Zoe Chauderlot on the Alberta Rockies 700: Event Recap

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Last month, more than 50 riders gathered in Canmore, Alberta, for the 2022 Alberta Rockies 700 (AR700), tackling their choice of a 500 or 700-kilometer loop through the front range of the Canadian Rockies. Find a reflection from first-place finisher Zoé Chauderlot here, alongside a stunning gallery of photos by Megan Dunn…

Words by Zoé Chauderlot (@zchauderlot); photos by Megan Dunn (@evilmoosemegan)

I hadn’t ridden my bike since I’d scratched from the Tour Divide, and now I was back in the Canadian Rockies for another race. In comparison, the AR500 is short and fast. All I had to do was to get a few things fixed on the bike, do a quick check of the route, stash my touring gear, and roll out. My only goal was to try something new to me: ride hard, sleep three hours, and ride hard again.

2022 AR700 recap
  • 2022 AR700 recap
  • 2022 AR700 recap
  • 2022 AR700 recap

We roll out at 7 a.m. I know the first hundred kilometers and ride fast on the flowy singletracks. My legs feel great, and I stop very little. Soon, the number of riders around me is thinning. I’m not the fastest, but I know where my strength lies in these races: I’m well-organised and optimize every aspect of my ride. The flip side is that I tend to overthink and worry about everything. After a couple of hours without seeing other racers, I start to wonder if I haven’t loaded the wrong track by mistake. I pass a rider filtering water in a creek. It brings relief.

The afternoon rolls in, and I’m riding alone on the wide gravel roads. The angst comes back. Where is everybody? What if the race was cancelled because of an incident, and I didn’t know? Forest fires? Landslides? Bear attack? Am I absolutely sure I’m on the right track? Once again, the sight of a couple of riders relieves my growing fears. I ride along. “This is the pointy end,” one tells me. I’m astonished. That would explain where everybody is: behind. But I can’t fully believe I’m up front. Somebody must be up ahead. In the evening, Mitch and I keep passing each other. He would ride faster but stop more often, and I would catch up. He tells me we’re first. The mountains are beautiful with their jagged edges. He drops me before nightfall and looks like he’s going to ride all night. I have a small crash shortly after midnight, my cue for bedtime, at kilometer 295. Three hours later, I’m off again.

It’s a slow morning, the section is tough, and I’m walking a lot on steep trails. I follow a set of tire tracks, I guess they must be Mitch’s. At 9 a.m., and I’m resupplying in Elkford. I have one bar of service and get texts telling me I’m in the lead. I text back that they’re mistaken: surely Mitch is up front, his tracker must be faulty. I ride alone, all day. The temperatures rise again in the afternoon, my feet start to ache, and my clothes are uncomfortable with sweat and dust.

  • 2022 AR700 recap
  • 2022 AR700 recap
2022 AR700 recap
  • 2022 AR700 recap
  • 2022 AR700 recap
  • 2022 AR700 recap

At 6 p.m., I have cell service, and I look at trackleaders. I gasp. Mitch is two hours behind me. The mid-pack is 12 hours behind. I’ve been in the lead since 4 a.m. How is this possible? I check my GPS: have I skipped sections? What if there has been a detour? Just as the day before, I had kept going through unlikely and catastrophic scenarios in my head, and I was now making sure that I hadn’t, somehow, skipped 12 hours’ worth of trails without noticing.

My propensity to underestimate myself is so deep-rooted that I have kept considering a rotation of wild hypotheses, ignored or interpreted clear facts, and used a handful of cognitive biases, instead of acknowledging what has been going on: I’m doing very well. Even better, I’m winning. In this moment, I realise that while knowing I excel at assessing and managing my ressources in a race, I paradoxically cannot assess that I do very well in one. Furthermore, it is not the first time this has happened. My self-esteem is comical, my amazement genuine.

2022 AR700 recap
  • 2022 AR700 recap
  • 2022 AR700 recap
  • 2022 AR700 recap

I take off for the hard last stretch. I giggle on the bike. I’m first! If I don’t crash and don’t bonk, I win! I ride slower, play it safe. I eat through all my food in small regular intakes to fend off bonking. Up Skogan, then down. The Guy Lafleur singletracks hit hard. I walk a lot. My mind is too tired and I cannot tackle the technical sections in this state. My extatic mood soon dies down. I think of the finish. I will be there at 10 pm, then what? All my things are in a locker, and my friend Dylan has the key. He’s twelve hours behind. I will win the race, alone, and I will crawl back in the forest to sleep in my dirty kit, all sticky with sweat, dust and blood. There I will lay, uncomfortable, and it will be my sole reward for being the fastest.

All I wish for now is a shower and clean clothes, and I will not have these. None. My throat starts to tighten on a sob. I’m so very sad and in pain. I’m choking with sadness, and I have to stop and dismount. I hold back my tears, calm down, start to breath again, and come to my senses. I haven’t slept enough, weeping like a tired child because I won’t have clean clothes to sleep in tonight. It shouldn’t be. I will be okay. I get back on the bike and try to distract myself by grinding harder. Out into a residential neighbourhood, I notice that I have a hard time determining if vehicles are moving or not. I also struggle to understand stop signs. I hear someone calling my name. Hallucinations? I look up. It’s Theo. My friend Theo has been waiting at a window for me to ride by and cheer. He texted me: he will come to the finish with snacks. I will not be alone.

  • 2022 AR700 recap
  • 2022 AR700 recap
  • 2022 AR700 recap
  • 2022 AR700 recap
  • 2022 AR700 recap
2022 AR700 recap

My legs are still strong on the Highline singletracks, I’m mashing the uphills but remain careful on the downhills. Night falls. I pass elks. Last straight line through the streets of Canmore, I see Theo. I go to him. It’s the finish and half a dozen people are here. They all came here and waited just for me? I’m speechless. I take off my shoes, I can only walk on the edges of my painful soles. I finished in 39 hours, with 33 hours of moving time. I recognize faces, and everybody is kind to me. I’m thankful. I eat the snacks and chat for a bit. Sarah offers me her couch to sleep on and a shower. Theo gives me a ride and clean clothes. I’m sleepy, drunken by the care and the attention I receive. All is soft and happy. Later, I’m laying on the couch, clean, surrounded by nice and beautiful people and bikes. I drift asleep with a smile on my face. I did good and got a shower. Also, I won the race.

Big thanks to Jonathan Hayward for organizing this stunning race, and to everybody cheering along. The bikepacking community is an amazing thing to be part of.

2022 AR700/500 Results

  • 1st Place (AR700): Kyle Messier (2D:4H:9M)
  • 2nd Place (AR700): Kyle Roberts (2D:7H:41M)
  • 3rd Place (AR700): Alistair Hill (2D:8H:20M)
  • 1st Place (AR500): Zoe Chauderlot (1D:15H:7M)
  • 2nd Place (AR500): Mitch Roberts (1D:18H:26M)
  • 3rd Place (AR500): Sheldon McDonough (2D:5H:54M)

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