That was a hard day at the office. And just six more to go. But 471st out of 598 finishers feels like a big win to me on a pretty tough day. My time was 3:55, just over two hours behind the stage winner. I am 59/91 in over 50 men (and 337th of 441 men overall), so last 25% of the field and at the front of the last 1/3 of my class. About where I expected to be.
As I mentioned yesterday, 1691m of climbing in 41km is full-on by Aussie standards. And so it proved for me two-thirds of the way up the final big climb of the day. A track that got tougher the higher we climbed, my legs simply would not punch up the rock faces and steep pitches anymore. Ah cramps, experienced so rarely in recent years, how I haven't missed you! So there was a fair bit of walking in the last 2km of that final ascent. I even stopped at the aid station, something I never usually do in races, and gobbled down a banana and four pieces of watermelon before pressing on.
The good news is an amazing descent called Maple Syrup came next. Steep, steep, steep. Blind commitments over rock rolls and drops, loose dusty descents into berms and lots of seat post dropping to negotiate them. Which I did, cleaned the lot on the fabulous Giant Trance Advanced 1 (I am falling in love truly) and claimed back a few of the many places I lost on the way up, including one bloke who face-planted over a rock roll right in front of me. He was alright after, awhile.
Waley, Leachy, Gunny, Mark, Stu and the rest of you gravity enduro fiends; I get it, I really do. I am a member of your club now!
So in the end it was more relief than joy to finish the first day of the BC Bike Race. Since the race there's been a bus ride up the Vancouver Island coast to Cumberland, a mountain of food and a 30 minute massage. Now I am looking forward to tomorrow with anticipation rather than trepidation. Less than 1200m in climbing and 40km long, it reads easier than today. Having said that everyone whose done this stage in previous races says it's bloody hard. I am not surprised.
Day two is run and done and it certainly went better than day one. A 3:50 time across the 40km course was good enough to get me to the finish 432nd outright and 55th in-class, both improvements on yesterday. No cramps either, in part because most of the 1200m climbing was over and done within the first 15km. Yep, pretty much straight up from the start-line in the main street of the lovey village of Cumberland.
I didn't get over-excited, just did what I had to do without getting into the serious pain zone. That didn't mean the rest of the course was a doddle. Once we got to the top it was down some very muddy, slick rocks and roots. Which brings me to my first crash of the week. Having coped with the initial challenges quite well, I rolled at a decent pace down onto a wooden bridge over a creek. Next thing I knew I was on my arse and headed for the water. A strategically placed pine tree prevented an early bath! That slowed me down on the mud and slush enough that I walked a few rocky rolls that would have been fun in the dry. It was wet, by the way, because we had a big thunderstorm overnight, which hadn't dried under the trees.
I quickly learned that sunshine and open ground made for better grip! Which made ripping through Lumberjacks - where the trees have been cut down - a hoot; downhill, big loose berms and no pinchy climbs. They came later, in the last 10km, which was totally devoid of flow pumped a couple of pedal strokes down and couple more up, then down, up and I think you get the message. But the overall trend was up, which finally brought me exhausted to the top of the hill and charge back to the finish.
It was satisfying to progress in the field and results. I can't tell you where I sit overall in the race or the over 50s blokes, but I should have moved forward a little. Post-race my lower back locked up and it was straight to the massage crew. An hour later I feel 100 per cent better . Tomorrow, it's Powell River; 1046m of constant ups and downs, so after the first two days it's less climbing and more distance. See how we go.
Tick, another day down. A 3:46 effort at Powell River was good enough for 414th out of 600 finishers, 294th out of 439 men (yes, into the top 300!!) and 52nd out of 89 finishers in over 50 blokes. This was my best time and finish and it translated into 433rd overall (up 25 positions) and 55th in class (up a couple). Still down the back, but sneaking forward.
To be honest the 50km loop around this pretty village on what BCers call the Sunshine Coast (nothing like ours, absolutely no sign of skyscrapers or fat millionaires on the beach prancing around in budgie smugglers) was straight forward compared to the last two days. A gradually escalating gravel road climb fed into long kms of lumpy forest singletrack, sometimes offering hero grip and sometimes a bit wet and slippy over the roots and dead trees.
At different times it reminded me of the Blue Tier, Bright and even our own beloved Red Hill. Essentially, this was the cadence of the day, interrupted by an amazing construction in the middle of the forest called Aloha, which was a figure eight bridge where the locals were doing the hoolah and handing out pineapple juice. That's one thing about this race, everyone embraces it.
Last night, arriving here we got piped off the ferry by a lone bagpiper while about 100 locals clanged their cow bells and gave us a big cheer. So no cramps and back pain under control, but a massage is now a prerequisite each night. My body actually feels better on the bike than off it at the moment. The process is simple; I'm either riding, eating, rehydrating, massaging or sleeping (or at least trying to).
Tomorrow is the queen stage, 60km plus and 1600m of climbing. I won't be doing a sub 4hr time. The goal will be to keep myself nice, finish in under five hours and set myself up for the final three days. Final. bloody hell, I can't believe I used that word.
Hump day is done. Thanks God! Or your chosen deity. Around 30 km into this 62km, 1700m monster I was seriously doubting I was going to get to the finish. That was about the time I was pushing up a stupidly steep fire road under power lines in a conga line of riders. All of were cursing, huffing and puffing. These bloody power lines had been part of our lives for so long - it seemed like forever.
Before that we had hauled ourselves up a series of paths so steep the corners had been reinforced with concrete. I had gone into this day in full knowledge that it would be super-tough, a long cross country trek from Earls Cove to Sechelt. I'd kept myself nice in the early stages, spinning up the climbs, not going nuts on the downs, just trying to conserve, conserve, conserve ahead of the big climbs that I knew were coming.
After the power line horror it was kilometres of fire trails, wending their way up and down across the top of a hill range. When I didn't have my head down trying to climb in bottom gear the views were stunning. Then we got to a climb called Frogger. Far away, high in the distance, I could see riders still climbing. "This is the last climb", a rider behind me said. "It's all downhill after this". Stupidly, I believed him.
I burnt a heap of energy pushing hard up the hill, then rolled down the brilliant, beautifully formed singletrack afterwards. Only to arrive at the bottom of another huge climb. This was VFR and it really was the last climb. And I walked virtually all of it, convinced that I was going to end up just about last in the race. But after some more nice singletrack on the other side, and a road time trial to the finish, came a pleasant surprise. 5 hours and 26 minutes of gut-busting effort was good enough for 402nd in the race outright, 292/440 among the men and 49/90 in the over 50 blokes. These were all best results for the week. And all that was enough to push me to 424th overall, a five-position improvement from yesterday, but weirdly drop back me back from 52nd to 53rd in my division. Oh well, can't win them all.
Finishing in the top 400 remains my goal, but I think I am too far back for that. The first day's cramps really cost me. No cramps since then, but the back lock-up returned after the race. So massage time soon. Overall, this was my least favourite day so far. Too much fire road and not enough interesting singletrack. Tomorrow it's a 52km stage with a 14km singletrack descent at the end. Can't wait.
Woke up this morning and my legs were gone. I looked for them everywhere. Under the mattress, behind the tent, even when I got on the bike they weren't there.
Ok, so my legs were there, hanging off the bottom of my body like they always have been. It's just today, all day, they felt hollow. No power for the climbs on the long fire road climbs, or for the punchy single-tracks that regularly interrupted them. It was the direct result of yesterday's efforts on the queen stage. My body simply did not recover quick enough. From the first climb of the day I was in the hurt locker and I pretty much stayed there.
The race climbed 1400m in 39km before tipping (mostly) downward for the 10km run to the finish. It was a descent, although a bit tricky with a broken leg and a separated shoulder reported. Another poor unfortunate smacked facedown into the bitumen as he crossed the finish line! People are getting tired I guess. So my 5h 02min time placed me 437/600 overall on the day, 319/440 men and 50/90 in the over 50 blokes. My overall placings have barely changed. I am 420th outright and 52nd in category.
Tomorrow it's the technical 18km stage on the North Shore. Rocks, roots and steep downs. And ups too! So legs, wake up!
The stage of the BC Bike Race that created the most nerves and worry for the field was undoubtedly today's stage 6 on the legendary North Shore of Vancouver. Short at less than 19km, it featured lots of climbing (shock). But the technical downs were the cause of the heart flutters. Those of you who have been reading these missives from the opening day will know I had a couple of guided tours of this stage last week, so I was quite confident heading in that I could post a decent result, simply because I had a reasonable idea of where I was going. Mostly down over rocks, down over roots and down over more roots and rocks.
But the differences between a guided tour with the forest to yourself and being one of 600 jostling for space is profound. That and the fact that 400 sets of muddy tyres had rolled over the rocks by the time I got there added to the challenge. But I still managed to clean most things, had only a couple of dabs and only a couple of walks. Once because I approached a 1.8m rock face on the wrong angle and simply scrambled down rather than go back and do it right. Other times it was either people stalled on the trail, or people on the ground on the trail. It was pretty manic out there! I managed to pass plenty of people on the downs, but plenty more passed me on the steep bitumen roads and walking paths leading to the tough stuff.
In the end I made it through in 2hr 18min, good enough for 394th outright, 284th male and 47th in over 50 blokes. I think they are all PBs for the week, but I am too tired to check. They also timed the most difficult downhill and I was 357th out of the 600-odd competitors. Overall, I am 421st and 51st, so I think I have reached my ceiling.
Tomorrow in Squamish it's a return to big kms and metres; 58km and 1681m of climbing. I am bloody fatigued after six days effort, but hopefully I've still got a bit in the tank for the final day. I really can't comprehend I am within 24 hours of achieving this goal. There may well be tears tomorrow, as well as beers!
And that, folks, is that. I crossed the lane at the end of day seven of the BC Bike Race to complete my goal, the belt buckle hanging around my neck soon after the proof of that. But to be honest I was a bit numb. The plan had been for Jane to be at the finish line to see me finish this epic adventure. It would have been so appropriate considering the sacrifices she has made to allow me to train for this for the last 18 months. We are both gutted that she couldn't be there.
There's been a few tears of late and more to come no doubt. The other factor was that I have been riding pretty much on empty since day five, just not had the energy I needed to push hard forward like I wanted to. Today it all caved in on me a bit; I had some stomach troubles overnight, I've got multiple cold sores bubbling up on my top lip and a painful blister in the middle of my left hand. Once the race got underway today my back, which massage had kept under control all week, flared up too. Sorry about the litany of excuses. Just trying to tell you where I am at.
So to the race itself. It was long, lots of climbing and some really sweet singletrack. Just like normal. I battled on the ups and tried to make some ground on the downs, but paid the penalty with my worst crash of the week on one of the most technical trails. Basically, a root finally reached out and got me. A gouge in my left leg just below the knee, a five minute sit-down and I got going again. But it was just that sort of day. Afterwards the medics told me the injury will scar up nicely. Cool.
The highlight of the day for me was the fans, who popped up in the oddest places to cheer us on. When you're deep in the hurt box in the middle of the forest there's nothing better to lighten the mood than high-fiving a person inside a giant McDonald's golden arches. Weird.
So the results; not pretty today. A time of 5:11 meant I finished 451st outright, 323rd among the men and 59th in over 50 blokes. Overall, I ended 422nd out of 570 finishers (14 hours behind the winner and 14-hours ahead of last). In my division I was 52nd out of 82 finishers. Tonight, it's my first beer (or alcoholic drink for that matter) for two months, and a chance to catch up with the many friends from many countries I have made on the trails and in tent city this week. I am sure later tonight, a bit drunk, a bit more relaxed, I'll be smiling.
Read Neil's Road to the BC Bike Race.