24 April, 2008

Twin ponds ride report

Last night's ride was my first at the Twin Ponds trail system in Cambridge, as well as my first twisty singletrack of the year, first twisty singletrack on my new bike... you see where I'm going with that.

What a great early season ride. The unfamiliar bike and dull handling skills from the winter had me over the bars a couple times, and I have a few hefty bruises to show for it, but I had a blast anyway. The bike was great and will only get better as my skills come back and familiarity with the handling grows. If you're in the market for a new bike (or even if you're not) I highly recommend you check out what's going on at True North Cycles. A bunch of us were on our TN 29ers last night and it became immediately apparent to me why these bikes are so appropriate for the type of terrain we ride here in Ontario.

The trails at Twin Ponds were very enjoyable. There is a nice variety of terrain, but primarily it is extremely tight twisty turns which makes for a fun test of cornering skills. In the pines section the trail is very buff and there were not many notable climbs - just swoopy flowing lines great for practicing skills in the trees. A few of the riders I was with are racing the O-Cup this Sunday so we did just that and looped a few sections to practice some things. In the other section of this trail system the track is mainly rooty and rocky with some steep climbs up and down the fall line. It's a great test of skills and it was here that I felt the 29" wheels were most different for me - they love to hook up and roll over this stuff with ease. Aside from these two main types of trail, there is some connecting doubletrack which though extremely fast, is just rocky enough to make you think about handling the bike over it.

If I had any complaint about these trails it's that they're busy, and not designated as directional. While it seemed there was a de facto convention of clockwise being chosen for that night, it was not universally adapted and made for a few tight encounters. This is fine though, and it's great to see everyone out enjoying the trails.

Overall I highly recommend these trails if you haven't been.

20 April, 2008

Race report: Paris-Ancaster 2008

The day began as well as any race day could; after a week of mixed weather forecasts showing anything from 24° and clear to 5° with rain or snow, it was very nice to see that it would be a warm sunny day. After some confusion in getting to the registration at Ancaster (I was not driving!) we arrived with plenty of time. I picked up my race kit, and my technical fibre shirt one size smaller than requested as they were out of XL. For a wicking layer the L is probably the ideal size for me anyway. Off we went to the start in Paris still with plenty of time to check the bike, get changed and warm up. Over the course of my warm up I went from being a bit cool in a baselayer + jersey and shorts + knee warmers to warm in just shorts and a jersey. The sun was out and it was shaping up to be a hot one.

I pulled in the parking lot just in time to get out of the way of the 1st wave start. The warm up felt good and I was ready to go, but I was standing about 500 riders back in the 2nd wave and our start would not go off for another 15 minutes. A slight annoyance, but no big deal.

As the second wave was released, I was able to pass a few people even before we left the gates. The slight uphill road off the start was a good place to work my way up 50-100 places, and this would continue on the dirt road leading to the first rail-trail. As we funneled into the rail-trail the track was smooth in 2 places, so people were generally riding 2 wide making passing a tricky ordeal. Much like driving on the 401, it was possible, and I settled into a steady pace with a couple others who were also clearly among the few in the 2nd wave who were serious about racing that day. We were doing well at working our way up through the field, and as I checked the Garmin my avg. pace to that point was well over 31 km/h - hmm, good! HR was up, around 180bpm, but I felt this was a pace I could sustain at least until I got out of the crowds. Ahead I see riders dismounting and hiking slowly up a hill to the right - "maybe I can ride this one", then I hear a characteristic noise, that of a deflating bicycle tube. Yes, it was mine. I could see the puncture in the sidewall of my tire, so it must have been a pretty large sharp object. Alright, time to fix the flat. I used my spare tube and CO2 cartridge making for about a 5 minute change. I heard talk from the marshalls about a broken collar bone - hopefully that rider was ok!

With the flat fixed, I treated the hill as a quick run up, re-mounting half way up where the grade lessened even though most people were still walking. Crap, now I'm back with the slow bunch agian. Up the dirt road I worked my way through the field again, but soon we came to some singletrack and everyone was barely moving. I guess this is typical when I'm this far back in the field due to the 2nd wave start and a flat. I was still able to pass people, and was making the loose climbs that people riding mtb were not. Nick L was trying to convince me that CX is too sketchy for this race due to frequent flats, but in spite of my flat I still felt at this point it was ideal for the course on a dry year such as this.

We got held up at a major road crossing where they were waiting to release a bunch of riders at once. This caused the field to bunch up which I feel was detrimental for everybody. Through the next singletrack section people were going TOO SLOW - around 10 km/h. Oh well, it is my own flat that put me here so I'll take what I can get and pass on the road sections.

Up the next road climb I felt the rear was a little soft, and since my race was not going to be competitive at this point anyway I thought I'd stop to top it up. With my second CO2 cartridge I brought it up to what I thought was good, and began to roll. About 5m later I heard a couple ticking sounds, then BOOM! The tire had blown off the rim and of course the tube was done as well. It was startling to everyone; the police marshalling this spot said "I thought I was going to have to get my gun out and start shooting." My race was over at this point, so I set about trying to find out how I get back to the finish. I was told that there was a sweep vehicle that would be along eventually. I'm not loving the cross bike so much at this point knowing that I likely wouldn't have had these problems on the mtb, especially with my tubeless setup. At least I got to go fast while it lasted.

The place where I stopped turned out to be where the St. George - Ancaster race joined up, so I watched that field go by and then stood around some more. After standing around for about 30 minutes, a race volunteer came up from the valley below - I had no idea there was a marshall so close. He got on a radio to try to find out what would be done for me, and came back saying that the sweep would be a long time yet, and if I wanted to walk the Harrisburg aid station was only a couple km down the course and the Norco guys were there fixing mechanicals. "Sure, I can walk 2k" so off I went. A couple of sweep riders caught up with me and called ahead on the radio to notify the station I was coming. About 3km of walking later, an SUV came down the lane and offered to pick me up. Apparently that 2km walk was more like 5km, but at least someone from the aid station figured this out and came to get me. The Norco guys were just packing up, but offered to help anyway. The only thing was the only tubes available had tiny valvestems which had no chance of attaching to a pump on my slightly deep section rims. They dug around but found nothing that would be of help in their toolbox. That was it; I could not even ride in with the sweep so rides were arranged for my bike and I, along with 2 other riders with similarly catastrophic mechanicals.

At the finish I met up with many of the people I knew, and it sounds like they all had a good race. Congrats to Mel B for 1st and Jasmin 4th in Women 20-29, Jennie for her 1st place finish in Women Single Speed, and for the men Drew's 3rd and Nick L in 5th for Men Single Speed, and Nick B and Jon M for great top 20 finishes in Men 20-29.

I'm disappointed for sure that the race was going so well for me in terms of fitness and bike handling to be ended by mechanicals. I can't seem to get through a race and test the fitness I've worked on over the winter and spring this year. Hopefully that will change soon, but it's also disappointing that while over the summer there are many mtb races of all different formats, there is only one P-A each year and it's a unique race in this area. I loved the course (what I saw of it) and feel that it suits me very well. I was not passed at all except when stopped for mechanical issues, and passed many people with ease when I was riding. Next year I will have a UCI license and hopefully that means a 1st wave start. Even if I finish last out of the 1st wave starters I will at least not be dealing with so much traffic and can focus on my race a bit more.

In spite of the above happenings, I feel I took many things away from my day:
  • a wikked sunburn
  • a nice preview of the P-A course for next year
  • confirmation that my fitness is where I expect it to be right now
  • a nice tech-T that fits about as tight as any shirt I own
  • 1 700c tube with an impossibly short valvestem (anyone have some box section rims? you can have it...)
  • a good time, as is always the case at a bicycle race whether I'm racing, spectating or volunteering
That's my race report, as positive as I can make it (it also ran a bit long, so thanks for reading this far). I hope everyone else had a great day, and look forward to seeing you all at various races this summer. The season is well underway, as the weather is indicating. Time to put in some recovery rides and relax a bit before ramping the training up again since I have a few weeks before my next event.

14 April, 2008

New bike! True North custom 29er

Thanks to the folks at True North Cycles, my new bike has come together and in fine form. Hugh's frames are spectacular, and everyone involved has been excellent to work with. The initial test rides indicate it is a super quick race machine, but remains very comfortable thanks to the steel frame & fork, Ti seatpost and big tires setup tubeless. Definitely the most fun I've had on a bicycle in a long time.



Credit for the pics goes to Dave; taken at the shop before I left. Click for larger versions.

The specs:
Headset: Chris King Nothreadset
Stem: Rotor S1 (not pictured)
Bar: FSA K-Force XC Riser
Grips: Ergon GR2 Mag
Seatpost: Eriksen Ti
Saddle: fi'zi:k Arione Ti
Pedals: Crank Brothers Egg Beater SL

Crankset/BB: FSA Afterburner MegaExo
Front Derailleur: Shimano XT (M-771)
Rear Derailleur: Shimano XT Shadow (M-772) short (GS) cage
Shifters: Shimano XTR (M-970)
Cassette: Shimano XT (M-770) 11-34
Chain: Wipperman Connex 908
Shift cable housing: Jagwire Ripcord

Brakes: Formula ORO K18

Hubs: Shimano XTR (M-975)
Rims: Stan's notubes FLOW 29er
Spokes: DT Swiss Competition
Front Tire: Schwalbe Racing Ralph 29x2.4
Rear Tire: Schwalbe Racing Ralph 29x2.25

It comes in at 11.0 kg as configured, with bottle cages. Still lots of room to go weight weenie on it, but I'm happy with it for now. Maybe one day I'll feel ambitious and go for under 20 lbs just to do it. Now if only the trails would dry out...

Race Report: Uxbridge Icebreaker 2008

DNF - a result I'm not ashamed of; 1 lap was all I cared to do on that course. This race, which usually consists of a whole lot of mud and an often cool and rainy day instead gave us deep snow, ice, ruts and an otherwise beautiful and sunny day. The course was shortened from its usual 25 km to around 18.5 due to poor trail conditions after a long winter. Even so, there was a significant portion of the course that was unridable - even the most skilled riders had to dismount and hike. These weren't short CX style runups either, but lengthy sections of unridable snow that made even walking difficult (especially with a bike on your shoulder). The rest of the course was rolling concession roads, with a healthy amount of climbing. The road climbs and descents had to be my favourite part of the course where I'd hammer to the top and then get a rest as I spun out (I raced the Trek 8000 set up singlespeed). I'll get the GPS track posted later today.

I can't say my bike choice was ideal, but I don't know what I would have preferred either. I suppose a cross bike would be nice for some speed on the ridable sections, and less to carry through the rest. The fastest guys were on cross bikes, one even riding fixie. You know conditions are bad when it takes the hammerheads an hour to ride 18km on a course that usually has these guys averaging 24-26 km/h.

Here is what went through my head at the various stages in my race:
- start: "so far so good; this snow is a bit rough"
- first logging road section: "still ridable, but rough going"
- long semi-ridable section, on and off the bike: "I really hate carrying my bike"
- road section, some climbing: "at least this is smooth, but there go all the geared riders"
- more off road, not so ridable: "there's no way I'm doing 2 laps of this"
- more road, lots of climbing: "hey, this actually feels good; I'm passing others on the climbs; maybe a second lap won't be so bad"
- off road, not so ridable: "scratch that, this is terrible"
- 1km to go sign: "hey, almost there" so I thought. That was the longest kilometre of walking, falling and riding 25m here and there. It certainly didn't help convince me to go out for my second lap.

So that was it, I told the Commissaire I was DNF. Apparently I was to be the last rider on course if I hadn't, but looking at my time it's not the worst lap of the day. It's also far from competitive though, so I'm glad I called it when I did. Completion of one lap was enough accomplishment for me. Unfortunately I didn't get to see how my fitness from the winter is paying off, but Paris-Ancaster is looking much better for that.

Many thanks to BIKENXS for putting on a great event in spite of conditions. I look forward to the rest of the Enduro series this year. Props to Nick and Jas who had great podium finishes in their categories - it was nice meeting up before and after the race.

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