Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

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!

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