There we were floating in Kootenay Lake, eating Party Mix after racing on one of the best race loops I've been treated to. Kaslo, BC is located some 20 km east of the legendary Retallack Lodge in the heart of BC's Kootenay region. As you can imagine, based on the tales of the Kootenay's, this zone of BC is a hidden gem. Days like this are hard to put into words and better experienced or shared with others to truly take in what Singletrack 6 offered us this year.
Day five in Kaslo started and ended on the beaches of Kootenay Lake.
Races like this keep the passion alive, for me at least. It's the meeting of passion, adventure, and good times, where the new racers, elites, masters, volunteers and weekend warriors come together. The photos below tell the story thanks to John Gibson
Back to the start of this story and how ST6 was added to my schedule last minute. After spending my entire 'career' racing Olympic-Distance cross-country (13 years to be exact), it was only a matter of time until a stage race fit into that equation. With the odd marathon race, enduro race, road stage races, and a failed stage race attempt in 2012, it was time to tick that off the list. Singletrack 6
is a Transrockies event and run throughout BC and Alberta. Every year the race visits new towns and trail networks in search of the very best singletrack. Coming from the elite racing side of things, an event like this feels like a vacation bike race in comparison to a World Cup. After a very disappointing National XC Championships the previous weekend, I opted to take on ST6 last minute as my first stage race. Being only four hours away from where it started, I had yet to ride any of the trails we were going to race.
We arrived in Rossland, BC for the first three days, and where the three-day race option was located. The venue base was at Red Mountain Resort. We explored all the local trail networks over the three days. The vibe each morning at 8am was contagious; every rider was smiling and the volunteers pumped us up. Daily AC/DC start line music was enough to get the adrenaline flowing. On day one and two, we even had our own dressed-up-comedy-cheer-squad.
Without going into all the boring race details about what I ate and how hard I rode, I'll just say that I pre-baked 24 chocolate chip cookies and rode just hard enough that I could still enjoy the views. These photos will hopefully tell the tales of what we were all fortunate to experience throughout the six days.
Day one brought out the local PD for a tour of Rossland.
ST6 is more than getting a high finish place, it's about sharing the passion for riding with others, and shredding kick-ass trails! The routes were optimal in every way for maximum enjoyment, time and quality trails. Having courses 30-45 kilometers in length allowed riders to really soak in the event and not be spending their entire day stuck out on fire roads. I've heard of other stage races that are almost exclusively long fire road days, which isn't appealing to someone like myself. I ride mountain bikes to be on trails, not gravel roads - I have a motorbike for gravel roads...
The temperates in BC were hot and parts of the province were burning during this period. The heat baked us every day and smoke rolled in heavily the final three days but the volunteers came prepared.
Day three was the first-ever bike race to cross the Seven Summits trail. A big moment that maybe wasn't fully grasped until every rider finished the day. It was our only point-to-point stage of the week and it lived up to the name.
It was an honour to lead this stage and be the first rider traversing it with a number plate on. This trail is truly amazing and the best part is the ratio of downhill to uphill: 70/30. I tried to enjoy the views but I kept riding off the trail, so I decided to just focus on the trails and enjoy the downs.
The Schneitter sibling duo of Nathalie and Michael from Switzerland. You may know Nathalie as an Olympian, World Cup winner, and team captain of the XC mafia. Nathalie has raced the Cape Epic, the Swiss Epic, the Trans Andes and is also an enduro ripper. Nathalie's brother was a professional football player and has also done the Swiss Epic. Nathalie said, "I've done many stage races in my life, including the most famous and hardest ones on the planet, but ST6 is my favourite one ever. I love trail riding and adventures, and that's exactly what ST6 is about. The race has a great atmosphere, fun people, awesome trails and days which are not too long and enjoyable". Michael said, "An experience of a lifetime! It's more than just riding bikes, the whole environment and the passion of everyone involved was outstanding. I'll be back!"
Throughout the week, I got to know a few volunteers more than others and this guy put on a smile each day on everyone's face. Immediately, he asked questions and even threw a few witty remarks at us. The environment is made by people like this. President of TransRockies events, Aaron McConnell said, “Singletrack 6 is built to showcase the best trails and mountain biking communities in Western Canada. We want to celebrate the towns and individuals who elevate our sport through developing and maintaining world class trails.” He said it and he accomplished it with a great crew!
All of these photos are courtesy of John Gibson AKA Gibby. He says, "There are a few things every year that I have to shoot - and there are a few things every year that I want to shoot. Singletrack 6 falls into that second category. I did the race four years in a row starting in 2002 and after I got that out of my system, I decided I wanted to keep going ... but with a camera instead."
Racing and riding trails blind is hands down my favourite part of riding bikes. I believe it's the true test of a riders ability to read the trail and adapt. Doing that for six days opened my eyes and fed that inner desire of mountain biking. That lure of the unknown is appealing. Forest Gump said it best, "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get."
The level of enjoyment was like this for most. We were physically challenged to a point where smiles sometimes deteriorated for short periods within the stage. This never lasted long, as the magnificent views, quality trails, friendly competitors, aid stations, and finish line food (with the Party Mix) were then enjoyed.
Another unique piece to ST6 was the Timed Descent. It was featured in each stage and also awarded with an overall as well. Immediately this intrigued me, as this style of riding holds a soft spot in my heart. I ended up in XC because my parents didn't want me to get hurt in DH. XC grew on me and I just became that kid in school who shaved his legs and wore spandex; the perfect recipe to fit in.
It was back and forth the first four days with Alex 'Krunk Shox' McGuinnes and I going blow for blow in the timed descent. Having a whole different type of race within the race to go after kept each day exciting. Alex and I went on to race the EWS in Whistler and spent the day transitioning and reminiscing about ST6.
On a more personal note, I entered this race a little more open minded than an XC race. Though as a competitive racer, you always want to perform. I battled all week with Justin Lindine, where we both took three stage wins but he threw down the hammer on the longest climb of the week and took three minutes out of me. With the way he rode each day it was going to take a big day to get that time back. On the fifth day, I attacked a big descent and got a gap but made a wrong turn at some fire road intersection (my fault) and almost gave all that time away. Eventually, he caught back up and put in an attack on the final climb before the timed descent. I clawed back to his wheel just before we went down I asked if I could squeak by to go after the DH time, and he moved right over on the single track, saying "sure". Classy guy. I said if I got a gap, I would wait in repayment to him moving over. By the bottom, I had a gap and slowed, but Justin wasn't coming. There is always that devil inside saying go on, but that's not a way I would like to win after this gentleman moved over and had to ride through my dust. Turns out Justin has an issue but he caught up and we got back to racing the final 20 minutes! He even said "thanks for waiting". Racing hard and being a gentleman about it made the week memorable.
On the sixth and final day, I had 3.5 minutes to make up on GC if I wanted the overall. It was a big feat and one I tried to go for. On the timed descent, I attacked and got a gap, which lasted the next hour as we ascended a 45 minutes singletrack climb that crested a mountain before doing a few kilometers down a fire road back to Nelson. Justin was breathing down my neck and we both sprinting down this fire road only separated by a couple hundred meters at one point. A hilarious and very painful way to be finishing the week. Once I heard him freewheel behind me I sat up, moved over and put my fist out, saying "I surrender". We fist bumped and cruised the final five minutes into town together with Justin winning the overall, myself taking second, and fellow Pivot rider, Taylor Lideen taking third.
Tom 'Danger' Place led out the final day in style as our Beer Captain.
The face says it all with a mix of happy, tired, and free. This race opened my eyes once again to why I started to race bikes. Thank you to everyone involved and all the riders who made it such a great experience. I look forward to coming back for more!
Words by Evan Guthrie