What a day! I really don’t know where to begin, so much to talk about. We arrived in Whistler late Monday evening and I was already feeling nervous for this race. After the dream race the team had in Colorado two weeks ago, winning here in Whistler last year, the best prize money pay out of the year, my EWS points buffer, and being the second to last race of the series…a good race here would mean a further points buffer for the final round in Finale Ligure and the luxury of being able to just race safe. A bad race in Whistler would mean having to fight to the wire in Finale, or worse, having to make up points. I definitely viewed this weekend as the most important race of the year.
Whenever you come to Whistler, it’s like being a kid on Christmas morning. Wednesday was my Christmas morning, I couldn’t help but ride until my hands started to blister. On Thursday, we had a chance to do a couple of Stage 5 runs (from the Top of the World trail dropping 1500m over 11km down to the town center, and well over 20 minutes for the absolute fastest times). But, I was able to sneak in some A-line runs for good measure, too.
On Friday and Saturday, we had practice for Stages 1-4. New for this year, we had to pedal to the top of the mountain during both practice and racing. Richie and I rode a run of each course and got a feel for how long the day would be, and to say we were cooked at the end of this was an understatement. There was also very hot weather predicted for the weekend, which would make things even harder. To be honest, I was feeling a bit concerned about how Sunday would pan out for a lot of riders, myself included. It was going to be tough.
I woke up Saturday morning feeling really tired. I had planned on doing Stage 1 and 2 again, but decided to do Stage 2 and then a run of Stage 4. My arms were still super tired…more so than my legs, and I knew it was more important to be fresh for race day than to try and get the extra practice in. So, I called it a day early and spent all afternoon in bed.RACE DAY
For the first time this year, all of the racing would be done in one day…one very long, hard day. I really like this format…just get in, have a big day, and have racing over with. The hot weather had rolled in and I was sweating just sitting on my bike waiting for my start time.Stage 1 -
It was a 1-hour climb to the top; my body felt mint, every pre-race detail was accounted for, and I was feeling good. As I started Stage 1, I was feeling really good, riding smooth and flowing well with the trail. About a quarter of the way down, I got a bit over excited and completely tank slapped a big g-out hole…full major front and rear suspension bottom out. I thought I had ridden out of it all good, but it turned out that my suspension had been compromised. As a result, I got some pretty insane arm pump, and had to slow down to not get ejected over my new super low front end bar height. I was gutted! I lost 17 seconds on Stage 1. With no outside assistance allowed, I had no idea what I was going to do. These courses were the roughest and steepest of the year, and Stage 1 was the least rough of the first four stages…it was only going to get worse throughout the day.One of those moments…
This might sound a bit dramatic to some people, but it’s hard to comprehend the feeling unless you’ve been in a similar situation. When your life has revolved around something over a long period of time, it’s inevitable that it consumes you a little bit. I was halfway up to the start of Stage 2 and the heat was beating down, my heart rate was spiking from climbing steep hills in the heat, I couldn’t stop swearing in my head, and every part of me wanted to quit. There were actually about 10 minutes there where I mentally quit. There was a point on the liaison climb that went past a ski run, and my plan was to just roll down the ski run and call my day done. I got to the ski run and I sat on my bike and started talking to myself out loud like a full-blown crazy person. It was like a red pill/blue pill moment from the Matrix, I was thinking “You will most likely crash badly today with your bike in this state. But maybe you won’t. You will definitely loose time to everyone in the next three stages. You probably will have zero chance of standing on the podium at the end of the day, but just maybe you won’t flush the last 9 months of training and racing down the toilet.
” The way the EWS points system works this year means that one race with no points means you have zero chance of calling yourself world champion. I needed to try; even if I did crash and still score zero points. I couldn’t just give up. So, with that, I yelled at myself, “DONT BE A SCARED DICKHEAD!!!
” I jumped back on my bike and kept pedaling. Yes, I know it all sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s honestly how I was feeling.Stage 2 –
I had a thought once I got to the top. While I had no shock pump to put more air back in my fork, I did have some co2 canisters. It’s not ideal, but I could pump up my forks a little with these and at least make things better. I put a quick squirt in, and then tried to guess the pressure the best I could. At the start of Stage 2, I was rolling around and noticed that I had also somehow picked up a contaminated rear brake. I still have absolutely zero idea how this could even happen, but something oily had gotten over my rear rotor and my brake was squealing and moaning. I thoroughly checked over the bike, and every other part was in perfect working order. There were no oil leaks, just another random hurdle to overcome.
I knew I needed to take it easy as I dropped into Stage 2. I didn’t know what was going to happen on the big impacts, and felt like I was riding someone else’s badly set up bike. I made my way down and my run felt pretty terrible, but I managed to be comfortably inside the top-10 on the stage. My brake had burnt off whatever was on it on the way down, and it was not too bad at all. My mood started to get a little better.Stage 3 –
We had a very long climb up to Stage 3. Despite the heat, the body was feeling pretty good. The climb gave me time to really think about things and work out a game plan for the rest of the day. I decided I would try and push a little on this stage…not do anything too crazy, but not back down either like I had in Stage 2. All was good as I got started and I made the best of this stage. I had a bit of a crash on about switchback 436 of 2000 (ha ha, that’s a joke, there were a lot of switchbacks
), but I got on with it and pushed to the line and came in 2nd fastest for this stage. I couldn’t believe it. I was just back on Martin Maes who was putting together a really good day and was looking strong, and I was sitting well inside the top-10. My confidence picked up.Stage 4 –
Another super long climb that seemed to never end, especially when you’re starting to feel a bit flat and tired. This was definitely the roughest stage of the day…for those who have ridden “Ride Don’t Slide
” you’ll know what I’m talking about. I couldn’t ride this stage like I had ridden Stage 3. I had to back off and simply survive this one. Pushing hard would mean a definite big crash, which I managed to do on the 2nd corner of the run. Right after a pretty decent size hole through a mud bog, I went side sliding down the hill…awesome! Anyway, I tried to enjoy the rest of the stage, and keep everything else on my bike together. I’d come this far, I didn’t want to smash a derailleur or anything after what I’d already been through and ruin my day for certain. I didn’t see any times for this stage, I just wanted to get back to the pits where we had about 45 minutes to do some bike work, get everything sorted out, and get some proper food (thanks for the support of the race Clif Bar, but I don’t think I’ll be able to look at one the same after today…ten Clif Bars in 6 hours is not ideal
) and hit the reset button for Stage 5.Stage 5 –
This stage is my boy; I just love everything about it. To me this stage IS enduro and truly combines every aspect of mountain biking into one stage. Even though it's only been raced three times ever, it’s already a true classic. With a 100% functional bike and a quick look at the overall times, I was feeling really good about salvaging a top-3 result with a solid run. My main goal was to jump ahead of Damien Oton (who was 2nd overall in points and was sitting 2nd overall for this race coming into the final stage
). If I could get ahead of him for the race and grow my point lead, it would feel like a massive success for the weekend after the morning’s battles. It was on!
My run went really well, even better than last year’s. I took some risks where I felt mechanicals weren’t going to happen and just gave it all I had. One small incident involved smacking a rock at the very top and bending a chain link, which resulted in an inability to lay down any hard pedaling efforts. But it was a long stage that needed proper pacing, so it wasn’t all that bad. It was a bit of a blur, but about half way down I started seeing Oton’s dust and it stared getting thicker and thicker. Within a few minutes of the finish line, he was in sight. I was pumped knowing that I’d taken back almost a full minute and my run had gone to plan. As I crossed the line and looked at the board, I was completely cross-eyed and couldn’t make sense of it. My mechanic Shauny came sprinting over with a massive super goofy excited grin on his face and gave me a massive polar bear type hug and squeezed all remaining air out of lungs (solid effort Shauny
)! I had WON! Not just the stage but pulled back the whole damn race. I almost got a bit emotional…speechless!
Richie also put it into second just behind me on this stage. So a great way to finish despite getting a flat tire on Stage 2 which ended his chances of a podium for the day. He proved his speed once again.
Before the stage, Martin Maes was in the lead and looked like he would hold it. But, he had a mechanical issue of his own on the last stage and lost a lot of time. He was gutted, and rightly so. Racing can be cruel and I had certainly felt that all day long. Everyone knows your day is coming very soon, so I hope you don’t take it too hard mate!
After a quick points check, my lead has grown to a nice 290-point buffer. I just need to finish 23rd or better (with Oton winning
) at the final round in Italy. It’s safe to say that I won’t be racing for the win there, just doing what needs to be done with zero risks. Still a couple months until that final round, so we have some waiting to do.
In the end, it will be a day I will never forget. It was mentally the hardest of my life, and one of the most physically tiring. In closing, I want to mention something that a lot of people have started talking about, and it certainly came up this week. I want to talk about this because it’s been building amongst riders all season, and I agree with a lot of concerns people have. And what’s the good of having a blog if you can’t share some honest opinions?
This year there seems to be a fair number of race organizers pushing how far is too far within the sport. It seems like one race keeps trying to out-do the last, as far as making it difficult for the riders to race. Races like this one won’t do a whole lot to get people into the sport. Stages 1-4, while fun to ride, were a whole different ball game to race. Where was the flow…there was no real variety in any of Stages 1-4. We need to be tested and pushed, but these stages weren’t enjoyable to race. And that’s been happening more and more this year. The 2013 race in Whistler was tough, and it was almost doubled this year. Seems this course was picked without a thought of potential rain getting involved. If it had been muddy, a lot of sections of most stages would have been extremely dangerous, even borderline unrideable. I read Charlie Sponsel’s Team Robot blog, and I have to say I agree with a lot of what he says…not all of it, but a lot of it. Seems to be a lot of people drinking the Kool-Aid, worried they will be called (in Charlie’s words
) “pussies” for saying they don’t like something about it and having a fear of being labeled as such. People have said to me that they don’t like the direction some races have taken, but then say the exact opposite to the organizers. Seems to me, the best direction for the sport to go is finding that happy middle ground between being pushed to our limit and keeping it fun. I don’t think you’re a “pussy” Charlie, in fact I commend you for saying it how you saw it. People don’t always share the same opinions, but if you have a concern that you feel strongly enough about, you should find an appropriate way to voice it.Bike setup:
Fork: FOX 36 Float 2015, 15mm axle, 160mm travel, 74psi
Shock: FOX Float X, 170psi
Wheels: DT Swiss 240 straight pull hubs, AeroLite spokes, EX471 rims
Tires: Maxxis 2.3 3C EXO Minion front, DHR2 EXO 3C rear, tubeless ready, with ghetto tubeless also. 26/29psi
Cranks: Shimano XTR 170mm w/Stages power meter
Brakes: Shimano XTR m987 levers, Saint Calipers, 180mm Freeza Rotors
Derailleur: Shimano XTR Shadow Plus
Shifter: Shimano XTR
Pedals: Shimano XTR Trail
Cassette: Shimano XTR 11-36
Chainring: E-13 Narrow wide, 34t (38t for Stage 5)
Chain: Shimano XTR
Bar/Stem: Renthal Fatbar lite Carbon, 20mm rise, 740mm, Renthal Apex 50mm stem
Seatpost: Thomson Elite Dropper, and Thomson seat clamp
Chainguide: E-13 Carbon LG1
Headset: Chris King