On Cyclo-Cross

As you know I recently returned from a 12 day trip to Europe to race in the Aigle and Plzen World Cup races. I was fortunate to have my dad along with me to do the driving, race day support and just to generally take in this life experience. Well, this was my dad’s first introduction to the European cyclo-cross scene – so I thought it would be interesting for you to read about his experience. Thanks dad – the trip and the racing wouldn’t have been the same without you there:

A Novice in a New World

My cyclo-cross experience is limited to two visits to the Canadian Nationals in Edmonton, Alberta, and to Burlington, Vermont, earlier this year, so I can’t even claim to be an experienced spectator. I am, of course, a fan. Who wouldn’t be with a daughter and son-in-law so heavily involved? Thus, when the opportunity arose to be Vicki’s driver and general factotum for races in Aigle and Plzen, I jumped at it. No second bidding required.

I knew enough, thanks to Vicki, to expect a very different experience in Europe, but even so, I must confess to being genuinely amazed by what I saw and learned, and by the many very friendly people whom I met.

My job, if I may call it that, was to drive and to be in the pits. The driving was easy; the thought of being in the pits was, well, the pits! Why? I can ride a bike. But could I work a bike change? Could I fix anything that may need fixing during the race? It’s an over-statement to say that I was racked with misgivings, but I was certainly nervous. The fear of not being up to the task.

All of which provides a neat segue back to those friendly people I met. It became obvious quite quickly that should I need specialized help, there were many to call on. There were those who collected warm-up clothing at the start; there were those who explained how to clean the tires without getting myself soaking wet. (It didn’t work, by the way!); there were those who explained the expectations in the pits. Suddenly, my life became easier.

Vicki’s friends were many; the number of fans was huge. What a difference from the North American fan base. Cyclo-cross in Europe must be close to being as all consuming as ice hockey and football are in Canada. That fans drove happily from all over the continent to support their favourite riders stands in stark contrast to the few hundred family members and friends in Edmonton. It was heart-warming to realize that although most had their own special favourites, they would also shout encouragement to the other riders. Isn’t this what sport is supposed to be about?

On a more mundane level, the national and international television coverage blew my mind. Even parking those huge trucks in the narrow streets of Plzen was an accomplishment. Let’s not forget the race commentators who switched effortlessly from French to German to Czech to English. We North Americans can learn a lot from this. If you are a European reader of these thoughts, please remember that what is “normal” to you, is quite abnormal to me.

We traveled in an RV/camper van. Quite splendid, I thought, but then I saw the fleets of vehicles that some teams used. You know what I mean, the ones with images of the riders on the outside, the ones with the amazing paintjobs. They reminded me of the way pop stars travel. And then there were those who arrived alone, in a small, rented car barely big enough to change in. To my eyes, they were seen as no less important.
And the actual course and races: I hesitate to comment because my real knowledge is so slight, but I will say that the skill of the riders, their strength, their determination, and their support for each other did impress me, and my impression of both the Aigle and the Plzen circuits is that they were a good deal more demanding than those I’ve seen here in N.A.

I came home with the feeling that if I were lucky enough to return next year, there would be friends to greet me. Good people whom I would look forward to seeing again. No names are mentioned here because I don’t want to risk missing somebody out, but if we met, I mean you! And thanks to you, my knowledge has increased dramatically.

Back At It

Well, I’m back home in Ottawa. Definitely was awesome to travel and race in the first two World Cups of the season but it is also pretty special to be home. The 12 day trip was pretty darn good with every day really being a separate adventure. Where would I ride? What would I see and discover? What would we see while driving and touring around? What would the race courses be like? How many friends would I bump into and catch up with? Each and every day was filled with such experiences. Pretty darn good for 12 days.

But I must say it was nice to wake up in my own bed this morning, albeit rather early (4:30 – thanks jet lag). It was also refreshing to simply hop on my bike for my ride and not worry about getting lost and trying to memorize the streets signs and all the left and right turns…. I’m always one for adventure but sometimes the training goes more smoothly when I know that I won’t get lost or end up on a fast moving highway in Germany.

I had a great talk with my coach Steve Weller of Bell Lap Coaching. We talked about the past 12 days of travel, training and racing. Going into these World Cups I knew I wasn’t on top form but somehow I managed to forget this and expect a top form performance from myself. Luckily Steve knows me very well and understands what I’m going through right now. I’ve got a great training plan thanks to Steve that will take me into just after the Koksijde World Cup on Nov. 27. I’m looking forward to getting out on my bike and doing some intensity and long rides again – I’ve really missed this.

Today my ride was just what I needed. I got out on my ‘cross bike for an on-road/off-road ride. I hit up some bicycle paths, rolled along some bumpy grass trails, more bicycle paths and finally made it to a fairly underused local park. I rolled along the gravel path taking a few side trails along the way that emptied into a quarry. So far so good. Then I spied a very small opening in the grass…. An undiscovered trail – cool. Well, what a cool trail it is – twists, turns, up, down, rocks, roots, leaves, pine needles – it has it all. Maybe my Fangos pumped up to 50 psi were a bit much for the trail but I still made it through – besides it helps to get used to the rear wheel slip sliding all over the place. A great ride. I had Pearl Jam blasting on my iPod and the sun was shining – and luckily no sign of “jet legs”.

Tomorrow the action starts with some intense intervals. As nice as it is outside, I’ll be doing this ride in the basement on the Computrainer. I’d love to do it outside but I don’t have my SRM on my bike yet so I’ll be in the basement. No biggie really – I want to make sure these intervals are as high quality as possible and often this is better achieved on a trainer. I’ll be sure to get outside for the recovery portion of my ride.

Looking forward to this Saturday when we’re hooking up with local young and fast guns for a cyclo-cross ride. Should be a good one. I do have to go for a run beforehand – but the run will only make the ride that much sweeter. (Still amazes me that I ran a marathon once… Now a 20 minute run feels like work!)

Can you believe that in two weeks I’ll be back in Belgium? Hard to wrap my head around it. I’m really only home for 10 days and then I’m gone. And next weekend I’ll be away in Toronto racing at the Canadian National Cyclo-Cross Championships. Pretty fast and whirlwind but this is what keeps me looking and feeling young!

I’ve moved up on the UCI points ranking – I’m now in 55th spot. Not bad. But I’d like to get into the top 50 again and keep my spot there. I’ve got 47 UCI points – I need 75 to get into the selection pool for the Canadian Team that will race at the World Cyclo-Cross Championships. I’m not stressing about this points chase race. Nope, I’m sticking to my commitment to go out and have fun on my bike – I’ll line up with a smile on my face, I’ll stay relaxed, no crazy nerves or stressing about points. Nope – time to just go out and appreciate being able to do this.

Alright, my tea is getting cold and it is time to catch up with dirty little television show addiction – Top Chef Just Desserts….

World Cup Frenzy

This is how I feel, a tad frenzied. It is 9:30 and I’m not very close at all to packing. I’ve made a few piles of clothes and other stuff on the floor. But I’m not anywhere close to being ready to jam things into bike boxes and into my carry-on. Today has been a very good but busy day. I did get lots done and most importantly I connected with a very good friend for some coffee and a great chat.

As for the rest of the day? Well, I got in an excellent road ride. Felt so nice to be out on my familiar training roads and just enjoying the crisp fall air. I didn’t think about racing. I didn’t worry about the garbage from the weekend. Nope, I just focused on pedaling, smiling and taking it all in. I did do a little bit of “mental packing” – putting ideas and thoughts in little spots in my brain for future reference.

Oh, I suppose I did think a bit about racing since my mind wandered to the excellent training day I had yesterday. Marc and I zipped out to Karl’s to play in his front yard. Karl’s cyclo-cross course is great. Sand. Steep climbs. Fast descents. Mud. Ruts. Barriers. Grass. Can’t ask for much more. The atmosphere of the training session was bang-on with all of us constantly laughing at each other and also learning a bunch as well. I can’t thank the guys (Karl, Conor, Evan, and Marc) enough for their advice, patience and help on Monday. With their help, I conquered the steep climb and with their encouragement made it down the descent. All in all a good time on the bikes.

Now my bikes are clean and ready to be put in bike boxes. I’m hoping to get in a morning ride but considering that I don’t have much done in the way of packing or even collecting stuff to pack, the ride is looking like a distant memory. But you never know, I’ve been known to work miracles before!

Checked the start list for the Aigle World Cup – lots of fast girls on the list (myself included). Looking forward to connecting with my Belgian, Dutch, and Danish cycling friends. Amazing how time and distance are erased as soon as you get together with your cycling pals. I do have to say that I really can’t wait to get to Belgium permanently for the winter. It is a chance for me to put the ridiculous from the weekend behind me and to forget about the silly people. Most importantly, I can get settled into my racing, training and enjoying life in Belgium.

Right now even though things seem a little bit disorganized and crazy, I couldn’t be happier. This time tomorrow I’ll be on my way to Frankfurt and soon enough I’ll be pre-riding the World Cup race course. Life is good. The only thing that could make this trip better is to have Marc come along. Oh well, at least he’ll be there with me in Belgium very soon. I’m looking forward to spending time with my dad – wonder what he’ll think of his first World Cup experience? Perhaps I’ll see if I can get him to write a blog post on his impressions of World Cup racing?

Alright, my tea is getting cold and I really should do some packing….

Like a Kid?

Yesterday was just a great day to be a cyclist in Ottawa. The sky was a brilliant blue, the sun was shining, there was a bit of wind and most importantly – no rain. I seized the day and the weather for another easy ride. The plan was a 45 minute ride… This plan didn’t hold together all that well – I ended up riding for 90 minutes or so. But it was an excellent 90 minutes.

I set out with a loose plan – essentially ride on as many bicycle paths and patches of grass as possible – all in my Ottawa suburb. So this is what I did. I explored a new bicycle path, followed a worn trail in the grass, zipped along busier bicycle paths, hit up some trails by the 416. Really just like a kid who takes off for a “bike ride” I simply followed my eyes, ears and heart. If the right turn looked more interesting, I went right. Big puddle on the left, okay ride right through as fast as I could. I’m pretty darn sure I was smiling the entire time – this is based on all the smiles I received from those I saw out enjoying the fresh fall air.

So you can easily understand how this 45 minutes turned into 90… Can’t blame me really. Great ride. Good sensations in my legs and body. I didn’t push the pace, rather I rode so I could get a feel for my legs. All in all, a most excellent ride.

I closed off the day with a photo shoot with Marc L. Many thanks to Marc for coming out to snap literally hundreds of photos of me rolling along on my trusty Stevens Carbon Team DA and wearing my long-sleeve skinsuit (thanks Champion Systems Canada). The photos are for my rider cards. Yes, I’m finally getting rider cards! Pretty stoked about this. Rider cards are sought after at all the races in Europe – people collect them just like hockey cards here. For the past three years, I’ve had to say “Sorry, I don’t have rider cards”. But not this year! Thanks Marc for the photos and for the work behind-the-scenes with the lay-out. Definitely appreciated.

I realized that in my blog post on Monday, I neglected to tell you about Marc’s weekend racing. Well, it was a weekend of ups and downs. Saturday was a challenging day thanks to an early race collision that resulted in a bent derailleur hangar and this was followed with a flat… But through it all, Marc dug deep and kept on going – I was very inspired by his doggedness. Sunday was a much better day for Marc – he rode very strong and even a late race crash didn’t set him back. It was great to watch him race, cheer him on and then hear all about the races afterwards. Another excellent weekend at the cyclo-cross races.

Today I’m taking it easy. No riding for me. Truth be told, I’m tired. Plus my quads are a bit tight – must have been the running last night. I just got home from my second iron infusion. Crossing my fingers that these iron infusions help. Have to say that the staff at the Queensway-Carleton Hospital have been amazing – super friendly, super patient and just top-notch professionals. So today is all about rest. Maybe a bit of light yoga to stretch out my muscles but other than that, I predict the couch will be my training partner this afternoon!

But before my afternoon nap, I have to take off to do a few errands. Off to The Cyclery to pick up some supplies for next week’s trip to Aigle and Plzen for the season-opening World Cups. Then a break at Sbucks to catch-up with the KingsBridge head honcho.

(P.S. I’ve registered for the Brockville race. Looks like I’m racing the early race. So to all the little kids out there – be gentle when you pass me! Seriously, looking forward to racing at home and to soaking up the supportive vibes of the Ottawa Bicycle Club Cyclo-Cross Series. This is where it all started for me.)

(P.P.S don’t forget to pick up the latest issue of Canadian Cycling Magazine – I’ve got two articles in the issue. One about carbohydrates and training/racing and the other is about cyclo-cross training/skills. A couple of good reads if I do say so myself!)

(P.P.P.S make sure to pick issue 10 of Cyclocross Magazine… There is an article in this issue about mental training/coaching. I was interviewed for this article and I think it reads really well and includes some very useful information.)

30 Minutes

I was given a gift today. A sweet gift of 30 minutes. 30 whole minutes of riding. You have no idea how much I’ve been looking forward to this 30 minutes. I was trying to figure out how to stretch this 30 minutes to 3 hours, but common sense prevailed… Lets just say this was a pretty darn fine 30 minutes.

What did I do for 30 minutes of riding? I noodled. I played. I smiled. I soaked up the crisp fall air. I let the sun shine down on my face. I worked on my cycling tan. I pedaled amongst the orange leaves and a little bit of mud. I simply enjoyed the ride for what it was.

A reminder that I am here. That I am on the right path. That this really is short-term pain for long-term gain. Would I have rather been racing this past weekend in Gloucester, Mass.? Darn right. But honestly, it is not fun racing the way I feel right now. It is hard on the head, soul, and body. So I became a superfan for the weekend with thoughts of today’s 30 minutes keeping me stoked for cyclo-cross season.

The weekend of racing in Gloucester was top-notch. Deep and talented fields continued to line-up on the hour each day, making for two fast and exciting days of racing. In my opinion the highlights of the weekend include: the Masters 35+ 1/2/3 race – these guys are fast, the women’s elite race had lots of drama and excitement – Wendy Simms coming from the back row and how about Sally Annis?, watching first year U23 Evan McNeely eat up the elite men’s field on Saturday. On Sunday it was nice to see Karl rebound from a challenging day on Saturday – he showed that patience really does pay off.

Away from the race course, the weekend was made even better thanks to our super hosts: Mike and Cathy. These guys let us crash at their place, eat their food, play with their kittens, and generally just relax. Thanks Mike and Cathy – hopefully we can do the same for you one day (hint, hint – Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour???).

I have to say thank-you to all of you who stopped to talk. Pretty much everyone had the same question: how are you doing? You have no idea how awesome it was to hear this question. I really do appreciate it. And to answer your question: well, I’m doing okay. My 30 minutes of two-wheeled fun have done wonders for my spirits. I’ve got another iron infusion scheduled this week. I’m looking forward to the World Cups in Aigle and Plzen. I’m only looking ahead and as far as I’m concerned, the new season starts this week. What happened, happened. I’m just relieved to know that I’m on finally on the path to wellness.

Amazing what 30 minutes can do for the soul.