Made the 4+ hour journey north of the border to Squamish, BC on Friday for what would be my first race of the season, the Ore Crusher cross-country race. After taking the long way through downtown Vancouver and sitting in way too much rush-hour traffic, I had to forego my plans of pre-riding the coure on Friday night and instead went straight to the hotel. While there I went next door to the Boston Pizza restaurant for dinner. Lo and behold, I ran into my TransRockies partner Brett -- and he wasn't even there for the race! Brett had grown what looks to be about 8 inches of full beard (and a nice handlebar mustache to boot!) since I had last seen him in August and was in Squamish for the weekend to pre-ride the Test of Metal course. Needless to say, it was he who spotted me in the bar and not the other way around.
Friday was a gorgeous day and the drive up the Sea to Sky Highway was as scenic as ever. Bright blue skies, super calm water, and snow-capped mountains rising high into the sky right from the water's edge. The drive from Vancouver to Whistler is certainly one of the most scenic roads I've ever been on and although all the construction taking place really slows things down, the widened highway will be a nice residual bonus once the Olympics in 2010 have come and gone.
But as nice as Friday was, Saturday was anything but. At least that's what I thought when I woke up and saw the clouds and rain outside the hotel window. Fortunately, the rain didn't stick around and the weather was actually quite comfortable, with temps in the mid to upper 50's for much of the day.
The race was a multi-lap course, with each lap being just 4 miles in length and having just 330 feet of elevation gain. It was a mostly flat, very fast course with sections that were pretty rocky and rooty and other sections that were wide and smooth. There was nowhere to coast though, you were pedaling from start to finish. There were also a number of log drops, small jumps, and a nice three-foot log stack that fed to a 12" skinny down the other side. My age group, 30-34, was set to do 5 laps around the course and most people were estimating roughly 20-22 minutes per lap for the faster riders.
I anticipated some mud so I decided to leave the Moots at home, but in all honesty, that would have been absolutely perfect for this course. I pre-rode a full lap the morning of the race with everyone else and was shocked to find the course very dry. I put some extra air in my tires for speed, threw a water bottle in a cage and another smaller one in my back jersey pocket, and got ready to race.
The race began with a mass start Le Mans style race which had all the racers leave their bikes atop a small hill, run a lap around the high school track, then head up the hill to mount up. This allowed the field to spread out before entering the singletrack. I pushed a pretty good pace through the first lap and came through at 22:14 with an average heart rate of 173 bpm.
I knew I couldn't possibly hold that heart rate for nearly 2 hours, but was still feeling pretty good in terms of energy and leg strength. Unfortunately, my back was killing me. I had to slow down and soft-pedal some of the rooty, rocky uphill portion and at one point stopped and got off the bike to stretch. I think everybody's back hurts when mountain biking on occasion, but I had never felt it hurt like this before. I was thinking long and hard about exiting the course and just enjoying a nice drive back home. But while I was thinking about quitting, I kept pedaling and stretching and pedaling and soon enough my second lap was over in a time of 23:21 (average heart rate of 166, despite the stretching).
The third and fourth laps weren't much better. Not only did the back continue to hurt, but the trails started to get pretty slippery, especially on the roots. I ended up crashing twice on each of the third and fourth laps in the exact same spot on each lap. My third lap was an even-slower 24:05 and to add insult to injury, the top two pros lapped me as I was starting my fourth lap. I knew I would get lapped, but I thought I'd at least be able to hold them off till my 5th lap. The one good thing however, was that I drained the bottle on the bike, tossed it near a fence, and took the one out of my jersey. As soon as I did that, my back started feeling better. Not perfect, but better. Guess I should have just worn the Camelback after all. But that doesn't mean the fourth lap was good, oh no! Not only did I crash two more times, but unbeknownst to me my Garmin Edge 305 popped off the mount during the second crash. I remounted the bike and kept on riding, not realizing my $300 GPS-enabled bike computer fell off.
"Hey buddy, you dropped your Garmin! I picked it up, I'll give it to you at the finish!"
This is probably a good time to mention how much more polite everyone was during this race than the various XC races I've ridden in the States. No negativity, no unnecessary aggression or hostility, just a lot of friendly, polite, courteous racers out for a spin. A very fast spin, at that. Even the pros who lapped me called out politely for a passing opportunity and encouraged me on as they went by. The level of competition was had an oxymoronic polite level of ferocity to it that I found enthralling. One of the reasons that I have gravitated to endurance racing instead of these short-course races is because I enjoy the comaraderie and support everyone seems to share. Despite being one of the shortest and fastest races I've ever done on a mountain bike, it was also one of the friendliest.
I couldn't believe the Garmin had popped out -- I didn't notice because I was too busy slamming my shoulder into yet another tree -- but even more shocking was that somebody grabbed it and is going to give it back. This Canadian Samaritan lifted my spirits heading into the fifth lap and I noticed that a couple of the other guys around me looked about my age so I finally got my head back in the race and tried to push it a bit harder. My back no longer hurt, I was able to keep the bike upright, and was happy to clear the logpile-skinny obstacle 5 times out of 5. And I was able to hold off the guy behind me through the final mile and across the finish. I have no idea what the times on my 4th and 5th laps were, but I know my final lap was much faster than my third and fourth.
I ended up finishing a lowly 10th out of 14 in my age group with a time of 2:00:11. The winner in my age group finished in 1:37:22 and 6th place finished in 1:51:38. I'd like to think had my back not have started hurting so badly and I have been on the bike I'm actually used to riding, that I might have been able to at least contend for that 6th place spot, which would have meant averaging 22:30 per lap. I might not have beaten him, but it would have been a lot more fun to actually be in a battle, instead of just hoping to get around the course a few more times before my back siezes up.
All things considered, I had a fun weekend anyway. It was a fun trail system from what I had seen, I got to get a taste of the Squamish singletrack before the Test of Metal, and I got to get back out on my bike after being laid up with a stomach bug and cold for a full week. This weekend is the 100-miler Tour de Cure road ride to raise money for the American Diabetes Association, then it's on to Spokane for the 24-hour race Memorial Day Weekend. I'm not in nearly as good of shape this year as I was last season, but it will be a fun weekend anyway.
Special thanks to my sponsors BradyGames and Singletrack Cycles for helping make these international sojourns possible.