All bike races challenge you to find a way to get through the entire experience without problems. From planning and preparation to travel to arrival and set-up, departure, race management; fuel, mechanics, pacing, mental emotions – wow, the list goes on longer than most “to-do” lists for a “fun” day out!
I’m amongst those that love the challenge regardless, and maybe sometimes, the harder it is, the more interesting and engaging I find it to be involved.
This race is a good example. I make a last minute schedule switch to spend Labour Day weekend with my family instead of schlepping 9 hours each way to Gaspe, and am happy to do so, having had the Hampshire 100 on my radar for a long time.
10 days out, I sign up in a wave of excitement for the 100 miles, and rush off to the bike store for a tune up. It’ll be the first real test for my Trek Superfly carbon hardtail (say that 10 times fast). There’s a few things on the to-do list – replacing a chain, some brake pads, and most of all sealing the rims and tubes with a tubeless setup. I run a heavier tire on front and a lighter “trailing” tire behind.
The seat is also relieved of its annoying squeaking (so you’ll be pleased to hear that my Irish Transportugal friend – you know who you are). The squeaking was so annoying that I flew into a bike rage on Mt Royal the day before and started pounding the seat with my open hand to stop the duck inside. Man, what a pitiful sight. Grown man with shaved legs beating on his bike seat.
Anyway, the setup at the race calls for rough camping the night before and I’m excited to try out my bike-packing tent for the first time. It’s fun to get ready for camping before a race and I’ve got a bunch of new gear to try out. It’s an early start from Montreal at 6:30am to beat the border rush, and it’s an easy drive to Greenfield which is the smallest of country towns I ever did visit. I’m about the first to arrive to camp, so I get the pick of spots – I end up choosing a site close to the shade (which keeps annoyingly moving) and to the pit lanes, because it’s a lap race and will pass through here once.
I say once because I switch on sign-up to the 100km version of the race. The 100 miler is actually three loops and to be honest sounds like a torture fest on a bike. Surprisingly about half the field is going for the 100 miler and I can imagine a lot of frustration. The terrain is not fast and flowing and it’s not miles of beautiful mountain roads – it’s lots of choppy and bumpy roots and rough trails.
The race guide tells of the first five miles being fast and then…, well, I know the “then” part too well from last year in the Wildcat 100, so I downguage to the 100km version which is still 2 laps and will mean passing my car, tent, beer and all the other temptations of passing base on a race.
Since I’m set up ridiculously early, I take the time to sleep, say hello to my neighbours and then obsessively sleep some more. I spend some time in the late afternoon prepping all the gear. Every little thing is checked and rechecked. Feel so good about things that I let some more air out of the back tire – woo hoo can’t wait.
Night falls soon enough, we had some fun to watch the short track races, the kids races and a 5km road race for kicks. I’m in my tiny tent by 9pm and ready to sleep some more. The night sky is beautiful when I wake at 10pm, 2am and 4am. I love seeing the dipper and the moon is full. At 4am I wander to the feed station and get coffee and sit with the 100 mile runners getting ready to go out. There is a big spread, lots of coffee and donuts (go Dunkin’ Donuts!) and then it’s time to line up before I know it.
The 100 milers go out first and we follow 2 minutes later. My start is good and strong, not sure about the air I let out of my tire but what the hell, its race time and all systems say go. Now, I should mention I had planned to have a well-paced race, which means no spastic starts and no overdrive. I try and keep it in check but basically that plan goes out the window after the first mile, and I’m powering away at the front of the group.
Into the singletrack and its head down time, lots of good punchy climbs and drops – the trail is nice and soft, and we hit it hard. The first feed zone comes fast before a climb up a ski slope (no dabbing) and into some choppier forest. I manage to lose one tube of electrolytes the first time I open the tube they all come flying out but I have planned for this and have a back-up tube.
I fuel regularly – just working bottles and gels and grabbing fruit. I’m feeling really strong through the second feed zone past mile 20 and into the “heart” of the race. It starts getting bumpier and rootier and rockier and my rear tire starts to burp. No problem, shoot some co2 into it, and off we go. 5kms later same deal, more burp, more co2. Ok no problem. 5 kms later and the tire rips out completely and I’m off it in a clumsy jumping dancing leap. The tire looks like a used condom. I am quite upset.
Even the stuffies mock me.
This happened to me before on a race twice and for some reason again today my master “go” switch is killed. Hard killed. I start to walk, ignore offers of help, 20 people pass, 2 kms go by, 20 minutes. I’m close to the feed zone to finish lap 1 – I’ll just quit there and that’s it.
Right? Well, I don’t know what to call it – maybe the “Curse of the Babyheads”, maybe my single track is off game, but regardless walking and quitting is objectively kind of pathetic. I want to do better. I need to do better.
Finally I come to my senses, stop and change to a tube setup, remount and ride on. It’s only 5 minutes from the feed zone, and I spring into action. I change bottles for pack, reload supplies, change my jersey and off I go. What the hell!
It’s uncertain the outcome. I meet another Montreal rider who is having knee pain. I give him Advil he seems much happier. I have repaid my trail karma. I ride on. Past the first feed station for the second time, and the second feed station for the second time, I push up the ski hill on my best walking pace. Not strong any more, but hanging in there.
Alone for long sections now, then playing leapfrog with a few other guys, the most notable of which are two club riders doing the 100 miler – one about 15 years old and the other about 75 – amazing!
Finally the end is in sight, and now, with 10 miles to go the 100 miler Pros start to overtake me. They are on lap 3 instead of my measly lap 2. And politely put, hauling ass. Tinker and his buddies come through in position 3, 4 and 5 looking for all the world like they are out for a nice friendly afternoon ride. I grit my teeth and hang in there to finish which I do finally and head high at 8:11. Official timing not confirmed, but definitely not as bad as it could have been for sure. I made it. That’s good. I had planned for 7:30, so without the tire funk it would have been almost on target.
The finish line is pretty cool. They have showers, food and lots of soft drinks (big on short chain sugars here). I pass some flyers around for the bike tour companies I promote and chit chat a bit. I break camp, shower and hit the road for the drive back to Montreal. Not sore really at all, in fact, ready for more. But enough abuse for one day for sure to put a smile on my face.