Unclassified, But Unrestricted
What do you do with an unclassified rider in a 44km single-track time trial? Answer: give him the first starting slot of the day. With a clear trail ahead and rain clouds gathering over the mountains, this proved to be the best starting slot of the day.
Although it had rained all night, the trail was still in good shape at 9am this morning. The rain was light and persistent as I turned the first crank of the day, but the heavens really opened around 11am. By the time the race leaders set out at 2pm the course had become a real mud-fest. I'll be the first to admit that the conditions played no small part in the fact that only eight riders, from all categories, finished with a quicker time than me today.
Before the start positions were announced at the evening race briefing last night, the course designer warned the assembled riders to keep a keen eye on the route markings as the single-track wound an intricate course through the forest around Nipika. Having missed several turns on Merida 100s and other enduro events in the UK - always my own fault, not paying sufficient attention to the route markings - my heart sank when I learned that I was the first rider out for today's stage. On the plus side, I would have the trail to myself. Soon after the race briefing finished the rain began to fall and I soon appreciated my good fortune.
Stage 3 started and finished in Nipika. On the Cape Epic earlier this year, the stages that started and finished in the same town were a big disappointment, with some very poor courses that offered very little for hard-core mountain bikers. Today's stage on the Trans-Rockies was the exact opposite - a mountain biker's dream. Much of the course was "virgin trail" as the local landowner was keen to put several hundred mountain bikers along new sections to carve out the trail for local riders and visitors to Nipika. As the first rider out I felt privileged to ride the trail as it swept through the forest and hugged the line of a steep ridge with a turquoise glacial river below.
With an unrestricted trail ahead of me, today's stage was a joy to ride. Later riders found it to be more "grunt than grin". Tomorrow I must find a new race partner, but two days of riding without restriction has been top class.
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