Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

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)!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A whole new level of competition at the Elite Canada Cup

This past weekend I had the privilege of racing with some truly dedicated riders in what I am told is always the most aggressive Canada Cup race of the year. I actually got to stand on the starting line with Olympians, who apparently keep 5-7 YEAR training plans (I train for a peak every couple of months).
The Elite Men field was stacked with the world cup racing crowd, including former Olympian who will be representing us this year in London Geoff Kabush, as well other hopefuls. Conditions were dismal for the race, including a constant rain, which got pretty serious at points. There were 71 of us at the start line; all elite men who have fitness, years of racing experience, and an aggressive desire to win. Within the first 100m of the course there were already two pile ups, which is apparently expected with Hardwood Hills as the venue, because of wood chips flying up from the trail and getting into riders' drivetrains.



Coach Eric Batty avoids the chaos calmly, a couple panicked faces in the crowd, and you can see my red shoulder right no top of Eric's helmet!
Luckily, I did not get tangled up in this chaos, but the next kilometer of the race was a staged climb with gradual and steep sections, and much jostling for position. When we finally reached the first piece of singletrack (tight, technical trail), I had to get off my bike and wait my turn to get into the trail. . . An absolute traffic jam! I could just feel the womens category closing in on us, and the guys who were in and moving on their bikes were just getting time on us, and there was simply nothing that I could do about it. This was also the first time that I noticed an unusual amount of aggression. There was some swearing (mostly in french), and pushing, which turned me off a little bit. 

Once clear of the first traffic jam, I was riding among the constant train of riders, unable to govern my speed, and each of us having trouble controlling our bikes; this was possibly the most rain affected course that I have ever been on. It was as though the trails had a trench dug through them, and that trench was filled with gumballs, roots, and peanut butter. Except there were definitely not pleasant things like gumballs and peanut butter on that course. At one point as I was passing one of the women elite riders, she was on the brink of tears, and I got off my bike and showed her that it made sense to just walk some sections, because it could be faster, and less risky. There were men all over the side of the course, just sitting down, with a look of resignation on their faces. 

Coming through one of the spectators favorite sections, thanks Meagan Broughton for the photo!

Personally, I found it to be an eye opening experience. My bike was working acceptably well for the first couple of laps (the race is 6 laps of 6km, and for the elite men we were either climbing a hill, or navigating through an insanely technical and ripped trail). By the third lap, I had blood flowing down my knees, elbow, and wrist; I also had a bike that couldn't stay in gear and wasn't pedalling properly due to the mud (I found out later that guys were spraying their drivetrains in the feed zone to keep them working - this caused me to miss a feed). I had begun to let people by, because I couldn't handle the out of control and aggressive racers that were all over the course. I decided at that point that I should keep riding, and observe the way that the others were handling the race style, and trails.

A collection of photos of me going through the "boneshaker", you can see on my face how impressed I am in some of these.

I am embarrassed and a bit ashamed that I was outdone this race, and that I really only kept my race pace together for two laps. I have realized that I am not some fearless aggressive racer, and that I need to work on racing in large groups in the trails. This was nothing like any race I had ever experienced, and I need an other shot. I'll be trying my best to get out to nationals on the 16th in St. Felicien, Quebec. Just because I wasn't great once, doesn't mean that I'll be giving up, it just gives me another area to improve!