Stage Three, Elkford to Etherington Creek Campground
We started the race at 8:30 this morning as a precautionary
measure since we were crossing the Continental Divide. The Rockies are
notorious for afternoon thunderstorms and apparently it seemed like a good idea
to get folks over the high alpine pass as early in the day as possible. The
group rolled around Elkford for a few kilometers prior to heading north out of
town on an undulating logging road climb.
Unfortunately, the road seemed to be heavily used and not
very well maintained. The recent storms had left the road full of muddy ruts
and puddles. A lack of any sustained climbing kept large groups of riders
together which created dangerous chaos every time the road deteriorated as all
of us tried to find the safest, driest line. While there was little gravel on
the road, lots of large rocks were being dislodged. Jon and I were doing really
as we neared the first check point and were riding in a large group at the
front which contained most of the top riders.
About a hundred meters prior to the station, a rock the size
of a softball flew towards me as I rode along the left edge of the road with nowhere
to hide. While it just missed my leg and front wheel it slammed into the side
of my rear wheel and instantly flatted the tire. Jon saw me pull off and asked
if I was alright but I could only holler negatron as he rode on by. I was
disgusted about the flat, but that is part of racing, so I was off the bike
quickly and had the wheel and tire off in a flash. However, I couldn’t remove
the mud covered nut holding the tubeless valve stem into the rim. No matter how
hard a tried the mud was making it impossible to get a grip.
In the meantime, Jon had continued around the corner to the
checkpoint to wait for me. Evidently he mistook another rider for me and rode
through. For those of you new to team racing, the most basic rule is that
riders on the same team must pass the checkpoint within two minutes of one
another or incur time penalties. Jon realized his error and rode back to me
about the time I was finally able to jam a rock against the valve just enough
to get the nut free and put in a tube. Apparently the world’s slowest flat
change wasn’t slow enough because the mud had fouled my CO2 inflator to the
point that it wouldn’t seal properly and I resorted to pumping the tire by
Eleven minutes later we were rolling again and slowly passed
riders on the way to the second checkpoint where the climb began in earnest. I
was able to scoot past some slower riders and rode much of the climb that
others were pushing. Not only was it steep and muddy, it was completely
overgrown with alder brush which ultimately ended up forcing me off my bike
more than the grade or surface. We heard later that the BC Provincial
Government in all its infinite wisdom would allow the trail to be pruned out,
I made in out of the thicket otherwise known as a trail a
couple hundred meters ahead of Jon, cast my bike to the side, and ran back down
to give him a bottle and a push. Before long, we were above the tree line and
even momentarily caught the third place team who had also flatted. There were
several more hike-a-bikes on the way over the pass before we began a steep,
rocky descent into the valley below. The trail was technical and fun but I was
concerned about another flat.
We picked our way down the blown out jeep road with me in
the lead. Somewhere along the line I followed tracks off on a parallel single
track and ended up about a hundred meters left of the marked route. While I
could see that the two trails converged below, I wasn’t always able to see the
other riders through the trees. The trail climbed above the jeep road and then
dropped back down to it in less than a kilometer.
When I reached the bottom, I coasted for several minutes
waiting for Jon while several riders we had passed on the climb rode by. He
didn’t come so I slowed completely and was passed by a couple other riders. I
asked them if they had seen him but none of them had. At that point I made the
false assumption that he had gotten ahead of me and began to chase toward the
finish. I passed several riders and teams but none had seen him so I rode as
hard as I could to catch up with just eight kilometers remaining.
I reached the finish and was totally dismayed when Jon was
nowhere to be found. I even told the officials that he was ahead of me but they
claimed he hadn’t finished. The two minute window ticked by and finally Jon
arrived giving us our second violation of the stage! This is the fifth time
each of us has raced an event like this and neither of us had ever made this
mistake. Today we both made it!
With an hour of penalty time accrued, our chances for the
overall podium have come and gone. Regardless, will try to regroup and we may
even try to make good on a stage podium or two. It is tremendously
disappointing to lose a good race on such a silly note!
Let’s hope for better news tomorrow and thanks for reading.
Oh, and NEVER, EVER, let your partner get out of sight!