Canada Cup race weekend began rather ominously… Driving up to Edmonton we ran through one of the worst rainstorms I’ve ever had the displeasure of traveling through. The effects of the storm on my mood were amplified even more by my apprehension of what all this rain was doing to the course!!
Sadly, my fears were realized Saturday morning when I met up with Sheldon and Gord, to pre-ride the course. I would say optimistically that 1/3 of the course was ‘walkable,’ another 1/3 was super greasy and sketchy, and the last 1/3 of the course was ‘manageable.’
Needless to say we weren’t exactly feeling ‘race ready’ after our pre-ride. Amongst the riders we ran into speculation was flying as to whether or not the course would dry up, or whether it would be a mud-ridden suffer fest.
Come race day, however, I would say the conditions were damn near perfect, with upwards of 85% of the course being nice and tacky, and the rest either requiring a very careful line selection, or a quick muddy run. To be honest, I couldn’t believe the course dried up as well as it did.
Despite what great shape the course was in, I was in for a slightly ominous start to my race as well… Not used to the clockwork-like organization of Mike and Evan, when I finally decided to grace the start line with my presence (15min prior to the start) I found that everybody had already assembled and that names had already been called… Gulp!
I found myself on the ass-end of by far the biggest racing category of the day (59 riders) and could hardly see Smart and the rest of the boys up there in the front row!
Regardless of my start position, my game plan was simple… Knowing that the majority of the course was tight, technical, slightly damp singletrack, I just wanted to get myself seeded ‘top-ish’ in the pack and either pick my way up the pack, or fade away – depending on how the legs felt. As luck would have it, it turned out to be the former ;-)
I’m still not sure how I did it, but somehow I managed to muscle my way through the majority of the pack on the first climb and put myself just off the lead group of Gord Brenner (RVC) and the “Redbike Train” of Chris Ring, Mark Jung and Sam Mothana. I was feeling pretty gassed after the climb, so I pretty much just sucked wheel for the first half of the lap and focussed on recovery.
With the fortunes smiling, our small crew managed to gap the rest of the field a bit and I managed to hang on. Halfway through the second lap, it was just Gord, Chris and I leading the way. The legs were feelin’ pretty good, so I decided to see if I could get a gap and stayed on the gas through an extended open area. It wasn’t until the singletrack that I realized I was all alone.
The rest of the race, as they say is history… I managed to stay strong and keep a gap, though I was admittedly looking back nervously every once in a while, fully expecting the pack to be breathin’ down my neck, but the catch never came.
While in the early break Gord thought we were leading the race, but I kept such thoughts in the back of my mind… I convinced myself (as had happened many times before) that a small group of really strong riders had broken off the front and that when I finished I would be rolling into a 4-6th place finish… Although I wasn’t completely incorrect, it was only Damian Stachura (Pedalhead) who had broken free of the bunch, and I had rolled onto the podium for a 2nd place finish!! When I read the results list… I truly couldn’t believe it!
Despite being on-site since 5:00, Mr. Smart managed a very respectable finish as well, finishing in the top 1/3 of the field! Talking to Sheldon after the race, I was saying that even though I have the mountains in my back yard, I’m still jealous (and miss) the river valley in yours! Great riding for sure!
The rest of the day was pure gravy on top of my surprising finish, whether it was hob-nobbing and taking photos of the top athletes in our sport, watching the pros rail the course, or chilling out in the Kokanee Beer Gardens. It was a highly satisfying event and a super fun and mellow vibe all day. The kids race was a really nice way to get the crowd pumped prior to releasing the elite racers as well… Those young’uns are so freakin’ cute!
I can’t say enough about the hard work that Mike & Evan put in to this event. It definitely showed! As always, the volunteers deserve a special call out, as they were stupendous throughout the day!
Additional photos of the event can be found here: