Up at 5:20AM to catch the first ferry, we cruised through a sleepy downtown Vancouver, and arrived with barely enough time to register the two racers I had been sharing a ride with. Cutting it so close meant both cyclists competed without seeing or pre-riding the course. It's just the Nationals, who needs to be prepared?
To show my appreciation for getting a ride to Vancouver I volunteered to be the pit crew for both riders, and by pit crew, I mean that I walked their spare wheels over to the pit area before the race started and was far too lazy to retrieve them after the race had finished. Job well done, sir.
POW! Or, uhm. CRACK! I don't know. The starting gun sounded, that's what I'm getting at.
Within the first thirty-four feet, the chain twisted and snapped the rear derailleur clean off our drivers bike. He never made it passed the holeshot line, so later we debated if he'd receive a DNS or a DNF. Needless to say, I wasn't sure how to console someone who'd made all the effort to get there, only to be denied the ability to race because of a mechanical issue. On the plus side, the cheering section for our remaining racer had grown by one. Unfortunately, he was up against Peter Lawrence in a very competitive Masters category.
Mud, stairs, sand three times, off-camber, grass, and puddles. Truthfully, the course was put together well and proved to be a real test for all riders. Exactly what you want when trying to find a National Champion.
Time for the "heartbreak" of the day. After spending some time in the middle of the pack, Matt Staneland made a surge for the leaders that would prove to be successful. Not only did he catch the front of the race, but he managed to pass the rider in top spot and continue on. As the exciting last lap was coming to a close, they vanished behind a small patch of trees just before the final corner. To my surprise, Chris McNeil appeared first onto the final straight away, pedaling with an ecstatic strength, while Staneland showed up a few seconds later with his head hung low. The national title came down to the very last corner, and it was unfortunately Stanelands to lose with one simple fall.
Rain had been coming down all morning, but nothing too severe. Just enough to keep the ground wet and races interesting. Everything changed once the U19's and Elite Women took to the course. I stood out there, doing my best hunchback impression in hopes of shielding my camera from the onslaught of precipitation. But who am I to complain? I'm photographing humans trying to race in these conditions.
Sections that were already tough to negotiate in earlier races became almost impossible to ride thanks to the additional rain on the course. Juniors and women alike opted to run instead of ride, just to save themselves from the possibility of going down, while a select few rode the same lines with a questionable ease. Experience? Confidence? A combination of the two? Whatever the case may be, it was quite impressive to watch them ride off-camber mud that shared traction characteristics with ice.
Admittedly, there was a lull between the Elite Women / U19 race, and the Elite Men / U23 race. An amount of time long enough to draw attention to itself, and even lose some peoples interest in the event. During a period of the year when daylight needs to be used sparingly, I think the final race should have immediately followed the one proceeding it. Even at the start line, the light began to fade unlike the relentless rain.
After the first few laps, it became obvious who the main contenders would be with a small group sticking together. Then, without notice Geoff Kabush showed why he has so many titles to his name and opened a gap on the other riders. Using his strength and bike handling skills, he made tough sections look like a cakewalk.
Snapped a few more photographs before having to leave in hopes of catching the 5:00PM back to Vancouver Island. We followed how the race progressed via twitter while stuck in downtown traffic, which ultimately prevented us from making the five o'clock boat in the end. More photos on flickr