Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

Monday, July 27, 2015

Nationals 2015, Saint Felicien

It's been a while since my first elite national championship race in 2012, which was at St. Félicien as well. I'm happy to say that my blog writing has improved at least!

My last blog post alluded to the fact that I wasn't feeling strong yet, and that the blown disk/sciatic nerve problems were over - but all of that time stuck in bed had a real toll on my body as well. I had most of the week to prepare on the course, and I was feeling quite confident in my technical skills/speed and control through some pretty gnarly sections of the course. The course itself was amazing; it started with a steep gravel climb up to the top of a ski hill, then we descended through berms, over rollers, and over a bridge that crosses the course into a big rock garden. Next we climbed back up a bit, went through a big rocky feature, then over a drop that shot into a berm. After this was a climb that brought us to a flat section of fast trail then tons of man-made rocky features with spectators everywhere. Next was a steep, technical climb back to the top of the hill, and some fast trail before a totally steep and technical descent, more climbing, descending another total steep chute, and that was the lap (repeat 6 times if you are racing the elite men's category). 

Thanks Eric Barnabe for taking these photos
I was really happy with my tires for the course, and got to practice on consistent conditions all week - which made it all the more annoying when it poured torrentially the night before the race and rained all morning. This made the course a lot tougher, and watching the women's race was somewhere between funny and worrying, as you could see people falling everywhere. I switched my tires the day before the race so that I would have grip in the muck, and convinced myself that a race in such tough conditions may help to slow the other, fitter guys down a bit. 

All of that mud didn't stop my charm (Hannah Clarke photo)
The race start line was one of the most tense that I had ever been on, nobody was talking (french or english), the crowds were all completely silent, and I don't even think that there was any music playing over the PA system. Maybe it's because we had all seen how much the women were falling in their race, and were all a bit scared, but nobody was even looking at each other, everyone was just staring at the steep hill that we were about to climb, probably wondering if they'd have some sort of cardiac arrest induced by chasing the Pan Am champion up hills and through the bush for close to two hours. Finally the silence was broken "30 seconds until start", said the PA system, and then about a quarter of the guys started praying. 

The back of the race start, check out the focus on my face (André Chevrier photo)
The start was eventful, something happened probably 5 seconds into the race that almost caused a 12 person pile up, but we managed to stay on our bikes, and I felt strong as we shot up the hill - for the first 10 seconds, then I was just trying to move forward and not be last up the hill. As one may expect, it didn't matter anyways because there was a bit of a traffic jam going on anyways, so the leaders were already pretty much down the hill by the time that I could move at my own speed.

Pan Am champion still in good form leading the race, I'm in the traffic jam by the trees (André Chevrier photo)
I got into a groove, and made some passes in the upcoming section, aggressively moving my way into the top 20 (probably my favourite part of the entire race was when the trail widened up and I passed 3 guys at once as spectators were cheering and yelling). My speed was short lived however, as I opted not to wear glasses for the race, and I got a ton of mud stuck in my eye. Racing with the pros in the mud on a technical course with one eye closed is not ideal, so I slowed down and kept moving until the feed zone, unable to blink the much out of my eyes (contact lenses were also a concern). I came through the feed zone on the first lap looking for a neutral water feed, but the neutral feeds weren't ready for me (nobody gets a feed in the first 10 minutes of a race). I had a quick stop to rinse my eye and got going again, but by this point I had lost probably 5 positions. 

Chasing wheels early in the race, still clean and ready to put my surprise attack on these guys
(Eric Barnabe photo)

It's tough losing ground so quickly for a few reasons; firstly there's the obvious one that while everyone is going super fast and jostling for positions early in the race I was just trying to be able to see again. Secondly I was riding with guys that push me, meaning that I would ride harder because they are so close to my ability (if not a bit better). By the time I was moving again I was being caught by the last few guys (who are still incredible athletes - it takes real commitment just to make it to the elite category), but it's not the same as racing right beside the faster guys who I had worked hard to pass and to stay with. 

The paparazzi were sneaky in this race, hiding in the bushes (Hannah Clarke photo)

The rest of the race I worked on consistency and keeping the rubber side down. It was a tough race, but I was riding all the features, and apart from a bit of a pile up in a steep, muddy chute it was pretty incident free. I felt way better than the week before at Baie St. Paul, and my legs were strong - I just didn't have the lungs to support racing fast. I could push at about 85% of my normal self I think, but technically I was riding well, and I was stronger than the week before!

The picture quality isn't great, but watching this moment of racing is going to always stick with me, Quinton, you rock man.

It was great to race in Quebec, I met some pretty fantastic people, and they treat their athletes properly - free beer for elite athletes after the race. Because most of the elite athletes don't really drink, I was able to wrangle up some extra free drinks and had a good post-race social with my friends Dylan and Emily. None of us were overly thrilled with our race, but there was a second chance - the team relay is always the next day. The course would be the same as the elite course minus one of the super technical descents and some climbing. We decided to put a team in and give it a go. After a few beers I thought that the reason that I didn't go fast was simply because I didn't try hard enough, and was set on kicking ass in the relay to prove to myself that I was really fast.

A lot cleaner without that rain (Scott Lynch photo)
I did get blown out of the water, which makes sense because while the other athletes were still training 10-20 hours per week, I was sitting in bed. I'm happy to say I have power back in my legs, and the lungs will come back with time. At least I know where I stand, and the team had fun anyways!

What a buff team! (Sylvie Chénier photo)

I may only have a few big races left this season, but I've been training very hard again, I'm just as focused and motivated as ever, and with the support that I've got, I'll be flying at the Ontario Cup in 2 weeks in Muskoka.

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