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Test to destruction: The Keith Bontrager diary 2005

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, starting with one of the sport's greatest tests, the seven-day TransRockies Challenge.

Index to all entries

August 7, 2005

A very different prologue

Hi from the Canadian wilderness and the TransRockies Challenge.

For those who do not know what this event is, it's a seven day long MTB stage race held in BC and Alberta. There is lots of climbing, some very juicy singletrack, bears, and occasionally sleet and snow. The complete, official and very accurate description is on and I'll leave it to them to fill in the rest of the gory details.

The novelty of this event and events like it is that it is open to pros and amateurs. If you have ever wondered what it feels like to race hard, day after day in some very beautiful and often severe terrain, this is the way to do it. Then, if you are successful, or insane, you can do it again and again, in Europe (Transalp), South Africa (Cape Epic) or a shorter but no less severe version in Costa Rica (La Ruta de los Conquistadors).

As you probably guessed, the reports will be written from the perspective of an amateur. I'll be the first to warn you that this is not going to be as dramatic as the diaries that the pros submit to Cyclingnews. I'll also warn you that I have never tried to do this sort of thing after very long stages in the heat. It is not certain that I am going to be very well connected with anything resembling wit, or intellect, the English language, or my fingers for that matter, so this may get even more spotty than normal as the week progresses.

The first day is done. It was a prologue of sorts - 50 km, all but a few KM singletrack, and 1500 meters or so vertical to make things interesting. It was a treat really. These races often do not have this much singletrack in the week, let alone in a day. That is one of the distinguishing features of this event, and one I think is very cool. The course wasn't supposed to be very technical, and, by BC standards, I suppose it was fairly tame. Keep in mind that BC standards are on the edgy side for riders who don't live here, so there was some fun stuff out there, and plenty of abraded skin in the finishing area.

The Open Men's category went to Team Rocky Mountain, last year's winners. They finished in 2 hours and 20 minutes or so with a team from Race Face a few minutes behind them. The rest of the results are going to be online soon on the organizer's website, and I will leave that to them too.

Steve Worland [British MTB journalist - Ed] and I are riding in the newly created category for the elderly (the combined ages of both riders adds up to over 100) and we finished 2nd in that category in 3 hours and 20 minutes or so, 7 minutes down on some speedy Australian gents.

There are still riders finishing as I write this.

That gives you an idea of the way these races go. The guys racing at the front will stay fairly close, go very fast, use lots of tactics that you (as racing fans) would admire, and generally haul ass all week long. Behind them things get pretty spread out. MTB races are often like time trials, with little drafting, no peloton, nothing to keep things together like a road race. Big things can happen along the way too, since crashes are more likely riding in this sort of terrain, and since amateur physiology is not quite as finely tuned as pros. That makes it likely that there will be big time gaps.

Tomorrow's stage is less technical, but long and exposed to the sun most of the way. The elevation profile is something like this:

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The distance from the start to the peak is about 100 km, mostly on fire roads.

My guess is that it will be a fast middle ring climb, but not fast enough to make drafting too beneficial. Should be entertaining from a fitness, fuel and hydration POV. We carry a lot of food and water on these - there are no domestiques and no bottles handed up along the way. There is food and water supplied at stations along the way every 20 to 30 km, and in heat, and a fast pace, that can make the load you need to get between them pretty big. Take as little as you need to lighten the load, but you will really regret taking too little.

I am going to leave it at that, go get horizontal to recover a bit and we'll see how tomorrow goes.