I did it! I raced my mountain bike. It was hard. It was very technical. It was challenging. It was wet. It was slippery. It was a lot of fun. I’m going to do it again.
On Saturday I loaded up the car with my brand spanking new Opus Fhast 2 29er and drove out to the Charlottenburg Forest near Cornwall. I had no idea what to expect, but I assumed it would all work out just fine. And this is it did!
When I arrived the morning race was just getting ready to start – very low key relaxed atmosphere with a registration tent and a couple tents set up for people to stand under to keep dry. It really reminded me of the cyclo-cross races I used to do in Belgium – everyone parked in a big field and a good group of friendly people out to race, cheer and organize the race.
I met the organizer of the East Cup Mountain Bike Series, a super friendly guy who is trying really hard to offer folks in Eastern Ontario a good mountain bike race series. I arrived quite early so I had time to hang out, eat and get my bike ready. Eventually some familiar faces arrived, it was great to have Nick and Rob there to give me advice, convince me to take lots of pressure of my tires and most of all to reassure me that I could do this race.
Since I hadn’t ridden a mountain bike for quite some time or raced in a long time, I really had no pressure or expectations. Throw in that this was only my second time on the big 29er and I really was just out for a fun time. I did have a fun time but admittedly there were moments when I wasn’t smiling.
I registered for the Expert/Pro category – in hindsight this might have been a mistake, but thanks to the low-key atmosphere, no one minded that I was in over-my-head. The race was four laps of a five km rocky, rooty, slippery and very technical race loop. After my warm-up lap, which resulted in a hard crash, I was having second thoughts but after talking to Nick, I was ready for it. My attitude was “just go out and ride. Enjoy being in the woods.” So this is what I did.
I lined up at the back of the pack of 20 or so guys and one other girl. Everyone took off like a rocket – and then I started! I caught a few people on the early climb but soon lost them when we hit the singletrack. I just raced my “race”. I simply did what I could – there were sections that I simply couldn’t ride, so I got off and ran. My first lap was okay. The second lap was filled with crashes – I think I crashed three times in that lap. I was also passed by a lot of people in the second lap – so impressive to see how smooth people were riding. The third (and my final lap) was better – I didn’t crash and I was able to ride sections I couldn’t ride previously. I had the option of doing a fourth lap, but declined – I had been out there for a while and was pretty sure a fourth lap would only result in more crashes.
Each time I came through the start/finish, Dan, the organizer shouted encouragement and gave me some tips, such as “loosen up the death grip”, “spin more”, “move forward on your saddle”, “you’re doing great”. This helped so much. I had a good chat with Dan and Nick after the race about my bike set-up – so I’m going to make some changes which should help with my riding.
All in all, a great experience. This course was likely not the best for me to return to mountain bike racing and riding on – I struggled a lot – but in the long run this first season mountain bike racing and riding experience will pay off. If I can ride on very narrow, technical, and slippery trails then when it’s dry and a bit less intimidating, I’ll be good to go.
Many thanks to all the guys who passed me and gave me words of encouragement. This was just a very welcoming and encouraging race experience. People were happy that you were out riding. Just the way it should be.
Admittedly, today I’m a bit sore – I’ve got lots of bruises all over and my bike is a big muddy mess (with a slightly bent rear derailleur) but this is all part of the experience. I just need to get better so I don’t crash as much!
If you’re looking for a good series of mountain bike races that don’t require driving to Toronto, definitely check out this series.
(Big congrats to Nick for taking the big win in his category. The Cyclery colors look good on the podium!)