August 10, 2011 (Island Lake Lodge, BC) – Stage 3 of the TransRockies that took racers along 42.4km of some of Fernie’s best mountain biking terrain featured 2200m of climbing and 1900m of descending. One of the strange things about endurance racing is that many times the hardest days are also the most memorable days for athletes. The type of person who signs up for epic events is there to be tested and the greatest rewards are to be found on the days when the course and conditions are the most difficult. By that measure, Stage 3 of the 2011 TransRockies is going to be found on page of many scrapbooks as one of the best, toughest days ever.
The 42km-long stage 3 was always going to be one of the biggest challenges for the riders from 20 different countries who came to the Rockies in 2011 and baking hot weather and dry trail conditions only added an extra level of difficulty to a course profile which featured seven steeps climbs and lots of technical singletrack. The profile, technical riding and heat made the ride challenging enough that finish times were slower than they were for Stage 2 which was 13km longer! “Hardest day” and “best day” were the two common themes at the finish line as riders relaxed in the scenic surroundings of Island Lake Lodge, a world-class Cat-ski resort in the mountains above Fernie.
While the top placings in the Open Men’s division seemed settled, the Open Women’s race was wide up for grabs with three athletes separated by only 4 minutes in the overall at the start of the Day. Stage 1 winner Mical Dyck used her world-class technical riding skills to surge to the win in Stage 3 and jump from 3rd place to the overall win ahead of Catherine Vipond who grabbed third on the day behind Jean-Ann Berkenpas who grabbed her first podium of the race but could not dislodge Melanie McQuaid from the overall standings podium.
The winner of stages 1 and 2 in the Open Men’s Division, Victoria, BC-based Max Plaxton said he suffered from the elevation during stage 2 and even though the route was going to be an immense technical challenge, he was happy to be back closer to the valley floor for Stage 3. With sea level lungs back, National Champion Plaxton laid down another tough pace and soloed to a convincing 4-minute victory to sew up his second straight TR3 title. The World Championships in Champery, Switzerland are the next race on his schedule and TR3 kicked off a block of hard training to take on the best in the World in this, his best season yet.
As they had since the start of the event, three riders from Alberta dominated the Men’s 40+ category finishing Stage 3 in the same 1-2-3 placing they had since day 1. Masters National Champion Ian Auld showed that his jersey had been well-earned with another strong ride to secure the overall win ahead of Jeff Neilson and Calvin Zaryski.
Sometimes, the overall placings in a race like the TransRockies settle down pretty quickly and leaders jerseys are given to the same team over and over. The Open Men’s division in 2011 has been nothing like that as, for the third straight day, a different team will pull on the coveted leaders jerseys at the evening’s ceremonies. The Swiss Team Zaboo Duo of Mat Haussener and Damian Perrin have not won a stage yet but their consistent podium placings and ability to avoid mechanical problems has rewarded them with the overall lead after three days. They took the jerseys from Brian Cooke and Travis Hauck (Bicycle Café/Gericks), the leaders after day two, who finished six minutes behind in third place.
First place went to the hard-charging Fernie team of Martin Vale and Carter Hovey who managed to eat up most of the 15 minutes they lost due to a mechanical on Stage 2. Sitting in third overall, just 4 ½ minutes behind Team Zaboo, they’re poised to make a run at the jerseys, if not on the shorter Stage 4 then definitely on the longer, tougher Stage 5.
Local knowledge is one of the key parts of endurance racing and the leading women’s team, Team Fernie Fix, said after Days 1 and 2 that they were holding some energy in reserve for Day 3 in anticipation of a gruelling day. Their strategy paid off with their third straight stage win and an increasing margin over the Australian pair of Simone McCallum and Claire Garcia-Webb who moved into second place overall with a strong finish on day 2. Team Make-a-Wish from Canmore slipped into third place after day 3 but with four days on their home turf in Kananaskis Country, they may yet move back up the podium.
For a decade, the TransRockies has been an international destination for adventure-seeking athletes and the 2011 edition is no different. The multinational flavour of the 10th TransRockies can be seen on each day’s podiums where there are teams from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia, the Czech Republic and Austria grabbing daily prizes. The Austrian pair of René Reidinger and Axel Strauss (Team Integraglobal.com) made their first podium visit a good one, snatching 1st place in the Men 80+ division moving closer to the overall podium which is still led by the Czech Masters.
As the TR3 riders wrap up their ride in the Rockies, TR7 riders look forward to moving from the trails of Fernie to the rugged wilderness of Kananaskis Country where they spend four days moving North through some of the best mountain bike riding in the Rockies.
Stage 4 Preview
North Fork Recreation Area-Little Elbow Campground.
The only bus transfer of 2011 takes riders to the start of Stage 4 which is brand new for 2011 and starts four straight days in Alberta’s spectacular Kananaskis Country. From the startline at North Fork Recreation you head south on the Gorge Creek Road which quickly takes riders to the base of the biggest climb of the day to the top of Volcano Ridge. This tough but rideable climb is followed by rolling trails to the spectacular Black Rock Canyon. Then it’s onto the last climb of the day on Wildhorse trail, and a blast down one of the funnest descents of the week. A great introduction to Kananaskis riding!