Bikeridr is self-described as ‘the adventures, rants and ramblings of Ken & Sheldon, two guys who like to ride bikes.’ Truth be told though, we also really like to race bikes. Sadly we just don’t get to do this that often, especially not against each other. Being that as it may, we did manage to line up in Calgary at the 2013 Dark Knight for one all out, no holds barred, battle of the bleedin’ ages!
The Pre-Race: A lot was at stake this year. Not only was this the only chance we had to race against each other, but back at the 2012 Dark Knight we’d had a close one, resulting in Ken taking the win coming in 9th, while I rolled across the line just 2 positions back, in 11th. In reality, although we were close in standings, there wasn’t any true ‘battling’ going on. The whistle went. Ken surged off the line, and although I kept it close, he held his lead right to the end that year. It was a bitter pill for me to swallow, but he’d won handily, and all I could do was put it behind me and look to 2013, which was what I did… This year, waiting for the whistle, staged right on the front row, I was absolutely determined to beat Ken – or blow up tryin’! Some key factors were stacked in my favour. Firstly, I had been riding a bit more this year so my base fitness was better, plus I already had 5-6 2013 season CX races under my belt and felt like I was on form. Ken on the other hand, although he’d been getting his miles, only had 2 races in at that point, so I didn’t expect him to have much ‘punch’ and I assumed he’d be rusty in the turns. Secondly, I was on the much lighter bike. My bike comes in at a svelte 16lbs, while Ken’s is more like a boat anchor weighing about 21lbs. Hard to say exactly how much this impacts things, but it certainly does make a difference and I wasn’t about to ask him to trade whips for funzies.
The Start – Lap 1: When the whistle blew, I got a good clip in, and surged hard up the hill to the front on the field, grabbing the holeshot and leaving Ken several places back. It was a big uphill effort, and one that ultimately I regretted when we hit the first corners – I was already gassed! Riders were passing me on both sides. I went from 1st to 4th in the first 3 turns. I knew I needed to ramp it back and recover, but reaching the top section of the C.O.P. course, I looked behind me to see Ken only a few spots back. Letting up was the last thing I wanted to do, but I had no choice. I guess I wasn’t the only one who was tired after the start though, because for the rest of lap 1, I was able to pretty much hold my position, giving up maybe 1 or 2 more spots but still staying ahead of Ken. I remember thinking, ‘Huh… I’m still in front… Well, how about that?! Good for me!’
Lap 2: 2-3 turns in, Ken caught me and then passed me. Needless to say I wasn’t happy about that, but I wasn’t exactly worried. I’d managed to recover from that big effort off the start and settle back down. With Ken now in front, I felt I had the gas to go again and stay with him. As we made our way around the top section and back through the smoke tunnel before heading into the lower section of the course, Ken did manage to gap me by making some solid passes, putting 2-3 riders between us. I didn’t have the jam to go after him, so I tried hard to not let this bother me, and just made sure he didn’t get too far away at this point in the race – I couldn’t tell how hard he was pushing, and hoped he might just be surging to get some space between us, and would need to let up again soon… It was a gamble, but I opted to just let things play out for the rest of that lap.
Lap 3: Ken was still 3 riders up, but early in the lap near the top section again, he suddenly / inexplicably missed a turn, rode off course and right into the course tape. I didn’t know if it was fatigue or he just got distracted, but it didn’t look like he was hurt or in trouble, so I blew by him and hammered to get the biggest gap I could. When the course doubled back around though, I saw he was still putting his chain back on. I figured there would be at least 5-6 racers between us now, and he’d be charging back hard. And, I was right. Not more than what seemed like a few turns later, he was only 3-4 spots back… ‘Crap!!!! Here he comes!!!! Hammer, Smart! Hammer!!!’, I thought to myself. Rolling into the bottom of the course and into the ‘corkscrew’, I was flyin’! I don’t know how fast exactly, maybe 35-40kph, but evidently, it was too fast because when I started to turn in, the next thing I knew the bike slid sideways right out from under me and I was skidding hard across the ground on my side. When the dust settled, I knew I was hurt, scraped up and bruised, but I didn’t appear to be that damaged, so I just banged my bar shifters back into position and hopped back on the bike. As I pedalled out of the corkscrew, I instantly knew I didn’t have the same jam – the crash had taken a lot of wind out of my sails, and just then Ken rolled by… ‘Crap! Crap! Crap!!’ I tried to get my place back right then, but I didn’t have it in me. All I could do was try and stay with him and hope for another chance to get it back in later laps.
Lap 4: Mentally, this was the hardest lap for me. As hard as I pushed, I couldn’t seem to close the gap on Ken. If anything, it widened… I tried to ride steady, right on the limit without blowing up, while keeping things smooth through the turns… But what do they say about the best laid plans? Instead, I was all over the map on this lap, taking bad lines, coming into turns too hot, braking too hard, making more than a few close calls and near crashes. Thankfully though, I managed to stay upright through it all. And somehow I managed to keep the gap from growing too big. But that said, my hope of catching and passing Ken was dwindling. I knew I wasn’t getting any less tired and the race was already half over… The pressure was on, but I told myself to remain calm.
Lap 5: My ‘patience’ paid off. I’d kept Ken in my sights most of the time for all of lap 4 and now into lap 5, when opportunity finally knocked. As we headed into the second sandpit where Ken went down, I managed to slide by, putting at least one racer between us again as we went under the limbo bar and came into the log run – the epicentre of the cowbell-ringing and raging, heckling hoards! Admittedly, I was right on the rivet at this point. I was breathing like a lunatic and navigating my way through blurry, narrowed vision. The crowd was so loud, you couldn’t hear yourself think! No surprise that I stumbled trying to ride the logs, and went down as Ken got by once again… Panicked and mad at myself, I sprung back up and clumsily jumped back on the bike as I tried to get past another rider before we went into the gap jump, but my line was off and I missed badly to the left, sending my crank hard into the fixed support wall!!! All I remember is feeling the bike stop dead, flying through the air, landing flat on my back and then opening my clenched eyes to see the ink-black sky and the intense bright beam of the C.O.P. tower lights high above. Ken told me later, he didn’t see me crash, only my hi-viz yellow helmet on the ground as he rode away up the paved section to start his bell lap. As I laid there, I could hear people yelling at me, ‘Get up!!! Go! Go! Go!’. So, I did. My seat was bent, and my bars were twisted, but I didn’t care – I figured my bike was still ride-able and somehow I wasn’t hurt too badly, so I was going to at least finish the race. That was the thought that got me back on the bike, ‘just finish the friggin’ race…’ But, as I hit the paved section and looked up the long climb to the top, I saw Ken pulling off into the first turn… There were now 5 racers between us, with 1 lap left to go, and suddenly I decided to hammer!
The Bell Lap: I rode the whole hill out of the saddle, and caught the first rider right before the top, and then passed the second rider in the twisty uphill section near the very top of the course. After ripping through the smoke tunnel I passed the next two riders at the same time, taking the high-line on a sketchy side-hill section and headed off in search of the one rider left between Ken and me. My only hope was that Ken hadn’t managed to pass anyone else, that somehow, I’d catch this next rider and suddenly Ken would be back in view – in my sights! Into the corkscrew I went, now only a few bike lengths behind that last rider. Hitting the first sand pit I took my chance and ran through as fast as I could, catching him and passing him. It was a gamble because I was totally gassed hitting the other side… So badly in fact, he almost passed me right back in the second sand pit, but I rode it clean and managed to barely hold him off! This opened the door for me to hold my position under the limbo bar, over the log run and off the gap jump for the last time. As I hit the paved section and hammered up the hill into the finish, sadly I didn’t know where Ken was, other than in front of me. [insert tears of shame and shattered dreams here]
Final Results: Ken 10th Sheldon 11th
So yes, I guess for me, it’s another sad story of always the bridesmaid, and never the bride, yet again… But I gotta say, 70 racer field, night race with limbo bars, disco lights, smoke tunnels, sand pits, long runs, gap jumps, a crazy heckling crowd, multiple crashes and lots of back & forth, now that was a race! Looking forward to 2014, Ken! Crave more Dark Knight content, check out our 2010, 2011 and 2012 Dark Knight posts. And thank you to Ed Garvin and the Cyclemeisters crew for keeping the mayhem alive!