Reflections on a Cyclo-Cross Season

For a cyclo-cross racer, this is kind of an odd time to be writing about my cyclo-cross season. But as you know, my season was cut short in December… I’ve had some time to think about this 2010-2011 cyclo-cross season and I thought I’d let you in on these thoughts….

In a nutshell, this was a very disappointing cyclo-cross season. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted or planned. The goals I set weren’t achieved. And quite frankly I didn’t race the way I can or wanted. This was not for want of trying. In fact sometimes I wonder if I “tried” to hard. I wonder what my season would have been like if when I first got sick again last May, I’d backed off on the training and let my body heal. But hindsight is 20/20. I felt good on the bike and everything was pointing towards the training benefits paying off into the cyclo-cross race season. But this didn’t happen. I fought my body each and every time I got on the bike to race this year. Is this an excuse for why my season didn’t live up to my expectations? I’m not sure – it is what it is.

I worked hard in the off-season on my technical skills. But still I have much more room to improve in this area. In fact more than my struggles with the ulcerative colitis this season, I wonder if my technical skills held me back more than my health struggles? I pushed myself technically this spring/summer/fall, but I still believe I can push myself more. There are skills that I simply need to “get”. Being smooth in my transitions. Really understanding gearing and how it applies to different terrain: sand, mud, steep climbs, off-cambers, etc. Technically I’ve come along way, but this season has shown me that I still have further to go. By making improvements technically, I think I can really improve my cyclo-cross racing.

Really there are no results to write about here. After a few weeks into the season it became pretty clear that the results I had attained last season were going to be pretty darn hard to achieve. Instead I had to look at each races as an opportunity to test myself technically and to simply just focus on getting around for 40 minutes. Not really what goes through the mind of an elite cyclo-cross racer on the start line. But it is what it is. I did have some races that I was happy/content with – my ride at Niel was decent for my first muddy slog of a Belgian race, I had a blast at Aspere Gavere and was stoked to be able to ride the crazy descent, Hasselt was fun as usual, and I really felt like I had a decent ride at Koksijde. Sand is still very challenging for me, but I felt like I rode better at Koksijde this year than I did last. Actually, even the Canadian Cyclo-Cross Nationals were okay for me – I was 16th – not the result I wanted or expected… But through it all, I didn’t quit, I stayed positive and just focused on leaving it out there. It just so happens that this year it was 16th (rather than 7th the previous two seasons…). If anything this cyclo-cross season has taught me more than ever to focus on performance rather than outcome. It would have been so easy to quit and crack if I had been only looking at my name on the results sheet.

Mentally, this has been my strongest season ever. There was a point at the start of the season when I didn’t know about the ridiculous anemia and the effects the ulcerative colitis was having on my ability to perform that I did worry that my “head had fallen off”. I just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t race the way I believed I should be. Immediately I started to worry that I just didn’t want it badly enough. But deep down, I knew this wasn’t the case. Honestly it was a relief to find out I was fighting my body and not my brain. I’ve come a long way mentally in this bike racing game. It hasn’t been easy. But I think I’ve found my groove. I’m confident. I believe in myself. And I’ve learned to ignore the idiots out there – yes, in our little Ottawa cyclo-cross community there are people who were (and probably still are) talking “trash” behind my back and to others about how “Vicki sucks”. Well, I let this get to me for a bit but then I realized that I just simply don’t care about those idiots. I don’t have time to let them get in my brain. I suppose the hardest part with this has been wondering why people bother saying “crap” about others – what is the point in being outright mean to another person? Sometimes I’m tempted to say something face-to-face to these people – but what is the point – idiots just don’t get it. So thanks to my strengthened mental resolve and confidence, I was able to come out of this negative aspect of the season on top. I’m a good bike racer. I’m a strong bike racer. Those who know me, know this. As for the others – I just don’t care.

So where does this leave me for 2011-2012 cyclo-cross season? Well, I’m eager to start training again. But I’m not rushing things. I have to get healthy before I can do this. I have been out on my bike for the last three days and the riding has been slow but enjoyable. I find the riding now is not “effortless” like it was. But I know the strength and form will come back. I’ve got some goals set for the upcoming cyclo-cross season and I’m hoping to get out to do some road racing this summer as well. I’ll be out on all three bikes this spring and summer: mountain, road and cyclo-cross – plugging away and enjoying every minute of it.

One aspect to this cyclo-cross season that can’t be overlooked is of course my sponsors. I’m a very lucky bike racers. I’ve got amazing sponsors who support me for who I am and what I represent. They are not hung up on my results or podiums – they’re about getting the brand out there with a positive image. For this I’m very fortunate. It was very hard for me to contact my sponsors in December and let them know about the end of my cyclo-cross season. I have such a solid connection with all of my sponsors that I really felt like I was letting them down. The response I received from each and everyone of them was overwhelming. In a nutshell: get better don’t worry about the racing. Yep, pretty darn lucky. So a big thanks to:

And many many thanks to the sponsor behind all of these fine companies: Marc. Marc has once again made this cyclo-cross season a reality. His faith and belief in me really keeps me going. It would have been easy to pack it in this season and change my plans and goals. But Marc wouldn’t let me do this. He was there to keep me steady and to remind me of what is important to me. Right now, I’m getting so much satisfaction from seeing Marc race so well. He is having an awesome cyclo-cross season and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Hopefully his success and experience will trickle down to me.

So there you have it. My thoughts and ruminations on my 2010-2011 cyclo-cross season. It wasn’t what I expected or planned. But it happened and I made the best of it. Do I wish my season was still happening and that I was getting ready to racing in St. Wendel, Germany – damn straight I do! In the end I was 5 UCI point short of making the qualification standards. Pretty darn good, all things considered. This time next year, I plan to be writing a blog post about my thoughts on the upcoming World Cyclo-Cross Championships in Koksijde, Belgium – my thoughts on what I want out of the race. That’s right – I’m going to be there on that start line on January 29, 2012.

Koksijde World Cup

I’m home and recovered from the Koksijde World Cup. What a day! The course was very heavy and muddy – all thanks to the snow that fell overnight. But luckily by the time I raced it was very sunny so the cold wasn’t an issue.

I had a decent race – even beating one person and for a while I was ahead of two people! This was pretty cool. I found the sand running so exhausting. I was literally stumbling over myself trying to keep my legs from not buckling under me. A good sign of how hard I was pushing myself. I felt I rode the course not badly technically. Admittedly sand is not my strength. More practice is required! I did ride the mud really well – I was able to keep my legs turning over and used a trick of pulling myself along the metal barricades (this even got me some pushes from some spectators)!

So it was a good day. The support from Ignace and Alex before the race and afterwards was truly overwhelming. Luc and Linda were great to have there – letting me hang out in their camper, being there at the finish, taking photos and just being great friends. Also big shout out to Karl and Denise for letting me travel with them and for sticking around for my race.

I’ve written a race report here. Photos are posted here.

Tomorrow I’m racing at Drongen with the junior boys. I’m looking forward to seeing Marc race and then racing myself. Great way to round out a weekend of racing.

Thoughts the Day Before

Last year at this time, I was pretty amped up. It was the day before the Koksijde World Cup. I’d been training on the course all week. I felt good. I felt too good – I was over confident. I felt like I was going to have an awesome race and ride like I’d never ridden before. I also needed to only “finish” the Koksijde World Cup to get the last points I needed to qualify for the Canadian Cyclo-Cross Team and the World Cyclo-Cross Championships. Well, I didn’t have a great race. In fact I didn’t race well at all. The good news is I got the points that I needed. I did qualify. But as I was racing I was in a such a negative headspace during that race that I convinced myself that I didn’t “deserve” to go to the World Cyclo-Cross Championships. Yes, I was in a very bad spot. I had done a very good job of crushing myself mentally.

And now here I sit, the day before the 2010 Koksijde World Cup. I’m in a very different spot this year. If I have an amazing race, I can potentially get the points I need to qualify for the Canadian Cyclo-Cross Team and the World Cyclo-Cross Championships. But it is a long shot. A very long shot. I know this. I’m comfortable with this. Yes, I’d love to get the points so I can qualify. But I’m realistic. I know where I am as a bike racer. This year is a different year for me. I’m focusing on small improvements that will take me to the next big improvement.

So today I sit here with no false hope. No crazy thoughts of having the best race of my life. Instead, I’m going to go out there and race my bike. I’ll pedal as hard as I can. I’ll run as hard as I can. I’ll stay off the brakes. I’ll keep my legs spinning as smoothly as I can in the sand. I’ll attack the power sections. I’ll sprint into the climbs. I’ll keep my eyes up and focused forward. I’ll keep my brain clear. I’ll listen for my supporters out there cheering me on.

I won’t shake my head. I won’t shrug my shoulders. I won’t let my neck slump. I won’t let negative thoughts enter my head.

Nope, it is a new year. This is a new me. I’m just going to ride, smile and try to remember as much of it as I can.

Can’t hardly wait to race at the Koksijde World Cup.

Liking the Double Double

Wednesdays in this house mean one thing – double double. Road in the morning. Cyclo-cross in the afternoon. A good hard day of training that leaves me with a healthy glow in my cheeks and satisfaction in my soul. Today was a particularly good day of doubling up.

Started the day with a tempo work-out on the roads and paths of the Belgian countryside. I did this work-out without my SRM since I kind of cracked the head unit (nothing major – it is healing as I write). I’m pretty sure I rode harder than I should have in these intervals because I didn’t have any visual feedback. All I had to rely on was my heavy breathing, my pounding heart and my burning legs. A good ride was achieved on some of my favorite twisty roads and intervals roads.

Quick clean of the bike, change of the wheels and it was time for ride number two. I did get in some good downtime with my book and got some stuff sorted in the house. Karl and I hopped in the trusty Peugeot and drove out to Floreal Lichtaart for the afternoon.

The riding at Floreal Lichtaart is top-notch. The cyclo-cross course has a bit of everything and everyone is super helpful. Today we hooked up with Ignace (my mechanic this year) for some training. Ignace drove 100 kilometers to come train with us! Amazing! We did a couple of laps and worked on some sandy corners and descents. Karl took off to ride with one of his friends and I continued on with Ignace. We were quickly joined by a couple of “older” guys who come out to coach the riders. I got lots of amazing tips and advice from these guys. At times the session was a bit challenging since the three guys really don’t speak any English… But with some visual cues, much repetition and hand signals – we got the job done.

I really feel like I learned a lot today. Particularly about when to shift on climbs and how to really attack the climbs. I also got to work on my fearless descending skills. The one area where I know I really need attention is my cornering and just letting the bike flow in the ruts. Baby steps I suppose.

It was a great training session. We did a light spin on the road to shake out our legs and then it was home to clean our bikes. Today was the grimiest I’ve seen Floreal Lichtaart. It made for some interesting riding conditions and really changed the feel of the terrain.

It was a good day. I can say that I really enjoy these double days. Wish I could do them everyday. I hit so many sensations in my body on days like today. I’m also challenged mentally as I’m forced to push my limits technically and really open myself up to risks and rewards. Can’t ask for much more from a training session I suppose.

Alright, off to bed now. Marc is arriving on Thursday and it seems as though I’ve got a lot to accomplish before he arrives.

Koksijde World Cup on Saturday. Should be a good one.