Today’s Quebec Singletrack Experience stage took us to the resort town of Lac Beauport where permission was granted from 68 private land owners for us to ride a circumference of the lake up in the surrounding mountains.  But don’t think this was a quaint pedal around a pristine lake where I nibbled on pan au chocolate and sipped rosé…today was a beast.

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Just a little navigation and logistics for today.

After the initial 5K of frenzy for position, I settled in with a group of 4 riders. I was happy to be in their company.  My legs were feeling good, for stage 5 that is, and I was enjoying the technical climbing (that felt endless). I was a little ahead of my comrades where there was a down tree on the trail.  In my enjoying all things challenging mode, I used my Bend, OR skills to bunny hop the tree. A few feet from that I popped out on the road, a volunteer at the crossing waved me onto the trail and I was back to climbing.  My ego was in full swing as I didn’t see the guys behind me and figured they ran the down tree like a barrier.  And after climbing for a few kilometers, I recognized a feature and knew I had somehow looped back onto an earlier section of trail.  Frustrated at myself for my boastful error, I turned around and found my mistake.  I was to turn at the down tree, not go over it!  The course was marked, but my showing-off distracted me. 

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Finding my grove back on course.

I knew that Laurant, the woman in second, likely got ahead of me but I knew that going hard to catch back up would zap too much energy.  I have a significant time lead and decided today I would cash in some of that time.  I was isolated, which is tough for me on a hard day, so I found my stoke working the most efficient lines on the twisty roots.  More climbing.  Some hike-a-bike.  Slow, high tech descents that I was not able to recover on.  I will admit, I am tired.  The last climb was grueling for me.  When my cadence fell to 60 RPM in my smallest gear, I walked.  Just when I thought I was at the top, the trail turned for an upward trending traverse.  And then the trail looked familiar.  Again. Somehow, I missed another turn and ended up on another earlier section of the course.  I’m not going to lie, I felt defeated.  I turned around again to find where I missed my turn but could not find it.  I found some volunteers whose job was timing, so they did not know the course well enough to point me in the right direction.  I was approaching riding 5K more than the course should have been and decided to go down the timed climb that would take me to town and the finish line.   

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I’m glad I’m not the only one showing off.

It was the right decision for me.  I am here to race bikes, challenge myself, ride amazing trails, meet great people, and have fun.  I do enjoy being in the hunt for the women’s GC win, but it is the hunt that I love, not the accolades of a prize.  This is stage racing.  It is the fact that the winner of the race is not necessarily the most fit, best rider, or most familiar with the terrain.  It is the rider who rides smart, within themselves, and embraces the adventure that usually ends up on top.  And some good luck helps too.  I told the race official and director of my decision to cut to the end of the course, missing the final descent.  They will figure out how impose a time penalty, but I get to keep racing!  Time to soak my weary body in Lac Beauport, eat some tasty lunch and watch my fellow racers in Dragon boats!

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Well deserved lunch at the lake.

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When I look like this at the finish, you know it’s been a fantastic day!

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.

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Mud. Roots. Rocks. Oh My!

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. 

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Matt catching his breath and taking in the scenery.

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!

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Bevin peeking at the other side… giant puddle?

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!

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Expect the unexpected at Lac Delage

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Spiritual climbing (Surge is right behind me). PS – My Kenda Honey Badgers are perfect for these roots!

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!

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Heading out to the trails

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!

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My room mate Nicole really loved todays trails

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.

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Wildlife keeping us moving

 

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?

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Ready to begin a 7 day adventure

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.

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Finish line fist pump

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.

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The pressure is on now

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!

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!

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.

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Fairlee and I pre-riding!

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!

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The KS Lev CI Carbon Seat Dropper has been a game changer for me this season!

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.

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?

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!

 

 

So, you signed up for a MTB stage race; now what?

Lucky you! These events showcase a community’s best trails, local cuisine, and hospitality, all while bringing cyclists together from near and far to embark on an adventure in a festival atmosphere. It is no wonder MTB stage racing is growing! You should be excited, maybe a little nervous.  Let me, Emma, take you through a tour of my preparations for a MTB stage race. Better yet, sign up to do the Quebec Single-Track Experience Stage Race (QSE) with me and we can prepare together!

What have you signed up for?

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QSE Racers being serenaded along the trail.

MTB stage racing consists of several back-to-back days of cross-country style mountain bike racing.  Riders depart each day with a mass start and contend for the fastest cumulative time over all the stages.  Expect stages to take strong riders three to five hours each day on courses that typically start and finish in the same location.  Many MTB stage race participants are not racing per-say, but are challenging themselves to a big mountain biking undertaking with course support and kindred spirits. There is a place in MTB stage racing for all mountain bike enthusiasts.  Aid stations are along the courses and are stocked with water, snacks, and mechanical and medical support. Riders still need to carry hydration, nutrition, clothing for inclement weather, maps if a wrong turn is taken, and tools to manage mechanicals due to the distance between stations and the remote nature of the stages.

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I can’t wait to ride these trails!

I have registered to race the Quebec Singletrack Experience (QSE). I chose this event because I have heard whispers that the mountain biking in Eastern Canada is a little-known gem and Quebec is a providence of natural and historical treasures to explore.   When I am researching a MTB stage race to participate in, I take a close look at the logistics and support the event provides.  QSE has anticipated and made available all the features I look for to make my experience smooth.

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Make sure your transportation and bikes are sorted out before you depart so you don’t get stuck for hours waiting at passenger pick-up like I have.
  • Travel
    • Proximity of airport and shuttle service that can transport your Evoc Bike Travel Case if you fly with your bike.
      • Get in two days before the start date if possible, especially if flying so you can handle travel delays.
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Fairlee and I post-ride social media bragging in a cozy hotel room at Fontana ProXCT.
  • Housing
    • You will get the most out of the experience if you stay at the housing recommended by the race. These are discounted, plus it’s fun to share stories and get advice from the numerous other participants staying there.
    • Being at the site of post-race events lets you take advantage of all the extra-curricular activities: music, rider meetings, celebrations, etc.
    • Ability to charge electronics. You are going to document all this fun to brag at home, right?
  • Transportation to and from the start/finish of each stage.
    • Driving a rental car without a bike rack in an unfamiliar area or country while trying to find a trailhead early in the morning can be epic… and not the good type of epic.
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Jen is creative at washing and storing bikes in hotel rooms, but utilizing event services will keep your team mates happy and un-stinky.
  • Bike storage and transportation.
    • Don’t roll your muddy post-stage bike through the hotel lobby! Sign-up for bike valet services and bike washing. Knowing your bike will be there to race is not just peace of mind. It’s hard to ride a stage if your steed is not there.
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Leave the derailleur adjustments to the experts and go celebrate a great day! Thanks Win!!
  • Mechanical service available.
    • TSA may take your bike tools and wouldn’t you rather relax at the lake after your ride than run all over a town you don’t know looking for a replacement rotor?
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Fairlee enjoying a tasty race meal, relaxing, and catching up with other event participants at Bonelli ProXCT.
  • Meal service.
    • Grocery shopping and cooking while tired is not practical. Plus, it’s fun to sample the local cuisine and get tips at the table from riders who have done the race before.

Yeah, QSE is a tight ship you want to board!  Want to join me for this one?  Of course you do.  I have three 50% off codes to register.  Message me and I’ll hook you up.

Now comes the fun part: looking at the stages and beginning your preparations.  Take a preview of what is to come in this video.  Talk soon!

Emma