Spring is here! And the surest sign is the annual mountain bike race from Paris to Ancaster.
It's hard to describe this race... it throws everything at you and then some.
- Roads - paved (8K) and gravel (20K)
- Rail trails - some groomed gravel, others more like dirt/mud (18K)
- Off-road single track - including some nasty nasty mud chutes (13K)
What's a mud chute? It's basically a cut line or path that is about 6-8" deep mud. It's ridiculous... most riders around me were walking them, very tricky to ride. I lost my shoe in it the first year (and then found it!).
If the first 57K and the mud chutes don't kill you, the last 3K are straight up the escarpment on a dirt trail...
Sound like fun? It's an acquired taste... the first year I did it, I hated it... I was pissed off, vowed never to do it again. Then I started thinking of what I could have done differently, how I could have gone faster, how I could have trained differently... and next thing I knew it was a year later and I was lining up at the start.
My time the first year was a dismal 3:54... I gave up, barely finished. I was miserable and totally unprepared for the challenge. Next year the conditions were dryer and I was well prepared, knocked the time down to 2:56. This year, they've changed the course slightly, so tough to make predictions/goals, but I think under-3:00 is reasonable, despite my lack of training due to knee problems and the wet conditions I'm anticipating. I'd really like to crack the top 50%, that would be fantastic.
So you've read about it and are thinking of doing it? OK, here's some tips:
Registration: It sells out, so register early!
Bike: Mountain bike, hybrid, or cyclocross - I've seen them all out there. I ride a hybrid with narrower tires, puts me at a disadvantage on the single track and through the mud, but I make up a lot of time on the road and rail trail sections. Most people are on mountain bikes, and the handful of cross bikes round out the field.
The Start: Try to be near the front and stay there for the first 20 minutes or so... there are so many riders that at the first single-track people were actually waiting in line to go up one of the hills! If you want to avoid that, you need to get to the front during the first rail trail section and stay there. You're pretty much OK after you cross the highway, good time to take a breath and settle in to your normal pace.
The Mud: Most of the early mud is OK, you can get through it without trouble. But in the last 1/3 of the race you'll come to the mud chutes... I suggest you carry your bike down them! The first year I walked down like 90% of the riders around me, but I rolled my bike along... HUGE mistake, it gunked up with mud. So last year I tossed it on my shoulder and at the bottom popped right back on, perfect! Zipped right by the riders who were at the bottom with sticks trying to get the mud from out of their brakes and chains.