The 2019 race schedule is really starting to ramp up. Round five of the UCI DH World Cup took place in Les Gets, France over the weekend, and it’s worth pointing out that we are now past the halfway point with just three World Cup rounds remaining. The traveling World Cup circus will see the Kona team visit Val Di Sole, Lenzerhide and Snowshoe in the good ole U S of A.
Les Gets is a storied venue, it was a major player in World Cup DH in the mid and late ’90s, although it hasn’t hosted a World Cup in over 20 years, it did host the 2004 World Champs which Fabien Barel won on a Kona. In more recent years DH has come back to the hill as part of the Les Gets CrankWorx tour stop but for the Kona Gravity Team, it was a blank slate, one that Jackson Frew, Connor Fearon, and Miranda Miller seemed to love.
Connor said it was “the sickest track so far this year and one of the most fun DH races I’ve ever been to for a World Cup.”
Miranda, who squeezed this DH round in between EWS rounds, was equally positive about the venue and track. “Les Gets was friggin sick! I think it was a good World Cup for me to do at this time as the course was fairly simple in the sense there wasn’t a ton of technical features or line choice- you simply had to ride INSANELY fast.”
A top ten finish in qualifications for Connor was a positive result and enabled him to add a few more points to his overall campaign while Miranda’s 13th in qualifications was good enough to ensure a berth in the finals and a chance to finish top ten.
Come race day both Connor and Miranda did exactly that, keeping things upright on the blown-out grassy corners she finished in 10th place. “I just wanted to qualify, then after that, I wanted a top 10. I’m happy that with taking relatively low risks I was able to do both those things. I miss DH racing but I’m enjoying focusing on EWS and I didn’t want to take risks that would jeopardize the remainder of the EWS season. I had so much fun with the DH squad and I hope we can do it all again sometime soon. But now it’s home to get pedaling and preparing for national champs.”
By the time the pro men hit the course, things were getting pretty beat up and with speeds so high, small mistakes would be costly. Connor put down a solid run but a single mistake would cost him time and see him finish the day in 13th place. The 13th combined with the 8th in qualifying moves Connor up to 12th in the overall World Cup standings just 8 points from the top ten.
“The Libre DL is a bike that lets you head out for a ride guided by your whim and sense of adventure. You needn’t avoid a trail that looks fun because your bike won’t handle it well, and you don’t have to shy away from long stretches of pavement because your bike feels like you’re dragging a weighted sled when you hit the streets.” – Bobby Lea
Bicycling magazine recently published their review of our do-everything-multi-surface Libre DL and reviewer Bobby Lea was definitely impressed with just how versatile the bike is, mentioning on multiple occasions how the Libre platform defies being pigeon holed “The Libre DL is a gravel bike that pushes the limits and challenges your idea of what a gravel bike is.”
“Drop your heels. Relaxed shoulders…Nice. Smooth circles. Good. Loosen the elbows…”
It’s a mantra running through my head as I roll down one, then another and still one more gravel road, Forstweg or stretch of pave, somewhere in the middle of Brandenburg (the German state surrounding Berlin). I’ve mapped out a route that, from the front door of my apartment in Neukölln (a neighbourhood in Berlin) and back, is 120k, 80k of which isn’t paved. Berlin isn’t Girona, the Alps or even Los Angeles. It’s not a cycling destination. Riding here can be boring. And that boredom is sometimes enchanting.
I moved here nine months ago from Los Angeles, California. #LASucksForCycling. LA, where I could leave my house and within 5 miles climb 1,000’ on roads closed to cars, or do 100-mile loops with 10,000’ of climbing. Here, on a recent roundtrip to Poland, it took me 120 miles to find 1,200’ of climbing.
There’s no getting around it. Berlin is flat. Pancake flat. Pfannekucken pflat. And riding flat roads is boring. Climbing and descending are what engage me on the bike. Not because I’m a good climber. I’m not. I’m reliably in the middle back of any group ride. It engages me because it’s so singularly-focused. When you’re climbing on a road bike, all you’re doing is riding uphill. Whether you’re going fast or slow, the climbing is there. The gradient bites your legs. You feel it in every pedal stroke. Even when you get distracted by the view or back off the pace just enough that you can talk to your friends, the climbing is always there as a constant focus.
That’s the riding I missed when I got to Berlin. I found lots of pretty roads through the countryside. I found great pavement (much better than in LA). I found an active cycling community. And I found that the riding all felt the same after a surprisingly short while. What’s there to do on a group ride when the road is flat, straight and featureless? Go fast. Get better at sitting in a paceline. Learn to enjoy riding in crosswinds – all thing lots of people enjoy, but not a single one of the bikes I brought to Berlin could conceivably be called “aero”. My stems aren’t all slammed. That’s not the kind of rider I am. So even though the roads are still new and the views still charming, the riding lost some of its luster pretty quickly. Until I found the Waldwege (“forest trails”). Brandenburg is littered with them and, unbelievably, they’re all mapped.
Dog walking trails next to the Autobahn are mapped, so are logging roads, abandoned train routes, overgrown hunters’ paths and kilometre after kilometre of Forstsraße, Rückeweg, Radweg and Holzweg. I’ve spent hours building routes on Komoot, tweaking them to see how little pavement I could ride and how far out of the city I could get in a few hours of riding. Inevitably there’s been some trial and error. Blame it on the map database, GPS drift or my poor Wahoo reading skills but I’ve not gone for a gravel ride this summer that didn’t involve hike-a-bike through the un-tracked forest – even as the map said I was right on track. But I guess if I’m not prepared to push my bike, I’m not prepared to ride gravel.
And riding gravel has brought Brandenburg to life for me.
On an average ride, I’ll ride along Sees (lakes), through protected wildlife areas, small towns, and past tiny hiking shelters. In the middle of nowhere, I’ll come across a couple in their 60’s with a barbecue grill and full panniers strapped to their bikes, or a young couple with dogs. Slow down. Wave “Hallo”. Wish each other a “schönes Wochenende.” Soon enough, I’m all alone again on a long, straight gravel road…pedaling smoothly, loosely, regaining momentum and dropping into the kind of half-focus Brandenburg gravel asks for.
“Drop your heels. Relaxed shoulders…Nice. Smooth circles. Good. Loosen the elbows…”
The straight, flat gravel roads here don’t require you to be laser-focused on your line. Eyes open for sandpits (there is a reason people call this region ‘Sandenburg’) and the occasional rut, but it’s not singletrack. It’s not about precision. It’s about staying loose. It’s floating over the chatter instead of fighting it. A death grip on the bars, locked elbows, and a half-cringe as you anticipate the next bump is a great way to crash. When I’m riding gravel well, it’s because I’ve found a cadence. I’m loose, pedaling smoothly and in a state that’s either unfocused attention or focused boredom brought on by the simple repetitiveness of bike riding. On a long ride, my first pedal stroke isn’t fundamentally different than my 500th. Or my 50,000th. “Drop your heels. Relaxed shoulders…Nice. Smooth circles. Good. Loosen the elbows…”
I’m paying only partial attention to my line. I’m breathing & staying loose. I’m in the middle of the woods, alone, hearing the crunch of gravel and watching the trees roll by. I’m rooted in the moment, kept in it through thousands of tiny repetitions.
“Drop your heels. Relaxed shoulders…Nice. Smooth circles. Good. Loosen the elbows…”
Nothing is happening except for me riding my bike, which is a big reason why I ride my bike.
Emily and I couldn’t have been happier with how our Honeymoon turned out last year at BCBR. We had such a blast and we both ended up doing well in the solo open divisions. Also, I think it set me up really nicely, from a fitness perspective, heading into CX season. So when we finagled our way in this year I was pumped!
7mesh came on board as the Kona Adventure Team’s clothing sponsor this year and they were putting a “composite team” together. Sam Schultz and Felix Burke were on the roster, subsequently, they picked up my entry fee too and put me in the nicest kit for 7 days of BC singletrack. Emily reached out to Amy D Foundation Team sponsor, Pearl Izumi, and we were off to the races, literally.
We made another trip out of going to and from the race with a week before and after in Bellingham, which is just such a cool town and the perfect place to acclimate to the BC style of riding.
Ironically, on the 4th of July we boarded a shuttle bus (because it would have been stupid to rent a car and let it sit all week in a parking lot and now use it) and headed north for Canada.
Long time Kona employee and all around awesome guy Dik Cox picked Emily and I up at the train station in Vancouver and we promptly got settled at his place and went to grab our numbers and hear the pre race talk.
One interesting thing, which was new to us “alumni” was the prologue start. With 500-600 people starting at the same time it’s nice when everyone starts in a similar order to where they will finish so there isn’t an extreme amount of chaos when things tighten up in the first singletrack. So to nip that problem in the bud we were going to do a quick, 4k tt, except we started in groups of 4-6 in 30 second waves, so it was more like a team tt but where everyone was trying to turn the screws on each other.
Geoff, Felix, and I found ourselves at the front of the race after that sub 7 minute effort but only by a hand full of seconds. Then immediately after the morning prologue we headed to Horse Shoe Bay and hopped a ferry to Nanaimo and then drove to Cowichan Valley for the first real stage start.
Emily and I were staying in “Tent City” with the race this year, which just means we were using the race provided transport and food all week. Last year Cory Wallace had everything dialed so we were on our own program, which had its benefits, but I was looking forward to hanging out in Tent City.
Cannondale sent our cyclocross buds Stephen Hyde and Kaitie Keough to the race this year, as a duo. Except, Kaitie didn’t want to be tent mates with Stephen all week, I don’t blame her (the guy is a walking fart factory). So she asked Emily and I if we would have a problem switching and we obliged. It was hard to say no when I could sense the desperation and inferred fear in the text she sent.
Stage 1 was a one of a kind stage where the whole day was broken up into two timed sections, like an xc enduro race. There was a big road transfer from the first zone of trail to the second and BCBR didn’t want people racing amongst cars. So we raced from the line and then took a neutral easy spin as a group to the start of the second stage (within the stage) where we lit the pace up again.
The pace was super high the first day but Geoff, Felix, and I were able to create some separation and push each other on the downhills. We got a minute or two total the first day on the rest of the guys but were by no means comfortable as the week was long. After day 1 I felt like we were already 3 or 4 days in! Haha
From Cowichan we drove north up the east coast of Vancouver Island to Cumberland. An old mining/logging town that has had a bit of a revitalization due to housing prices in the more populated areas becoming too expensive. There is a great taco shop, Biblio, and a kiwi style ice cream spot, pizza, and beer. What more could you ask for?
When we arrived tent city was all ready set up (that’s how it went every day). We staked our claim on Spruce st and called it an early night.
Stage 2 kicked off right from the center of town with a few words of wisdom from the “Town Crier”. After less then 1min on pavement we hit gravel and climbed for 40min to the top of the first descent, Furtherburger, a tight single track with more roots than stars in the night sky and so much tree coverage its was nearly that dark.
I made my first mistake of the race here by not slotting myself in behind Geoff and Felix for the descent. I wasn’t aggressive enough and by the time I worked my way up to 3rd wheel they were gone and not looking back.
I ended up riding the day solo trying to chase but it was no use. I finished about 3min down but put some more time into 4th.
My post race routine was as follows: hit the Tim Horton’s (T-Ho’s) tent for some Tim bits, potato chips, and Clif Recovery bars. Then promptly to the WD 40 Bike bike wash station before the line got too long and the bike washers stopped caring about clean bikes, then to the shower before that line got too long and the floors were covered the same single track we just tore up all day. A lot of BCBR is spent standing in lines or avoiding lines. Lucky, the faster you race the faster you can get these things done then spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing.
In our case, the group of us finished racing and hit Biblio Taco for some lunch, because I couldn’t eat that many Tim bits.
Dinner was provided every night by BCBR, which was best in Cumberland. I was very satisfied. Good food, a plethora of dessert and fresh fruit.
Stage 3 started in Cumberland as well. A Shorter stage 28k. Looking at 1:15 finish time so it was a one bottle, two gels kind of day. The first half of every day we saw big group of strong guys at the front. Michael Van den Ham (CX guy), Ben Sonnetag, Payson McCelveen, Jon Odam, Sam Schultz. Really the first bits of descending or technical trail was usually where the cracks came apart. We were pretty evenly matched fitness wise.
Felix and Geoff pushed the pace early and I didn’t make the same mistake again. I was on them like white on rice. We got a gap once we hit Vanilla, a pretty iconic Cumberland trial about 40min into the stage. Then Ben bridged up to us and we rallied for the middle bit of the stage together. Geoff decided to “test” our group out on a pretty steep 2-3 min loose gravel climb towards the end of the stage and I came off the pace. I may have only lost 5-10 seconds by the top but then Geoff’s local knowledge of the trails and Felix pushing him grew that gap to 50 sec by the finish. I put 10 more seconds Ben in 4th and it was straight to post race routine and then an afternoon transfer to Powell River on the Sunshine Coast.
BCBR took over the New River Ferry Terminal and then arrived at Tent City on the beach in Powell River.
We took in the first real solid sunshine and grabbed dinner. The Ferry transfer days go fast as there are a lot of moving parts but when there isn’t much to unpack or things to account for there is still a good bit of time to read a book in the shade of a pine or in this case listen to waves crash onto the shore.
Stage 4- Powell River was longer but flatter and the speeds were higher. We did 56k with 1300m of climbing. We had a big group for most of the day until about the last 11k. Felix started to push the pace on a gradual single track climb towards the end and fissures started to open. Ben, Payson, and I eventually whittled the gap and the race for first was now on 5 riders minds.
Felix punched it hard within the last k and I jumped his wheel. I knew if I was to get a stage win it was going to be today. So I sat on but as the speeds increased I quickly realized I was out geared. The 32 up front and 10t of my new XTR gear wasn’t quite enough and I found my legs not wanting to spin more then 120rpm. I surfed from Felix to Geoff when he jumped and then Payson went and I tried to come around too but I couldn’t get my damn legs to move any faster. So 3rd it was. That marks 4 days in a row of 3rd place. Consistent? Yes.
A super chill afternoon was spent organizing for a bit of a hectic morning. Also, the anticipation of precipitation was looming heavy on everyones shoulders. I thought the Sunshine Coast was called the Sunshine Coast for a reason.
We woke in a drizzle and promptly packed up and got to breakfast. It was an earlier morning then other mornings because we were jumping on a float plane rather than a Ferry for our transfer to Earl’s Cove. Not everyone got on a float plane. You had to ask early and often for this luxury and maybe know a few people. Or, in our case, Emily pleaded that we didn’t get to do it last year on our Honeymoon and we wouldn’t hold a grudge if we could do it this year.
So off we went!
We started in the Earl’s Cove Ferry Terminal, which was so cool. Then straight into some power line climbs and slick, Rooty, rocky, and tight single track (AC/DC). Felix and Payson got away about 1/3 of the way through. Geoff seemed to be suffering but this was all part of his plan to let the young whipper snappers do work early and make them pay for it later. The problem was that no one saw what was coming next…
A person unaffiliated with the race decided to be an asshole and tamper with the course markings. So about half way through they moved a left hand turn to a right hand turn. Felix and Payson, about 90 sec up, turned right but right when we got there a Moto official told us to turn left, which was correct.
We were told to keep racing and the two leaders would get a time bonus at the end. Obviously, this changed the races psychology. Felix must have felt some wind taken from his sail and Geoff’s plan of waiting to put effort in later now was a bit foiled. Regardless, we kept pushing and figured everything would sort itself out at the finish.
I bonked and hit the wall hard while Geoff and Ben rode away on the last climb. Luckily, there was some good descending straight to the finish so I was able to mitigate too much time loss but Ben took 1 minute out of my GC lead. It was time to start paying more attention to eating and metering my pace to make it through day 7 in 3rd.
After cleaning up it was straight to Kris Sneddon’s parents place on the water in Sechelt for a traditional Salmon dinner. God it hit the spot. Then Kris’ parents offered Emily and I to sleep in a real bed and there wasn’t much protest. We took them up on that offer faster than they had expected, I am sure.
With Day 6 started in Sechelt it was another bigger day with decent amounts of climbing and a lot of it on gravel road but they single track was choice and there was an awesome 20min descent into the finish at the Langdale Ferry Terminal (HWY 102 trail).
The race more or less stayed together with a few different guys taking turns at the front. Felix found an opportunity to strike in the last 1/4 of the race and put the wood to Geoff who just didn’t have it. Ben and I ended up coming around him and finishing a minute ahead of him. Ben went over the top into the final descent 45seconds up but I knew a smooth descent could close that.
Sure enough I caught him but unfortunately it was because he crashed from bar punching a tree and ended up braking some fingers. Somehow he managed to ride all the way down to the ferry terminal and finish but he wouldn’t start stage 7. Again, I finished 3rd on the day.
We made it to Squamish just before dinner and afterwards I went to bed super early. One more day tomorrow!
A 9am start meant 30 more minutes of sleep, which was welcomed. I knew Geoff was going to push the pace. He had 3min to get on Felix and to get that kind of time he would have to start throwing blows early.
Sure enough he sent it before we even hit single track and when no one in GC contention tried to go with I was more then happy that the pace didn’t get lifted too high. I was ready for a Champs Elysees kind of finish, not a death march.
Van den Ham was feeling good thus Stephen and I latched onto his wheel and let him drag us through the dirt all day. He ended up flatting on Hoods then Stephen and I breathed a sigh of relief and throttled back for the last bit of trail.
We both came into the finish together and I knew he was going to try and beat me so he could rub my nose in it later and I was ok with that. After 7 days of being on high alert I was keen to simply coast across the line.
Geoff couldn’t crack Felix and I was more then happy to be holding a free Alice and Brohm’s ice cream cone in my hand less than 5min after finishing!
It was such a good week with so many highs and a couple lows. The trails were in such good shape and overall the finish times were faster than last year. I was a little bummed to be stuck on the bottom step again but after watching Felix and Geoff go at it I know that 3rd is the best I could manage. No mechanicals, flats, or other serious problems meant a smooth week of racing and a good block of training heading into the final push before CX season.
Now a little R&R in Bellingham then back at it for CX season, which kicks off the first weekend in September!