Royal Engineers ride the Rockies - Bike Magic

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Royal Engineers ride the Rockies

Mark Banham and Pete Sutton of 59 Commando Royal Engineers recently competed in the TransRockies stage race in Canada. Our original plan was to get reports as they went along, but what with them riding hundreds of kilometres along and thousands of metres up and down and then sleeping in tents, it’s not altogether surprising that that didn’t happen. And we seem to have lost stages 1 and 2 altogether. But here’s the rest of Mark’s report, giving the view from the middle of the pack…

Stage 3, Elkford to Etherington Creek

This was the most roadie-friendly stage, involving some 67km of gravel road bashing, 44km on the road and the rest on a mix of single and double track. The 67km gravel road was a constant but gradual climb, gaining 600m in height over its distance, and although not massively tough in itself was time consuming and something of a mind game as we became more and more saddle sore, uncomfortable and tired. This was followed by a “quick” traverse of one of the many passes in the area and then a 14km road climb up to Highwood Pass, one of the highest pounts on the whole challenge. Then came what we had hoped would be the high point of the day, no pun intended, a 30km road descent. In typical TransRockies fashion, though, a healthy headwind made this a lengthy and difficult portion of the ride. We then had a few km of gradual climbing to the campsite at Etherington Creek and the usual wecome and cheery comments of the event announcer who always brought a smile to our faces.

Stage 4, Etherington Creek to Sandy McNabb

The race changed drastically today, with a predominantly singletrack route and a change in weather – driving rain, hail, near-freezing temperatures and mile upon mile of mud. What could have been a superb singletrack fest was a battle to stay upright in some of the most slippery conditions I have ever encountered. As usual there was a huge climb which involved much bike pushing/carrying, followed by a superb descent down some of the swoopiest/jumpiest singletrack in the world (probably). Today’s problem was the alder bushes lining the trail which whipped us as we sped down the trail, leaving racers with scratched and bleeding arms. The organisers included a “naked mile” ride in the route – put simply you get naked, ride a stretch for the camera and the funniest footage wins prizes at the evening meal. It was good for morale, although Pete and I declined as Pete was mumbling something about it being cold and too early in the year for acorns… The winning time for this leg was just under four and a
half hours by the Rocky Mountain team who I can best describe as ridiculously fit – we took about seven and still beat two thirds of the field in. We rolled into Sandy McNabb cold and wet, ready for a nice barbecue meal and a sopping tent. Every night the organisers would put on a slide show and video of the day’s activities after the evening meal, this was always really well put together and entertaining.

Stage 5, Sandy McNabb to Bragg Creek

With over 50km of singletrack and six big climbs, this was always going to be a tough day. Couple that with the horrendous weather and a good night’s sleep listening to a large generator and I really wasn’t in the mood to ride this stage. Apparently, this view was shared by quite a few other riders who threw in the towel today – not us though, we’re British.

We rode on and I can honestly say I really didn’t enjoy it. I was all over the place on the several km of mud we rode. Tiredness and frustration at making stupid mistakes played on my mind all day and our old friend chainsuck appeared and meant we rode most of the hills (as far as we could) in the middle ring – whose idea was this anyway?
I was a tired little bear when we rolled into the small town of Bragg Creek that afternoon. All was not lost though – Archie our support guy treated us to a Subway and spirits lifted immediately. Conditions had obviously affected everyone today with the winning time being 45 minutes slower than the same stage last year, when the weather had been kinder. Yet again the robots from Rocky Mountain won the stage in just under five and a half hours – it took us just over eight, some people took around twelve.

Stage 6, Bragg Creek to Rafter Six Ranch

The rain poured as the riders reluctantly lined up on the start line. There was a general air of “Oh God, not again” floating over the assembled Gore-Tex clad crowd. The weather let up though, and trail conditions were pretty fast (once we’d got the obligatory 30km of gravel road and 10km of mud completed) until we got to Jumping Pound Ridge. This is a massive climb and took about ten years to get up. The descent off the ridge was rocky and fast and resulted in Popeye-like forearms at the bottom. The rest of the ride through Lusk Pass and on to Rafter Six was pleasantly and surprisingly quick too. A good night’s kip had meant I was ready to rip today and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The Rocky Mountain robots caned it again, beating the Race Face Mountain Men in yet another seemingly impossible time of 4:24.32.

Stage 7, Rafter six to Canmore

There was a definite buzz in the air this morning as we lined up for a leisurely ten o’clock start. I and several other riders thought that we were in for an easy day – guess again, there seemed to be much more than the claimed 500m of climbing involved in today’s mix of rooty, technical singletrack and highway work. The climbs were short and steep and constant roots demanded your full attention. The general pace was also quicker today with everyone just trying to get it over and done with. A last minute route change due to a bear sighting meant a section of rough singletrack around a quarry was included which prolonged things further. We eventually bounced our way down a fairly severe descent into the back end of Canmore, where I promptly fell off on to some particularly hard rocks in front of a large crowd, then my shorts fell down… Just kidding, I did fall off, but the crowd seemed pleased when I jumped back on and shot off down the trail. We cruised in to a packed Canmore and crossed the finish line two immensely satisfied mountain bikers.

Did I enjoy the experience? Of course. Would i do it again? Yes, tomorrow if possible. Will i get the chance? Probably not. I’d recommend it to any reasonably fit biker out there. Do yourself a favour though and get plenty of training in – try to get to Canada a little early both to acclimatise and to get used to the size of the features you are about to ride. The atmosphere surrounding the whole thing is great and the Canadians are some of the nicest people you could hope to meet.

Mark’s happy to answer questions or offer advice to prospective TransRockies entrants – mail us and we’ll pass your messages on.


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