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?)

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