Racing in Cornwall

I’ll start this post by simply saying this: I had a blast yesterday racing in Cornwall. This race was part of the Eastern Ontario Cyclocross Series and it was well worth the early wake-up and early morning chill in the air. It is not often that I get to race at home in Ottawa, and I have to say thank you to the organizers, fans, photographers, other racers for making it such a great experience.

Some might think there are big differences between racing in our local Ottawa series and in Belgium… Well, yes there are some big differences: mobile homes, World Champions, 15 000 fans, frittes and beer stands, television cameras. But this is really just all details. What isn’t different is the spirit and the community. In fact I’d have to say that the spirit and sense of community is so much stronger and powerful in our local Ottawa series.

It was one of those days where I got to talk with so many people, to hear how their seasons are going, to tell them about my season and really just a chance to catch up with new and old friends. I think I was smiling all day! It took me forever to get changed after my race (and I missed a big part of Marc’s race) because I was talking with folks in the parking lot.

Highlights of the day include catching up with young Lois (a superstar young athlete and a fantastic kid), hearing the cheers during the race, duking it out with Mel (getting “oh so close” but not close enough), seeing Marc push through a race that just didn’t go his way (crash, destroyed rear derailleur, rolled clincher, five bike changes), chatting with the young guns and pretending I couldn’t see their moustaches/mullets, seeing young Timothy take notes from the tips and advice Marc gave him during our pre-ride (another one to watch out for), and really just being out there having fun on bikes.

So, you likely want to know a bit about the race. Well, the women started first – we had a five minute lead on the men starting behind us. Mel took off hard and fast from the line and my legs immediately felt like cement blocks. Basically it was a chasing game. I would close and even catch and pass Mel once during the race only to give up space and time in other parts of the course. I could see Mel standing up and sprint and this would force me to do the same. It was a good battle. I admit I wasn’t pleased with my effort – I felt like I could have dug a bit deeper and could have closed the gap – I had some mental battles and some issues with the cold (not excuses just reasons for not getting the job done). There were some really good moments in the race and it helped so much to have Marc there to encourage me an to give me pointers during the race. It was great to see so many women out racing and giving it their best – also fantastic to see so many kids out racing on a challenging course.

A big thanks to the organizers who were up and out at Cornwall very early to get the course set-up. Definitely a challenging course that made use of the terrain and gave us all a chance to practice our skills and get a few thrills as well!

Unfortunately, this is my last race here at home. This weekend I’m racing at the Cyclocross Nationals in Toronto and then I’m off to Belgium for the season. I’ll miss racing in the Eastern Ontario Cyclocross Series but I’ll have the lessons that this series has taught me and the smiling faces and friendly words with me as I chase my season goals. Many may not know that when I returned to cyclocross racing in 2006 I was definitely at the “back-of-the-pack” – I’m proof positive that you can set a goal and achieve it – don’t ever get discouraged by your results (I know I should listen to my own advice…) – just remember where you were and where you want to get to. And most of all – have fun doing it!

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.

So Far So Good

I have to say that this trip is going really well. I really like Plzen. The area is beautiful and the riding is so good. This would be a great place to come to for a training camp. Lots of good roads, rolling hills, and very affordable. I’m impressed with all of the bicycle paths.

Today I rode a path that started very close to my hotel and ended up riding along a river – it was a great ride. On one side I had the river and on the other some very pleasant houses. Here are some photos of the houses:

Today I just did an easy 75 minutes on the bike. The ride was supposed to be flat but this is impossible here – at some point there will be some climbing and descending! After my ride I hopped a taxi into the centre of Plzen and met up with Nikoline.

Nikoline and I met in 2009 at the World Cup in Treviso, Italy. This year she is staying with me in Blauberg, Belgium. It was great to catch up with her. We had a good lunch at Cafe Fellini and then wandered around Plzen for a bit. A very enjoyable afternoon. I think we were both happy to have someone to talk to!

The rest of the day has been pretty quiet – Ignace and his girlfriend arrived a couple of hours ago. They drove here today in the mobile home (RV)! Ignace and I met in 2009 when he was the mechanic for the Mongolian team. Last year he helped me out at the races and primarily was Marc’s mechanic. We’ve become good friends – it was super of him to make this trip to help me at the races. Having him here takes a lot of pressure off of me knowing that I have someone in the pits to help me and take care of the bikes.

The three of us had supper at the hotel and caught up with one another’s life. It can be a bit challenging at time since I don’t speak much Flemish – but Ignace speaks French so I can get by with my broken French. It was very nice to have someone to talk with during supper. The hotel is starting to get busy with cyclocross racers now. Francis Mouray is staying here as well as a number of other riders.

As for the rest of the night, well I think I’ll chill out and watch a few episodes of Modern Family. I’m hopping to get some good sleep tonight – I’m still battling jet lag. Looking forward to getting out on the course tomorrow to check it out.

I’m feeling good. My nerves are in check. My health is spot on. I’m excited to race. Last year I put a lot of pressure on myself to get a specific result. This year, I just want to have a good ride. I want to race my bike like I can – the result is the result – I can only control my performance.

I’ll try to take a few photos of the courses tomorrow and post them for you. But in the meantime, here are some photos from the centre of Plzen:

The synagogue

Plzen Opera House

Tempting cakes – I think I’ll have such a treat on Sunday evening

Catamount Weekend Verge New England Series

I’m a bit late in writing about the second day of racing at the Verge New England Series in Williston, Vermont – but as the saying goes “better late than never”.

We closed off Saturday with a good and somewhat entertaining supper with the Ottawa young guns of cyclocross and my parents. It was a great way to chill out and relax after a long day at the races. And before we knew it, Sunday had arrived and it was time to load up the super Sequoia (thanks Ken) and make our way back out to the race course.

Marc was up first at 11:30 so we got there early so he could get in some warm-up laps and have time to relax before racing. This works well for me because it gives me a chance to pre-ride without the frenzy of the elite warm-up and I can also ride with the elite Masters men during their warm-up and see their lines. Marc had an awesome race and finished 5th! Super proud of him – he was so happy afterwards – very nice to see.

I raced at 2:00 so there was lots of time to relax and get ready. Last minute thoughts about tire selection and pressure and before I knew it I was off to the call-up. I’ve got my warm-up nailed now so this makes the day so much easier – I know what time I want to get on the trainer, what I’m going to do and it seems to be working out fairly well. I’ve written a race report for the second day of racing here.

But for those of you who want to know the details on this very webpage, here you go:
– terrible start – missed my pedal and floundered
– got busy passing and chasing
– duked it out with two other riders for a while
– attacked at the uphill barriers and kept the momentum going
– finished in 11th

Positives from this race:
– my technical skills are coming along
– I took a lot of risks with speed in the corners
– I did a good job of gearing
– found places to recover
– paid attention to the others in my group and noticed where I would be able to take control
– drilled myself really deep

Lessons to take from this race:
– need to get my start sorted out – messing up these starts is causing me to miss out on crucial selections and causing me to waste energy
– continue to take risks on descents, corners, and technical sections
– always sprint out of everything – no matter how tired you “think” you are, you can stand and sprint

Overall sensations:
– my form is coming along
– my confidence is returning
– I felt like a bike racer again

Yes, so a good day and weekend of racing. I won’t lie – I’m disappointed to have missed out on getting a top 10 on both days. But this will come. If I look back to a year ago, this weekend was night and day.

Apart from the racing it was so great to connect with lots of our good cyclocross friends, to hear words of encouragement from so many people and to hang out with cool folks out having fun on bikes. I have to say that seeing Marc smile and hear him be so super positive about my races makes me feel like a winner (yes, cheesy but it’s true).

I’ve still got a long way to go to get where I want. I have to remind myself that I’ve only been training for a couple of months so I will continue to get stronger. The key now is learning how to use this strength correctly…

My dad took a bunch of photos of both myself and Marc this weekend. Here are a couple of photos from the first day of racing:

(Poor barrier remounting technique caught on digital media…)

Nittany Lions Cyclo-Cross Day 2

Sunday morning came fast and furious after a night of bike cleaning, cyclo-cross kit washing and attempts at rehydration. I guess it was much hotter than we realized on Saturday – I had a wicked headache after the Saturday race that continued well into the evening…

Saturday night ended up being very chilled out – more salads and fruit from Wegman’s and some tasty pasta made at home. There was a Chopped marathon on so I kind of become glued to this for longer than is healthy…

Anyway, on to Sunday. We were up and out of the hotel in good time with lots of time to do some recon laps of Sunday’s race course. There were some small changes but nothing that was really a game-changer. Still very muddy with the big difference being that the mud run came right after the start and the course essentially ran in the opposite direction. Lots of time to relax before the race and I even had time to read a bit and momentarily lose a shoe… Marc was up first and I didn’t get to see any of his race since I raced next but he had another good day (although an early incident has left him with a black and blue finger).

I’ve written a race report over on the Race Reports page but in the event you don’t want to click over, here are the Coles Notes:
– lethargic start and first half lap
– got my head in the game and passed a whole lot of people to move up into 8th
– made a series of small mistakes that cost me time/space/distance and energy
– lost four spots
– fought back and finished in 10th
– my turning was much better with cleaner lines that allowed me to pedal and accelerate
– energy management (for the most part) was better – I used both chainrings this time and was aware of my cadence
– I was able to recover at times on the course
– running was not the best
– I should have changed my bike – Marc said I was likely putting out 60% power due to the mud in my cassette…
– I need to beat the mental hurdles I insert during the race – ignoring my breathing, ignoring the lap card that tells me I have to race for five laps, ignoring the feeling of having my shoes nearly sucked off

All in all, a good day on the bike.

Apart from the racing, the best thing about these weekends and the entire cyclo-cross season is connecting with our racing friends. It is amazing the bonds that are forged out there on the cyclo-cross course and over the season when we’re all slogging through mud, snow, ice and giving it our all. It was great to see so many friendly faces and to hear the cheers for “Go Canada” “Come on Ottawa” – this really is super.

After a pretty quick exit from the race course we were on the road by 4ish for the drive home. Thanks to some Starbucks coffee, a can of Mountain Dew and some filling eats at Cracker Barrel we made it home in decent time. We were welcomed by a very happy fat grey cat (Murphy our 17 year old kitten!) and I had a great package to open from Lolë. Can’t beat a package of new clothes after a weekend of racing – I tried on all of my clothes and I’m pretty excited to show off this fine line of Canadian clothing at the races and out and about – thanks Lolë for the support.

As for today? Well a recovery ride and some hot power yoga are on deck – for some reason my ribs and chest feel like they’ve gone ten rounds in the Taekwon-do ring – guess the running, the slogging and powering through the mud have woken up some under-used muscles!

Thanks for the words of support, the speedy vibes and the cheering – it really does make a difference! (Huge thanks to Marc – couldn’t do this without him!)