Squamish's Neal Kindree won all but one local bike race last year, and came into Saturday's Test of Metal race undefeated after posting wins in the Ore Crusher and Nimby Fifty.
While he's won the Test of Metal twice before including last year's edition, it's one of the toughest events on his race calendar — a lot can go wrong over 67km of race course where some of the descents are extremely technical and the field is usually deeper in the pro category than other races.
This time around, Kindree finished in 2:34:20, with Kris Sneddon finishing less than two minutes back in 2:36:12. Cory Wallace of Jasper took third in men's pro elite in 2:39:45. It's also worth noting that Quinn Moberg of Squamish, just 19, placed fifth overall in 2:41:46 against a field of older and more experienced racers.
The distance and time aren't comparable to last year's race, with organizers adding two singletrack sections this year to avoid a new road built in the Ring Creek Area for a local hydroelectric project.
The lead also changed hands several times, and Kindree won just five of 10, $100 primes on the course. He also won the $250 first prize to walk away with $750.
"I maybe could have taken more of them (primes), but I was really keen on trying to win it and I took it easy while the other guys were gung-ho for the primes," said Kindree. "When you're already working at your aerobic limit and you throw a few sprints in there, it can wear you out really quickly. It was a good decision because I felt good when it mattered."
Kindree got into the first break with Sneddon on Jack's Trail, but neither of the two riders was willing to pull the other and they allowed a chase group of four riders to catch up on the logging road sections. Kindree had a plan, however, and pulled away a little early to be the first rider onto the singletrack on Roller Coaster.
"I wasn't really planning to get a gap there, but I did," he said. "I had a good run through Roller Coaster and came out 500, 600 feet ahead. I rode from there at a pace I thought I could sustain for the next hour and 40 minutes."
Sneddon and a rider from Washington, Giancarlo Dalle Angelini caught Kindree at the start of the Nine Mile Hill climb, but were worn out by the pursuit. Kindree was patient on the climb, and by the time the race reached the new singletrack trails Kindree was ready to attack again.
"That was just tactics," said Kindree. "Kris (Sneddon) was heading into the climb with the top in mind for making a break, but for me the break was 20 minutes past the top. I floored it and hammered down that trail."
That put Kindree in the lead by over a minute heading into the Powerhouse Plunge, and by the end of that descent he knew he had close to two minutes in his pocket.
Kindree was gratified to see all of his tactics and strategies pay off in the end. "Really, riding smart is my biggest focus these days," he said. "I always ride my bike now with the intent of riding properly. If you're not making a complete circle with every pedal stroke then you're not pedaling properly — it's not easy, but if you're not doing it then you're riding well. There are other things as well — not pedaling when it's not necessary, drafting, picking my lines.
"I also do everything I can outside of the race. Things happen, but when I show up with my bike it's perfect... and other than a flat I don't really have that much to worry about. And I try to ride in such a way that I've been able to avoid flats."
Kindree said all the top racers were on bikes with 29-inch wheels, but most opted for lighter hardtails. He chose a slightly heavier dual suspension bike, which was a little harder to pedal uphill but gave him an edge on the technical descents.
"That's part of why I decided (to make a break) when I did," he said. "Aside from having the juice to go, the hardtails just can't keep up with dualies (dual suspension bikes) on that descent. It's not even really fair. I packed some extra weight uphill, but I played it to my advantage."
Next up for Kindree is the BC Bike Race, where he'll be defending his solo men's title against a field that once again includes Sneddon — a rider Kindree respects. "He's just super strong, like ridiculously strong," he said. "He's always a threat and he never lets up. A lot of European riders also show up (to the BC Bike Race), and I won't know who they are until I see them on course. It's not going to be an easy title to defend. I'll do what I can, start patiently and wait to see who's got the fast legs, and make note of that for later in the week when everybody starts to get tired."