August 12, 2005 – Regardless of snow, rain, sun or fire, Stage 5 from Sandy McNabb Campground to Bragg Creek has been the toughest stage in the TransRockies Challenge each year that it has been held. That’s why it is considered the Queen Stage of the event. Though the exact route changes year to year, the stage is always over 105km long and includes over 2000 metres of elevation gain. The profile includes over 50km of singletrack and six major climbs.
On Thursday morning, over 300 riders, thinned somewhat overnight by cold-related ailments like bronchial infections and balky knees, rolled out of Sandy McNabb campground. The riders were treated to crisp, clear blue skies with a forecast of perfect cycling weather ahead. The blue skies belied the truth of how tough the day would get–the previous day’s deluge of rain left much of the singletrack in slick, muddy condition and the finish times reflected this, with the fastest times three-quarters of an hour slower than 2004.
Despite the tough conditions and grinding fatigue, most riders new to the TransRockies were amazed by the singletrack and riding in Stage 5 which features two definitive Rocky Mountain moments. The descent from the 2100 metre top of Powderface Ridge is a classic, with a drop of several hundred metres though different types of terrain and vegetation. Racers then ford the glacially cold and clear Elbow River in the most spectacular mountain valley imaginable.
There was drama and tension throughout the field, as three incredibly hard days of riding were to be followed with yet one more test of soul and endurance. The variability of team dynamics were never more apparent as the fatigue of the previous days left emotions naked””several teams rolled across the finish line without acknowledging or speaking to each other, while others arrived separately, at least one partner having decided that disqualification was preferable to another two days of riding as a pair.
What breaks can also bond, and it was more common to see teams ride across the line with a handshake, hug or high five. After four consecutive days of epic efforts, they have been through dark moments together and come to the other side.
Again, it was Team Rocky Mountain Business Objects who celebrated the best, as Andreas Hestler and Marty Lazarski decided that this was statement day. With a mass of national and regional media in from Calgary at the finish line, conservative tactics were off the menu. Rocky Mountain put the hammer down to make sure that they rolled through first, finishing in 5:28:19, four minutes ahead of the Race Face Mountain Men, and padding their lead to 20 minutes with two stages left.
With the overnight withdrawal of the Costa Rican pair of Marco Pohlond and Paolo Cesar Montoya due to Montoya’s knee tendonitis, and the mechanical woes of the Belgian Reevax.be team, the battle for the third podium spot was wide open. Switzerland’s Daniel and Urs Senn entered the day with a narrow six minute gap on The Bike Shop’s Jon Nutbrown and Kelly Servinski. Early in the stage, The Bike Shop pair opened up a gap on the Team Sennebuebe, but they began to fade and the Swiss came into the finish with a 90 second gap to hold onto their GC podium spot for one more day. The men’s GC movers on the day were the father and son team of Eric and James Crowe, who picked up 10 minutes to move up two placed on GC to fifth.
In the women’s race Team Momentum Training came out of Day 4 with the GC lead, but with a question mark over the health of Team Captain Hillary Harrison. She woke up on Thursday feeling ill, the effect of having spent over six hours cold and wet during Stage 4. Second-placed Trish Stevenson and Karen Masson of Cane Creek took advantage of the opening and opened up a huge 41 minute gap by the finish, to grab the overall lead by a seemingly unassailable 33 minutes with two days to go.
After a stunning 4th place overall on Stage 4, Irish Olympian Robin Seymour and partner Tarja Owens grabbed the leaders’ jerseys back from the Alberta duo of Marg Fedyna and Blair Saunders. Stage 5 was another powerful performance as they came through the line looking utterly shattered but in 5th overall and 13 minutes ahead of Fedyna and Saunders on the day. In contrast to the full-suspension hydraulic disc brakes standard issue equipment, the Irish pair ride on bikes which look more suited to a World Cup race””21 pound carbon hardtails with sidepull brakes””and having forgotten to bring pads for under their sleeping bags, they also confessed that they have been sleeping on the ground. Do they sound tough enough yet?
At the end of Day 5, the end is in sight. Though there are 125 km of riding with 2500 metres of climbing left, the remaining riders and teams have survived the toughest tests that the TransRockies Challenge has to offer. The 80 km of Day 6 will include 2000 metres of climbing, but the reward is an epic ride across a treeless mountain ridgeline surrounded by a panoramic view of the majestic front range of the Rockies, and followed by the warp speed descent down Cox Hill whose profile roughly resembles an elevator shaft in the route book, and feels that way on the bike.
The route ends up at Rafter Six, an authentic Alberta dude ranch, where dreams of the Finish Line in Canmore will dance though the heads of weary mountain bikers like those of Santa Claus do to children on Christmas Eve.
Click the TR Challenge 2005 icon on the upper right corner of this page for live daily reports from Team Pedal/Kona