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.

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