2006 TransRockies Challenge
Stage 6 – Nipika to Invermere – 64km/1119m vertical
After riding over 300km in three long days in the Rocky Mountain backcountry, on paper, the mere 64km of stage six must have looked like a cakewalk. In true TransRockies style though, the first foul weather of the race and extremely rugged trail conditions made Stage 6 a slog of survival and toughness. Most teams ended up taking nearly as long to ride 64km today as they took to ride 108 the day before and several were completely undone by the seemingly endless mud and roots . . . though apparently the British and Irish riders felt very much at home . . .
Overnight, the formerly fine weather took a turn for the worse as the skies opened and the nearly 1000 people who make up the travelling TransRockies village were pounded with heavy rain. With a 20km starting loop around the trails of Nipika and then a singletrack climb up Bear Creek, the rain meant that the course was going to be much more difficult than it had looked the day before in the sunshine.
The early pattern of the racing was maintained as the top teams in the open men’s category established an early lead through the trails of Nipika, but the race was thrown into chaos as top the five teams missed a turn and went well off course before finding their way back. By the time they were back on course, the sixth-placed Team Opus was in the lead which they held to the finish. Once again the race officials were called to make a decision and they restored the top five teams to their positions giving the win to Troy Misseghers and Eric Batty of Mountain Bike City who reclaimed second overall from the United Cycles duo of Evan Sherman and Tim Heemskerk.
Andreas Hestler and Seamus McGrath of Team Rocky Mountain Business Objects/ Felt Racing rode a smart, defensive race to maintain their 10-minute lead in the overall standings. “That was rough!” said Hestler. “The climb up Bear Creek was a beast—it probably took us 90 minutes to hike the 10km uphill.” Bear Creek lived up to its name as the local warden was onsite all day scaring off bears to ensure that the trail was the only beast that the riders would confront on this day.
The tough conditions produced a slew of changes throughout the standings. The Uncivil Servant had lost a half hour in the women’s category the day before as marathon specialist Lesley Clements had torn ankle ligaments. Today, the climb up Bear Creek turned out to be too much and her partner Nikki Kassel rode across the line alone. In the process, the second-placed Team Barenaked/ Cannondale (Sue Butler/ Anna Vacca) assumed the overall lead heading into the final stage.
The Mens Masters category (80+ combined age) has been a competitive field throughout and the lead changed hands again on Friday with the Dutch duo of Theo Wouters and John Bullens (Otten Marathon Racing) retaking the lead by a slim two minutes following the fifth place finish of former leaders Davey Moore and Jon Gould of Team Tamarack. Likewise, the formerly untouchable leaders of the Open Mixed category Linda Wallenfels and David Harris (Team Health FX) suffered in the wet coming in third but holding onto their lead ahead of the day’s winners Tricia Stevenson and Samuel Koeber of Team Cannondale/Land Rover.
Despite the tough conditions, the muddy faces which crossed the line in Invermere were nothing but smiles as only one more test faces them before the finish in Panorama Resort. It will be a tough one though as the riders climb nearly 1700 metres straight up to the top of Paradise Ridge which is still getting doused with rain this evening. At nearly 2500 metres it is the high point of this year’s event and is followed by a high-speed descent down to Panorama. With an extra hour in bed thanks to the 9am start time, the first riders will be crossing their final 2006 TransRockies finish line around 12:30.