Monday, August 27, 2012

Hannah Thorne's BC Bike Race Report




BC Bike Race 2012
My trip didn't get off to the best start when I discovered some serious travel damage to the rear triangle of my beloved Santa Cruz Blur TRc, as I unpacked it, in my friend Joe's back garden in Vancouver. Thankfully I was so spaced out with jetlag that I was incapable of freaking out. Joe immediately got onto the local Santa Cruz dealer in North Vancouver to organise a replacement which miraculously appeared within 48 hours (thanks Steed cycles for swapping out a rear triangle from one of their bikes!). After a mellow ride on Joe's 12 year old son's singlespeed and a therapeutic visit to the aquarium, I was back on my own bike to shred some trails in Squamish as a warm-up.
Friday arrived before I knew it and I was off to registration to stand in line for most of the afternoon. Those of us who participated last year were disgruntled over this year’s gear bag - a not so large amorphous red hold-all without wheels or pockets. A definite step-down from last year’s awesome Dakine bag.

Day 0 North Vancouver
I awoke decidedly unrefreshed after stressing all night about how I would fit all my gear in the red bag and how I was going to get it all the way across Vancouver without wheels. In the end I resorted to dragging the thing through the streets with occasional passers-by taking pity and lifting one end. I arrived in North Vancouver off the ferry in the pouring rain, barely able to lift my bag anymore. I was not in a good mood and gave it a good kicking and dragged it to the nearest taxi much to the amusement of the people on the nearby bus. I was relieved to rid myself of the blessed red bag and attend race briefing where we were given useful advice such as "a happy mountaineer always pisses clear" and "zip up your fly but leave in your poles" in reference to dismantling the tents. Warnings about bears and the two species of cougar (including the predatory Whistler cougar) duly noted, we were fit to fly. After a ferry ride to Vancouver island we were herded onto buses up to Cumberland where day 1 awaited us.

Day 1 Cumberland
It was a relief to see the rain had held off overnight and the sun was peeping through. Since it was Canada's national day, we were given a rendition of the Canadian national anthem in the start chute before a neutralised start. Then it was all on, following the same pattern as last year as the strong roadies smashed it all the way to the singletrack bottleneck. After a frustrating section of singletrack trying to pass all these folk, we were back out on the gravel road. We climbed for several kms, the sucky damp gravel draining my legs and making me feel as if I was going backwards. I began to wonder if my choice of bike with 140mm forks was overkill. My doubts were soon laid to rest on the subsequent downhill. This included the first gravity enduro timed section which was awesome - rooty, rocky and ever so slightly slippery, rating highly on the fun-o-meter and spoilt only by 3 Euros who refused to let me pass despite my desperate pleas. I made good ground on the descent catching Melinda the Aussie chick who had passed me early in the climb. It was then a matter of grovelling along the long sections of flat gravel road until the next super fun piece of single track which dropped us back down to base camp. I finished in 4th place hopeful that I could improve on this once the bias was more in favour of singletrack and elevation.

Day 2 Campbell River
After a 45 min bus ride we arrived in Campbell river to light drizzle. The mood matched the weather as we stripped off into our lycra. In the roll-out from the start we were drenched and blinded by spray off the road. I resigned myself to the thought that my chain would be lubed by mud and water alone and I hoped like hell it would last the distance. Once clear of the first singletrack bottleneck I began to enjoy the mud and slippery roots and rocks - the singletrack on this day seemed to go on forever with only short sections of intervening fire road. I began to wonder if I would be out there all day as conditions made the going tough. Many riders had pulled off to the side suffering mechanicals. My gravity dropper began to malfunction due to the sheer amount of crud flying around and I kept being booted in the butt as it refused to lock down on the descents. I was convinced there were at least 4 female riders in front of me and kept chasing wondering how the hell I couldn't see or catch them.
I arrived at the second gravity enduro section, thumped my saddle with my fist as hard as I could to get the seat dropper to lock down and set off sliding though the muddy corners. I passed the fellow solo girl who had just sneaked by whilst I was fumbling with my dropper and kept pedaling almost blinded by the grit and the spray. Finally I reached the last section of tarseal before the finish, killing my legs to stay with the small group of guys I found myself with. I hung on the back like sticky the stick insect as my gears slipped and skipped due to large chunks of vegetation lodged in the cassette.
Once across the finish line I took my bike immediately to the bike wash and to the mechanics and handed it over - I just didn't want to deal with it or look at the state of it - it was only day 2 and my bike was trashed. After all the queuing I was on the verge of hypothermia so was relieved to jump into a hot shower.
At prize giving I was surprised to have finished 3rd - it turns out the other girls were actually behind me. Good job chasing phantom riders!
That night after reconstructing my tent to make it watertight, I fell asleep to the lull of steady rain.

Day 3 Powell River
Once again we were rudely awoken by the squawking of the resident
rubber chicken and "good morning racers, welcome to day 3, zip up your flies, don't take out your poles, drop your foamies at the blue mountain....." it was still raining and the prospect of another wet day in the saddle was decidedly unappealing.
After breakfast, we boarded the school bus down to Little river for the ferry ride across to Powell river. Like last year we were greeted by enthusiastic locals lining the streets to welcome us. The rain had finally stopped and it was warm and humid leaving me roasting in multiple layers of merino.
I hadn't seen my bike since dropping it off with the mechanics the day before so it was a frantic rush to check all was in order before jumping into the start chute.
After another poor start, we hit the forest and 4WD track. There had been so much rain we had to negotiate endless deep puddles of water, flooding our drive trains and hubs. So much for lubing the chain. I soon became stuck in a very negative mindset and inwardly (and possibly sometimes outwardly) cursed all the roadies who were now slipping and sliding around, blocking my path through the singletrack. It was only on arrival at the first gravity enduro section that I was able to drag myself out of my dark hole. This was a fairly steep, rooty, loamy piece of singletrack completely chopped out by the 100 or so riders who had gone before me. It was GREAT! I sledged my way down giggling to myself and passing several Euros walking their bikes down. After this section at last I seemed to be clear of congestion and was happy to be riding alone the way I like to ride with no interference.
My slow start and mental low meant I lost a bit of time and finished 6th. I guess everyone has a bad day on a stage race - you just need to ensure your bad day is not as bad as everyone else's.
That evening we had the most tasty barbecued pork for dinner and set up camp right next to the water.

Day 4 Earls's Cove to Sechelt
"Good morning racers..... Squawk, squawk, squawk..." oh god why does it still feel like the middle of the night?
After breakfast and a half hour bus ride to the ferry terminal, we mooched around waiting to board. Everyone seemed to be feeling the effects of 3 days of hard riding and poor quality sleep - we weren't even half way yet and today had been touted as the hardest and longest day at 65km. The medical team were set up in the car park bandaging the wounded back together - I was amazed by how many people were limping around, covered in bruises and scrapes but still battling on.
After a very scenic ferry crossing to Earls's cove we disembarked at the terminal on the other side which was to be the start line for today's stage.
The race began with a climb out of the ferry terminal followed by undulating gravel road and then more sustained climbing on a wide gravel path and open 4WD track. As is usual for me, I struggled to warm-up and was passed by several of the faster female riders up the first climb. I stayed calm hoping that once I found my rhythm after about 20km I would get stronger whilst they would hopefully be blowing up.
True to form, my legs finally stopped feeling like lead and I was ready to go. This coincided with my arrival at the first piece of many sweet sections of rooty single track, boosting my mood : ) I started to gain ground passing guys who were fumbling over the damp roots. Soon I had caught and passed the first of my female targets and I was really starting to have fun. The scenery was beautiful and I was momentarily distracted by a pond covered in lily pads, wishing I had my camera. I acquired my next female target out in the open, passing her on a steep loose gravel climb - this is more like it!
We continued to undulate along a ridge with occasional glimpses of the coast far below us. I was all on my own at one stage and had to banish thoughts of becoming bear or cougar bait. One of the scenic highlights today was riding across a section of boardwalk with a waterfall crashing beneath after all the rain - again, damn no camera and I am supposed to be racing here!
After the second aid station it was predominantly singletrack downhill to the finish in Sechelt, including the two gravity enduro sections. I had a blast and rocked into the finish in 4th place feeling pretty happy. The sun was out and even the massive wait for a shower (which had run out of water!) wasn't going to dampen my spirits.

Day 5 Sechelt to Langdale
After having a pretty average day on this stage last year due to sickness and my tyres being pumped to 35psi, I was keen to have another crack at it. It turned out to be one of my favourites!
I chuffed up the hill from the start, cooking in the heat. Some guy felt so sorry for me he gave me a push along the gravel - I'm sure he regretted it later as I ungratefully left him for dead once we hit my preferred riding territory.
The first half of the day was mostly climbing on a mixture of fire road and rooty single track. At one point I found myself with a Spanish guy clearly having a bad day - "this is crazy, no one can ride up this" he moaned in a particularly slippery root section as he pushed along and I attempted to ride up ahead of him. We reached the gravel road and he exclaimed "ah, this is what I like" as he blasted past me again, grrrrrrr!
After 20km I felt warmed up and shifted into 5th gear as we hit another rooty climb with lots of slippery Ewok constructions. It seemed like those around me were really starting to tire whilst I felt like I was just getting going.
Finally we reached the top and the start of the much hyped 7km singletrack descent to the finish known as Highway 103. I knew I could smash it from here on in and as soon as I crossed the timing mat for the gravity enduro, I was in singletrack heaven : ) This was one of the most fun descents of the week: super flowy with a few roots, rocks and the odd slippery structure to keep you on your toes. There was a wee bit of congestion along the way but the guys were mostly getting out of the way this time. Part way down I passed Alex the 4th placed girl (whose Crank brothers pedal had just crapped itself and fallen off!?) then Sonya the 3rd placed girl and finally Melinda the 2nd placed girl about half way down. Woo hoo, what a blast and what an awesome little bike the Blur TRc was : ) I motored across the finish line in 2nd place absolutely buzzing on adrenaline!
The Spanish dude came up to me later to tell me " you are a CRAZY woman, CRAZY!" - apparently I had just about run him down somewhere on the descent, haha.
After a ferry trip and a bus ride we arrived at our final camp ground of the week in Squamish. Surrounded by mountains and forest this was an awesome place to start to relax a bit.
By the end of day five, I was now only 3.5 mins off 3rd overall and I knew the last two stages were going to suit me a whole lot better.

Day 6 Squamish
This stage was my favourite last year and I had high hopes for the day - it certainly didn't disappoint. There was a fair amount of sustained gravel road climbing with really flowing fun pieces of downhill singletrack throughout. I passed Sonya (American chick currently in 3rd overall) on a climb early on in the day - she looked like she had blown to pieces which provided me with extra motivation. Half Nelson the mini 4 cross track through the trees was a particular highlight of the first half of the day and this was followed closely by Pseudo Tsuga another awesome fast flowy piece of trail. I made up some ground and one place on these descents but promptly lost out again on the next long gravel uphill to the top of the infamous Powerhouse plunge. For the first time that week I felt like I was struggling on the descent - this trail was basically a wet, slippery rock and root fest with several short steep high consequence chutes. People were crashing all over the show so it was hard to maintain momentum whilst dodging flailing limbs and trying to read the trail at the same time. I chose to ride conservatively and avoid crashing. After another short climb I thought I was hallucinating as the smell of cooking bacon wafted out of the forest. I rounded the corner to find one of the locals with his BBQ cranked up handing out bits of bacon to hungry riders! Next up was Hoods in the Woods another techy piece of rocky and rooty singletrack which spat us out at the bottom of the hill again. Then it was just one last grovel through never ending pedally, rooty singletrack to the finish. What a great day of riding! I finished in 4th but had managed to sneak into 3rd overall with a nice 20 min buffer for the final day.
That afternoon was a great opportunity to wind down in the sun as there was no packing up or shifting campsite to be done. We even managed a sneaky trip to the cafe before dinner.

Day 7 Whistler
After a quick breakfast it was onto the bus for a short drive up to Whistler. I was feeling a bit sleepy and popped some caffeine to see me through the last short stage.
The sun was blazing down and it was starting to heat up as the start line music cranked and everyone was fizzing in anticipation of finishing a week of hard riding.
The day started with a steep, wide gravelly climb heading into the bike park and Easy Does It, a mellow switchback climb (actually a green downhill run). I knew it would now be virtually impossible to catch Melinda who was in 2nd place overall and I also knew I was 20 mins in front of Sonya in 4th overall so it was really a matter of holding position, staying out of trouble and just having fun.
I was in 5th heading into the Crank It Up and Heart of Darkness descent and had an absolute blast whooping my way down these fast, bermed jumpy trails on my Blur TRc - as an added bonus I made up two places by the bottom of the hill. After another climb, we left the bike park and traversed around the hill to drop down into the Lost Lake trail network where I was surprised to catch Melinda in 2nd. The Lost Lake section involved many tight rocky pieces of singletrack with endless Ewok constructions and cool names such as Pinnochio's furniture, Dwarf Nebula and Toads of the Short forest! There were a few pinchy gravel climbs where I was caught again by Alex and had a good tussle for position until I finally managed to pull away from her on a more sustained section of singletrack. I knew I could blow myself to pieces now!
I had a ball through the last few bits of singletrack before popping out on the road and sprinting up to the finish in front of the Olympic rings in 2nd place for the stage and 3rd place overall. It was the perfect end to a pretty perfect week, despite all the challenges along the way.

The jury is out on which bike I would use next time (I will be back!) but the Blur TRc most definitely held its ground against the more serious XC rigs the other chicks were riding and was hours of fun on the downs. My tyres were spot on (Maxxis Ardent front, Ikon rear) and I wouldn't have swapped with anyone. My 140mm Fox forks were as smooth as ever and sure got me out of a lot of trouble : )
Thanks heaps to all who helped me on this trip: Marc for sorting my bike beforehand, Matty G at Exponential Performance for prescribing all those nasty intervals, R&R sport, Mike Stylie at Hyperformance Hardware for my awesome Santa Cruz Blur TRc (I can't rave about this bike enough), Fox Racing Shox for 140mm of sweet travel, Joe Sales and his family for looking after me in Vancouver and the Whistler bike park and also to Steed Cycles in North Vancouver for getting me out of a very bad situation at the start of my trip.

Friday, August 24, 2012

2012/13 Santa Cruz Blur TRc preview - Bike Mag

Petrol Head Friday - Half a Mill'

Chris Harris buys a 'bargain' Ferrari......man I wish all reviewers were this passionate about their reviews.



And Jethro Bovingdon try to compare the incomparable, GT2RS vs. Juke R....which looks like you could get a bike in the back.