This weekend marked the first races of our season. Both were at Fern & Harvey’s mountain bike farm just outside of Stony Plain (near Edmonton), so I made the trip up and Sheldon and I headed out together. To get you started, here’s a general description of the races:

The Bacon Buffet: This was a short 21km (3 lap) course broken into two main sections, one technical section that wound itself through the trees, and a second rolling section through some open fields. It also featured what was called a “Houffalize” climb (essentially a super steep hill) into the feed zone. Imagine finishing that climb, legs burning, light headed and out of breath and rollling into the feed zone, only instead of handing out Gatorade and bananas, they’re handing out bacon!! Pure awesomeness.

The TransStony Superhero Enduro: Despite a surprising lack of bacon, the following day was host to the enduro course. This race was held on the same track as the Bacon Buffet but with slight modifications, the main one being the reversal of the race direction. I’m not sure which course I liked better, but I found the endurance course incrementally easier. The goal with this race was to do as many laps as possible within a 6 hour window. There were three categories available to racers:

  • Superman: Effectively a solo run at things
  • Dynamic Duo: Partnered racing (both on the course at the same time)
  • Fantastic Four: A team relay

This is the first in a two part post, in this post, I’ll regale you with my thoughts on the two races and in part two Sheldon shall impart his wisdom.

The Bacon Buffet

If I’m being honest, tension was pretty high at the start line… It marked way too many ‘firsts’ for a race. It was my first race of the season (always nerve-wracking), the first time I’d really ‘trained’ in the off season (not sure what to expect), my first ride on the mountain bike this year (not optimal), and first ride on my new bike (far from optimal). I did my best to put everything out of my head and focus on the race ahead…

As the countdown began my strategy was simple – chill out in the middle of the pack, feel out the course and the other racers, then start picking people off (if I was able) during the second and third laps. It should be noted that Sheldon and I were racing individually in this race, so we really hadn’t talked about any sort of ‘race strategy’ with each other. With that said, as soon as the race started Smart was out of the gates like a freaking gazelle! Despite the gap that stretched between us and instinct screaming at me to sprint out after him, I managed to stick to my plan.

As is normal, things bunched up a bit during the first technical sections and climbs and I was able to pop out and pass a few people right off the bat. Things mellowed out about halfway into the first lap and I managed to catch up to Sheldon at some point during that time. I decided to sit on/around his wheel for the rest of the first lap.

After we hit the “Houffalizer” as I called it, I was still feeling pretty good so I decided to make my move – at the next opportunity I picked things up. The next few kms went well and I felt strong, but I could definitely tell that I hadn’t been on a mountain bike… The course was technical, and it was kicking my ass – a disconcerting feeling since I’m normally so comfortable on the bike. I was still able to ride everything cleanly, I just wasn’t able to do it with any type of grace or flow… Obviously that made it tough to keep a pace that I was happy with, and made it a bit tougher to mentally stay positive as well.

Smart workin' hard

Smart workin’ hard

As I closed in on the end of the second lap, I could tell that I was managing to sustain a decent pace, one that was “potentially” sustainable for lap 3… Unfortunately it was at that time that I started hearing a sharp ‘hissing’ sound. Initially I thought it was my rear shock leaking air, but as it turned out I had blown my front tire. What’s funny (in a way that is not funny at all) is that Sheldon and I had debated whether or not to carry tubes/tools with us during the short track race and both decided against it…

Ultimately, I guess it serves me right. All I can say is: Lesson learned.

All told, a very disappointing first race – I wasn’t mentally prepared for a DNF… Though I guess it did permit me to catch a few photos of the event, and the course itself was super fun for the short time I spent on it.

The TransStony Superhero Enduro

The night after the Bacon Buffet I sat down to remedy my depressingly flat tire only to discover that my rim tape was completely buggered and that the cause of my flat had been the resulting exposed spoke holes. Since all the bike shops were now closed, I was forced to work with what I had… My MacGyver influenced youth had me immediately thinking of electrician/duct tape, but after a quick reference check on Google I learned that these options tended to be reserved for “emergencies” only… Definitely not suitable for a 6 hour endurance ride, especially considering the technical and rooted terrain (though I did toss it in the kit, just in case). I ended up pulling the rim tape completely off and actually ironing it out at a really low heat. It appeared to do the trick, so I considered the bike once again race-ready!

For reasons unknown Sheldon and I never quite synced correctly on the specific format of this race… Initially we thought it was something we rode together, after which we were convinced it was a two man relay – Being very busy lads leading up to the race we had no time to fully investigate the answer. We went in assuming we were going to be swapping laps… After a quick chat with the commissaire however, we were forced to reset our mental compass and readied ourselves for 6 hours of communal pain (rather than 3 each). At least we managed to figure it out before the race started…

Sitting in the staging area we decided that Sheldon would set the pace, and that I would just suck wheel and follow his lead. The chaos of the mass start managed to inject a handful of riders between us, but I managed to quickly rectify things and we were able to settle into a groove.

As with the Bacon Buffet, I found aerobically I didn’t have too many difficulties, the pace definitely seemed sustainable, but I still struggled with things technically and kind of got tossed around… Something amplified even more by watching Sheldon’s smooth lines through the trail. This eventually began to improve as the laps progressed and I slowly regained some of my ‘bike english’. I also backed off Sheldon’s tire and started giving him a bit more room, which ended up helping us both ride a little more cleanly.

While the start of the race had graced us with near perfect race conditions (overcast and a little chilly), the day quickly heated up and the majority of the race was pretty warm, though definitely manageable. For the most part we just kept to our rhythm, stopping at the end of each lap for a couple of minutes to rest and refuel. As we rolled into the feed zone around hour 5, the winds had picked up and we were starting to get pelted by rain. We decided to make a judgement call.

Knowing we had lapped all but one team in our category, we decided to wait for 15 minutes and see if any of the other teams appeared. If they had, we would’ve blasted out another lap to ensure we kept our lead and our standing. As it turned out we didn’t see anybody for quite a while, and when they did emerge, none headed out for additional laps. Though we definitely had more than enough time for another lap (maybe even two), we’d both been in the saddle for a long time and were starting to feel a little beat up so we decided to call it. We were both pretty happy with our performance and felt good about our #2 podium spot (if our math was right)!

A victorious finish

A victorious finish

After we changed into some warmer clothes we returned to cheer on the rest of the racers. There were some impressive finishes to be sure, especially one by Devin Erfle of the Dead Goats, who churned out a massive sprint to the finish to complete his final lap at 05:59:59:16 – effectively finishing with 84 hundredths of a second left in the race – talk about cutting it close! After collapsing on the finishing line, he managed to secure the #2 spot in the solo men. Nice work!

As Sheldon and I confidently listened to the podium spots being read out after the race, we didn’t recognize our names being called for either the #3, or #2 spots in the Dynamic Duo category… As we nervously exchanged glances, frantically doing the math in our heads to see if we had messed up our calculations we heard our names being called for #1!! It turns out the other team we had our eye on had actually been racing in the 4 person relay event with “ghost” riders… So we were carrying a lead pretty much the whole way and didn’t realize it!

Overall, both races were awesome – Good turnout, well organized, awesome volunteers (when aren’t volunteers awesome?!), and a really fun/challenging course. There was a really nice spread of skill levels as well, I would encourage anybody thinking of getting into the sport to give this one a try, I know I’ll be there next year… I mean… I have a title to defend you know ;-)