Just as all this scenery threatens to turn the ride into a postcard, the field comes face to face with the sheer western face of the Rocky Mountains. This near-impenetrable fortress has very few paths over or around, so they face the biggest day of vertical served this week with three major climbs of at least 700 metres each and a total of nearly 3000 metres on the day.
Ken’s stage wrap-up
Despite this stage being far from the longest of the week, it was definitely billed as one of the most difficult.
They weren’t lying. It was tough.
Things began innocently enough with a fast paced roll down the highway leading into a climb up the Fairmont Springs roadway. It was a pretty moderate way to start the day and Sheldon and I simply tucked into the ‘peloton’ and sucked wheel until we hit the climb. What we didn’t realize is that even though we were only 8 km or so into the race this climb wasn’t likely to end for a very, very long time.
The pavement eventually turned into a fireroad, which eventually turned into doubletrack, which eventually turned into singletrack, which resulted an immediate interruption to our in-the-saddle ascent and marked the beginning of a long, sincere hike-a-bike. This wasn’t the type of hike-a-bike where it’s just a little too steep to ride and you can push your bike beside you… This was the type of hike-a-bike where you’ve got one hand balancing your bike on your back and one hand steadying your hike on the steep face of the ascent.
After a seemingly endless climb we finally topped out and a communal sigh of relieve was let out… This was to be short lived. Sure the climb was (mostly) over, but we weren’t immediately treated to a kilometer eating rolling descent, instead it was an evil descent that resulted in us spending the majority of the time either walking or trying to figure out the best way to avoid eating our handlebars on the descent.
Perseverance would pay off however, and we were eventually rewarded with some pretty stellar singletrack descents. I might even say it was worth the climb ;-) We ended up finishing the stage safely at just over 8 hours, but many of the teams struggled to get in under the 10 hour cutoff. It was a doozy of a day to say the least.
Sheldon’s stage wrap-up
Electrolytes… This will forever be a word that is etched into the granite foundation of my memory. Without electrolytes, (sodium, potassium etc…) good ol’ plain water just doesn’t cut it on a ride like stage 1 of the Transrockies.
So, for stage 2, I was going to be fanatically disciplined about making sure that I was taking in enough fluids, along with the necessary electrolytes for proper absorption. Making a mistake like that again just wasn’t an option. Talking to Pat Doyle from Dead Goat Racing in camp at K2, he put it to me something like this, “in a race like this, with no rest days, once you burn a match, it’s gone.”
I woke up feeling good. Tired, yeah. I mean we had to be up at 5:45 each day for breakfast at 6am, but I was feeling back to normal and was excited about the ride to come. At 8am, the sun was shining as we headed out and what would be a 72.2km day with the most aggressive climbing of the race (2,835 meters!) Climbs, and I mean long climbs, are amazing qualifiers in a race like this. They sort the teams out into a pretty accurate order, the strongest teams blasting off ahead while the rest sting out behind them. Looking back, although I didn’t realize it that day, the teams we were riding with on day two were teams we would see a lot of during the rest of the week. This is one of the true pleasures of the race. The quick exchanges and of heart felt encouragement you give and receive as you all press forward together up one mountain after another – good times, indeed.
Out of everything from stage 2, the thing that was most noteworthy was simply that I was back. The hours and kms passed by, the weather was great and I felt like my body was cooperating with me again. Granted, I was treating myself a lot better by staying on top of my nutrition and hydration. I started eating pretzels and trail mix at the checkpoints instead of energy bars and honey gels. I switched from plain water to an energy drink the race provided called Replenish. And, well, what do you know? I rode the stage out and felt pretty solid all day. That said, it was still an all in effort to get into Nipika. I found you typically don’t leave much in tank during a stage. You lay it all out there each day, day after day.
With start times throughout the day and no move to be made, riders get to unwind a little and cheer for their fellow riders. The teams at the front of the field get no chance to be comfortable as the close on-course proximity of their closest overall rivals will keep the intensity high during the ride around the trails.
Ken’s stage wrap-up
Stage 3 began ominously. I laid in my tent listening to the pitter patter of rain wondering how the course would hold up. I had only brought fast XC tires and knew that if things got mucky it may make the day *interesting*. Stage 3 was classified as a ‘time trial’ which effectively meant that instead of a mass start, racer teams would be launch individually in intervals of 1 minute.
True to our form we started out modestly and over the first quarter of the course we were passed by two of the teams behind us. As the day progressed however, we not only caught and overtook them, but overtook a number of teams in front of them as well… That always feels good, and both Sheldon and I were feeling pretty up. Despite the damp roots and loamy earth not being something we ride normally, the tight singletrack and short power climbs definitely suited our strengths (especially Sheldon’s – he loves those short power climbs ;-).
This course was definitely one of the most ‘intimately’ scenic stages… Though the mountains surrounded us on every kilometer of our 7 days, Nipika to Nipika treated us to beautiful vistas of a deep gorge with rolling white water… I will admit however, the gorge drop off was close enough to ensure that my main focus was avoiding a fall to my death, not enjoying the scenery. As one of the course designers put it “We don’t really come in to rescue riders in Nipika… We just come in to clean them up…”.
Despite the rain, the course held up beautifully – as we would learn over the course of the week the British Columbian terrain had an uncanny ability to soak up a seeming unending amount of moisture and still remain very ridable. As Sheldon and I neared finish the pro teams were launched… Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite our 2 hour head start they did manage to catch us. With that said, I was glad they did… It’s not often you get to see a pro rider cruise by, carve up some singletrack then effortlessly move the bike over a log nearly knee high. It was impressive to say the least.
The rest of the stage in was pretty solid, and to be honest even though it was only day 3 it was nice to have a shorter stage so I could regroup a little bit mentally and prepare for the rest of the week.
Sheldon’s stage wrap-up
Rain… It had rained all night and turned cold. On the bright side, Ken and I knew stage 3 was shorter, 40km. We also started later in the day at 11:45, which was nice. It gave me a chance to shake off the stiffness and some of the soreness that was building up after two hard days of riding.
The trails were wet, and slick. Tires slipped off roots like they’d been greased with butter. This made things, well, interesting. Thankfully there were no big spills for either Ken or I. We both had our moments and our stumbles, but all in all we rode the course without any yard-sale disasters. Some teams weren’t so lucky.
This stage was supposed to be a pseudo recovery day, with the shorter distance and only 1,129 meters of climbing, but the rains had turned the ground soft and slick, slowing everyone down. You had to work for every turn of the wheel as your tires sunk into the spongy earth. This was also one of the most beautiful stages of the race, with trails running inches from the riverbanks (cliffs). And although by the time I crossed the finish line this was another all in day for me, it was also one of the most fun days on the bike of the entire race. I’d say stage three was close to 90% singletrack, and man’ o man was that some wicked singletrack. I’d like to get back there when it’s dry sometime. Maybe 2010 for the T3?