From Cory Wallace – TransRockies was arguably North Americas premier stage race for a number of years and went over a major overhaul last year as it transformed into SingleTrack 6. The format is great with 6 days of riding some of the Worlds best trails in a different iconic Canadian town everyday and new region each year. Last year we tackled 6 days through the Rockies between Canmore and Revelstoke, and this year we got to race trails in Canada’s summer playground of the Okanagan.
After getting smashed around to no mercy in Europe this spring trying to bounce back from injury I was more than keen to do some smashing myself on what I consider the closest thing I have to a hometown race!
Day 0 in Salmon Arm was spent shuttling up the first climb of the course and pre-riding the last 25 km to the finish with my team Kris Sneddon, his girlfriend Kate and my good buddy Anderl Hartmann (Rocky Mountain) from Germany. My Dad, who is a real cowboy, drove us up the shuttle portion of the ride and then told us to cowboy up and get our game faces on for the week ahead of us.
The pre-ride and pep talk paid off in dividends as we finished 1-3 on the opening stage. At the start I was feeling rough but had some built up anger from the beat down I received in Euroland and went off the front and stayed there for the race. It was a close battle but I received some outside help when 3rd place rider Greg Day (Rocky Mountain) crashed into a hornet nest getting stung 12 times and creating a hornet storm which attacked pretty much every rider in the pack that rode by after.
Day 2 we drove up to Silver Start resort sitting at 1700m above Vernon. It was a trip down memory lane as we use to race Canada Cups and National Championships up here over a decade ago. Since then they’ve done a nice job at creating new tracks and we had a great 40 km race around the loamy trails. Leading just over a half hour into the race with my teammate Sneddon, we came around a corner to see a couple riders up ahead. We figured they were a couple dudes just out for a easy morning spin and were surprised when they didn’t acknowledge us when we told them there was a race on and we wanted to pass. Eventually they piped back that they were racing too and we better be patient. WTF? For the next 20 minutes we passed over 30 riders who had accidentally gone the wrong way but were convinced they were on course and kept asking what we were doing back there. We did our best to stay focused and eventually got through the traffic and back into the lead. The race was close this day with Sneddon, Anderl and myself in a slim lead over a chase group of 4 before Sneddon opened fire and got us a nice gap on some flowing trail. Near the finish Anderl and I would break away on a firewood climb and work together for a while before I would gap him for a slim 1 minute win.
Day 3 we hit some rowdy trails up in Kalamalka lake park. It was a pure Canadian style course with a technical 1 hour switchback climb through the forest followed with a small traverse through the sub alpine. The traverse was on fire road but required attention as there were loads of rabbits and chipmunks blindly crossing the course everywhere. These little guys got to get there heads up and possibly consider using some sort of birth control! After riding across a rough cut block the trail hit the infamous Big Ed descent. It was an ass behind the saddle slide down sort of ride at the top before hitting some steep loamy switchbacks down below. There were also a load of sketchy jumps which the Europeans thought were hilarious and didn’t believe anyone would ever launch themselves off them. My solid lead over the top of the climb shrunk to 30 seconds by the bottom as BC Bike Race champ Tristan Uhl let it all hang out. Luckily there was a small climb before the finish in which I could extend the lead back up to 1.5 min and add a bit of padding to the GC lead. Kris rolled in soon after us to claim the ST3 title for the year and was soon headed off to the states for the Downiville Enduro starting a couple days later.
Stage 4 in Kelowna was the Queens stage of the race and a good chance to do some solid damage. It was a good battle with Sev from Switzerland. He’s been living in Kelowna for a couple months and had the rough descents dialed, managing to take advantage of my conservative no risk style to get leads on the descents while I’d regain control on the climbs. Knowing the course ended on a nice little climb I saved a few matches to overtake Sev for the last time with about 5 km to go and put a nice dent into the other riders in the overall GC. This day took its toll on the field as a number of riders had nice duke of hazard type crashes on the loose descents. The courses may have been short this year but the crew at ST6 sure jammed a lot of hard riding into them day in and day out.
Stage 5 in Penticton turned into a gong show as the tight windy course up on Campbell mountain overlapped itself in a few spots and caused some mass confusion behind. Building a nice lead in the opening climb things got interesting as Tristan Uhl was ripping the sketchy side hill riding. The gap got really close when I had to slam on the brakes ripping down a 40 km/hr decent, to open a gate. Being polite I left the gate open for the other riders which allowed them to bomb through it at mach speed and pretty soon the gap was down to 10 seconds before I had a chance to extend it over the next climb.
None of us in the top 10 really new the course so we just followed the flagging which was great, all the way back to the finish line in downtown Penticton. The confusion happened behind us as riders that knew the route, started to realize that the course had been flagged differently then it was suppose to be and then started asking volunteers what was up which further added to the confusion and pretty soon riders were riding every which way. Unfortunately this caused the stage to be neutralized. The post ride swim in Lake Okanagan looking for the Ogopogo monster helped us forget about the day and cool off the engines.
Going into the final stage was nerve racking. Ever since I flatted 3 times and lost the Mongolia Bike Challenge in 2011 after leading for the first 8 stages I’ve had a ghost in my closet. Knowing the final stage was short and rough with a lot of sharp rocks the head went into red alert seeing the potential for tire problems. Thus instead of cruising the last stage and enjoying my 15 minute lead in GC I opted to attack and get a gap over the climb. Tristan was riding great this day and kept it together for the first half of the subtle technical climb before I could open up a slim 1 minute lead towards the top. Here we hit a faded, often overgrown rocky descent back down to Okanagan lake for the finish. The trail was hard to follow in spots as it snaked around sharp rock outcrops in overgrown grass.
Settling into a conservative mode things started to go sideways as I punctured a slow leak in the back tire. Not wanting to stop and risk trying to get a tube to work it was a gentle ride down the long last decent. Tristan would blow by about 1/4 of the way down, grinning in a weird way as he told me how he just nearly escaped killing himself on the top of the dh trying to catch up. I told him to take’r easy as it was now his stage to lose. It was a weird way to finish the race as once I slowed the dh down I fell out of the zone I had been in all week and started to really struggle, clipping pedals, missing obvious lines and battling little climbs. It was a good lesson to remember to rip it to the final finish line as its a fine line between kicking ass and getting your ass kicked! Even with the few blunders on the last stage the overall GC lead stuck around 12 minutes which was plenty fine for me as I captured my first overall North American Stage race victory! Wendy Simms and her husband Norm continued the Kona dominance of the race finishing third overall in the mixed team category, with Wendy also being the fastest overall girl in the timed descents!
Penticton was a perfect town for post race activities with wine tasting, tubing, lake swimming and a rowdy young crowd. A couple new friends, Aart, and his wife Carey had opened there house in Summerland to Anderl and I for the weekend and were great hosts. Also Jess Merrill and her Mom opened there door in Kalamalka lake for a good nights rest. This meant a lot to us. Thanks guys! Also a big thanks to the Bike Barn in Penticton for supporting the ST6 and building up my nice new 2016 Kona King Kahuna DDL race bike 🙂
After 3 days at the 2016 Kona Launch in Bellingham Washington, a night camping in Tswassan, and a ferry ride back to Victoria I had a nice 30 hour block at home before heading off to Colorado for 10 days. First up is the Breck Epic followed with the historical Leadville 100 mile race at 10 000 ft +. It’s gonna be some sort of rad adventure guaranteed!
Over and Out!