Sheldon and I had been looking forward to this race since we finished the Transrockies. Coming off a solid base of training combined with an epic stage race we were both eager to finish the year off in style and get a sense of how we’d progressed over the year.
By no means a walk in the park, the Bow 80 strings together 8 trails as it travels around Moose Mountain – Sulphur Springs, Elbow Valley, Powderface Creek, Prairie Link, Prairie Creek, Powderface Road, Jumpingpound Ridge, Cox Hill, and Tom Snow. Though each one is tough in it’s own right, the race is a little front-loaded with a sincere grind up Jumpingpound Ridge and Cox Hill.
The nice thing about coming off the Transrockies is that I knew full well what 80km felt like… Sheldon and I lived it just about every day. The challenge for me was knowing how much more to put down for this race. During the Transrockies there was always the residual fatigue from the days prior and the looming challenges of the days in front, but this day things were different. I wanted to finish this race having left everything on the course.
Things started rather ominously… As we packed up the car it was drizzling, and it continued to pick up en route. By the time we arrived in Bragg Creek it was full on pouring. Sheldon and I sat in the car and joked that we should just turn around and enjoy a nice brunch… In hindsight it may not have been a bad idea ;-)
After the gun I really just focussed on me… I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was in the field, I just wanted to lay down a solid, sustainable pace. Once the trail started heading skyward (which doesn’t take long) I started to really settle into a groove. I started playing the typical game of tag with a number of riders… They pass me, I pass them, we ride together for a bit. It’s always kind of fun to see where other peoples strengths are and how you stack up. Who gaps on the flats, the hills, and who is the fearless kamikaze on the descents. Slowly but surely I started to move my way through the field.
As the real climb began (up Jumpingpound Ridge) things began to get sincerely challenging. Of course the trail was headed up, which took it’s toll, but it also started snowing. At first it was a playful, light styrofoam-type of snow, but as I cleared the trees onto the open ridge the wind picked up and I found myself in the middle of a full-blown blizzard. Outside of the mental adversity, I had only two problems. The first were my hands – with only lightweight gloves that were now soaked through and covered in ice, to say my fingers were cold would be an understatement. Shifting was next to impossible, and braking took everything I could muster. The second was visibility – my sunglasses which initially kept fogging up (irritating, but manageable) eventually began to completely ice over. When I took them off, the biting sleet and snow made it almost impossible to see, especially if you were traveling at any speed (and I did my best to keep the pace up to keep myself warm).
After cresting the ridge I thought I was home free, a nice descent down Cox Hill, shielded from the wind and snow by the trees. Sadly, this was no where near reality… I had forgotten how hard a descent Cox Hill was. By the time I made it to the bottom I literally felt as though I had been beaten with a bat. However, as I rolled into the second feed station I thought I could see the sun straining to get through the clouds. Against all odds, I began to hope.
The rest of the run home was difficult, but the terrain was generally more rolling and I could just keep the legs moving and make some good progress. As the kilometers bled away my hope would be rewarded as the sun began to warm the course. Rolling through the open fields, I have to admit that it may have been one of the most picturesque courses I’d ever been on… Flashes of gold, amber and orange shot through the blanket of white, and a finally blue sky revealed now snow-capped peaks. I simply did my best to point my tire down the black patch of trail and keep hammering.
The back half of the race was a bit of a blur, I remember chatting with a number of riders on the way in, but I mainly felt like I was in ‘the zone’. The fast, open, and rolling Tom Snow trail is always a great way to end the race. The trail is just so much more fun when you ride it fast – it forces you to turn those tired, weary legs just a little bit quicker.
I crossed the finish line and felt like a million bucks… My legs were pretty shot, so I knew that I had given the course a good run. I was pretty elated. Crossing the finish line is always so much more rewarding when you have to go through hell to get there ;-)
I would find out soon after I finished that they had ‘called’ the race a while after I had passed through the second feed station – too many racers were having problems with the cold, and the organizers didn’t want to risk any medical issues (I can hardly blame them). My heart plummeted when I learned that Sheldon was one of the riders that didn’t get through the cut off – After all that hard work and the anticipation of this race, I can’t imagine not finishing. In true Smart form however, he rolled off the ‘cut-off’ bus smiling. I could tell he was disappointed, but he simply grinned and said, ”Well, I guess I’ve got some unfinished business for next year.”