Enduro Racing & Mountain Biking in Whistler
Whistler! I think I’ve found my new favourite place in the world! And what an absolute amazing country is Canada.
I’d heard about the smoke and bad air quality before I came out but it wasn’t until I actually got there that I realised just how bad it was. The views were pretty much non-existent, I could smell the fire smoke, and the air was definitely a little harder to breathe.
For the first few days there, it didn’t improve at all, and I was kind of hoping the race would be cancelled, as the current air was not something I wanted to be breathing hard in. I still had some remnants of a cold which wasn’t helping my asthma anyway, so it’s safe to say I was seriously worried. Having to pull out of a race or not being able to race was the very last thing I wanted to do.
I’d heard how tough this race was going to be, and about the big uphill’s and long transitions, but the first day of practice was a bigger day than I expected: 40km, 1500m of climbing and 6 hours on the bike. It was also one of the hottest days since I’d got there, with temperatures above 30 degrees for the whole day. I felt very low on energy that day, and the steep push ups were really taking its toll on my whole body. Going up the 2 hour long, steep, ride/ push up to stage 4 I was so light headed that I felt I could collapse any second, and I was shivering and cold which couldn’t be a good sign in that heat and full sunshine. On the plus side, the smoke was clearing and the trails were totally awesome- so much fun. Friday night was spent cramming in the calories and taking an ice bath for the first time ever, to try and recover my muscles from the days riding.
The second practice day was a bit of an easier one on the legs and lungs, but a mega tough one for the bike and arms. Stage 1 and 5 were in the bike park, and were essentially downhill tracks, super rough, rocky, dusty, steep, rooty. This was the second time I had ridden the top of stage 1 and so was pushing it a bit more this time. I’ve never cracked a carbon wheel before, but I knew exactly what had happened when I did. Fortunately, the tire was still up so I decided to just ride down the rest of stage 1 and then stage 5. When I got to the bottom there were now 2 big cracks in the wheel, and it definitely wasn’t race-able on. This was about 6pm on Saturday night and I was racing and half 7 the next morning, I was stressing out a bit. Thankfully the amazing guys at Bike Co. in Whistler said they could lend me a rental wheel for the race. They swapped cassettes, stuck the wheel on, and I was good to go.
6 am Saturday morning. As I stepped out onto the balcony I was greeted with cold, rain, and mist. I think I was one of the only people really happy about this. I was not phased at all by the freezing conditions at the top, the poor visibility, or the slippy rocks and roots on the way down, it just made me feel like I was back riding in Scotland again. There were 6 girls that started in the U21 women’s category, and as the number 2 seeded rider I was second last to start each stage, with series leader Martha Gill just 30 seconds behind me.
Despite feeling pretty awful on the first practice day, on Sunday morning I was feeling great. My legs felt strong, and I was feeling fast on the bike. When I got to the bottom of stage 1 I had caught and passed all the U21 girls and some of the women ahead of us. At the bottom I waited 30 seconds to see if Martha had made up any time on me. When she hadn’t come down after about 45 seconds I set off up to stage 2 with a hopeful feeling about the rest of the day.
I felt good going up the climb and got to the top with loads of time. I was put out of my good mood very swiftly after starting stage 2 though, as a puncture put a halt to my race. Not wanting to ruin the rental wheel at all, I stopped riding immediately, and had to carry my bike all the way to the bottom of the stage, losing around 8 minutes in the overall time. It was only when I got the bottom that I realised that the rental wheel must’ve had a tube in it. Having been riding tubeless for quite a few years now, I’d completely forgotten about the risks of riding tubes on sharp rocks. I was gutted, but I wasn’t giving up that easily. All the way down marshals were telling me that I could stop and just pull out if I wanted to, but that was never something that crossed my mind. With the help of another British rider- a guy called Jeff- I quickly changed tubes and was off. I knew it was going to be tight though and I sprinted almost all the way up. I hadn’t had time to eat at the bottom of stage 2, so I got a quick gel down me, put everything that had just happened behind me, and gave it all I had down stage 3.
By stage 4, only 3 out of the 6 U21 girls had survived the test and were still in the race. And it was the 3 British girls. Most people might think we had an easy ride to the podium, but what we had to go through to even just finish that race was massive. So many competitors didn’t even make it through practice never mind the race.
Stage 4 and 5 were some of my favourite in the course, and knowing I had no chance of the win, I just went for it, enjoying every minute of the riding and trying to get back as much time as I could.
Getting to the finish line of that 7 hours on the bike: 50km and 2100m of climbing, was an amazing feeling. But then I found out I had won every stage but stage 2, and would definitely have won the race if I hadn’t had to run down stage 2. I was devastated. It was bittersweet, on one hand I was so happy that I’d finally found some speed, and got the results I felt I was capable of getting but on the other hand the thought of what could’ve been was really gutting. Over the 4 stages I’d won, I put 4 mins into Martha’s time.
I could’ve won the race, but I also could’ve fallen at any the hurdles that had faced me. Instead of being disappointed that I hadn’t got up onto that step, I chose to be really proud of myself for getting 2nd place in a super tough race, getting 4 stage wins, and a few top 20 stage places overall in the women.
3 tough girls: Martha Gill in 1st, me in 2nd, and Abigale Lawton in 3rd place. Amazing riding by these two all day!