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.

10 May, 2009

Albion Hills O-Cup Race Report

Well, I met all of my goals except one: I didn't beat Ryan (he had a great race) - no chain issues, and a pretty steady pace save a few moments of slowness out in the back end of the course. In fact, considering the conditions (which were downright sloppy in places) my drivetrain functioned superbly.

The course was changed due to excessive rain between Friday and Saturday evening, leaving us with a bit of an odd one: bone dry singletrack and doubletrack on the near side of the course combined with a few ridiculously sloppy doubletrack sections. Some of the mud pits reached up to your hub if you attempted to ride it. Luckily a course report from the 9:30 race had me running them which turned out to be a good place to make up time. Unfortunately a couple of the doubletrack climbs were also very wet and turned out to be long uphill walking sections in mud up to your ankles.

All told, I had a pretty good race, though my result is not that great. They're not up yet, but I expect somewhere in the bottom half of the Sr. Sport field. I will update here when they are. 26th of 50 starters - just in the bottom half. I would have liked to hang with some of the folks I was around on lap 1, who finished far better (12th-ish) but it was not to be. I am comfortable with the effort I put out, anyway.

For those of you wondering about my tire choice on the rear which was no doubt looking like a bad idea at the start line, it actually worked out very well. The sections of the course that I could not ride were those that nobody was riding, and the rest of it was very dry and manageable. That came as a bit of a surprise, but it only gives me more confidence for the Raven in future use.

09 May, 2009

XC O-Cup #2 tomorrow

The second XC race of the season is tomorrow at Albion Hills, and I really don't know what to expect. On one hand, I rode the course Wednesday and know exactly what to expect, but since then we've seen tons of rain so I really don't know which sections will be muddy and which will have held up.

Also, racing at 11:30 the course could change a lot over the course of the earlier races. I am not going to worry about it too much, but I am running a somewhat questionable tire choice on the rear: my notubes Raven 2.2, arguably a semi-slick race tire. As long as I'm not spinning out on the climbs I am fine with the limitations it will provide in the corners, and feel that I will not be much slower for it. The preride gave me a pretty good idea of what areas will be important, and where it will simply be a battle of fitness. In typical Albion fashion I think the fastest racer will be someone with top fitness but also the ability to turn the bike well. No real tech stuff, but lots and lots of corners :)

The main thing tomorrow is to race smart - no stupid shifts so I can hopefully keep my chain on, and I will do my best not to go out so hard as to blow up later on. I want to ride consistently and have some ideas about who I'd like behind me and who I can deal with being in front. How I really stack up this year remains to be seen!

07 May, 2009

Equipment Review: Hope Pro 3 hubs, Velocity Escape Rims, Vittoria Rubino Pro Tubulars

As promised, here's a review of the tubular wheels and tires I have been using for racing and some more "spirited" road rides.

So first, the build:

Hubs: Hope Pro 3
Rims: Velocity Escape
Spokes: DT Revolution (2.0/1.5)
Nipples: DT alloy front and non-drive rear, DT brass drive-side rear
Lacing pattern: 28h 2x front, 32h 3x rear
I built these up for cyclocross use later this season, so light weight and strength were greater priorities than aerodynamics for sure. I will be building a second identical set so that I can switch wheels with different cross tubulars and not have to have clinchers as my backup all the time. Since I had everything I needed early in the season, I decided to get some road tubulars to glue up to take advantage of these being my lightest wheelset by far.

After much thought, and not wanting to spend much on road tubs, I got what are possibly some of the first Vittoria Rubino Pro Tubulars to hit North America. They were relatively inexpensive, and though heavy still decrease the weight of the bike quite a bit compared to using my heavier clincher wheels.

I will cover the tires first - the clinchers I've been riding are the Vittoria Open Pave CG 24c with a 290 tpi casing, arguably one of the most supple and plush road tires out there and with some durability as well. They have been fantastic, so I was a bit hesitant to go to a 23c 120 tpi tire designed for training, but at the same time I did not want to deal with the fragility of lighter tubulars like the Corsa which are not known for durability in any sense. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Rubinos ride quite nicely, and while they do not maintain the plush characteristic over rough pavement they do grip and conform well to the road, likely due in part to being a tubular tire. They definitely ride nicer than the Rubino clinchers I have used (which are certainly great training tires as intended). I find myself running them at higher pressures by 10-20 psi than my 24c clinchers which works out well for racing: fast but still very good grip.

Now on to the wheels - the Hope Pro 3 hubs were selected due to the combination of well sealed bearings, good weight, good price, availability in 28h for the front wheel and of course the nice anodized colours. This set used red hubs, and the second one will have gold hubs to make telling them apart in the pits a bit easier. Velocity Escape rims were chosen for similar reasons: a good price/weight/quality point, and available in 28h which the Mavic Reflex for example is not. The 28h front was probably unnecessary, but I committed to it and it worked out fine.

I was initially a bit concerned about building with the DT Revolution spokes, but they turned out to make for a very stiff wheel. The only trouble was getting them tight enough and keeping the Velocity rims round. These rims are not as round out of the box as say a DT Swiss and they're not quite as forgiving. I ended up with a reasonable balance and I'm very happy with how the wheels ride. I have not noticed any lack of stiffness in hard cornering and they spin up very quickly due to the 1460g weight of the pair. That's on par with Ksyrium SL Premium wheels, which are in many ways the standard in low profile crit/cross/training wheels. It doesn't hurt that my wheels cost half as much as the MSRP of most comparable wheelsets purchased complete. I can also replace spokes easily or rebuild these with new rims down the road. Much easier than dealing with a proprietary wheelset with aluminum spokes, etc.

I can't say I have any complaints for this gear, except perhaps the ease of building with the Velocity rims. If I was not quite as focussed on performance/aesthetics, or if I wanted to make life easier I certainly would have gone with a 32h 3x build front and rear and used Reflexes. Either way, these wheels will do the trick for cross and get me into the tubular world, which is key for cyclocross.

04 May, 2009

Springbank Race Report

Last Sunday I did my first criterium, the Springbank Road Races in London, ON. I had pretty good expectations hitting it with good legs, and thinking that this type of race suited me. I was also told/warned of the very sketchy course with curbs, traffic islands and narrow sections.

I got a ride with my teammate Joel from the Hub Race Team, arriving early enough to sign-in and warm up in a relaxed manner. We hit the course with some of the Ciclo Werks/BMC guys and did a few laps of the course. It starts with a sharp 90° left after the start into a narrow downhill left hand sweeper. The course continues by the water with curbs and all to an S-shaped uphill that given your speed on this section is nothing at all to be concerned about. Another hard left brings you to the top of the course where there is a chicane around a traffic island before the course opens up to the wide start finish. It's definitely a good one to do a few laps on before the race so you don't get pinched into a curb due to not knowing where they are.

The race started pretty fast and furious, coming through the start finish in the high 30s and picking up speed every lap. This would continue for the duration (20 laps) without too much incedent. The fast pace meant you were either working to get to the front or stay there, or you were drifting back in the pack for a rest. The problem with this is position going into the tight corners where the pack gets strung out, and then for the final sprint. As we read 6 to go I started thinking about conserving energy, and I sat in for a couple laps. With 3 to go I was at the back and realizing this was not a good place to be. I started trying to move up, but I only got midway through the pack by the time we were on the back half of the bell lap.

Time to light it up, and... 3 guys pile into the traffic island! How?! You've gone by it 19 times already! So I was on the brakes, and then sprinting to get back on a wheel for the final 300 m. I caught the tail end of the pack with 200 m to go but it was too late. I gave it a final push only to see one of the Ciclo Werks guys on the road just after the finish line. Weaved around him... later I heard he won the race but was crashed at the line. In the end I was 7th for the S4 division. Not what I was looking for in terms of upgrade points, but a decent finish and great experience.

I really enjoyed practicing some hard cornering and speed skills, and can definitely see how crits are good training for a cross race. They are similar in many ways - unrelenting, short (~1h) and demanding of good bike handling. Unfortunately the M3/S4 pack is a bit sketchy for my liking and I end up riding conservatively to preserve my safety. So speaking of cornering and cyclocross, I will do some equipment reviews now that I have raced the tubular wheels I built up for cross. In a few words, light wheels feel nice and fast, and the tubulars at least on the road handle great at higher pressures than I run clinchers. Of course for cross it's just the opposite, but the point is that tubulars have a ride quality that is unmatched by all but the best clincher tires.

01 May, 2009

Moving weekend, more racing

This weekend is when I move back to Waterloo and head back to school on Monday. Only a minor interruption to cycling, really, since I am racing Sunday and can use today off to pack.

Racing Sunday – yes, I’ve decided to do the Springbank Road Race (actually a crit?) so that means I’m in the middle of a long stretch of racing pretty much every weekend from Good Friday to June. They’re not all top priority though, so it fits into my training well. The point of my summer is to gain experience with mtb and road racing and maybe get some upgrade points along the way. The real focus for results is going to be cyclocross, and my season has a nice light period in late summer to recover and prepare.

Expectations for Springbank are good – there are only 11 S4 riders pre-reg’d and 3 are unlicensed. The pack should be a manageable size and I should be able to give it my best in the sprint. Some upgrade points would be nice, as I really don’t want to start another season in S4.

The next few weeks are more mtb and road races:

  • 10 May – XC O-Cup #2: Albion
  • 16/17 May – Life$tyle$ of the Rich and Famou$ 24h
  • 24 May – Road O-Cup #4: Bike the Bruce
  • 31 May – XC Canada Cup/O-Cup #3: Hardwood
  • 7 Jun – XC O-Cup #4: Boler
  • 14 Jun - Road O-Cup #5: K/W Classic
That’s the plan, anyway. Subject to change, as always.

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