29 December, 2009

2009: year of the crash

It's a little early, but I'm going to do my year end summary now. Click here for last year's. I'll start by addressing the subject matter of the title - I don't think I've had a year or even known someone else who had a year with so many crashes. Not just laying the bike down in a corner but full-on nasty incidents that break skin and equipment.

Most painful crash: definitely the one on Pelham road in the summer. Put a spirited club ride, triathletes and recreational riders on a twisty descent at the same time, and you get a mess. A mess that left a couple people pretty badly injured (broken collarbones, etc.) I left some skin on the road, ruined a saddle and a rim and generally felt banged up from that.

Most irritating crash: this is almost a tie - 1st place is the final km of the Good Friday road race. I'd hidden myself in the pack all day and was fresh coming over the last drumlin. I made the selection of a group of maybe 10-12 that would contest the sprint, and we were ramping it up on the last section of road. Strung out single file, I was maybe 5th wheel and somehow the 2nd or 3rd guy manages to go down taking a few of us out. I couldn't be more angry, and still am that I didn't get to see how I'd do. 2nd place is the piece of tape taking me out at the Riverdale cyclocross on lap 2. Again, I was having a good race and got taken out. This one I was not so angry about though, because it wasn't caused by someone else's incompetence.

Other notable crashes:
  1. Bike the Bruce ended with a crash in the pack about 2 km from the finish. I was only mildly involved with a broken spoke and no injury, but Jef Perry was in the ditch with a broken collarbone and Rob Visser's bike ended up hanging in a tree like it was posed. Not a fun way to end a good race.
  2. Just today, I was riding a pretty sketchy snow covered descent in Shorthills PP, on my cross bike thinking it was no worse than on my mtb. The front wheel hit an icy root and went sideways, and my head and hip hit a tree. Also no fun.
  3. 100k Hamilton area mtb ride - an MTBR tradition, turned into a 5ok ride for Brandon and I after I overcooked a gravel corner on a quasi-road section in Dundas Valley. I left Jeff with only minor scrapes, but Brandon took himself out good trying to avoid me (we never made contact, as far as I know) ending with some road rash, and I tacoed my rear wheel. Much smashing and turning of nipples later, I had a wheel that at least wasn't rubbing the frame as it spun, but it was super wobbly. Brandon and I spun back to the car mostly via roads leaving the others to finish the ride properly.
With the crashes out of the way, we can move on to better topics.

Best bike I raced on in '09: I think the True North Ti/carbon cyclocross bike takes it. It made it through 20 cross races with no issues, and performed as well as I could expect a bike to.

Best new component purchased: FMB tubulars - I rode a set of the SSC for many of the season's cross races and they were really fantastic. I liked them so much, I'm importing a bunch of them for some friends and local racers as well as myself. Runner up goes to the Vittoria Open Pave CG tire, my new favourite and go-to for almost all paved (and not so paved when I feel like it) riding. Not the lightest but very comfy, fast and reasonably durable. I'd really like to try the new 320 tpi version next year, or possibly the tubular version of the Pave.

Best race performance: although I have some good results, the best race was not necessarily the best result on paper - not even the most memorable, my best performance objectively speaking was probably at the Good Friday road races. Having more early season fitness than other guys in my category, I rode a really good conservative race and had more to give at the end than I should have. Runner up in this category is probably the Oktoberfest CX where I was back and forth with Noah all race, both of us hitting the ground a few times but me just once too many to go for the win. I am really happy I was able to drive that race and chase back after each crash.

Best overall ride: again, it's one memorable enough that I wrote a blog post for it. Club rides are almost always enjoyable, but riding in a 5 man break for an hour where I am clearly the greenest is a great experience, and being able to pull through and hang until the leadout for the sign sprint was a great feeling.

That's all. Not as many categories as other year end summaries, but I've tried to capture content in each that was significant to me. Here's to another great year in 2010.

27 December, 2009

Christmas cycling stuff

So it's the time of year where most people in North America obsess over gift giving, etc. and thus I have a few goodies worth mentioning, care of my family.

Before I get to that, I'll provide the training update. 72km of salty wet roads this morning, 2 coffees, 1 baked good. Fenders are really necessary in this stuff. My chain sounds like a sandbox, but otherwise the bike takes it pretty well. So far I'm 1 week into the 2010 training plan and actually on schedule... that may be a record. Hoping to get out for a ride tomorrow, off road if things are frozen enough.

Now, on to the Christmas stuff:

- MSR Denali snowshoes. Humourously enough, we have no snow now, but last winter I did some winter hiking and would have done more if I had snowshoes for the day after fresh snowfall. These should be great for stomping around in the powder.

- Embrocation Team Issue non-warming embrocation by Mad Alchemy as well as the Embrocation Team socks by Swiftwick. I needn't say more. I haven't even done a ride in these socks and I want to get our team on board with some Swiftwick Four Ole socks (or maybe the Merino version?)

- not cycling specific, but I got a large Stanley socket driver/wrench kit, which is excellent. About 5 of the 211 tools can be used on bikes, and Stanley is a key sponsor of the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross so this makes the blog.

- a pair of Smartwool medium weight hiking socks. I love these, and they are my go-to sock for winter activity.

All in all, lots of good stuff.

24 December, 2009

Christmas Eve ride with some Hub folks

Before heading back to my parents' for Christmas I joined Mr. 5, John Stewart, Shaw and Mike from the Hub for a 2.5-3h spin around the Campbellville area. I have no idea where we were for most of the ride, but it was great nonetheless to be out.

I was falling off the pace on the rollers - maybe I could have stayed on with some effort but at this time of year it's not what I need to be doing, and everyone was good about waiting - basically doing their own thing to manage the effort. Base training is really hard to do in groups, especially with varied abilities but a good group of people makes it easier to adjust to suit everybody's needs as best as possible. In this case that meant leaving John Stewart on the front for most of the ride to pull us around.

We took a couple photos on a particularly nice road, but neither shows all 5 of us since someone had to man the camera:

20 December, 2009

Training update: winter riding begins for another year

It's been a good week for training, or at least a good weekend to cap off a week that started slow in the riding department:

Thursday was an easy 1 hour spin on the trainer while catching up with some cross footage from earlier in the season.

Friday I had a VO2max test at U of Guelph for a study I will be participating in there, which is conducted by Heather Logan. This is going to be an interesting experience, as I always learn a lot being a lab rat. Numbers are ok - way up from last time I did this test about 1.5 years ago. The downside is my weight is up from the beginning of cross season by about 4 kg, so I'll try to lose that as soon as possible and then gradually drop from there into the race season. 80 kg by the first O-cup maybe?

Saturday was my first SCCC club ride in awhile, and the turnout was low to match the temperatures. 6 of us rode the usual Saturday route to Smithville. I think my forehead froze. When I heard that there was a mtb ride option for Sunday I decided this would be less cold and more fun, and borrowed a set of cross wheels from Shawn since the only bike I had with me was a cross bike with road tires.

Sunday's ride was a good one. A few hours in the usual trails around St Catharines, trying to keep up with some quick mtb riders on my cross bike. The single 42t was a bit much, but I made it up everything I realistically could have expected to. Maybe a bit too much intensity for the legs at this point, but it was worth it. A couple hours of nap time with the compression tights after has my legs feeling ok. I may get a short core session in today before bed.

Monday is off, dictated by Tuesday's dry run for the study at Guelph. I may do some more core work if I get bored. Tuesday will be the first run of the protocol for the study: 90 minutes at a fixed intensity (70% of VO2max power), followed by a 6kJ/kg TT. I'll be doing this weekly for a month in January, which should be good for the sum of my intensity for the week leaving me to do easy rides and hiking to make up the rest of my base in that time.

13 December, 2009

Hespeler GP race report

Yesterday I headed down to the Hespeler Arena to help the other Hub folks set up for today's cross race. Cold and frozen, the ground was not too receptive to stakes. Once we got things figured out, and found the softer spots things started going a little better. We got about 2/3 of the course staked and about half taped before light started fading and we were all getting cold. The remaining work seemed manageable for the morning.

I had planned to help with setup today but was wiped out from Saturday and opted to sleep in. I rolled into the arena around 10 to talk to some of the morning racers and get suited up. I decided to get dressed in my cycling gear nice and early since it would be just as warm as jeans and a coat. Rolled around during the 11 o'clock race cheering and heckling.

The last couple laps were done in freezing rain/hail, causing me to retreat to the car. I got out after it let up a bit and started my preride in some drizzle. Lots of running sections, some nice fast ridable sections and lots of power stuff. As expected. I didn't really plan to take the race too seriously, but I was going to give it a shot and at least get a good training ride out of it.

A training ride it was indeed. On the first lap I gapped a couple folks and hoped to stay with Jarrod but he and Brusso were riding away from me. I kept Jay behind me for awhile before he found himself on my wheel and stayed there for a lap or so. We were pretty well matched but he was making far fewer mistakes than me. I think I was actually riding a hair faster, when I was riding but I would lose that advantage whenever I messed up. At some point he came around and I stayed on his wheel for another lap or so. Eventually, he rode me off the wheel again due to small mistakes, sliding out in corners and such. I had enough gas that I thought I'd be able to catch him, and just at that point I made a critical mistake on a running section and went down hard. I scraped my knee, and the pain made for a slow re-start to my chase. By the time I got up to speed again Jay was gone and the ride was now just to finish and get a good training ride in so I toned things back on the slippery corners and tried to ride as smoothly as possible.

Box and Chown came by during my 2nd last lap, making it my last as I'd hoped as I watched them catching me on sections where the course had looped back on itself. I rolled in for 6th, though there was some confusion about placings due to lapped riders. In the end, just one spot out of the podium and I would have liked to challenge Jay for that. If it was in the midst of cross season I would like to think I could have stuck with Jarrod longer, but then again he's probably in off-season mode too.

All in all a good training ride and fun day putting on a race with the Hub Race Team.

06 December, 2009

2010 training begins, and my thoughts on compact cranks

Today I woke up to an email from Joel who was to be my riding buddy for the day, saying that the roads looked pretty slick. Content to go back to bed, I believed him. I woke up around 11:30, and things were looking better so I started getting motivated to head out. I finally got dressed and out the door around 2pm, and hit the road on my cross bike complete with 24c Vittoria Open Paves and a 50/36 compact crank.

I ended up riding out to Bamberg and back, a rolling out and back that takes me a little over an hour in the summer, and about 1h20 today. It was a great day for a ride, with the temperature hanging around 0° and relatively clear roads. Only a couple times was I a little hesitant riding through some snow or icy looking patches. It felt good to get out for a road ride and in general to ride without going hard the whole time. Cross season really is a strange period for training - it has me so used to riding only at high intensity, or at a recovery pace. It was nice to ride some easy tempo for a bit.

It was also my first road ride all season on round chainrings. Overall I think it'll be good to move back to them for awhile. It felt a lot less stressful on the quads (because I was likely not pushing as large a gear, and the ratio is not effectively higher in the power stroke) and only took some minor thought into a good pedal stroke. I think the Q-rings have their place, but for me as a developing rider it's not the right time to switch over completely.

Now on to the compact gearing. I was riding 50/36 with my usual 11-26 road cassette out back. I really had no idea what to do with the front derailleur most of the time. The 50t was too much for the rolling hills at base efforts, and the 36 was a huge jump down. I eventually figured out that using the 50 for descents and tailwind sections and the 36 for everything else was the best compromise. Lots of 36x13, 14, 15 type gearing going on - something I'd normally avoid with a 39t on my road bike. I did enjoy the 36x26 for going easy on the hills at this time of year, but I also hit 120rpm or so in the 50x11 on some pretty tame descents. For the flat to rolling terrain we have in Ontario, I really don't see compact gearing as a viable option on a proper road bike. The common 50/34 is only worse in this respect.

The plan for this crank is to run a tight 36/42 combo for cross racing, and basically to stay in the 42 most of the time like a single ring. It came with 50/36 chainrings and I plan to leave the 50t on for some road riding over the winter and for Paris-Ancaster (if I even do P-A?)

29 November, 2009

Non-race report: Subway CX

I didn't race today, but I did go to the race so I figure I'll write a bit. Rolled in at the beginning of the 10 am race, saw Stephen go by quite quickly. That had to be a podium in M3? We'll see when the results are up. Chatted with some of the usual cross folks for a bit, the recurring topic being why I wasn't racing. My answer is that I'm finally taking a break. I thought all week about racing but decided to spend one on the sidelines, and after doing so I don't regret it.

The elite race was a great one to watch, with a front group stringing out early behind Morse, all the usuals in tow: Box, Stafford, Chown and Watson. Not far behind was Brusso and Mancini and a few others. Ah yes, Sam. He wanted to do the Elite race, and was told he had to win his Junior race first - and did so in style after flatting and chasing back. He sat in that lead group for about half a lap, then began falling back. After 2 laps, about to be caught by Mancini he pulled out, apparently having thrown up in the bushes. Nice.

Back to the front, Chown was there setting the pace with Box and Stafford in tow, Morse and Watson a few seconds behind. Then he flatted, leaving him chasing back to Morse. That would basically set the stage for the battle of the day, Box v. Stafford. It appeared they might come to the line for a sprint, but the last couple laps saw Erik pull away slowly opening a gap that would stick to the end. A well deserved win for him, after so many close ones. I'll let Watson off the hook because he's already taken a break from the 2009 season and is starting for 2010 as he explains over here.

I'm enjoying that post-season break right now, and will bring the tubulars out once more for Hespeler in a couple weeks. Other than that it will be riding when I can and trying to fix all the damage racing has done. I'm really looking forward to getting back on the base plan and racking up the kilometers for 2010. Time to start planning (ok, much of the planning has already been done). I'll start talking about next year's schedule soon.

22 November, 2009

CSAJ Riverdale Cross race report

Today I racked up my first (and I suppose only) DNF of 2009. The photo below says it all:

Lap 1 went really well - started a little slower than usual, seeing if settling into a spot I think I could finish with worked better. It seemed to, as I finished lap 1 feeling good and started to pick up the pace to try to catch the next man, only metres ahead. Out of the baseball diamond spiral I stood up to accelerate, just got up to speed and saw a flapping piece of broken course tape. Then I was on the ground. I guess the tape grabbed my handlebar and pulled the bike out from under me.

It was a mess, with the brake cable housing actually out of its stop and such. I fixed that, then shouldered the bike for the runup since I was more or less at the base. Remounted at the top, only to find my chain off. Fixed that, got going again, but by now the majority of the M1 field had passed and the Seniors were long gone. After pedalling along for a bit longer and looking at the increasing amount of blood coming from my knee, I decided to call it a day. I let Steve and Al know I was done, and went about cleaning up my leg. After a brief wipe with some TP at the washroom I figured some first aid would be wise, and got helped out with a proper cleaning and some gauze.

Now that I'm home and showered, it's not so bad but I put some 3M Tegaderm over the wound in hope of fast and clean healing. I'm getting quite good at this after my road season this year...

Back to the race, the St. Catharines folks had a good showing with Geoff winning the S3/4 race, Brandon Etzl sprinting to a win in the Junior race, Aly taking 2nd in master women and Nathan dominating the Sr. mens race. The course was pretty good, with the long runup and another climb taking up the majority of the time, and the rest being a mix of straightaways and spirals on the flats. Not a very selective course, so it came down to who had good legs... which I did, and I think I would have done well, perhaps not getting lapped by Nathan which would have been a first since upgrading this year. That said, I am content with my season and was not necessarily out to accomplish or prove anything in particular. I'm very much undecided about racing next weekend. On one hand, the legs are there and it would be nice to finish the season on a high note. On the other, my head has really not been in the racing lately and I have little left to do with my season. Goals passed and fitness maximized, I really need to change gears and get back to the longer hours in the saddle for next year's preparation. I guess I'll have an answer by next Sunday!

16 November, 2009

USGP Mercer Cup Day 2 and recap

Day 2 began with me feeling quite a bit less sick than when I went to bed, but not generally feeling too fresh. This is typical for the second day of a double weekend, and with running around the pits and such a bit of extra fatigue was expected. The plan was largely the same for Sunday as I was racing at the same time - a stop for coffee and a breakfast bagel, sign on for the day, warm up, race, then work the pits and spectate. The course had been changed a little, with some sections cut out, some new turns added and a few sections run parallel to the previous course. Still, a lot was the same and there would be many sections that would be a muddy slow grind. Luckily I had a pit bike care of Marc Boudreau (and pedals for it c/o Natasha Elliott) so I was not as worried about the mud as just a tough second day of racing.

The weather took a considerable turn in the warm and sunny direction, so I was able to warm up in shorts and a jersey. I spun up and down the road through the park and did a few starts and hard efforts. I got to staging a bit earlier and got into place with my callup - 2 places better than the day before (i.e. same spot, basically). It turns out the guy beside me was 5th on Saturday and wasn't too happy that they didn't award any callup priority based on results from the previous day. I can't say I disagree with him. The whistle came up pretty fast, and we were off. I didn't really have a bad start, but I also didn't move up much at all so I basically hit the grass in about 50th or so. That was fine, because I found I moved up a lot easier on the grass than on the start Saturday. This did work, and on the hairpin bottleneck that everyone ran I got through quickly and gained probably 10 spots. I rode myself up another 5 or 10, easily into territory I could not sustain (top 30). As soon as we hit the flats I started falling back, and probably hit about 50th again - back where I belonged(?)

This was fine, but I felt like I was really just out for a ride and not really racing. My heart rate was not up and I couldn't get motivated to get going since my legs were still working hard to push through the mud. I pitted after 1 lap to get on a bike without so much mud, but right away the bike all over the place in the rear. I figured I just wasn't used to Marc's bike and the other tires weren't quite as good in the mud, but once I hit a less muddy section it became apparent that there was little to no air in my rear tire. Since it was my own tire, I decided to risk riding it out, trying to keep the weight over the front and limped into the pits. I think this is probably where I lost the rest of my places, only a handful of which I'd get back in the end. Rode into the pits and got my bike back, and was off. A lap later I pitted again and got the bike with the same rear wheel so I figure they must have got it to hold air. Ran most of the off camber by the expo this time and then pitted again to finish the race on my bike. With the bell lap upon me, for some reason my body decided to start racing and I was picking off a few guys here and there. Maybe got 1/3 of the spots I lost riding the flat to roll in for 63rd, 12 worse than Saturday, feeling like I hadn't really done much.

It turns out my 'flat' was the result of the valve being open or something like that, because the tire held air after that and appears to be fine. Thank goodness for tubulars. The same event on a clincher would have been a DNF because I was not running half a lap, and there's no way you can ride a clincher flat like that.

As for the rest of my day, I helped Alex out in the pits a bit and then got Jared's bike ready to pit for him in the Elite race. Watched the Elite Women go, and by now things were considerably drier and faster. Katerina Nash put on a good show, dropping Dombrowski to take another win. On to the men, I was pitting for Jared but it was clear from the Women's race that there would not be much action there unless there was a mechanical. Bikes were coming in clean and the course was only drying up. The pit was actually a good vantage point to watch from when it wasn't busy, so I got to watch Tim Johnson put in a huge effort halfway through lap 1 to drop everyone and solo away to victory. The battle for the rest of the top 5 was quite interesting with Trebon, Wells, Kabush and Driscoll swapping spots a few times and working on gapping each other before the finish. The remainder of the top 15 was a good show as well with DSJ riding himself into 11th for the next best Canadian showing behind Kabush.

The drive home was long and we had quite a hard time getting propane for the van after 2 am. We ended up making it into Toronto at the very end of our range and finding some fuel. It's amazing how many truck stops were either out of propane or had no staff on hand at night who were licensed to pump it. It was 6 before we got to Waterloo, barely able to stay awake and having to work just hours later. I got an hour of sleep and showered before heading to work. Needless to say, it was a long couple of days. I'll be resting up again this week, as at this point in the season I'm pretty much coasting on what fitness I have and trying to hold on to my form for a couple more weeks. The last few races should be very fun and largely low-key, though it should still be some good racing.

14 November, 2009

USGP Mercer Cup Day 1 report

I don't think I will be able to write much before I feel like sleeping, so I'll do a brief report today and a full report of the weekend later.

Today's race went reasonably well considering course conditions and my cold. I got to the race and got my number/chip and then back to the van to get dressed. There was no question about tire choice or pressure - it was Rhinos as low as I cared to run them. Rather than risk loading up the bike with mud in my warmup, I skipped a preride lap and did some sprints on the pavement near the course while the 3/4 women raced. I wasn't really concerned about getting much effort in so much as spinning up the legs to get moving, so the warm-up was kept short.

Onto the starting grid I got to experience the size of my field. With something like 83 there, it was the biggest start I've done. I was pretty much right in the middle, maybe 8th row. Zipped off the tights and jacket and passed them off, and we were away. The start was long and paved, and it was only halfway up the paved section that I heard bikes hitting the ground - luckily behind me, so I just kept pedalling! Into the grass things were good and I was moving up. Through the technical bit I rode right past a bunch of guys who were either running or sliding out. Nice! I was probably sitting top 30 at this point, but once we hit the muddy, bumpy slog through the field I started dropping back rapidly to guys with more fitness. Settled in and most of lap 2 and 3 were spent gaining/losing less than 5 spots. I picked it up on lap 4 and caught a couple guys I'd let go, but of course others had the same idea and likewise passed me.

And that was it... rolled in after 4 laps of about 10 minutes each, and I figured I had no idea how I did. Turns out it was 51st, which is better than I expected coming into the weekend. I'll take it. Tomorrow's goal: top 50 ;)

After my race, I got changed and checked out the Expo a bit. I got a sweet Stanley coffee mug, and got it filled with beer for free (this was part of the promotion). Enjoyed some frites and chicken fingers (ok, not really belgian frites, but french fries).

Then it was over to the pits to see how Alex was doing. I helped him pit for Natasha Elliott, since the pressure washers were hit and miss and half of the laps you had to wash the bike by hand. More of that in the Elite race where I was pitting for Jared Stafford - terrible service at the wash station! What a joke.

Pitting every half lap or every lap at minimum was a huge advantage, a huge advantage I didn't have. So for tomorrow, even though the weather is supposed to be better, I've secured a mix of borrowed gear to use: a bike from Marc Boudreau, and pedals from Natasha Elliott since she's the only person I knew with Looks. Thanks for hooking me up! No more 40 lb bike for the last half of the race.

11 November, 2009

New Jersey bound

For those who don't already know or haven't picked up on it in my race schedule to the right, I am headed to Trenton, NJ this weekend to race at the USGP Mercer Cup. The USGP is one of the two major series in US cyclocross (the other being NACT) and while Verge and Cross Crusade races may get some pretty huge turnouts there's no field quite as stacked as a USGP Elite race. Thankfully, unlike our local races in Ontario the USGP has something between the Elite and Cat 4 races - the 'Killer Bs' as it is called. This is every Cat 3 plus all the Cat 2s who don't feel like lining up with the pros. Needless to say I've got my work cut out for me, but it's going to be amazing racing no less than 90-100 other guys at once.

I'm traveling to the race with Soigneur Race Services, along with a few other Ontario riders (a couple of masters and up and coming U23 powerhouse Jared Stafford). It is sure to be a great weekend of racing, recovering and watching the Pro/Elite men and women.

So what does the week before entail for me:
- almost zero riding, as I'm on the tail end of a LONG season and had a tough double weekend (the 4th in a row, in fact)
- 8 months of tension in my hamstrings and hip flexors relieved in 30 minutes by my RMT (awesome!)
- clean up the bike and wheels a little better than usual
- new bar tape!
- trying not to get sick, though it has been tough this year and I feel like I need all the sleep and vitamins I can get right now

I believe the hotel has free wi-fi and I should have lots of time so I intend to do updates Friday/Saturday evenings and then Sunday or Monday evening I'll get my Sunday recap up.

09 November, 2009

Race Reports: Nassagaweya and Barrie

First up this weekend was the Nassagaweya Narly Cyclocross (aka Garrett's farm).

I was unsure about racing both days this weekend until Thursday night with a good workout and a bit of peer pressure making me think it was a good idea. Off to the farm near Moffatt on Saturday morning, the drive was largely pleasant as I made my way through Puslinch and Aberfoyle. I got there just in time to hear the whistle go for the 10 am race, in which a few friends from SCCC were doing their first "real" cross race. I set up my trainer at the top of a grassy hill where I could warm up and spectate simultaneously, then walked around and chatted with some people for awhile. Hung around the finish to see how everyone's race went (Dan won!) and then hopped on the trainer for the first couple of laps of the 11:30 race. It was a great vantage point as I could see about half the course and cheer folks on as they went up the small hill after the pits. After considering not doing a pre-ride lap I eventually did head out for one quick loop.

Lining up for my race the field was small, but bigger than expected for a low-profile race such as this. A few of the fastest guys were there (Watson, Chown) but many were missing. Still plenty of people faster than me, and a few whom I thought I might have a good race with. After some light start line banter, Steve blew the whistle and we were off - make that I was off the front. Why? I have no idea! I led up the runup and continued until the bumpy run-in to the woods where I promptly dropped my chain and watched the whole field ride away. This was extremely frustrating, and of course it took far longer than it should have to get it back on.

(photo credit R. Watt)

Chasing from this far back was extremely demoralizing and I wasn't feeling particularly fresh. I made a deal with myself that if I didn't catch anyone by the end of my first lap I would pull over. Of course I had to lose that deal and caught ChrisZ just in time. So off I went, feeling progressively less like DNFing but still not great. I picked off a few more riders, and plugged away. Only Watson, Chown and Mogg lapped me, which was good. The entire last lap was spent fighting off cramping in my quads, which the 6 dismounts did not help with. Every time my leg was straight coming over the saddle to remount it would lock up.

(photo credit R. Watt)

Rolled in for 7th, which was fair enough. I would have liked to race back and forth with Stephane as we seem well matched, but the dropped chain meant I would not see him for the rest of the race. Back home to clean up the bike for Sunday's race.

(photo credit R. Watt)

Barrie CC Cyclocross @ Hardwood Hills

Much like the Kelso weekend, Saturday evening didn't leave a good feeling in the legs for Sunday, but by morning with some food and rest everything came around a bit. I headed up to Hardwood with SRS and some folks from the SRS team and Hub Race Team. We rolled in just as the 10 am race was finishing so I had a chance to wish the 11:30 racers a good one and start getting changed.

I got setup and hopped on the course for a couple laps after the 2nd race was done. Right away the false flat start leads into a fast section with a sandy turn and then the big sandy climb. Rode it clean in preride but knew I wouldn't have the legs to do that every lap. A fast descent led into a technical sandy section with lots of 180s and a spiral, then another climb like last year with the mean tape chicane that sucks all of your momentum. A fast descent into another moderately technical sandy 180, fast power section around the reservoir and into the barriers. After that the 2nd half of the course was all typical Hardwood: wood chips, false flat doubletrack and a couple more loose turns. All in a fast course on which I'd be turning 8-9 minute laps even with a full 3km or so length.

We were lined up way too early for the start, so again lots of banter on the line. I was in the front row between Mark Batty and Erik Box. I really should have rolled back and let someone faster up there, but there was nobody asserting themselves so I stayed. Off the whistle Erik missed his pedal and we locked bars, but a little shoulder to shoulder leaning and we were both good. I hopped on near the back of the main group but was struggling with the pace and hoping there would be some separation.

Of course that separation came in the form of the sandy climb, but instead of splitting the group it totally strung it out. Batty was off the front, and I was barely clinging to a wheel. Noah, who was doing his first race of the 1 pm start got away from me somewhere in there and I was determined to reel him in. Determined enough, apparently, to put in an 8:07 for lap 2 - if only I could have done those all day! I got his wheel and quickly came around as I was feeling pretty good. Looking back to see he was still on my wheel, I saw him in the bushes but didn't hear much carnage so I kept going figuring I'd hear the story later.

That was pretty much all - put it on cruise control, lap times were getting gradually longer. Coming through for 4 I was shown 5 to go and I must say that was pretty discouraging. Later that lap Watson came by so I felt a little better knowing it was only 4. Up the second climb on one of my later laps I was greeted by teammate Joel and Emily Batty - I guess Emily was there to cheer on her brother. I must say her recommendation for a good line on the climb didn't seem too good, because I didn't make it and had to dismount 3/4 of the way up :P

(photo credit Mike Clark)

Rolled in for last place, aside from a few DNFs, but felt pretty good as there was really nowhere to hide in that crowd today. Everyone there deserved to be in front of me, and they were. It would have been good to race Noah, but I guess after his crash he was not feeling great and pulled off. Sounds like he may have the sickness that is going around, so hopefully he'll recover from that and we'll be back to usual in a couple weeks at Riverdale.

One more weekend down, and now on to the big one as I'm headed to Trenton, NJ for the USGP this weekend.

02 November, 2009

SRCC Hallowe'en CX Stage Race - Report

This weekend Speed River CC hosted Southern Ontario's only cyclocross stage race. Of course it's not a stage race in the sense that it includes different types of events, like what was tried out in Oregon this year.

Tim and his crew design some wicked courses, always sure to break your legs and make you smile. Alright, I'm not entirely sure I smiled during the race at all Saturday, but I guess I did afterward.

Day 1 Report

Day 1 is the lower ground of the two courses, and with the rain we had this week it was sure to be wet. How wet? Well, I thought it wouldn't be that bad looking over the section of course near the start/finish when I got there, but after I headed out for my pre-ride lap I hit the first couple corners and turned straight around to go switch to my Rhinos in the pit. Little did I know what came later.


So the course was basically some muddy but easy enough turns on the bottom, then up a climb, down a bit, then up some more into some thick grass which at some point (different for varying levels of skill, strength and pain) became a runup. For me that was right at the bottom after about lap 2. On top were some sloppy turns and puddles, followed by the nastiest headwind section ever - I think the wind was a lot stronger later in the day, as our lap times are not as much faster as usual compared to the earlier races. After the false flat/headwind section it was down a somewhat sketchy paved/gravel service road descent, some more muddy turns then into the area by the start. A short ride up/down loop, a few 180s and the double barriers and that's a lap. 11 minutes of pain, at the rate I was going.

Aweful runup

My race was fairly uneventful and basically consisted of trying to go fast, blowing up on the runup, and finding some legs somewhere after the descent to ride the 180/barrier section at a reasonable pace.

Barrier shot

Got lapped by Watson and 4 others making it a 6 lapper for me. I was racing back and forth with Stephane until his derailleur blew up, which is really unfortunate. For me however, this left me with a large gap behind to the next Sr racer and not much chance of catching anyone so it became a matter of survival. On that course it was enough of a challenge.

Day 2 Report

After day 1 I was at home feeling so tired that I was considering DNSing for day 2 if my legs didn't get any better by morning. Thankfully they did, and though I was a bit trashed as always after a hard Saturday race, my legs felt capable of at least starting a cross race.

Day 2 is on much higher ground, and is thus usually drier. Last year I raced day 2 but not day 1, so I was a little more familiar with the terrain. Tim mixed it up however since access to the runup off the beach was closed - he instead took us across a different short sand section and around the parking lot. Then on the face of the hill much of the off camber was replaced by one giant climb. The remainder of the course was similar - fast back and forth on the false flat in the main area.

Rode the sand cleanly/Watson about to lap me

Off the start I was doing well through turn 1 and into the barriers. I got caught in some inside traffic on the 180 that follows, but was hanging on the back of the main group up until near the finish line. Most of lap 1 and 2 I tailed Zach but he was just a little quicker. Lap 3 saw a big drop in my pace, and Zach just kept going. As the race went on my ability to climb the hill went down the drain, and my quads felt like they were about to lock up every time up the runup. I think I was just worn down, and it was really all I could do to sustain my pace and hold my position for the last few laps.

Much drier for day 2

So racing in elite is hard, but I definitely enjoy the challenge. I can already feel next season's goals and plan coming together, which is great. I'm not going to hammer any of that out in writing until the season is over, but it's great that I'm thinking that way. Plans for next weekend are still uncertain, but as of now it looks like I'm going to limit it to one race which is likely to be the Barrie Cross.

PHOTO CREDITS: Nial Fisher/Ines Meyer for all except sand shot (which was poached from Andrew Watson).

30 October, 2009

Training = fail

I'm terrible for skipping workouts, that much I'll admit. It's very rare however that I don't succeed once I get myself into a chamois and on the bike. Last night I finally got around to doing the interval workout which I'd originally planned for Wednesday.

I was going to do 3x15m blocks at race pace (near LT) with 5 min recovery in between, but quickly realized I was going to have to cut back. So after a brief warmup I started the first interval hoping to do 10 minutes. At around 8 minutes the power dropped right off, but I finished it anyway. 5 minute recovery, and into the next interval... nothing there. The legs were just gone, so I pulled the plug, spun the legs for a couple minutes and packed it in.

In retrospect I probably didn't eat enough during the day, but even with more fuel I'm not sure I could have done the full 3x15 planned. Just a bad day on the bike.

These happen I suppose, so I'll probably do a short opener workout tonight and then put my legs up to rest for the weekend.

26 October, 2009

Southern vs. Eastern Ontario CX Challenge, round 2

This year the two cyclocross series in Ontario met once again in Kingston, though this race is really more like an Eastern beries race that the rest of us are invited to, as it's run closer to them and by their rules.

The Eastern series has its good and bad points - the good:

  • It's big, more participation than Southern Ontario for sure
  • 2 start format is basically Elite men and women, Master A & Juniors in one race, everyone else in another. This works really well for the novice riders and passably well for Master B/C/D. If they used ability based Masters and put 1/2 with Elites and 3 with Novices it'd be perfect. The Elite women really benefit from racing with a larger field and it's nice at the back of the Elite men to have some masters and women to ride with.
  • Pretty nice venue in Kingston, and from what I hear some good ones in Ottawa too
and the bad:
  • Not staked and taped, silly flags of death instead - tape keeps you honest, while flags let you go wide. Also yellow flags and fallen leaves look the same. Also, flags eat derailleurs. Thankfully none of mine yet.
  • Unnecessary barriers, way too many of them and terrible placement. The double barriers were good. The one before the climb beside the terrace was ok, definitely better than last year. The others were totally useless - they were uncomfortable for everyone elite to novice, and did not force selection. Instead they annoyed us. The one on the run-up should be placed at the bottom to force a longer run, or not at all to allow stronger riders to ride it. The one after the right hand turn/off camber is redundant, as the off camber is selective on its own. Dismounts at zero speed are stupid, and do not make the competition any more interesting.
Enough of my rant, and on with the race report.

Lining up with the A race, it was apparent that the race was smaller than last year, I guess in part due to Quebec provincials being the same day. Still, it was a nice size field with about 50 starters. People there are crazy, lining up well to the sides of the actual lane just to get a front row position. I'm not sure how it actually helps when you're that far off to the sides, but whatever. I lined up in the back but in a good spot to move up the centre past some slower starters. Sure enough, something happened right off the gun and people were on the ground right in the middle of the pack - I'd say at least 10 people. I narrowly got around them which helped my start as a bunch of people were caught behind. I don't think anyone was hurt, but it sucks to get messed up by such things.

Anyway, the first lap was one of follow the leader - hard because I was following riders faster than myself. I recall being around Brusso, Marc Boudreau and Nick. They all promptly dropped me part way through lap 1, but I was still going along well. First time up the paved climb to the start was very selective and I was gassed at the top - many people passed me at that point, but I probably settled in close to my real position which was good as I was then able to focus on riding a good tempo and holding off anyone else. I did this, and even reeled in a couple over the next few laps. I still felt terrible after every climb and runup, but I was railing the descents and powering the flats very nicely. I must say I felt like I was really going well, even though my lap times say otherwise. I did get complimented on my cornering by a spectator though, so I must have looked like I know what I'm doing.

Toward the middle of the race I was being pursued by 2 Ride With Rendall riders who were soon joined by my teammate Melissa. Seeing this, and determined not to be caught I picked it up and was able to hold them all off. I think Mel dropped one of them and I put enough time on all of them to ride within my limits. The last time down the terrace I dropped my chain and I was quite worried about the rider who was chasing, but I got it back on to finish 11 seconds clear of him, thankfully.

It was a really good experience to race in a large Elite field in Kingston, and though I felt terrible and slow I have to say it was a good race. Next up is the Speed River Halloween stage race at Kelso this weekend - definitely a highlight of the Southern Ontario scene. See you there!

Willow Beach Race Report

On my way to Kingston for the Southern-Eastern CX Challenge, I had been planning to stop and race at Willow Beach. Of course a late night Friday catching up on some work and a lack of pre-registration nearly had me decide that sleep was a better option. With my new later race time racing Elite men, I was able to roll in comfortably in time to get dressed and think about warming up.

Warming up consisted of riding one lap of the course with a few others after the 11:30 race, and rather than warming up it really was more like cooling down with the amount of cold water/mud spraying up from the bike. Needless to say the course was downright soupy in spots. There were puddles that when pedaling your foot would become completely submerged in at the bottom of the pedalstroke, and there was mud deep enough that I didn't see anyone successfully ride it in at least one spot. With no traditional double barriers, there was still 3-4 places requiring dismounts: a set of stairs, a ditch that was risky to ride, deep sand coming off the otherwise-ridable beach and a muddy section too deep to ride. I attempted to ride the latter two, but was running them for all of my race laps. For more perspective check out some photos Wes took during the morning races.

The field was very small with 11 Elite men and 4 Master 1s, which was kind of nice as my first racing Elite. Still, there was enough depth that I'd have to work hard nonetheless. The start was surprisingly less crazy than expected and I found myself not far off of Erik's wheel, which I knew would not last. By the time we came off the beach I was back where I should be, in the bottom 1/3 or so trading spots with Wes and Jay.

For the most part the race was a battle against the elements, though I did succeed at dropping a few people and ended up having a decent battle with Jay. He had put some serious time on me at one point but I guess a rolled tubular cost him about half that gap, and a pull from an M1 helped slingshot me into the muddy slog in the field where I cranked along slowly, but fast enough to close down the gap. As we got back on our bikes Kyle Douglas came by, lapping us making our current lap the last. Happy to see this happen, we both pushed a bit harder, and in the end he came onto the lawn a bike length ahead of me to take 6th place, putting me 7th ahead of a few others - not last in my first Elite race, this is good.

I learned shortly after that Erik had hit his head on a tree and was strapped to a spinal board for safe measure. Turns out he spent a few hours like that but after a trip to the hospital and an x-ray, he was cleared with no serious injuries. We're all very happy to hear he's ok but this is just one more item to the list of bad luck he's had.

I cleaned off my bike a little in the lake, but even after this it was still muddier than it's been, and possibly muddier than my bike got in any cross race last year as well. After the drive into Bath to stay with Nick and Melissa at Nick's parents', I cleaned it off pretty well and set it to dry for the next day's race with the Eastern Ontario folk.

19 October, 2009

NACT Toronto International CX Day 2

Day 2 brings a totally different course, built in and around a valley on the other side of the ski hill from day 1. The course is rolling, with punchy climbs, some off camber and again lots of turning, but overall much faster than the hilly course.

Warm up was uneventful, and still cold, but I felt ok. I opted for the Rhinos after doing a lap with the FMBs. In reality it probably didn't matter but the frost/dew covered grass was a little slick in a few corners and there was not quite enough straight stuff to balance it out. I hadn't brought my green Swiss Stops along, so I had to run the yellow pads on aluminum rims. I was unsure how it would go, but I'd heard it worked pretty well and I can say now that it's actually a really nice feel for cross. Maybe not as much power, but still plenty of it and lots of modulation.

On the start line the crowd was mostly the same, but Noah looked a lot more awake and Dave Brown was not a DNS today. I asked him about Saturday and I guess he was/is sick, and said he was out of shape. The start was far slower for me and I immediately knew my legs did not have any snap left in them after Saturday. I hit the grass about 5th wheel, and a last minute barrier addition to the course took us by surprise and Dave (who was leading) took a trip over the bars on a botched dismount leaving us all to funnel tight to the inside of the 180.

I was struggling to make contact with the front group of 4 which became two groups of 2 by the time they hit the run/ride-up loop thing, and I was off the back. I spent most of the race chasing and never really gaining. The interesting parts were that with 2 to go as I came onto the start/finish straight I could see 4th place at the other end, so a good hot lap and I might catch him. That didn't happen. Similarly, when the course doubled back on itself on the dirt road by the pit I could see Dave slowly gaining time on me each lap. He was probably about 30 seconds back with 3 to go, but was closing about 10-15 seconds a lap.

I hit it pretty good on the bell lap to hold him off, but some masters bumbling their way up the up-down-up climb slowed me enough for him to just about make contact. He was a few bike lengths off me through the valley and just as I came on to the gravel I realized it was going to be a sprint finish. I tried to use the small gap I had to hold him off, but after two days of racing my legs were shot and Dave took it by less than a wheel with both of us throwing our bikes at the line. So much for sick/out of shape. That just goes to show how dead my legs were from Saturday. So kudos to Dave, and all in all I guess it was a good race. I paid for my efforts the day before, but such is life when racing 2 super tough courses in a row.

Here's a couple photos from Day 1 graciously poached from Scott at True North who was running around taking photos and providing updates on Saturday. He took some great photos of the True North racers and bikes that made appearances - check out the flickr set.

17 October, 2009

NACT Toronto International CX Day 1

aka, the hilly course. This course set on the side of a ski hill and the surrounding terrain has more climbing than the vast majority of cross courses you'll find anywhere. The worst part is that instead of being spread out through the lap, it's all at once - up a bit, descend for 10 seconds, up a lot more, descend another 10 seeconds, up all they way to the top, and then up a bit more on the false flat on top. Then you finally get to come all the way down and do the flat section at the bottom. Of a 9 minute lap, I'd guess 3+ minutes of that is ascending the hill.

Going into this race, I knew there were some fast guys, so rather than go for the hole shot I was planning to aim for somewhere in the top 5 on the start and to see how things went. If I was feeling ok, I'd hit it halfway through and see what that did for me, and if not I'd just ride tempo and save it for Sunday.

Of course that plan went down the drain when I found myself out in front going into turn 1. I just can't not go fast at the start, and today I had a perfect clip in and everything went well. A front group of 3 came together at the barriers with Chris Ellefson, Codey May and myself, and Sean from True North not far behind. I was setting the pace, which I would rather have not done, but that was ok though I could tell they were feeling ready to go as we hit the stairs. At the base of the first steep climb we were together but Chris punched it pretty good and Codey was quick to follow. I knew there was no staying with these guys on the climbs, so I'd do my best to get up there quickly and try to use my skill in the corners to make up time. I was going to be happy if I managed to hold off the rest of the field, including Sean.

Coming into the pit-row straight on lap 2 I called out an inside pass on a 180 turn as I lapped through the M3 field, but this particular M3 decided he was not going to give it up and took us both out. He then proceeded to lay on top of my bike and make no effort to get up quickly. Needless to say I wasn't pleased and made this clear to him and anyone within earshot. Sean got by while this was going on, and I finally got rolling and started chasing. Of course in full chase mode my concentration suffered, and I tripped up on the barriers. No real harm, but it hurt a fair bit.

The rest of lap 3 and 4 was pretty uneventful. There were no lap cards and no bell, so someone just told me I was finished. Having not got the bell the lap before, I was kind of disappointed as I was getting ready to set out for a hard bell lap of chasing. I had a nice second wind that might have allowed me to catch Sean, who finished about 40 seconds up. I think without the crash it might have been a drag race at the end. Noah was 30 seconds behind me coming from a back row start, and I think he'll be a little more focused tomorrow.

Tomorrow's report should be more detailed and photo-filled. I just wanted to get this over with and up tonight.

Thanks for reading!

14 October, 2009

ZM Turkey Cross Race Report

Every once and awhile I have a race I don't much feel like writing a report for, and this was one of them. I suppose in this case it was because it quickly became a non-race after 3/4 of a lap, and turned into a training ride on a fun course.

Keeping this short: I arrived with plenty of time for a warm up and pre-ride, but the cold conditions didn't leave me too motivated for either. Nonetheless, I got dressed and headed out for a lap and found a straightforward but good course, full of challenge. The ridable singletrack climb did not yet have the barrier at the bottom so I had planned to ride, but the decision was made to make it a run up with a forced dismount at the bottom. It was almost the sort of climb you could remount after the barrier, except the surface was so uneven it was a risky move. I decided to run and this seemed to suit my strengths.

Heading out for the start I settled into 3rd wheel comfortably following the pace Noah and Mark were setting. As we hit the off camber about 500m into the lap I noticed they were not taking it with much speed so I punched it and easily rode past though they matched my effort. Down the woodchip/mud path and up the runup I guess Noah and I got a small gap but half a lap later Mark was back with us as we headed up the run/ride-up on the backside of the course. I tried to ride and had to dismount halfway up, causing the others to do the same. Into the off camber switchbacks I was still leading, but slid out on the first one and hit the ground hard enough to prevent me from hopping back up in time to get back on their wheel. Noah and Mark were gone and I was chasing with about a 10 second gap.

With lap 1 down, this report might as well be over. I chased for the next lap and a half, and when I realized they were going as fast or faster than my chase effort I shut it down and cruised in for 3rd. It was a nice day and I enjoyed watching the later races, with singlespeed Jay coming out victorious in the M2 race over Hub teammates Andrew and James and an exciting Elite race in which Watson rode away from everyone, Box rode away from everyone else and Morse took advantage of some mishaps and fading efforts to claim 3rd.

Next up is the NACT Toronto International CX races, which should be a couple of super tough courses back to back. Saturday up the big ski hill, and Sunday we're in the valley which is often muddy but looks to be a drier year.

05 October, 2009

Another weekend of CX race reports

This weekend was another double, the Hillbilly Hustle in Duntroon on Saturday and ZM Oktoberfest CX in Toronto on Sunday.

First off, Duntroon is in the middle of nowhere and despite being 10 minutes outside of Collingwood was not easy to find. I ended up going past it, in circles, and then coming back and asking someone for directions. This combined with oversleeping by 50 minutes was offset just enough by the quick drive to allow for me to get registered and such in time. Unfortunately, between my lateness and incompetency at the registration desk, I didn't have a lot of time to warm up. The course was pretty wet, but all of the fast turns were dry and most of the turns were slow and flat so I felt like I could get away with the SSCs rather than Rhinos. This would also give me the extra volume of 34s, which was nice on the bumpy and rocky bits. Even going up the very muddy climb I could get out of the saddle and not lose traction.

I lined up beside a very small field of 5, but this included Noah who has been able to challenge me all season, and a few unfamilliar faces. Taking the hole shot I led everyone up the climb and over the barriers but soon one of the unfamiliar faces would come around and turns out he's quick. I was not doing a good job of hanging on and Noah was on my wheel telling me to close the gap... oops. So I kind of ruined both of our races there as the fast guy, Matthew Farquharson as it turns out, would not be seen again. He'd likely be racing Elite but I guess he doesn't race cross much, or hasn't yet. Coming down the switchback the first time I caught my wheel in the rut trying to take a tight line and went over the bars in slow motion. This left my stem misaligned from the wheel, which I tried to correct on the spot but it wasn't moving. After losing time there, I rode it this way to the pit where Nick met me with a hex key after yelling to him. Thanks! Stopping to fix it, I lost one more spot leaving me in 4th with 3rd riding away at a good pace. I worked over the next 2 laps to catch him and managed to open a small gap on the last lap. Race over, I was 3rd and can't say it was one of my better ones. On the other hand I didn't kill myself to do it so I still had something for the next day. My lap times when I wasn't dealing with the mechanical were close to Noah's as well, so that was a good sign for races to come.

Sunday I headed into Toronto for the ZM Oktoberfest CX, which had a new course at a new park for this year. Arriving at the venue, it was a bit confusing where to find the registration and start/finish, but after that was sorted out I saw what looked to be a good course taped out in the small park. I got pinned up, changed and then hopped on the trainer for a good 30 minutes of spinning, something I'd planned to do the last few races but not allowed the time for. This was a great way to get my legs loosened up without the surging and grinding of riding the course. Following this I hit the course for a couple preview laps, and found a very fun course with long straights, 2 climbs in short succession and lots of greasy off camber turns. Everything a crosser could ask for. This would be a day for the Rhinos due to the off camber and potential for things to get slippery.

Being in Toronto the field was quite a bit larger than usual with about 15 starters in my race and nearly 40 M3s behind us. At the horn we were off and it was Noah taking the holeshot with his teammate Chat and then me right behind. Up the small runup Chat held me up a bit, and then again in the next corners. Was he blocking for Noah? It turns out no, he's just bad at cornering, but this left me chasing to get on Noah's wheel once I got by at the barriers. Catching up with him, we then rode the first lap together with me taking a turn at the front for the second half. Lap 2 and 3 were super fast as the two of us spent time pushing the pace. I had a little slide under the tape on an off camber corner but chased it back on to Noah's wheel. Lap 4 saw Noah go down in a corner and since I was right on his wheel I basically rode over top of him before ending up in a heap. Both of us had misaligned shifters, and made efforts to get going again. The lap time is noticeably 30 seconds longer for both of us, which is somewhat entertaining. Lap 5 was uneventful, but near the end of lap 6 I took a good spill in the same corner that got me on lap 2, only this time a lot harder. My leg was a bit scraped up from my bike and I was sore, but everything seemed ok so I pushed onward, though at this point Noah had 20 seconds. Heading out for the bell lap I knew that I couldn't close down another gap in my current state, so I backed it off a bit thinking I had a good margin over 3rd. Next thing I knew Phil Cates was calling out a pass and coming by - "oh crap! he's in my category isn't he?" I quickly got on the gas again, and passed him back taking a better line through the greasy corner that Noah had slid out in earlier. I was going, but Phil was right on my wheel. I knew he was a strong rider, so I'd have to drop him in a technical spot as he'd mark all of my efforts on the flats and hills. I did this successfully on the last few off camber twists and had enough of a gap to come across the line without needing to sprint it out. It was only a few seconds back to Phil though, as he was doing everything he could to catch me.

All in all, a good day but I need to stay upright a bit more if I want to have my chance at beating Noah. The one time I did, he lost half his pedal so that didn't really count. I'd love to have a straight up drag race with him, and I know it will happen one of these times.

28 September, 2009

First double weekend of cross in Guelph

Race report time, this one for the two races held in Guelph this weekend. First up was the True North CX and Single-speed CX Nationals. Friday night I went out with the TN crew to hammer stakes for Saturday's course. We worked until dark and went out for food after, leaving me with a pretty short sleep before my race. Arriving at the venue, I got changed and signed in, and then hit the course for a couple laps. All the off-camber was quite ridable and overall it was a good course aside from being entirely too bumpy, and also containing too many 180° turns for most people's preference.

On the line they told us we were starting 20 seconds behind the M3s, not the usual minute. That didn't sound good to me, but it wasn't as bad as I thought, since both fields were small enough that the M3s didn't get in the way too much when lapping through (which did happen very quickly). The whistle blew, and as I went to clip in I kicked my rear brake, tried to go and found my wheel locked up. I hopped off and quickly pulled the brake out from under the rim as everyone rode away. With a long gravel start, I was able to catch the leaders right before the first turn, but I had put out a big effort to get them. There was a group of 4 of us, which I worked to the front of over the first half lap. Soon after, Mark Romeril and I would ride off the front and leave the others for the duration of the race. Mark and I were back and forth a lot, with gaps as big as 10 seconds or so opening up at times, but it was 2 to go when Mark re-caught me and dropped the hammer. I had nothing, so he went and put 30 seconds on me before I would finish 2nd for the day.

Later that evening, True North hosted the SSCX national championships back at the shop. They mowed about 1km of course through the bumpy field behind the shop, and we "raced" around that for awhile until the winners were decided. Of course racing was not the main attraction here. Instead, the best part was the free beer, pulled pork BBQ and live band. With draws for many great prizes including a True North frame, it was a great night.

Of course that night of fun left me pretty tired for the Speed River Guelph cross on Sunday. I lined up to see many more of the fast folks from my category out and knew it would be a tough day. I had hopes of doing well, and wanted to beat Mark and Noah, guys who are around my speed and can give me a good challenge as they have both beat me before. I took a couple swpes at my pedal off the start and again found myself chasing, but not nearly as bad as the mishap on Saturday. I was hanging off the back of a front group, but they were charging hard off the start and I knew I would not match their pace. Over the first lap I did catch Dave Brown and Geoff Hartley, who I would see more of later. I pushed hard but found my legs weren't there and it was a matter of survival. Geoff was never more than 10-20 seconds back and would get closer if I had a slow lap, but I held him off. With about a lap to go, I saw that Dave had caught up to Geoff and they were both close behind me. The last half of the lap had me pushing to hold them off, and I managed to keep a couple seconds between us so there was no sprint finish. I think those two sprinted it out with Geoff coming out on top. I finished one spot out of the money for the day in 5th, my worst for the season thus far though I'm not surprised. I'll chalk it up to the rough shape Friday/Saturday left me in, but the guys up front were really killing it and deserved their results for sure.

I must say, racing hard for 5th was way more fun than killing it on the front, but at the same time the result is not as satisfying. Hopefully I have my bad luck for starts out of the way, and I look forward to some of the faster competition showing up to some of the upcoming races.

Next weekend is the Hillbilly Hustle CX at Highlands Nordic near Collingwood on Saturday. For Sunday I'll make a morning of decision about the ZM Cycle Oktoberfest cross, depending how Saturday goes.

25 September, 2009

Product Review: Velo Orange Grand Cru cantilever brakes

This post may be a bit out of order, as I've hardly mentioned my new cross bike on the blog except in race reports, but I'll review different aspects of it over the course of the season. I get a lot of people asking what the brakes are on my bike, because they're not one of the major cross brands (TRP, Spooky, Avid, Empella, etc.) - indeed they're sold by a company with very little connection to cross, Velo Orange

VO specs and imports bike parts, mostly from Asia, catering to the retro-French touring and randonneuring market. Quite specific. As a side benefit, technologies like cantilevers and square taper cranks are standard to this market and VO is providing some nice high-performance alternatives to the usual brands in this area.

The Grand Cru brakes are functionally similar to other wide profile cantis with a few key differences:

  • they only come in gold anodized (perfect for my bike, but probably clashes with 90% of yours!)
  • they include adjustable toe-in brake holders, generally only found on TRP's expensive Magnesium and Carbon models or as a $40+ upgrade
  • they include a straddle cable barrel adjuster, a common modification now becoming more standard on cross brakes
  • they're very inexpensive

Now toe-in of cantis is not nearly as hard as people make it out to be - it's easily accomplished permanently with some pliers, and the adjustable shoes on these and the high end TRPs don't really make them any quicker to set up. It is nice though, and once set they are easy to maintain given the road cartridge style pads. Performance is in line with the TRP EuroX brakes I used last year, with the key differences noted above. They're also very light. All that said, the main reason I got the VO brakes was the low price and gold look.

A few closing points:
  • if gold is not for you, VO offers a silver version for 1/3 less cost but those don't include the adjustable pad holders or the barrel adjuster, so you're back to adding those. That said, VO sells the adjustable shoes for much less than the TRP type.
  • if I was choosing a brake now, the 2009 improved version of the Kore Race+ cantilevers which use a road style shoe (not just pad shape, but the whole holder is road style) and also include the adjuster. The best feature of these is the setback pad position that allows the pads to clear your frame and fork for easy wheel removal (and no marking up your nice frame when the brakes are open). They come in black and white, and are reasonably fashionable. If I wasn't so set on the gold aesthetic, I'd consider switching to these.

21 September, 2009

Valley Park CX Race Report

The HCC Valley Park cross was yesterday, and I was able to pull off my first win in the Senior 3/4 category.

After some light conversation on the line, we were off and I took the holeshot easily with a few key riders in tow. Through the course the first time I opened a gap to most of my category but Noah Rosen was with me and took advantage of my slide in one of the corners still wet with dew. He and a master 3 rider got by and I quickly set off in chase.

Noah and I would trade off a few times, and we both opened some small gaps that would then be closed down and we would be back to riding together. At one point, an M3 went down in a corner, leaving just enough room to get by on the inside. Noah rode through and just as I passed the rider got up, putting me into a bush which my bike promptly got tangled with. Showing the highest level of sportsmanship, Noah soft pedalled for a few seconds allowing me to chase back on, or at least regain a chance to. Later that lap his pedal would separate from the spindle unfortunately leaving him to DNF. It was an unfortunate result as I was looking forward to the final battle on the bell lap.

In any case, this left me to defend the lead we had built together over the other S3/4s, and I did so with Ryan following in 2nd and Dave Brown in 3rd. I passed the M3 leader on the last section of course, and had I not let cadet winner Brandon Etzl away earlier in the lap I might have contested the 10 am start overall. That can be the goal for next race.

This weekend we have a double in Guelph with the True North CX race Saturday and SRCC Guelph cross Sunday. Also TN is doing a singlespeed race Saturday evening with a BBQ and live music (The Monster Show). It should be a good one!

15 September, 2009

Long overdue update - Cyclocross is here!

A lot has happened since my last post - lots of mtb-ing and a mediocre 17th was not good enough at provincials to make the jump to Expert next year. Not a big deal. I'll take the upgrade when it comes. Now that mtb season is over with, on to another overdue race report, this time from the first cyclocross race of the season, We Need More Cowbell Cyclocross presented by CXFever.com. This is what I had been waiting for all year, and after a brief concern about when I would have my cross bike ready, everything came into place.

I received the frame a little over a week before the race, and promptly built it up and set out to get used to the new fit. Right away I knew it was perfect, as it was based primarily on my road bike but with a few tweaks to suit cross racing. Particularly worth noting is the low BB, the same ~275 mm height as my road bike, when wearing cross tires. This is about 2 cm lower than most cross bikes and the feel is very noticeable. I have to be careful pedalling through tight corners, and I have taken myself out doing so, but the reward in sweeping turns is huge in the ability to plant the tires with a low COG and just rail through. More on the bike in another post, I suppose.

So coming up to the race, I went out for the St Catharines CX practice on the Thursday prior to preview some of the course and get some hot laps in with the fast guys. Lots of rubbing and sliding as everyone was testing their limits - good prep for the race. I found mine, and then pushed them a bit too far, sliding over top of the barriers in a somewhat painful heap. Better in practice than a race though.

On to the race, I didn't know how I was doing going into this cross season, but I knew I wanted to do well. Lining up I could see I had some competition, at the very least in the form of Ryan, an impressive rider on a mountian bike for sure but a relative newcomer to cross. I took the lead going into the first corners, and was leading over the barriers and watching to see who'd follow. It was Ryan and Chris Ellefson of Handlebars CC on my wheel. As we came back down the dog park fenceline, I miscalculated which stake represented the inside of the turn and ended up in the tape. Chris got by and probably put 30 seconds on me right there, but we'd established a gap on everyone else which I was able to hold and extend. It turns out Ryan had some encounters with the ground and his bike unfortunately - read about that here.

There was no reeling Chris in at this point so I just tried to go through the course smoothly and keep the power down. Lapping through the M3 field went fairly smoothly, and I was able to pass all but the top 3, with the last couple hopping on my wheel. I brought the pace down for my last lap, but we still worked to reel in one last M3, Neil Armstrong who would eventually challenge me to a bit of a sprint at the end. Knowing he wasn't in my category it was an easy enough decision to let him go in the last couple corners, and I cruised in comfortably with a small gap over the nearest S3/4 behind.

All in all I'm fairly pleased with the race, and only see things getting better from there. Next up is the Valley Park Cyclocross put on by the Hamilton CC.

runup photo

Looking focused (or is that gassed?)

16 August, 2009

Race Report: Mountainview 9 hour relay

Alright, another race report - again at Mountainview, but this time a different format: 9h relay, tag team and finally a dry mtb race.

I woke at around 5:30, opting to consume breakfast during the long drive rather than loose sleep. I picked up my teammate for the day, followed by a coffee and breakfast sandwich at Tim Hortons and we were off. 2.5 hours later, we arrived at the race venue with plenty of time to get signed in and casually prepared for the start.

Ryan started off the day with a fast couple of laps, which I followed with two of my own. Our plan was to do this until we came up with a reason not to. More on that to come. 6 laps and a few hours into the race and the first results posted had us in first place with Lapdogs charging fast behind. It turns out they weren't slowing down much, and we were. That left us in second, but on the same lap and a lap up on third.

About 7 hours into the race, the heat and hours on the tough course got to me, and on the second lap of my double I had a terrible leg cramp about 2/3 of the way up the switchback ski hill climb. I pushed the rest of the way up with a mix of running (walking) and riding, but on reaching the top I realized it wasn't going away, and I coasted down the service road to get Ryan out on the course in my place. So with a wasted 10 minute partial lap, and a cramping leg I was a bit worried about the remaining 2 hours left in the race. Not wanting to leave the rest of it up to Ryan, and not wanting to concede our 2nd place standing I knew I had to get back on the bike so I set to work on refueling and nursing the leg. This took the form of a pepsi, a clif bar and a handful of bacon, as well as much massaging of the muscles in question. Ryan came by after one lap and I told him I'd be good to go next time around.

Back it came to my turn and I was actually feeling good. I told Ryan I'd try to do a double, but we'll see. After 1 lap at a pace much slower than the day had started, it looked like we had time for just one more. Both of us quite tired, we used rock paper scissors to decide who would go, and it was me for one more. Off I went.

It wasn't too far into my lap and I noticed a woman coming up on me quite fast... hmm, is she on that 3rd place tag team? I'd better get moving in case. This turned out to be a good thing, as I arrived back at the finish with about 2 minutes to spare, and just under 2 minutes over our competitor. Ryan had time to do one more. As it turned out so did the woman on our rival team, as she came in about 10 seconds before the clock ran out. Ryan's last lap was a repeat of mine, realizing that the rider on his tail was our competition, and picking it up to finish ahead.

We concluded the day with less than a minute over 2nd place, before bonus time. Bonus time you say? Oh yes, this event, in addition to 9 hours of riding includes four bonus events. This year that consisted of a bike limbo:

pie eating contest:

as well as a slingshot game and feedzone competition (collecting numerous bottles while riding without dropping any). The bonus events netted us 15 minutes off our time, while our rivals in third only got 3 bonus minutes. Our result would stand, after some good racing against the teams in front of and behind us.

Photos care of Ryan, except for that last one which is stolen from Matt's blog (congrats on winning the solo race!). Ryan's race report can be found here, along with more photos.

11 August, 2009

Mountainview O-Cup Race Report

So, again with a delayed report... some copy and paste from mtbr as well as new comments:

Preriding Friday was good, though I would have liked a bit more time to spend on a 3rd or more laps. I like the topography of the hill, and all the climbs are nice except the opener (that's going to hurt). Some of those descents are steep and fast - know your line and stick to it, more or less. The locals are indeed going to have an advantage, but I'm hoping to get around the course in a relatively quick manner on Sunday, if I can.

It's super dusty, maybe even powdery right now so some rain will do wonders. If it gets a bunch Saturday and then the skies are friendly on race day, I'll be super pleased. Even with lots of rain I don't see much potential for a slop fest.
Boy was I wrong! My post following the race:
That was "fun"

Really, I enjoyed myself... but it hurt a little, like a good race should, and I definitely got some mud in my eyes (and every other possible location) A giant 1 metre stick in my derailleur toward the end of lap 1 definitely cost me a few spots, and most definitely the last 1.6 upgrade points I needed... alas, I will seek them at Kelso.

Back to Mountainview for the 9h, and as long as it doesn't rain I couldn't be looking forward to it more - such a great venue that I really only got to experience dry in a couple preride laps Friday.
I'm really looking forward to going back on Saturday, and so far the forecast couldn't be better. Of course that means it's going to be terrible... oh well!

As for that 1.6 upgrade points... well I just feel it's really stupid that a stick held me back for enough time to make the difference. Oh well, with this race in the mix my performance at Kelso doesn't really need to be any faster - another race like I had at Boler or Mountainview will get me well over 260 - hurray for hilly courses!

27 July, 2009

SCCC club rides - a good way to spend a weekend indeed

This past weekend, I went home to Niagara to catch up with family and take in the great riding there. I think this post will clarify why I find it worthwhile to be a part of the St. Catharines Cycling Club despite not living in the area for most of the year. Their training rides, and the depth of riders available to learn from makes them by far one of the best cycling clubs around. Lots of old-school road racing dogma, but also lots of current talent and champions from the past.

Every weekend and holiday rides depart in the morning from a small fish and chip shop in St Catharines. From there, each day has a traditional route:
Saturday passes first through Jordan to pick up riders who may not live in St. Catharines or Niagara Falls, and then weaves itself along the escarpment taking in 1 to 3 climbs for the majority of the day's workout. After a town sign sprint at Smithville, the club takes in coffee at Tim Hortons, and heads home via a few common routes, but usually a fairly straight and flat one.
Sunday's ride has a different character, heading first to Fenwick with just one climb en route usually taken fairly easy. In Fenwick the group grows quite a bit, as many riders live in Welland, Fonthill, Pelham and the surrounding areas. From there the ride is flat, taken moderately in a double paceline to Attercliffe, where the group splits up and echelons into Smithville at a high pace. The same coffee stop as Saturday occurs, and the trip home is much the same with riders peeling off toward their homes along the way.

I often ride in to the start from Niagara Falls, which adds 15-20 km on each end of the ride and provides a nice warmup, but makes for an early start. I generally leave the house around 7.

This Saturday, I was not climbing well so I did not descend all the way down for the second climb, choosing instead to meet the group halfway with a couple other riders who were doing the same.

Sunday I started off feeling very lazy, feeling like I should not go too hard but also noticing a nice low heart rate on the ride in. The ride went as it normally does, but as we were passing south of Wellandport the ride was pretty stale and a couple riders had drifted off the front. Next thing I knew a couple guys in front of me mentioned bridging, and I heard them shift, so off I went on their wheel. Little did I know I was in for a fantastic effort, first bridging up and then working in a break of 5 for about 35 km to beat the group by about 5 minutes to Smithville. Once we got organized, the break was quite efficient, battling quite a nasty wind. After the turn on to Smithville road the wind was coming across our backs at an angle and the pace went up. Overall, we averaged just over 40 km/h for 52 minutes, and my legs were pretty spent. I kept things reasonable though, and didn't let my effort spike up too much. I rolled in just behind my companions who gapped me by a few seconds when they ramped up for the sprint into town, feeling great. This was definitely one of the more memorable rides I've had with the club.

Maps and data below (click for larger)!


Sunday - the break is from "Lap 4" to "Lap 5":

data from the break:

21 July, 2009

Buckwallow O-Cup Race Report

A long overdue blog update! Life has been pretty crazy, and as a result there has been little time for blogging, or training for that matter.

Having done significantly less riding than usual lately, and also given the nature of the course I knew Buckwallow would not be my best race this season but I was nevertheless excited to check it out.

After terrible forecasts which threatened the possibility of pre-riding and could have led to a "rain-course" being used, things cleared up in the end. I arrived Saturday to put in a couple laps, and found myself surprised by just how rough and slow some spots were, while being overall an extremely fast course. I knew my race strategy had to balance hammering on the doubletrack to make up time (my strength) vs. leaving power in the legs when it came to certain obstacles requiring finesse and bursts of anaerobic power. It's definitely not a course for my diesel engine style.

In the race, things went largely as planned, with enough energy to tackle the obstacles I wanted to clear each lap, and a few more dismounts than I may have liked forced by other riders and occasionally myself. The result - mediocre, but acceptable with a large side order of back pain. Good times though. Very good technical practice too. I will look forward to coming back there each season, but it is unlikely to ever be one of my better races.

Jay (mcgyver29er) was there with his cowbell and camera, and captured me in both photo and video form. Check the clip just after 3 minutes to see me go by.

07 June, 2009

Race Report: Boler Mountain O-Cup

...and what a mountain it is. Any of you who have been to Boler know that I'm being extremely sarcastic. Gotta love the ski bump in the middle of suburbia. Actually, I was thinking after Saturday's preride that I don't really care for Boler as much as I thought I did, but what I found out today is that it's much better at race pace.

The race went well - had a great start hanging on to the back of a front group of 10 until the first singletrack climb where I lost a couple spots. More passed, but the front group was within sight for most of lap 1 on any open sections.

Lap 2 slowed down, but not too many people went by, and I was riding smoothly. Lap 3 saw a bit of a mishap with a saddle tilt issue, but even though I pulled over to tighten it I did not lose any spots this lap. I was back and forth with one guy and decided once we got up top for the final time that I needed to drop him on the open doubletrack section - turns out I put 40 seconds on him in the last ~2km :) I chased a couple of Juniors for the last km, and though I didn't catch them finished up strong.

19th place, and 87.6 upgrade points. This is in the range of points needed on a per/race basis to make the cutoff for an upgrade to Expert. If I can keep this trend going, I will have the option to start next year in Senior Ex. Another great thing about the race today is that I don't have another planned until the next XC O-Cup. After 9 consecutive weekends of racing, I finally get a break. Time for the mid-season transition period and the start of the build cycles leading up to a peak for cross season.

31 May, 2009

Hardwood Canada Cup Race Report

Yeah, so I kind of missed a couple of race reports... I'll get to those (or a brief summary thereof) shortly, but I figure I will write about Hardwood while the thoughts are fresh.

This weekend I headed up to Hardwood with Soigneur Race Services and some Hub teammates in the big van (Dorothy) and her trailer (Toto) loaded with our bikes and gear. The setup was awesome, with tons of space for all our stuff and a secure place for the bikes to travel. We stayed at the Georgian Suites in Barrie, but first priority on Saturday was a stop at Hardwood Hills to preride the course. 2 laps taken pretty easy except for a few tempo sections in the singletrack made for a good preview. This was a "real mountain bike course" as some would say, and it was good to get some of the lines dialed in to avoid the roughest parts, and take the most speed possible. It also allowed for some practice hitting some of the more intimidating bits such as the giant rock/wood pallet ramp thingy (this won't mean much to those of you who haven't seen it). After the preride, we headed to our rooms to unpack and clean up. Dinner was at East Side Marios, and was suitably filling for a pre-race meal.

Sunday started off with a 07:00 wake up, and some oats that I had cooked in advance for breakfast. Way too much, really. I felt a bit heavy on the start line, but not so much that I couldn't keep breakfast down.

So off to Hardwood in the van, which again was great to have for changing and general gear chaos. I got a good warm up on the roads around Hardwood, hooking up with Nick from True North for a bit and then headed to the start line. I was about 10 minutes early for the start, but many people were already lined up so I was about 3rd row. Not a big deal.

As for the race itself - there isn't much to say except that I'm quite pleased. Started strong gaining on the group over the initial climb but still letting about 15 riders away. I caught up to Ryan, who was feeling the climb in his legs but he would soon catch back up to me and pass in some singletrack where he is a much more skilled rider. I kept a steady pace for my 3 laps, rode cleanly and the bike functioned well.

Did everyone get that? No mechanicals, no crashes and no excuses for my performance. I rode a solid race, and got the finish I deserved. It isn't stellar, but it met my expectations and I like where things are going. Hardwood is far from my ideal course and I still felt like I was faster than previous races, so the training on the mtb seems to be helping. I need to focus on riding singletrack as clean and fast as possible. Doubletrack and climbs are not where I'm losing my time. So... mtb season pushes forward in a good way. My head is already looking forward to cross, but I have a few more races yet so I will continue to improve the bike handling on the mtb. I am not sure about Boler next week - if my back is feeling well I will race, but we'll see. Knowing me I'll race anyway. After that I'm done racing for a few weeks - a much needed break.

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