Stage 6: No wonder Neilson Trail in Valle Bras-du-Nord is considered one of the top 10 MTB trails in the world.

S6 sam
Sam getting ready to rock the Shannahan

To get to Quebec Singletrack Experience stage today, we abandon the lux coaches for a school bus that would be capable of getting up the Shannahan.  It instantly set a playful mode to the day.  Nicola was singing, “the wheels on the bus go round and round” and we were giggling at being launched off our seats over the big bumps.  The omen was right!

S6 E rocks
It was hard to keep my eyes on the trail it was so picturesque.

We quickly spread out on fast, but technical singletrack that was perfectly tacky after a little rain last night.  Bridges between boulders with a drop exit, rock slabs to traverse that were tilted 30 degrees, boulder skinnies to cross creeks, and even a waterfall crossing were on the menu.  The Nelson is a jungle gym for mountain bikes.

S6 Nicola
Nicola navigating a creek crossing.

I was feeling strong this morning and was savoring navigating the obstacles.  A technical stage is always a good one for me to pick up time and claw my way back from a 5-minute deficit on Laurance.  Flying down another bridge, I did not realize until it was too late that it made a sharp turn around a boulder instead of going strait.  I leaned my bike and resisted the brakes, but my speed and the wet planks put physics out of my favor.  Fortunately my bike took the brunt of the impact and I was only scraped and bruised.  However, this put me in stage racing adversity management again.  My rear brake lever did not survive being pounded by a rock at high speed.  The rear brake is more to finesse maneuvers and slowing, but it is your front brake that has a majority of the power.  If in a tough spot, I had a tiny nub of a lever left I could just access, so I continued albeit a little more conservatively with really only my front brake to use.  The trails were so fun, it would take a much more massive mechanical to make me call it a day.

S6 Annik
Annik confidently climbing

Then, the big summit of the day approached.  115 switchbacks in 4K to reach the top.  Honestly, I lost count before I got to the 8th switchback, but I do believe there were 115 of them! A big reward was on the other side, a perfectly developed descent full of berms, bridges, drops, and even a giant down tree to roll down the length of.  Up next, 12K of flowy single track with no major climbs or descents to the finish line.  But, wait.  What is that? Is my saddle wiggling? I thought all the giggling may have loosened the bolts on my saddle, but it was worse.  I must have smacked it hard in my fall too.  Again, I was so glad my bike took the impact, not me! I rode on, but soon my saddle simply fell off. 

S6 creek rocks
Brilliantly built trails on the Neilson.

Lucky for me the trail was built taking advantage of all the dips and mounds to make it ride a bit like a pump track.  The SQuad riders caught up to me while I was standing to pedal, and I was so grateful for their encouragement.  I turned it into a game, trying to gain as much speed as possible working the features, never touching my brakes (I did twice), and picking the perfect gear when I had to pedal.  When I got to the finish line one of the SQuad riders told me he lowered his saddle and tried to ride the trail standing up but got too tired to do it for long.  That made me proud!

S6 beautyMechanicals happen. So do crashes.  No one is immune to this.  What makes us “stage racers” is that we accept the challenges that are thrown at us and find the way to use it to our advantage.  Today I learned more about my strength as a rider; confidence in my ability to ride demanding terrain and the ability to dance with my bike to manage momentum.  Some of my weaknesses were illuminated too; when I am fatigued from 5 days of racing I do not look down the trail as dutifully as I normally do and get lazy with my core causing me to put too much weight on my handlebars.  I also savored the best part of stage racing; embracing an adventure with friends and loving every minute of it!

S6 E road
How can you not smile here?

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