Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Fastest Loser

Before anyone starts attacking me for not being politically correct (Greg, you can't call people losers, it hurts their feelings... They prefer the term slowest-winners-in-their-own-way) listen to me. Last Sunday, I raced in the Country Cross race, hosted by the good people of BikeSABBATH at the Ciociaro Club in Windsor. And for one glorious lap, I was a winner. I could proudly put my hands high in the air, and celebrate the fact that I had just won the prime (mid-race prize for you non-racers) for the fastest first lap. After that, I became a loser- and not just a loser, but THE loser. There is also a nice prize for finishing the race dead last, so I ended up scooping two of the three prizes up for grabs. I somehow became the fastest loser in this particular race. Also, a huge thank you to the sponsors of this race, look forward to them doing some BIG things in the upcoming years. Walkerville Brewery was one of the main sponsors of this race, and provided prizes (one which I will be drinking soon). And as an honest opinion, their beer is one of the best I've tasted in a long time- extremely smooth medium bodied lager. I'm hooked, and you should be too!

So how do you go from leading an elite group of riders to finishing behind every person racing? Was it a lack of fitness, did I just give up? Nope, it was that back of mine again, and this time it royally went out on me. There is actually photo evidence of me having to walk (not run) up the hill, leaning on my bike for support. So while that part of the race really really sucked, the course itself was a blast. A good combination of techincal sections, long rolling straights, hills, and of course the annual mud pit that tends to be a staple of the Country Cross series (I've raced 3 Country Cross races, all 3 have had the biggest mud pits I've seen).

Another year in the books, another year of lessons. Last year I learned a lot about myself as an athlete- how far I could push myself, how much I had improved and how much I still needed to improve. This year I learned a lot about myself as a person- how humbling it is to DNF essentially every race since April, how much effort it takes to stay positive and see what you started through. Right now I simply wanted to take a little break from studying for school, and writing allows me to hide from my responsibilities for a few minutes. I wouldn't say I'm glad this season turned out the way it did, but I'm probably better off from it in the long run. It's showed me how much I like doing what I do as an athlete, and how much I'm willing to work to get back to where I was.

Photo Credit: Al Henderson. This man braved the elements to watch some amateur racers ride in the mud. Thank you Al!

You don't really need a rear wheel to race cross...

This must have been on the first lap, before I was reduced to walking the hill!

Exhibit A- Hobbling up the hill

Umm... Apparently I'm going to throw up? What can I say, mud grosses me out.



Friday, September 28, 2012

Alp D'Malden 2012

This will probably be the only time in my life you hear me complaining about the amount of climbing I just did in WINDSOR. Yes, you heard me- Windsor. How is this possible you may ask? Well every year, the organizers of the Malden XC series like to hold a race called Alp D'Malden. It's named after the legendary Tour de France climb, Alp D'Huez, and the race honours this climb by having the same overall vertical gain. This is accomplished by 50 loops of a 1km circuit. So 50 times you climb to the highest point in Windsor, bomb down the gravel/dirt descent, and repeat.

My good friend Andrew and I tackled this race as a tag-team. Before you make fun of me for cutting my workload in half and being a big sissy, hear me out. This allowed us to race 2 laps as hard as we could, get a quick breather, and do another 2 laps full out. This essentially turned this endurance race into brutal interval training at race pace. I'm happy to announce that after reviewing the data of my newly acquired Garmin, my lap splits did not get much slower as the night wore on, in fact some of my fastest laps were towards the end of the race. Unfortunately, both Andrew and myself are too cheap/stupid to invest in lights for our bikes, and since I already went off course 3 times on the descent when it was still light out, we both wimped out and didn't finish the race due to darkness. This won't ever happen again, as I am buying a light as I type this.

It was a good workout, now time for some training before Turkey Cross next weekend, hosted by Kevin and Andrew from my very own Team CHCH. If you're reading this and are a cyclist, there is no excuse for not being there next weekend. Prizes, cash, cross racing.. It's going to be a good time!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Back in Black

Hello friends (acquaintances, enemies, randoms),

Long time no blog. Its been over 4 months without having to listen to my ramblings, but that's all about to change. I've learned something in the past 4 months, and its not that the world is better off without this blog. No, I've learned that in every human being there is a heart. There is also a back. And no matter how much heart you have, if the back decides to be uncooperative, you're outta luck. I learned this first hand and since there wasn't any racing going on, I decided to spare you on the most boring summer to date. Why am I back in the game now you might ask? Well there's a little time of the year I like to call 'cross season. Its a magical time in a young boy's life where he can take his bicycle, go into the forest and crash all day long with little to no repercussions. I like cross, I like writing, and you like reading, so naturally this is a match made in heaven.

The first cross weekend has already happened, so even if you forget about the past 4 months, I'm still late with this post. Day 1 was a citizens race and to be completely honest, I was scared. Having not really trained since Mississippi Mills, which was on the first weekend of June, I did not know what to expect out of my body. My own expectations were to win, or at least be competitive, but even training in Windsor leading up to the race, doing 3 minute intervals on the road were a lot to handle. All of this aside, I went into the race with no real expectations, and my preparation mirrored this. I am usually immaculate in my lead up to a race. Nutrition and pre-race ride have to be just right, the bike has to be clean and quiet, and my legs are usually nice and smooth. This time I just kind of rolled up to the start line- dirty biked, hairy legged- and got my numbers. As soon as those numbers are pinned on however, everything else melts away- the past road season, the back problems, the lack of training. The only thing that matters is how you are going to perform to the best of your abilities, and beat as many people in the process.

One interesting thing that I noticed in this race was how it differed from previous races. Usually, I go until I almost blow up, tell myself to go faster, and keep on pushing. This time however, I knew this wouldn't cut it. Instead, when going at a slower than optimal pace behind another rider, I used it to calm myself, get a quick breather, and decide when to attack and make a move. This semi-worked, and despite wiping out once, I managed to ride to a solid 4th place finish. Top 5 got prizes, so I walked away from Day 1 of the We Need More Cowbell Cross Weekend with an athletic bag and my very own cowbell!



Day 2 was the S-Cup race, which meant bigger fields and better riders. The race unfolded similarly to the previous days race, and I found myself trying to strategize to maximize my placing with the fitness I had. There was one area I was tickled pink with and it was this: last year the technical sections had been my downfall. I could go into a tricky section even with the people in front of me, and come out 30 seconds behind. This year, while I was losing time on the long, flat sections, I was gaining the time back in the tricky technical parts. I couldn't believe this, and still can't to be honest. Maybe I'm just getting crazier and willing to crash more?

That's it for now, but I have a race on Thursday at Malden Park in Windsor, so you get the privilege of reading all about me two times in one week. If only other people could be as lucky...

Also, I grew a beard. It's there until I win/get signed by a pro team/get a job interview where I'm forced to shave too get the position. No exceptions.

Greg

Monday, April 30, 2012

Tour of Dust

The Tour of Bronte, which I raced yesterday, marks the end my first "classics" season- if you can call it that. Between Barry-Roubaix and the Tour of Bronte, I got to experience some great road/offroad racing that is really one of my favourite styles of racing. The Tour of Bronte, which draws comparison to the Italian one day race Strade Bianche (Italian for "white roads") was one of the most fun courses I've raced this year. Despite being 100% FLAT (those who know me know my dislike for races without inclines), it was 50% gravel and 50% paved road, taking us on an 8km route through the Bronte Provincial Park in Oakville. Due to low registration numbers, the race was in danger of being cancelled, but the organizers managed to merge the divisions together, effectively combining the Senior 1/2 and Masters 1 fields and saving the race- so thank you for still putting the race on for us!

The only way to describe the first 3 laps or so is: fast. That, or: dusty. While the pace seemed to slow down after the first few laps, the same can't be said for the dust. It was everywhere on the gravel parts, and since it hasn't rained in a while, there were clouds of gravel dust following us around the circuit. I was debating on bike/tire selection, and in the end decided on racing my road bike with 23mm tires. This made riding through the thick gravel sections a bit sketchy, but exciting at the same time. I didn't flat either, which I'm thankful for. 

Once the initial break went away, the rest of the group settled into a steady tempo, trying to catch the group up the road. Nothing too exciting happened during the middle portion of the race, other than dodging the occasional bottle flying out from a bike hitting a pothole on course. With 3 laps to go, I started moving my way up to the front, and accidentally found myself at the very front, leading the group for a short while. This wasn't exactly what I wanted to do, so I slinked back a few riders and sat in. Just past the 2 laps to go mark, I thought I had a bit of an opening when the group slowed down, and jumped off the front. The peloton let me go, and I gained a nice little gap. I managed to keep it for maybe 4km, the whole time thinking to myself, "so this is what all of those intervals in training were for..." All joking aside, it was a good experience to try and push myself to exhaustion and take a chance that maybe they wouldn't get organized quickly enough, or that I could keep on maintaining that pace for the rest of the race. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, and I caught back on the end of the group as they came by. I was in a nice position going into the sketchy turn on the last lap when it happened- someone took the corner too aggressively and slid out, pushing the guy in front of me into my front wheel. No one crashed, but I had to unclip to take his derailleur out of my wheel. By the time this happened, the group was just in front of me, and I think that the previous attack I made proved too much, as I couldn't catch back onto the group. I continued pushing as hard as I could solo for the last 6km, in case they slowed down enough for me to latch back on, but it wasn't to be. With that one bad corner, I went from having a legitimate chance at a top-15 to finishing 27th overall. 

While I'm a bit disappointed with the end result, it was the best I've felt all year during a race. My legs were feeling great, and I know I would have made a good run at the end sprint had I been up there with the group. I got a compliment after the race for my strong riding throughout the race, so I can be happy with that. It was also the best I've been all year tactically and positioning-wise. As long as improvements keep on coming, I can't complain. Yesterday, I learned that I can be right up there at the end of the race with the rest of the field, and that with time and the right circumstances, the results will start coming. 

Now, the switch is being flipped from the "classics" season to the real race season. I'm off next weekend to Vermont, to race in the Tour of the Dragons, which comprises of a TT, crit, and road race. The 160km road stage includes 5 categorized climbs (2 HC, 2 Cat. 1, and 1 Cat. 3 climbs). After that, the Niagara Classic awaits, along with a trip to Quebec for a stage race, Quebec again for Nationals, and Vermont again for the Green Mountain Stage Race. 

Breaking away with 2 laps to go, tried to make something happen but it didn't work out this time.

Glad to be done.

What is this? 

I'm confused for some reason...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Georgia Training Camp- Video

Better late than never. Exactly 46 days since our return from the Blairsville, GA training camp, I am proud to present to you a short video of our trip! It was awesome- if it was any indication of how much fun pro's have, sign me up!

A HUGE thanks to Josh's brother, James for putting together the video for us. He spent a ton of time going through the GoPro clips to find good ones for the video, and to make sure that everything looked just right before making it public. Hopefully we can get some more free video labour out of him in the future! And thanks to Josh for looking like a goof with a camera on his head all week- without him being willing to take one for the team, we wouldn't have any video at all. Better him than me...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Crosswinds

Trying to put a coherent sentence together during exams is harder than you'd think. This post has been sitting on my computer for two days and I have no idea what to write/how to write it. My first Canadian race is in the books, just in time to put in a week and a half of intense studying, followed by 6 months of intense racing. The Ontario racing scene kicks off every year with the Good Friday Road Race in Flamboro, and I've been a participant ever since I started racing two years ago. This was also my first race in Cat. 1/2 and it was a good test to see where I stack up with the big boys in Ontario. The biggest thing that separated this from other races I've done is the fact that people aren't afraid to attack. As a result, the pace is much more start and stop compared to other races I've done. As the attacks are happening, the pace gets ridiculous until a break either forms or everyone is back together. Then the pace slows down, until the next attack comes. This process was repeated for most of the race.

The other big difference that I discovered is that positioning in a race is equally important, if not more, than fitness. My legs have felt good all season so far, but since everyone is fighting for positioning, it becomes difficult to stay with the group if you're taking in wind the entire race. One good example of this was on the final lap, I was side by side talking to my friend Steve. A few kilometers later, he was up far enough in the group to make the split in the crosswinds, whereas I was too far back and got caught behind some people that couldn't hold on. We got a good chase going, and I swear we came within 25 meters of regaining contact, but the elastic snapped, and we were left to fight for placings amongst who was left in our small group of 4 riders. I took off on the drumlins on the back half of the course, and worked with one other rider to get to the finish, where I got nipped in the sprint. And what happened to Steve, who was beside me heading into the final lap? He came 10th overall, which just goes to show how important positioning is in these races.

So my goals moving forward this season: keep on doing exactly what I've been doing so far regarding training- its working. Keep on being relaxed at races and not stressing about results- this is a big jump up in categories, and the results will come. DON'T keep on being content to sit at the back of the pack- I need to make conscious efforts to move up and take the risks to be at the business end of the group. If I really want to become a top level rider, this is the next step forward.

And to everyone that made it this far reading my ramblings this week, here are some awesome pictures as a reward. Due to the fact that my parents don't know how to work a camera, combined with my blistering speeds, the only pictures taken at this race were at the start line. Enjoy!