Location: Port Colborne/Port Dalhousie, ON
Date: June 21, 2009
It seems the summer months are pretty void of some solid adventure races you can do solo. This has left me searching for motivation to keep training hard and stay focused. So now I find myself “racing for training” rather than “training for racing”. My bike legs haven’t been coming back as quickly as I had hoped so adding a solid MTB race to the schedule would be a sure fire way to make sure I get out and get on my bike. The Lake to Lake was local and just about perfect timing for me so I thought I would give it a shot.
This was the 11th year for the race that runs from Port Colborne to Port Dalhousie. The course is approx. 50km mostly running alone the Welland Canal with a mix of roads, double track and a fair amount of single track. It’s quite a popular event with well over 600 races registered. For me, this was my first time racing this and only my second MTB race ever.
Being a point to point race the logistics are a bit of a pain. Unless you can get a ride to the start, you are stuck taking a shuttle from the. While the race started at 11am, the shuttles began leaving at 7:30! I chose to be a little on the later side and caught the last shuttle at about 8:30 or so. That still put me at the start line with over an hour and a half before the start of the race. With about 15 minute to go before the start I worked my way up into the corral for the first wave. I guess some riders were anxious and I was stuck at the back of the first wave. I wasn’t too concerned though, the race started with about 3km on paved roads leading out of Port Colborne; plenty of time and space to work my way up before we hit the trails.
As expected the start was fast and furious. Once we got moving the pack was flying, well over 40km/hr. I managed to work my way up through the crowd, but there were still quite a number of riders in front of me as we made the turn onto the canal trails (groomed, fine gravel trails). One thing I noticed as I was moving up was a kid, couldn’t have been more than 12 years old flying with the main group at the start, holding his own….it was unreal to see. I am sure he will be a powerhouse in a few more years.
From the road we turned off and stared to hit some groomed double track trails heading towards the canal. A few of the turns on the trails slowed the group down, but there weren’t any real bottlenecks to speak of so that was nice. The next section of the course was mostly groomed trails along the canal. This section of the course was new to me but I had heard other riders talking about it – I knew we were in for some muddy ATV trails soon and it had rained for the past 4 days. It was going to be sloppy!
I never really run knobby tires so I didn’t know how my set up would handle the mud. This was by far the slowest section of the race with a few rolling hills and trails abused by the ATVs that frequent the area. The trail was littered with deep ruts with anywhere from 6-12 inches of water in them. Navigating between the ruts was tricky with riders on all sides of you, and if you managed to squeeze on the narrow dry spot your rear wheel usually slid off into the rut. If you weren’t ready for this you were off and running with your bike until there was a section dry enough with a big enough gap between riders where you could get back on.
The next 10 km were pretty fast, most on groomed/semi-groomed trails or roads along the canal. Now the course started to get into some of the areas I had been on previously. After we had to dismount and run across a train bridge (we actually had to sign a waiver from the railroad company saying we would do this!) there were a few turns until we had to cross another small bridge. Coming down a hill and moving pretty quickly we needed to make a sharp left onto the bridge and up about an 8inch metal step, all while trying to avoid a large boulder in the middle of the trail to stop ATVs from crossing. I got my front tire up but didn’t pull up quick enough and my back wheel caught the step and tossed me sideways. Still clipped in I was now stuck between the narrow handrails of the bridge that we framed with chain-link fencing. Luckily there was no one right behind me and I had time to figure out how to unclip and get moving again…it was anything but graceful! Once up and moving again I tried to clip in my right foot, but it wouldn’t go. With all the mud I had been struggling with this before so I wasn’t surprised. Once I managed to get clipped back in I noticed I couldn’t straighten my foot. I guess my cleat had turned on my shoe and now I was stuck riding the last 25km with my right foot pointing at about a 30 degree angle inwards. I got used got used to it after a while, but it wasn’t very comfy that’s for sure.
The next half of the race was pretty uneventful. It was nice to be on familiar trails which helped me keep a good pace. My legs started to feel pretty fatigued at 35km or so and I didn’t have much power heading up the few small hills. I’d been drinking and had popped my two gels so I knew I was fuelled, I was simply getting tired. The good thing was the last 10-12km was pretty easy riding, some very well groomed trails along a creek, then up to some paved roads towards the finish.
I had been riding with one other rider for most of the last half of the race with very few other riders in sight. As we hit the paved sections I noticed a few guys catching. It didn’t really matter at this point, I had been told by a set of volunteers about half way I was running about 20-25th, so if I was 22nd or 25th I didn’t really care at this point. We rode together for the last few Kms and all finished together…except for one greedy bastard who had drafted us the last 5km then decided to pass with less than 500m to go. We all thought this was pretty cheap but didn’t fight it.
The finish took us off the paved roads down a short but steep mud hill into the beach in Port D. I guess there are some good wipe-outs there sometimes so I took care not to face-plant in front of the crowds at the finish. Overall I was pretty happy with my performance. Turns out I was 26th overall and 11/122 in my age group in a time of 2:03:02.9. Full results posted here. Pretty decent considering there were some pretty great riders in the field and I know I will be much stronger next year. A kid in the 12-15 age group actually finished 5th….craziness!!!