|Cyclingnews TV News Tech Features Road MTB BMX Cyclo-cross Track Photos Fitness Letters Search Forum|
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.
September 21, 2007
The Vaude Trans-Schwarzwald
August was going to be a big month for me. I had been riding most of the year with this stage race in mind. Unfortunately things did not go my way.
The Trans-Schwarzwald was an event I was looking forward to for a few reasons. It's a beautiful area. My roots are Schwabian, so it was a homecoming of sorts. I have friends and relatives in southern Germany that I was hoping to see. I hadn't had a proper Käsespätzle or Pflaumenkuchen for years. The event itself has a good format for me, shorter, faster stages and rolling climbs on the order of what we have here in Santa Cruz and woodsy singletrack. A number of racers I know from England were going to be there, and I was racing on a team with my friend Julie from Brixton.
How's that for a list?
I don't want to mislead you about the nature of this race. Shorter stages are not short stages, they are just shorter than some of the other MTB stage races. And the pace of a shorter race goes up, right? Higher pace = more pain, just for a shorter time. This was not going to be an easy event.
I'd been riding in the forests around Freiburg many years ago and I thought it was good. The climbs were steep but not that high and there was some very good singletrack (though it was not clear that all of it was open to bikes. I asked a friend and he said there was a rule about that - a trail was legal to ride when it was at least 2 meters wide. He then went on to say that his handlebars were about 2 meters wide. It's the same everywhere…).
I was riding on a team with my friend Julie Dinsdale and, as always, she was going well. She won the women's vets category at the TransScotland this year and was second in the 12 hour solo category at the Twentyfour12. She doesn't get to formally train on her mountain bike as much as she'd like to but she rides all over South London when she works. And she runs. In the middle of a message about how she hadn't been able to ride much and was concerned about her speed on a bike she told me she ran an informal half marathon in 1:33 while spending a weekend on the coast in Norfolk. To give you a feel for how fast that is, I just watched the women's marathon at the Track and Field World Championships in Osaka. They ran the first half of that event in a little under 1:20. Julie was fit.
The first stage went well for us. Despite my poor map reading skills (this is the last climb and then it's a quick descent to the finish… ummm, no, wait, there might be one more… well maybe there are two more… etc). We didn't give Sabine Spitz and Ralf Schäuble much to worry about - they slaughtered the Mixed field and almost everyone else too. But we were riding well and were looking forward to more.
Then I got a message at the finish - there was a family emergency. My grandmother had passed away and I was the one who had to take care of things. She was 94, and had lived a full life. She was in pretty good shape until recently, but that had changed in the last month or so. I had to leave the race and return to California immediately.
There was a positive result from the event was that my friends from England did very well. Ray Hallam and Jane Geddes got 4th in the mixed category and Paul Facer and Jim Dickson finished in 13th in a very fast Masters category. Julie carried on (out of the competition) and did well too. This is an event I will get back to. Since I wasn't there for most of it I'll let others tell about it. That's the best way I think of to make this as long as my usual entries (if only I was paid by the word!)…
First a brief introduction: Paul, Jim, Ray, Jane, and Julie and others who were not in attendance here call themselves the Sunday Riders. I met them in Canada at the TransRockies a few years back. We became friends and have raced in many of the same events over the years.
They will tell you that the Sunday Riders are casual cyclists who like to travel and ride their bikes. These "active cycling holidays" happen to be off road stage races like the TransAlp, TransRockies, Cape Epic, Ruta de los Conquistadores, etc. They will tell you that they are there to ride and finish, and the competition just adds some spice. That may have been true at one point. But they are a bit beyond that now, and their steadily improving results show that. A chat with any of them (especially Ray!) will give you the idea that they are not exactly passive in the way they go about competing either. They are very strong, skilled endurance racers, folks who didn't start as elite athletes but are getting as close as they can at an age when most people are happy to be stretched out on the couch. It is very fun to race with them, and against them!
Here's Ray's synopsis of the event in the Black Forest:
Sundayriders fourth place in the mixed category, Skidmarks thirteenth in the masters category!
Julie finished the race alone, as KB had to return home at short notice. She would have finished around 6th or 7th, if her times were counted.
A very enjoyable race.
After competing in most of the other 'biggest, longest, highest, bestest, baddest' multiday events, at first I thought I was going to be a little under whelmed by this race i.e.: the late starts (10 am), the short stages, no mountains to speak of, the fire roads and fir trees etc. I struggled during the race to understand why I was enjoying it, then I realised I was racing! In all of the other stage races, I've really only been riding to finish every stage, trying to avoid the cut-off.
Here, I was eating well, sleeping well, recovering and getting up to race the next day. I was enjoying the intensity of the competition against other riders. Up there with the 'biggest baddest...etc for me was the raciest multiday race. :-))
I enter races like this to enjoy a holiday riding in an area I've never visited before. I don't describe myself as a competitive person but somehow I get into these races and it all just comes flowing out. This was a race described on the predominantly German website as 'up and down across the Black Forest' I thought it was just some pretty poor translation, I was so wrong.
The race wasn't going to be the toughest in terms of terrain and distance per day I've ever done but it was certainly challenging. The riding, mostly forest tracks and gravel roads, wouldn't be attractive to those looking for technical roots and rocks (though there's a little bit of that) but the undulations and the fact that you couldn't ever relax and freewheel, even on descents, made this a cross country race once a day for seven days.
This is a team event but the fact that KB had to leave after Day 1 didn't faze me. I've ridden many races solo so I just carried on. It was never an issue although on some of the long road and flat sections it's always good to have someone to pull you along and give you a break. There was quite a bit of that I missed out on, particularly on the longer race days. This and the seemingly endless rutted farmers fields take their mental toll, they're made more interesting by trying to avoid the scuttling harvest mice that dash in front of the wheels, I only saw one squashed one - it wasn't me!
The fact that you're constantly trying to catch the person in front, the team who disappear on the descents and reappear miraculously when there's a climb, detracts from the beautiful scenery and vistas you can see if you look up. Sometimes these are forced upon you when you break out of the forest into a clearing. It's a beautiful place, huge blue lakes and lush green grass with the typical Schwarzwald cobbled street towns and church spires, red squirrels abound and those cow bells, a wonderful sound.
The race was very well organised, sign posted with the utmost precision, as are all of the hiking in biking trails in this area, and the towns and villages we finished and started the days in couldn't have been more accommodating to all of us riders. You meet no opposition to fast riding on the trails, the hikers are generally happy to let you pass and give you great encouragement. I'd recommend this race to anyone, next year it's open to solo riders too.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Keith Bontrager
Images by Rachel Geddes