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.

In The Groove

Fully into the groove here in Belgium. The first few days of craziness have settled. I always forget how much there is to do the first few days here. But now all the little jobs and errands are taken care of. The race in Niel was a great way to kick off my race season in 2010-2011.

Today was a pretty chilled out day. Karl and I hit out in the windy blustery (but dry) day for an adventure on bicycles. I was relieved to see that Karl was riding with ‘cross tires – this way I would be able to keep up with him on the road! I took Karl all over the place, showing him some excellent training parks and roads. We did a solid two hours together and then I set out for my last hour of riding. I must say that the last hour really nearly cracked me – the wind was wicked (but it was dry).

The afternoon was spent visiting the local bicycle stores and grocery stores. An action-packed day. Now it is time to relax and just catch my breath. Tomorrow is all about recovery. My plan is to go and ride the trails at Averbode. I’ll be riding with my “backwards” Grifos… Turns out I put the tires on backwards.. Sigh – learn something new everyday!

No racing for me this weekend. It is just about training and finding my groove. I’ve got a double-header next weekend and a couple of double training days as well. I’m really happy to be here and to be back in my training groove. Next week I’m hoping to see a doctor who can get me back on the iron infusions as well as add in B12 injections. The more I read about this anemia and iron-deficiency, the more depressing it is. It takes along time to recover from this – 6-8 weeks and the training makes it harder to recover. But I know this and I’ll deal with it. For now I’m focused on improving technically, getting my body back to feeling like itself and most importantly having fun.

Send your positive race vibes Karl’s way on Sunday – he is racing at Hamme-Zogge at 11:15. This will be his first European race of the 2010-2011 season. It is going to be a good one.

A Day Out in the Mud (Niel, Belgium)

Today was my first race in Belgium of the 2010-2011 season. It was a good one. I really like the course at Niel and it is very close to my place here in Blauberg. Today Luc, Kelly, and Johnny picked me up in the trusty camper and drove me to the race. It was awesome – very relaxing. Great to have people to talk with. I’m sure I talked their ears off since I really haven’t spoken to anyone in two days! Thanks so much. Also Luc has sent some excellent photos, they are posted on Facebook.

The day was very cold and grey. Really cold. Really grey. Really wet. Really muddy. Everything you expect in a Belgian cyclo-cross race. Luckily I had my trusty Sealskins to keep my feet and hands dry. Could have done with a thicker undershirt (summer weight is not so good in such conditions).

Many thanks to Ludwig for the amazing pit support today. Ludwig fixed my bikes before the race. Yelled at me during the race – reminding me when to pit and offering words of encouragement. Luc and Johnny were out there taking photos and cheering me on. Kelly was at the start and finish with my clothes and cheering me on for the entire race. Thanks so very much.

It was an excellent day at the races. I can honestly say that I had a lot of fun today. Others would be disappointed with such a result (somewhere in the 30s) but I wasn’t lapped and I wasn’t last. I learned that I need to work on my mud riding skills and actually practice running in the mud. All in all, a good day.

I’ve written a race report here. When we got back to Blauberg after the race, Karl and Denise were here. Very nice to have them here now. It has been a whirlwind of activity here already. Tomorrow looks like a good day – Karl and I are going out for a ride and then the usual first day in Belgium things: bike store and food.

In Blauberg, Belgium

Made it one piece. Both bikes arrived. My bag arrived. And I’m here. An uneventful flight (full of crying babies and loud talkers but I had three seats to myself…). I crashed hard on the Frankfurt to Brussels flight – barely could keep my eyes open to drink my little glass of water. Hooked up Shaun A. in the Brussels airport – this is when I had a huge wave of fatigue. Wobbly legs, lightheaded and just plain old wiped out – I hoped for a second wind.

Luckily the second wind came just when I needed it… I found the rental car desk easily got the paperwork and proceeded to the car pick up. This is when things went a bit wobbly. I had an overloaded luggage cart with two bikes, a heavy piece of luggage and my carry-on. The stuff came spilling off twice. Once this happened when the wheel of my cart caught a little hole in the pavement. The second time it happened as I was trying to navigate the downward/spiral sidewalk – yes everything fell off. I nearly cracked. But I took a deep breath, sucked it up and dragged my gear to the car pick up. Packed up the car and hit the open road – thanks to the trusty iPad and Navigon.

It is amazing how one moment you can feel fine and the next be knocked down by ridiculous hunger… Thankfully the Bambus grocery store next to the house was open. One brie and egg sandwich later and I was sitting down pondering my next move. Time to build bikes. Got the bikes together rather easily. By this time Jos had arrived so we had an excellent chat and then Jos was off. Back to the bikes. Discovered the shifting was a bit latent on one bike and the other one has a bent rear brake. No problems – quick drive to 4Bikes and my bikes are in excellent hands. Excellent chat with Peter the owner and a promise of the bikes being ready by 11 on Wednesday morning.

I was a bit disappointed about not being able to ride. But truth be told, I’m pretty tired and it is pouring rain! So no spin for my legs today. Instead I got a bunch of errands done. Mostly food related – a few stops at my favorite grocery stores, bakery, and health food store. By the time I got to the big grocery store I truly was in a fog – I just put random stuff in my cart. I did discover tahini and honey spread at the Lidl. Of course I had to buy it – it is so good. Going back for another jar tomorrow (no I didn’t eat the whole jar – it is just that the product at Lidl rotates so I might never see this heavenly spread again).

The house is looking good. Though it is a bit cluttered right now since I’m in various stages of unpacking – all over the house…. I’ll try to get a bit more done tonight – all in the effort to stay awake until 9 p.m. Wednesday will be full of riding, pre-race preparations, arranging race logistics, getting unpacked and another trip to the grocery store to buy everything I forgot to buy today….

It is good to be here. I walked into the Bambus and the ladies working there started talking to me as if I’d never left. Same thing happened in the bakery and health food store. What a fantastic feeling. Great to talk with Jos in person as well. If today is any indication of how the next three months will be, I’m convinced it is going to be a most excellent winter.

Alright, I’m out. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll remember to bring my camera on my ride and I’ll snap a few pics for you. First race is on Thursday at Niel. I have a feeling it will be muddy…