Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Canadian National Championships

The past week and a half I've been travelling around with my lovely girlfriend and our bikes, with the goal of finishing inside the top 20 at Nationals. First we set off for Sudbury, which is close to 8 hours drive from where we live in Kingston. The visit to Sudbury was great, I got to hang with some of my all time best buds and the trails were phenomenal, my racing however left something to be desired. I was super strong in flat and uphill sections, but for some reason, I couldn't find my mojo in the rest of the course. Friends said that I looked strong technically through the descents and spectator sections, but I just wasn't going fast enough. To me, the bad race didn't really matter - I was having problems gripping my bars without my gloves, I had to get off and fix my bike once, and most of all, I felt strong again. Any uphill or flat section where I could lay down some good effort I accelerated away from riders nearby, this means that I was in good shape for Nationals 6 days later.
I got down south and practiced the nationals course until I had it pretty well dialed in. I would be racing the elite, 6 lap race at Hardwood Ski and Bike on what will be the Pan American course for the upcoming competitions in 2015. The course had a lot of really cool and intimidating features, and plenty of places to hurt yourself...
This may seem over the top, but it's great!

Unfortunately, Thursday night just before Tori was participating in the Eliminator race, I took a bit of a spill. I came at a feature called "Endo Rock" at a way higher speed than I should have and got off balance mid air. I crashed down about 20 feet after I took off, smashing my chest on my handlebars, and skidding my head along the ground until I hit a log. This left me gasping for air for what seemed like an eternity, and my helmet was cracked in 14 places. I managed to get back on my bike and ride it down the jump track somehow, to make sure that I wouldn't miss Tori's race. When I got there everybody could see that something was wrong; I had blood down the side of my face, my eye was swollen almost shut, I couldn't stand up straight, and breathing pained me a lot. I had the medics on my case right away, checking to see if I had broken my neck, and trying to get me somewhere more stable. I had to watch Tori's race, however so I was a bit of a pain for these guys. I agreed to get out of my spandex, sit down and ice my ribs, but I was not leaving the action until all of my friends had finished racing.
After the racing had finished, my girlfriend and her mother took me in to the big hospital in Barrie (about 20 minutes away), and this was an ordeal. They rushed me straight to the trauma unit, and took 3 vials of blood, got a urine sample, and hooked me up to IV. This was all even more complicated that it should have been because I was quite dehydrated, and the nurses had to work hard to get the needles and tubes into my small blood veins. But I was not allowed food or drink, so that's just that. I was like a child in the hospital, arguing a bit over the IV especially (I don't like morphine), but I've learned that nurses, no matter what, get things their way. This massive intrusion was because they were pretty sure that by the sounds of things I could have damaged my liver or other organs in the area.
All smiles all of the time
The doctor finally got me X-rayed and decided that my organs were fine. Upon looking at the X-rays he showed me what looked like a cracked rib, and explained that the x-rays that he used weren't the highest quality, so we can't really tell what's broken or not but he figured that I'd cracked a couple of ribs and done lots of damage to my cartilage and musculature in the area too. Turns out that they don't really treat cracked ribs anyway, so I just had to wait for a nurse to take my IV out and I would be on my way. The nurse was a no nonsense kind of girl, and when I made mention of the size of my IV tube, she admitted that they put the biggest one in me and pulled it out quickly.
I got talked out of competing in the Nationals race by some good friends, but was pretty bummed to miss my chance, and to come so far and train so much without racing, but at least I could still support my friends while they raced! I'm just really bummed that it shoes a big DNF for "Did Not Finish" beside my name on the results, I hate those..
The next day I was actually recruited to help Pedal Mag with live feed of the race to their website, and got VIP media treatment for the weekend! It was nice to have something to do, and great to be involved, this way I could cheer (though yelling hurt), and do help the magazine all at the same time!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Vous ĂȘtes dans la mauvaise province!

The past week and a half have seen a major bike project and a surprisingly fun bike race, so first, the project: to build my own set of carbon wheels. I had broken my rear race wheel with one bad hit while "Gnarvesting" for a weekend with Kelsey at Sir Sam's and was in need of wheels that were once again round. Hopefully some that would stay that way for a long time, but still be light enough to be competitive at the highest level of cross country competition. Also this had to be done on a budget since all costs related to biking basically go into the pile that is the debt that I'll be paying back after I graduate. Chris right now wants good wheels, future Chris who's paying them off may not be so impressed, that kind of thing. So I optimistically bought some carbon wheels from China, and patiently waited for them to be built and to arrive.

The first criteria of a cheap wheel rebuild was that I was only replacing the rims; spokes and hubs had to come from my old wheels. Secondly, I can't afford to pay someone else to build them for me - so I had to do the labor myself. To use the same spokes and hubs I had to get an oversized 30 mm wide set of rims, they're seriously badass, and bigger means better right? At least they're stiffer and should hopefully last longer. It took me most of my Canada Day weekend, but BAM! I have some sweet sweet wheels who's street value may be close to $1600 if they had a name brand on them, and I'm happy about that!

As for riding the new wheels, well they're still round! I love how firm my bike feels when I'm doing technical bits of trail and going off drops or high speed turns or any combination thereof. The bad thing is that I already have one of the stiffest raciest frames on the market (Trek Superfly SL), and with these new carbon rims, I feel the trail a lot! Sure they're fast, but in flat trail where I'd like to sit down that has lots of roots and stuff, my back really takes a pounding. I'll have to grow into them I guess?

Living in Kingston, Ontario has me within a 2 hour drive to the Quebec border, and I needed to tune my legs up and get a feel for them after the problematic month and a half I've been having. I packed up the car, brought the best support I could get, and went to the Camp Fortune Quebec Cup.

Tori gave me a new bottle every lap, and stood out in 30 degree sun, thanks!

The course was super fun - not really much double track, just wide technical trail where you could make some tactical passes - but I saw a few that didn't go so well. I got to the race start a bit later but I heard them calling names so I figured that I'd be called up the same place no matter what. I heard my name said with a thick french accent and thought, "Finally, some respect!" as I grabbed my bike lifted it up high and began to make my way to the front of the group. Everybody stared at me and nobody was making way, when I heard "Do you understand french?" This is attendance." I guess that I wasn't going to get that call up after all...

Once the race had started I wasted no time in getting into the top 10 and riding quickly up the trails alongside the ski hill.
Sneaking up the side
Through the first lap it became apparent that the guys who had raced this course before knew a lot more about how to work the course through the race, and which lines were best to ride. I lost track of the guys ahead of me and was playing cat and mouse with someone trying to catch from behind, trying to keep my pace up through the downhill. By the end of the first lap I had been passed by someone, but I was going into the second lap (of 5) in good position. As I started working my way through the incredibly hot switchback section, unfortunately I had a bike malfunction which took a minute to fix, and lost me a couple of positions.
Keep reading to find out about the dirt on the shoulder, the blood on my knee, and the hole in my shorts!

After fixing my bike and riding on my own for a bit, I noticed that a couple of junior (17-18yr old) riders were catching me from behind, so I slacked my pace and let them pass me so that I could have some riders to pace with. The juniors were a treat while passing me; there was a small section of trail that was maybe wide enough to pass somebody, followed by a 90 degree turn to a steep, wide uphill section. As I was in the first section that I had just mentioned, one junior snuck by me, while the other was yelling for me to get out of the way. Obviously my plan was to wait for about 3 seconds to where the trail widened up enough for the 3 of us to ride side by side and then let them by and ride as the 3rd rider in a train. Junior #1 however in his great rush and excitement fell down in front of me as we were turning into the steep hill, I handily dodged sideways, but junior #2 behind me hit the other kid on the ground, and they took another few minutes to get by me.

Once they had caught me again I was surprised to see that these were not the smooth riders to follow that I was hoping for, but their panicked and excited style of racing kept me going quick - I just needed to give them their space. As we were sprinting along a slightly downhill and rocky section of trail, my chain magically popped apart, and I went down HARD. I pulled the seat out of the left side of my bum and found my chain, wrapped around a tree about 4 feet off the ground. I put the chain back on the bike and realized that it was my quick link that had come out - the one special link in my chain that could be taken apart by hand with no tool. I was a bit confused by his but took my time in putting things back together, got on the bike, and decided to ride a high tempo for the remainder of the race (the weather was 30+ degrees and the following 2 weekends are national level races, no need to over stress my body).

I rode in to a solid 13th place, and had a great time racing at Camp Fortune. It was also great to have some additional support from my buddy Alan, who  brought his super cute 1 year old boy

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hard training can make for a hard time racing!

Much has been happening this summer, life is a little different now, during my first summer as a grad student at Queen’s (taking a two year master’s program in Civil Engineering). Of course I’m finding the time still to train on my bike, and this year I’m training with a power meter every day, which helped me to train this winter and get the speed that I had found in my legs for the first O-Cup. The downside however of being a super motivated guy with a few good results in the bank is that I was pretty sure that I knew everything: I knew that I was fast, I knew how to train really hard, and I knew that I was invincible. Looking back on my training I’m not sure how I did do so well in the first Ontario Cup of the season, but with my boosted confidence I began to train like a madman, pushing myself to my max sometimes four days in a row watching my power output and designing workouts to push myself. I adopted the attitude that if I wasn’t getting to the power I needed, I simply needed to push harder through the pain and keep training, I was on the cusp of racing at pro speed after all, right?

Pretty soon I'll be simulating rivers in this flume!

Tremblant Canada Cup
This attitude led me to some rough racing. There was the Tremblant Canada Cup, a mudslide of an event – and the race to end all bikes. The weekend was fantastic; I rented 3 condos for all of my buddies and I and we had a great long weekend. My nervousness/sore legs showed the night before the race as I was doing an ice bath, I didn’t ride a fast lap (which I always do the day before any race), and I wanted to go to bed early.
I wanted some company in the bathroom to keep my mind off the cold water, then this happened. Good thing I'm the best man at his weeding, right?

On race morning I pushed myself and stayed in the race for two laps, but my fork was totally seized (I was riding an incredibly technical and demanding course with no suspension), making my bike hard and dangerous to race, and I didn’t see the point in racing the whole race because I was damaging my bike, I was letting people pass me in any technical section because it wasn’t fair to slow them down, and one simply can’t race properly if they’re only treating 1/3 of each lap like it’s a race. I dropped out after 2 of 4 laps, and didn’t think much of it. I did however write in my training diary “Not on point” and that was all.

"Racing" up through the village, sometimes a facial expression speaks volumes!
Thanks Joe Bailey for the photo
Check this video my buddy Kelsey put together of the Tremblant descent last year (imagine this with more mud and no suspension)

Mansfield Ontario Cup
The following weekend was the Mansfield Ontario Cup. Historically this has been a fast course for me (it was my top result last year – 18th place with two flat tires), and I had 4th call up (meaning that of the racers at this O-Cup only 3 had beaten me in the first one). I had a great day with my buddies the day before, and was very sure of myself in my ability to handle the course at speed. I had a freshly rebuilt fork (thanks Trek Toronto), and loved being called the 4th fastest guy of the day (before the race). The race begins with a long hill, which I made sure that by the top of I was 4th, and by the time we came through for a spectator section of tough drops and turns, I was sitting in 3rd position – ready for my time in the spotlight. I was racing one of my favorite sets of tires, the Bontrager XR0 tires – they have minimal tread but work well and roll fast if you know what you’re doing with them even though my friends thought that it was a bit bold to use them on the sandy course. Anyway, after making it though the intimidating drops and smiling for the cameras, I totally slid out on the corner right afterwards (still in the middle of spectators), and lost 4-5 positions just like that.

Droppin like it's hot (thanks Hannah Clarke for this one)

 I got back on my bike and tried to bridge the gap back to the leaders, and just couldn’t gain any momentum. I watched my power as I was pushing hard, and even my best efforts up the big hills were about 30% below where I should be. I was pretty disheartened the next lap, and even considered dropping out of the race as people kept passing me who I knew I could beat. By third lap I knew I wouldn’t drop out (rather Dead F****g Last than Did Not Finish show up on the results), and in the 4th lap I began to have fun again, and found my pace for the day. Ironically a spectator can tell my mood during a race by how done up my jersey zipper is. I rode into a 16th place finish, a far cry from my 4th place expectations, but still a very good result.

Undone jersey, unimpressed look on my face (Scotty Toucanlife photo)

After I pulled myself together and deciding that I'd better look presentable (Scotty Toucanlife photo)

There was this beautiful surprise though, and she even took me out to dinner with her race winnings!
That's my girl in 2nd place!
Sir Sam's Ontario Cup and Eliminator
Fast forward a few weeks, I’ve had bloodwork done, I’ve been on my own in Kingston (Tori had been at conferences in Halfiax and Portland, Oregon), I’ve been not training much (but also not sleeping much without Tori), and was hopefully fresh ready to race again. I had even practiced the course, on a special weekend training camp with the Mansfield Ontario Cup champion Kelsey Krushel, shredding the course and camping and swimming.

 It was a great course at Sir Sam’s in Haliburton, and though I knew I wouldn’t be close to riding my fastest yet, I was ready for a weekend of fun, camping and swimming, and maybe some racing, including the eliminator.

Good times on the beach with the crew, next OCA calendar cover photo for sure!

Eliminator racing is a short course and it’s a knockout style of race: 4 go into each heat, and two move on until there is one final heat and one final champion. There’s a qualifying round where everyone rides the course (about 2 minutes long) and then we are assigned our heats accordingly. I was somehow ranked 5th after the qualifier (which surprised me because I didn’t go quite as fast as I could), and was in a great heat with my nemesis for the year Scott L., good buddy from Guelph Will C. and the up-and-coming Theo (who is about 10 years old and half my size). 
Qualifier over the rocks Jim Cassel photo

The eliminator course started in a small straight section then turned 3 times into a pump-track with rocks, then led us out and back in some fast open trail. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t quite get my shoe clipped into my pedal quick enough, and Theo got the holeshot on me! I could have bowled him over to get into the race with the other guys, but really, I’m not about to ruin some kid’s first ever race with some big fast guys. I bided my time and waited until it was safe (by which point the other guys had close to a 100m lead on me (in a 900m course), and called a pass to Theo once the course straightened out. I shot off with an acceleration that even surprised me, and actually caught the other guys pretty quickly. The problem is that I used my “race winning effort” at the start of the race, where Scott and Will both had some gas left in the tank, and handily beat me when it came to the point that mattered; the finish. I had a great time regardless watching the heats go by and I gave Theo a high five, told him good job, and even stuck around to watch his race and podium the next day. Is there any point in being good at a sport if you can’t be a good sport? I don’t really think so.

Bringing up the caboose in the eliminator Jim Cassel photo

The race started with a bit of a mess, and I was not in good position to climb the hill (well all look like ants climbing up it). The hill is about a 5 minute ordeal of zig-zagging up, which was a good opportunity for me to do some hard work and make my way up toward the front of the pack. I had a great first lap jamming with long-time friend Alex Lefebvre (you really impressed me on the downhill buddy!), and bridged away from him up to the next group on lap 2. Lap 3 I spent my time riding with Robin W. and it took me most of the hill on lap 4 to pull  far enough away from him, but then I rode most of the lap on my own. By midway through lap 4 I was beginning to feel the heat, and I was completely aware that I had not had enough to drink (shivers mid-race is usually a great indicator of dehydration/heat exhaustion), but I had no idea what was how bad this was going to get. By the end of the climb on my 5th lap I figured that I had a good distance on the next guy back, and as long as I rode clean and safe and didn’t fall I’d have 16th position in the race secured for another week.
It can be a lonely ride up sometimes! (Hannah Clarke photo)

On the technical descent however, I realized what dehydration on such a technical course could mean. The backs of my arms were seizing somehow, along with my quads. Ever get a footcramp? Picture that in your triceps and quads in the middle of a technical race – I’ve had more fun on a bike that’s for sure!
At the end of the downhill I was shocked to see that Mike H., the Norco XC/Downhill rider had ridden like a bat out of hell to catch me, and that I wasn’t so guaranteed that nice 16th position after all. I had two notable sections to keep him away; a few minutes of technical twisting uphill section, and then the long downhill into the finish area. I picked up my pace as fast as I could through the uphill, and kept him at bay, but once we had gone down a bit of downhill, he was right on my tail again. I shut the door on him a bunch of times, being as wide as I could in the trail so he couldn’t get by, and right before the last technical downhill by the finish I yelled

Signifying that passing me on the downhill would get us both hurt and that we had enough flat space down at the bottom to sprint to the finish though the crowds.
No shennanigans on this hill, thanks Hannah Clarke for making my legs look so great in this photo!

Just as I was about to lay down all my force on my pedals to sprint the finish, my chain popped off. It was as simple as that, no sprint for me. I yelled “awwwwwww!” Mike yelled “awwww!” clearly he was looking forward to the sprint finish too, but not enough to wait for me.
Running her through, bike held high and proudly! Jim Cassel photo

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Ontario World Cup

Well it’s finally happened! It seems to be *summer* in that the race season has started! Sure there are no leaves on the trees, it was pretty cold and rainy the day before the race, but it was really great to see my friends and get back onto the Ontario mountain bike scene! I can’t even explain how happy I was to see my buds with their revamped Wolfpak racing squad, or just to heckle back and forth with people I haven’t seen in 6 months, tell them it looks like they got their new bikes at the ladies bike store, or that I didn’t know Canadian Tire was sponsoring people etc. etc. The weekend started Friday for me after finalizing my conference presentation (Oh yeah, I’m a grad student now at Queen’s), Tori and I headed out for the race and pre riding the course.

A bike selfie, the lightest sweetest bike at any race no doubt! I wouldn't ride anything else even if it was offered to me!

I was excited and smiling ear to ear, the way that biking makes me when I got to the course, got the bikes out and did a slow lap, working with tori over all of the obstacles and working on skills to boost confidence and get all set up for the race. I had a great second lap with local cycling legend, University of Guelph student, and world cup winner Peter Disera, oh and the (now injured) up and coming Braedyn Kozman. It sure was awesome to be riding quick in a group of guys in the trails, dipping and hopping through the trails, chatting, and acting as one quick caterpillar snaking through the forest. Saturday I was back to the course and reunited with the Pack, the Wolfpak. I was stoked to see the boys all out with their new kits, new bikes, and rejuvenated love for cycling. I got 4 laps in Saturday, which may have been a few too many - but that didn’t matter because I was back on the bike! Saturday night was the familiar feast (I only ride to eat really), then up to bed. I was a bit nervous about how much my legs hurt just walking up stairs and about an awful injury below the belt that I can’t discuss the particulars of in a public forum, so I filled up an ice bath and sat in there for 8 minutes. No more, no less!

Wet pre riding on course

This was the World Cup of Ontario Cups, and Quebec brought their best riders too (in addition to other racers from all around Canada). I was amazed to see that some guys who really haven’t raced at Ontario Cup races in years (too busy travelling Europe racing, I assume), and I was pretty amazed by the speed and smoothness of the race start too!

Canadian mountain bike celebrities at the front of the race start
 (Thanks to Mr&Mrs Bailey for always posting such great race photos online)

As the gun went off the whole group (44 of us) sped forward, trying to get into a good position before the singletrack. I was actually surprised when the course kicked up in a steep hill and I was passing people, making my way up the field to secure a good position into the first piece of singletrack. I focussed on riding smooth and being powerful where it counted, and found myself riding with a different group of people; guys who had always been able to beat me by a fair amount of time. Coming through for lap 2 I was more or less in the mix of the fastest non-world cup racers. It was exciting to be playing a dominant role in the race, right up in the mix.

Focus (another taken from Mr&Mrs Bailey's album)

Lap 2 was a bit of a turning point in the race because we began lapping other racers midway through the lap. This is because my poor buddy Braedyn went down (needing 36 stitches) at the start of his race, delaying the other starts. The late starts introduced a whole new type of tactics to the race: get ahead of the other riders and use them to block people. Unfortunately it didn’t favor me, because I would rather coach someone through the trail so that they can ride it faster themselves than make a dangerous and selfish pass. I continued to race my hardest and make fast passes any time that the course opened up, and pass only when I felt that it was safe to do so in the singletrack. I still managed to race a good race, and though a few guys got away from me in all of the lap traffic, I’m happy to say that I finished 21st! I managed to beat guys by more than 5 minutes who had beaten me by more than 5 minutes at the same race last year. At first I was disappointed by the number 21, but putting it into perspective (on a regular Ontario Cup last year I may have even made the top 10), I’m proud! All the work over the winter has paid off, and next race I'll be even faster, with less lapping to happen!

I'm also very proud of my girlfriend who raced to a 9th place finish in her first race in Elite! Elite Women Results
All smiles on race day! (another taken from Mr&Mrs Bailey's album)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Redbull's Race the place

Anyone who followed my blog post a couple of days agoknows that I was lined up to race in a crazy Redbull event called “Race the Place”. It was a race targeted at the crazy international non-sanctioned bike racing community – a lot of whom are ex track racers and messengers. There were numerous guys from different places in the world – including “The Fish”. As the day went on I kept hearing stories of this legend called The Fish...Ex National Dutch Track Champion...Just won the Alleycat race in Spain...Tattoos...You know, typical stuff, right?

Why do you think that they call him The Fish? (hint: look at the gears)
Pic borrowed from RedBull article spoiler alert

The event was a mixing pot of all people who like bikes and crazy things – with a large amount of messengers. There were dudes in jeans, cutoff jeans, baggy shorts, short shorts, flannel, all the way to guys dressed as if they were in an international road race in full spandex and logos with team tents. The course was opened in the morning from 7-10am for practise laps, and there were plenty of riders there early. Everybody seemed to have their idea of what bike was best for the course, but I think that I chose properly with my Trek Madone, I took everything that me or the course could throw at it!

The course began with a small straight section, then there were 4 more tight turns before any passing or anything could happen. Then there was a thin pot holed section that ran along the water into a tight 90 degree turn. The following section was a designated no-passing zone because it was tight, had another incredibly tight 90 degree turn that was about as wide as a sidewalk, and led into an uphill with another 180degree tight as sidewalk turn onto the bridge.

The bridge led to the abandoned theme park island and finished in a downhill that spat us onto another skinny potholed path along the mainland side of the island. This led into a couple of tight turns that skirted the outside of the island that were fast, but if you made a mistake you may end up in the lake! The final section before the amusement park and crazy features was a dirt section right by the lake, then it was a outrageously tight turn that sent us flying into the amusement park (there were many close calls through this turn). In the park there were a few tight switchbacks then the cave. The cave was like a sudden lights out, and about as long as two parked cars, and there was a left turn in the cave. A pack of 80 riders through this gave me nightmares. Out of the cave was another insanely tight turn then a long sweeping S bend which sent us out to the straight flat back section back along to the start. The end of the lap was a zigzag then some “whoops”. Watching the time trials it became painfully obvious why there were called the whoops.

It was a good thing that there were lots of paramedics around
(David Albert-Lebrun Photo)

This guy in the track category had the right idea!
(David Albert-Lebrun Photo)

Taking a bit of air through those (David Albert-Lebrun Photo)

The whoops were taken out of the course for the actual race.

After open course practice time were the qualifying time trials; the top 24 track riders and 56 open riders were taken for the final race, each seated according to their ranking on the in rows of 6. I thought it was of utmost importance to be in the top few rows to avoid dying in a crash (too bad it didn’t work out for me!). I unfortunately had an incident before my time trial; while not paying any attention and only riding with one hand and turning around on the bike, I hit a big piece of electrical conduit and as on the ground before I knew it with a scraped knee, a chunk of the skin missing from my palm, and a potentially broke wrist. IT WAS SO EMBARASSING!

Getting all taped up (David Albert-Lebrun Photo)

After the time trials I was sitting pretty, ranked 4th fastest of the day, within seconds of the second place rider, which granted me a position in the front row and spotlight! The real race didn’t start until 6:30pm but it was great to hang out on course with all of the sponsors and exhibitors at the event. Redbull knows how to throw a gig, and with the big Oakley pavilion and giveaways it was just an exciting time!

Watching the live feed standings as I warm up for my qualifier
(David Albert-Lebrun Photo)

When it came down to race time the crows showed up in the thousands! The energy was pumping and I loved the call up, I thought that I looked good and prepped, but some adorable little girl voiced concern for me
“Do your legs hurt?” She said looking at the bleeding and scabbed legs
“Yeah, thanks! I think that I’ll be fine”
The adorable little girl nodded and smiled and walked back to her Dad, but it was really nice to feel like someone was watching out for me.

80 riders all lined up for one hell of a time (David Albert-Lebrun photo)

 Now the race was really about to start and people were throwing money down as primes on laps - $200 for the first guy across the first lap, and $50 for several others. This last detail made me nervous, I knew that the race would be crazy, technical, and overly bunched up – but with money people tend to get pretty stupid. I know I would.
At the start it was The Fish, trackstanding (which I guess is ok because it’s an unsanctioned race) gave him a quick jump right from the gun, but I managed to reel him back just as we were blasting through the technical bits.

(David Albert-Lebrun photo)

I went into the cave second place, and absolutely screaming fast. This feature was pretty nuts because it was a bright day and suddenly lights out! You had to remember and do the cave by feel just hoping to make it out the other side with the rubber side still down. Unfortunately on the first lap I leaned too hard while cornering through the cave and I slid out and was down. I smacked the ground hard and didn’t even have a second to skid before I hit the cave wall, or to even get worried before Richard who was right behind me at the time (and won the $200 on the first lap) almost hit me. I still don’t understand how he managed to plant a foot and pop his bike up over me without even hitting me. The other guys were amazed at how fast I got back up and out of there (panic of being hit by other riders spurred me), and then the race was back on!

Leading the lead group zigzagging into the cave (David Albert-Lebrun photo)

A quick damage check revealed some serious pain in bumps, bruises, and scrapes, as well as a back brake that was making seriously odd noise and I figured was not to be trusted. I considered abandoning the race, it was suicide to try to race without a rear brake, right? Well there were other guys doing it and I was way too jacked up and determined to stop. So now I couldn’t use my shifting with my left hand (I could big ring it anyway, right?!), and lost the brake in my right hand, but my wheels still turned and I had come a long way to shut the show down early.

Sitting 3rd wheel in the chase group after my fall, just waiting for the moment to spring back to the leaders as we wind through the picturesque and haunting abandoned theme park (David Albert-Lebrun photo)

It took a few laps for me to catch back up to the leaders, but when I did I went hard and didn't look back. I stayed in the rotation with the top 3 riders in the breakaway group, always weary that if someone did anything crazy in the technical sections of the course they could either drop me behind the group or drop me to the ground (again).

It didn't take long until we had a group of 7 guys established as the breakaway group and other riders started to get pulled from the course as we were lapping them – this group was next level on anyone else it seemed.

Lapping riders and staying focused on each corner (David Albert-Lebrun photo)

I pulled through and drove the pace hard so that nobody would have a chance of catching  us, and realized that this race would be decided in the last lap, so for the remainder of the race was to stay ahead of the rest of the field. The middle of the race went with the same crazy guys doing the same crazy pace through the tight sections, over the bridge, through the tunnel, and along the back stretch, we got into a good groove as a group, and I never thought that I was wasting too much energy at the front. Every time we pulled through for a new lap the crowd went wild, people everywhere were taking pictures and yelling – I loved it.

Riders crossing the narrow bridge to the theme  park island

Coming through the start finish for the final lap is where the whole race really unfolded, I was leading through and then my buddy Jon just rocketed by me, and on him were The Fish and the rider from the East Coast Richard, and me? Well my legs were apparently tired and didn't have any real snap to them! One more guy made his way by me, and I managed to catch him back through the technical section. Here was some guy who had been sitting with the lead group and not lead the pace or touched the wind once, I didn’t even know that he was there and now he was ahead of me, keeping me just out of the money in the last lap. When I caught him I yelled “short pulls, we’ll catch them back”! And we started working together and closing in on the leaders who had broken away with about 2 minutes to go in the race. We were getting close and I had just done a solid pull as we went into the turns close to the finish when this guy just sprang away from me. I sprinted my best for a hopeless 5th place overall finish, as the crowds raged.

Congrats to the guys who definitely outplayed me, I have much to learn about road racing and when to take a break or when to pull hard! I may need to relax more, but finishing 5th place overall was still total rockstar status at the race, the afterparty, and on the RedBull website! (Check photo below from their site)

Friday, April 18, 2014

I've taken up a new sport!

Well, I know that most people probably don't realize that road bike racing is a new sport considering I'm a mountain bike racer, but it totally is! Now that I'm varsity athlete extraordinaire at Queen's, and that I've purchased a 1 piece skinsuit, and I get to ride with some cool (maybe silly) gear.
On the road, aerodynamics and helmets with burrito pockets are key!
The Queen's University Cycling Team competes in a race series called the  Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference in the US. This involved 3 weekends of driving 4-7 hours each weekend to stay in the spectrum of available hotels (one even had a pool!). I took charge of the rickety and jam packed (16 bikes) cargo van with Luke as co-pilot on the way down, arriving in style every time. The race weekends involved

I can't even begin to explain how nervous I was for my first road race; I've watched races before and heard all about them - to me it seems crazy to be in a pack of 50 or so riders all nudging and bumping into each other, it's completely up to the guy beside you to keep himself well under control or else you may go down - not my kind of thing. The worst is just the horror stories of a crash, apparently you hear it and just have to brace for a fall, bodies hitting the pavement and bikes getting wrecked. These are my thoughts as I join the start line for my first ever road bike race.

I started in the second last row of a 60+ rider field with the other Queen's University riders and was not happy about it.I knew that the safest place to be was the front of the race, and that if I wanted to win I would have to be at the front in case anybody broke away from the pack. Once we started rolling though I began to weave and be very assertive making my way through the pack. Jeff's comment on it summed up my road racing experience perfectly
"Yeah man we started the race, and we both started to make our way up through the pack, when I got midway through the pack I looked around to see where everybody was and I looked forward and there you were attacking up the side of the pace line 2 minutes into the race!"
That entire race I had a great time attacking off the front of the field, I thought that it was a totally novel thing go fast, make people chase you, and watch as the field gets smaller! By the end of the first lap I had singlehandedly split apart the field. I realized the errors in my ways though as a break away happened in the long climb section of the 3rd lap - nobody had the energy to catch a group of 10 or so riders who had been saving their energy for the right moment and attacked on the steep portion of a long climb. This is where tactics comes in, they waited for the opportune moment, and I was the only one left in the group behind that had the energy to try to chase down the breakaway group. There were a few riders that got spit out the back of the breakaway, but only one other rider was helping me to pull our group (through the wind) and I was unable to catch the break. I did however win the group sprint yelling in all of my glory!

The next day was the criterium (or crit) race. These races are 50 minutes of a short lap, and they are INTENSE. This being my first crit I had absolutely no idea how to race it, I just knew that I didn't want to miss out on any opportunities again. I went straight to the front of the pack, and  never let myself fall further than 3rd wheel from the front.

That race was at a blistering pace, right from the gun and I was determined to stay at the front of the race and not miss any chances this time. Turns out that while I was busy not looking back, I had broken off the group with 12 or so guys, leaving a field of 50 behind. This made things really interesting; I was in contention for the win! The break was a weird thing though – probably 4 of us shared the time at the front in order to drive us away from the main group, but once we had established a solid lead of around 30 seconds on the group behind, it was up to 3 of us to pull the break down the road. I spent a lot of energy doing this but found my strengths in the course; I was wicked fast through the technical and tight chicane on the course, and faster around the corners and down the small hill. I also realized that I could let someone get further up the road while climbing the hill, and someone would inevitably pull us all back together (“burning matches” is what it’s called to make an extra hard effort like this). Midway through the race I already had my winning move planned – I would get into the lead on the downhill then through the chicane, and sprint to the finish.
10 points if you can find the waterbottle that I threw!

Things didn’t go according to plan however, on the last lap by the time we were cresting the hill things got wild! Suddenly there were shoulders and bars and elbows everywhere and everyone was nudging eachother to get to the front. I took my opportunity and shot straight up the side of the road, with my tire about 3 inches from the ditch and got just ahead of the mayhem. Unfortunately I was only second wheel by this point, and I didn’t have the opportunity to get in front of the first place rider until after the chicane, leaving about a half kilometer sprint to the finish. I came into the final stretch blazing, gritting my teeth and pushing as hard as I could, eyes locked on the line. Unfortunately in the last possible moment a few guys got by me and I finished 4th, I guess I shouldn’t lead out sprints like that!

Oh well, I really loved that race and had so much fun being a total rockstar at the front of the race, leading through the spectator sections, and hearing all of the crowd cheering!
The other road races were much similar, I thought I had a handle on proper road tactics, but realistically my moves never won me any races – I was always close enough to be considered in contention, but never won anything. Road racing wasn’t so bad though, it kept me focussed all of the time, and it was so much fun to attack the group or make it in a break that I actually loved it! There was one bone chilling incident that happend when 5 or so guys went down at like 60km/hr and there were screams and 5 broken collarbones – I am VERY happy that I didn’t get tangled up in that!

Speaking of close calls, I’m racing a pretty awesome and special event this weekend - you just know it’s going to be crazy because it’s hosted by Red Bull. I’ll be competing in “Race the Place”; a road race through Ontario Place, which is an abandoned theme park an island on the shoreline of Lake Ontario in Toronto. This is going to be a full day and just nuts! It will be an 80 rider mass start through a course with tight bridges, a tunnel, hairpin turns, rollers, and many more crazy features. It’s a crit style race so I’m just going to try to get to the front of the pack before any crashes happen and aggressively hold my position. 
There are people from all over the world coming, and it’s being marketed at bike messengers (probably because they’re the only ones crazy enough for this kind of stuff).
Wish me luck!

(and maybe good health through this race too)

Also check out this really cool background video of the race here

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Queen's University: varsity teams and new experiences!

Well I've been here at Queen's University for almost two months now and it's been a bit of an adjustment I guess. The people here aren't the same as the small town that I grew up, nor are they like my compadres over at U of Guelph. But if you know where to look in this private school of Canadian Universities, you can find some pretty cool people. So in my first week, naturally I did what I could never do at Guelph - I joined two varsity teams! Of course I was stoked to be a part of the cycling club, lead by none other than Patches O'Houlihan himself

This led to a get together in which I was having a drink with the captain of the ski team who happened to be going on a trip to Ottawa with the team and had an extra spot. He I said I'd come and that was that!
I've long known Bard at the races for being the guy with the best race expression
The weekend with the ski team was fantastic, and quite humbling - it turns out that I need more than just a motor to be a good nordic skier(I thought that I had been practicing it right though). I was chasing the ski team around all weekend "red lining" it and trying to pick myself out of the snowbank. I met some wonderful people who taught me to ski a bit better (nordic skiing is all about the technique), and as a bonus got to spend time learning to skate on the canal and seeing my little brother (the rocket scientist).

The second day of the training camp in Ottawa I was introduced to "skate skiing" which is one of the two techniques of nordic skiing, needless to say I wasn't great at it - but I tried! (unfortunately I can't share the video posted onto the nordic team on facebook where everybody is practicing but I keep falling)
The final day in Ottawa started with a race between Queen's and Carleton University - of course I wanted to be involved to my greatest potential. I would help with timing.
On the ride there however, I was convinced that through borrowing Brad's skis and using my shorter classic style poles, I'd be able to race. "Just use that big engine Chris!" they said. "Going to be fun!" They said. I was actually shocked to see that I was keeping pace with the race (or keeping the rear in sight). The ski race was one of the hardest things that I've done, but I'm really happy that I did put myself out there and gave it a try.

Following the weekend with the ski team was a weekend at the Forest City Velodrome. It turns out that our road cycling rivals MIT had been there the weekend before and wrote all about it - though we were told that we were much faster learners. Riding around a track is an exercise in pacing, control, and trust; we are riding bikes with neither gears nor brakes and on walls that would go up about 20 feet. The only way to stay on is to keep a clean line, and keep your speed up. I was very happy to see how well the team worked together and progressed over the weekend, and it was fun to be with the Queen's team not as a rival, but as a teammate.

Most recently, however we have just returned from a training camp in North Carolina, but in the interest of suspense you'll have to keep posted to find out about it!