September 22, 2008 – After being subjected to a devious combination of bogs and rocks over the first stages of Ontario’s Crank the Shield epic MTB stage race, racers were apprehensive when listening to the Saturday evening slide show and description from course designer Sean Ruppel of Chico Racing as he outlined the details of the following day’s final stage, well aware of his infamous off-beat sense of humour.
With the event only covering three days in total compared to some of the other lengthier week-long stage races, the pace had been relatively high over the first two days leaving many racers with stiff legs and wavering resolve. Several steep spikes jumped out as the obvious difference on the elevation graph Sean displayed during his Day 3 preview. Although this elicited a few sighs from the crowd, he then uttered the magic word that instantly captures the attention of every mountain biker — singletrack.
Sunday’s morning start had a new twist, in that it began with a neutral 15km road ride with full police escort to guide the large pack of 270 riders safely through the area’s gorgeous rolling roadways. Racers were grateful not only for the gentle start to warm up their legs, but also for a few extra minutes to twist a few barrel adjusters and give their bikes a last shakedown after the mechanical carnage inflicted by Stage 2. Once call ups for all category leaders were completed, the stage began in earnest with a stiff fireroad climb that immediately shattered the field. More of the same was in store for racers over the next half hour, broken up into several ramps of elevation gain that were a cruel punishment for some and a revelation for others.
The selective nature of the opening climbs allowed the event’s group of foru top riders in the Under 40 Solo men’s category to quickly put distance between themselves and the remainder of the field. As with the previous stages, this group of four consisted of GC leader Peter Glassford of the Trek Store Team, whose daily consistency and ability to stay clear of mechanical troubles had granted him a cushion of several minutes to work with. Glassford was taking nothing for granted though, and appeared ready to face the numerical advantage of 3 Rox Racing team mates Derek Zandstra and Adam Morka, winners of stages 1 and 2 respectively – and also Glassford’s closest challengers for the general classification.
However, it was 4th placed GC rider Matt Hadley of Xprezo/Solid Edge who was the man on the move, earning a clear nod from Zandstra as, “Definitely the most aggressive rider on the day.” Hadley built up and maintained a lead of almost a minute on the other three riders, but the difficult nature of much of the singletrack — including some short but steep hiking sections — meant that he was never able to escape any further than the chasers’ sightline, denying Hadley the chance to break the string completely and consolidate his gap. Eventually Hadley was reeled back in and the evenly matched quartet looked to be set for another closely contested finish.
“I thought about going for the stage win,” recalled Glassford, “but Derek and Matt are quicker than me through the tougher technical singletrack and it took everything I had to just stay with them.” With the group altogether coming into the finale, Morka fell off after contacting a stump, and then Zandstra, in the lead, had trouble navigating a sharp marked turn into the finish, leaving Hadley to take a deserving stage win after his aggressive work earlier on.
The outcome seemed to satisfy all four riders, who had spent so much time working together during the event, as it distributed the three stage wins evenly, with Glassford taking the overall. “The overall win was a big goal of mine for this season, being the inaugural edition of the event,” explained Glassford, adding that, “I had some advantage perhaps in knowing the lengths of a few of the singletrack sections to measure out my efforts, but I was also able to pass on a heads up to the rest to the guys when we approached tougher sections which helped to keep our entire group out of trouble.”
Conversely, trouble seemed to find Over 40 Solo men’s leader Ted Ingram of Cycle Solutions / Angry Johnny’s Racing throughout the stage. Ingram had built up a large cushion both through his proficiency in navigating the exceptionally difficult terrain of stages 1 and 2, along with a series of flats suffered by closest rival Dave Dermont of True North Cycles the previous day. The finale introduced an element of doubt into the category’s GC through, partly due to the preponderance of sustained climbs that didn’t play into the powerful Ingram’s strengths. Then from Ingram himself who admitted afterwards that he “pushed too hard on some of the faster downhills, and had three flats along the way.” Each successive flat only compounded the desire to push the descents, which in many spots were littered with imposing embedded rocks partially hidden by shadow in between the tree cover. In the end Ingram lost a stage for first time in the event, but ultimately employed his steely will to secure the overall with a safe margin.
Rachel Mirvish and Brad Hunter of Sweet Pete’s/Epic Ride/HB Cycling Club, competing in the 2-person Mixed Team category, began the event with a small gap on day 1, but according to Hunter, “We weren’t too worried about the gap. The other teams were good riders also, but we figured we would just ride ourselves into contention if we rode intelligently over the rest of the stages.” Their strategy paid dividends as they took the category lead with a Stage 2 win and consolidated with a repeat performance on the final day to provide them with a significant gap back to the other teams.
In the Over 40 Female Solo long time racer Joanne Uhlmann of Gears Bike Shop Club dominated all three stages. “I’m an adventure racer also,” described Uhlmann, “so the difficult conditions in the first two days didn’t bother me at all.” Instead, it was Uhlmann’s own inner demons that nearly derailed her train on Day 3. “I wasn’t in a confident or positive frame of mind to start the stage,” quipped Uhlmann, “but then my wonky drivetrain that was skipping all over the cassette finally got fixed with one last desperation attempt after the neutral road start, just before the leaders’ call ups.”
The Norco-Evolution Team completed a similar sweep of all stages and the overall in both Under 80 (combined) 2-Person Team categories, with Sue Haviland and Catherine Vipond on the women’s side, plus Matt Paziuk and Andrew Watson taking men’s. Mari Evans of True North Cycles, brothers Matt and Andrew Handford of Different Bikes, and Kate Aardal of Hard Core Bikes all exacted punishment on their fellow competitors by taking all honours on tap for the duration of the event. Mark Summers of Sound Solutions/Misfit Cycles repelled an early from his team mate and Stage 1 winner Scott Bentley to outclass his competition during Stages 2 and 3 for the overall victory.
Last day impressions of riding left upon participants by the rugged and challenging singletrack of the final stage in Haliburton Forest, were followed up admirably by a plentiful BBQ and awards ceremony complete with live entertainment, which was a fitting way to conclude the first ever Crank the Shield. Refreshments courtesy of Wellington Brewery were a welcome sight for racers looking to relax after having completed their three-day journey.
From the participant’s viewpoint, a bewilderingly complex set of logistics covering accomodation, food, not to mention transportation of riders along with their bikes and baggage, were all carried off with aplomb by Chico Racing, especially considering the event’s inaugural status. “Our job now is to collect feedback from everyone,” said Chico’s front man Adam Ruppel, “and use it to make sure the event gets better and better every year.”
Stage 3 results here.
Final GC results here.