Tabor World Cup Pre-Ride

I just got back from pre-riding the Tabor World Cup cyclcocross course. It is similar to the course I raced on in 2010 but there are also some big changes. Changes that I think have made the course even more challenging. The start is flat and fast and quickly we enter a series of steep ups and flowing corners. Then it is up a draggy climb and a fast run up some very big stairs. The course continues to climb after the stairs and we then descend down the hill with a series of straight stretches combined with a bunch of corners. A quick zip by the pit and then onto the steep uphill barriers. This is where the real climbing begins and then after a climb that seems to last forever we hit a quick section and a short steep descent, a fast little ridge (in the world champs we descended this and then ran up the hill – second set of stairs) and then it is a big descent leading into some tricky corners and by the pit for the second time.

The course is definitely more technical than the course we raced on last weekend in Plzen. The corners are very crucial and maintaining speed and flow between them and the straight draggy sections will be important. The steep descent is pretty harmless though there are some big ruts already – but the section is wide so there is lots of room to choose a line that you’re comfortable with.

Overall, it is a fun and challenging course. It is all big ring except the section after the stairs and the barriers. Today during the pre-ride the current World Champion Zdnek Stybar was out pre-riding – we waited at the barriers to see if he would bunny-hop them but we couldn’t convince him to do it! It is very cool to see someone so smooth on his bike – he makes everything look effortless.

I’m feeling pretty good about the course. The key for me is to really let the bike go in the corners – this is something I struggle with, but if I can stay confident and calm I should be fine. It is interesting – Nancy said to me today “I think you pre-rode better today than you raced last Sunday”. This is an interesting comment since often during the pre-ride and day of warm-up I’m able to go easy on the brakes but during the race, I tend to over brake. Not sure what this is all about….

I must admit I’m feeling a bit stressed about the course. You see, I like the course – it is good for someone like me with a lot of power – but the flip side is that there are a lot of girls with lots of power as well. But all I can do is all I can do. I’ll go out and give it my all. I know where to really bury myself and I feel comfortable with all sections of the course. I just will go out and ride as hard as I can. Maybe stressed is the wrong word – but I guess I’m just feeling the typical day before nerves.

One thing that does help today is having Ignace here. He has done so much for me – it is amazing. The parking at the race is not the best so he has left his mobile home (camper) at the course so we’ll have a good spot for tomorrow. Complete with a tent, power washer, and a fridge full of Coke and Red Bull!

Tonight rather than going out I’ll connect with Nancy who has brought a portable burner and hotplate with her – this way I can make some of my own food and not have to find some good pre-race food. I find it is a bit challenging when I need to avoid gluten and dairy. Tonight I’ll have some rice with a bunch of veggies and also cook up some rice to eat before the race. A big thanks to Nancy and Andy for all of their help, support and friendship. Looks like I’ll be brining some extra maple syrup and Canada hoodies back with me to Belgium!

Alright, I’m going to watch some episodes of Modern Family and maybe the UFC from a few weeks ago. Thanks for the support, cheering, comments, emails and the belief. I really couldn’t do this without you guys backing me. Some days I wonder what I’m doing – but then I remember how low and sick I was last year and I’m super grateful to have this second chance.

If you see Marc this weekend – give him a big hug and kiss for me. Can’t wait to see him on Tuesday.

Plzen World Cup

Well, the first World Cup is done and in my legs. What a day! In fact it was a very good day – from start to finish. The day started early since we wanted to be at the course for 9:30. Had a good solid breakfast and watched Francis Mourey eat a massive bowl of eggs and toast with jam – he ate for a solid hour – most impressive!

Today Ignace drove me to the race so I was able to sit back and relax. Had some excitement on the way there when about 100 meters from the parking lot we discovered the Fidea women’s team camper van (RV) was stuck between some parked cars! Ignace had to help the Fidea mechanic lift the other car out of the way! Here are a couple photos:

We got a good spot and managed to keep some room for Gabby and Gregg as well. We were well set up with Ignace’s mobile home and had lots of space. The sun was shining brilliantly and the ground softened up quite a bit compared to Saturday. Really wasn’t much to do until we could get on the course at 11:45 so I talked to a bunch of people, read my magazine and watch Sven Nys’s mobile home get stuck in the soft ground:

Sven’s mobile home was eventually towed by the Belgian National Team’s truck. And with this over with it was time to get down to business. I got in two laps of the course – two easy laps to see how the lines are and what had changed after having three other races on it. Well, the ground was definitely softer than Saturday – this made the steep climbs a challenge for me. On Saturday I was able to get up them but a combination of a lack of technique, the soft ground and too much pressure made them a real challenge for me… Unfortunately during the race I was forced to dismount and run these two sections – this caused me precious seconds and at least one position.

Okay, so on to the race! I had a last row call-up but, I’m used to this in Belgium and at the World Cups. For the first time in a long time I had a decent start – still not my best start – but better than the starts I had in Gloucester, Vermont, and Pennsylvania. I was on the back of the group on the descent and we were one massively long chain of racers. I managed to get by a few girls and was ahead of four girls but on the first steep climb section I lost two of them – because they were riding and I had to dismount. I then yo-yoed with them a bit and then ended up racing against one other girl (with one girl behind me) – I would pass this other girl on the power sections and in the corners but she would get ahead of me on the first steep climb – I would catch her before the long stair run-up and she would pass me – then I would catch her on the start/finish straight and she would pass me on the long wooded descent. (And this pattern repeated itself each and every lap!) Very frustrating because if I could have ridden the steep climbs and descended better I would have stayed ahead of her.

In the end I was caught by the winner Katie Compton just before the finish line (I almost made it to the bell lap!). So I finished one lap down on Katie Compton. Some people wouldn’t be happy with this, and I wouldn’t say I’m happy but I’m content. I know where I am. I know where I want to get. I know what I have to do to get there. My power and strength are returning – what I really need to focus on is my technique. My goal between now and Canadian Nationals is to conquer riding steep inclines. I need to be able to do this – this is very important for me. My cornering is better. My descending – well this takes guts and practice – the only place to practice such descents is in Belgium – we simply do not have the same kinds of descents in Canada and the U.S.

So, I’m feeling okay. It was nice to have so many people come by after the race and tell me it was much better than last year. I felt like a bike racer today. I gave it my all and was completely wiped at the end. On the last lap I was so cross-eyed that I rode into one of the barricades on the descent! Definitely a good hard race today.

I’m very happy for Nikoline who had a fantastic race and finished 23rd. I ended up finishing 37th and I now have 25 UCI points – I need to get 50 more by the first week of December – this will qualify me for the World Championships in Kokijde, Belgium.

The rest of the day was spent hanging out with Gabby Day and watching the elite men race. Then the four of us (Ignace, Katie, Gabby and I) went out to dinner at a Spanish restaurant and finished this with some fine desserts! It was a good day all around. Here is a picture of my post-race cake and hot chocolate:

A huge thank-you to Ignace for the mechanical support. A big thanks to Luc for the cheering and the photos. Thanks to Kelly for taking my jacket at the start and for cheering. Thanks to Matt Roy for the cheering and to Mo Bruno Roy for the kind words and encouragement. Thanks to all the others who I could hear cheering me on – Simon, Rudy, Stefan, Serge, Katie, and Gregg.

It is late here so I’m off to bed and tomorrow I’ll post some more pictures from the day and I’ll likely have more thoughts and about the day.

A big congrats to all the folks who raced in the Eastern Ontario Series today in Cobden. I heard the course was pretty darn good. Hope everyone had a good time. As well, a big thanks to my sponsors and Marc for making all of this possible for me.

Eastern Ontario Series – Renfrew

Really this blog post should be titled “Fun On Bikes” because that’s what today was. Lots and lots of fun. The course was interesting and challenging. The other racers all seemed to be enjoying racing and out soaking up the fine weather. The fans were cheering loudly and ringing cow bells.

Yep, it was a fun day for all out at the Renfrew Fair Grounds. Of course all this fun wouldn’t have been possible without the tireless work of Bob and Cheryl Woods, Rosemarie, Ian Austen, the Tall Trees Cycle crew and the rest of the volunteers who helped build the course and tear it down after the racing. A big thank you to everyone who keeps one of the best cyclocross series that I’ve ever raced in going.

So today was a really good day. Early start to the morning and it would have been even earlier if I had actually paid attention to the race website…. I thought the race started at 9:30 but it started at 9:00. I didn’t find this out until just before 9:00 – this was a good thing because I didn’t end up getting a bit stressed about my rather late arrival time (8:20…). It all worked out – got the numbers, pinned up my skin suit, did two laps of the course and lined up for the race.

This year we have a separate women’s start. I like this. A lot. It gives the women a chance to do a bit of self-select ion and I think it makes it easier for the guys who are passing folks. I’m not sure how long the men started behind us, but it felt like 2 or 2.5 laps before anyone came up to us. I ended up starting in the back of about 30 women – so I had to be aggressive at the start and really focus on passing as many people as possible. I managed to catch and pass everyone except Mel. She had a great ride! At times I thought I could close on her and then she would hit hard or I would make a mistake. It was a good battle. As groups of guys came up to me I’d work on riding with them for a bit – I found it wasn’t so hard on the flats and open sections but I would lose them on the accelerations out of corners. All in all a great race.

I got to race for an hour and really push myself. I could hear Marc yelling (even though he wasn’t there) – he was saying “Now stand up and sprint. Shift down and accelerate!”. I tried my best to do this but there were a few times when I just didn’t do it. My barrier technique was okayish today – can always be a bit faster. I did crash hard on the uphill barrier – I must have landed on the one barrier on the top of my knee since it is now blue – but this is all part of the fun. My cornering was good at times and downright awful at other times – being cross-eyed and cornering doesn’t always work so well!

So it was good. I had a blast. Got to see so many friendly folks that I haven’t in so long. Even saw young Sabina racing in an Ottawa.cx jersey – this made my day! Great to talk with young Timothy – this guy is an up-and-comer. Really the enthusiasm and passion that the folks in the Eastern Ontario Series have for cyclocross is addictive. I’m looking forward to the next race I do at “home” on Oct. 30. (The city of Ottawa doesn’t know what it’s missing by pushing outside of Ottawa…)

Many thanks to the community of Renfrew for letting us invade their fair grounds for a great day of cyclocross racing! Very much appreciated. I think the grass even appreciated the attention.

So there you have it – a good fun, hard day on the bike. The racing was capped off with a good ride with Sophie and Mel – we found a good road and just chatted and pedaled – no complaints here! Thanks Sophie and Mel for coming out on the ride (next time I’ll look at a map!).

It is amazing to see how the Eastern Ontario Series has blossomed over the years – I remember when there two or three women out racing and we only had one race for the day. The participation levels particularly in the first race are very impressive and inspiring.

Okay, I could go on all afternoon about how much fun today was and how much I enjoyed racing in my “home” series – but I think I’ve typed enough for both you and me! Have a good one. I’ll try to post on Tuesday but likely the next time you hear from me I’ll be Plsen, Czech Republic!

A Suitcase of Nerves

I suppose it was inevitable, but I honestly thought it could be avoided… Nope, it is here. I’ve got a full-on suitcase of nerves. I’d like to say I have a suitcase of courage but not at that stage right now. Instead I’m sitting here three days before I get on a plane to fly to the Czech Republic for the first two World Cups of the season and I’m fretting and stressing.

I’m double-checking hotel reservations. Making sure I’ve got the car rental details straight. Trying to remember how to put my bikes together. Thinking about where I’ll go for training rides. Essentially thinking and obsessing about every detail.

This happens every time I make one of these trips. I thought that by this time around, I’d be past the worrying and obsessive thinking. I travel alone to the World Cups every year. This year is no different (well last year I did have my dad with me and this helped a great deal). This year while I’m travelling alone, I do have a mechanic and friend coming from Belgium to give me race day support – this really takes a load off. As well I’ll soon be connected with a bunch of racing pals that I’ve gotten to know over the years.

But still… I’m nervous. These two races (Plzen and Tabor) are very important. I have some goals. I have some wants. I just really want to get out and race. Last year I had a not-very-good race at Plzen so I’d like to make-up for this. The last time I raced in Tabor the course was covered in snow and ice so I’m curious to see what it will be like this time.

I guess this is a good kind of nerves to have. If I was super relaxed and uber-calm that could be considered a sign that I’m not excited to race or looking forward to it.

Once I get on the plane and then collect my bikes at the other end, I’ll be okay. I’ve never driven in the Czech Republic before but the last time I checked the cars have four wheels and the road has a yellow line down the middle of it – so I’m pretty confident I can handle it.

Yes, as you can tell I’ve got two suitcases of nerves right now. It’ll be okay. I’ll be okay. Just need to get out and do what I do. These feelings are normal right? I’d like to think that there others out there getting ready for the upcoming World Cups who are feeling the same right now…

Okay, well one of the best ways I know to get over these nerves is to get outside and ride. So, I’m off to get a ride in and blast the nerves right out of my body and into the pedals.

Cyclo-Cross Life

Ah, can you smell it? Or maybe you can feel it in the air? The mornings a tad more crisp. The sun is setting that touch earlier. Yes, cyclo-cross season is just around the corner. Really can’t beat the feelings of anticipation when it comes to a new cyclo-cross season. Lots of questions about fitness, technical skills, tire choices, new kit arriving and travel and race plans being finalized. It really is kind of like Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter all rolled into one!

As you likely know (if you’re a regular reader) – my training is going super well. I’m hitting numbers that quite frankly – I’ve never seen before. Efforts are getting harder, going deeper and the recovery is really improving. I’m super happy to be feeling as well as I am on the bike. I daresay that I haven’t felt this good on the bike in a very long time – in fact as far back as 2010 when I did have one of my better seasons. It is amazing what being healthy, feeling confident and having some solid training can do!

I’ve pretty much got my travel plans for the first two World Cups of the season sorted out. I’m going to fly into Prague on Oct. 12 and drive to Plzen. Got a good rate on the super Hotel Ibis and I’ll stay there until the following Thursday. Then it is off to Tabor and I’ll bunk down at the Hotel Kapitol until Monday morning. I’m super fortunate to have my good friend and mechanic Ignace traveling to the two World Cups this year. This takes a lot of pressure off of me and it really helps to have someone there in the event that something goes wrong with my bikes. Thanks Ignace – you can expect some tasty Canadian maple syrup to be making the trip with me! The only piece of the puzzle I’ve got left for this trip is the car rental… I’m leaning towards a Volkswagen Golf (or similar) – most people say that the bike boxes will fit. I think they will – and the price is right for this size of car. It is amazing how expensive car rentals are!

Logistics aside, I’m really looking forward to returning to the Czech Republic. I had a great time in Plzen last year – my dad and I took in the city and just had a super trip. I’m already thinking about the delicious hot chocolate I had at a wonderful little cafe in Plzen. I’ll definitely be having one after racing on Oct. 16. I really like the course at Plzen – I didn’t have a very good ride there last year – but this is a new year and I’m in much better shape physically and mentally this ¬†year. I’m also looking forward to racing in Tabor – it will be interesting to see what the course is like now that it is not covered in snow and ice! The other highlight of this trip is connecting with all my cyclo-cross pals again – it is amazing the friendships that have developed over the years.

As for the Belgian end of the season? Well, I was just looking at flights and there are some excellent prices right now. (If Marc were here to consult with, I’d likely have booked by now!) Looks like I’ll fly to Belgium on Nov. 8 – this gives me a couple of days to catch my breath after racing at Canadian Cyclo-Cross Nationals on Nov. 5 in Toronto. Then it will be full-steam ahead while in Belgium!

I just find feel that even though the season hasn’t started yet and I haven’t raced yet, that this is going to be a great year. I feel good. Things are falling into place. I’ve got some fantastic sponsors again this year. I really just can’t wait to get started.

I think what really helps this year is that life away from the bike is really going well. I’ve got a new job with Blue Volcano Media that I’m really enjoying, I’ve got some excellent freelance clients that I’m working for as well – so this really helps me balance the demands of training and racing. It is nice to not be working – but I find that for me, I get really absorbed with bikes, bike racing and performance. If I have something else to balance out my life and my focus, I don’t get as crazy…

So, really, things are good. The cyclo-cross life is treating me well and I’ve got no complaints! Life is good. Each day I realize how lucky I am to do what I do and it is even better to connect with people who have goals and dreams – this helps me keep digging that extra little bit when I’m out training and to buckle down when I’ve got deadlines coming up.

To sum things up in a few words: Dudes – I’m stoked!