donkeykoenig’s Canmore Iron Maiden & Organ Grinder

This past weekend was the Iron Maiden XC/Organ Grinder Marathon at the Canmore Nordic Center – a guaranteed double-header suffer fest.  The Nordic Center has it all – great trails that keep getting greater every year due to some phenomenal trail building and maintenance, amazing scenery, great facilities, nice town…  If you haven’t ridden there yet, what are you waiting for?

Both Mark and I signed up to race, but Mark also signed up for a 40-year-old boys gone wild weekend, so this was destined to be a solo donkey trip bringing back fond memories of my early days racing as an Independent.  Luckily, a late 2:30pm Saturday race start even permitted me to perform a gig Friday night in Edmonton and have a full night’s sleep.  The drive to Canmore went quickly with the new Daft Punk to keep me company, and I pulled up with a generous 90 minutes to get ready for the XC race.

Let’s just say my race prep in the days leading up to my first couple of races this season has not been ideal – I arrived to the Lethbridge Coulee Cruiser with little more than two hours of sleep and working the nightshift, and the Summer Solstice race (not affiliated with the actual summer solstice in any way shape or form) had me rolling up to the line not even a day after arriving home from two weeks in Germany with a serious case of jetlag as a souvenir (I don’t know how the pros do it…).  These “shananigans” rewarded me with two last place finishes and left me questioning my ability to duke it out with any of the girls in Elite.  Needless to say, I felt a bit nervous as I put on my kit and zipped tied my race number, especially with a very stacked ladies field including the likes of Trans Portugal dominatrix Kate Aardal and Olympic track medalist Tara Whitten.  Yikes.  Racing Elite is a funny thing.  You learn early on how to keep things in perspective and choose your battles and set your goals wisely.  Since it was a beautiful sunny day, and I knew from last year’s race the course was an awesome one requiring a complete skill set to match the technical trails, I decided early on to focus on riding a clean race and, with any luck, to not finish last.

The start was fast, and Kate, Trish Grajczyk, and Tara immediately gapped the other four of us and carried on to scoop up the podium spots in that order.  I knew from a hesitation and mistake I made last year that I needed to make it to the single track before some of the more fit but less technical riders, so I dug deep and managed to hammer into the single track in fifth place.  I quickly realized with the number of technical descents and climbs to follow, if I could ride clean and steady I could maintain my positioning and perhaps move up one more spot.  Well, moving up one more spot wasn’t meant to be, but I did ride an exceptionally clean race, which I was very happy with.  I also came away with something I lost after the first two races this season: the confidence I needed to call myself an Elite rider.  Even though I don’t have the natural fitness and lung power of most in my category (I like to joke my VO2 max is more of a VO2 min), I can say I have some pretty good skills, as evidenced by my ability to clear all of the advanced “A-line” sections of the course consistently on an outdated, aluminum 26er from 2008.  Sweet.

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Celebrating my draw prize and new race-walking kit

Because the weather was so glorious, clean up and pack up was quick, and I even won a killer draw prize – a kicky visor and headband combo that will come in handy when I start my next athletic pursuit: race-walking.  Visors off to the SpinSisters for putting on a great event complete with schwag and post-race eats, two things that are sadly becoming few and far between at many ABA races.

I was able to steal Mark away from his mountain man-cave sausage fest for supper, and we enjoyed some fantastic flatbreads and a celebratory pint from the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co.  We then parted ways as Mark wasn’t racing the five hour enduro the next day and had a bonfire to build, so after a quick stop at the Sobey’s for some chocolate I turned in early to rest up for five hours of fun and punishment (phunishment I like to say) the next day.

Food

Reason to race #17: No guilt for eating things like this 

Like the SpinSisters, the Cyclemeisters promised to also put on a quality day of racing on Sunday complete with schwag and post race food.  This event is one of my favourites if only for the all-you-can-eat Spolumbo sausage post-race barbeque.  Marathon XCs are an interesting beast; for some reason they attract quite a different field of racers that don’t attend regular XC races, which undoubtedly makes for an unpredictable race full of dark horses.  On the other hand, I can usually pull out a pretty good result at these events because they complement my steady-eddy, donkey style of riding.  On the other hand, I was a bit unsure of how I would actually fair at this race having not yet raced a marathon yet this season, so I kept my goals reasonable and told myself if I completed three of the 12km laps I could call it a day and earn myself a sausage with all the fixins.

The start was typical of an enduro: the fast racers took off and jockeyed for positioning while the rest of us eventually sorted ourselves out according to our desired pace.  I quickly found myself in an enjoyable group of chatty guys (whoever says women are chattier riders is dead wrong – men are total riding social butterflies) and was enjoying the trails and moderate pace.  However, to add a little spice to the mix, the weather gods decided to be not quite so kind on Sunday, and by halfway through the first lap an off and on, yet persistent drizzle settled in, and each lap the trails became a bit more challenging.

By the third lap, I had no idea where I was in the mix, but I did know I was getting tired and starting to make little mistakes.  With the trail conditions only deteriorating, I told myself I just needed to finish off this third lap to earn my sausage treat and call it a day.  I was really looking forward to finishing as I pedalled towards the start/finish, but then an interesting thing happened.  As I walked my bike through the transition area with nothing but the thought of sausage in my head the commissaire casually mentioned I was in 3rd place with the 2nd place rider just 30 seconds ahead.  I couldn’t stop now.  I had a podium spot to defend.  Crap!  With two hours still left in the event, any girl behind me merely had to ride another lap to steal third place.  I silently mouthed a creative series of expletives, and after a morale boost of supporting words, a rice krispie treat (thanks Ryan!), and a delicious homemade cookie (thanks Aleks!) I hopped back on my bike and told myself I could have a second delicious sausage if I rode a fourth lap and defended my position.  Well, those sausages and my love for them proved to give me the upper hand that day as I ultimately caught that second place girl and built up a seven minute gap to give me my first podium finish of the season.  My aged bike also helped out in its own special way, as it and the muddy conditions conspired to make riding in the granny ring a futile battle with chain-suck, forcing me to push bigger gears than I would have otherwise chosen to do.

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Unlike the day before, it took a long time to clean my bike and myself of the coating of mud and forest floor debris, but I did finally get my two sausages and a chance to enjoy the glory of the podium.  And what a payoff it was.  Four and a half hours of suffering and second place in the Open Women’s category earned me a Knog blinkie light.  It’s a good thing I don’t do this for a living.  I do it for the sausages. 

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Highwood Pass Ride

Lots of cars lined up at Highwood Junction

Lots of cars lined up at Highwood Junction

Every year Highwood Pass closes to cars for the winter. This turns a normally busy motorway into a cycling wonderland. It’s 60km from gate to gate with 950m vert reaching 2300m elevation. Sometimes, there are snow-banks at the top of the pass covering the road with only a skinny track through, and other years (like this one) the park goes ahead and snow-plows the pass so that we cyclists can have a few weekends before the gates open.

Highwood ride

 

So at about 11am I was turning the cranks on the 34km trip to the summit. Funny thing is that it wasn’t long before I ran into a guy that I went to University with and ended up riding the remainder of the way to the pass summit with some nice conversation. I like riding by myself but after a while it’s nice to have someone to talk to.

First summit of the pass.  Lots of cyclists up here.

First summit of the pass. Lots of cyclists up here.

There was quite a bit of snow on the sides of the road at the summit but nothing on the road itself. There was literally a traffic jam of bikes right at the top. People riding everything from $10k colnago’s to a hipster on something from 1973. After parting ways with my new riding buddy and putting a jacket on, I was pointing it downhill toward Kananaskis.

Mother nature's bike stand

Mother nature’s bike stand

The ride down to the other gates was fast with my 52-11 combo being spun out most of the way. After hopping over the gate it was another 8km to the Fortress junction gas station where I ate a 480 calorie ice-cream sandwich and f-ing loved it.

Nice view just north of the gates.

Nice view just north of the gates.

After making mouth-love to my ice-cream sandwich and re-filling water bottles I was off for my second summit of the pass. Going from Kananaskis to the summit is shorter (~20km) but very steep compared to the other direction. At this point I was pretty tired with my legs feeling the 900m vertical from the first summit and the weather looked like it might come in. Snow at the top of the Highwood pass was not something that I was interested in.

On the way back over

On the way back over

After the 20km grind back to the top, it was a quick stop for some pics and then back to the car as fast as my toasted legs could take me.

Second summit

Second summit

Some nice views

Some nice views

Finally back at the car after just under 5 hrs ride time and my Garmin was telling me 3000 calories (based on HR). So I headed to the near-by gas station for some M&M’s and Ketchup chips.

I would recommend this ride to anyone. You can go as fast as your fitness level allows and enjoy Canada’s highest paved mountain pass (sans cars).

 

Why I Ride

I recently had a close friend who I hadn’t ridden with in a while pose I very simple but inherently deep question to me: “Mike, you still ride a ton…why do you ride?”

On that beautiful Kelowna spring morning, as we enjoyed the silky smooth tarmac, I began to collect my thoughts to answer Evan’s simple question.  Wow, so many reasons, where do I begin…?

Photo 18I love it.

I love the pursuit of fitness.  I love to see how I can push my body to new heights.  I love how I can continually grow with the sport of cycling and how my passion does not fade.  I love the feeling my body provides when I’ve pushed it to a new level in training and it’s now going through the remarkable process of adaptation.  The ability of the human body to adapt and change truly amazes me.

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It makes me look under thirty, not mid-thirties.  I feel pleasure when I reveal my age to non-cycling related colleagues and new acquaintances.  More often then not, people are genuinely surprised to hear that I will be turning 35 this fall.

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It helps me think creatively and gives me the opportunity to create clarity in my thoughts.  I have my best ideas while out on the bike.  Some runners I know like running because it is a form of meditation – their brain closes down and don’t really think anything.  For me, it’s the opposite.  Churning away a constant cadence seems to stimulate my creativity, so much so that sometimes I have to stop and write stuff down.

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I have broken knees and riding makes me feel normal – not like a 70 year old man (I really feel like an old man with my knees when I stop riding for a duration of 2 weeks or more).  I was in a bad car accident when I was 16, and I injured my ‘good’ knee while playing hockey in ’09, so for me, cycling is a form of constant therapy.  Honestly, I have pain walking down stairs when I haven’t’ ridden for a couple of weeks.  It’s almost something I must do to stay ‘normal’.

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I get really cranky if I don’t ride and I become a grumpy moody bugger (just ask my wife!).  This one is pretty straight forward.  I admit it.  I’m a cranky bugger, but riding buffers all of that crankiness.

I love the sound of a free wheel buzzing in the silence of a calm morning.  It’s like music to my ears.  Like the gentle whizzing of a fishing rod, or the soothing sounds of crickets chirping on a warm summer’s eve, the sound instantly puts me in my happy place.

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It is a reminder of how great life really can be.  I mean, riding a bicycle is one of the best things life has to offer in my opinion.

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At the end of the day, why do I ride? It’s just part of who I am.

NIMBYFifty

First off, we apologize for this long post, but to tell you the truth, the trip to the NIMBYFifty was so awesome in many respects it was too hard to make any cuts.  

This self described epic mountain bike race covers many of the world-class single track trails, climbs and decents that Pemberton, BC is famous for.

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Here is how the trip went down for Mark: 

Sarns provided a compelling argument for me to drive 12 hours to Pemberton to race the NimbyFifty then drive 12 hours back home.  It was “Do it”.  Heput Tony Robbins to shame as I hypnotically went to my computer and signed on for the race, despite not really knowing much about the race other than the likes of Max Plaxton and Catherine Pendrel raced it last year.

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Beautiful views and a single lane bridge on the way to Pemberton

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Panorama Pic

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Photo Op

We started the weekend by having a Kokanee Redbike team sleepover at Mike’s house facilitated our early morning departure for Pemberton as we packed the car Thursday night. After coffee in the morning, we left town at a leisurely pace, but with Josh driving like Goggles Pisano, we were in Kamloops before I got halfway through my non-Danielle Steele book. If you haven¹t driven theroute from Cache Creek to Lillooet to Pemberton, put it in your “must do” list as it is one of the most scenic exhilarating drives I¹ve ever experienced. That alone was enough to convince me that this trip was worth doing with the team.

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Not Danielle Steele as previously reported 

The start/finish area was located at this lovely bucolic farm which was owned by the Pemberton mayor.  The weather turned out to be vacillating as it was predicted to rain all day during the race, but in the morning it was sunny with clouds surrounding us, threatening to rain. The atmosphere at the start line was very relaxed as it seemed that a lot of the racers knew one another, very similar to a local race.  It helped for me to see some old friends from Edmonton, Evan Sherman and Cody Canning, as it gave a semblance of a local ABA race.  I looked around at the other racer¹s bikes and felt aqueasy uneasy realization that at least half, if not more, of the racers had dropper seatposts.  Did they know something I didn¹t?  The NimbyFifty race has been purported as one of the most technical races in North America,which normally doesn¹t intimidate me, but I hate bringing a knife to a gunfight.

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The race started as most marathon races do, with a road ride into a long steep gravel road to spread out the field before the renowned single track began.  I knew that it was important to move quickly to the front of the massive crowd so I wouldn¹t get stuck with the middle of the pack group.The gravel road was actually quite tricky to climb, as there were large loose rocks scattered amongst the racers and they were being spun up into other racer¹s bikes.  Not knowing the length of the climb, I kept a pace where I constantly passed people but not so hard as chance blowing up early.  By the time I reached the infamous 101 switchback climb, I felt I was with a congruent group of racers so passing people was not such a concern as I knew I had to keep a steady effort to complete the climb.  While the climb was not excessively steep, it felt like it went on for hours. Not only that, but each switchback had roots or rocks you had to negotiate over to avoid dabbing and incurring the reproach of fellow racers behind you.  It basically turns into a mental game because the relentlessness of the climb can bore you and the suffering can break you.  I once looked down below me and saw a zig-zag of continuous racers making this cacophony of grunting, breathing, swearing and the occasional sound of chains pinging and breaking. It was achingly beautiful.

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After the climb was mercifully finished, we started our first long descent.This is where being an Edmonton mountain biker became a disadvantage, as I was not mentally or physically ready to handle the length and degree of the downhills in the West Coast mountains.  With no dropper seatpost to maneuver my center of gravity lower and with only four inches of travel, most of my weight was forced unto my upper arms and shoulder.  It felt like I was doing hundreds of pushups on my bike, and that was during the shorter downhills.  By the time I got to the RedBull timed downhill, I barely was able to put weight on my arms.  The downhill that followed was simply terrifying. Boulder dropoffs, steep rooty descents and Tippie screaming hitting a hubcap were enough for me to cry slightly.  I lost my front end on a boulder dropand ejected from my bike where I slid down on my knee and hip.  I think I ended up in 254nd place during the timed downhill.  I don¹t even want to imagine how demoralizing it would have been for me if it actually rained as predicted.

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Thank God more uphills were on their way; yeah, that¹s how much the downhills hurt.  Most were beautiful singletrack climbs that I simply adored, and by that time, the field did spread out so there were some isolating moments where you can just admire the beauty of the mountains.  I knew the end was approaching as I felt I¹ve been racing for five hours and my body had a gumby-like constitution to it.  Then I saw the road finish ahead and rode the rest of way off the bars in satisfaction.  At the end, I saw my friends Mike and Evan cheering me on to the finish line.  Mission accomplished.

After the race, there were food and beverages to help you recover, and then the barbeque opened up serving delicious hamburgers, hotdogs, potatoes and salad.  They gave racers Phillips beer to drink with the food, which is agreat brewery in Victoria.  No Kokanee, but great beer non the less.  The organizers set up a great atmosphere where the racers can hangout and enjoythe unexpected hot sunny weather.  Considering the race only cost $90, it was probably the best deal you can expect.  You get 3 hours plus of mountainbiking, pre and post race food and drink, great barbeque, Tippie on a junior high school PA system and new scars. If you compare this to any multi day races, it¹s one of the best values I¹ve experienced.

From Josh’s point of view:

We’ll, my first NimbyFiftty is in the books. The weather forecast was a little ominous but race day came and the clouds stayed away. I was pretty pumped for the race and the chance to give my new bike (Rocky Mountain Instinct 970) a real test

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The start of the race had me watching Mike, Evan, and Mark fade away into the distance. I pushed as hard as I could and made my way through the pack to, what I think, was a respectable position by the time the climbing started. The problem with an 11 km climb with over 100 switch-backs is that I’m a big guy and have a fairly heavy bike. I climbed at about 180-190 BPM and was on my game for about 45 minutes. It turns out that I can sustain that effort for about 45 minutes before shit starts to fall apart. At that point I felt like I started moving backwards with dabs almost every switch-back and plenty of people passing me. I took time to eat and backed off the pace to recover a bit before the RedBull downhill section.

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Evan Sherman give the NIMBYFIfty 2 Thumbs Up!

As soon as I went through the Redbull gates I realized why it was called the most technical marathon mtb race. Very gnarly stuff . I used all of my 130mm of travel and my dropper post as much as possible. Everything was feeling pretty comfortable and I was passing quite a few people on the first part of the downhill when I pushed a little too hard on a right hand curve and lost the from wheel. There was a moment when I was flying though the air and saw that the slope fell away drastically that I figures I might be in trouble. I hit the ground pretty hard with a big helmet smack followed by my bike hitting me. One of those where you have to move everything before you know that you’re not broken.

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All smiles despite the dirt face plants.

I was able to shake off the crash and continue. The one thing that I can say is that I didn’t take any of the chicken lines and only ended up walking one section. The highlight was the giant boulder with about 20 people heckling. I had to be pointed toward the line which I them rolled though thinking I was about to hit the ground again.  I had one more crash in me right before the end of the race where I was just too tired and didn’t activate the dropper properly. The result was me cracking into a log with the side of my rib-cage. Pretty sure nothing was broken (didn’t hurt right away) but I still can’t breath deeply (4 days later).

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Mark & Josh hangin’ out after the NIMBYFifty

Mike’s story:

My race went really well.  Since we were a bit asleep at the wheel, we started waaaay at the back of the pack.  We should have caught on when people were lining up their bikes in the start shoot, 30 mins prior to the start, but we were too happy soaking in all the tubular pre race energy and good vibes.

With some MTB stage racing experience under my belt (BCBR, TransRockies, Furious3) I knew that I could move my way up in the pack.  I bid adieu to my teammates and flowed up in the pack, steering clear of any sketchy riding activity.  After burring a few matches, I made my way to the back of the leading group, and settled in around Mical Dyck and co. to start the first climb.  Good sensations, legs didn’t hate going hard to bridge past 300 people.

I felt really good on the opening climb, and should have known better when I saw Mical sprint past me.  Ah yes, the single track.  So I got held up a little, but nothing to sweat about as it was early in the race and I really had no idea where I was positioned.

After that first downhill, along the flats, I motored into the front of the group, which included Mical and the other girl she battled for the win, and took to the 101 switchback climb and road really smooth up the switchbacks.  Unfortunately, my granny developed a affinity for my chain, and I began to experience the dreaded chain suck, so I did want any smart racer would do – I stuck it in the big ring and hammered! This turned out to be a good strategy as I gapped that group behind me and moved up in the field with one other guy who, due to my over gearing, would grumble at me in the switchbacks, so I’d let him by, only to catch and pass him a minute later…oh well.

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Dropper Post in Action (Photo Credit: Jon Anthony)

Man, the downhills were gnarly!  And man was my new Rocky Mountain Element 999 even gnarlier!  That bike is amazing, especially with my Specialized Command Post.  Now yes, you don’t’ really need a dropper post around Edmonton, but for these BC types of races its a big advantage, even with the weight penalty.  2/3 Kokanee Redbike guys had one for the race and 3/3 Kokanee Redbike guys would agree – dropper posts are RAD!

On the downhills, I reminded myself to be “Smooth Like Lega”, a saying I often recite through my head as I race – in reference to Roddi Lega, one of my friends and secret racing heroes who is incredibly smooth and fast on the race course.  The guy is a living legend – but that’s for another blog post.

After thoroughly cooking the legs riding the big ring all day, I was grateful to hear “it’s all downhill from here” and TT’d in on the last 3 ams of flat pavement to finish my first NIMBYFifty.  I got interviewed by Brett Tippie, who told me we were crazy for driving from Edmonton for this, and I disputed that, arguing we were not as crazy as Tippie!

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Photo Credit: Jon Anthony

As the results came out, Mark squeaked into the top 100 and completed the race in well under three hours, so considering he came into the race unaware ofthe trails, he felt he did quite well.  Mike came in 17th overall and 3rd in his age category, which we were all very proud of.  Josh survived a few crashes and finished the race despite the hindering injuries like the giant he is.

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Yes, Mike got beat by an 8 year old in a pink dress

The NimbyFifty was a memorable race, and not just for the amazing mountain biking, but because it was the first Kokanee Redbike roadtrip.  Hopefully, the first of many in the upcoming seasons.  All in all it was a fun experience and we all agree that one of the coolest parts was being able to travel and stay as members of the team. Then having Evan show up to race was a bonus.

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Photo Credit: Amir Shahrestani

Thanks for reading and see you at the races!

Mark, Josh, & MIke

Royal River Valley Rumble

The second edition of the Hardcore BIkes Royal River Valley Rumble went off this May as the kickoff to mountain bike racing in the Edmonton area and it was the first ‘official’ event attended by Kokanee Redbike.  With the constant threat of a rain in the forecast, apprehension built as the venue, they tried and true mountain bike race location of Terwillegar Park is notorious for energy zapping, slippery sticky clay when conditions are went.  Luckily the weather people were completely wrong and sunny skies greeted all the racers throughout the day.

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Home base for the day

With Shantel off to Germany for work and Josh out with a sore knee, Sheldon, Mark, & Mike lined up at the start line to represent Kokanee Redbike.

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Smartacus all smiles before the start

Here is how Sheldon’s race went:

I was, let’s say, ‘curious’ about how my race was going to go. RVRR was not only my first ABA MTB race of the year, it was also the first time on my MTB bike this season! All in though, it ended up a pretty solid race for me. The course was laid out well. It was fast, and not too, too technical, which was ideal at this point in the season.

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After the first lap, things came back to me pretty quickly and I was able to settled in and race. That said, now in Sport, even though I felt my endurance was there for the 3 lap distance, my speed isn’t quite yet. Off the line, I pedalled my way all the way back to 2nd last place, before picking my way back up past a few guys by the end… Lots of work to do if I’m going to move up the field in this category.

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The Rooty Decent was not problem for Smartacus on his trusty Rocky Mountain

Dr. Jung, A.K.A Greazy Panda, had a solid opening effort of the season, and hammered his way to a well deserved 6th place in Expert Men.  Knocking on the podium door, watch for big things from this hard charging XC racer.  We’d ask Mark for a race report, but with his impressively HUGE vocabulary, we feared we couldn’t fit it all into one post! (Watch for his NimbyFifty race report – I hear it was a pretty awesome experience).

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Greazy Panda given’s his all (Photo: Chris Ring)

As for me…I had a pretty awesome result.  I’m always unsure how my legs will be after another winter in Edmonton, and I am very pleased that I came out firing.  Off the gun, I was sure to be near the front in order to stay out of trouble and to test the legs to see how well they’d come out of hibernation.  Turns out they were pretty good, and I was able to comfortably sit in 2nd position for half a lap.  Always leery of going too hard too soon, I measured my effort and moved into the front of the race and throttled it for a bit, just hovering below red line.  On lap 2 of 5, the wily vet Mike Vine bridged up to me after I had opened a small gap and we started to work together for a lap or so.  The Mike & Mike alliance was short lived though, as Vine wanted to see what I had each trip up the rooty climb.  I responded well to Vine’s first and second attack as I was able to reel him back, but on the 4th lap, too much fatigue had set in, and the gap he opened by punching it up the same said rooty climb was enough for him to hold and stretch out to a minute by race finish.

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I’m pretty satisfied with my 2nd place as I moved up one spot from last years RRVR result of third.  It gives me confidence going into the NimbyFifty, which is proclaimed as North America’s most technical XC race.  (watch for our NimbyFifty report soon).

Thanks for reading and see you at the races!

-Kokanee Redbike

Kokanee Redbike Season 1 Webisode 1 – River Valley Royal Rumble 2013

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