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!

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!

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.

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.)

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…)