Having said all that, I have been able to get some solid training on the bike in with lots of group rides, and just some good time in the saddle. After putting in over 200km on the road bike on the past weekend, I was feeling really strong and knew that I would be able to put in a solid effort at the Test of Metal.
The Test is the first mountain bike race I've been to in over three years as all of my bike time is usually tied in with adventure races. It was also the biggest bike event that I've ever participated in with over 800 riders ready to push their limits. I was truly impressed with the community support for this event with hundreds of spectators lining the course and cheering on the competitors.
I stayed at Gary's place in North Van on Friday night and then headed up on the Saturday morning. While it seemed like we had a lot of time before the race, before we knew it, we were at the start line ready to go. I have never seen so many bikes together in one location before. The start area was pretty incredible with everyone's bike turned wheels up to hold your spot among the 800 other competitors. This year, they set out estimated finish time area so that the field would be sorted out and you wouldn't have someone who would finish in five hours up with a three hour finisher. I'm not sure this did much though as so many people pushed for the front who simply shouldn't have been there. The reason why this is so important is that after a good initial climb on some roads, you head into some narrow double track which turns into single track and thus, it is hard to pass (especially all the riders who hammer off the start of the 67km race and end up slowing down significantly after less than 15km. So, the start really becomes a full on red-line to get a good place once the trail narrows.
After a moment of silence and our national anthem, the race was on! We were lead out on the highway via a pace car and soon everyone was cranking hard up the first climb. I was in a decent position but wanted to get furthur up front to make sure that I wouldn't be slowed down after the climb. Just before a steep and tight right hand turn, I clicked to gear one down and my drivetrain jammed. Ah... F!@#! I looked down and realized that I had shifted into my big-big combo and as my chainstays are longer on the Jet (than my last bike), the chain was now too short and jammed in this position. I quickly got off, fixed my gearing and was back on in no time. However, in no time, around 50 people had just passed me! I again went to work on gaining some positions but was definitely back of where I wanted to be once we finished the main road climb and entered the double track.
From here, I passed where I could and generally the pace wasn't too bad which made passing even more dangerous on the single track of Jack's trail. Once we got to Alice lake, eveything opened up but here I found myself in a kind of no-man's land. I passed a few riders but a group in front of them had already hammered off. Little did I know, The Test has a lot of road strategy in it as there is a lot of non-technical and fast riding that allows for a good draft line to setup. If you can hook onto one of these, you'll be in good shape; if not, you'll be in no-man's land and end up like me. Fortunately, this didn't last too long until Gary and a few other riders came up from behind and I jumped on. The extra riders also adds speed simply by the motivation of having other people pushing you. We eventually broke into some singletrack, into a new steep climb, and then into Rob's corners. This was probably my favourite part of the course. The trail is a slightly downhill swoopy trail with bermed corners that has to put a smile on your face. I think I even let out a scream! Again, I would have liked to go a bit faster on this section but I had some slower riders in front of me. Because of this, Gary had gapped me a bit and shortly thereafter, on some fast downhill singletrack, I saw him on the side of the trail.
He was standing up (which was a good sign) and was inspecting his bike. I was getting ready to slow down when I called out if he was ok.
"Somebody F-ing cut me off!"
Knowing Gary, I knew that since he swore, and swore in a very angry pissed off tone, that he must be physically ok :)
I took my fingers off the brakes, and kept going not knowing where he was really at.
The trail 'Roller Coaster' was another highlight of the course with the end consisting of steep banked corners and tons of spectators cheering us on. It was quite the sight.
After a bit more riding, I passed through the main aid station that would be the start of the dreaded '9 mile hill'. I had never done the climb before but got some good advice from Gary before the start of the race. First off, the climb is 9 miles from the highway rather than where we start the climb; in total, it's about a 9 km climb. Secondly, it's not all a climb with some downhill sections involved. After hearing horror story comments about this climb, I didn't really find it that bad. I didn't feel like I was climbing my strongest but was picking off several other riders and made up about 10 positions but the time I hit 'lava flow' at the top. I was a bit bagged by the top but once the gradient started going down, I was right back in it. The downhill was super fast with lots of rocks and one particular boulder that could have done me in! I stayed on course and flew down to the top of the powerhouse plunge. Most of the downhill I was on my own with a group of riders in front that I just couldn't seem to catch. As soon as we got to the plunge though, the group slowed and I was able to pass and gap them.
The top of the plunge was a bit hairy at first as my legs were like jello having not used them much on the downhill sections and thus, I wasn't ready for the most technical part of the course. I did put my feet down a few times at the top, and had to stop once as I lost my flow, but once I started to get the ryhthm, I was ready to go.
I was feeling great at this point and had no cramping issues since I stayed up top of my electrolyte inputs over the course of the race. Before the race, Gary actually set me up with an ingenious electrolyte dispensor that is currently top secret. It allows for a one handed intake of a tablet and worked well the entire race. Cudos to Gary for that.
I had a big smile on my face and started flying down the switchbacks of the powerhouse plunge. And that's when it happened.
I heard a load popping noise and immediately knew that something had just happened to my bike. I got to the next switchback, got off my bike, looked things over, and found that my upper suspension linkage was done. Not only was it done, but it had completely self-destructed in three locations!
At first I was pretty pissed but then I just took it in stride, and walked my bike down the rest of the plunge to the aid station.
My race was over.
At the aid station, I met a few people I knew and when I was showing them the damage, I also noticed something else. Not only had the linkage failed in three locations, the rear frame triangle that holds the pivots snapped in half! I have never dealt with a broken frame and breaking one definitely concerns me as doing this in BC Bike Race or a big adventure race can simply mean the end of the event. I knew that this kind of thing can happen with a newly released bike and I guess I took it so well since it gave such as nice ride.
After staying at the aid station for awhile, I noted that Gary had yet to come through. I was pretty sure that he must have dropped out of the race as well and it was after that I found that he was hit by someone off the the trail into the bushes going over 35 km/hour. Luckily, he escaped with no major issues. He did however bruse his quad and break his pinky finger!
Two teammates, one broken finger, one broken frame, and two DNFs.
So, am I pissed about how things went? Well, I'm definitely not happy about it but I can say that I was having a great race up until the break and that the bike was performing incredibly. What does this mean for BC Bike Race? I still do not know how things will pan out at this point. I love the bike but a replacement (of a working Jet9) will likely take several weeks or months and BC Bike Race is only two weeks away! Yes, this is stressing me out but I'm sure I'll figure something out somehow.