It's difficult not looking forward to a race venue that brought you your best result in a previous season. Shawnigan Lake School played host to the series finale last year where double points were on the line, and after just three previous races I came through with my best finish of the season. Though the school wasn't chosen to close out the year this time around, the good memories tied to the event had me excited, albeit nervous since I was racing in Expert this year.
Earlier in the week most of the area had been battered by windstorms, knocking out power, downing trees, and diminishing the potential of a similar course to last year. Even with these factors, the same formula seemed to present itself into a comparable circuit utilizing long power straights, a dip through a creek, muddy off camber, tight woodland trails and a long dirt descent pushing race speeds over 50km/h. That last factor might be the closest I'll ever come to feeling like a mountain biker.
It was raining in Nanaimo as we left in the morning but the sun didn't take long to show itself after leaving the city limits. Cloud cover and sun swapped places throughout the day while the rain withheld and left the course in an almost stagnant state for the duration of our race. A few ruts formed and lines became evident, but the messy bits didn't get much worse as it had in past races when the sky was falling.
The race start was a congested one and the loose gravel seemed to throw people from side to side unexpectedly. Before the race even started I had already planned to run as early as possible after the hole shot corner, which I think offered me great benefit once put to practice. Passing numerous cyclists opting to slog through the deep mud pushed me into the top twenty almost immediately and once I remounted it was just a game of closing each gap ahead of me.
A few of the descending corners were fast and transferred through a multitude of surfaces while on edge. Those were the only things on the whole course I couldn't really find comfort in. Once the race had settled into its paces I found myself battling amongst a few racers who I knew were strong, and just being there gave me confidence in the race I was having. On a course like Shawnigan it was evident where each riders' strengths lay. Long straights and stair run-ups helped me close any gap that would form over the technical portions of track. Following the wheel of a mountain biker into the fast corners gave me a great show as he slashed his back tire into the loose dirt that welcomed our tires halfway through each bend.
By the end there were two positions I knew I could have closed but thanks to all the running tactics, my pedals had finally clogged with enough mud to prevent clipping in. With only a quarter lap left I had to watch them ride away from me as I kicked my pedals anxiously to dislodge the wet earth. In comparison to some contestants out there this was incredibly minor in terms of "mechanicals" and I didn't let it dampen my spirits. I'd had a great race, competing head to head against some great cyclists who just last year I was photographing from the sidelines. With only one race remaining in the series I've felt improved after every showing and only have one more goal to meet for my first season in Expert. Once again double points will be up for grabs and encouraged is an understatement.