Race Report by Joe King- Three of us on the Angry Monkeys Racing (AMR) team traveled out to Lake Geneva for the Canopy Challenge, the first in a series of endurance mountain bike races (WEMSeries.com). All the WEMS races feature a simple format -- you can race 3 hours, 6 hours or 12 hours and you can race solo or in a team of two (with some variation). There are no age groups, "cats" or anything else.
The Canopy Challenge took place in a park used mostly for people looking for the experience of flying through the tree tops on a zip line. The mountain bike trails below are well maintained and thoughtfully constructed. If you enjoy and mostly ride flowing trails with sweeping turns and fast downhills you would love this course for being something completely different.
WEMS races start Le Mans style, which means we put our bike down in the grass, line up 100 yards away and run to our bike at the sound of a gun. This seems like a funny way to start a endurance event but this plus the long gravel up hill that followed did serve the purpose of separating the starting hoard before the trail narrowed into single track. With all of the bikes, there wasn't much room to run so I jogged over to where I thought I left my bike but didn't see it. It was just behind me of course so after a quick CX mount I was pedaling. Not more than five pedal strokes into the race the gravel proved to be too much for the person just ahead of me causing her to fall providing a early test of my balance and agility to avoid her.
The course is 98% tight single track. Which I figure will probably keep me from biking too hard in the early part of the race. The first part of the single track features the only small bits of flow in the roughly 5 mile loop. This section also features a downed tree which is about 2.5 feet in diameter with a wooden logs providing a ramp up and over. There's also a detour around the tree. The rider ahead of me chose the detour giving just barely enough space to accelerate for the ramp which went smoothly. I'm guessing the rider on my wheel either got confused by the bifurcation of riders or failed to accelerate for the ramp because from behind I hear the clamor of crashing bikes and yelps of surprise. So just like that, there's some space in front and behind me.
For much of the race I rode with a group of two XXX riders. We talked some and didn't kill each other. I was more comfortable on the up hills and they were much better at the twisty downhills. This worked well until we got behind some one going so so slowly on a steep section I just fell over and couldn't get unclipped. It was good to have company most of the time but these two had difficulty with a section of trail that snakes down a drainage. One rides the banks of this deeply cut drainage crossing it twice on short wooden planks. The first time all three of us ran down because our leader lost it immediately. On the second attempt he did not even try to ride but I managed to stay on the bike even though I missed the first plank causing me to cross through mud and water. Not until I was alone on my forth lap did I properly negotiate this scary-but-fun feature.
There was one feature that seemed destined to produce an ambulance ride. It was a large man-made wooden hump placed strategically on the edge of a gully in the woods. Two out of the four times past I saw riders trying to crawl their way out of the gully. One had the demeanor of some one who was done for the day. I remembered my trip to Moab where getting behind the saddle is essential but it still surprised me to see my saddle pop up between my thighs every time over this feature.
There were numerous other challenges to keep your attention such as very tight tree-lined turns, steeply off-camber turns, logs and bridges. One long bridge had entrance featuring large rounded stones and a 30 foot drop on one side. After about an hour and half of this three hour race I began to settle in.
The format of the race is 3 hours so you are scored on how many laps you can do in that time and then by time. Near the end of my second lap I started to realize that four laps are possible so I timed my third lap carefully and calculated that this lap must be completed before the 2 hour and 18 minute mark in if I am to have a chance at completing four laps in the allotted time. This is important because if you go over time, the lap doesn't count. Crossing the line at the end of lap three my watch tells me it's 2:18:40 -- oh no! It's too close to not try but it's far from certain that I'll make it. I'll need everything to go right, unlike the first lap when I had to stop to adjust my saddle which was turned 30 degrees to the left. Sure enough not more that 5 minutes in I would get my share of bloody marks for the day. It could be that the few riders attempting similar a feat just behind me were panicking because the usual very courteous communication prior to passing was suddenly dispensed with in favor of muscling past in the narrowest of opportunities. One such fellow sent me in the bush scratching my right hip on a brambles. After that, however, the overtaking riders dwindled and it was my turn to over take a few, clearly hoping to complete 3 laps. I refused to look at my watch and concentrated on keeping my pace so when I crossed the line I stopped immediately and looked back at the scoring table. The young man at the computer smiled and said the words I longed hear, "you made it."
"We had a great time, and the trail was very challenging with big jumps, tight corners and wooden bridges. If we don't learn mountain biking from this, we will never learn." -Arild Haugene