Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

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