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Racing the Epic 8 - It's a Family Affair

On Saturday, May 12, 2018 two Spoke O'Motion teams set out to spin some laps, share some laughs, and, just maybe, head home with some shiny hardware. The result was a tumultuous day of seesawing expectations, exciting inter-team competition, friendly ribbing, and tons of impressive performances. Read on for the full accounting.

Team Knights/Weening

From left to right in Spokes kit: Dave Knights, Abi Weening, Luke Knights, Evan Knights. 3rd place

Team Cullen/Ley/Sampson

From left to right: Steve Ley, Kelly Cullen, Myles Cullen, Dustin Sampson. 3rd place

Now don't go assuming that I've given away the plot by informing you, dear reader, about the results before exploring the story. For, as with many things in life, it is not in the results that the insight is found but in the journey to get there.

The day began under blue skies, sunshine, and the dubious promise of plentiful suffering. The teams selected Dave Knights and myself, Myles, as their first riders. The game plan here is to pick fast riders to try and establish your team amongst the race leaders and place your next riders cycle ahead of the throngs of riders that inevitably congest the singletrack and cost you precious time.

While myself and Dave weren't technically racing against each other we were, inevitably, still racing each other. Anyone who rides even a little bit competitively invariably understands this good-natured dynamic and will readily admit that they want to throttle their riding buddies at all times.

With a strong start and a nice position in the pack, I was cruising towards the final climb of the lap which is a multi-tiered sufferfest that begins with a short, punchy fireroad ascent and concludes with a switchback-laden chunk of singletrack that leaves you gasping for air or stuck behind struggling riders.

Just before I began the initial portion of the climb, Dave comes blasting by me laughing about employing my own race strategy against me.

Unbeknownst to me, Dave had hung around on my rear wheel and waited until the right moment to strike. Much to my chagrin, this was a fantastic attack and there was no counter to come. Dave had broken my will to chase and hammered to the finish about 20 seconds ahead of me. Score one for Team Knights.

Even better than Dave laying the boots to me, their team was now, from the outset, a podium contender. After a complete team rotation, it was evident that Dave, Luke, Evan, and Abigail had a golden opportunity to lock in a podium spot.

To continue their day successfully, they needed to keep running consistent laps, avoid mechanicals, and ensure every member continued to pull their weight without any hiccups.

Scalpel vs Element

One interesting "story-within-a-story" during this event was my goal to speed test my new Rocky Mountain Element 99 against my ride from last season - the Cannondale Scalpel-Si Team.

On my first lap, I reached for my shiny, new Element. First off, I think it's the most beautiful bike ever. From the black, red, gold colour scheme, to the return of the traditional Rocky Mountain "leaves", the the hidden single-sided pivot hardware, this bike is a stunner from any angle.

My pre-purchase reservations were of the practical sort: The Rocky has moved to 120mm of travel up front from a more XC-traditional 100mm. Would this prove overkill for typical XC courses? The dropper post is certainly on trend, but is it worth the weight penalty? Would I regret the 2lb weight penalty I'd pay over my previous Scalpel?

In reality, it's is kind of like complaining about having to choose between a Ferrari and a Lamborghini - these are definitely 1st world dilemmas but it was a dilemmas nonetheless.

The first lap, aboard the Rocky, hurt. Admittedly, I didn't train hard this year over winter and my spring self is paying the price for my laziness - and love of sweet things. During a multi-lap event like we were facing, the biggest mistake is to lay too much on the line too early, so I admittedly didn't want to dance the full-tilt boogie quite yet but was targeting a brisk 85% pace. Still, Dave passed me and I didn't quite get into the zone of the fireroads. This was the same experience I had at the first Ontario Cup: The bike felt great in the gnarly stuff, but didn't feel explosive on the straights. By contrast, in my recollection at the time, the Cannondale very much responds like a rocket when you apply torque to the cranks.

On lap #2, the Cannondale assumed the role as my trusty steed. As I remembered, it felt precise without feeling skittish, firm without feeling harsh, and just plain FAST. When I crossed the line and checked my Garmin 1000, I thought I had pulled almost a minute off of my 28'ish minute lap - a virtual millenium on the race course. Further to that, it felt easier. The Scalpel had left me feeling less drained and less like I just rode my butt off for 30 minutes. I felt almost fresh - and I was very excited by these perceptions.

For the third lap, I remounted the Rocky expecting to confirm my initial inclinations and settle the debate once and for all. Imagine my surprise when I felt more capable on the fast descents, more confident on downhills, and felt significantly better than on my first lap on the climbs and fireroads. As it turns out, I am, once again, racing myself into shape. Upon checking the Superfly Racing official timing, the proverbial proof in the pudding was staring me in the face in an incontrovertible way: Despite my initial impressions, I was objectively faster on the Rocky. At best, on fresh legs, I was about 45 seconds faster. Even tired, I was about 3-seconds faster aboard the Rocky.

Before company reps start sending me hate mail or love letters, let me say this: Results will vary based on riding style, a rider's unique strengths and weaknesses, and the specific terrain on which you are ripping either of these fine machines. But it surprised me greatly that I could turn faster laps on a longer travel, heavier bike. Modern bike technology never stops stunning me and every time we think progress has stagnated, our incredible brands come back to the table with something fresher and, apparently, faster. It's a great time to be a cyclist!

Abi Weening

The queen of consistency did exactly what was needed of her and laid down solid, consistent lap times. This was particularly impressive as it was Abi's first MTB ride of the season! Wow.

Luke Knights

As always, Luke's target was his dad, Dave. By the end of the day he had accomplished his goal and started turning better laps. And he does it with a smile. How? ;)

Evan Knights

Evan has grown - both physically and as a cyclist - tremendously over the past couple of years. He can now lay down laps with anyone and he is only getting faster. Watch out for this guy!

Team Knights/Weening understood the task at hand, stayed the course, and maintained a podium-contending position throughout the course of the event. Amazingly, both of our two team wound up running almost exactly the same race time over the full four-person rotation. This meant that Dave and I were at the starting line awaiting the hand-off of the timing chip at the same time, lap after lap.

Dave would typically exit the starting corral with about 2-minutes in hand on me as I awaited Steve Ley's return. Steve's job was to reel back as much time as possible from Abi - who was simply unshakeable. Of course, boys being boys, I couldn't help but poke Dave before he left and remind him that he'd better not slow down too much or I'd certainly catch him.

On lap three, these head games pushed Dave to elevate his risk levels a little too much and, on the fastest, gnarliest downhill on the course, Dave caught a tire on a root and flew over the bars and punched himself into a tree. Immoveable object, meet Dave's shoulder.

Dave courageously carried on after getting himself sorted out, but was visibly shaken at the finish line. Complaining of soreness in the tendons and connective tissue, Dave ensured that nothing was broken by doing the manly thing: Push-ups. Clearly, if you can still do push-up, everything is alright. No?

Never one to surrender or let down his team, Dave proved himself to be the hero of the day by going out and burying his final lap of the day as though nothing had happened. He reported afterwards that he took some tempo off of the downhills, but his lap time was still amazing. What completes this particular tale is that Dave actually rode that last lap with a separated shoulder. Let that sink in for a moment. Dave suffered a major crash, dusted himself off and then rode another lap with a ruined shoulder. If you scroll back up now and look at our group photo taken post race, you'll undoubtedly note that Dave is supporting one arm with another. This man is all about grit, commitment, and team. Inspirational stuff!

Kelly Cullen

As busy as life is with three young kids at home, Kelly never fails to impress with her ability to pull out all the stops when it matters most. "Hey Kelly...we need you to be 2 minutes faster this lap." BOOM! She goes out and nails it. An incredible, day-saving performance. 

Dustin Sampson

Always willing to push until lunch pays him another visit, Dustin has determination and spirit to spare. There is no quit in this guy and Dustin managed to keep lap times consistent as the lap count wore on. The definition of a team player, Dustin loves the podium as much as I do (almost).

Steve Ley

New to mountain biking but with exceptional fitness thanks to road, Steve managed to find his groove on the MTB for the first time. He was elated to finally get in the flow of things and lay down some blistering laps. This just goes to show that with mountain biking, saddle time is king. Eventually, it "clicks"!

Our second team, flying under the Spoke O'Motion Cycling Club banner, had a much tougher time in the hunt for the podium. Once the event was a handful of laps underway, the timing tent revealed a less-than-competitive 15th place standing. As it turned out, we had not properly categorized our team so Kelly went to the organizers and ensured that we were moved to the mixed category where teams must have a minimum of one female rider.

In a flash, we were now in 8th place - still a long way from the podium but at least within shouting distance. Freshly invigorated, everyone was asked to step up their game to see if there was any chance to make up the significant ground we needed. The reality is that these mass-start citizen races draw from a very wide range of experience levels. In this circumstance, these demographics played into our favour as our team did an admirable job of pacing and every rider managed to work hard - but not hard enough to drain the tank for subsequent laps. It's a very fine line.

With a few hours to go, we had drawn to within 75 seconds of the third podium position. Everyone was positively brimming with enthusiasm and the vibe was electric. A couple of laps later and we were crestfallen - we had somehow lost about 7 minutes and were no well out of reach of a positive outcome. Resigned to the situation, beers were just being uncapped when Jon Weening (Abi's dad) come and said, "Do you guys know you are only 1:23 off the podium?"

This changed everything. We had gone from totally out of contention in 15th, to battling to touch the podium, to accepting our failed effort as a sign to drink beer, to being back in the hunt with only a single lap to go.

So, back to the line I went with the weight of our team's outcome on my shoulders. On this lap, my last lap, there was no need to leave anything in the tank. The time had arrived to dig deep, ignore my frazzled legs, and get my head into that twisted space where suffering seems like fun. With an 83-second deficit, absolutely every second would count. If our competitor had a ringer ready to blast an ultra-fast last lap, we were done for. Lap traffic? Done for. Crash? Dropped chained? Bonk? Done, done, and done.

Needless to say, when on course I was completely zoned in on where I planted the tires, where I hit every shift, and how quickly I could make each pass. It was a half-panicked, half-serene lap where every moment was scrutinized and evaluated to judge efficiency and suffering. It felt, incorrectly, like the fastest lap I had ridden all day. (Another example where perception didn't line up with reality.)

Dustin waiting for me and the moment I crossed the line and, together, we hurried to the timing screen to check my time. Tick. Tock. Waiting... And there is was: My lap time and beside that the most important number of all. We had climbed into 3rd place by a margin of 13 seconds. After 8 hours of lapping, our whole race came down to 13-seconds.

It was a remarkable end to a remarkable day that saw us float from low to high and back again. We fought the battle as hard as we could and managed to snag a little bit of glory.

But what about all of our little muchkins? They had a great time to racing in the Shimano kids race:

Eli Weening

James Ley (back) & Liam Cullen

Kaiden Sampson (frt) & Ryder Cullen

Seamus Cullen

Kudos to the Ruppel's from Chico Racing for hosting such an amazing event and keeping the spirit of cycling fresh and vibrant. Also to the scores of volunteers who help make an event like this possible.