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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 9, 2005

Riding the sawtooth

After two days of racing it's getting hard.

It rained off and on all night in Elkford, but all that water cooled everything off and just kept the dust down on the fire road charge out of Elkford. That was good, since we didn't turn off that fire road for 70 km.

The elevation profile describes the stage as a 100 km climb followed by a 30 km descent, with a few kilometers of climbing at the end of the day to make absolutely certain that there was nothing left in your legs. That description turned out to be a little too simple. The initial 70 km did climb 600 meters or so, start to finish, but an accurate elevation profile would have looked like a hacksaw blade tilted slightly up (a sine wave would be a better description, but we'll leave science out of this). It went up and down constantly along the way. I have no idea how much of it was pointed up, but with all of the short fast descents it was a bit more than 600m.

Riding fast on gravelly, rocky, sandy fireroads is much more complicated than riding pavement. There are subtle differences in the firmness of the surface; hard dirt is faster than sand or gravel. Some lines are smoother than others. It's like choosing lines through the snow on a snowboard; you are always looking for the snow with the right texture and shape to do what you want. Reading the dirt on these 30 foot wide fireroads makes a big difference in how fast you can roll, or what you can climb easily out of the saddle. This sort of diversion gives you something to do while you suffer like a dog too. It was a simple power contest.

Then things got fun. The course turned into a park on some Nordic ski trails. The climbs were steep as hell. The skiers who can churn up these deserve respect. At the top it turned down in one of the fastest descents you will find in an XC race. The ski trail went straight down the fall line for what seemed like a couple of miles. The scenery blurred...

No one stepped off in that area as far as I know. That is a good thing too.

That was followed by the best singletrack on the course so far, swoopy, fast slot car track through dense trees.

The road climb out of that wasn't too bad, and we hit 70 kph on the descent back down. The weather managed to play a part at the end though. We dropped 1500 meters or so in 30 km, so the descent wasn't steep for long, and then the road started rolling up and down, with a little more down than up (invert the hacksaw profile we started on). That wasn't too bad until we turned into the ass kicking strong head wind for the last 10 km or so. I don't remember all of the details at this point. It was hard.

For us this was a tough day. Recovery is always an issue (especially for an elderly team). We didn't have the legs we had the first two days. This is the part of the experience that gives you the most respect for pros who can go hard every day, day after day, year after year. They do not have easy jobs. We gutted out the climbs and ripped the descents, and managed to end up on the bottom step of the podium in spite of it all. That's one step down from where we've been, but we'll take it happily. The guys in front of us are riding well, and we'll have to be pateint and see what happens with the singletrack that's coming (150 kms of it over the next 3 days!)

We're camping in a remote spot this eve. There is not much here but amazing scenery and bears. So far the bears have been scarce though. I think we smell too weird for their taste.

It's supposed to rain tonight and tomorrow. I've got the new mud tires ready to go. Alberta clay takes no prisoners - I learned a hard lesson 3 years ago here. I think we are ready.

More tomorrow if I can.