I was a little wary of how my legs would feel after putting out max efforts on Stage 1, but was happily surprised to find that I felt pretty good.
The start was furious and aggressive; a pack of 3 or 400 riders chomping at the bit. The peloton was dusty with riders gnashing their teeth, elbows out, vying to steal your wheel. I kept losing the tire in front of me and getting swallowed into the pack. I kept fighting my way back up so I wouldn’t miss any important breaks when the road pitched up. I was impatient for the road to get steep so the pack would blow apart. Despite a lot of experience with stage racing and riding in big sketchy packs of mountain bikers, I still worry about crashes in packs. When the pitch kicked up, I forced myself to suffer inside out to make the selection. Melanie McQuaid and I were fighting to catch the group in front of us. She was strong enough to bridge up to a small pack of strong men and rode me off her wheel. I dangled off the back for many miles, getting just one bike length away from closing the gap on steeper pitches, and having that gap open greatly when the climbing grade eased up. Sweating bullets, breathing much harder than I’m accustomed to from extreme effort, I fought and fought. I encouraged myself not to give up. I felt frustrated that I couldn’t catch back on… then I realized that Melanie is the 3x Xterra World Champion and is one of the best time trialists on the planet. No wonder I couldn’t close the gap! I kept myself solidly in 2nd place as I entered the singletrack to finish up the 18 mile climb.
There was a short, funny hike-a-bike.
Not 15 minutes later, I heard the friendly voice of Sandra, coming to collect my 2nd place position on her way to the descent. I was so impressed and inspired by her flow on the trail, friendly demeanor, and strength! She and Melanie duked out for 1st and 2nd on the day, with a sprint finish.
As I started the descent, I tried not to be frustrated with my hardtail. It was the bike of choice because it’s light and fast…my FS would have been insanely fun and way faster downhill, but I would have been dragging an extra 6-7 lbs of bike weight up the steep Fernie climbs. I paid for it on the descents. There were a few other girls on 29HTs killing it on the descents! Badass! Steep, loose, narrow shoots were the name of the game for Stage 2 down a hiking trail. I pulled over multiple times to let people by my sketched out heiny. The writing was on the wall – I was the 2nd fastest climber at the race next to Melanie, but I would lose it all on the descents. This time, my Colorado climbing legs wouldn’t save me. I was improving with each descent, and actually riding well…but was simply being outridden by some phenomenal Canadians. I knew that spending more time in BC on steep terrain was the only solution(just 2 weeks later I sit writing this post, smiling at the huge gains I’ve made in descending since the Trans Rockies after some coastal rides). There was room for improvement. Halfway down the descent, Kate came around me like a speeding bullet. “There goes my podium spot” I thought as I got the hell out of the way and watched her fly. I was inspired by her fearless bike riding, motivated to get better, yet frustrated that no matter how fast I could climb, being mediocre compared to my BC/Alberta counterparts was simply not good enough for a solid podium finish. I did my best to navigate down the endless downhill and prayed for it to be over so I wouldn’t lose any more time! I rolled in 4th for the day and lost my 3rd in the GC. Stage 3 would be the deciding factor. There was only 16 seconds separating me and Kate in the GC for that final podium spot. Stage 3 was touted as the alpine riding stage and the most technical trails of the TR3. I woke up the next morning to the sound of rain. I laid in bed thinking of slick, treacherous roots, squealing brake pads, and wet woodwork willing for the storm to blow over. I also remembered the race promoters words that were a little scary to me at the racer meeting the night before, “Some of the thin bridges on the last descent look sketchy. You can’t see the other side of them, but they are rollable. Use caution.” Uhhhh….. and they would now be potentially wet and slick.