TransRockies Stage 6 Report: Across the Continental Divide and into the Storm

Provided by TransRockies

Elkford – Crowsnest Pass, AB/101km/ 2467m climbing/ 2419m descending

Czechmasters at the FinishThere are days in endurance racing when many riders would turn back if it weren’t for the responsibility to their teammates and the support from other riders in the midst of the same test. Stage 6 of the 2009 TransRockies was one such day. An already long day turned crushingly hard with another day of rain and trails that had turned soft and rutted over the previous 48 hours. Despite the test, teams continued to press forward to the finish, most with smiles and good cheer in the face of the struggle.

Instead of the estimated finish time of 4 ½ hours, the winning Czechmasters duo of Martin Horak and Milan Spolc rolled into Crowsnest Pass, Alberta with a finishing time of 5:38:48. They were followed closely by Team Amarante BikeZone-Onbike (Joao Marinho and Jose Silva), who finally got the better of Stefan Widmer and Marty Lazarski from the Rocky Mountain Factory Team in the Open Men’s category. The first three teams who had agreed to ride most of the day together as a measure of safety in the cold conditions and the Czech duo were able to maintain enough energy to burst free for the win near the end. Behind, teams drifted in one at a time looking spent but glad to know that just one day remained in perhaps the hardest mountain bike stage race ever held.

It was a huge effort for all at the front of the field and Team Amarante in particular dug impossibly deep to snag their first category win. Joao Marinho was holding onto his partner Jose Silva down the last metres of the finish chute as Silva was too spent to even lift his head up. This was the rare day when many slower teams looked better at the finish than the winners-they were probably better prepared for the cold conditions at the top of the climbs with extra clothes and jackets than the winners went out with the bare minimum of cover.

The day had started in Elkford with hope of improving weather. There was low-lying fog but the patches of blue indicated that there might be a break in the rain that had soaked riders during the previous stages. The residents of Elkford had demonstrated the kind of hospitality and warmth that has made it a favourite stop at the TransRockies, spontaneously billeting riders in spare rooms and taking loads of dirty laundry home to be returned in the morning to riders emerging from another great breakfast-this morning breakfast burritos and pancakes were on the menu.

Hopes of a brighter day soon ended in chilling rain and thunder that hit the field before checkpoint 1 at the base of the climb up and over Deadman’s Pass and the Continental Divide. With 70km of riding still left, conservation of energy was the order of the day for most riders rather than straight competition. As riders rode down Main Street in Crowsnest Pass, the locals looked at the riders as though they were aliens, soaking wet and coated head to toe in mud.

Despite the day’s drama, there was little GC movement in the field as the Rocky Mountain Factory Team held their overall lead. The Scallion sisters, racing for stage host Nipika Mountain Resort, won their fourth stage and holding onto the overall lead in the Open Women’s category. National team rider Mical Dyck and her partner Craig Neilson continued their clean sweep of the Open Mixed division with a top-5 overall ride and another dominant performance.

Tomorrow is the home stretch to the finish line in Fernie and the party which the town has lined up for the riders. Fernie has been a part of the TransRockies since it began in 2002, and the town understands well the sacrifices that are made to get to finish the hardest mountain bike stage race in the World. The wild and unseasonable weather has made 2009 perhaps been the most challenging edition of the TransRockies in half a decade so the celebrations will be that much more intense for the teams who reach Fernie and earn the toughest t-shirt in mountain biking.

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