And so, a legend was born…
Saturday’s El Bandito (the first race in the Substance Projects Stoporcross) was a spectacularly epic, mind numbingly gruelling, big boss, bike race. If you were in Southern Ontario just after 9AM, you must have felt it when the earth moved in the collective BOOM of 161 riders starting what I hope will become a Southern Ontario racing legend.
What, you weren’t there? Such a shame. You didn’t just miss a Dan’s Race (yeah, that’s thing), you missed the birth of a legend.
The El Bandito was everything a legendary bike race should be: tough and challenging, scenic and gorgeous, communal and welcoming, tough and challenging, fun, and really really really hard. Substance Projects promised a bike race, and they delivered. It wasn’t gravel, or MTB, or CX, or road. It was each of them combined into a sweet Dan Marshall blender of legendary epicness. At the core of the race, it was a gravel grinder to beat all–except there wasn’t really any gravel.
However, in another sense, it was a MTB race–except there was no singletrack, even though we hit a whole bunch of doubletrack in Ganaraska Forest, which was almost tougher than the singletrack.
However, in another-other sense, it was a road race–except most of the asphalt was patchy and tougher than gravel.
And in another-other-nother sense, it was a deep-sand/tall-grass festival of wheel-sucking slog.
There was even a last minute addition of a hike-an-asphalt-chunk section that was wickedly nasty.
Wait, I really want to talk about the rip through Ganaraska Forest. It was too long to call a section, and every inch of it was a spectacular grind. Each time we passed a connection to singletrack trail my heart felt a little tug, but don’t think for a second that the doubletrack wasn’t just as much nasty fun. Honestly, I think the Ganny has some of the nastiest (read: awesomest) and gnarliest (read: really really awesomest) doubletrack around. Ruts, rocks, roots, and hills made it every bit as challenging as the singletrack. In fact, because we were either grinding up, or white-knuckling down, trying to find the most managable line through the deep rutted track was impossible. I should retire my wheelset after 10k of what I think is best described as “Aw, c’mon Dan, really?” terrain. It was so tough, and so very fun.
The El Bandito was heavy on sections–Dan’s answer to Iron Cross–which were grossly awesome, sometimes hikable, wickedly hard, patches of surface, that riders somehow either rode over, walked along, or scrambled through–and they were always UP UP UP. One of the great things about the race was that the sections didn’t start until about 45k. There was a quick shot of sand at about 20k, but other than that it was pretty much 45k of easy rolling and then BAM! (not boom), Dan sucker punched us right in the spandex.
Easy rolling? Yeah, no. There was no easy rolling. The Northumberland Hills are really really really, super extra hilly. Beautiful from a car, gross on a bike. The parking lot at Brimacombe was the flattest part of the day. We were either chugging up a loooooooong and steep climb, or tucking in for a blistering descent. Blistering indeed.
I just want to say it again. I LOVED THE RACE.
Here’s my Facebook post from immediately after I finished:
This guy. This guy right here organized the perfect race. El Bandito was pure magic. From the first hike over Mount Chunky Asphalt, to the epic string of road, gravel, and everything in between, the race was an absolute beauty. Dan Marshall, I’ve always loved you, but I think I love you just a bit more after today. Thanks for making my cold worse, my Saturday better, and my legs sing. Awesome.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating. The El Bandito was pure magic. It was like Paris to Ancaster–but with hills (and no crowds). The race was doable on pretty much any bike (except a road bike), and the terrain made it that much more interesting, but the real beauty was that it was so challenging yet doable, and I think that’s what will make the race weather the test of time. Like P2A, pretty much any rider could suffer through it, and the sense of accomplishment at the end was staggering. With 1,400m of climbing, and the relentless barrage of climbs and nasty bits, the race was far from easy (like, really really far), and the tough stuff was just Dan’s tacit reminder that we signed up for it. Dan’s hint for finishing a tough race: “Just keep pedaling” (D. Marshall. Every time I ask him how he finishes a big race).
Oh, and the scenery. The Northumberland Hills are almost too pretty. Since the course summited pretty much every big road climb around Brimacombe, we were rewarded with some beautiful sights.
Oh, and Brimacombe. Wow. What an awesome facility for a bike race. Great chalet, huge parking lot, giant BBQ, a balcony to watch all the action, and a terrific fit for a Dan’s Race.
Race Report: El Bandito 70. Brimacombe Ski Hill: June 22, 2017
My bike for the day was my dreamy Norco Threshold SL.
Honestly, Barry Cox already did the FULL course some awesome justice in a Facebook post, so I’ll post it at the the of this blog, but I want to report on something unique for me in a race. It’s so unique that it’s the first time it’s happened in over 40 big races. I RACED WITH A PACK!!! Yeah, Team Colin raced with a pack. I’ve never been able to manage racing with a pack. I’m either too fast or too slow (usually too slow, I’m just sayin’) but within about 7k of the start, I was riding with 3 other racers and after jockeying back and forth a bit, we started chatting and stuck together for the remaining 62k.
It was terrific.
For most of the race, I think our pace was faster than it would have been if we were alone, but for the last 20k, we were chatting and just talking, and I think our pace may have dropped a bit (although I don’ t think by much).
A few observations about my pack:
Brent has an absolutely fearsome tuck. Like, fearsome. I maxed out at 76.58 km/h (yeah, on a CX bike with 33mm knobby tires), but he passed me. He didn’t pass me, he smoked me. Awesome technique.
- Simon is awesome. Dude loves to talk, and it’s all interesting. Can’t wait to see you at the Eager Beaver, and I’m definitely taking you up on your offer of a sweet rip at Goodrich Loomis.
- Stewart was worried for nothing. Seriously Stewart, I don’t know if you’ll be one of the 20 people who read this (hi mom) but you rocked it. I’m still not sure if we dropped you (unintentionally) or if you dropped us, but we broke up somehow around the 45k mark, and couldn’t see you. We thought you were ahead of us. Stewart admitted that he felt a bit overwhelmed at the beginning of the race when he saw all of the hardcore riders (and there were some seriously heavy hardcore racers), but races like this draw pros and first timers, and Stewart was closer to pro than newb. I’m still waiting for that picture Stewart…
By the way, Stewart wasn’t on a 23 pound carbon CX dream. He was on a commuter bike, and even rode with the back rack. Dude was awesome.
The race was nasty and hard and so much fun. Honestly, I don’t know how Dan strung together such an awesome array of terrain and challenges. At every corner, and at every peak, we hit something new and wickedly cool.
And the best part? Brent, Simon, and I crossed the finish line handlebar to handlebar to handlebar. Great riding with you guys.
End of Race Report.
I placed at the top of the bottom third of riders, but given my cold, the preceding three week nap, and the whole snot factor, I’m okay with my results.
These folks were pretty epic though.
You know, I can’t believe I almost didn’t make it to the race. I’ve been nursing the worst cold humankind has ever experienced (totally not exaggerating) for the last three weeks, and didn’t register until 9:05 on Friday night. In fact, at 8:59 on Friday night, I wasn’t even contemplating it. Looking back, my logic was sound for deciding to do the race. I felt lousy, so I figured I’d rather feel lousy and on a bike, than feel lousy and be in bed.
I wasn’t wrong.
Was it easy racing with a cold? No, not at all.
Did I give myself a hernia during a fit of hacking while stooped over my bars? Very likely?
Did I lose 10 pounds of snot during the race? Definitely.
Was it worth it? Ab. Sew. Lootely.
On a side note, my apologies to anyone riding within 3k of me on Saturday. I cough loud, I hork loud, and well, I’m just sorry.
So that’s it, my cold is still hacking at my lungs and dripping out of my nose, I still get the occassional flu sweat, and my lower intestine may be strangulating itself inside my testicles, but there was a race on Saturday, and I did it. Because, after all, nothing bad ever happens to Team Colin on a bike. Boom.
By the way, if you didn’t make it on Saturday, don’t worry, I have a feeling the El Bandito will be back next year, although if I have another cold-mageddon, maybe I won’t. Yeah, who am I kidding…
PS. I cannot end without a huge shout out, a giant high five, and a big sweaty post race hug for the Substance Projects crew. Aside from the paid staff (and the staff from whose loins Dan didn’t fall), they are awesome. I’m so happy my friend Nadia joined my other (now) friend Lorraine at the BBQ, and the other familiar faces at the aid stations and START/FINISH were just amazing. I’m a little more than bummed that I didn’t get to see Florence and Liz Grootenboer, but that’s because Florence was trapped in the bushes for the day, and Liz was riding across the country to raise money for charity. Dan Marshall, Substance Projects, and the rest make the sport richer and we’re all lucky to have their dedication and support. Big giant BOOM for Substance projects.
And here, as promised (and in its entirety), is the other Race Report, courtesy of legendary Lapdog, Barry Cox:
Race Report: El Bandito 140. Brimacombe Ski Hill: June 22, 2017 (by Barry Cox)
I was so apprehensive about this race. The pre-ride a week and a half ago was really, really tough. I suffered hard. I hated it. I wanted it to be over. I doubted my ability to even finish the race. I assumed I would be DFL.
Turns out the pre-ride was the best thing I could possibly have done. I took the last week and a half to eliminate many of the problems I had on the ride. I planned. I came up with a nutrition plan, used drop bags at the aid stations, and executed it. I removed the 120mm 17deg negative rise stem which came on my bike and replaced it with something more comfortable. I put gel inner-soles in my shoes to cut down on foot pain and shoe discomfort. Basically, I figured out what the problems were likely to be and tried to eliminate them.
I lined up towards the front of the start line but didn’t sprint hard off the start. I walked the bike down the first descent, upon which someone had dumped a bunch of jagged asphalt two days ago, rather than risk a flat or a crash. Others didn’t and their day was over quickly.
The first 20 km of the race was mostly road. I found that I couldn’t put down the power in the climbs. My legs felt heavy. I compensated by trying to work with other riders on the flats, and getting as aero as possible on the descents. It almost worked, but I got passed a lot.
20km in we hit the first sandy section. I was in a group and it took one of the riders in front off-guard. He went down hard, knocked himself out and from the look of it broke his collarbone. I stayed at the scene for about 5 minutes to make sure that help was on the way (I had the medical number on my phone) but after that there was nothing I could do to help – someone else who appeared to have first aid training was taking charge, so I decided to keep riding.
The first 45km was mostly pavement. I just was not going as fast as I would have liked and got passed by a bunch of riders. It could have been because I was using 700 x 40c tires with a lower pressure. But when I hit the first stretch of ATV trail (and and dirt) I was loving the tires and picked a number of other riders off.
I kept pushing and picked up a bunch of positions. I saw a lot of skinny-tired riders struggling in the sand and at about 55km got out on the road again. Then there was more sand and I was able to plough through by keeping my weight back, letting the bike find its own path and keeping a steady cadence.
The middle section of the ride was like that…make up ground on the ATV trails and lose a couple of spots on the dirt. By about 80km in I started feeling really strong and pushed a little harder. Just in time for a 5-6km grind of road climb.
I kept it up and around 100km hit what I knew to be a long sandy section followed by about 12km through Ganaraska Forest. On the pre-ride, this felt like it was never going to end, but on race day I felt great, kept pushing and made up 5 or 6 more spots.
Out onto the road at about 115km. At this point I did not have much left. My back was in knots. I hit a steep climb and had to walk the bike up. This slowed me down and bit but I think the time off the bike caused the knot in my back to loosen up. Back on the bike for the last 10k. There were some steep climbs and I went to a very dark place getting through them. Across the finish line and home. Was good for 34th place. Not sure how many riders there were, but I am guessing 60-70, so mid-pack I think. Not my strongest race, but I did better than I expected and had an epic, if challenging day in the saddle
What went right:
- Riding in sand. I made up so much time and passed a lot of riders by keeping it rolling in the sand
- Bike setup – 700x 40c tires were the way to go. And the shorter less slammed stem was awesome. Less foot pain (although I kicked in towards the end).
- Nutrition. I say down a couple of days before, figured out how many calories and how much in electrolyte bottles I would need, made some drop bags and stuck to my plan. A number or others bonked. I didn’t
What went wrong:
- Climbing. I felt overgeared with a 42t chainring and a 12-36 cassette. I think it hurt me having to bring the steep stuff rather than spin. Solution: I have ordered a 38t oval chainring which should help
- The road sections/putting down the power. My legs felt heavy. I didn’t fee recovered despite a lot of sleep and sticking to the plan this week. Maybe the CP3/20 should have been tuesday not wednesday?
Anyway, it was a good ride, with a respectable result against a very competitive field. I’ll take it.
End of Race Report (courtesy of Barry Cox).
This is the second time I used a guest voice in my blog, and I kind of dig it. It happened to be Barry both times because they were both about the El Bandito, and he’s done the course twice, but I’m hatching a plan to include others in the future, and I’ve already talked to a few boss people. I hope it works.
As always, if you have something to say about the race, riding, or BIKES, comment on the blog, or send a message to: firstname.lastname@example.org