Test of Metal.sounds like a tough race right. I thought so too until I pre-rode it twice this past spring. There was only one section that really tested me or to be more precise my bike. I knew it would test me but I didnt think it would be that bad. Dealing with 800 other riders worried me more than the course itself. At the end of race day I thought differently of the Test and respected it as I should have. It was a test, which I passed but not with the grade I had hoped for.
The Test of Metal is a 67k mountain bike race held in Squamish , BC . Its in its 16 year now and has grown into a massive race. 1121 riders were on the start list, 827 finished, 59 people DNFd, and 235 DNS. I was lucky enough to get a first row start behind the pros. This meant I was starting in the top 10% of the riders. The start is in Squamish, BC and you ride city streets for the first 15 minutes to help spread out the race but with so many riders its still chaos when you get in the woods. My great start got my to the woods in about 100 position but soon all my good luck would be taken away. I flatted just 21 minutes into the race.
As I fixed my flat tire which involved breaking the bead of my tubeless tire and putting in a tube. I lost just 9 minutes. 9 minutes is a pretty slow tire change but I was okay with it. The real killer was the 100s of riders who passed me in those 9 minutes. As I stood pumping up my tire I listened as rider after rider went by me. All I could think was, Im going to have to pass every one of those people again! The real loss here wasnt the 9 minutes fixing my tire but the immeasurable time it would take to pass those who went by me.
Once I got going I practically lost my voice saying On YOUR LEFT, LEFT, RIGHT, ON YOUR RIGHT, COMING THROUGH THE MIDDLE, RIGGGGHHHTTTT! I also saw I was not the only one who flatted in that area. The side of the trail was filled with people fixing flats. The area in which I could pass people quickly came to an end and I got stuck in a train of riders in single track with no place to pass. I could hear the hands of the clock ticking away as I sat in traffic. When the trail gave way to pavement once again I was like that guy in the Porsche who once he gets open road in front of him after being stuck in traffic, drops a gear and races off at 100+ mph. I went into ITT mode (individual time trail) and dropped the hammer.
Dropping the hammer as I did helped me make up ground but it also taxed my back a lot sooner than if I hadn’t had to attack to get back all those positions. I soon found myself in another area that didn’t offer any room to pass. There were still so many riders that even the smallest root and just one mistake could hold up massive amounts of people behind.
I rode another 2-3 miles in areas with limited passing and tried to stay calm. I knew a pavement section was coming up. When it did I went into ITT mode once more. As soon as it began it was over and I was back in the woods. This time at least there was some room to pass. From here on out it was me and my body against the race course. The first time through the Power House feed station I felt great but I kind of knew I wouldn’t be feeling that way for long.
Once the grade started to go uphill on Bonk Hill I started to feel the power in my legs fading. I was now paying for all the chasing I had done. I was still passing more people than were passing me but I wasn’t passing as many now. Towards the top of the second climb I watched as a 15 year old passed me. We went back and forth until the trail went down hill and I lost him. The last climb after 9 mile bridge was a slow grind for me and those around me. I took comfort in knowing once to the top I’d have miles of downhill trail before getting back to the Power House feed station again.
I blasted down Ring Creep Rip trail passing as many people as I could. I realized quickly my arms were going to be a problem by the end. They were so tight and I was having trouble holding on to the bars. By the time I reached the Power House Plunge Trail I was just surviving in regards to my arms. Of course this is the most technical and rocky section of the course too. I just rode the best I could and tried not to crash. Here and there I would lose a position but I also picked some up so I was holding my ground.
By the skin of my teeth I made it back to the Power House feed station with many a close call on the way down the Power House Plunge. Once the trail went up hill again every single muscle from my knees to my hips cramped. It hurt so bad. Every cell in my body was saying, “Just stop! It’s okay, you can stop. PLEASE! stop for us!” but this young 20 year old kid was on the micro phone yelling at us to not stop. He was saying, “Everyone is cramping. We know it HURTS! Just don’t STOP!” I would learn later that almost everyone cramps in that same spot. You go down hill for so long without pedaling your legs aren’t ready for the even gentle climb through the feed station.
I made it through without stopping but I still had 2-3 miles of rocky single track to tackle. Lucky for me most people were in the same shape as me. Only a few people were able to blow by me. I felt like I could barely hold the bike in a straight line. My fore arms were so cramped I couldn’t push the shifters with my thumbs. As a result I kept mis-shifting the bike and would lost time. It also told those around me how badly I was feeling. A major “tell”. I finally got to Endo Trail just as the guy behind me crashed big time. I just heard a loud grunt and the bike hitting the ground. I took it as a lesson to stay focused a bit longer.
I reached the last “Y” in the trail that lead me to the pavement once more. I got on the road and went once more into my ITT mode. Unfortunately for me both my legs and bike were not at their prior level. I was out of gas and my bike wouldn’t go into my 3 highest gears. Two guys went by me then two more. Finally the trail went down hill again and I stormed by one of them and was able to get all of my gears. I passed a few more riders and hammered my way to the finish line in a sprint.
Honestly I was upset about the flat but so many people got them as well, I had to just accept it. My time was 3 hours and 35 minutes. I finished 34th in my 35-39 age group and 204th overall. My 9 minute flat cost me 56 positions overall and 9 in my group. Who knows how many other positions I lost playing catch up. I learned two things for when I do this race again. #1 run a beefier tire with more pressure and #2 respect the Test!
Get out there!