Posted by Editoress on 08/11/05
TransRockies 2005 August 10th
Courtesy Paul Done
Stage 4: Etherington Creek to Sandy McNabb
61.5km / 1595m climbing
Summer in the Rockies often means blues skies, a scenic dusting of snow on the peaks, and wildflowers in the meadows . . . but it can also mean driving rain, near freezing temperatures and miles of gooey mud. During Stage 4 of the 2005 TransRockies Challenge, the racers were subjected to all of the latter and none of the former.
After a couple of long, trying days, Stage 4 would have been a sudden change of tempo regardless of the conditions. The 61.5 km included over 50 km of singletrack with two major mountain passes and the first major river crossing which came just 500 metres before the finish line.
The rain began to fall Tuesday night at Etherington Creek Campground as the racers tucked into an enormous Alberta-style spread of barbequed chicken, potatoes and salad. The intensity only increased as the night wore on and after midnight, the skies let loose a deluge of biblical proportions on the dozens of tents and campers housing the racers, supporters and staff.
The 8am rollout seemed relatively sedate, but the attacks started early, leaving the group in shards as it passed through the feedzone at the base of Grass Pass, the first major climb of the day. First to the bottom were GC leaders and second-place Rocky Mountain Business Objects and the Race Face Mountain Men. Joining them in the front group was the Costa Rican team of La Ruta des los Conquistadores/Scotiabank, who obviously found the slippery conditions to their liking.
The rest of the field was already over two minutes behind, but those gaps would quickly grow to monumental proportions as the teams climbed the two passes and faced the variety of technical descents which followed them. The mud jammed gears and the temperature plummeted to 6 degrees (42 Fahrenheit) at the top of Sullivan Pass, while the 10 km of singletrack through cow pastures turned into an evil slog.
This is mountain biking, though, and many riders start to smile at the thought of this mess--especially those from places like British Columbia and the British Isles, and even riders from the very wet and woodsy North Carolina. Just as wet weather can drastically change the outcome of motor sports events, Stage 4 of the 2005 TransRockies saw some sudden and dramatic order shifts.
At the front of the pack, Rocky Mountain Business Objects took their third stage win in four, coming in 30 seconds ahead of their determined rivals, the Race Face Mountain Men, finishing in a winning time of 4:26:56. Their time was roughly 45 minutes slower than the winning time from 2004, when Stage 4 was raced in perfect conditions. Paolo Cesar Montoya and Marco Pohlond of Team La Ruta des Los Conquistadores put in an excellent ride to place third on the day, proving that wet weather skills translate from the tropics to the North.
Easily the most impressive performance of the day was put in by Open Mixed Category winners Robin Seymour and Tarja Owens of Ireland. Rodge and Podge came in 5th overall on the day in a stunning time of 4:48:24, 37 minutes ahead of the previous GC leaders, Marg Fedyna and Blair Saunders of Team Adidas/Roll Up the Rim. Talking after the Stage, a clearly shattered Seymour and Owens said it was so unbelievably hard and muddy out there . . . were sort of used to stuff like that riding at home, but honestly, that was mad.
Though Karen Masson of Team Cane Creek is originally from Australia, she has spent enough time riding in the wet trails of the Eastern US, that she and partner Trish Stevenson are happiest when the skies open and the trails get slippery. They established a small gap before the bottom of Sheep Pass, and drove through to the finish opening up an 8 _ minute gap over GC leaders Nikki Kassell and Hillary Harrison of Team Momentum Training by the finish. Despite the win, Kassell and Harrison managed to protect their lead and still held and 8 minute gap going into Stage 5.
In a race like the TransRockies Challenge, though, there is so much more going on than the shuffling and reshuffling of the Top 3 places. On a like today, every team was pushed to the limit to keep bike, body and mind in working order on their way to the finish. For some, like Mark Banham and Pete Sutton of Team 59 Commando, the day in the rain was just like one of the training exercises that they are put through as part of Britains elite fighting corps. On the other hand, reknowned UK Cycling Journalist Steve Worland, riding with Mountain Bike legend Keith Bontrager, had a tough day riding through the muck while fighting off a chest infection. Seven hours in the cold and rain should have him back on track!
And as were in mixed company, we wont even get into a discussion of the 16 or so riders who doffed their clothes for an impromptu Naked Mile ride midway through the stage.
Then there are the mechanics. With the over 320 riders needing at minimum new cables and likely much much more, the wrenches from three local bike shops will once again be up into the wee hours making sure that a lot of tired bodies have functional equipment when they roll off the start tomorrow. Whats on tap when they do? Only the Queen Stage of the TransRockies Challenge from Sandy McNabb to Bragg Creek; 108 km with over 2300 metres of climbing including 50 km of singletrack and an ascent to over 2100 metres on Powderface Ridge where it is possible that there will still be snow left over from todays deluge.
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