Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Taking a step back

After finally feeling like I had my legs under me at the Canada Cup at Hardwood Ski and Bike (despite a bit of a lackluster result - I promise that I can do better), I got back to Kingston to relax for a day and then put in a solid training block before a trip that I've got planned to Quebec for Nationals and a Canada Cup. Days off, in my opinion are the perfect time to do other cool stuff, like rock climbing, running, swimming, the usual. I had an epic time rock climbing, finishing it all off with a core routine on the rings that makes people look like this:

Does anyone else want me to start an album of this man working out?
So Tuesday comes along, I've got a solid training plan for 3 weeks mapped out (thanks Andrew at AWI Coaching), and boom! Unmanageable amounts of pain through my lower back and down my legs. Turns out that I've screwed up a disk in my spine, which has bulged out of my back and is pinching my sciatic nerve. Since then I haven't really walked much, avoided carrying anything anywhere, and not been biking at all. My face looks like that if I get out of bed now. The last two days I've been out of the house and going to campus, I just take regular breaks and lie down lots! I've gotten to physio, and I've got some stretches that should encourage the disk to go back to where it belongs. It does suck to take time off and lie in bed for 2 weeks, but I'll be back in peak shape quickly after my back fixes itself - staying positive is the trick here.
If anybody has any advice for sciatic nerve problems and blown disks I would love any input that I can get! See y'all soon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Panada Cup

This weekend I was racing in another Canada Cup, this one being arguably a bit more high profile; it takes place on the Pan American Games course at Hardwood Hills (Pan Ams is in less than a month now!). This brought athletes from all over North and South America to the venue (not to mention the cyclists from all around Canada), which is a neat opportunity for guys like me!

The dude from Columbia was very strong, and apparently a good starter
Thanks Hannah Clarke for always getting photos of our race
There's another reason that this race was very high profile for me; last year I broke my ribs there - I'll admit it, I was very afraid of riding that course again, and I didn't want to have to ride the chicken lines around the obstacles (what I mean by this is that any technical feature on the course had an alternate loop around it, but those took more time and weren't as cool). I borrowed a super light set of wheels with wide tires to help me boost my confidence, and got to the course early on Saturday to practice the course.

I can always count on teammates for help and support!
I got down to business with the goal of conquering every single obstacle on the course with the exception of "endo rock" where I broke my ribs last year. I figured that it wasn't worth the risk of me having a flashback and pressing the brake too much or something. I got my mojo quickly, and aced through the Disera Drop section (which scared me a lot).

Next was a crazy lineup of features, the first of which was a big rock drop (not unlike the one that I had broken my ribs on the prior year), followed by a massive hop over two stacked logs, then a downhill rock garden feature called boneshaker. I was working up the courage to hit the big rock line when team USA showed up. Normally I'd let them through so that I could continue to grow my bravery until such a time that I wasn't scared and would launch myself off of it, but my friend told team USA to wait, and then I really had to step up. I guess I work well under pressure, because I sent it right over the rock, hopped the logs, and that was it. I do admit though, that I was practicing my hops this week in preparation.

Once I got over that hurdle, everything felt easy, I had my flow and mojo, I helped friends and other riders to learn other sections of the course, and my bike was in perfect tune. I really just needed to get my mind around a few things and then I was fine. The weather was supposed to be nice, and I would have the race that I've been working towards, right?

This is us when we though that we'd have a sunny race

The race day was one of those days where it might rain, but it wasn't forecasted to, and everything goes the opposite of plan. I felt like the entire race was underneath a waterfall, which made the trails pretty greasy - kind of like someone had spread a few inches of peanut butter across the entire course. I was grateful to be using my friend's really nice carbon wheels, and also knew that I couldn't afford to fix them if I broke them, so I pumped my tires about 25% higher than I would normally ride with - just to be safe.

This is how we were feeling in the rain
Peter Kraiker photo 
The race start was chaotic as usual, and not even 10 seconds into the race I found myself skidding sideways to avoid crashing into someone - if someone 5 guys up touches his  brake, the resulting accordion effect is dangerous. I lost a lot of positions, but I kept upright and fought my way into a better position by the time we hit the singletrack. As usual, I couldn't ride my own speed because of how congested the trail was with riders, but I avoided crashes and kept the rubber side down, slowly gaining confidence on the slippery tires over the muddy terrain.

By midway through the second lap I was still pushing and making passes, hadn't fallen, and was shooting through all of the technical lines. My tires weren't doing me much of a favor in terms of grip (especially the rear), but I was riding with guys that I hadn't before, moving way up the field compared to the other two Canada Cup races that I'd done this year. I was feeling confident too, because in any section that I could actually pedal hard and use my fitness, I was gaining ground.

Thanks Eric Batty for cheering me on and taking such great photos, it means a lot to have someone that's been so influential in my cycling cheering me on.
By the third and fourth laps, enough people had been through the rainy course that it was totally loosened up and I couldn't ride up any of the hills, hike-a-bike time. I kept positive and rode my best, but I just couldn't keep up with guys who had made better tire choices, or were used to the tires that they were riding.

Another great shot from Eric
I was pulled due to the 80% rule (if you are not within 80% of the leader's time you are pulled off course in elite national races), but I had a lot of people come up to me after the race, saying that I looked stronger than I have before, and even my competitors passed on compliments. Things are looking good for me, I've got the perfect bike (with my own set of carbon wheels being built now), and though it may have taken me a bit longer than the other guys who spent time down south this winter, I am coming into form and there are more national series races in 4 weeks - just enough time to train and re focus for some great road trips, results, and races!

I would also like to thank my mom for coming out to the race this weekend! Love you mom!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Canada Cup at Horseshoe

What's the perfect way for a bike racer to spend a weekend that there is no race? Getting a new bike of course! And the best way to test the new bike? A Canada Cup course at Horseshoe Resort, of course. I had a bit of an odd week, with nerve issues in my back actually. Once I got back to Kingston I had some serious issues to sort out; my right leg had slowly got worse to the point that I couldn't bend my knee past 90 degrees, and any bend in my spine would cause intense pain down by my tail bone. It was a total kicker to have my sweet new bike sitting in my living room and not be able to touch it, not to mention how nervous I was not being able to train (or move my legs or back properly) before the race.

Being a graduate student at Queen's University may be hectic, and unpredictable but it does come with benefits. I'm on a couple of lists for varsity teams, and Queen's really does treat their athletes well! We get discounted physio so that with our health plan it ends up being free for a lot of visits (I hope that I still have some free visits...). Another great thing for me was that my main guy for physio (who had been off for 2 months) was finally back, starting the Monday before the Canada Cup. I went to physio starting Tuesday, and we established that I had some sort of nerve entrapment, and that my muscles were very tight in my bum and lower back, but even after physio on Wednesday all we could do was tape my back and hope that helps. By Friday I was still super stiff, not riding, and leaving town for a Canada Cup. I figured that I'd just have to ride through whatever happens, honestly I have 5 chances at national races this year and I wasn't going to complain or miss one of them.

A photo posted by @cfruetel on
Ice baths were a daily occurence for me, anything to numb the pain.

I headed up to the course a night early because, why not? I knew that I wouldn't get there much before dark, but I had some great friends to camp with in the bushes right by the course, though we don't always have the best ideas. My friend Roy and I had been talking about giving my new bike more suspension (according to him, it was as easy as taking out a spacer in the fork), and around midnight after some drinks and much needed campfire time we pulled my fork apart. It turns out that the magic spacer to give more suspension travel doesn't exist, and that we didn't have snapring pliers (we ended up ruining my toolbox tweezers). The end product was an over oiled fork with ironically 30% less suspension.
A photo posted by @cfruetel on
The course was amazing, and I got to ride my first lap of it behind my coach Andrew Watson, which was helpful to learn the good lines through the trail, and soak up all of the advice from Andrew that I could on rear suspension and course tactics. Turns out that we were messing with perfection the night before, that bike floated through all of the tough sections, mastered the rocks, and flew through the fast sections. The only problem was that I couldn't keep air in my rear tire, I ended up doing the first half of the lap 4 times before I finally gave up on the tire and put a new one on (but I never finished the lap off). The trick for me on this course was wide tires, which help through the sand and through the rocky features.

Concentrating (and probably forgetting to breathe) through the rock garden
(Hannah Clarke photo)
The magic thing about a couple of nights spent in a tent was that it somehow fixed my back. Sure it wasn't perfect, but I wasn't wincing with every footstep, it almost didn't hurt to get in and out of my car, and I could ride my bike and maneuver it comfortably. The race was a big deal, with a really big field, the including number one call up from Guatamala (must be prepping for Pan Am games). It had been pretty dry for a while at Horseshoe, and result was a chaotic start that was so dusty that you couldn't see anything. I wasn't even riding on the trail as we climbed up the ski hill, but I was following the pack and staying on the wheel of the guy ahead of me. Miraculously I've only heard of one crash in this start, Evan McNeely from the Norco team had a tumble, but managed to pull his way back to the podium - well done.

This is after it spread out a bit and we still had quite a dust cloud (Hannah Clarke photo)
The start of these races are always chaotic, and you can't let anyone gain an inch on you, or you'll get pushed off the trial. You ride with your elbows out, and you stick to the guy ahead of you - especially when the trial gets tighter. I was sitting in good position into the first piece of tight trail (called "singletrack"), and pushed hard up a steep hill that linked to the next piece of singletrack when I got "Quebecced".  If someone calls a pass in a logical place and is going faster and has room ahead, and it's not too dangerous, typically you don't pedal for a second, get passed, and keep on racing. This was not that. This guy called a pass as we were taking a tight left hand turn into the next bit of singletrack, to which I said no (we were riding in a big train, I was keeping close to the guy ahead's wheel, and he was on the next guy up the trial's wheel etc.). He proceeded to check me off the trail into the bush, and another guy from his team made sure that I couldn't get back on the trail by also passing at the same time. I was within the top 25 riders for sure at this point, and something had caught itself in my new bike, I couldn't pedal even. I lost probably 10 positions while fixing my bike, and was riding at a much slower pace than I would have once I got back on (I had fallen to a slower region of the pack). I made a few passes when I could, and figured that I'd make up some serious ground on the long, wide gravel road climb in the last third of the lap.

Losing space up the hill, getting passed by Robin (thanks Catrina for the picture)

I fell back a lot on this climb however, and couldn't seem to find any speed, and had to make back the time on the punchier climbs and technical sections. This is where I'm happy and amazed with my new bike. The race was my 5th ride on it I believe, and I felt right at home, catching up and passing guys through the technical sections of trail. I had a great battle with a friend from Ontario named Robin, he would kick my arse up the hill every time, but I managed to catch him through the other sections of the course. He also passed with courtesy and would let me pass when I called the pass. By the 3rd lap guys were already getting pulled off the course by the 80% rule (if you're not within 80% of the fastest rider, you're pulled off the course in pro national events). This brought a new focus to the race, as in my last Canada Cup at Tremblant I had been pulled after 3 laps. I pulled away from Robin, but he still made a gap between us on the uphill, and that left a long downhill section to catch him back for what could potentially be my last lap.

You can see the wheel that I'm trying to get away from just behind me
(Hannah Clarke photo)

As we got closer to the lap zone I heard the whistle blowing, and there was still some serious ground to catch; if I was going into a corner or technical bit, Robin was going into the next one, so probably 15 seconds ahead or so. I went quick, not taking risks so that I'd fall and lose another position, but fast enough to catch back my ground and pass Robin by the lap/finish zone I figured. I came out of the huge rock garden and started to sprint, only to notice that Robin had already been pulled off course and that they were not pulling off course at the lap/finish zone. Looks like I'll have to get him next time! Not bad for a guy who couldn't ride or walk so well all week, I was 39th, which doesn't sound bad if I say it like "well there are only 38 dudes in the country faster than me", right?? Luckily I have the opportunity to race a Canada Cup again this Sunday, at Hardwood Ski and Bike near Barrie; another Canada Cup...Back to where I broke my ribs last year. I'm scared, but I'm bringing my A game, so watch out!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Canada cup number one and Ontario Cup 2

The first Canada cup of the year always happens on the May 24 long weekend, and it’s generally an awesome time to see everyone again, live in condos for the weekend, and catch up after a long winter. I had the pleasure of road tripping up with a cray half Canadian half New-Hampshirese person (not to be confused with the shire, New Hampshire is VERY different). Catherine was her name and it was her first race back after doing some serious damage to her spine in a bike race in Tennessee. It was awesome to be around someone who while being nervous, was confident and well collected – especially since she raced both the Canada Cup Cross Country and Downhill events. We had a great crew living in the (tightly packed) condo, and the course was pretty different than in previous years. There was one big change for the race as well – I was on a different bike. Rob from Mountain Bike Kingston lent me his sweet Pivot Mach 429SL. This is a very coveted front and rear suspension bike, though it’s not the lightest, raciest bike out there it certainly is a really fun ride, especially on the down portions of the Canada Cup course.

A seriously fun bike! Thanks Rob for the trust and support!

This course went up a gravel access road up the mountain, then essentially rode through really rocky tight trails down the mountain, and then straight back up again. 6 times. The field was elite pretty deep, with a range of riders from around Canada, and even US Olympian Sam Shultz who I met and joked around with on the start line without even knowing who he was, mountain biking seems to attract some great down to earth people! Unfortunately I ended up starting as the last guy (I guess that I wasn’t pushy enough in the corral), which is a dangerous place to be. Everything is magnified the further back you are, if a guy further up the field touches his brake a little bit, and you’re 10 guys back you’re slamming on your brakes. This causes unpredictable riding to happen around you, and of course crashes and bottlenecks.

Awesome album from Canadian Cyclist here

I stayed calm and rode assertively though the first few very bunched up minutes of the race, but by the time that I could really set my pace and go fast up the hill, the leaders already were a minute up the road or so. Additionally, no matter how hard I tried to go, I found myself gasping for a very slow speed up the hill – this was not the pace that I thought I could set. The race was a 6 lap race, with around 60 starters and the 80% rule in effect; those who did not come within 80% of the leader’s time (keep in mind that there are Olympians racing in my category), would be pulled off the course. No questions asked. I had a great time riding the downhill on the new full suspension bike, taking crazy and aggressive lines that I wouldn’t have otherwise been comfortable with on my hardtail, but in retrospect I don’t think that this was in my favour. Instead of taking the fastest lines down the trail I was taking the crazy lines, which though they were fast – they weren’t the fastest. Lesson learned. I was pulled after 3 laps, but had a great time watching the rest of the race – it’s almost surreal that I get to compete at this level, so when I’m pulled out of the race I can still at least watch my friends compete in a crazy course.

Hannah Clarke is becoming my unofficial blog photo supplier, thanks!

The rest of the weekend was spent eating, hiking, and celebrating with friends, though the race didn’t go so well, I was a step closer to feeling my legs under me and sure that Ontario Cup number 2 at Kelso in a week’s time.

See you next time Catherine!

Kelso would be a bittersweet day; the last ride my sweet sweet Trek Superfly (affectionately named My Sherona). It would be a great course to send her off on too, hilly and smooth – or so I thought. The course was awesome, fast and flowy, but with some pretty insane rocky features in the elite course. I was extra delicate on these because I had super thin tires on (with very little grip), but at least that means that I was less likely to hurt myself too! It was a beautiful, windy, but very hot day, and the course had some sections that were exposed to big headwinds, as well as sunny sections (notably the climb up the escarpment!), but I was feeling confident and fairly well rested. Big shout out to the Lynch family for hosting me and giving me a place nearby to crash before the race, it was pretty sweet to be able to hot tub and relax Saturday night!

I'll miss my her, but she's being well taken care of now

I started dead last in the corral as usual (I swear that I’m going to get there earlier next time), but made some progress through the pack throughout the first lap; it was a fast course and riding in groups was advantageous in order to hide from the wind, so I was quite happy to ride with these guys and see how the race unfolded. Unfortunately for me, my second lap pretty much decided the rest of my race, as I went through the feed zone looking for the wrong guy, and then didn’t have anything to drink for the next lap. I think had my chain drop and got passed by like 6 guys, though I normally could have gone and caught them back, I was trying to preserve my energy because a lap at that heat with nothing to drink is something that you pay for later in the race.

Hans solo took this one of me shooting the quick line

I rode a solid tempo for a lap and a half and then ramped it up a bit more for my last two laps. I was fighting off cramps a bit, but all things considered I paced pretty well (this is not to be confused with pLacing well). Apart from the one mishap with my bottle feed, support for the race was amazing! I had friends from university in the crowd which was nice, Matt F as event MC, and the Progressive Nutrition girls were set up giving out snacks and electrolyte drinks – I love it!

I live for Simon's race support

So I’ve pushed through another two races, each time feeling a little bit stronger, and now I’m ready for the upcoming two weekends of Canada Cup racing at Horseshoe Valley and Hardwood Hills respectively. I’ve got a new bike, ready for a mid-season fresh start! Thanks Muskoka Outfitters the support with the new ride!

Big thigs!  A sweet full suspension, race ready out of the box. Love my new Felt Edict 1