Monday, August 22, 2016

Sagan: from the bottom to the front in less than half a lap

As we go into another midweek cyclocross season, I can't help but feel inspired by Peter Sagan's ride at the Olympics. He started in position 50 (7th row) and within half a lap, was up to the front. A couple of flat tires would ultimately derail his chances at a high finish. I'm sure he provided a good scare to his competitors who had mostly written him off as not being up to the demands of XCO and having a terrible start position. I'm sure he had to pull some sketchy passes to make it happen, but you can't help but respect someone who can ride through a field of that caliber.

Now on the subject of Wednesday nighters. If I can start on the front row, I'll see how long I can hang at the front. If I have to start further back, I'll see how many punters I ride through.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Rant: Stybar won from the forth row.

A season of Fat tire Tuesdays has just wrapped up. I appreciate the efforts put in by the Hardcore and Redbike cycling clubs to provide the Edmonton community with a venue for some low key racing. Staring down the barrel of 12 races alternating between Sunridge and Terwillegar was daunting, but due to rainouts, only 8 ended up going off. I like that the organizers can just pull the plug at any sign of adverse weather or trail conditions, it saves us from having to clean our bikes, crashing, and/or breaking bike parts.

At the beginning of the season, I was nervous, as I usually am for these type of races. A long elite race gives me plenty of time to settle in and eventually arrive to a consistent finishing placing or time. Smaller elite fields and longer sections before the trail narrows mean starts aren't as critical. These short fat tire Tuesdays sometimes barely crack 30 minutes. One major mistake or bad legs could mean getting embarrassed by a sport class rider! Good starts are important, as the lead group can get out of sight within a half lap if you get stuck behind a weaker rider on the singletrack.

I struggled in week one with a slow start that forced me to have to close a MASSIVE gap halfway through lap one, except I couldn't and ended up missing the podium. Week two, things clicked and although I again had to chase midway through lap one to regain the lead riders, I was able to attack on the next lap. In the next 5 races, it almost felt like I had the respect of the rest of the group as I was allowed to go 3rd or 4th wheel even with a small "buffer gap" into the singletrack off the holeshot.

Anyways, with the finale of Tuesday night MTB racing for another summer, the cyclocross bikes have already started coming out, and I'm sure Jeremy Powers DVD's and cyclocross camps are already showing up on credit card statements. Everyone is being told that you must start from the front row just as Tour de France commentators routinely emphasize how important it is to be at the front of the peleton. To avoid crashes, to avoid bottlenecks. I used to love cyclocross as it was the only discipline where I quickly rose through the ranks. Now, I'm a little jaded. What was once a fun celebration of a cycling season has now become THE cycling season.

Cyclocross is big in Edmonton and a midweek race can bring out a couple of guys capable of a top 5 at nationals. We can play "see how long you can hold on to their wheel" with some top caliber riders. There are 15 or so Alberta cups providing plenty of opportunity to upgrade, so anyone who is fast should be in elite. So why are the front rows packed with midpack expert and sport racers 10 MINUTES BEFORE the start? Racers who can't even last a lap of "see how long you can hold on to their wheel". I and other elites like to get a fair shot at "trying to hold the wheel". Or should I use these races to learn how to battle from further back? Not something I really have to worry about in small AB cup elite fields, but if I ever decided to race nationals. Does it even matter? Stybar won World Championships from the forth row.

Cyclocross is all about heckling. Make sure to let the people on the front row know if they are racing outside of the top 8.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Golden 24

Another year, another weekend getting roped into doing a 24 hour race. Some friends in Golden were desperate for another rider to join their 4 person team. I know that a 5 person team presents enough suffering as it is and it would be even harder with one less team member, though I did ride for almost 6hrs on that 5 person team. The trails in Golden beckoned and even the initial forecast didn't look so bad with just a slight bit of rain to "keep the dust down", I reasoned.

I'd ridden a loop like that in the Mountain Shadows area before, so I wasn't too worried about pre-riding the course as I would probably get in more riding than I wanted over the course of the weekend.

First lap, off the tag, our leader had a wonderful lap and I tagged off in 2nd, not too far behind the leader (Leighton). I set out hammering up the new Schaecher trail climb (that will eventually go up Mt. 7) and along the extremely flowy trail above the gravel pit and rodeo grounds. Seriously awesome trailbuilding going on in Golden! Chipping away at his lead, I caught the leader at the top of a downhill and went ahead, but crashed over the bars right after with him right on my wheel. Stunned, but no dripping blood, bike seemed ok but the bars were twisted. Strava says I spent over 1.5minutes collecting myself and getting my bike going haha! I got back into the groove for the rest of the fun lap, and still managed to throw down a good time before tagging off to Pierre.

Back in my tent, I could hear rain drops starting to fall. For our team's 2nd go through the rotation, we were going to do 2 laps at a time to give each other more rest between laps. The course was littered with rocks that would be slick in the rain, but I focused on riding smooth and nailed the section that brought me down on lap 1. Soaked after one "hot" lap and another good lap on a course that was deteriorating, I headed to sleep.

Up in the middle of the night for 2 night laps. The rain was still going strong. Not something I was looking forward to, but I just wanted to get it over with. Lots of anticipation. Then the tag comes. The climbs were slick and the trail was one slick puddle. All I could think of was the grit getting blasted into the bearings of my bike, and my brake pads that were already low on life. The kilometers slowly ticked by. It was amazing how some technical sections would sneak up to me in the dark and I managed to ride without much fuss. Nearing the end of the lap, I thought, "what the heck, what's another lap?" and my final lap ticked by. Time to crawl back into the tent to get some sleep.

We had the race locked up, and er fortunately our laps were taking longer than 1hr now, so there wasn't time for everyone to get in one last lap. I politely declined and hopped in the car and drove home from another crazy weekend of mountain bike racing.

The root and rock laden course is punishing in the dry and in the wet, quite a contrast from the speedway that is the Canmore course.

Rant: Lapping etiquette

I realize we all have to start somewhere. I remember my first bike race, a Tuesday night race in Terwillegar park. I was 14. It cost $2 to enter. I think I did just two or three laps and watched in amazement as Evan Sherman defeated my idol Steve Martins whom I'd met on group rides.

I hope I have the story straight, but maybe just a couple of laps into my race, I heard the rumbling behind me, stopped and got the hell out of the way as they flew by close to double my speed.

When I was 16, I raced a Canada Cup and a very muddy Nationals. I wasn't a very good rider, and had the elite and junior women pass me after making up the start gap and the elite men lap me.

Now, I'm racing closer to the front of the pack. The fastest elite women and junior men at the Canada Cups might still have to pass me (and I better let them because a podium position in those races is more important than my 34th place), but I am now finding myself more of a passer than a passee.

I've got a bell on my bike, and I ring it and yell out "rider up!" or "onyerleft" when approaching a rider from behind. Some people pull over to the right, stop off the trail, and lean their bike further off the trail at the first immediate opportunity. Another group for whatever reason think that merely slowing down, moving over to a random side of the trail and continuing riding, giving the passer a very narrow window while swerving around trees on the side of the trail is enough. It's not.

Even more disgusting are the people who ignore any requests for passing and might let you pass at a trail intersection. Ive seen this before when lapping sport men riders. They even look back, see me coming, then try to race me. Didn't realize that 34th place was so important to you.

I know it sucks that the passer is interrupting your flow. I know that battle in a 24hr relay is important to you (by far the worst etiquette I've seen is in 24hr relays). I'm not asking you to stop on a fast descent or a tricky section requiring momentum. But who wants to ride with an impatient and faster rider RIGHT on their wheel? It's better for both of us if the passee would just stop and vacate the trail.

Monday, May 23, 2016

5 Mountain Bike Races I'm looking forward to in 2016

Race the Ridge - Sunridge, May 28.

While I sometimes struggle in the twisty singletrack at Sunridge, I always enjoy racing in Edmonton. You know exactly what you are going to get. At Terwillegar, you get short, steep, punchy climbs. At Sunridge, you get longer, steeper, punchier climbs. And the race organizers have decided to ignore the complainers and we will be racing on the switchbacks of pain!

Mountain Maiden - Canmore, June 4.

Believe it or not, until I saw that the Spin Sisters would be running a NEW course this year, I was contemplating not even bothering to buy a race license. I even made a joke about how they were going to change up their tired, boring, high speed, old course (that everyone still seems to like). With a nice big section of the EKG trail, I'm pumped to be back racing on natural trails at the CNC! Will the other Canmore race step it up with a new course and offer more than a coffee mug and coffee for an elite podium?

Kootenay Krusher - Nipika, June 11.

If I decide to make it 3 weekends in a row of racing, there's quite the prize at the end. The scheduling of the Krusher has in the past conflicted with the date of the Maiden. Not this year, and if I feel up for it, I'll be able to race 2 laps of Nipikas 25km punishing singletrack loop with gorgeous views of the Kootenay and Cross rivers.

Marathon Provincials - Bragg Creek, Aug 7.

I saw the GPS track from this one and was instantly pumped. We're racing to the top! No more driving to the mountains and racing a half loop that barely leaves the parking lot. This loop looks to make a great ride in itself and we will be doing it 2..maybe 3 times?

Kootenay Sufferfest - Kaslo, September 3.

The organizer has stated this is the final year for the burly 100km point to point race, so I will try my best to make it out there. I had a great time in 2014 by riding at a sustainable pace and keeping on top of my nutrition, while really enjoying the huge final descent and singletrack to the finish line.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Columbia in a day

After day tripping Mt. Joffre and the Wapta traverse, a day trip of Mt. Columbia seemed like the next logical challenge, and something that has been in the back of my mind since first skiing the Wapta in 2013. For a successful attempt, weather, glacier conditions, and a good team all need to come together. Upon hearing that the Athabasca glacier was in good condition and a good weather window aligning was aligning with the weekend, it didn't take much to assemble a team. Given the choice, I would prefer doing these types of trips with a strong team, not only for the bragging rights of throwing down a fast time, but also to limit the amount of time spent in ski boots.

So the plan was hatched, with a little logistical challenges as my gear was all in Canmore, but I wanted to drive directly to the icefields from Edmonton. I arrived late in the night, slept in the car and met up with the rest of the gang in the morning. Fortunately all of my required gear made it to the trailhead and we all took our time packing up to get ready to go.

The six of us set off at around 2:30 with headlamps, stumbling up the trail to the toe of the glacier. Shoes were traded for ski boots and we continued stumbling up the stream crossings and lower part of the glacier. Once we hit a previously established track, I was surprised how efficiently we climbed up and around the icefalls that are usually quite a formidable crux of the day.

Once on the icefield, we were able to follow a track to the base of the face set by parties camped on the glacier. We caught them on the face, and then me and Travis got some pretty good summit fever, pushing up to the summit with parched lungs.

Cresting a roll on the neve and the objective appears in the distance

The trench in the middle of the approach was freezing cold. It was nice to get back into the sun. I led the entire approach to the base of the face, it was nice being able to set a good pace!

Lots of 11,000ers were visible on this perfect day. Here the Lyells look mythical draped in glacier.

Looking back from the base of the face, time to start the steep climb!

More "mythical" 11,000ers, the Twins, Stuttfields and Kitchener.


Travis and I drilled it to the summit, so we were there to encourage the rest of the group to top it out!

Not the greatest ski conditions off the summit, but time to finish off the day moving across the flatter neve. 

We missed seeing all of the blocks of ice as we skied up the Athabasca glacier under the small beams of our headlamps.
Total time was 11:38. A beautiful day to be in the mountains. The skimo race gear enabled us to move efficiently across the glaciers, yet still perform well on the steep descent off Columbia's east face. The next day, "the Berner" smashed our time going under 10hrs! Potentially some unfinished business on this one, now I know how many nutella bagels I really need.