S7 E challet
Perfectly built gangways were on the menu today.

With a good night of sleep and breakfast cassoulet in my belly, I was ready to tackle the final stage of the Quebec Singletrack Experience.  Today, we rode the Enduro focused trail network at Sentiers Du Moulin.  Mercifully, it was a shorter course built up with wooden gangways (even one over a chalet), ginormous ramps, and huge slab rocks to roll down that were as steep as your stomach could handle.  The fun factor was high!

Stage 1 voluneteres
Some of the support crew to make this all happen, including putting me and my bike back together.

My bike was expertly repaired by Hype Ski Velo, the local bike shop providing mechanical support for all the racers, and I lined up for the start ready to go. Somehow my fellow race car riders (we get a race car sticker on our number plate to mark that we are in the first wave at the start) had legs to blast off the start.  It took me a little bit to warm up, but I did just in time for the punchy technical terrain.  With a significant time deficit to retake the GC lead, I decided to ride smart and efficiently to see if that may add up to a fast ride.  On the climbs I spun in my smallest gears only pushing it to get up a technical feature and on the descents, I tried to pedal and brake as minimally as possible.  It was a game for me and it created a ride with flow that did take me to the finish as the first woman.   

S7 big air
I played it a bit more safe today than Florian did.

As all the riders came into the finish area elated, I watched as they as I had some sadness for the moment.  Tomorrow I will not be getting on the bus with my friends to ride rad trails, challenge myself in new ways, and sit by the campfire in the evening swapping tales of the day.  Bike camp is concluded. Well, we still have a big party tonight, so I won’t shed a tear yet!

S7 Finish Beers
Sam and I celebrating becoming Que-Bikers at the finish line Tiki Bar.

MTB stage racing is humbling.  It is exhilarating.  It is a challenge that’s boast worthy. It has brought out the best of me and pointed out spots where I can improve.  These lessons are not just on the bike, but it my engagement with myself and others.  Obviously, I really love to ride my bike, but I get just as much joy helping other riders have success.  I am afraid to fail or quit but calling it a day when I need to is not shameful.  For me it brought a level of knowing my limits and motivations to connect myself more deeply with my community.  Stage racing, it’s about so much more than the bike! Thank you, Quebec, for the “Singletrack” and the “Experience”.  I am officially a Que-Biker.  I’ll see you again next year!

S0 Crew
I expect to see all of these riders and some new faces next year.

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?

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.

S5 maps
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. 

180808-Coureur-101846-FFP-3203
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.   

S5 Showing off
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!

180808-Ambiance-134705-SDR-4525
Well deserved lunch at the lake.

S4 E legs
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.

S4 rocks
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. 

S4 Matt bridge
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!

S4 Bevin
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!

S4 plane

Expect the unexpected at Lac Delage

S3 view
View from Mont Sainte Anne

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.

S3 Emma 2
Moments before my stage race became a game of management

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.

S3 fast
Some sections were so fast and so fun

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.

S3 Emma Chasing
I’m on the hunt

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.

S3 Laurance
Laurance, my carrot for the day

Yes, today was the full package experience of stage racing.  I was able to hold onto my GC lead; BONNE CHANCE!

S3 pre race

I’ll be back to Mont Sainte Anne again

S2 Emma Roots
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!

S2 heading out of town
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!

S2 Nicole smile
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.

S2 wildlife
Wildlife keeping us moving

 

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?

Fig2
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.

Fig3
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.

Fig4
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.
Fig5
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.
IMG_4795
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.
Picture7
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?
Fig8
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