Did I Ever Tell You About The Worst MTB Race Ever?
O Cup #2 @ MTB Kingston. What. A. Race.
What was it? Was it a MTB race, or a Tough Mudder?
Wait, it was a Mountain HIKE race (see what I did there)?
For my fourth race in five weekends, I thought I’d take it easy, and I registered for the Sport Men category (24k) in the Substance Projects, Scott O-Cup #2 Race (presented by Plastiglas and powered by Caterpillar), at MTB Kingston.
24k at MTB Kingston? Pfft. Easy. After the freezing cold 40k windstorm that I struggled against in the Steaming Nostril, the 50k rainy mess that I conquered on my rigid single speed at the H2i, and the constant challenge of the 70k wind tunnel of Paris to Ancaster, I figured I’d seen the worst of Springtime in Ontario.
Me: Is that all you’ve got Ontario? Some wind and a bit of rain? Hah! I mock you and your weak weather!
Springtime in Ontario: Hold my drink…
Stupid Team Colin and his arrogance. Stupid Team Colin for slapping Springtime in Ontario in its metaphorical face with his riding gloves.
Stupid Team Colin.
“It’s my fifth year of racing” I thought “I’ve seen it all”.
I could not have been more wrong.
O Cup #2 was an absolutely gnarly, awesomely boss, mountain bike race. I hated almost every second of it. Here’s why:
- It was cold, damp and muddy. (or, in Team Colin language, it was “Brrr and ick”)
- I chose the wrong tires and couldn’t find purchase on most climbs, around corners, and just trying to pedal
- I hiked my bike more often than I biked my bike
- My drivetrain is now a rusted string of orange used-to-be-a-chain
- My brake pads are not
- I don’t think I’ll ever get the outside (or inside!) of my shoes clean
- I don’t even want to try to clean my socks–mostly because I think they’ve just been through enough
- I used the wrong lube (okay, I didn’t use any lube because forgot to lube my bike after cleaning the drivetrain the day before), and had to actually dunk my bike into a stream on my last lap in order to have a working drivetrain
- Despite my best efforts with a hose after the race, my bike is now a mud encrusted heap of what was once carbon perfection
I could continue, but I won’t, because for every second that I hated the race, I loved it even more.
O Cup # 2 at MTB Kingston was AWESOME. Here’s why:
- It was one heck of a boss ride
- It was MTB racing at its finest
End of list.
O Cup #2 at MTB Kingston was soooooo MTB from start to finish.
What, we thought a sealed bottom bracket was just a conversation piece?
We thought disk brakes were something bike manufacturers made just for fun?
After the race, I heard some riders saying things like
“Well that was an expensive hike”
“There was just too much mud”
“It should have been cancelled”.
If you were one of those people, I hate to say it, but I think you got it wrong.
Our bikes are bred for the awful slop that Mother Nature threw at us on Sunday: they yearn for muddy chain suck and the strain of trying to crank up slippy-sloppy climbs; they pine for the chance to (try to) shift through ten pounds of derailleur mud; and they ache to be spinning on mud-encrusted wheels that look like more like fatbike tires than the 2.2 Rocket Ron’s I (should have) put on the night before.
So what if our tires looked like homemade “Gift for the Cyclist in your Life” crafts on Pinterest after we rolled through a the carpet of pine needles on mud drenched wheels?
So what if it was really hard?
That’s really MTB.
So what if it was muddy?
That’s totally and thoroughly MTB.
And so what if we’ll probably never again feel clean, and our bikes creak instead of purr, and there’s still sandy grit in our bodies where sand should never be, and…
That’s the heart of MTB.
I don’t say this in a chest-beating, full-of-machismo, way. It’s just what we DO on a mountain bike. We ride. And no matter what the weather throws at us, or how the course conditions cry havoc and let slip the dogs of mud, we ride.
Seriously, did Neanderthal racers complain when their mountain bike races were held in a gruelling mess of knee deep primordial ooze? No. They said “Ooga booga, Ugh! Ugh! Ughhhhh!”, which , roughly translated, means “Awesome, it’s muddy, let’s race! And could somebody please invent padded cycling shorts!”
Our bikes were bred from greatness, and designed to perform in precisely what we faced on Sunday: Mud, and grime, and water, and more mud and grime and water.
I know I always say this, but we didn’t bring a teacup to a garden party, we brought a mountain bike to a race, and Mother Nature did everything she could to make it boss. The weekend before, at P2A, Mother Nature challenged riders with the strongest wind ever recorded on earth (totally true), and on Sunday, Mother Nature challenged us with a week of biblical rain. Clearly, Mother Nature is hardcore.
And that’s awesome.
Besides, where’s the fun in going to work on Monday and saying “I did a mountain bike race on the weekend. It was sunny, warm, and easy”. If we wanted easy, we’d be tooling around a golf course wearing plaid socks and a heinous pair of walking shorts, deciding whether we need to chip the next shot. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (golf, the socks, or the shorts–okay, maybe there’s something wrong with the shorts…).
We chose to spend Sunday playing bikes in the mud. Boom. These guys came just to watch. Great to see you Angela, Dan, and Nick Emsley!
Besides, when you see pictures of the pros, are they clean and pristine, and riding on easy street? Nope.
Unless it’s golf.
Before a Race Report, I want to talk about the trails for a sec. It’s usually not cool to ride when it’s muddy because our tires inflict so much damage on soft trails (Um, that’s why it’s called shredding). People work hard to maintain trails, and mud riding can wreck all the hard work. Worse, the cycling community seems a bit salty these days whenever the question of trail closures and mud comes up. Maybe it’s because this is a particularly long wet season, or because it’s been a horribly long winter. Regardless, the sentiment reared its head a few times on Sunday, so I spoke to Rob Sangers, the owner of the private property where the race was held. Rob is a HUGE cycling advocate and devotee. These are his trails, and he (along with a legion of MTB Kingston volunteers) made sure the trails were as good as they could be for the race, and they’ll be working hard over the next few weeks to repair the damage–which was likely substantial. Aside from the fact that the race took place on only a small portion of MTB Kingston’s network, this was a calculated risk on their part. They knew the challenges, and faced them head-on by reinforcing many of the trails with gravel and sand in the days leading up to the race, choosing trails that were rideable in the rain, and designing much of the race on motocross and farm track that was less susceptible to water and wheels. Rob said “I’m not afraid of work. I’m a farmer.” Indeed. He’s got the right attitude, the work ethic, and the access to equipment to make it happen. This isn’t a group of riders spending a Saturday morning with a wheelbarrow and a shovel, this is a massive crew of trained individuals…with tractors.
Rob and MTB Kingston weren’t at the mercy of the OCA, and it wasn’t hubris or greed that made this race happen, it was love and passion for all things MTB. All parties collaborated prior to the race (and toiled to prep the trails), and will continue long after. In fact, they’re still working to make sure the trails are better than ever when the water finally subsides and the animals find their way, two by two, back home.
The result of their planning and dedication was a truly remarkable racing experience.
Wait, did somebody say Race Report?
I did the 11:45 start, in the Men’s Sport 45-49 category (boy, there sure are a lot of categories in an O Cup race). The 9:00, 10:00, and 1:45 races followed slightly different courses, but the meat and bones of each course was fairly similar. The meat and bones of the course, if you haven’t gathered was covered in mud, and it deteriorated throughout the day, causing a great deal of re-routing and section closure. Commissaire Jeff, Rob, and Dan displayed a remarkably chill attitude when faced with the massive changes. By race time, the 8k lap had been reduced to about 5k, and little did I know during my wave even the number of laps was reduced from 3 to 2.
Race Report: O Cup #2 at MTB Kingston (May 7, 2017. Glenburnie, ON)
The first bit of the race was a awesome. There was a quick shot along a crowd-lined slope, through a barn, onto a 1k pump track (with some superbly dialed berms), and up a sweet farm track for a long-ish but gentle climb. Then, we were back past the Start/Finish area for a hero sprint, and down into the valley along another farm lane.
Then it really got awesome. The descent into the valley was our first introduction to the mud that would follow: Deep, flowing, thick, and nasty–and this was on a wide downhill!
The course improved and as soon as we were under the forest canopy. Everything dried and the course was fast and dry. No it wasn’t. It was horrible. The trails for the next kilometre were a mix of calf deep sludge, mud covered roots, standing water, and slick, sucking, muck. I mostly walked, and rarely rode. It was a SLOG.
When the course wound deeper into the forest, there was a nice stretch of mostly rideable single track. Of course, “nice” is a relative term, and relative to the day as a whole, it was only marginally nicer than the previous trek. It was slow and slick, and took every bit of concentration not to slide into a tree or kiss the muck.
Prior to the race, Dan suggested I ride with studs on my tires to help with traction. I always say “There’s already more than enough stud on my bike…” but he was right. Studs would have helped. He’s also right when he laughs at me each time I make that joke because I am not the picture of studliness.
Studs or not, the last 500 metres or so of the race were totally unrideable for me. The mud was calf deep, and seemed even stickier than the rest. My bike just wouldn’t roll. Worse, by this point in the race, my drivetrain was a hulking mess and I couldn’t crank on the pedals without my chain jamming into my chainstay The climb up to the finish line, and the 90 tight and steep corner at the top was a nice touch, and would have been great without mud, but alas, mud was the word of the day and, and mud it was, so I scampered up the hill as best as I could and bowed my head so the crowd couldn’t identify me.
The second lap was a case of lather, rinse, repeat–except in mud. By this time in the day, the course was at its worst. I pedalled when I could, trudged through the same slop, and just tried to finish the lap.
I didn’t discover the last lap was axed until I was finishing my second lap. I was prepared to tough it out for another, but I’m glad I didn’t have to. My time was 1:40 for 2 laps, and a total distance of just over 10k. Yeah, it was that bad.
Congratulations once again to everyone who raced. The results are listed on the OCA website.
It’s just too bad the emcee was so lame…
End of Race Report
The honest fact is that races like this are really really really tough. It wasn’t a long race, but my lap time was over 45 minutes, and the difficulty of the terrain was so challenging. So what did I do? I pedalled a bit and walked a lot and walked some more, until I finished each lap. I figure, you can’t finish a race dreading it, and you certainly can’t finish it by not moving, so I kept at it. Eventually, the race has got to stop, even when it feels like it won’t.
But you know, there was a plus side to the race too, because I had my bike with me. With all the shouldering, lugging, and dragging, I think we really had a chance to bond. I touched it in special places. It’s a good thing I was wearing gloves.
There was another plus, and it didn’t involve forbidden bike love. I stuck around to see the Elite riders in the 1:00 wave. By that time of the day, the course was absolutely mangled, but one by one, they sprinted past, and one by one I saw them nail the climb across the valley before entering the forest, and one by one, they RODE UP THE LAST CLIMB.
It probably wasn’t easy for them either, but they did it. What a great reminder of what we aspire to, and what a great example of boss riding. When I dreamt of MTB as a kid, it was races like these that made me want to ride.
Because that’s MTB.
We’re all MTB. Seriously, anyone who did the race is now a member of the “MTB League of Bossness” (not a real organization). Making the choice to enter the race was enough of a BOOM. Starting the race after seeing the course conditions was another BOOM. Finishing the race was, well, that’s just damn epic.
You know what else is MTB? Substance Projects. Slick event, fun time, and there was even a live band. Yeah, a live band. Literal mic drop! This group of local high school students was amazing. They had a tight and mature sound, and played covers, along with a few originals. The future of rock in Kingston is safe. Well done boys! The Banters. Check them out.
Back to the O Cup. For those who took a look at the weather on race day morning said “Been there, done that” and decided not to race. That’s too bad, because sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of the true spirit of mountain biking. There is no HTFU (and I really don’t like that term anyways), but there is a whole bunch of GIYBAEESOIBYDCGAAH (Give It Your Best And Enjoy Every Second Of It Because You Didn’t Choose Golf As A Hobby).
Maybe I’m seeing this wrong.
I don’t see the glass half full or half empty, I see it as 100% AWESOME. The half full part is filled with the potential of what’s to come, and the half empty part is the experience of something awesome, something learned, and something DONE. There are always a million reasons NOT to ride, and sometimes only a few reasons TO ride, but I have yet to regret the decision to ride.
Or maybe I’m just seeing AWESOME.
Now that I’ve “been there and done that”, I can say this: I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Bring it on Springtime in Ontario. Bring it on.
Oh, and the answer to the title of this blog (Did I ever tell you about the worst MTB race ever?): It was awesome. The worst MTB race ever was awesome.
Because that’s MTB.
PS. Hey, did you race on Sunday? What did you think of the course? The band? The mud? The awesomeness? Did you clean your bike yet? Comment on this post, or send an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A HUGE THANKS TO:
- THE SPONSORS
- SUBSTANCE PROJECTS AND DAN MARSHALL
- COMMISSAIRE JEFF
- MY RACE PHOTOGRAPHER FOR THE DAY, NORMA MACLELLAN
- THE SMOKIN’ CARNIVORE FOOD TRUCK
- THE BANTERS
- MTB KINGSTON
- Rob Sangers
- Kyle Sangers
- Wally Stanton (the dude who put a bridge in for us)
- Sean Hickman (the dude who also took an awesome pic of me)
- Peter Dawson
- Chris MacFarlane
- the MTB Kingston Youth Race Team (who used one of their practices to help)
- and EVERY MEMBER of MTB Kingston who will be working to get the trails back in shape
Nothing would have happened without these people (and probably many more that I don’t know about). Thanks again. Many of us just showed up and raced, but you made the day an awesome reality.