Singletrack 6 – Stages 5 & 6

Singletrack 6 – Stages 3 & 4
30th July 2014
WEMBO Countdown
14th September 2014

Read my reports from:
Stages 1 & 2
Stages 3 & 4

Stage 5
Golden
58km, 1400m climbing

Photo credit - Gibson pictures

Photo credit – Gibson pictures

After a great day yesterday we were treated to another days racing in Golden. Despite 2 days here we haven’t even touched the surface of the riding on offer as there are over 150km of singletrack on offer around the town, it really is a special place for Mountain Biking and yet I had never heard of it.

Yesterday we were on the new trails around Mount 7, although it is a classic venue for MTB and today was on the same hill as the Kicking Horse ski resort, all be it a bit lower down than the pistes.

The day started with a police escort again, a few kilometres on the tarmac and more grumpy Canadian riders – if they decide not to hug the bumper of the lead car, then that space is fair game, surely? 😉
We had around 2-3km tarmac, mostly flat then a slight hill and I made sure I was towards the front again. As we turned left onto gravel and riders started sprinting off as the singletrack only 300m or so ahead. I made it into the singletrack in 8th place and heading uphill the track was mostly gradual, so I felt able to hold the pace. Yuki Ikeda and a rider from Quebec called Marc came by, and I was determined to hold his wheel, which I did manage. The track was up what would be far better downhill (they do like riding up downhill tracks here!!), so it was steep in the switchbacks and undulating constantly.

location: Golden, B.C., Canada

Photo credit – Gibson pictures

We finally hit a gravel section and I pushed on, catching Barry Wicks who was the next rider ahead. It was a 3 very briefly, but on the next downhill section Barry disappeared. He was seriously fast on downhill singletrack!! I was following Marc in front, one of just a few other riders on a hardtail, so I felt I could trust his lines. He was pretty smooth, occasionally a little gun-ho, but we made good progress. It was around this point that my mind was full of song from the Lego movie that I watched on the plane – Everything is awesome (WARNING – it will stick in your head!) which summed up how I was feeling when riding.

It looked like Marc was fading a bit, so I decided to pass him and fortunately it was at the perfect moment, at the bottom of a long climb. Starting on singletrack, then onto doubletrack. I pulled a gap quickly and had Barry in sight, but didn’t pass him until he stopped briefly for water at a feed and I carried on through. He was soon back on my wheel though and we rode together for about 400m before he pushed on and then it turned bumpy and he got a gap.

The downhill really started at around the 33km mark and the first was just epic. It hugged the edge of a massive canyon, with a vertical drop about 3 metres to our right. The track was tame when right on the edge, but still unnerving at times. We headed in slightly and then it started to get steeper and faster. I had Barry in sight and tried my best to keep up with him, but it was tough, then after one switchback with a fast and blind entry I passed him as he was pushing back up a very steep slope, having missed the corner completely, thankfully unscathed but it must have been a pretty big crash!

He soon got back on my wheel and I let him by, then tried and failed to stick with him as he floated across roots and rocks like they were not there. After the initial downhill that lasted 3km or so, it was a undulating singletrack that gradually gained elevation. Somewhere along here Marc put in a big effort and passed me again, so I jumped back on his wheel. I was running out of water, knowing there was a feed about 15km from the end, but didn’t really want to stop. I put 2 TORQ caffeine gels back in quick succession as I felt my legs flagging.

Photo credit - Gibson pictures

Photo credit – Gibson pictures

I wanted to stay close to Marc and Barry, both within eyesight so pushed through the last feed even though I only had one gulp of energy drink left. It was mostly downhill, with a 3km section that was part of the timed downhill competition. I didn’t do so well here, but would love to ride it again. It was a trail that you could absolutely blast if you knew it. When the timing ended we had another 8km to the finish. The first 5km was tough undulating singletrack, I was convinced I’d be caught as I felt slow and tired, but I came out onto the highway with 3km to go with a gap to 3 chasing riders behind and Marc & Barry just about visible ahead. I pushed hard on the road, holding off the trio behind and crossed the line in 10th overall and on GC.

Everyone was absolutely buzzing at the finish, it was without a doubt the best day – being as fun as yesterday, but longer and more enjoyable on the uphills.I think it was the first day all week where I didn’t have to get off and walk at any point, which was ace. At its worst, in Nipika I probably had to get off and push steep inclines at least 20 times within 2.5hrs of racing. The only problem today was my back, which locked up after the finish and I couldn’t even lower my own body without support, or pedal when seated. I lay down with a towel underneath my lower back for 30 minutes, then a cold shower but it still wasn’t 100%, so I hope it will be OK by the final stage.

If someone organised a stage race based out of Golden it would be a winner! Breck Epic has a similar format, 6 days from one town – different routes each day. That would really work here and the town seems to be very supportive of Mountain Biking in general. Tomorrow we have a 2hr transfer to Revelstoke for Stage 6, the final stage. From what I’ve heard it should be good, fingers crossed.

Strava stage 5

Stage 6
Revelstoke
47km, 1250m climbing

Photo credit: Gibson pictures

Photo credit: Gibson pictures

The final day started with a 90 minute drive from Golden to Revelstoke, where we crossed time zones from Mountain to Pacific (back 1 hour). It was odd to change time while driving or within the same country and caused lots of confusion for us at the race briefing the night before.

Revelstoke is a town already known for biking among many Canadians, although its not somewhere I had heard of before. The stage was set to be a showdown among many categories, although many were already wrapped up, with large time gaps between people. The mens open and mens 40+ were among the closer categories and would be settled on the final day.

We lined up in the centre of the town, then set off again behind a police escort. It was going to be 5km of tarmac, the first 2.5km was steady, but as the police car started to speed up Kris Sneddon (Open Male leader) started to push the pace. I coped with the increase, although it split the group, but then Cory hit the front and pushed ahead. Cory and Kris were out front, then 3 groups of 2 riders, of which I was in the 3rd, then 50m or so further back a long, strung out line of riders. We eventually came off the highway, by which point the group behind was closer and into steeper doubletrack. A combination of tired legs and a lack of motivation, as I had nothing to fight for resulted in me slipping back slowly.

The temperature was already high, up in the high 20’s already and the open sections were hard work in the baking sun. As we turned into the trees and into singletrack I dropped back a little further, as it was hard work on the body, with lots of big roots and rocks, constantly standing on the pedals and pushing and pulling on the bike to pedal over all the obstacles. The only thing I can liken it to, is the tricky graveyard section at Afan, except lasting for several kilometres and not just 5 metres!

Photo credit: Gibson pictures

Photo credit: Gibson pictures

We climbed up, then descended, almost all on singletrack and I was frustrated with how I was riding, then we crossed a highway and the trail became worse still, just as many obstacles, but it was freshly cut, making it even slower. On one section Filip Meirhaeghe (2003 World Champion, 2000 Olympics Silver medalist… and that other thing he is known for) passed me, his skills on the bike are still very sharp as he front wheel endo’d around a root infested left hand switchback. When the singletrack relented and I was able to push on, I passed 3 or 4 riders in quick succession including Filip, then back across the highway and into much nicer singletrack for me. It was still uphill and steep in places, but easier to make progress and I was catching and passing riders and feeling pretty good.

Just over half way through and in the middle of the day, the sun was making people suffer. I was very thirsty and had struggled to drink because of the high percentage of singletrack early on. One nice, steady gravel climb spurred me on as I had 4 riders in sight and managed to pass 2 and close right up on the other two, only to loose them on the singletrack that followed.

A nice, technical descent with some steep chutes and fun terrain, but I was still relatively slow compared to many around me. We arrived at the final timed descent, which was also the last downhill section of the event. We had been told that it was around 7 minutes long and steep, like stage 4. It was actually more like 14 minutes long and more of a traverse! By now I had given up trying to push any harder on the timed sections, so I was very steady and just hoped to get to the finish in one piece. Eventually the timed section finished, although there was still 5 minutes of singeltrack afterwards, where I caught a few people and a few caught me from behind, so we hit the road back to town all together.

Photo credit: Gibson pictures

Photo credit: Gibson pictures

The 4km or so back was easy enough, downhill and too fast to pedal for a while, then 2km through the town, over a cool metal bridge, around the streets and across the finish line. It was great to finish and to be able to tick off another stage race on my to do list. Overall my feelings about the event are mixed. I can’t forget the way stage 3 was dealt with and what I feel was harsh and unfair treatment, but even without that it didn’t hit the spot in the way other events have done. I have a feeling that the old Trans Rockies format would have suited me more than this new, more compact, singletrack obsessed event.

Hits:
Genuinely amazing riding, especially at Golden (stages 4 & 5)
Very well organised on the whole. Timings and planning was top notch.
Good food and plenty of it.

Misses:
Lack of an event village, or base camp separated the participants. I didn’t get to know other races in the way I did at other events like Iron Bike, Mongolia Bike Challenge, Crocodile Trophy or even Trans Wales.
Riding on Stage 2 was poor (Nipika) and stage 3 wasn’t great either.
Too much singletrack made it a little one dimensional. I know its called Singletrack 6, but when there is so much, it makes passing difficult and frustrating for riders on uphill and downhill sections. The days that seemed the best to me (and others) were Golden, which had some gravel road climbs to break up the singletrack and added variety.
The race is less of an adventure and more of a riding holiday. The short stages and transfers are not for me, although I did know about them before entering. If you want to see Canada and some of the best riding around Eastern BC, then it could be great for you – although the plan is to change the riding location year on year and I have no knowledge of the planned stages for 2015 in the Thompson Okanagan area.

I thought I could ride singletrack pretty well before coming here and I would say that back home in Wales, I can – but over here it is totally different. Even if I’d brought a more suitable dual suspension bike as I probably should have done, the standard is way above what I expected. Kris Sneddon, the open mens winner trains and rides technical singletrack 7 days a week. I don’t think he even owns a road bike!

Singletrack 6 has obviously been altered to keep up with the run away success that is BC Bike Race but as I have not ridden that event I can’t compare them. BCBR does have an event village, which is big plus, but its also more expensive and it isn’t immune to hiccups and racing issues. Maybe in a few years people will be talking about ST6 with the same high esteem that BCBR is spoken about now?