The conditions were perfect for last weekend’s Test of Metal bike race — the recent rains made the ground tacky for climbs and descents, the Crumpet Woods puddles mostly dried out with the sun and wind, and a cool breeze kept the temperatures moderate right to the finish.
The result was a record-setting day, as Victoria’s Max Plaxton beat the previous course record on the men’s side by nearly five minutes. His time of two hours, 31 minutes and 46 seconds beat the time of nearly 2:37 set by Whistler’s Chad Miles in the 2000 race. Not that any two Tests of Metal are comparable, with minor changes to the course and upgrades to the trails each year, but it’s still an impressive ride. Plaxton averaged almost 27 km/h from start to finish, which includes over 1,200 metres of climbing and 35 km of singletrack bike trails.
In fact, Plaxton wasn’t the only rider to break the record. Martin Lazarski and Stefan Widmer, finishing second and third, posted times of 2:35:57 and 2:36:09 respectively.
On the women’s side, Nanaimo’s Wendy Simms was the first woman to finish under three hours with a time of 2:56:35. She beat the previous record of 3:10 set by Alison Sydor on a muddy day in 2005, while second place finisher Jean Anne McKirdy was second in a record-breaking 3:03:08.
Cliff Miller, the Test of Metal race director, credited the amount of trail work for the faster than usual times.
“We’ve had hundreds of hours of volunteer and paid work done on the course this year,” he said. “I think that the results speak for themselves. It was worth the effort.”
Plaxton, who is heading to the world championships in Italy this weekend, had never raced the Test of Metal before. He rode the trail six days before the race for the first time, showed up at the start too late to warm up, and headed out without knowing the names of any of the trails — he referred to the famous Powerhouse Plunge as that “steep, awesome, technical trail with all the switchbacks” after the Ring Creek Rip.
Plaxton didn’t set out to break any records, but treated it as a training ride for Italy.
“I trained really hard all this week, which is kind of good for me,” he said. “I find that when I train hard I feel pretty good on race day.”
He rode with a large group up the first climb, and led the first attack of the day that narrowed the lead group to four riders by Alice Lake. By the time they finished the climb up Rock and Roll the lead group was down to three — Plaxton, Martin Lazarski and Stefan Widmer. Plaxton managed to break away on Nine Mile Hill, and wasn’t challenged again through the end of the race.
“I was hammering, but I was pretty happy with how I felt, and my bike was good all day,” said Plaxton. “I was surprised after riding a hard tail, but my body actually feels pretty good. I wore my heart rate monitor today, and it was really good training. I pushed myself pretty hard on the climbs and my heart rate was up there, but I recovered pretty quickly on the downhill. It was what I expected of myself at this time of the year, I get paid to race my bike, I’m going to the worlds — (the Test of Metal) is just an indicator that things are going well.”
On the women’s side Wendy Simms found herself behind Jean Anne McKirdy at one point on the first climb.
“I could hear someone behind me and I knew it was a girl, and I knew she was going for the first prime,” said Simms. “Then she caught up, and I was feeling like crap so I actually pulled back a bit and ended up catching her at the top of the hill. I popped over the hill and wound up with a good group of guys to ride through Alice Lake, including my husband, and stayed with them the rest of the ride.
“The pace was pretty intense. It was fun because the trails here have such good flow that you can get into a rhythm. My favourite part was Crumpet Woods, mainly because people start cracking there and I was able to keep my momentum going up and down and around. I like it in there, I always save up a little for the end because I enjoy riding it.”
Whistler’s Matt Ryan had his best Test of Metal result yet, placing fourth overall in 2:43:09. He had his own battle going with Kris Sneddon up Nine Mile Hill, dropping to sixth at one point before catching up in Crumpet Woods. At that point he had no idea where he was in the pack.
“I wasn’t sure where I was out there, there was so much yoyo-ing back and forth,” he said, expecting to finish sixth or seventh.
“That was probably my best Test so far, I had legs at the end for a chance, and everything went according to plan. It was a pleasure to ride the course in that condition, it was not too wet or too try — after the last couple of years it was glorious.”
Ryan’s next challenge is the B.C. Bike Race, a seven-day mountain bike race that gets underway on June 28 on Vancouver Island and finishes in Whistler on July 4.
Ryan was impressed by a lot of riders on course, but was blown away by junior Tyler Allison. Allison was ahead of him at one point, but got caught up on a rock in the Powerhouse Plunge long enough for Ryan to pull ahead.
For his part, Allison stayed in the hunt and passed two riders on the last section of singletrack to rank seventh overall at one point and first in the junior expert category by a wide margin. In the Smoke Bluffs section, just a few kilometres from the finish, disaster struck. Allison was in his big ring, and threw his chain. When he tried to pedal it back on it got sucked into his chainrings and he broke his rear derailleur. He ran the rest of the way to the finish.
“I was having such a good race, in one point I was right in front of Dre (Andreas Hestler) and I really wanted to beat him in this race,” he said. “I just passed a couple of riders coming down the last piece of singletrack and was feeling pretty good when my derailleur broke. Dre passed me while I was running along the gravel trail.
“It kind of sucks, I have to get a new derailleur and drive train before (the B.C. Cup in Kamloops) and I was having a really great ride. Next year.”
Allison,16, still cracked the three-hour mark in 2:53:20, placing second in the Under 19 category to Eric Emsky’s time of 2:52:52.
Another Whistler rider having a great day was Tony Routley, who placed first in the Male 50-54 race in 2:58:58, almost 20 minutes faster than the next rider in his age group. Although it wasn’t his first category win in the Test, it was the first time he has broken the three-hour mark.
“It was just a walk in the park,” joked Routley at the finish line. “I’ve always wanted to get under three hours, that was my goal, and this was my best ever. Maybe the older I get the faster I get.”
Finishing right behind Routley were Trevor Hopkins and Josh Stott, his teammates on Team Whistler. Both riders also broke the three-hour mark with times of 2:59:15 and 2:59:27 respectively, with Hopkins placing second in the men’s 35-39 age category and Stott 19 th in Elite. Although they ride together it was a coincidence that they finished together.
“I was four minutes back of (Tony) at the bottom of Nine Mile,” said Hopkins. “The Plunge was my favourite this year, that’s where I passed the most people — that and Crumpet Woods. It’s definitely the fastest I’ve ever ridden the course, and I was getting faster near the end.”
Several other Whistler riders also finished on or near the podium:
In women’s 19 and Under, Toria Whitney edged out Squamish’s Lauren Rosser by less than 12 seconds to take first place, with times of 4:13:40 and 4:13:52 respectively. Eden Imbeau of Team Squamish was third.
In Female 20-29, Emma Smith of the U.K. and sometimes Whistler placed first in 3:37:08, followed by Pemberton’s Fanny Paquette in 3:41:33.
In Female 30-34 Sarah O’Byrne placed third in 3:51:56, followed by downhiller Katrina Strand in 3:41:46.
In Female 35-39 Sarah Jervis was 17 th in 5:19:57, and Lisa Canjar 21 st in 5:49:00.
In Female 40-44 Michele Marsh was 13 th in 4:39:24, and Gabby Moeller 25 th in 5:23:30.
In Female 45-49 Dori Faulkner was seventh in 5:19:24.
In Female 50-54 Marilyn Manso was first in 3:53:05.
In Female Elite Kristin Johnston was fifth in 3:15:39 and Jennifer Tabbernor 11 th in 3:44:41.
In Male 19 and Under Max Horner was ninth in 3:32:14, followed by Jesse Melamed in 10 th in 3:34:50
In Male 20-29 Jonny Lloyd was sixth in 3:18:33, Philippe Gagnon ninth in 3:31:47, Andrew Reid 26 th in 4:20:37, Iain Warren 40 th in 5:24:20.
In Male 30-34 Daniel Irvine was 34 th in 3:51:13, Wes McIntyre 78 th in 4:46:16 and Ian Bartley 83 rd in 4:52:10.
In Male 35-39 Joe Polito was 21 st in 3:23:59, Kevin Smith 24 th in 3:25:55, Jason Simpson 46 th in 3:42:13, Pete Field (riding a single speed) 57 th in 3:52:10, Mike Boehm 59 th in 3:52:39, Bill Bishop 97 th in 4:21:59, Tim Jervis 115 th in 4:36:30, and Angus Corey 153 rd in 5:19:17.
In Male 40-44 Keith McIvor was fifth in 3:10:42, Richard Potter ninth in 3:16:48, Pat Johnston 19 th in 3:24:28, John Morley 100 th in 4:44:49, Ged Hague 103 rd in 4:47:54, Joern Rohde 11 th in 5:04:43 and Brian Perrodou 136 th in 6:08:45.
In Male 45-49 Scott Woolley was first in 2:56:19, followed by Mike Charuk in 3:06:47, Graeme Fitch was 23 rd in 3:47:33, Crosland Doak 48 th in 4:05:26, Mike Rogerson 55 th in 4:13:04, Dave Smith 63 rd in 4:18:09, Geoff Weddell 67 th in 4:24:29, Greg Newton 68 th in 4:24:46, David Rushbrook 72 nd in 4:32:20, and Darren Ridge 90 th in 5:05:31.
Behind Tony Routley in Male 50-54, Rob McSkimming was third in 3:19:58, Scott Brunning sixth in 3:35:48, Richard Martin 23 rd in 4:39:21, Francis Chiasson 40 th in 5:43:53.
In Male 55-59, Henric Meldgard was first in 3:44:48, Rick Reid eighth in 4:15:56, and Brent Harley ninth in 4:16:33.
In Male 60-plus David Thornhill was third in 4:09:43, Gary Baker fifth in 4:27:57, Michael Hawes sixth in 4:28:29, Tom Thomson 11 th in 5:00:07, and William Pritchard 14 th in 5:37:44.
In Male Elite Jason Shorter was the next-fastest Whistler rider behind Matt Ryan in 16 th with a time of 2:53:32. Doug Rogers was 33 rd in 6:00:44.
Complete results are available online at www.testofmetal.com.