Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series of contributions by MTBR guest writer and Cat 1 Pro Alex Kramer who hails from Los Gatos, CA and works as an instructor at De Anza College. Kramer has been racing 10 years, but has been riding since he was 12 years old when he received a 1988 Rockhopper as a Christmas present. He is also a long standing, active member of the MTBR forums. He recently won his age category at the Sea Otter Classic this year in the Cat 1 division. To read the first installment of his BC Bike Race Diary – (Better than a midlife crisis!) click here.
The North Shore is home to some of the most challenging and fun trails you’ll find anywhere. This is real mountain biking, with the gnar factor dialed to 11, and for stage 5 we’d get to sample the goods.
Race organizers decided to do things a bit differently this year, setting up stage 5 as a time trial. Riders would be sent off in groups of 5, at 15 second intervals. Although the course was short, at only 10 miles, it would still feature 2400 feet of climbing, and multiple challenging descents.
I’ll be honest and say that I was a bit nervous before the start, as I’m generally not a fan of hitting really tough trails in a race without pre-riding, but by now I’ve become more used to all the roots and rocks, and I figured most of the other riders would be in the same boat. Plus, the course opened up with a nasty, steep 2 mile climb, and my legs still felt quite good. I was finally feeling 100%, and I can honestly say I was itching to give it full gas.
I launched with a group of guys about 120 riders back from the starting group of pros, and as soon as we hit the climb I pushed it up a bit past threshold pace and hoped I could keep it there for the next 10-15 minutes. Luckily the legs responded and I soon started picking people off, passing over 50 riders by the top of the climb.
After reaching the crest, we dropped into the first short singletrack, which was a nice welcome to what we were going to be experiencing, as the trail dropped away and sent us down a pretty wicked rocky chute. It had rained most of the night, and so all the trails were wet, although luckily there wasn’t much mud. The slick roots and rocks did make everything a bit more tricky, as traction was sometimes hard to find.
The rest of the course is honestly a bit of a blur in my mind, as there was not a yard of flat ground, and all the remaining climbs and descents required 100% concentration. I still can’t believe I cleared some of the sections, as there were appropriately gnarly steeps and drops, with some tricky man-made features thrown in as well.
I rolled into the finish with a time of a little over an hour and 20 minutes, with an average speed of just 7 mph. And that was going all-out! I don’t think I’ve ever done such an intense 10 mile ride. Luckily my effort paid off, as I ended up in 51st overall for the stage, having passed almost 70 riders.
After catching my breath for a bit and waiting for Harold to roll in, we did the usual routine of washing the bike and taking a shower, after which we boarded a bus to head up to Squamish, the start of stage 6.
The drive up the Sea to Sky Hwy is breathtakingly scenic, and Squamish itself is situated in a setting that just makes your jaw drop. Majestic mountains are all around, and the Stawamus Chief, one of the largest granite monoliths in the world, looms over the town, as if standing watch. Luckily it was beautifully sunny when we arrived and we had enough time to walk into town and grab a beer before dinner.
Squamish is also becoming known for having some of the best mountain bike trails in the world, and for stage 6 we’d get to sample a bunch of them. This would be the Queen stage of the race, 35 miles long and featuring around 6000 feet of climbing, with all the singletrack we could ask for.
Unfortunately the rain would return overnight, and we woke up to cloudy skies and damp grass outside of our tents. Any hopes of having a fully sunny day of racing seemed to be getting more and more remote, but at least it wasn’t too hot, as apparently the year before this stage featured scorching temperatures.
For this stage Harold and I decided to ride our own race, as sadly we were no longer in the hunt as a 2-person team, as my missing stage 2 made us ineligible for the overall. The stage would feature multiple longer climbs and descents, with a variety of different trails, some fast and flowy, others more technical, with rocks and lots of roots.
I started towards the front of our group and soon ended up with several other strong riders, and we settled into a pretty good pace up the first few climbs. After about 10 miles we hit some of Squamish’s most famous trails, including Half Nelson, which was a rollicking good time, with lots of big, fast berms.
After enjoying these flowy trails, we faced more of BC’s infamous roots, with one singletrack in particular featuring so many small roots that I don’t think my tires touched any dirt for a half mile. Altogether, the different types of terrain and overall quality of trails made for an epic stage, and I can see now why Squamish is becoming such a destination for riding. We only rode a fraction of the total number of trails and you could easily spend a week here and not get bored.
I should also mention that the Thunderbolt has been performing like a champ. The bike is so good that I find myself not thinking about it much, which in a way is the ultimate compliment you can give a mountain bike. I could hit every trail and have confidence that the bike would get me through, and help put a smile on my face.
Tomorrow we wrap up the race in Whistler, with a final stage that should offer a great finale to the week. Although shorter, at only around 16 miles, the trails in Whistler are always challenging, and I’m sure we’ll get a bunch more thrills before the BC bike race concludes.