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Test to destruction: The Keith Bontrager diary 2007

Keith Bontrager is best known as the bike and component design guru behind his eponymous road and mountain bike components, but behind the scenes, the man universally known as KB is an enthusiastic and well-respected endurance mountain bike racer.

KB has taken part in a over 50 24-hour races in the last few years, and in his diary takes us inside the mental, physical, and technical challenges of long-distance mountain bike racing while juggling the demands of an active interest in the successful international business he began all those years ago.

Index to all entries

May 28, 2007

Off to a bonny, muddy start

Keith Bontrager
Photo ©: TransScotland
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The season is going and I have been a slacker. But there is no time to catch up now since I just finished the first stage of the TransScotland MTB race.

It's similar to the other Trans this-and-that stage races. There are long stages with lots of climbing. There are racers from all over the world here - Korea, South Africa. Belgium, Holland, Italy, the US, and some others . Some of these folks are fast, some are here for the adventure and challenge, to finish.

But there are a few Scot novelties. No, there are no kilts required. Single malt whisky might play a part, but hasn't yet. Haggis will definitely be part of it as soon as possible for me anyway. Savory trail food…

The most important difference is that the long daily stages do not contribute to the race results, unless you are too slow. These daily stages are called connecting stages, are from 45 km to 100 km long, have lots of vert (climbing), a lot of singletrack, and connect the start and finish towns. Each of these has a maximum time limit, you just have to finish within the time limit or you are penalized with some time added onto your total. But riders on the course are not scored otherwise. No one wins the stage officially, some lose time.

There is a race going on though. When you have arrived wherever you end up each day, you sometimes have a "special test". These are time trials on MTB courses or closed trails in the area; one is at night. You are timed on these, and that is how the race is scored.

Why? Good question. It has to do with the laws in Scotland. Access to trails is open and easy. But that is balanced with a requirement that the land must be used reasonably. Racing on trails with public access is not considered reasonable use, which is reasonable. Charging down a forest path with a family ambling up in the other direction is not a good thing. (There are different laws in England that end up with about the same result for MTB marathons here, but the basis is completely different, as I was just told by a kind lad here - almost blew it).

Follow the cairn.
Photo ©: TransScotland
(Click for larger image)

You can easily imagine the best strategy - ride as easy as you can between special tests.

Stage 1 was 80 km long with 2,000 m elevation change - a warm up, an easy day because the first special test is tomorrow, after Stage 2. Stay out of the legs, stay fueled and hydrated, and enjoy the countryside.

But these things often do not go according to plan. It rained. Not too surprising given that this is Scotland. But 80km on dry trails is different than 80km in the rain. The mud slowed things down in spots and made it much harder work to stay on the plan to make it in before the time limit. This is more complicated because I don't know the course (the plan was dodgy at best). What could I do? I sped up until it was clear that I would make it in time.

And I did in the end. I was even able to sit up on the last climb to avoid cooking myself and enjoy the views. That climb had a reward - a most amazing descent. Imagine a groomed black diamond ski hill, many hundred feet of vert, covered in well-mown grass, smooth and untracked. It was a trip. To roll down I had my sternum firmly planted on my saddle almost all the way, and that worked well.

I had one stupid crash with a few lumps from that, but nothing serious. Nothing broke on my bike and it is working good. The sun even came out at the finish too. Not a bad start.

More tomorrow.
Keith Bontrager