Update! Video at the bottom.
Like most Americans, I celebrated the Fourth of July by driving to Canada.
This was not, as has been conjectured, due to a loathing of the Domnarski Farm mtb course -- I just really like driving long distances, using my passport, not using my high school French, and going with Linnea to "big women's races." You probably haven't noticed (because you're probably a dude) that the New England Pro/1 women's fields are usually 3-5 racers, which is less than exciting for the entrants. Thus, a Canada Cup with ~30 Expert women is a unique and drive-worthy experience for her/us. So off we go.
Unfortunately, my decision to spurn New England on its birthday led to Boston cursing me with its weather. We showed up Friday for a preride in the light rain and found a course that was thoroughly saturated singletrack. Luckily we both had some kind of mud-esque tire mounted and managed to ride a lap, which was comprised mostly of steep climbs and rocky, rooty, slippery sidehill singletrack.
It was extremely hard. I don't have the energy to muster a cliched rant about "real mountain biking" versus "roadie-friendly crap," but let's just say that those Quebecois expect you to be able to seriously handle your bike to finish one of these things. The only non-singletrack part of the descent was an old dual-slalom course, I kid you not, with banked turns, tabletops and a whoop section. Airing it out was only avoidable if you liked riding your brakes and getting passed.
So yeah -- the course was hard. In a good way. I was stoked, until Saturday morning started with this:
The heavy rain pushed what had been a barely rideable course over the edge into Trenton USGP Mud Bog territory... except it was on a mountainside, and I can't shoulder my mountain bike. The good news is that riding a bike downhill through 6 inches of mud is doable, provided you aren't interested in changing direction, but the bad news is that riding across the hill was impossible -- and let's not even start on riding uphill. We "rode" another lap Saturday to confirm that the course was currently 75% hike-a-bike.
Race morning showed us the first blue sky of the weekend, now that it was far too late to make a difference. With only a few hours of non-rain, the unrideable, deep, slop would at best turn into unrideable, deep, peanut-butter -- hardly an improvement. So I lined up along with 30 other crazy Canadians with extremely low motivation.
Two minutes in we were off the bikes and pushing on the first climb. Push two minutes, ride a flat spot, push some more, ride a short downhill, push again. Some guys were running. I was not. Soon we were catching the back of the 15-16 age class, 40-some starters going off 2 minutes ahead of us. There's people everywhere, mostly walking, sometimes riding. The course has been rerouted in some places to use fire roads, but even those are tough to ride in this much mud and traffic. At the top of the climb, my calves are already screaming from all the pushing. It's going to be a long day.
I achieve my only real goal of the day, passing a junior on the way down the dual slalom course. A GAUCHE... kid!
After the dual slalom we head into the sidehill singletrack and the cluster gets even messier, somehow. The 30+ leaders are running/crashing through now, so while we all walk through the singletrack they try to run through, yelling "allez lets go" the whole time. There are a few downhill chutes that I try to ride, for variety's sake. It's a bad idea because they are packed with walkers, crashers and bikes -- I ram a guy's bike, leaping off and blocking the exit of the chute with my bike, so the next guy (trying to ride it also) crashes off into the woods. Another 30+ guy runs through, banging his bike on my leg, slipping on the roots, barging through the next guy. My foot is currently in mud so deep I can't see it, and my shoe may not come out with it.
At this point I had confirmed the race was stupid. More importantly, I was in Quebec, no one knew me, and I had nothing to prove -- unlike all the Canadians who were currently racing the all-important Canada Cup finals. I finished the lap, made it to the first climb on lap two, and dropped the F out. Without shame.
I figured I'd wait for Linnea to come through, she'd see I was out, she'd drop out, and we could get a head start on getting back to Boston. Unfortunately, she was the seventh woman to start lap two, which we grudgingly agreed meant "she should probably keep going."
So I washed the bike, changed my clothes, and went into superfan mode, which was much more fun than actually racing.
I took about 15 pictures during the rest of the race. This is the only one that features anyone riding a bike:Linnea finished the second lap and was up to fifth, I thought, although some of the more androgynous juniors were tough to identify. If we assume USA Cycling will treat Canada Cup Finals (a UCI C1 event) the same as the US Cups, now we're talking pro-upgrade-points. So I ran across the hill to tell her about it.
Here she pushes her bike on the first climb, while a bored spectator wonders why he is watching people push bikes at 3 miles an hour.
I realized I could easily walk along as she pushed, so I took an "action shot" as I climbed the hill next to her. The two girls in the background are in 3rd and 4th place. I told her she was gaining on them. Between breaths she said "long legs." I realized that if I had been a deviation taller than the average male, I might have done better in this race.
I think it's a lot easier to run for most of the last lap when you think getting 3rd place overall could count toward a PRO upgrade in the states. I did my best to make her aware of the stakes and will happily take credit for the end result:
Third overall, first in her category. I am a quitter, but my girlfriend is not, which ended up making the entire, muddy, stupid weekend worth it, and even I can't be too cynical about that.
Sorry if this wasn't very funny. I will resume getting my ass handed to me in Pro/1 races next weekend, for you to laugh at. In the meanwhile, if you hold a UCI license or like spending money, I would strongly recommend hitting a Canada Cup next season -- huge fields, big crowds, tough courses, French race instructions -- it's a great scene. See you in Bromont next year... unless it rains for a month again.
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