When I was younger I never really wanted to travel the World. It wasn’t something that appealed at the time, although that has changed dramatically with a long list of places, or rather events that I want to tick off the to-do list but even then there were two countries that I wanted to visit:
Canada & New Zealand.
I almost visited Canada back in 2012, but when the event was cancelled the trip was shelved and I was absolutely gutted. It has taken another 2 years and a totally new type of event for me to travel here. That event is Singletrack 6.
If you have never heard of it, then it isn’t surprising as it is the first time the event has run in its current format. You may have heard of the Trans Rockies however and this event is essentially being run by the same organisation in this evolved format which is similar to the very popular BC Bike Race.
I arrived in Canada last Thursday, taking the same flight as Catherine Williamson (Mongolia Bike Challenge winner, 2013 Cape Epic Winner) who will also be taking part and no doubt up at the sharp end. We were both being looked after and guided by Jammer and also Rob Fawcett behind the scenes. I met everyone at Mongolia Bike Challenge last year, Rob being one of the main organisers of the event. As Canadians with good local knowledge they have set us up with an amazing itinerary to get stuck into before ST6 begins with lots of amazing Canadian hospitality being shown.
This was the first time I have travelled West from the UK – apart from a week in Madeira, but that has the same time zone as the UK. Everyone has said that travelling West is harder on jet lag and I can now understand why. The flight was a reasonable midday departure, which at least didn’t mean an early morning. The 8 hour flight and 7 hour time difference, with a bit of a delay leaving meant it was 3pm local time when we arrived. Then a 90 minute transfer to Canmore along with all the airport “stuff” it was around 7pm and I was pretty whacked, although my body clock was saying it was morning already. A noisy hostel probably wasn’t the best place to get over jet-lag, but given its peak season in Canmore there wasn’t really an alternative without spending $400.
The following morning, after a broken sleep we grabbed our bikes and headed to the Nordic Centre for a ride. The 24hrs of Adrenaline was due to take place over the weekend and the course was setup, so it proved a nice and simple ride with no navigation needed. It was a fun 17km lap, loaded with roots which I think will be a feature of the whole trip. In the afternoon we were met by Jammer and headed out for another ride, planned to be an easy spin but ending up as a 2hr ride including the Highline trail, a Canmore classic. Later in the evening we met up with Cory Wallace, someone I have come to know well through racing around the World together, both 24hr solo and stage races. Cory is the current Canadian marathon champion and won Mongolia Bike Challenge in 2012 and 2013. He will be one of the top guys at ST6 no doubt.
We were staying at Leighton Poidevin’s house, another racer and someone I raced against in the 2011 24hr World Solo Championships in Canberra, but haven’t met since. I guess that shows the true nature of Canadian hospitality!
The following morning we headed to Bragg Creek to try and find parts of stage 1 of the race. It ended up being a long 6hr ride, with not a huge distance but we managed to find lots of the course. We worked out that the first stage is 40km long, of which, 38km is singletrack. Wow! It was tough riding, no rest and a few fairly technical sections and some super fast, fun singletrack.
On Sunday we rode in Canmore on a trail called the Montane Traverse, an amazing trail that contoured the valley above Canmore with some nice views and more rooty technical singletrack. In the afternoon we packed up and drove up to Jasper, which was the most incredible journey I have ever been on. Snow capped mountains on both sides, blue glacial lakes and rivers, waterfalls and the Athabasca Glacier, part of the Columbia icefield. We took a break from the drive, walking up to the glacier and taking in the epic views.
In Jasper we stayed at Cory’s Mums house (more Canadian friendly hospitality!) and are spending almost a week here, sampling some of the best riding I have ever done. There really is everything here, from easy, smooth and wide trails to narrow, steep singletrack that is littered with rocks and roots. It is all natural too and most shared with hikers with no conflict – something that could easily be put into practice in the UK. The trails that are busy with walkers by day are mostly left alone by bikers, but great in the evening. During the day, those less popular or further away are quieter and probably even more fun. The highlight being the “Overlander” trail which was just amazing.
With Jasper behind us, its back South for Singletrack 6. My bike is preped, with a few small changes, the main one being the addition of a X-Fusion HiLo SL Stealth dropper post. I am not sure if I need it, but so far we have done some technical riding and the race could well include lots of technical riding, so I would rather have it just in case. There are no other component changes, but I have dropped the tyre pressures, experimenting during the week. I went as low as 17psi in the rear, but after a few rim strike have now settled on 18psi front, 20psi rear. This is mostly to soften the ride over the masses of roots that are here. In Wales I run pressures around 22/24psi, as rock strikes onto the rim are more common.
I am totally unsure how the race will pan out, having never taken part in a stage race that is similar. The days are short on distance, but high on effort and technicality. I would consider myself a good rider technically for UK/Wales riding, but out here people seem to be a step higher – or maybe they are just more used to this type of riding. There is a very strong list of riders taking part, including recent BC Bike Race winner Kris Sneddon and his team mate Cory, who I know for sure is flying and also fellow Kona Pro team rider Barry Wicks. Jason Sager, who finished ahead of me at the Mongolia Bike Challenge and a very good technical rider will be in the mix and who knows what local riders will turn up to spoil the party. I figure a top 10 would be good, and its a number to aim for.