Sandwiched between two big days of the Quebec Singletrack Experience was Stage 4 at Lac Delage. Have you heard of it? Yes, then you must be a fat biker. The trails here are reputed to be the best fat bike trails in North America! I’ll tell you that they are the real deal mountain bike trails too. Our fearless race director, Francois, told us today would be an easy day, one where we could restore some energy. The stage was the shortest so far in time and distance, but I was on my A game for 19 kilometers of single track.
Being from the Northwestern United States, I often ride trails that are steep, muddy, rooted, moss covered, slick rocked, tight or twisty; but all together, this is something new. I am enjoying playing on this type of terrain. A sense of humor when my bike slides sideways down a trail, believing in my skills to just let go of the brakes and allow my Pivot Mach429 to do the work, and embracing the fact that my skills apply here too is making me excited every day to ride again. Today the new challenge was rain. It was not a downpour, but the already mucky trails swelled with the added water. Giant puddles of unknown depth, trails that more resembled a creek bed than single track, and slime mud that had me aiming for the off-camber roots for traction was a whole new challenge. Challenge accepted.
I started off the day charging in the front and quickly dialed it back. In a tight bunch, I was unable to look down the trail and if I slowed the rider behind me would run into my rear tire making me stiff and not riding my best. It was a great call, because as soon as I could go my pace and see several feet ahead of me I started to figure out how to pilot my bike. Before I knew it, I could discern mud with grip from mud that was like sheet ice and would even use the sheet ice to whip around a boulder or switchback. Roots became allies to match my wheels and preferred lines. Boulders became launchpads. Suddenly the unpredictability was predictable, and the fun was exponential. Don’t worry, my legs are tired, and I was always thrilled to be at the top of a climb!
Aside from a mountain bike skills lesson from Mother Nature, my stage was uneventful. And that is always a good thing in stage racing. Two of the SQuad riders followed me for the second half of the course, I’m not sure if they followed me because they were worried I would have problems or simply because they enjoyed chit chatting while I was gasping for breath cleaning an uphill obstacle, but it was nice to have company. I believe my stoke to play on trails that are challenging for me was the key to my crossing the line today as the first woman!
Today’s stage of the Quebec Singletrack Experience took us to Mont Sainte Anne, home of the World Cup since the early 90’s (and getting ready for it again this coming weekend). Fortunately, we took the télécabine (I’m being helped with my French; this is a gondola) to the top and took in the 360 views. But don’t be fooled into thinking this was a downhill stage! Even though we dropped 1,950 ft. in elevation from start to finish, we still climbed 2,850 ft. The course took us on a tour of a huge array of amazing trails from a DH off the top (we rode the “chicken” lines), what the locals call “old school trails” which are narrow and unmanicured, flow trails with drops and banked turns, a spin along the river bank, and up some of the XC course. This sampling of terrain and trails makes me want to spend a week exploring.
My race today encompassed yet another thing that I love about stage racing. Ranking over the stages is a combination of fitness, bike handling skills, ability to manage set-backs, and bonne chance. This is one reason I’ve been relatively quiet about the fact that I hold the overall women’s lead, things can decisively change in a moment. Today was a stage race.
After a start loop around the mountain top, we dove onto a DH trail. Up first was a nice rock drop and I launched it for the camera. As I pressed my bike into the air, my pedal went flying ahead of me. I was able to land it (with Matt the camera man already running to save me), pull over, find my pedal, hand tighten it back on, then get back to the fun. I then carefully passed riders on the DH to resume my place with those who hoped to stay with for the ride. At the bottom of the DH I was almost back up, then my pedal flew out again. I must not have tightened it well enough. I could not find it. Sam stopped to help me look for it in the bushes, then three SQuad (trail support riders) joined the Easter egg hunt. As time was ticking away it was looking like I would need to borrow a pedal and cleat from a generous SQuad rider, I bent down to take my shoe off and my pedal was still attached to my cleat. I was mortified. Crazy race brain did not think of the most likely thing. With my pedal tool tightened back on my crank, Sam and I worked together to make up some of the lost time.
I settled down several kilometers down the trail and realized that I was going too hard for day 3 of 7. The time was lost, and I would loose even more if I cooked myself. But like magic, the course put us on those old school trails and my bike handling skills moved me ahead of rider after rider. Bad things happen in threes they say. After exiting these trails and turning onto a gravel road, I had a safe place to take in some food. Happily pedaling and munching along, I started to think it had been a while since I saw a trail marker. The course is excellently marked, and they put a confidence flag at least every kilometer, so I decided to pedal on for one kilometer then turn around if I didn’t see another flag. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go that far before Lynn and a few other riders were pedaling toward me having missed the trail too. Back on track. The rest of the course was a blissful blur of spectacular trails, riding with other racers, and making it to the finish line with Laurance.
Yes, today was the full package experience of stage racing. I was able to hold onto my GC lead; BONNE CHANCE!
Stage 2 of Quebec Singletrack must have known my legs would need a little boost, so we started off with a switchback climb to a chapel. I’m pretty sure every rider asked the Patron Saint of Cyclists for good legs as they rode by. I sure did!
After some position jockeying early on, I settled into my race and connected with Surge, who was right on my wheel. Surge and I chatted on while we climbed each peak which kept us in a reasonable effort. Surge has ridden the trails here at the ski town Saint-Raymond and was giving me updates on the lines coming up and if we were really at the top of yet another climb. I felt like I had a bike tour guide today, and this is one of the things I love so much about stage racing; you get to meet up with riders and work together to make the day a success!
The course today was up and down and up again through dense forests and root mazes, but these trails were polished. Burmed corners, little jumps/ gaps/ table tops, plank bridges, and optional B lines. I’m pretty sure my hooting and hollering kept the wildlife at bay (except tigers, giraffes, penguins, and other stuffed animals lining one section of trail). Surge was a gentleman and insisted I pull into the finish line ahead of him, then we both celebrated a solid ride that restored our energy to tackle Mont Sainte-Anne tomorrow! I feel my moment of worship today paid off.
Many of us have heard of the Canadian Mounties and as it turns out those “mounties” are mountain bikes, and at Valcartier the cadets have built a trail network that only the guard get to play on… except today! The trails were opened for the Quebec Single Track Experience riders. Pristine condition (seldom ridden) twisty, root-crossed, bolder-strewn paths was the name of the game. I really could not have smiled more! Unfortunately, you won’t get to see it as photos are not allowed not allowed on Military bases. Maybe you could enlist?
The first day of a stage race is tough. Not like a hard day necessarily, but everyone is fresh, excited and forget they will be racing tomorrow, and the day after that, and after that too. Stage one is often decisive, but in that riders who pushed themselves too hard will move backwards in the standing. I’m speaking from experience here and hope I’ve learned my lesson. After a fast start I settled into my pace and got to put to good use the technical skills I honed at MTB Nationals two weeks ago in Snowshoe, WV. The course had an elevation profile that spanned 433 ft but in that slice of humid air I climbed 1,800 ft: death by thousands of short, punchy climbs! I’m not sure my KS dropper post has ever been used so much on a ride! I rode my race, which at times was a little too hard for prudence, but maximized my recovery where I could. My fingers are crossed that my effort was smart. I pedaled into the lakeside finish as the first woman finisher and promptly plopped into the lake.
After the stage the riders, volunteers, and crew spent the afternoon at the lake swimming, eating pulled pork sandwiches, chasing them down with Boreale IPA’s, and swapping stories from the day’s adventure. Even if my legs have a little less zip to them tomorrow (which I doubt), rumor has it that tomorrow’s stage is even more playful than today’s.
MTB stage racing takes riders back to the roots of the sport. Expect big loops on the best trails in the area and be ready for an epic day on the bike! Self-support skills are mandatory: ability to fix a mechanical on the trail, route finding (courses are flagged, but they often get removed by “wildlife”), inclement weather preparedness, planning hydration/ nutrition strategy for the day, and of course a mindset to embrace the unexpected. Quebec Single Track Experience, like most stage races, will have aid stations along the course. However, racers should not depend on these because mechanicals typically happen at the furthest point from civilization, the cookies may have been stolen by Yogi the Bear, and Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor.
Here is what I’ll carry with me each day of QSE
Osprey Pack My ride pack must be comfortable, adjustable, and big enough to hold all the stuff I need to be self-sufficient for the day
Flat repair kit
Hand Pump. For whatever reason, when I am stage racing, a flat is followed by another. The ease of a CO2 cartridge is out ruled by repeat and reliable use of a hand pump.
Tube. Make sure it’s the right size, but in a pinch a smaller diameter tube will work – but a larger diameter will not.
Hyperthreads duo jacket. With removable sleeves, water resistance, and windout fabric this garment can tackle the weather.
Arms and knees. These are easy to use for warmth, are easily stashed in my pack, and if I forget to put sunscreen on one of my arms (I’ve done this); a hot arm is better than a sunburnt arm.
Fleece Beanie. If you get really cold, keeping your head warm will have the largest return on investment.
Hot Hands. These small single-use heating pads can be put in gloves or socks to keep them warm if I get soaked, cold, and have a big descent in front of me. Numb hands make braking and shifting nearly impossible.
I plan to carry .5 – 1L of water per hour of riding.
I use one scoop of GQ-6 Green Apple Base per hour of riding in my hydration pack. This provides electrolytes and some of the calories I will need.
I carry a water bottle with plain water to wash down gels
King-sized PayDay bar. If my stomach turns or my stoke needs a little fire, this saves the day!
I carry enough nutrition and water for an hour longer than I expect the stage to take me, just in case. Bonking makes a hard day more difficult.
Bumps, bruises, and scrapes are just part of the game. Stage races have excellent volunteers on courses who will help with a serious medical issue, but sometimes there is the in-between injury. Here is my mini first-aid kit:
Big Band-Aid (2)
Steri-strips (8) for a laceration that may need stitches
Ibuprofen (4) to dull a cramping low back
Benadryl (4) to slow the swelling of a bee sting or itching of poison oak (Epi-Pen if you are allergic!)
I’m drooling looking at the footage of the Quebec Single Track Experience (QSE) stages. Finding lines on the root-crossed dense forest trails of Valcartier will be a challenge. Flowing down the bermed descent of St. Raymond will be a deserved reward after the climb. Riding the terrain of Mont Ste-Anne will give me inside tips to share with my teammates who will race the World Cup there the following week. Playing on moss covered rocks and fern lined trails around Lac Delage will keep me on my toes. Testing my bike handling skills around Lac Beauport is something I am drooling to do. The waterfalls and creeks on Shannahan sector trail may entice me to a mini-stop to take in the beauty. Getting rowdy on the purpose-built trails at Sentiers Du Moulin will be the explanation point at the end of seven days. I can’t wait!
But… each of these stages are a big day. Doing back-to-back big days on the bike calls for some specific preparation to ensure I enjoy each day. I also want to have the energy after each day’s stage ride to partake in post-race shenanigans and explore Quebec City. How do I tweak my training for a stage race? Research! I watched each day’s stage videos to get a feel for the rides, checked out rider results from previous years, and got familiar with the climate and environment of Quebec from the tourism office. Next, I consulted my Carmichael Training Systems coach, Mike Durner, to come up with a plan. Here is what Coach Durner had to say:
“In designing a training plan for a mountain bike stage race, I look at the following aspects: total volume of the race (number of days and length of the stages), then I look at the intensity of each day. Additionally, if there is a significant change in the altitude or weather from an athlete’s home to the race location, this will influence the training. For Emma, QSE’s stage lengths and total volume are not the challenge. For her, the bigger challenge comes from seven consecutive days on the bike and the shorter, steeper climbs of the East.”
Here is what I’m doing to prepare for QSE. These tips can help you dial-in your training for QSE (or another stage race).
QSE, the Race
7 days of riding, covering an average of 20 miles a day
Riders of a similar ability to my own had daily stage times range from 1.5 to 3.5 hours, with an average of 2.25 hours.
“Since Emma is already super consistent with her training and we didn’t want to impinge upon her prep for XC Nationals, I used a training camp approach to improve her readiness for QSE. This can be done with a whole week if your job is flexible or a 3 or 4-day weekend if your job isn’t as flexible. Simply bump up the volume or intensity well beyond your normal levels for 3 – 5 days, take 2 – 4 days of recovery, then return to your normal training volume.” – Coach Durner
Riding both weekend days is easy to fit in for most riders. Add in a short after-work ride on Friday and a pre-work “dawn-patrol” ride on Monday. This will get your body familiar with riding a little fatigued and stimulate your body to speed up recovery.
Add in a long day of riding every week. This is a great opportunity to tick off some of those “epic” rides with your riding buddies or link together some of your favorite rides. From your current average ride time, not distance, add thirty minutes each week planning to make your longest ride two weeks before the stage race. Ideally this ride will be thirty or sixty minutes longer than the longest single day ride time you anticipate durring the race. Why train by time, not distance? If your home terrain is on rolling foothills, you may easily knock out twelve miles in an hour. But it you live high in the Rocky Mountains, ticking off seven miles in an hour may be a feat. The important part is riding at a comfortable pace that you can expect to ride for the duration of the day.
You will be racing blind. Not with an actual blindfold attached to your helmet but racing on trails you have not ridden before. You will ride a titch slower than usual to account for “unexpected” terrain changes and obstacles. Practicing blind racing is a fun task. Plan a few weekend bike trips to new areas and explore the seldom ridden trails in your backyard. Being mentally focused for the entire ride can be taxing too. I recommend a sports meditation practice to hone your skills at keeping focused on the trail, not what’s for dinner.
The Terrain of QSE
Lots of short (one to three mile), but steep climbs with an average of 233 ft./mile gain.
Average daily elevation gain of 3300 ft. ranging from Sea Level to 5000 ft.
Dense, twisty, forested trails with root mazes, boulder obstacles and rock gardens.
Bike park features including bridges (both strait and turning), optional gaps and table tops, and bermed flow sections.
Stage races showcase the best and most diverse trails in the region. This terrain may be quite different from your home turf. If possible, take a weekend trip to areas with terrain more simmilar to the stage race. QSE features rides in lush, mossy forests and purpose-built trails with wood ramps, bridges and skinnies. I will take a few trips to the Pacific side of the Cascades where the trails feature fern overgrown trails with damp roots to navigate and spend a few afternoons at Mt. Bachelor bike park to get comfortable with man-made trail features. If you live in the mountains, but the stage race is on more rolling terrain, make sure you ride rolling terrain to get used to pedaling all-the-time. Or vice-versa, flatlanders need to practice some steep sustained climbs. Often, gravel roads in your area can provide these challenges.
“For Emma, we added intensity to her normal training volume that combined a time and intensity she hadn’t spent much time at previously to prepare her for the short, steep climbs.” – Coach Durner
Work on bike handling skills you know you will need for the race. I am going to want to find some rooted trails to tighten up my root traversing game and collect some big sticks to set up a mock root maze to practice. I will ride tight tree trails and set up a cone course to practice my wiggly riding technique. There are several optional gap jumps at QSE. I tend to stiffen up when I ride these the first time if I don’t have a good wheel to follow. Coach Durner and I discussed the skills I would need based upon the course descriptions and he provided some feedback of videos I sent him, so I can ride them with style and confidence at the race. Signing up for a MTB clinic or a private skills session with a coach to progress skills specific for the race is a really good idea.
The Climateof Quebec in August
Average daily high temperatures in the 70’s
Generally cloudy, 40% chance of rain, and less than 1” rain expected in 7 days.
Humidity is “comfortable” (below 50%)
The climate in Quebec is quite similar to my home town of Bend, OR and the elevation is around sea level so I will not need to do any specific training for these factors. If your stage race will be in climates significantly more hot, humid, or arid you will want to expose yourself regularly to these conditions to adapt. Ride in the hottest part of the day on exposed terrain a few times a week, increasing the duration of the ride time in the heat gradually. Click here to read my article about adaption to heat. Spend several days a week in a steam room or dry sauna slowly increasing the time to no more than 20 min to acclimate to humidity or arid conditions. Success for each of these includes hydration, so don’t skimp on your hydration and electrolyte intake. The KS-Kenda Women swear by GQ-6 for our hydration needs.
If your stage race will be at an altitude 3000 ft. above your home elevation, you will feel the effects of it. These include being out of breath, burning legs, fatigue, and poor sleep to name a few. It takes three weeks at altitude to physiologically adapt. This is impractical for most of us, but fortunately there are tricks to lessen the impact. You may have heard of altitude tents, beet juice and “sleep high, train low”? Well, there is quite a lot to this topic, so click here to read my article on training to race at altitude if this is a factor for you need to prepare for.
It’s off to the trails for some smart training for the next eight weeks for me. Wait! What bike set-up do I need? I’ll get back to you on that next week!
Pedals are critical for powering your bike and easy to forget about as long as they are working correctly. For the 2018 race season, the KS-Kenda Women have opted to use the HT Components M1 for our XC race pedal. There are many reasons why we are excited to run these pedals. For one, the M1 weighs in at 298 grams per pair while the Shimano XTR pedals weighs in around 305 grams. Another perk we like is that they are available for a very reasonable price tag of $129.00 MSRP. Also, for those who like to customize their bikes they come in 11 different colors! Overall, the M1 is the all-around favorite for us.
The highlight of this tiny and mighty pedal is its adjustability. HT Components use a proprietary cleat set up, which is very similar to the entry and exit of Shimano pedals. The M1 comes in the box with two different cleat float options, X1 and X1-F. The X1 cleat is a 4-degree set-up while the X1-F is the 8-degree (more float) option. Pedal float allows your foot to move freely in the pedal stroke rather than locking you down tight to the pedal. If you are wanting to learn more about your float preference, try them both out! I personally love the 4 degree and find that it also allows me to very quickly and decisively “get out” of the pedals when I want to which is something that I know many riders, especially if you are new to clipless pedals, fear being unable to do.
In addition to float, another noteworthy mention is the massive range of tension adjustability on the M1. Out of the box, the pedals are set in the middle of the tension range. I really like this setting and came back to it after playing with both ends of the spectrum. We recommend these to anyone because of their versatility and price point. Working with new riders, I am stoked to know about HT pedals as they are user-friendly beginner-friendly without sacrificing top-level performance.
Quick How-To for those of you wanting to swap out your new HT pedals:
3mm Hex Wrench
4mm Hex Wrench
8mm Hex Wrench
1. Pick out the cleats you want to try: remember, the X1 has less float (4 degrees) than the X1-F (8 degrees). If you are new to cycling, start with the X1-F and see how you like it. If you already run clipless, use a sharpie and draw around the outside of your cleats so you have a place to start from. If you have a bike fitter you like to use, book a short appointment to set the cleats with some help. You’ll use the 4mm hex wrench to install the cleats. Remember to make sure they are tight and check them after every ride since loose cleats make it really, really hard to get out of pedals!
2. Take your shiny, beautiful new pedals out of the box and brush the threads at the very end of the pedal with some grease. This keeps them from getting stuck in your cranks or from stripping your cranks when you take them off for any reason.
3. Using the 8mm hex wrench, thread the pedal into the crank by twisting it in the direction you would pedal. Of note, the pedals are directional so you should be able to see the HT logo sitting upright on each pedal, aka——> ( HT ) Left Crank – Right Crank (HT). Don’t crank them on too tight but make sure they are snug.
4. Use the 3mm hex wrench to set your tension. You will need to do this twice per pedal because they are 2 sided. Start at the lowest setting if you’ve never tried clipless pedals before, and be sure to test them out in the grass or leaning up against a wall for a few rounds first. If you have some clipless experience, try the middle setting and see what you think. They are super easy to adjust on the fly or with changing conditions.
5. Have a great ride!
We hope this pedal piece helps inspire you to test your skills working on your own bike, instills you with some confidence to try something new (clipless pedals), and maybe even helped you find that perfect color of pedals to match your totally sweet custom ride. It’s all about enjoying the journey out there. Thanks for taking a few minutes to gear gossip with the KS Kenda women!
On June 9th and 10th, I raced the Pro XCT and short track in Missoula, Montana. I spent a lot of time on the dirt in that week and soaked in the views. It is wildflower season in Montana right now which means the trails are lined with Lupine, Indian Paintbrush, and other beautiful, colorful flowers! I took way too many pictures because I was not sure how much I would be able to appreciate them come race day when I was cross-eyed!
The views are spectacular!
So many trail- I could ride way too long here!
The dream bike!
Happy on the trails!
Having not raced for several months, I was nervous to come to a Pro XCT but I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to hang out with Paul, Theresa, Natalie, Jack and Tickle! What’s even cooler is they opened their house up to my teammate Fairlee and her husband, Evelyn Dong, Sofia Villafane-Gomez, Ryan Standish, and Howie Grotts for wonderful dinners filled with great conversation and good times. Making memories like these are a large reason why I love racing so much!
All the (delicious) food!
Natalie and Fischer. 🙂
With only 13 registrants, it was going to be a small race. It ended up being even smaller when only ten women lined up on Saturday for the cross country event. Of those ten women only eight of us finished the race.
I had a great race. I was able to finish on the lead lap, which means I happily suffered for all 5 laps of the insanely steep (up and down) course! In UCI races, they have something called the “80% rule”. If you are not within 80% of the leaders lap time as you cross the finish, the UCI official will pull you from the race. You are still included in the results but it is a milestone to make those lead laps! This was a big feat for me since last year I only completed 4 laps before being pulled by the UCI official. Though my 2018 race season has been short due to sickness, I have been able to finish on the lead lap every race this year, even in the HC races that were filled with Olympians! This is big progress for me and has changed my mindset and boosted my confidence!
Besides training hard and improving my fitness, a huge part of being able to finish on the lead lap of these races is the equipment I am racing on this year. The Pivot Mach 429SL is the most capable bike I have ever trained and raced on! The geometry is so efficient for climbing. The best part though? The Pivot is equipped with a KS Lev CI Carbon seat dropper post! This dropper has been a game changer. My confidence has sky rocketed and my descending has improved an insane amount! Missoula is known for it’s steep descents and this year the course was no problem with a dropper (last year I raced with no dropper). That was an exciting feeling! Finally, I chose to run a 29″ 2.2 Kenda Tire Honey Badger Pro/Kozmik Lite Pro combo which gave me great traction on the steep ups and downs. Feeling 100% sure about my race bike is a really great feeling!
For those who don’t know, I had some tough luck this winter and spring- first the flu, then bronchitis, followed by a bout of pneumonia. I am still getting tested for allergies and asthma, but the pneumonia is officially cleared and I am finally able to add intensity to my training after missing three large races over the last few months. Unfortunately, Fairlee woke up the morning of the race with a stomach bug. After much debate, she made the decision to not race. Though it was a difficult choice, I am proud of her for looking at her long term goals and knowing that racing could have made her even sicker, however, I definitely missed having her on the start line with me! Luckily, we were able to spend time together the day before drinking coffee, pre-riding the course, and cheering on the junior racers.
That high-vis looks sharp with the kit and helmet!
Coffee time is one of my favorite times with teammates!
As I crossed the finish line exhausted, I was stoked to find out I had finished 7th– in the points and money and my best Pro XCT finish yet! The podium was made up of super strong women whom I look up to and I am proud with where I landed. Based on last year’s results, I would have been right in the mix for a top ten finish with a solid group of women. And then something interesting happened. Someone back in California made a comment that I got second to last (since the results show only 8 of us finishing). It has made me think: did I get second to last? Or did I get 7th?
Photo by Derek Johnson
Rose fed me which was such an inspiration!
Having fun with Sofia, Evelyn, and Alexis!
In my mind I got 7th. I had a solid race, even splits, and a competitive time. Women’s cycling unfortunately has small fields. What if only six women had finished? Heck, what if there were only two women? In my opinion, EVERY woman out there needs to know that they are a badass just for finishing the race. Part of what needs to change is that we need to have a much more positive mindset about women’s cycling. Instead of criticizing women’s performances because of small fields we need to celebrate their performances for even showing up. Every woman starting a Pro race is significant. Someone has to finish last just like someone has to finish first.
*UPDATE: I just recieved a HANDWRITTEN THANK YOU card from the race director thanking me for putting Missoula on my schedule. This is such a simple thing but it made me feel really happy. I will definitely be coming back next year and hopefully with my other teammates!