September 20, 2008 – The first two stages of Ontario’s inaugural Crank the Shield epic MTB stage race have thrown participants into the clutches of a new challenge. The soul-sucking bogs of day 1 were replaced by untold millions of tons of Canadian Shield granite. While the rugged surfaces provided excellent traction in contrast to bogs, for those with the legs and skills to maintain an upward trajectory along with the obligatory hike-a-bike sections, it also meant scant rest for racers, mentally and physically. The constant undulating terrain combined with healthy doses of water and mud in low lying areas between the rocky segments, plus the cumulative wear and tear on the bikes from two days of epic conditions left many riders with mechanical issues.
While failing brakes, or the complete disappearance of brake pads were the most common issue, the conclusion of the Under 40 Solo male category was impacted by a simple flat. Friday’s stage one winner Derek Zandstra of 3 Rox Racing explained the strategy in the group of four at the head of the race. “We had an informal truce in effect for the bulk of both stages allowing us to work together to gap everyone else, before getting down to business in the closing kilometers.”
Zandstra’s team mate Adam Morka, who was dropped from podium contention the previous day by a mechanical, gave their team the advantage to explore tactics against the pairing of Peter Glassford from the Trek Store Team and Matt Hadley of Xprezo/Solid Edge. Hadley drew the short stick on this day with a flat tire at a critical juncture, releasing the other three to fight to the finish. A long 19km section of flat rail trail played to Glassford’s strengths which he described as “a trained ability to ride a high tempo for extended durations, as opposed to copious short bursts power.”
Glassford’s relentless pulls at the front dropped a tiring Zandstra off the back and improved his chances somewhat with only Morka to deal with, but also left him in the unfortunate position of doing all the work at the front, as Morka was unwilling to help Glassford extend the gap on his team mate Zandstra. Morka’s conservation left him with the legs to take the win near the finish, describing it as a “good day for 3 Rox Racing, with me taking the win and Derek solidifying his position in the general classification.” Glassford was similarly pleased, as the combination of dropping Zandstra, and a mechanical for each of Morka and Hadley during the event, has left him in the driver’s seat for the overall win with a lead of several minutes. But Morka added, “We will try something tomorrow to see if we can spring one of us to reduce Peter’s lead, and after that anything could happen.”
Under 40 Solo female leader Kate Aardal of Edmonton’s Hard Core Bikes overcame a day of adversity to win her second consecutive stage and build what appears to be an insurmountable lead, barring disaster. On this course layout though, potential disasters are lurking around every corner. Case in point was Aardal herself who survived multiple chain issues which were finally remedied only with borrowed repair gear from another racer, as her supply of spare chain links was already exhausted. The patient Aardal quipped, “I was coming here primarily to ride for fun and spend some time with my partner for another upcoming race, but when the race started I just got pulled along into a competitive frame of mind. I wasn’t sure if I was going to blow up,” added Aardal, “but I just went as hard as I could for as long as I could, and eventually made up the deficit to the other top women in my category who passed me when I was having mechanical issues.”
In the chase for the Solo Singlespeed men’s title, Mark Summers of Sound Solutions/Misfit Psycles pounded out an inspired performance to take both the stage and a commanding lead in his category’s general classification. Summers admitted to be a man of few words but did tell us that he was lucky enough to receive “key help from Pedal Performance rider Justen Winster who helped me to gain time on all the paved sections” – not an easy task for a low-geared singlespeeder on faster paved sections when following fellow riders sporting a full set of gears.
Matt Paziuk and Andrew Watson, representing Norco Performance Bikes at Crank the Shield, also scored their second straight stage win and retained their overall lead. “We had a good start today,” recalled Paziuk, who agreed with partner Watson that stage 2 was “more of everything… more distance, more mud, more challenging, more wilderness, and definitely more epic.” The duo also agreed that Watson’s superior climbing was instrumental in keeping them moving forward at a good pace, but it was Paziuk who stepped in to pull the team to the finish after Watson’s early efforts left him spent. “Our Faze bikes were perfect,” described Watson, “and allowed us to keep pedaling smoothly over virtually all the variable terrain we saw today.”
My personal day of racing turned ugly early on, missing early splits with the front few groups and taking well over an hour moving up through the field to finally come across an appropriate group to work with, ultimately dropping two positions in the general classification. However, there’s always a silver lining for those who look for it, and like many racers I’ve discovered that the format of the event and longer stages lend themselves to a much more social style of racing compared to standard XC events.
Cooperation is almost always on offer as competitors struggle as much with conditions and fatigue as with each other, and are happy to have others to share the burden with. This has already afforded me several new friendships freshly minted on the trails, in today’s case a threesome of excellent riders from the Bicycles Plus/Armalat team based in Oshawa, consisting of Scott Luscombe, Paul Loughran, and Mike Davidson – the latter two of which are in second place behind Watson and Paziuk in their team category.
Look for reports from other categories, and final pushes to podium positions in Sunday’s closing stage 3 from the lovely Camp White Pine, where racers refueled with a sumptuous dinner feast, to the finish at Haliburton Forest.
Stage 2 results here.
GC after Stage 2 here.