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Test to destruction: The Keith Bontrager diary 2006

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

TransRockies Challenge, Fernie, BC, August 9, 2006

Solving the sports physiology puzzle

Absolutely shattered
Photo ©: Chris Garrison
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I dig Canada. The people, the trails, the beer, the candy smoked salmon, the organic potatoes, it's all good. I like it so much that I don't even mind getting a ridiculously expensive speeding ticket in a set-up-for-cash kind of speed trap. I've made a donation to a small town on the way to Moab in the same way. I'm willing to take on my fair share in the financial area, eh?.

Anyway, having arrived in Fernie Can$187 lighter, I went for a ride in order to shake the driving and flying miles out of my legs. I remembered the course we did on the first stage last year, so I went out on that a few times. Not all of it, but enough to get back into BC singletrack. Four rides in all, between two and four hours long, a little at race pace but not too much.

Which brings me to an important point - when you are in Fernie, and you should get here someday, and if you are on an XC bike, or something like that, ride the Roots trail and the rest pf the trails up behind town. There are some stretches of rooty singletrack in those woods that rival anything I have ever ridden, maybe top it. Try it. You'll see. The locals have it so nice. This is stuff they can get to in a 15 minute warm up spin.

The dinner ladies
Photo ©: Keith Bontrager
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The event log for today shows I crashed (but managed to land on the side that wasn't involved in the Portuguese gate crashing incident so the new damage will balance me out a little better), I saw a dead bear on the railroad tracks. (as you might guess, t'was a bad day for that bear. Those were mighty big paws and claws on that dude though - must respect Yogi in his hood) and I gathered the few huckleberries (the few that were left after Yogi and his friends had their share, and they like huckleberries, and do not understand sharing a bit, so it was just a taste for me).

The tires worked well (Super X 2.2s pumped to 28 psi), the new bike descends like a slot car, the new XTR transmission shifts like it's wired to my brain, my eyes seem to work, the bridges were all just wide enough to ride over while cross eyed, and the trees were just far enough apart to avoid. It's going to be a good one.

Stage 1

Lou and Eric
Photo ©: Keith Bontrager
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The race started fast, and we were in the front group when we got to the singletrack, which is where I was hoping we would be. If you get to the singletrack towards the front it often means that you move a little faster after that. The trails are technical and you don't want to get behind riders who are getting off their bikes if you can ride it, so it is worth the effort.

The first 40 km was fast and everything was going well. Then I cramped. I was a little behind on water, but that is not uncommon on a course with this much technical singletrack. It's tough to drink. I was pre-hydrated completely and not that far behind. I'd not taken salt and mineral supplements and I think that might have been the cause.

I worked through it, but it cost me speed for the last 20 km. I've cramped often, and have worked out the steps that work for me. I do them in stages. I took some salt and mineral supplements, started drinking some concentrated electrolyte drink, and followed it with water.

Neutral repair area
Photo ©: Keith Bontrager
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That helped to some extent, but the course was demanding and there were no easy sections to just roll along, so I had to back off pedalling in order to avoid setting off big spasms. It's been my experience that I can recover if I don't crush my legs, and recovering for the next day is crucial.

There are some fast old guys here. We got fourth in the end, which was okay. No team in our category passed us when I slowed down, so it cost us time in the GC but not a place in the day's ranking. The gap between us and the teams that finished in front of us was much larger than it might have been, but they might have had to deal with cramps too, who knows? Risking tearing my legs up to close the gap down a little could cost me tomorrow so it wouldn't be smart. Riding conservatively would be best in the long run. The day starts with a big climb tomorrow, and that will be a good test of my recovery theories. These things often end up as a sports physiology puzzle.

KB's Pre-Race Microwave Potatoes

Here's something I worked out in the motel for race food.

The wizard
Photo ©: Keith Bontrager
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(Prime long distance trail food in a constrained cooking environment and on a budget. My apologies to those of you who do not use microwaves - you know who you are…).

Get a bunch of medium sized organic potatoes, preferably grown locally. Budget 3 per day for long stages, maybe more if you aren't using gels.

Wash them, and cut them in half lengthwise. Then cut the halves into 1 cm thick semi circles.

Thrift a microwave-proof plastic bowl that is large enough to hold three cut up potatoes. Should cost 50 cents tops.

Put 1 cm of water into the plastic bowl, add three cut up potato pieces, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle a little salt on them.

Nuke them on high for seven minutes, stir them up in the broth that is forming in the bottom of the tub, and finish them off for another 8 minutes.

The other team hotels.
Photo ©: Keith Bontrager
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(Microwave power levels and cooking efficiency are mythical quantities, so your mileage may vary. Test them at five and five on the first batch, and then add time as required. You want them to be cooked through, no crunch!)

Allow them to cool thoroughly, adjust the salt, and bag them up for racing. Put a little of the broth into each bag. Use good Ziploc bags and make sure you can open them one handed. Three potatoes will require two or three baggies.

Make all you need before the race and put them in the cooler so they are ready. They're not great right out of the cooler, but they'll lose the chill by the time you get to them on the course.

Transrockies results are here.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Keith Bontrager and friends

Images by Chris Garrison

Images by Daniel Barham/Daniel