Thursday, July 9, 2009
From: Keith Berkoben
You know it's been a long haul when you're still sleeping past 11 on the fourth off-day following a race, but with the rain abated at last it's time to sum up and move on. So here it is BC Bike Race 2009 recap, 30-2 (my plate number). If we're lucky there will be a 30-1 version coming soon. After I'm done with all the nitpicky details, someone has to talk about his feelings...
Back in November I said something to the effect that we were trying to execute the perfect MTB stage race--an elusive creature of myth and legend that leads hundreds of adventurers back to the hunting grouds every year in pursuit of it's sinewy hide--and so the hunt continues.
Rolling into Transrockies 2008 (if Eric hears me say the T-word, one more time he'll probably slit my throat, but hey, it's agood opening) everythnig was dialed. I hadn't so much as changed my tires in three months, I raced my setup nearly every weekend and was riding with the same partner as the year before in a race I'd already ridden 2x. This is the definition of no surprises. Indeed, with the exception of s few flats (we weren't yet on the tubeless boat), we got out of TR2008 with no major time-sucking errors. Almost perfect.
Fast forward just over 10 months and I'm sitting in Vancouver with less training, a bike that just got finished a week earlier and a pair of new tires at a totally new venue with this new guy that hasn't raced all season and only brought half a bike. SURPRISED? Not really.
The most difficult part of stage racing is planning and logistics. If you're as into riding bikes as we are, you can't screw up the training part of the P&L too badly, but when it comes to dialing and testing gear, packing it up and getting to the church on time there's a certain degree of sphincter tension required. Most people simply throw bills at the problem to make it go away (you'd be amazed what $4k worth of complete new bike and $400 worth of airline baggage fees will get you) but when you're at best partially employed and your partner is a starving grad student you've gotta be your own wedding planner. Any wedding planner will tell you that you NEVER get away with overlooking the details. Of course Eric had just filed the divorce papers for his thesis 5 days previous, so the clipboard and walkie-talkie were firmly sitting in my lap, and I haven't been my usual risk-adverse self lately.
After a new cassette (my bike) and rear derailleur (Eric's), everything seemed to be rolling fine except for the annoying problem of my tires not wanting to stay on the rim. Of all people, I should know that if you have a strange catastrophic component failure when warming up for a big race IT WILL FAIL AGAIN IN THE RACE WHEN YOU LEAST WANT IT TO. But I'm a stubborn bastard, and bogarting two pairs of brand new tires (mine and Eric's) then ponying up for different (untested) rubber at retail prices was not on the radar. Not one tire survived to the end of the week in tubeless form.
Keith out of character take 2:
On our Friday warmup, Eric's seat stubbornly refused to stay tight. Did I personally drown the clamp in loctite? Nope. Was it loose again on the trail by day 2? Yep.
Keith out of character take 3:
When I found Eric's pedal nearly seized after day 5 did I insist on replacing it with the pair of spare pedals I brought? Nope. Did it fall off on the trail on day 6? Yep.
Then there was that time I landed on my face...
Total lost time (including getting lost for 10min on day 4): about an hour. Total number of places that could have bumped us up in the GC: 4. Somewhat less than perfect.
But let's talk about riding bikes:
BCBR is a very different sort of stage race than what I was used to. TR is all about vertical ... and suffering. A hour long 10% climb in the sun is standard fare for TR, as is hiking with a bike on your back. Technical riding, for the most part, means threading the needle between loose rocks and ruts at 30mph. Singletrack is something you have to ride through to get to your next jeep trail up a mountain. BCBR is exactly the opposite. If you can't ride your bike, you might as well go home. At the same time distances, vertical and ride times are all significantly shorter.
Interestingly, our ride this year was exactly as fast (or slow), wrt the leaders, as George's and my ride last year in TR (144% of the winning time) despite the vast differences between the two races. It's probably a coincidence but I choose to believe it's a statement about how slow we are riding north shore tech because we climbed way faster this year. (As a point of comparison, the #2 team in both races included Barry Wicks, so one can expect that they're roughly comparable in terms of relative competitiveness at the front.) Fitness was definitely not a significant limitation for me, though I would have loved an extra tricep on each side for the downhills. More about training in future posts...
If there's one thing for sure, it's that riding big mountain singletrack forces you to become a better rider. Stiffening up on a 20 or 30 min technical descent means not making it to the bottom without a rest, and riding loose means trusting your skills at drop-offs, staying off the brakes and getting comfy with your seat in your gut. I'd like to think we do all that better now. The skinnies still scare me a little, but that didn't stop me from more than once hitting one way too fast and coming out the other side in one piece with my heart in my throat. Adrenaline makes you faster, after all.
A note about teamwork, or maybe team chemistry:
One of the hardest parts of stage races (the team variety) is making the most of the fact that everything will always be twice as screwed up as when you're riding solo--2x the mechanicals, 2x the bonking, 2x the snoring in the tent at night (though I maintain I don't snore). Somebody is always faster, and nothing is ever 100% in your control [grinds teeth]. Coming into BCBR, I expected this to be particularly challenging for our team with Eric off the race scene for so long, riding an old bike, and totally new to the crazy adventure we were about to embark upon. I can also be ultra-competitive, passive-aggressive when annoyed or disappointed and generally a huge know-it-all at times, though I try to keep it in check as much as possible...
In addition, while the TR rules allowed me to vent any pent-up frustration through my hand directly into my partner's back, BCBR said no touching so we were both riding our own races no matter what (and all you people pushing your buddies uphill for extended periods are dirty cheaters!)
However the relationship progressed over the course of the week, it's final state was best summed up by the experience of changing Eric's flat on day 7:
Hearing a loud "BANG" a few riders behind me, I instinctively knew that Eric's tire was off. I Jumped into a hollow off to the side of the trail and by the time I had the CO2 out Eric was there. I pulled the wheel and tubeless valve while he dug out a tube, which I then pre-inflated while he cleaned the rim. Working from both ends we then seated the tire together and I inflated it while he picked up the spare bits. Off and on in three minutes flat through neatly coordinated teamwork [Fist Bump].
I could go on and try to make some sort of profound statement about how the BCBR experience has changed my life perspective or something like that, but really it just makes me want to go back and ride it all over again. Besides, Eric's the reflective one.
In case you were wondering, Pedal and Wrench will live on post BCBR. We still like bikes and still have WiFi...
All the BCBR photos here.