"It's like a whole world opened to me, a new kind of racing. Nothing in Poland is going to scare me." Maciej Twardowski
Today was a return to reality on what could arguably be considered the hardest day of the BC Bike Race, that is, if it wasn't for the fact that most racers have become different riders than they were this time last week. After six days of developing techniques to manage their pace and expectations, and learning the flavors of British Columbia trails they are now operating with instinctual calculation, focused on harnessing the moment. On trail, riders have replaced the tension their bodies held in the first stages with an elasticity that adapts to terrain, instead of being the victim of the unfamiliar they are absorbing the unknown and working with it. Their movements are fluid and practiced to the point of being instinctual even when stepping off the bike while bailing with integrity. Everyone's game has been elevated and it's apparent in how the bodies move, terrain is ridden, and in how they talk afterwards about sections of trails through hand gestures and exaggerated body movements.
BCBR 2017 -- Stage 6 Presented by Shimano
Featured Trail: Pseudo Tsuga
There are many people who came to the BCBR unaware and unprepared for exactly how hard the technical riding can be. They looked at images without a trained eye and thought they knew what the term "flow" meant. Can flow be found in the trails filled with tech-gnar? The word has been misused and misunderstood too often as a purely physical description of a particular type of terrain. It implies that it's the trails responsibility to create that "flow state" and neuters the idea that "flow" is a state of mind that can be achieved and not just dictated by the shape of a trail. Flow is not about speed or terrain, gnar included; it's about achieving a mental state where we turn off the unnecessary thoughts and focus on the moment. It's about replacing fear, with a sense of control.
Squamish is a day of variety, with sections that appeal to everyone. Those hunting buff corners and a roller coaster rides get trails like Half Nelson and Pseudo Tseugo, then there are the seekers of technical gnar where looking ahead and planning early allow the flow to come out on trails like Leave of Absence, Powerhouse Plunge, and Hoods in the Woods. It's a big day on the bike where all the skills honed on the previous five stages integrate into movements based on instinct. Every year Squamish is voted as the overall rider's favorite stage, which on the surface would be about the amazing trails here, but to ignore the journey that has delivered them to this network, but to overlook the process and the community that has set them up for success this late in the race would be short sighted.
Lost in Translation
Maciej Twardowski and his new wife Marta, both from Poland, made the BC Bike Race part of their honeymoon. They wanted to do a big trip and bought tickets to BC first, then thought it would be cool to see what mountain bike race they could do while here. A friend told him about the BCBR and he was instantly sold. Unfortunately the definition of what is technical trail didn't translate and despite buying new 29 inch wheeled bikes they found themselves in over their head like some others who fail to do the research and prep for a race like this.
"We started the climb, and we said what are these guys doing with these fat tires here, we were over overtaking so many people. We started from the back to be cautious and then we hit the single track. We had a really cold shower the first day. It was an awakening."
Maciej and Marta are young, athletic, and strong triathletes, able to adapt physically and mentally to new challenges. They immediately went and bought bigger tires and dropper posts for their bikes and have proceeded to get better everyday at riding terrain they were totally unprepared for. Still, they are finishing at the back of the pack later in the day, clearly strained by the challenge but happy to be figuring out what this is they've signed up for. "We are gaining skills everyday. This is what I love, I see Marta starting to jump and to take the corners better, and I am a much better rider as well."
Tim Johnson is not a one trick pony who hasn't been out of the petting zoo. He's known for his distinctive career as an American Cyclocross racer with multiple National Championships, a UCI podium finish and a Bronze medal at the World Championships, but, he began his cycling career as a Junior on the MTB Worlds team. He's raced all the bikes he can throughout his career and his handling skills have been one of his greatest strengths on the skinny tires.
Johnson knew what he was getting into. "I've been trying to come to this race for a number of years. Always invited to come out but never had the chance. But now, with my schedule, I made sure that it was open. I'm stoked. I wish I had come years ago." A Red Bull and Lululemon athlete it was bound to happen that he would figure out how to get here. Despite battling some serious blisters on his hands since day two he has managed to crack the top five and hang in the top ten regularly. This is after finishing a 7 day Haute Route Gran Fondo style event the week leading up to the race.
"I remember turning a corner, going over a little bridge, there's kinda a green mossy bed on the ground with single track going through it and all these old trees everywhere. I've seen photos like that my entire career but I've never been able to ride that. This stuff is exactly what I close my eyes and dream of when I think of BC Mountain Biking."
One of the things the BCBR works hard on is collaborating with and putting a spotlight on the amazing trail builders that continue to develop and evolve trails throughout the communities the race visits. This year there are several builders of trails that are featured in the courses actually doing the entire seven days. This is an opportunity for these crafters of trail to get out and experience theirs and others' trails in a new setting surrounded by people riding them for the first time, and themselves, riding their own trails from a different perspective.
Martin Newman who along with Penny Beck built the Good Sir Martin trail in the North Shore and Rob Phoenix who built today's Feature Trail, Leave of Absence are both builders who were trained and brought up by their riding communities. About five years ago Newman was noticing that certain trails were being destroyed by weather and use and decided to enroll in the North Shore Mountain Bike Association Trail Academy to learn how to take care of and build trail.
"I went to NSMBA's trail academy and learned about trail building and while I was there asked them if I could do some work on it, and they said "yeah, go fill your boots' and I spent 18 months rebuilding the whole trail, that's Severed Dick on Seymour." That work was good enough that the NSMBA asked him to lead more trail days and be a builder for the Trail Adoption Program.
Eventually Newman saw the need for a whole new trail to connect one side of Mount Seymour to the other with a more dynamic climbing trail which would open up the network to a whole other range of possibilities. His and Becks vision of the trail was approved and they completed it with several work days and hundreds of hours of effort. The effect one trail can have on a trail network is a huge consideration and the result of the Sir Good Martin and Penny Lane Trails is more skill levels of riders are able to access a whole new part of Seymour.
The Leave of Absence trail in the Squamish stage also had the effect of filling a void in the trail network. Traditionally the Alice Lake trails have been dominated by black diamond trails. It was Rob Phoenix who spent the last seven years getting more involved with the Squamish trailbuilders and doing what was effectively an apprenticeship with several builders before starting to tackle his own build projects. Spurred on by the BCBR to build Tazer, an alternate line for Rupert's Trail in last years BC Bike Race, Phoenix saw the need for a blue trail in the area. After getting community and land manager approval he oversaw the design and build of Leave of Absence which feels like a mini version of the more difficult Rupert's Trail. As the name implies, he literally took off seven months from his job with the Vancouver Police department to build the trail. A testament to the community and to Phoenix was the cost of the project.
"It cost $3700 to build the trail. BCBR stepped up and paid the remaining that I had spent from out of pocket. It took seven months and over 2000 hours which included 140 volunteers."
British Columbia has a unique structure for developing trail builders and it involves growing the ranks from within. What is takes is a dedicated individual with the vision and drive to build something that will effect the riding community in a positive way. Each day of the BC Bike Race has trails in it that are built by individuals like this.
It was another day of racing that started under the cooling cover of clouds. In the woods the trails were still holding on to a darkness from a the moisture of a long winter. Where the tread was more exposed to the water-sucking rays of sunlight, dust rises at the slightest disturbance and a loose layer of rock in various sizes and shapes stole confidence from rider's ability to maintain traction. It was a day marked by long loose climbs and technical descents. The best riders would have the ability to handle both, but even those with the sharpest vision and reflexes could make a misstep and end up on the ground.
It was a day of challenges for the women today. Race leader Katerina Nash (CLIF Pro) suffered a very early flat that put her behind a large group of riders. Her teammate but solo competitor Maghalie Rochette had a crises of action. To continue riding hard and take advantage of Nash's flat or soft pedal. After a period of uncertainty and letting some groups pass her by she decided to pick up a normal pace, not an attack and ride on.
"I think anyone you race against you want to beat them when it's their best. I really felt bad when it happened. Then I thought to myself that she would tell me to go. In my mind I didn't really beat her." Rochette
Her win for the day put her in a position to really challenge for the overall in Whistler with only a 12 second gap to close by the finish line tomorrow.
Coming in third again was Hielke Elferink who was in her element on the long climbs and challenging descents. She was probably going to gather her first second place finish of the day but suffered a crash that allowed Nash to overtake her close to the end of the day.
Carey Mark took home another 4th place and Briony Mattocks fought off the rest to take herself a 5th on the day.
Today was home turf for Geoff Kabush (Scott/ Maxxis) and Quinn Moberg (Rocky Mountain), and both racers wanted to keep the stage win local. Moberg has won the stage for the last two years and had high hopes for the day. After an early escape by Kabush, Moberg, and Stephen Ettinger (Focus/ Shimano) the three found themselves off the front coming out of Leave of Absence. Frederic Gombert (CyclesTyres.com) failed to make a successful bridge and the three proceeded to put time on the rest of the group. In Powerhouse Plunge, a particularly technical section of trail with awkward uphill bits, Ettinger put in an attack that Moberg couldn't match. Kabush stayed with the Focus rider and eventually decided to attack and keep the stage win local. "I wanted Quinn to hang to the end but it wasn't happening. I figured I had to do it for Squamish." Kabush
Gombert managed to take home fourth on the day, his best of the week, while Troy Wells (CLIF Bar) also got his best finish of the race with a 5th place finish. "Being from the east coast originally. BC Riding is very similar to what I grew up riding on the east coast. It's great getting back to your roots so to say." Wells
Race note: Sam Schultz has pulled himself from the race due to getting a bug that caused him to abandon.
Pseudo Tsugo is a classic Squamish trail divided into three sections. Staring off narrow and fast, it plunges through a younger and brushier undergrowth which allows the sun to dry out it's early small berms. Loose is the name of the game with a few booters to send you further than you expect and causing a fistful of brakes to be pulled when the speed suddenly gets to high. As you get further down the trail opens up more and the berms begin to get progressively bigger. Along the way a couple small doubles keep riders entertained or puckered. The final berms are huge affairs that connect one to another in a perfect sequence before dumping you out on fire road for your climb back to the Powerhouse Plunge.