The elite category of the MTB event at the Shimano Cycling Festival only consisted of 35 riders but it was a fiercely contested race with attacks coming thick and fast throughout the 30 minute race. I got a good result coming in second place, in a very close sprint for the win. The MTB race was raced just like on the road, with average speeds in excess of 40km/h! I was the only rider on a 29er bike equipped with WTB Nano Race 2.1 and the Vulpine 2.1 tires. It was also the first time I had tried out a WTB saddle, the new white titanium Volt on my 29er rig. After I have done a few more rides, I’ll do a review on the new 2012 Volt saddle; first impressions are good!.
Getting set up
Since I had not ridden mountain bike since the Ningbo event, I had to re-tune the bike and had issues with getting the disc brakes stop rubbing the rotor, also mount the new Volt saddle and install the new front WTB Vulpine tire. I was only given these items on the day of the event – so it was a mad rush to get the bike ready in time after I had completed the road event. In the end, the disc brakes were not perfect – they were howling for most of the race and my seat post was raised a tad too high for my liking. Anyhow, it was a short race and it meant a harder workout with the rubbing brakes!
The Elite Race
I lined up just in time for the start and was immediately hustled by a couple of riders eying my 29er wheels and they told me “you gonna use your 29er to bully us huh?” I just laughed it off as I knew the 26ers would be able to keep up just fine despite the 29er’s better cruising speed. It would be through the numerous corners on the course that I would struggle to accelerate faster than the nimble 26ers. So, I had the benefit of higher cruising speed, while they could accelerate out of the turns faster than me. It evened out the “mismatch” they were thinking.
The race was balls out racing from the gun and no one could get more than 100m on the bunch before being reeled back in. I tried on numerous occasions with some nice counter-attacking moves but failed to jump away to a gap. I just succeeded in stringing them all out in single file. I guess I offer too good a draft for the smaller Chinese riders – you can see from the photos that I look like a giant! My heart rates were sky-high just to keep up going over the short punchy climbs – the Strava file shows my max heart rate at 194bpm!!. It was good that my WTB tires featured tightly packed tread on the center – this helped for faster riding on the road. In fact, the Nano Race 2.1 was the same tire that got me through the Mongolia Bike Challenge.
As the race approached the business end, I was poised in mid-pack ready for the final sprint. With 500m to go, I still had more than 10 riders in front of me and I motioned Gao Zhengzhao from Cronus Bikes to follow me. In any sprint, patience is the name of the game and I moved forward as gaps presented themselves to me with Gao slotted in right behind me. Just before the final bend, about 300m from the line, one rider opened his throttle and I was instantly on his wheel. However, the rider in front of me drifted wide and gave me the inside line through the bend. It was at this point I unleashed my power and hit the front and was looking very good to nab the win. There was a strong challenge from an ex-Hong Kong national rider on the far right, but he was still half a bike length behind me. 40m to go disaster struck, my right foot came out of the Exustar pedals and I was unable to click back in while in full-flight. I did the best I could and was still in front with 10m to go, but the Hong Kong rider surged ahead to beat me by less than half a wheel at the finish line! It was an exciting sprint for the spectators and Gao from Cronus Bikes managed to finish third following my wheel during the final stanzas.
I was quite disappointed that the Exustar pedals yet again failed me. I used them at the Mongolia Bike Challenge and they did not last for three days before I started having engagement problems. I had no choice but to toil on with sub-standard pedals in what was arguably the world’s toughest mountain bike stage race. When in Ningbo, after getting some replacement parts, the pedals still did not hold my feet in securely – although they survived the sprint for my win at that event. At the Shimano Festival in Shenzhen, mid-race my feet popped out and had to re-engage and I was praying that my feet would not pop out again during the sprint… I have now gotten the new Shimano XT (PD-M780) SPD pedals which should be totally reliable. My previous experience with Shimano SPD pedals have been all very good and no issues with engagement except in the muddiest of conditions. Unless Exustar come up with a better and fail proof pedal, I will not be using the Taiwanese branded pedals again!