After last year, Race Dictator Drill Sergeant Tony Horn must have sat down and wondered why there weren’t more dead bodies lying around on the side of the course. In an attempt to remedy this he squeezed a whole extra stage into the four days which makes it a five stage race in four days. You beauty.
The idea of the day was to have a good old (No) Flow Zone Emerald mash up with observed trials style section in the morning then quick lunch and off to shralp a Super-D on PHD.
Now, for anyone not familiar with the trails in Emerald then you really might have a hard time understanding what is so hard about a stage that is only 8km long, takes about 45 minutes and the trail elevation only fluctuates between 100 metres. The Emerald trails are truly some of the most challenging trails I’ve ever ridden anywhere, ever. People refer to Emerald trails as the No Flow Zone but really they should be referred to as the Zen Flow Zone because to make the trails flow there you need a combination of insane skill, bike handling, ferocious strength, a surgeon's finesse, and Buddhist calm.
If you haven’t ridden the Emerald trails and think you are hot shit then go test yourself there. My big recommendations are Anal Intruder, Trial and Error, White Knuckles, No Girlie Man, Shit Happens, and Big Kahuna.
To add spice to the race, there were four observed sections. These were four climbs, descents or power moves that if you cleaned then you had between three to five minutes for each one taken off your overall time. If you failed a section then you had time added to your overall and if you failed to attempt a section then you had even more time added.
Anyway, the race went well for me. I only set out to clean all the observed sections. I slipped at the top of one and decided to sacrifice my time and race and head back down to clean it again. This lost me three places and gave me no extra time bonuses. It was a pride thing. The Tallboy climbed like a mountain goat with superglue hooves and an EPO drip. It was riding in Emerald last fall that I really fell in love with the Tallboy. I had already smashed it on all the other Whistler trails but its final test was Emerald. 29ers are suppose to be unwieldy and not very maneuverable and best suited to buff West Coast trails. Well I’m sorry MTB media, marketing hoons, and internet forum users, because the real benefit of bigger wheels comes when you need to roll over a non-stop barrage of rock teeth and roots, which is what the Emerald trails are. But anyway, there's me going off point again…
In the end I came across the line in 9th which was a pleasant surprise and set me in a good mood for the afternoon.
PHD is a shuttle trail in no man's land. It’s half way between Whistler and Pemberton so it doesn’t attract that many XC style riders and the few that ride it are often dirty, shit eating shuttle riders. Of course this means the trail is pretty beat from hacks on their 48lb freeride rigs carving the trail down to its raw bones. I had never ridden the trail before precisely because A) I think shuttling should only be done when ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY B) because it’s in the middle of nowhere so the pedal to it is a little too far for the reward.
Anyway, as per my lack of preparation for the 4Queens this year I was riding yet another course blind. This made several good friends raise their eyebrows in concern so we decided to head up early and just walk a little section so I could get a feel for the trail. The bits we looked at seemed pretty straight forward but I was told that the real gnar was further up and down the trail, so I opted to take their warnings and go steady. Once race time came around I found myself in the first group of five riders to head off because of our respective overall standings. This meant I was thrown in with the leg tearing mutants and I knew the first climb was going to see me get dropped off the back because my legs are still somewhere in winter. This also meant that I was going to be following in the dust cloud of four dudes once we got to the singletrack, so I opted to really take it easy, climb my own climb then cruise into the DH gnar and be conservative enough not to get thrown over the falls in the trail.
I stuck to my game plan and I waited and waited nervously for the steep technical gnar to rear its head but it never came. Before I knew it I was at the half way point and hitting the second climb. Child's play; I was kicking myself for listening to others and getting fooled into taking it conservative. I charged up my gnar-o-metre and got ready to make up some serious time on the way down the second half but just as the turbines were charging up the worst happened and I got a flat tyre. I had to make a split second decision, stop and fix it which may cost three or four minutes or keep riding the whole way down which may be sketchy and lose time too. I chose to keep riding. My rationale was this: if I already have a puncture then I can’t get another and if I destroy my rear wheel then at least I have a legitimate excuse not to race the final day which is going to be a killer.
In the end I crossed the line and my wheel was in one piece and straight as an arrow (who said 29″ wheels are weak?). I was bummed not to have a puncture free day and it cost me a good few positions but surprisingly not as many as I feared. Seems like a lot of people took PHD too conservatively. It dropped me to 6th overall and Arthur Gaillot leapfrogged me to 5th. Which means that the Tallboys are in 5th and 6th spot still!!!! 29ers killing it in the technical gnar chunder fest of Whistler? Who would have thought? Haha, up yours naysayers!
Chad Miles killed it in the morning and got first in Emerald but in the afternoon The Dingo mark 2, Dylan Wolsky absolutely blitzed PHD to take first. Seems like his pre-riding of the course and searching for cheeky lines paid off. Kiwi Chris Johnston is still in first but the gap between him and Wolsky has been reduced radically and now it really is all down to the last day.
Oh fark, the last day! The super uber epic gnar and pedal fest s#*t show in the heat of the Pemby mountain desert. I'd better be off to get some more water to ready my body for tomorrow's pain fest.
Photos by Matthew Mallory of CCN
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