Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Final Ucup

This past weekend marked the final University Cup mountain bike race; a fun and sad event all in one. I love the University Cup series, it's put on by some really awesome volunteers who do this just for love of the sport and to get new people into cycling, and this year more than ever, it was the friendliest place to be on a bike. People from other teams would yell and cheer for you
"You're an animal Chris, GO!"
Help was never far away, like the start line crash at Boler mountain that left somebody with a flat front tire - I proceeded to fix his tire, then we realized that it had a tear right in the tire (irreparable) so I lent him my own super light race wheel, because that's what it's about. It's about the ride. I know that all of the teams have shared good times through camping this year, and cheering for each other, and that we've all made new friends. I'm just afraid that this may be my final year racing them, because I'm set to graduate in December. Oh well, I guess this is even more motivation to be accepted to a Graduate studies program!

Queen's and Guelph together! Big props to Jon Slaughter, my buddy who broke his neck that I had previously mentioned, for coming out and supporting the racers!

The race day itself could have only been described as miserable as we drove to the course, a grey October day with rain POURING down. I was not overly fond of the idea of riding in the trails in this mud, you could slide off the trail pretty easily, and the venue (Ganaraska Forest) is infamous for its poison ivy. But when we got to the parking lot things were better. The Queen's team was all setting up their bikes, smiling and having a good time, people were milling about between the parking lot and registration tent, and the fantastic men who host these races were smiling ear to ear, just happy that anyone had showed up.

These guys are the kings of University Cup racing. Thanks so much!! (Photo stolen from Jim Cassell)

Kissing for the lovely camera lady Joan Dundas!

By the time the race started, the rain was almost non existent, which left us with some pretty tough trails to ride, but otherwise it was a good day to be on a bike! Throughout the race my bike (read below, I had a whole new ride this weekend!) held out fantastically, and my tire choice was flawless. Using the Bontrager 29-2 Team Issue in the rear kept my tire tracking through the soupy muck. This tire has been my go to driving tire since late August when we finally started to see rainy courses, and it never fails to keep me driving forward! The tractor tire lug pattern clears mud quickly while biting into the ground and tracking well over roots. These are 2.1 inch tires but have a great depth to them and a very rounded profile; the two aspects that I personally consider most important when choosing tires. The only time that I found a flaw with these tires was at very high speeds downhill on curves (where I was leaning the bike probably too far anyway) the rear tire would chatter out a bit. Running the rear tire with rotation as it would be if it were the front tire makes the whole bike track better anyway, and the only tire that I can think of that will track well leaning that hard is the 29-1 team issue.

The end of season celebrations were great, and totally bittersweet. It was fun to be with everyone for one last time before the next race season, but I realized that it may be my last University Cup season, and that I would definitely not be racing for Guelph anymore. The awards were great and congrats to all of the winners!

Ladies, Kelsey is single and grabbing my girlfriend's bum, send me a message if you want that lovely man's number!
This weekend I had the privilege to rip on a new bike: the Superfly 100 AL Elite. I had always been curious of how the full-suspension version of my own race dream bike, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. The Superfly 100 ran a very similar wheelbase to my own Superfly Elite, so I was still tracking on the trail with the same "footprint". The rear suspension let me ride completely differently than I had before, keeping seated through rough terrain and letting me put power out where I would otherwise have had to coast before. My first ride on this sweet machine was at the Harold Town property near Peterborough, ON. This is a conservation area recently designated for mountain biking and since its designation the trails have exploded as local mountain bikers come to the cause and help build a trail rider's dream. These trails are situated on a drumlin which means it's basically a streamlined bump in the landscape with big steep hills on 3 sides and a more gradual climb on the leeside. This kind of terrain is perfect for mountain biking as drumlins are sandy and rocky deposits left behind by glaciers, so they drain well and don't get too muddy, they have plenty of rocks to incorporate into trails, and you can build technical downhills and uphills all over the place. Needless to say, the bike tracked beautifully over rocks, through obstacles, and kept speed on all sections. I was riding stuff that most people couldn't get through at all, and on my first try!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Radical sports weekend!

This weekend marked the third university cup race, and the first university rock climbing competition of the year! Rock climbing competitions are totally different than mountain bike racing, though the same kinds of people seem to go, and it’s a very similar friendly atmosphere.  Climbing competitions are done while “bouldering” which is basically climbing to no higher than 20 feet up certain “problems”; routes with specially designated holds that make it hard to reach the top. The routes are then ranked and climbers are awarded points based on difficulty. The whole “University Bouldering Series”   is orchestrated and organized by one of my best friends Mr. David Albert-Lebrun (pronounced Daveed Suzuki), and it was a great opportunity to see him since he has moved to the east coast for school. I have climbed 4 times in the last 6 months.
I woke up Saturday morning and had a great idea; to meet somebody at the bouldering series and hitch a ride to Peterborough with some Trent students to go see my mom. This would be a big weekend, travelling from Guelph to Waterloo, then Peterborough to north of Barrie, from Barrie to Muskoka, then back to Guelph again. I packed for all possibilities on Saturday morning and it paid off!

The climbing gym was set up in a pretty cool way; a massive “bouldering” feature in the middle on which they set 50 routes. Most routes were fairly inverted, forcing the climbers to use more strength and skill because they had gravity working against them as much as possible.  Climbing competitions are in such a different setting than mountain bike races, which allows for constant cheering and feedback amongst competitors and spectators, even the newest climber is encouraged by his peers and competitors. I highly suggest that any climber tries one out!

Check out those tan lines on the thighs, clearly the cyclist in the crowd!

Sunday marked the second last University Cup Race that I would ever race for Guelph, and, sadly my last race on my Trek Superfly Elite. I had to wake up early Sunday morning (after staying up late celebrating my Aunt’s birthday) and was a bit groggy but on my way to rendezvous with my buddies from Guelph, and all of the competitors (who are turning out to be my buddies too) from the other universities. I had it in my head that this is my day. I know that I’m capable of standing on top of the podium, so it’s time to grab it, race my last race on my bike fast, and push the limit to my max. The race started out according to plan, though I did not have a pre ride lap or a warm up, but these are minor details when you know that you’re going to be on the podium anyway, right?

Great action shot here, thanks to Kyle Schaltz for the photo!

Unfortunately, though it took a lap, the rock climbing competition caught up to me. By the start of my second lap I realized that my hands could scarcely grip the bars, and by the third lap I was having trouble just holding myself properly on my bike (upper body was in rough shape). I held myself in the race, because my integrity matters much more than any race result, and I will be hitting the trail hard for the final Ucup, thanks to my buddy and fellow teammate Scott lending me a bike!

Stay tuned for a helmet camera video of the race!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

All day, all weekend

The mountain bike season may have wound down for most riders by now, but I've been keeping on the race scene in a bigger way than ever before! This past weekend must have been one of the best weekends ever, and it all started with an idea suggested to my girlfriend, Tori. I found out that her Dad was doing the 8 hour relay race with the owner of the Trek Stores.

Ladies and gentlemen, possibly the most influential guy in my cycling season this year; Barry!

 The idea with an 8 hour relay is to put together a team of up to 6 riders together, and get as many laps done in 8 hours as possible, with the best time winning. These races are all about community, teamwork, and perseverance. Tori and I registered in the tag team mixed division, and I promised her the top of the podium.

Meeting Tori as she got off the bus with a rose, and a fish that I named Barry

We got to the 8 hour course early Saturday (race 10am-6pm), and set up under our VIP Trek tents right by the lap area.
These tents were my home base, with food, good company, and tools!
I squeaked to the race start just on time to hang out with Ryan, and man do we look good on a start line!

Considering this was an 8 hour event, the race start was ridiculously fast, and because I wanted to get one of the fastest laps of the day and rip the front lines with Ryan, I was off like a rocket too! Laps are 10km, and a pretty fast rider could clear laps in about a half an hour. Unfortunately we took an extra bit of trail, but Ryan and I ended up with the fastest and 6th fastest lap times of the entire day, respectively. I took off for a triple lap right off the start, and always came through the lap zone being yelled at to do push ups (for improper bicycle dismount through the timing zone), or with a new surprise for Tori. These were just small catastrophes like needing tools to fix a bike after falling, or always having some new blood on me, but I was just out to rip on my bike and have fun, which meant jumping a lot more than I regularly would.

Event photographer's photos, some good ones in here!

By the end of the first lap I had put a gap of 7 minutes on second place, and by the end of the first 3 laps I did we had made up more than a half a lap. I sent Tori out on her first lap as a single lap to ease her into the course (which was awesome!), and went out for another triple lap. By this point I realized that Tori and I were comfortable in our positioning, so I would wait for friends and ride laps with them, turning the 8 hour race into the social hour race. After sending Tori out for a triple lap (longest she had ever raced before), I set out to do a quadruple lap, to round off 100km of racing. Tori and I did a combined 15 laps, though our last two counted as one because we went out together for a "Victory Lap". I was able to keep my promise of gold too, and we stood up high on the podium!

Recognize the rose?
Another Trek dominated podium in the "old guys" division!

Because I really hadn't actually pushed my legs hard on any lap except my first, and because Tori is in high contention in the series, we headed to the University Cup for Sunday. Dave set up a superb course for the race (possibly the most fun that I had ever been on for a University Cup), and I was right on my game.

Just reckless!
Thanks to Misko Milicic for taking and posting such great pictures!

Though my legs didn't have quite the edge that I normally have (most rider mountain bikers have never ridden 100km), I was right on top of my game. After spending so much time the day before on my bike, I was incredibly agile, and knew exactly how that bike would respond to any twitch of my muscles. Being this smooth and confident on the bike meant I was flying through the forest, jumping entire sections of trail, and cornering better than I could on feet! Tori somehow managed to pull out another podium, with a silver medal on the day after she had done her longest mountain bike ride ever. It was awesome!

I know I shouldn't be dating a girl from Queen's...
(Misko Milicic photo)

University Cup number three is this Sunday at Hardwood Hills, race starting at 11am, and I will be at a rock climbing competition in Kitchener on Saturday!

Photo: Paddy Mcmanus

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ending one season, starting a whole new one!

Over the past several weeks I've traveled to Quebec to race Canadian National Mountain Bike Marathon Championships, competed in the Ontario provincials, and started a whole new season altogether! Both were solid results for the season, especially considering the work that I had to do through July/August (instead of training). With the close of the more competitive provincial and national race calendars, and the commencement of full time class again, I've set my sights to different goals: the University Cup series.

U-Cups are the most fun, welcoming, and inclusive races imaginable. To be a part of a U-Cup is to belong to a community of like minded people. The first university cup race is a two day excursion to Mansfield Outdoor Center,and has 3 races involved. Typically the Guelph team shows up Saturday morning bright and early, but this year (for the first time since I've been involved) Queen's University decided to join the campout and festivities! Now, I seriously doubted whether or not Queen's was capable of building fires and pitching tents, so Dan and I joined them Friday night. 

Maybe a third of the tents that actually were set up.
Thanks Jim Cassell for always being around with a camera!

Saturday kicked off beautifully, the temperature rose fast, and sun was shining! By mid morning, the other schools were starting to roll into the field where we had camped out, and there was an excited buzz around the site. Everybody was pitching tents, assembling bikes, and enjoying the sun!

Nobody messes with a Velociraptor in a race, and nobody can prove how they were really coloured!
Thanks to Adrian from U of T for documenting our weekend so well!

The mountain bike criterium is always the most fun to watch, then we all got a break. I rode the time trial course and helped out practicing lines, had a quick bite to eat, and then went straight into the time trial. The time trial is always a unique event in that it is individual, so it's almost impossible to really gauge how you are doing! I came through with a solid 8th place in the time trial, and proceeded up the trail with a bunch of guys to cheer and heckle the riders still on the course (some days is my real favorite part of racing U-cups). The evening consisted of swimming, chopping wood, a massive campfire and feast, and some of the best company I could imagine, U cups really are sweet.

Maximum aerodynamics were necessary for the Time trail
Thanks to Jim Cassell (my personal photographer, right Jim?)

Day two of racing is where you can really shine and show your skills in mountain bike racing; a technical 3 lap race. The first third or so of the lap is constant up and down on steep, tight trail leaving no opportunities for passing, and tiring you right out. The trail finally opens to a massive fire road hill, and once you hit the top it's more quick singletrack until one climb about 2/3 of the way through the lap. After this climb, more singletrack with some gnarly downhills and you're home free (or back where you started, heading out for another lap).

Some great ladies out on the bikes, we need more though! Tell your friends!
Photo: Jim Cassell

I sat into the pace of the other guys for the exhausting section of the first lap, then found that miraculously as we ascended the fire road hill, I was able to make many passes, and get into the singletrack at the top in front of the other guys (meaning that I can now ride my own pace, not theirs). Through the singletrack I bridged the gap to James Clarke and Trent Meyers, and settled into a nice train pace with them. By the time we finally hit double track again, James and I got by Trent, and then I edged James out to lead through the next technical bits. Unfortunately I couldn't hold Jame's wheel for more than the rest of that lap, but I had a serious good time racing with Trent.

Trent chasing me down, just around the corner!
Thanks to  Mark Dewan for posting these on Facebook

Throughout the race Trent would get by me, or get dropped by me, and he seemed to become more and more powerful on the vicious fire road climb. Trent complimented me on my ability to keep a steady pace, but my steady pace was not enough, and I finished a solid 6th place.

It was sad to pack up camp for what may end up being my last university cup camping experience, but I can always reflect on some of the fondest memories I have of racing!
To anybody who has even considered the University of Guelph Cycling Club, try your best to say hi and get in touch! Check out our forum at, and you're invited to a pot luck tonight (Thursday September 20th).
I'll be looking forward to the next adventure this weekend! 8 hour tag team race with Tori, and University Cup number 2 at Boler Mountain, London!

Friday, August 24, 2012

An extremely consequential training camp weekend up in Collingwood

Near the end of the every season, races begin to be a little bit further between and fewer on weekends. We still have a few big races (marathon nationals, provincials, and the legendary University Cup series), but it’s a good time to refocus, reenergize, and throw a good block of training into the mix. Long time racing buddy James Clarke invited  Jon Slaughter and myself to his beautiful chalet near Talisman Resort (amongst the escarpment in the blue mountains) for a weekend of epic training. The plan was to do a 95km day on Saturday that climbed up the escarpment 6 times (you can thank the crazy Belgian Etienne for that), and then put some good time in on Sunday on the provincials course.  This would be a sweet weekend! We were riding all day every day with buddies, hanging out at a chalet on the escarpment at nights, and doing it all over again – without the stress of being in peak performance for a race.

Saturday’s ride turned into an unforgettable and extremely consequential one. After riding up and down the escarpment 4 times, including up Blue Mountain and down on the downhill trails (it may have been the highlight of my weekend to yell “RIDER!!!! “ at a fully equipped downhill mountain bike rider and see the shock in his face when a spandex-clad cross country rider came flying by him onto a bridge and proceeded to gap over the latter part of the bridge). Jon had been riding very strongly all day, and is an incredibly technically astute rider but as we were descending a very steep, long, technical section at Three Stage something happened, and Jon ended up head first into a tree. I was the guy behind Jon and was first by his side. He was lying absolutely still, swearing. He and his bike were back off the trail by the tree, which had clearly stopped him dead. His helmet was cracked, and he told us that he couldn’t feel his right arm at all. We asked him some questions, he did not appear to be concussed, but something was seriously wrong.

Jon lied down there for about 20 minutes before he sat up. We discussed the idea of calling in help, but we were so far in the middle of a forest, and didn’t know really where we were. The fastest way for Jon to get to the hospital would be in one of our cars. I tried to comfort Jon with the novel idea of going into a big tube and getting a CT scan, but he wasn’t quite ecstatic on it. We all knew of the severity of his injury though.
I fashioned a sling for his arm out of a bike tube, and the man of steel, Jon Slaughter started walking out with Kelsey while Etienne led James, Jerome and I to the road. James and I then screamed down the road about 20 minutes to his van, and Etienne and Jerome went back for Jon and Kelsey to show them their way out of the bush properly.

I was the first to actually visit Jon in his hospital after Kelsey and I rode to Blue Mountain, picked up his car, and got there. Jon had been scanned in the “big tube”, and left on a hospital bed, still in his spandex shorts, and with a hospital patient gown on. As I entered the room, Jon (now equipped with a neck brace) was trying to squirm out of the bed.
“NO, NO DON’T  MOVE!” screamed the nurse
“But I just have to pee!”
“I’ll get you a jug then”
“And I’ll hold it for you!” I added
“Oh good idea” said the nurse.
The look on Jon’s face after this exchange was the funniest I had ever seen Jon muster, but of course I gave him privacy.

At least blue is Jon's colour, and he looks great in polka-dots

We found out later that afternoon that Jon had two fractures in the vertebra of his neck, and that he would have to wear a “halo” for 12 weeks. He was transferred to Sunnybrook hospital in Toronto to have the incredibly invasive apparatus screwed into his skull. Jon is extremely tough and lucky and considering what happened, this may be the best case scenario. One of his fingers remains numb, but he is in surprisingly good spirits, and chuckled when I surprised him with a visit all the way up in Muskoka on Tuesday.
Etienne and I are on the way to Quebec as I am writing this, the only two left that are in for the Canadian Mountain Bike Marathon National Championships. This will be a seriously grueling race, but it’s a challenge that I am looking forward to, and I’ve got some yellow tape on my bike, to remind me that I’m riding hard, because at the moment, Jon can’t.  Check out the course profile, and the awesome video for it!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A somewhat un-glorified homecoming

It was great to be back in town for the weekend at my old home course where I learned to ride a mountain bike; Buckwallow (just north of Gravenhurst, Ontario). I am flattered and it meant so much to me to see friends that I hadn’t seen in years come out and support me – there truly is no better feeling! Unfortunately the race was overshadowed by bad weather and no pre-ride of the course, and it just wasn’t my day.
Riding the course blind (and my tire valve failing in the last lap) did lend to making it tougher and a bit more stressful, but I have no real excuse. 

bringing her home on foot. you can tell I'm not too impressed with myself here
(photo stolen from Jim Cassell)

Some days are bad days, and we can all learn from them and how to make them better! By this point in the season my training regimen has been demolished by unpredictable, and too many work hours. I am surely not complaining here, as I will be at work till whenever it takes, and I take great pride in working with the University of Guelph in the School of Environmental Sciences Microbiology lab. Priorities are priorities, and I thought that I could get away with less training to make sure that things get done at the lab. On the way home I reflected and figured that I need to refocus myself, and sleep more, eat better, and train more (if I can).
Thank you to my great friends, to Jon and Vicki, who hosted us, and sorry that I wasn’t able to put on a better performance for the race.

Thanks to Diana and her family who cheered, and had my feeds absolutely under control!
(photo stolen from Jim Cassell)
Feeds so clean that I didn't even have to look to know where the bottle was!
(photo stolen from Jim Cassell)
Finishing it off with an action shot! I'm told I looked strong during the race, and it was great
 to have such encouraging supporters! 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Back to home turf

Today I am travelling back to where I learned how to ride a mountain bike, and where my passion all started. The race will be just north of Gravenhurst Ontario, on a course full of bedrock, roots, big rocks, and arguably the most technically challenging trails in the Ontario Cup series. My buddy Alex and I will be leaving momentarily, and have just found out that the course is closed and the scheduled pre-ride will has been cancelled due to rain. I hope that though I haven't been riding at Buckwallow (the race course name) in 4 years, my local advantage still sticks. There have been a lot of changes, and this race will present a new challenge for me and the other riders; especially those who will be riding the course completely blind. I expect a lot of mechanical problems and many riders may get injured, but I am hoping for the best!

Come check out the race tomorrow!
Buckwallow map

Anyone who is stuck up north wanting to ride, send me a message, I will be organizing a mountain bike ride today so we can spin our legs the day before the race! I'll show you some great local trails!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Of mechanical misfortunes and generous racers

The first weekend  in August marked a race that has been on my calendar since the very start of the year, a race that caps up the series that I had set my mind to as a season goal: the Ontario Mountain Bike Marathon Championships. The course would be 60km in length up in Kingston, which meant lots and lots of rocks, mixed with farm fields, lakesides, and very clayey soil.

Saturday before the race I got out of the house to tool around on my bike and make sure that everything is in good working order. Unfortunately before I could even get to the trails I realized that it was indeed not. There happened to be a tooth missing from my big gear in the front, which meant that any powerful pedal strokes would cause the chain to derail. Firstly this is a problem for the obvious reason that I can no longer sprint, and secondly it puts my chain at an extremely high risk of snapping.  After a quick check in with the bike shop it became apparent that there was no way that I could resolve this problem, so I would have to race without sprinting....hmm..

On the way out the door to Kingston, I got a phone call from my wonderful Mother (anyone who has stayed at our place before a race can attest to the fact that she is the most wonderful woman in the world).  The phone call was warning of the apparent apocalypse to happen Kingston during the race. Too late, I’m out the door. With the wrong tires.

Focused on something while I was coming through the fields

The morning of the race looked like there may be a chance of rain, but the start was dry...For about 2 minutes. The combination of rain and clayey soil meant that racers would have bikes gummed up, gears would work much less effectively (if at all), there would be no traction through the trial, and bikes would get so heavy that they were hard to push even if you were on your feet. I seemed to thrive in these conditions. I quickly realized it would be a game of survival and dedication. I spent my water bottles in the first half of the race to clean out my gears, and would get off the bike every few minutes to scoop the mud by hand out of the wheels and frame. Running sections and picking up and slamming my bike on the ground while doing so would keep me going faster, and get some mud off of the bike. Any times that we would be out in the open, the rain was coming down so hard that my bike would be rideable again, and it was as if all the frogs in the world came for a party in the rainstorm, which was a plus!

After the first 30km we ended up back at the starting line, riding through a barn, and then back across some fields. By this point I was just overtaking the guy in 4th place overall, and doing so with a gusto (the reason that I was back was to fix and clean my bike at a race checkpoint). Upon re-entering the forest however, I found that my rear tire had managed to get a slow leak. How this could have happened in the fields and going through the barn remains a mystery to me, but as soon as I got into the rooty stuff again I felt my rim tapping the obstacles. While attempting to fix my flat, I must have not been thorough enough and missed whatever it was that punctured the tire, because even after checking and throwing a new tube in, it would not hold air. After releasing a dud of a CO2 canister, trying my pump again and again, and another guy’s pump I realized I must have reflatted the same tube while trying to fix it. This left me begging at the side of the trail for who ever would be merciful enough to offer up a new tube. Luckily someone did, but it cost me about a half hour.

The sun came out, and I almost look happy to be running my bike here..

I continued on, podium well out of sight, but I kept my composure and had fun for what the race really is; an adventure on my bike! The trails were awesome, and though my bike wasn’t in great shape from the fine mud earlier, it was still pedalling and I could still enjoy myself! Until out of nowhere my chain dropped off the bike. I glanced at the quicklink chain fixer on my bike and figured “It’s not worth it” and fixed my chain in a very rushed and irate (too many biting insects) manner. When I hopped on the bike again the chain fell off once more; I had forgotten to thread it through my front gear shifter. After rebreaking my chain, and fixing it literally fast as ever, I was off again. By this point racing at a pace quick enough to relieve anybody’s frustration at any mechanical problems.

Bringing it in toward the finish, thinking that I'll outrun the guys on bikes

In the last 5 km of the course my chain was acting up again, so I pedalled softly for a while, then ran it in to the finish. Not my best result ever, but I still had a good time with some great friends, and am happy in knowing that I was comfortably in 4th place overall, more than half way through the race, before they happened. I’ve learned to be extra careful when changing flats and fixing chains, and that mountain bike racers are a great bunch who won’t leave even their competitors hanging dry in the trail. And I still LOVE MY BIKE!
The face says it all right here
Thank you to Dayle Laing for taking photos and sending them to me!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

They call it Ontario's toughest mountain bike race...

I have always heard of a legendary race up in the north; more than 110 km, river crossings, hills that may as well be mountains, ferocious animals, and crazy, CRAZY guys that race these distances. This race is known as Ontario’s toughest mountain bike race: Lost in the Rocks and Trees, up in Mattawa, Ontario (about as far north as you can go from Toronto without going east or west or crossing into Quebec). I have always really wanted to take on such a challenge, and even if I don’t treat this kind of event as a race, surely it would be a grand adventure! Unfortunately though, there are no other riders crazy enough to do such a race around here.
After searching for travel partners, I found my companions in the strangest place: the lab that I work at. This summer, the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph has played host to many exchange students, including several Germans. It turns out that my friend Therese knows a couple of them, and they had their plans fall through for the weekend. After putting a “fun guarantee” on my trip, and loosely explaining the details of a car rental, some tents, and places pretty far north, I had new travel companions: Therese, Jonas, and Lisa.

Therese, enjoying a free ride northern style!

The mugshot that police took of Jonas when they told him to shave and find a house...

Lisa is quite charming!

After several setbacks, we left Guelph around 6:30 on what was forecasted by google maps to be more than a 6 hour journey to the race start.  By the first ten minutes of the car ride it was clear that I was in great company; Jonas and I talked almost nonstop the whole way up, and the girls were a bit more quiet, but that may be because they were in the back seats. After a naked (just Jonas and I) pit stop at a waterfall, and a plethora of Therese’s delicious homemade peanut butter oatmeal cookies, we arrived at the race course at 1:30 (am). Race start in 7.5 hours, great! I quickly set up the tents, to the right of the start line (had no idea where else to pitch) and was in bed before 2, only to be woken up at about 7 by the activity on the race morning.

Tent at the start line, notice the massive hills in the background...

I watched as many riders showed up, and one in particular stood out as a serious contender: Paul Guenette – winner of the most recent Ontario Cup in the expert division, He made it clear that he was there for the win, and that this was not his first time racing the race. I decided not to mind him, and to make sure I would keep an eye on him once the race started – but I was busy prepping by bike for the race!

Keeping the bears away and annoying the competitors with my bear bell!

Upon race start I positioned myself right behind Paul, and we rode together until two more guys caught us (after a wrong turn by me). There was a notable gravel road section in the first 15 km, and this was when I gauged the speed of the other 3 riders in the top pack. We let Paul set the pace first, and I was more than comfortable following this pace (but this being my first endurance event of this caliber, I had no idea how really I should ride). Two things happened when I set the pace; firstly, I got stung on the neck (right under my helmet strap) by a bee, and secondly, I got yelled at because I “would never  keep that pace for 112km”. After realizing that I seemed to have more dispensable power at my 75% of max effort, I broke away and let them catch me back once or twice, just to put an early burn on my opponents legs.
All was great and I was setting the pace for our lead group of four until I had some chain issues! Terrible chain suck between my front gears, which took about a minute of standing around getting eaten by deer flies on the side of the trail to fix. Luckily my chain was not broken, and I was back on my way – but the guys ahead had got a free minute ahead of me. I rode a steady tempo for 15-20 minutes until I caught them again, and resumed my position as the front man for the race.

The trails around Mattawa are certainly some to be reckoned with! If I wasn’t climbing up a massive hill that was full of washouts and cobbles, I was slugging through a sand section that was as though I was riding along a beach, or going through creeks and muddy rut sections. To me, all of this was quite an adventure though! Descending the hills was an art unto itself; they were all ridiculously steep, had deep ruts eroded through them, and filled with rocks the size of baseballs, but sharper, and to make matters tougher, light and shadows through the trees made it hard to distinguish where rocks began and ended. These factors (and my sweaty sunglasses), led to the untimely demise of my rear tire. About 25km into the race I had a flat tire from a rock that slashed through it. A quick assessment of the situation showed a puncture that I was sure would seal itself with some special goop inside the tire if I gave it a quick shot of air. Unfortunately I was wrong, and spent almost 12 minutes fixing a flat tire! I kept calm though, figuring that I had nearly 4 hours to make up for this blunder.
When I came past the next checkpoint, I stopped to refill my water bottles, got some food, and was told that the leaders were 10 minutes ahead. Challenge accepted. The following time-splits told me that I was 7, 5, then 2 minutes from the leaders. Sweet, I’ll catch these guys no problem! It was the next time split that was confusing and disheartening: 15 minutes. I guess there was some time split confusion, but I couldn’t help but be a bit discouraged. One good thing did happen however; there was a beautiful carbohydrate power gel in the middle of the trail on a rock, and it was full! The bike gods had begun to smile on me.
Through the constant problems with my chain (and eventually deciding that I wouldn’t be able to shift my front gears anymore to the small one), and hours of solo riding in the bush, I finally came up on Paul, who was dogging it a bit by this point.
“Come on man, let’s go!”
“I can’t, I’ve got no energy left”
“What place are you in?”
“3rd, good luck!”
Really?? I was in third place?? AWESOME! This in itself was enough to pick me back up, and put a grin on my face! It wasn’t long until I found myself in second place, though apparently the winner was “At least half an hour ahead”, and was on his way to his third victory in a row at this race.
By around kilometer 90, I was finally starting to feel the 34 degree weather. My legs would cramp any time I extended them absolutely straight, and I was constantly on the verge of vomiting. The last checkpoint was a welcome break where I took my time, refilled bottles, and ate a banana. Unfortunately, the guy who I had just passed very easily had a second wind, and he meant business. I rushed back off on my bike, and was stopped not even 200m later with the same recurring chain issues at the bottom of a hill, and while walking up the hill I was passed by someone with obviously more energy than me. I fought my way back to sit on the wheel of the second place rider, and when we got to the top of a big downhill something encouraging happened
“Pass me, I can’t ride down these hills as fast as you do, you’re nuts.”
Hey! There we go! It was always part of my strategy to let it all hang out on the hills, because as far as I’m concerned, for no extra effort, you can make time on the other guys who aren’t willing to take the risks and speed that I would.
The extra time gained on the hills was just not enough for me though, and I rode into a stellar third place finish! It looks like I’ve found my real strength: endurance racing. Next year, if I’m in Ontario, I’m coming for a win!

My companions during my race...on the way to the lake

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mansfield Marathon, and my first podium since the hospital!

This long weekend, I managed to do it all; I was a family guy, I spent time at Wasaga Beach, and I raced one heck of a race! My second attempt at the Ontario Mountain BikeMarathon series was much more successful than my first (which included mechanical issues, as well as 7 bee/wasp stings). I went into the race with a bit of a rattled up feeling; I was woken up at “quarter before morning” by my awesome cousin (after getting to my Grandpa’s place at 3am), I spent the day before the race at the beach in the sun bullying small kids in the water, and I ripped around the Three Stage trail system on the side of blue mountain for a couple hours. The race was supposed to be around 60km, and took place at Mansfield Outdoor Centre, which means hills and sand.

At the start of the race, 3 men (Etienne Moreau, Andrew De Cal, and Zach Winn) threw down a serious pace, and after sticking with them for a bit, I settled into a comfortable 80% pace, (with 60km of unknown trail ahead, there’s no need to burn matches at the start!). I got caught up by another two riders, and we rode together for some time until one got a flat tire. That left Tim Carleton and I out on the trails, contesting for 4th place. Unfortunately less than 10km into the race my front shift cable broke, leaving me limited to my 26 tooth “granny” ring. This causes issues with chain tension (making me more likely to break a chain), and limits me to easier gears – limiting the effort and speed that I can put out. I decided to keep this a secret from Tim, not wanting him to know that he could simply ride away from me on a straight section.

Lots of hills, lots of coasting, lots of fun!

 This is mountain bike racing as I love it. The trails at Mansfield are old and well worn in, meaning I am completely confident leaning my bike, and ripping through the trails. I led through most of the race between Tim and I, out for my Sunday bike ride with a massive grin on my face until I heard from Tim

“No offense, but we should go faster, the guy behind is catching us.”

Of course, since he was so polite about it, I had to pick up the pace, but eventually Tim got by when I made a mistake, thought that he was right on me, and pulled off to the side of the trail to let him by. Tim is a smooth rider, and that combined with his added drive to race and a few bad missed turns by me had him riding away from me to finish in 4th place. After Tim had blasted off out of sight down the trail, I returned to my “Sunday ride” pace, quite content riding like that so as not to make any mistakes until I realized I was getting caught in the last quarter of the race.

Terrain in the last quarter was incredibly sandy, with hills that were almost un-manageable, and several inches of sand coating long sections of trail. Unfortunately for the guy behind (Mike) any time that I realized he was getting closer to me, I would put in some effort and I seemed to have much more power in my legs for navigating the sand sections. I rode into a 5th place finish, with my first podium on my amazing new TrekSuperfly, and despite mechanical issues rode a solid race, staying well within my limitations and keeping a serious smile on my face the whole time. I felt great on the podium in my Trek jersey, and it means even more because it's my first time on a podium since being in the hospital almost three years ago.

Left to right - Me, Zach Winn, Etienne Moreau, Andrew De Cal, Tim Carleton (Thumbs up!)
Thanks to all of the volunteers, especially Dayle Laing for sending me this picture.

Huge thanks to all of friends and my race support over the last year, the real reason that I'm fast is because of all of the support I have and because I love the sport.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Canadian Mountain Bike Nationals 2012: Saint-Félicien

After a great 12 hour road trip to St. Félicien in northern Quebec, my travel companions (Alex, Elyse, and Joan) and I found ourselves in a wonderful campground beside a zoo, with a pretty sweet little cabin, and team Quebec as neighbours. We quickly set up basecamp and headed out to the nationals course for a lap to spin out our legs, and to see what all of the hype was about!

Our road trip was filled up with:
Great stories

Quick naps

Surprise pitstops

and, of course poutine!
(which led to the formation of our top-rank cycling team the Pouteam!)

This was my first time competing at nationals (I had only dreamed of competing in the professional division at the nationals level), and the race course was AMAZING! The lap started out with a switchback climb, over 2 bridges over spectators, up a gradual hill, then into some rocky, rooty, singletrack. 

Good friend, Olympic rider, and birthday girl Emily Batty rides over one of the bridges on course.
Emily rode in to a 3rd place finish!
We then popped back out into the crowds and spectators, running through an obstacle course with people chanting, cheering and watching. The “obstacle course” consisted of jumps, rock piles, plank rides, drop offs, bridges over other sections that riders were riding on, and burms. 

Team Ontario rider Annie Foreman-Mackey cleans out a rock pile during her race.
After this section was a long, technical ascent to the top of the ski hill, that crested into an open, more gradual climb. There was some more climby singletrack, and then we began the treacherous descents and switchbacks down to the spectators and crowds. A feed station was set up at the bottom of this descent, after which the riders would ride up another bridge over the trail below, and then go up what seemed to be the steepest switchbacks in existence.

Sam Wagler (also with team Ontario) beginning her next lap. You can see in the top left of this picture the amazing steep swithcback climb!
We quickly descended the hill one more time, headed through a bit of forest on a skinny boardwalk, and then up through some rocks to the finish the lap. The course was a total of 5km, and the under 23 elite men category would have to do 5 laps.

Katlyn coming up through some rocks at the end of the lap right behind Sam, and me cheering like it's my job!

Friday, the day before the race was a day of unorthodox adventure; Alex and I woke up early and decided to go for a walk around the campground. Soon enough we were bushwacking through an empty lot toward the sound of a waterfall. Soon enough we were at some beautiful rapids.

Good Tan lines on my buddy, Alex Schmidt!

There were some funny, exotic noises coming from the other side of the river, where there were some boardwalks. A lightbulb went off in our heads and we started to cross the treacherous rapids (hiking our shorts up as if they were speedos). We climbed up and jumped a fence into the world of Mongolia. Bucket list...break into a zoo...check!

Alex's favorite animals, the tigers!

The rest of the day included a good practice session with the lovely girls from team Ontario (yeah, I was training with girls, so what!), a massive meal, and then bed time.

compare my face...
To Alex's! What a guy!

The day of the race was just amazing. I got to see (and line up at the start line with) all the stars of Canada, and for some reason I was able to remain fairly calm and collected in the hours before the race. Firstly, Alex and I had the privilege of watching the pro women’s race. It was so much fun to watch and to cheer for some of our favorite ladies and close friends. 

Katlyn Dundas, another Trek rider, riding with team Ontario never stops smiling!

The crowds watching the pro men's race were just amazing! Everybody was cheering, chanting, and yelling! My race was fairly uneventful, it was an incredibly tough course, and the fact that I lack the years of training on my legs became apparent from the start. I sat in and kept motoring though, riding on and off with Trent from Ontario, a guy from Quebec, Nick from the Trek Red Truck team in BC, and Brandon from team Nova Scotia. I was feeling quite comfortable as I was finishing off my fourth lap; ready to start the fifth and to pick off two of the guys whom I was very confident would fade through the sections that they did every lap, while I would burn the rest of my gas and finish out strong.

Having the time of my life on the course, just happy to be competing at nationals! Thanks Lori for posting the photos!

Unfortunately, my race came to an untimely end, as our group was the first to get pulled from the course (I didn’t even know that they were pulling riders!). I am still happy that I went out to our Canadian Nationals, and identified a weakness that I have in my riding that I must work on. The course was a pleasure to ride (and dare I say-I didn’t even mind racing it!), and I made many, many new friends this weekend!

Friends so good we could even do a 4 person piggy-back!
Thanks to my travel companions and friends for putting up with me on a 12 hour car ride, and letting me steal your photos (Joan and Alex)!