Holiday Wishlist

It is that time of year – people are making lists, dashing off to the shops and fretting over what to buy loved ones and friends. Well, if you’ve got a cyclist or active person on your list, I’ve got some great suggestions for you that will make your shopping that much easier (you can thank me later)…

The Cyclery: every cyclist lives and dies by the chamois… Some chamois are friendly and very friendly – while others need a bit of assistance. Well thanks to The Cyclery, you can buy the cyclist or triathlete on your list some very helpful and soothing Assos Chamois Cream – and don’t forget an espresso mug to go with it. Chamois cream and a new coffee cup – can’t go wrong with this gift choice!

Clif Bar: there is nothing worse than getting hungry while out and about. Even worse for a runner, cyclist, triathlete or other active person is feeling underfueled while out training. Whether your athlete needs extra carbs, more protein, has a sweet tooth, is gluten-free, or is just a picky eater – Clif Bar has you covered with a range of products. I’ve sampled most of them and I can definitely attest for the Mint Chocolate Chip Luna Protein bar (gluten-free) and the Peanut Butter Pretzel Clif Mojo bar (great for tossing in your bag when you’re out shopping till you drop).

Lolë: chances are you’ve got a fashion-forward and active woman on your shopping list (or maybe you want a gift for yourself) – well this Canadian clothing company has you covered (literally). With good-looking, well-fiting clothes made for real women who want to look good, there is a wide range of clothes to choose from. Yoga wear, winter jackets, stylish pants, travel clothes, a snazzy new hat and scarf – there is something for every style and budget. I’ve got a range of Lolë clothing and I can tell you that the Travel Pants really are the ideal pants for traveling and that the Masella Jacket is ideal for cold blustery days.

Stevens Bikes: believe me any cyclist, triathlete, urban commuter or casual cyclist would really really like you to buy them something from Stevens Bikes this year. Remember when you were a little kid and you ran out to the garage or back yard to see that brand new bike with pink streamers on it? Well, give your favorite person that same six-year old feeling of excitement again this holiday season with a new bike – how about the Stevens Ventoux for the road cyclist on your list or the Stevens Velocita for your urban hipster?

Champion Systems Canada: everyone wants to look good and your cyclist, runner, triathlete, soccer player or nordic skier is no different. With a range of clothing and accessories to choose from you can give your athlete customized clothing that is both durable and good looking. After all, you don’t want your athlete running, riding, skiing, and swimming around town in sub-par spandex… Take a look at the Champion Systems Canada site for some great deals on good clothing – the casual clothing is also pretty darn sweet.

OGC: this Canadian company is the distributor for a range of solid companies, including Giro, Mavic, Opus, GoPro, and Thule. Let me tell you, that there isn’t an active person out there or on your list who wouldn’t want something from one or all of the OGC companies. Be it new shoes, a new helmet, a helmet camera, a roof rack, a new bike, or new tires – your athlete will be a happy camper.

Bell Lap Coaching: your athlete likely lives and breathes by a program. This program tells him or her how to train and why to train. Well, take things to the next level with top-notch coaching from a coach who has been there and knows what it is like to win races, lose races, come back from injury, and coach athletes to national teams, national titles and personal bests. Coach Steve Weller is the guy your athlete is looking for.

So hopefully this list will help you with your shopping and list making. Keep things simple and visit these fine companies to make your day easier and to ensure that your athlete is happy this holiday season. Of course when all else fails, a steaming mug of hot chocolate and a big bowl of ice cream does the trick (either to ease your shopping headaches or to put a big smile on your athlete’s face – who can say no to chocolate?).

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.

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

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!

All In

Well, it has happened. The inevitable desire and cravings are back in full force. The thing is that last winter and this past spring/early summer I wasn’t convinced that I really missed it. Sure I like competition and pushing myself but maybe my racing days truly were done? Maybe it was time to slow down a bit?

Good grief – I couldn’t have been further off the mark. Now after five races, I’m hooked again. I didn’t realize how much I missed and needed to race. Training and riding bikes is fun. But racing is what it’s all about.

That anxiety that comes a few days before when I’m thinking about the course and playing it through in my brain. The day before when I’m packing my bag and getting my race clothes ready. Day of when I get out for the pre-ride and scope out the bumps and grooves that are going to challenge and push me for 40 minutes. The one hour before the race when I’m on the trainer listening to some music and getting myself primed and ready to go. The 10 minutes before I’m called to the line when the nervous chatter starts and the dry mouth sets in with full force. Finally on the line, wishing the darn whistle would just go so I could get moving and racing. Then the race happens and it all happens: success, misses, triumphs, blood, sweat and elation. All in the span of 40 minutes or so. The post race feelings are always a mix of happiness, relief, misgivings, and joyfulness.

I guess back when I wasn’t able to race, it was easiest to convince myself that racing really wasn’t such a “big deal”. But now that I’m back in and part of the game again – I’ve recognized that it really is something special. I love it all. The racing. The travel. The hanging out with friends. Cheering on my training pals. Experiencing your triumphs and stories. All of it is part of the package. Really really happy to be doing it again.

(Here is a link to an article about focus – I found it useful – you might as well.)

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!)

Preparing For It

I just took a very deep breath. This is after I looked at the calendar… Wow, hard to believe that cyclo-cross season really is so very close. Soon enough I’ll be in our trusty Matrix loaded up with Stevens cyclo-cross bikes making the drive down to Pennsylvania for the first race of the season.

What a difference a year makes. This time last year I was sick but I wouldn’t admit it. I tried to get through work-outs and to put in extra time in the woods working on skills. But it seemed with each pedal stroke I was putting myself in a deep hole. Unfortunately it took the first few races with sub-par performances and riding gasping for air that I realized something really was wrong. To be blunt – last season was not fun. But the one thing it did give me was perspective and awareness.

I have a real appreciation for my body and how I need to listen to it. This summer was a real example of this – when I wasn’t able to start formal training until July 1. Yes, July 1! I tried to train earlier but I just couldn’t do it. Now I sit here very thankful that I had the season I did last year – or I very likely wouldn’t have listened to my body, Marc and coach Steve who told me I needed to take a break and get healthy again.

And now today? Today I feel awesome! I’ve had some really top-notch months of training. I’m more focused and driven than I’ve ever been. I’m seeing numbers I haven’t seen before. I feel good. Now I know that numbers on a power meter and training are not the same as racing – but at this time – I’ll take these as indicators of how I’m feeling.

I’ll tell you this – I’m damn nervous. And a touch scared. What if I can’t race like I have before? What if my SRM is miscalibrated and the numbers I’m seeing aren’t real? What if I start racing again and I get sick? What if…? But I suppose it is these questions that get me out there on the start line – I need answers. I need to know. Deep down I know the truth – I’m good. I feel good. But sometimes you just really don’t know until the gun goes off and you hear the bell for the final lap.

All I and you can do is prepare the best we can. Do the work. Have fun. Listen to your body. Line up with an ache to do better than last time. After all, this is why we race isn’t it?