Typical travel day. We flew out from Denver and arrived in Whistler just before dark and with just enough time to go for a mellow cruise with my favorite WAMP (Weird Ass Mountain Person) Joey Schusler on the Lost Lake trails. I really love the trails there, if you’re after some fun turns and some bits that are still technical, Lost Lake are probably the easiest trails Whistler has to offer.
Just a fun day in the Park, again out with Joey, he’s one of the most fun guys to go riding with, always laughing and with a smile on his dial. He’s pretty much equal with Richie Rude as far as getting rowdy on the bike goes. On this particular day I couldn’t wait to get up to the Top of the World trail, a track that features all the kinds of riding I love the most. Hands down, Top of the World has the best views of Whistler I’ve ever seen and it’s a fun flowy trail with some altitude to get the lungs going and a good amount of rocks to keep you on your toes. After Top of the World, we rode some other stuff in the park, probably a little too much, but we’re only in Whistler for six days, so the feeling was that we should make the most of it.
The first day of official training and we were able to ride Stage 5. With it being the longest stage and almost half the total time of the race, I knew it would be where the race was won or lost. I was able to get in two full runs and, despite feeling tired after yesterday, I had encouraging runs. The track was a similar one of the stages last year, so I more or less remembered it. The run was around 23 minutes and featured literally a thousand turns, so learning the whole thing was never going to happen. My goal was just to find my rhythm and remember the few bits that might catch me out.
Really just nothing to report today as it was exactly the same as yesterday. Perfect weather and two runs of Stage 5, Might have been the same as the day before, but riding in Whistler is always good times.
Practice for Stages 1 through 4.
Definitely not what I was expecting, but the course covered some awesome trails! Most were definitely not my strong suit with all the super tight and fiddly bits, followed by steep and rough terrain. Overall this event was shaping up to be a real, all-over physical test. With all the riders on the mountain, the tracks were also getting blown out fast!
I rode all four stages to get an idea of what it would be like on race day. Stages 1 and 2 went from the Top of the World trail as part of the liaison and the timed section for Stage 1 started on the Khyber Pass trail. I’ve heard a lot about this trail and it lived up to its reputation, it’s soooo good! Stage 2 was a weird trail, like nothing I’d ever ridden before, not quite sure how to explain it. It was very tight and, so, it was easy to run completely off the track into the bushes. In the middle of all this, two extremely short and steep climbs, the sort of ones that send you straight into the red zone. No question, it was going to be tough to have a clean run on Stage 2.
After Stage 2 was a long, steep climb up to the beginning of Stage 3. To be honest, I wasn’t very into this stage. Mostly because I know I struggle a little on this type of super tight and fiddly stuff. Some bits were almost like downhill trails and many were definitely a challenge to maintain flow through.
Next it was over an hour of climbing up to the beginning of Stage 4. The uphill was brutally steep and had a few sections that required walking to avoid completely blowing my legs up. The stage itself was one of my favorite trails that I’ve ever ridden, steep and rocky, with constant flowing turns. Riding it fast gave me just such a rewarding feeling. A trail that good almost makes up for an hour of climbing.
The day before the race and I was feeling pretty tired. I knew I needed to take it easy or, at least, easier than Friday. The bottom of Stage 4 was very close to our house for the week, so it was an easy pedal over. Riding Stage 4 for a second time made it clear that the trails were badly blown out from all the riders who had been on them. Luckily we got a good idea of what to expect for Sunday’s timed runs. The rapid rate of deterioration of the trails became even more clear in the afternoon when we went up and did Stages 1 and 2 again. The change was complete and they had both become completely different trails compared to 30 hours before. After our practice runs it was time for a nice cruise along the road back to the village and then it was feet up and time to relax.
Race day and my plan was pretty simple: After racing the enduro in Whistler last year and being beyond tired for the final stage (which descends 5,500 feet down the mountain over 23 minutes), I knew it would be extremely important to save some energy for the final stage. Begin that stage tired and there would only be one result: Massive bleeding of time! I planned to not go too hard in any stage. Sure, I knew I might lose some time, but I would probably be the freshest guy left on the hill for the final stage. With that in mind, I launched into Stage 1.
MAN! I need to get better at finding my flow and not riding tight on the first stage of the day. At pretty much every race this year I’ve given up time to Jerome Clementz on Stage 1. Not sure what it is, but I just can’t get into a rhythm early, but as soon as that first stage is out of the way, I find my flow. I was still second fastest for the stage, but I was a full nine seconds behind Jerome. I guess that’s not too much over nine minutes, but that guy is just too good at every sort of trail to gift him a nine second head start.
With Stage 1 out of the way, I did achieve my main goal for the stage, which was to grunt up the SUPER steep climb about two thirds of the way down the hill. I wasn’t able to make it up in practice, I did it when it counted. It was an all out sprint to make it up the grinder and I was already starting to fatigue coming into it, but I just punched it as hard as I could. After the stage, I looked at my Garmin and it showed that I put out 1,960 maximum watts while getting up the climb! So much for trying to save energy for later!
I had a pretty good run, and I was happy with it. At the very least, I didn’t throw myself into any trees on the tight bits! A very hard trail to find good flow and pace, especially when it was only the third time I’d ever ridden it. My time was fastest by a comfortable margin at the time I crossed the line, but right behind me Jerome went 1.3 seconds faster. Second for the stage again was a bummer, but I did manage to save a good amount of energy for later in the race.
I was kind of dreading this stage because I didn’t get along with it in practice. I’d only ridden it once, so I decided to put my brain in neutral and just go with it. It actually worked really well, I was a bit slow in a couple parts, but I hit some other sections faster than I should have and managed to get away with it. Unfortunately, towards the bottom I decided to see if I could knock over a tree with my shoulder. Needless to say, I lost and went straight onto the ground….Ooops! Fabien Barel went fastest on this stage and put a good chunk of time into everyone. I was mainly concerned with Jerome’s time and, again, was disappointed to see he pulled another six seconds in front of me. I had to find a way to stop the time bleeding to him. Also Rene Wildhaber was having his best race of the year and was close behind, so I was watching his times closely as well.
I knew things might swing more in my favor for the final two stages. I had setup my bike to suit these stages more and I just don’t like to change tires and chainrings and all that stuff that other guys do throughout the race. I like to have the feel of all my parts 100 percent for each stage and not be trying to find the limits of a different tire, or gearing of a different chainring. I like to keep it simple!
I had a lot of fun on Stage 4 and was fairly happy with it. I just lost a little focus here and there and forgot a few key things, but all-in-all it was a solid stage.
Once again though, Jerome went four seconds faster than me. I was starting to get pretty frustrated as he was always just one step ahead of me all day. I was OK with being 16 seconds back after Stage 3, but wanted to pull back some time in stage 4 and that just didn’t happen. It ended up that I was second for the stage again, and was 21 seconds back going into the final battle.
This was the big one! All week I knew the race would come down to the final stage. My body was feeling strong and I was really fresh and ready for a big finale. My plan was to have a good, smooth run, and make sure I secured second spot for the day. I was also thinking that maybe I could challenge Jerome with a really good run, but taking back 21 seconds on a guy like that is a pretty tall order in any race, even one that is 23 minutes long!
As my run started I could just feel that it was going to be a good one, I had found my rhythm and flow, and found myself hitting everything just like I’d imagined. I knew I was on a good run, but it’s impossible know how the other guys are going. After about the halfway point, I decided I would take some risks on the parts that weren’t too rocky or dangerous.
I overcooked one turn in “Angry Pirate” which resulted in me slapping my man bits on the seat pretty hard and made for an uncomfortable couple of minutes. On the last few sections of the trail I was giving it all. So much so that my legs were starting to buckle, but, amazingly, I had no arm pump.
I crossed the line and was in the lead by a long way. Jerome started one minute after me and I had my clock going on my Garmin so I could gauge his time. I just sat and stared at it, watching the seconds ticking over, knowing the exact time he had to hit if he was going to beat me for the overall. The 1:21 that I needed to take the overall seemed to take forever, but the time came and went before he came into the finish area. I knew I had it, but I waited until he crossed the line and got the official time before celebrating!
I couldn’t believe it! All day he had been too good, but I knew Stage 5 played to all my strengths and I did all I could to make the most of it. Having my wife there at the finish to share the win with was so amazing! Then I was reminded of the $10,000 first place prize! I hadn’t thought of that all day because I was focused on just winning.
So that was that. My First EWS win and it happened at the biggest race of the year. I just couldn’t be happier!
A big thanks to my mechanic for the weekend Nate Espinosa. With my usual mechanic, the Polar Bear, doing DH wrench duties at the MSA, Nate did a top-notch job as his stand-in. Cheers Friend!
Frame – Yeti sb66c Medium
Fork – Fox 34 R.A.D
Rear Suspension – Fox Float X
Seatpost – Thomson Elite Dropper
Wheels – DT Swiss 240 hubs, 500 rims, Aerolite spokes, alloy nipples
Tires – Maxxis Minion 2.5 EXO (ghetto/split tube tubeless) @ 27psi F/30psi R
Brakes – Shimano XTR race lever, Saint calipers, 180mm Ice-Tech Rotors
Derailleur – Shimano XTR Shadow Plus
Cranks – Shimano XTR 170-millimeter with Stages Power Meter
Chainring – Shimano Saint 38-tooth
Cassette – Shimano XTR 11-36
Pedals – Shimano XTR trail
Chainguide – E13 LG1
Bars and Stem – Renthal Fatbar Lite (740mm width and 20mm rise); Duo Stem (50mm)
Headset – Chris King
Grips – ODI Ruffian MX