By Paul MacCarthy
Before I moved to Vancouver I had set myself two challenges for the summer. It was to ride two of the best bike events that British Colombia had to offer. The first was the Nimby 50 and the second was the Test Of Metal. Sadly I couldnt attend the Nimby so it will have to wait til next year. But along with 1000 other riders I registered for the Test on New Years Day. The online registeration sold out in 15mins or so which proved to me that this was the race to do. In the lead up to the race I tried to get out on my new Santa Cruz Blur TRC as much as I could but could only manage some 30-40k spins at a moderate pace. Not really a great plan to conquer this challenge. But like most Irish folk I used the saying ‘Feck it, sure its grand’ and Ill battle on anyway.
The weather on the morning of the race was shocking. It had rained all night and didnt look like it was gonna stop for the whole day. There was a last minute change from my Maxxis Crossmarks to my trusty Continental Mountain Kings and a good blast of PSI to help me on the road sections and to cut through the mud. The volume of people at the rider sign in was enough to worry me as there was so many people there. Id never seen so many people ride a Mtb race before.
When it came to 10.30am all the riders lined up on the line in their designated places for their projected finish times. I had set a goal of 4hrs so jumped right in the mix down near the back. I was riding solo so didnt have a partner to ride with or gauge my pace. Saying that there was 900 odd other riders to stay with. My plan was to move up the pack on the road section at the start and try to clear the backlog as much as I could early in the race. I wanted to get into the first singletrack with riders of my ability and speed. The plan worked and I progressed well up. On Jack’s Trail I had a good pace and passed as many riders as I could on the narrow trail. At this stage I seemed to have a train of similiar riders behind me using me like a gunner to clear slower riders off the track with my shouts of ‘Rider Up’. I was amazed by how polite the Canadian riders were. They could see that I had the ability to ride the tricky muddy singletrack and moved to let me clear techy little climbs over roots and rocks.
Once I had cleared the first singletrack I climbed up to Rob’s Corners again passing more riders on the climb. I started on my Clif Blox’s straight away which gave me energy and contained sodium which would help me later in the race to avoid cramps. Nearly an hour into the race my Oakley’s had given up trying to stay clear. The constant rain and grit totally blocked them up. I had to take them off and ride the rest of the race without. The picture below will give you an idea of my view from the bike for the whole race.
Once back from the Alice Lake loop we headed across Quest University towards the Powerhouse Feed Zone. The plan was to get here before 1hr 30 mins which I achieved. Then it was onto 9 Mile Climb. I had never ridden the course before but knew that this was a tough and long climb. I got a good cadence going and tried to not burn out and cramp going up it. As I didnt know it I asked a few riders how far from the top I was and then gave a burst at the end. Little did I know that after a short descent I was up Lava Flow Climb which was a nasty steep singletrack climb strewn with rocks and boulders. Once at the top I kind of knew where I was and that Louise, Sean and the rest of the Irish cheering squad(Conor and Ruth) would be meeting me at an arranged spot with a new waterbottle and a change of gloves. When I got to them I pulled in and grabbed my stuff, said Hi and the blasted off back down the track. When I jumped back on my legs decided to cramp up. I shifted into an easier gear and spun out a bit trying to get rid of it. It worked and I motored on toward the famous ‘Powerhouse Plunge’. I had ridden it once before about 6 months prior so knew what to expect. Its a tricky little descent with wet roots and rocks all over it. As I arrived their was a line of riders at the entry. I flicked my reverb seat post right down and hopped a small log at the side of the trail and zoomed past the line of queued up riders just standing there looking at a rock drop. I dived down it and pedalled on to a cheer from the few supporters on the sidelines. I continued on down some of the tricky switchbacks managing to pass riders on the inside on each turn with a shout to warn them. The lowered saddle was doing the job nicely. I managed to clear the whole top section without a dab and then stormed into the lower half. On one of the rock slabs a guy two riders infront of me took a nasty spill and flipped over the bars. It looked like he did serious damage to his arm. The rider following behind had already commited to the drop so had nowhere to go but ride over the poor guy. I was right behind and had also commited but seen an exit strategy to the left and cleared both of the guys.
This trail spat us out at the feed zone for the second time where I progressed on into Valley Cliff or ‘Cramping Woods’ as its known to the veterans of the ‘Test’. On the tight narrow switchbacks of the singletrack my left leg cramped so I opted to run the last few turns to try stretch it out and recover a bit. It worked and by the time I got to the top I was grand and motored down the last descent onto the road and sprinted up to the Smoke Bluffs. The last little kicker through the housing estate was killer but I digged deep. I knew I was only a few Km’s from the finish and put down the hammer along the flat. 4hrs 7mins and 17seconds after starting I hit the finish line. I was filthy dirty but had a grin on my face. I had finished my first Test of Metal.It sure wont be my last one either.
I finished 33rd in the Male 30-34 Category and was 303rd finisher out of over 1000 riders. I was happy with that considering the conditions and my lack of training and knowledge of the track. The support from all the locals in Squamish is unreal. They stood out in the rain all day to cheer the riders on. All the volunteers and organisers should be proud of all the hard work they put in and must know that they have one of the best bike races in the world. Well done guys!
I had lots of support of my own also with Louise, Sean, Conor and Ruth coming out to help me along the way. Kevin also stood out in the rain on the first loop to cheer me on and kindly let me have a shower in his place after. He even supplied a cup of tea and a lovely warm pie for us all after being soaked all day long. What a legend.
I wore my GoPro during the race but only managed to turn it on along some of the easier bits. Have a look just to see the amount of riders at the start.