Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

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