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).

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