k back on a road before returning to the course. Surch and Rescue....

Summer in Ottawa, surely I'd return to the 'Berg to ride fast, dry trails! Not. 35mm of rain forecasted overnight meant it was back to tire deliberations, just like the spring classics. What to do?

If the clay would be INSANE, I'd need INSANE clearance. One option for that: my Niner, in VTT mode (drop bars), with my Clement PDX cyclocross tires. These could handle epic mud. If less than epic, and/or there would be too much rock and roots to handle, it'd be my swank new Kona Hei Hei Supreme carbon-xc-wonder-bike. Not wanting to trash the new bike, I prepared both in the event that EPIC was the order of the day.

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Niner MCR in VTT-mud-mode. Ugh...
Looking at the course map, it seemed dirt roads comprised about 50% of the race. It looked like dirt road with some singletrack, totaling 50k. The Niner could handle the roads better than anything else, but I'd have to go slower on the singletrack. In that case, I'd have to attack off the start, and repeat for every road section. If the mud wasn't so bad (i.e., not clogging in the frame and fork). the Kona would be the better bet. I wouldn't know until we got there.

Iain was in the same boat, kinda. His VTT had Racing Ralphs on it, and his Intense some a weird Geax and a Crossmark.

On arrival, we were lucky to chat with Cameron Dube, race organizer, and another local rider. "Which set-up, guys? Mega-clearance-ass-chapper, or uber xc bike?" "Well, there first 6k of singletrack is rocky. The wheels will turn, the mud won't be crazy." "Ok, done, uber xc it is."

What a crew we had lined up: Rob (who has been trying to get us to this race for a couple years), Iain, Marcel, Andy, Mike, Brad, Noah, and Mike. With our numbers, many of whom have been racing this spring, the plan was simple: drive a hard pace off the start and establish the lead group going into the first singletrack, 5k up a dirt road.

VonBubbles was keen to hit out hard too, as was JC (The Flying Frenchman), and of course, Iain, Rob, Marcel, and Jarrod Forrest (Norco). A few minutes into the first woods, we were four: me, Rob, Iain, and Jarrod. Talk about technical! Awesome, full on mtb, but with more flow than Kanata Lakes. How's that for an introduction to a new bike? Fun!

Iain too the lead and was riding great. Clipping a stump with the bottom of my fork, I was launched. Boo. Back on before Jarrod and Rob passed, I had to jump back off to straighten the bars (tool free, perfect!), and follow. Jarrod was leading, and this revealed his achilles heal: singletrack. With Iain pulling away, Rob and I clearly wanted one thing: to pass.

We got by as the trail opened up into a transition, and I reeled Iain in (he let me). At this point, we'd not even covered 10k. Back together shortly. Rob, Iain, and I gapped Jarrod on the narrow stuff and new we would have him off our train if we could get onto a wide open section and work together. However, some ambiguous route marking tricked Iain into a wrong turn. Rob too was fooled, so it was two against one; I'd seen the arrow. Down a hill, a marshall told is we were off, so back up it was. Jarrod entered the woods just as we approached, not just regaining, but improving his position, and leading the singletrack at his own pace rather than following. Darn!

"There's still 40k to go!" It had taken an hour to cover the first 10k of the race. Wow, I only brought one bottle.... On we went, Jarrod hiding well, knowing he was where he wanted to be, but at the same time, a difficult position.

Fast descent into singletrack. Rob: "I've got a flat." Crap. I don't think Iain or I considered stopping for longer than a split second. If Jarrod got a gap, and we had any sort of drama, that'd be it. We had to keep on, but I think we both eased up a bit in hopes of Rob catching back on.

Tenacious. That's the word that came to mind for Jarrod. We just couldn't shake him. It was clear that he was strong on the climbs, and could hang well on the roads as long as the speeds were constant. We'd get a little gap, and he'd close it, over and over. "This has got to wear him down," I thought. "He'll crack."

Obvious tactics kicked in with 20k to go. I was pulling a lot, not wanting to concede my position into any singletrack, and never knowing when it would come. With the wind picking up, there was no was I was going to keep that up indefinitely. Being 2, we could 'force' Jarrod to pull, as he knew that if he slowed too much, we could attack, and repeat. Make him work, see if we could crack him.

Onto wide open stuff inside the final 15k, it was cat and mouse. "You know what we have to do, right?" Iain asked. "Yeah." The ol' one-two. I figured we'd get it going with about 10k to go. Sat up, let Iain pull, then Jarrod. Concerned about going to hard, Jarrod brought it down. That was my cue: attack.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight; look back. No chase. Hmmm, that was not expected. I figured Jarrod would come after me, then Iain would go, and we'd have to do it a few times. But nope, he didn't "Ok, 13k to go solo, that's fine."

I think that had to be the first time I've made a move in a race that felt like an assured win. Usually, you make a move, and pray right up until the line, or close to it, that it will work. That's probably because I have not spent a great deal of time racing with team-mates. In this case, Jarrod knew that if he chased, Iain would counter if he caught me, or even if he didn't So basically, he'd have no chance of winning. What he didn't know was that Iain had something in his eye that was clouding his vision. He couldn't see the course markings clearly enough to read them. Still he would have countered, but he'd have wanted me to get back to him so I could steer. So, Jarrod didn't chase. This left it to me to simply ride smoothly, avoid crashing or a mechanical, and ride it.

Meanwhile, Iain was following, not knowing what was coming and where. With 3k to go, I heard their voices, and then saw them across a quarry, so I knew Jarrod was chasing hard. I'd learn that he was trying to shake Iain, to no avail.

I rolled through the narrow finish at just over 2:30, just shy of 50k. The only way Iain could take 2nd would be if he was leading, as there was no room to pass at the finish. Nope...Jarrod was the one, rolling through with Iain on his wheel. Well played, Jarrod!

Next up was Marcal and then Andy very shortly after, rounding out 4 Tall Tree Cycles riders in the top 5! Amazing. Rob rolled through later on, and recounted his CO2 carnage, pathetic mini-pump performance, and good samaritanism (using his pathetipump to help another racer). Then Mike, Brad, and Noah followed up, all smiles.

A half-blind, but happy Iain.
Of course, a win for the team is great, but even better is seeing that our training together is really working well. Our core group of 'race' guys have been out all spring, week in and week out, hammering each other. Now, we get to bear the fruits (not to suggest this training hasn't been fun 'cause it has!) of our efforts and race together well. Generally, mtb racing is pretty straightforward: the faster riders go faster than the slower riders, and that's that. I think this is why it it feels so much more interesting and exciting to watch road and CX racing: the strategy is there to see play out. Now that we have enough strong guys racing together, we too can use strategy and tactics on the road, and certain mtb races, which is FUN. Its a whole other dynamic that makes the race more exciting for us, rather than just a slog. Its also really nice to get to do races with the guys who don't take racing so seriously, but love it all the same. If only we'd had more time to spend after the race to hang with the team and friends old and new.

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Thanks BORCA!
The consensus seems to be that we'll make the Spring Chicken a regular race on our schedule. The course, mostly build and set by Cameron Dube, was excellent. There was literally nothing that screamed: 'wack feature,' which is quite a feat for a 50k loop. In contrast, we were treated to many kilometers of superb singletrack, varying from rocky and rooty to smooth and piney. Diversity: check. Sure, there was some boggy stuff on account of the rain, but we were able to ride all but a few steep slick climbs; no problem at all. The best section of all was a contour trail that was literally perfect. We were hooting it up, it was so fun. Just outstanding, this is the stuff that makes us want to ride and race mountain bikes. Cameron should be commended for his design; thanks Cam!

While commendations are flying, thanks to all the volunteers who were out along the route keeping us (mostly) on track and safe!

Congrats to Iain and Jarrod, and thanks to Iain for being a loyal team-mate and covering me. It is time for me to set you up! Thanks also go out to the rest of our Tuesday night leg-rippers for helping me and each other get into race form. Bring on the Sunset Series at Camp Fortune, May 22!

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Bike path ripper! Thankfully, the bike cleaned up well, and looks like this once again.
On the tech front, for those who are interested, the Kona was indeed a supreme machine. This was my first ride on the bike (beyond a bike path shakedown), and it did not disappoint. On the contrary, it was flawless. I set up the suspension to balance the road and trail sections well, and that's exactly what it did. The rear end was so effective, I barely noticed it. That's a sign of an excellent design. The drivetrain, 2x10 SRAM XO was spot on, never missing a step. And the tires sure did impress, Maxxis Ikons in 2.2", which miraculously hooked up well on all manner of surfaces (literally!), AND rolled fast on the dirt roads and pavement. Yes, that is possible! Wow. I'll get into more detail on the bike over the summer, but initial impression is WOW.

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