Congratulations Peter for winning the Salsa Vaya frame and fork from the El Bandito StuporCross race on July 22.!
El Bandito took place July 22 in the Kawartha Lakes area of south-central Ontario. In the past, this area was known as the “Land of Reflections” by the First Nations people, and indeed it is a land of magic and beauty! If you are brave enough to venture into it with a bicycle, you may have some reflections of your own.
This is really my first year of racing, and I have taken a very realistic approach. My goal is not to win, but to challenge myself and rise to the occasion. Racing on gravel is really an internal contest: you can be incredibly fit and still not have the grit it takes to compete in a gravel race. Gravel races like El Bandito and the Eager Beaver of the Stupor Cross offer cyclists more than a ride – they’re an adventure!
In preparation for the El Bandito, my friends/fellow competitors and I, being totally unfamiliar with the locale, arrived a day before the race to check out the lay of the land. We had stopped at Gears bike shop for a last-minute tune-up with Brandon (what an awesome dude!!), and headed out for a scouting mission. Well, little did we know what we were getting into. We discovered there are a ton of hills in this area. Nothing is flat! The basic conclusion was that we were in shit and that tomorrow was going to hurt.
El Bandito started at the lodge of the Brimacombe Ski Hill and went up the ski hill, so needless to say the first hill was a run up. Realizing that it was going to be a long day, I wasn’t in any huge rush. The descent following the climb was interesting, because some of the locals had decided that they would do road repair on their own terms, “Mad Max style.” The organizer had mentioned this, and to be honest, I had thought, “It can’t be that bad, right?” Well, I could not have been more wrong! These were chunks of cement from a space asteroid field, so unless you had a serious MTB it was not worth the risk.
The first section of the race was a lot of rolling roads broken up with some gravel sections. Overall, it was not too hard. I mean, do not get me wrong, climbing is never easy. But, based on the map and the description of the course, the race was bound to get much harder. So, given that prediction, things were going very well – I was working with a group, and we were moving at an okay pace.
We entered a gravel section and at the bottom of the hill lay racer in the dirt! Person down! Most of the group stopped and I helped. I think I stopped for about 10-15 minutes, and while that is a huge gap, we all hope somebody would do the same for us.
Getting going again on the road, I was working with a group of my friends, but eventually we were starting to break apart. I realized that a sandy section was coming up, and, well, with sand you don’t want too many people at the party. One other rider and I sprinted ahead, got into the area before the others, and put our sand ploughs on full speed. This was one of the more memorable moments of the race. When I looked back and saw the remainder of the group struggling in the sand, I realized what a radical awesome idea ours had been. They were not having the party we were!
Following this, we entered some more technical trails, and I got a pinch flat on a descent, which was bound to happen. I think I changed it in record time (which for me may have been a greater accomplishment than the actual race itself). After several more challenging technical trail sections, I descended to the oasis of rest stops. Candy, Coke, water, and even a small amount of brew. Heaven, I tell you! I thought I must have been hallucinating, because it seemed that a number of people I knew were there as well. I was glad to have people to work with on the next road section. Then a few more friends showed up. All right, party people!
We left as a group and worked together for a bit, but as the hills got bigger and badder people dropped away, and eventually I found myself in the forest alone. I really put the pedal to the metal and poured it out. Up this point, I had been somewhat cautious, as I didn’t want to risk a serious crash. Now, however, I was bombing every sketchy descent, praying I could make it over the wash-outs. I even bunny-hopped a tree. (Granted, it was only a few inches, but still…)
Beginning to smell blood and feeling the end was coming close, I went even harder. I completely forgot I had to climb the ski hill again! I had a brief moment where I felt I may actually swear at the guy directing me up it. Nonetheless, I finished the race with some friends at the line and some close behind me.
I had two specific awesome memorable moments at the race I want to mention. One, a lady kept getting flats with what must have been a some kind of on-going issue. Three times I came across her. She was pretty determined and kept coming full of steam. A very strong spirit – so, respect! And, two, never try to climb a sandy hill with a mouth full of belly beans.
This much insanity is the sign of genius, and that is what makes Dan Marshall a wizard far wiser and noble than Gandalf the Grey. In addition to this, the course was incredibility well marked, and I can only imagine the work that went into that! Our adventurous day ended with us trying to celebrate with way more calories in all the wrong things, but, alas, everybody was crashed by nine. ZZZZZZZ!