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The first time I did Singletrack6 Stage Race was in 2017 and the defining memory of that year is the forty-five plus minutes of continuous descending on day three, completely pinned, trying to hold the wheel of one of the best XC descenders in North America on who I held only the slimmest GC lead. Conditions were dusty and the trails steep, rocky, and more technical than just about anything I’d ever raced XC on before. People tell me the scenery was amazing as we rallied down a razor-like ridgeline but I can’t confirm that personally. I was too deep in focus like a cat chasing a laser pointer and trying to make sure my forearms didn’t give out and let my hands catastrophically slip off the bars. Corner after corner I put blind faith in my Vittoria Barzos as I plunged into the dust cloud and braking bumps and hoped that this time there weren’t any huge blind drops coming up. I managed to finish that day just a few seconds behind the stage winner, and it was the biggest hurdle in those six days of rugged racing I had to get over on my way to the overall win. As I made my plans in the early season of 2018 to head back up to eastern British Columbia again, I felt like I had a better sense of what I needed from my body and from my equipment, to tackle this race and try and defend my title from last year. You know what they say about best laid plans right?
Things went off the rails when I broke my wrist in early May, and only got worse a month on when the bones hadn’t healed despite being in a cast and required surgery. I knew it was going to be tough ask to be in any kind of shape and preparation for a race as hard as ST6, but I logged sweaty trainer sessions staring at the fan blades in the hope that I would be healed enough in time. Since one of the unique aspects of ST6 is that they move locations for the race each year to highlight different regions of British Columbia, I managed to scrape together some intel that the first few stages in Golden might be a little less...aggressive than last year's addition. As race week approached and I remained unconvinced of my depth of fitness, I decided to go full shock and awe on stage one, see how that turned out, and then evaluate strategy for the rest of the week. A short pre-ride of the first and last few miles of the course found awesomely packed hero dirt and large imbedded rock sections that remined me a lot of places in New England. I was pretty confident in my choice to have mounted up some 2.25” Mezcals despite having had so much success on the Barzo last year because I knew I wanted to wring every bit of speed I could out of that first day. Considering the start left downtown Golden and it’s icy-blue Columbia River behind and proceeded to climb for the first several miles on pavement before jumping into more singletrack climbing, I was looking forward to saving those precious early morning watts.
It’s a good feeling when a plan gets executed well, when your legs are actually able to back up the promises your brain made the night before as you struggled to calm your mind and get some sleep. After our fast start up the road on stage one, I managed to get into the singletrack section first and create an early separation that, while it came back together briefly a few miles later, I was able to extend again into a long solo attack and the first GC lead of the race. Relief was about the only word that described the finish that day; relief that I managed to pull it off, relief that my equipment choices were all the right ones, relief that I hadn’t forgotten how to race my mountain bike in the past couple months, relief that even if nothing else went well in the next five days I had at least this success to be proud of. Stage races are tricky things however, emotional roller coasters and a test of not just fitness, but also consistency and durability. Unfortunately for me, two months of trainer rides hadn’t done much for the mountain bike specific latter point there, and the week turned into a slow hemorrhage of time due to small mistakes I started making as the physicality of the riding took a toll on me. A poorly timed mechanical on stage three dropped me back to third overall and it became operation “rally back” for the rest of the week.
Stage four took the race to the legendary mountain bike destination of Revelstoke, a place I’d been reading about since I was sixteen and flipping through the glossy pages of Bike Magazine while dreaming of future adventures. This was the more quintessential terrain that comes to mind when you think BC with dark, loamy dirt, lots of roots and steep, rowdy lines. I put on my 2.25” Barzos the night before hoping to be able to bring the party to trails I’d dreamed of riding for a long, long time. When you’ve been imagining a place for so long it can be easy to get disappointed in the reality, but I can safely say that’s not the case in Revelstoke. The trails were non-stop, keep you on your toes, fun. Constantly switching direction, fall line, and grade, there was no sitting back and taking it easy and the punchy-steep climbs had you digging for gears any time the trail straightened out. The trails reminded me of an upgraded version of places I grew up riding in the Catskill Mountains of New York state and I channeled some of that inner-youth enthusiasm as I attacked the last hard climb and punched it out of each corner of the descent to the finish. I didn’t gain enough time to move back into the lead, that was beginning to look out of reach, but I did put myself back in second overall. That and a stage win while getting to ride in a lifetime dream location is good enough for me any day.
I kept hoping for something exceptional to happen to my performance in the last two days of racing, but the only thing exceptional was the quality of the riding itself. It became more apparent that my lack of mountain bike specific prep was impossible to fake in this day-in and day-out trail riding and that I was truly racing to consolidate my second place. So, I leaned harder into my equipment to help me compensate for some lazy and tired riding, leaving the confidence inspiring Barzos on, and my suspension mostly open for the remainder of the stages as I bashed my way over each and every rock in British Columbia. As I picked my way down the final descent of the race, dropping to the village at Silver Star Bike Park, I found myself contemplating how I should feel about these six days of racing when I wasn’t busy wishing the descent would just end already. On the one hand, I had come back to ST6 to defend the overall, and by that metric I had failed. On the other, just a couple weeks beforehand I hadn’t even been sure that my wrist would hold up to the racing at all, so two stage wins and surviving the week in second was maybe more than I might have realistically hoped for. Ultimately, my 2018 ST6 experience will probably remain a mixed bag of emotions for me, but it did ensure that I’ll be back again, hopefully at full health, to give it another go in 2019.