Saturday, August 9, 2008

Mountain bikers fifth in hilly thrill-ride in Alps

WPF August 7th, 2008

ACCORDING to Portage la Prairie farmer Don Sissons, what he and his Syngenta Prairie Boys teammate Bill Benson of West Hawk Lake recently accomplished was, "A pretty exciting eight days of racing."

Sissons, 50, and Benson, 53, finished fifth among 32 teams at the Trans Alps Challenge Mountain Bike race that began July 19 and went on for eight days.

"It's what the Tour de France is to bicycle road racing, only on mountain bikes," said Sissons. "There were 550 teams in the race. It started in Germany and went to Austria, Switzerland and finished in Italy.

"Every stage has huge verticals and descents. The whole race is about 700 kilometres long from start to finish, with 65,000 vertical feet of climbing."

Sissons said the stages are broken into various distances between 75-125 km, and the race times are between five and seven hours per stage. "We had a total time of 38 hours and 50 minutes."

Sissons and Benson qualified for the European event when they won their division at the Trans Rockies Challenge last year, a race that Sissons says differs from the Alps. "The Trans Rockies' claim to fame is that it's a wilderness race. It's very technically demanding, with a lot of single tracks, rocks, and drop-offs."

Last year, he told the Free Press that in the Rockies, he and Benson survived falls off cliffs, high-speed runs down narrow pathways and far too many crossings of ice-cold creeks to win the 600-km event, which began at Panorama and ended in Fernie, B.C.

"The Trans Alps is a huge vertical challenge," said Sissons. "They put you up at least two mountains every day. The trails aren't as remote as the Rockies, but when we got into Italy for the last few days of racing, the trails got very close to rivalling the Trans Rockies.

"We feel really good," about finishing fifth, said Sissons. "Because of jet lag, we started 12th, and on the last day we finished second ... and on another day we were third, which was a great thrill, because we were racing against a lot of Giro veterans and Olympians."

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