Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sunday: Woodsmoke and Beyond

There won't be any snow!
When: Sunday  9:00am
Where: War Museum at bike path

Ride via Cantley, Cascades Massif, Chamonix dirt madness, to Woodsmoke. Climb. Suffer. Descend. Smile. 

From there we will continue north and ultimately end up on Erables on the West side of the river. Loop to Parent and down to Wakefield. From this point the return will either be via River rd or back over through Cascades etc. This will be a solid ride of about 150k. All day pace. Pack enough food to last 3-4 hours before we reach Wakefield.  

Sunday, April 26, 2009

RaceReport: OBC Paris-Roubaix 2009

While I don't think we were pounded nearly as hard as the riders above in the OBC's great poster for this years edition of our local Roubaix, we were treated to plenty of dirt and gravel today.

Sure, we didn't get the +26 sun forecasted earlier this week, but we didn't get rain either. We did receive a sprinkle, but nothing significant. This was a nice improvement over last year's cold wetness.

This year brought the largest turnout yet of riders from our regular group, including none other than Kent from Phat Moose, out for his first ride of the year on his vintage Berma. The Tall Tree shop keepers and wrenches were all on hand - Will, Thom, Brad and Steve, along with TT team members Neil, Candace, Greg, Rodd and myself. The rest of the crew was rounded out by Glenn, Jamie, Jeff, Mark, Chris, Stu, Andy, Giacomo, Dom, Marco and my old friend Jim. every year seems to bring a few more for a taste of the action. I've only done the Roubaix three times now, so I don't know how the field size compares to years gone by, but the group did seem larger than before. It seems to grow each year. I know for certain that at least a couple riders from the Toronto area were in attendance who I recognized from the Hell of the North. One was the rider with massive legs I mentioned, the other, Sean, who I rode with for a long time before he suffered a sheared derailleur. He rolled up to me in the peloton today and said hi. That was cool; nice to see the race attracting riders from away.

So what happened? Well, the 'not-race' began with a neutral rollout for about 1.5k. In the previous two years we stopped at an intersection, lined up, then went. This time we didn't stop. This surprised a few people for certain. The first section was a fast loose gravel road that descended slightly. We were flying right off the bat. Gravel flew everywhere, striking bikes and bodies. Just like the other races I've done this year, I took a few stones in the face. It doesn't really hurt, but it makes me apprehensive about chipping a tooth. Oh well. Glasses are pretty handy. The pace settled in and riders were rolling pretty predictably. I was resolved to stay near the front, and this was going well. Good thing. The first offroad section was hit or miss. There were ruts of extremely sticky mud that nearly stopped me dead. One rider crashed on a rut, but was fine. We were strung out, but I maintained contact with Benoit Simard, so I knew I was ok. Benoit works for Specialized, and one of his roles is race team coordination. He was riding in the EMD-Sorono squad. I am aware of his skill and strength as a rider, so I knew I'd be ok if I kept close to him. It required some hard work to bridge up the the leaders out of the woods, but it turned out they sat up soon after anyway, so many of the stragglers go on. The group was still pretty large. Neil was up front, visibly strong. The other Tall Tree rider I expected to see in the group was Rodd, but he wasn't there. He didn't make it through the woods fast enough to stay on. He rides the technical stuff very well, but when you're not close enough to the front there is only so much you can do. He told me later that his group was 30 seconds behind us for a looooong time. That's gotta be frustrating.

As I'd suspected, the leaders tended to attack out of the right degree turns from road to road, but I kept myself positioned well enough to stay where I had to be. A few minor breaks materialized here and there, but nothing really stuck for a while. I tried to stay on Greg Reain's wheel as much as possible, hoping to learn a thing or two while staying safe. I also made a concerted effort to maintain my position in the pack, something I failed to do well at Battenkill. The trick is to keep your bars between the rider's bars on either side of you. Riders behind cannot move up on you when you are positioned this way. Cool.

There was far more dirt road this year than what I remember from the older route. Beside some fairly serious potholes, the surfaces were pretty good. There was a lot of loose stuff that produced some great fishtails. Action.

The next crucial section after cruising for a while was the switchback climb. It was in really good shape, which allowed me to pull off an unplanned ascent in my 50x26. Whoops. Should have tried to shift before the pressure was on. I got off lucky there. As expected, the leaders attacked off the top, but catching back up was not too brutal. Onto the road again, a break came together after a while. I couldn't see very clearly who was in it, but it looked like riders from each of the big teams were there. Before long, Neil and I could tell that the guys up front were trying to neutralize the pack in order to let their riders get away. It seemed that way anyhow. I told Neil the last woods section was coming up in about 8k, and that we'd want to be close to the front at the entry. He agreed.

My tip sheet put the woods at about 68.5k into the route. At about 62k Neil was dangling about 15 meters ahead of the peloton; nobody wanted to bother reeling him in. I was struck be a moment of inspiration: attack, take Neil and bridge to the break by the woods! I'm no tactician, being a neophyte when it comes to road racing, but it seemed like a great idea. I increased the pressure and threaded the needle up the middle between two riders and bridged up to Neil, calling 'Lets GO!' as I passed him. I didn't slow. He didn't get on. I turned around and there was no response from the peloton, so I stayed on the gas. Before long, I could see the break, but I could no longer see the pack. I was covering ground fast, but after a while I was no longer closing. I was dangling. I looked back - nobody. That continued for a while... a long while. 68k came and went. So did 70, 72, and so on. I had been away for at least 10k when I turned around to see a group of four chasers. Neil was one of them! Phewf. I slowed, they passed, and I got on Neil's wheel.

Before long we entered the woods. On of the riders was Aaron Fillion. I didn't see the other well enough to recognize him - I certainly don't know the bulk of the local racers. They pulled away in the woods as Neil and I maintained a steady, fairly smooth pace through the rocks. We were both tired. After exiting Neil was pulling hard and I saw two chasers. They caught us around the second last turn: Greg Reain and Benoit Simard. We latched on and hung on fine until Greg unleashed just after the last turn (I think - maybe just before). Benoit did not match it, so I was able to stay on his wheel. We finished like that, with Neil right there. Neil and I felt confident that we had made the top ten. 

Edit: The results went up today and they show that Neil and I were wrong about the number ahead of us. There had been a break earlier that we though was pulled back. The results show we were wrong. The chase group we went after was behind the initial break. I ended up 15th on the GC, Neil in 16th. This put us in 9th and 10th for senior men. Still a top ten on paper, but it would feel much better to make the top ten on the GC with the field so stacked. Maybe next year we'll have more team members to work with; that'd be a novel experience.

Stu came in next, followed by Rodd, Candace, Mark, Jamie, and the rest of the gang in a trickle. Candace was the third woman to finish. I think she'll be aiming to bump up from there next year. Of all, only Thom suffered a mechanical, a flat. He's listed as a Masters D rider - which puts him somewhere over 60 years old I think. Nice finish ol' timer!  Everyone seemed to have a good time of it, though I think Jim would have really preferred not to have bonked with 10k to go! All were thrown off by the total distance. My computer read just over 84 k from town, putting the route around 82ish. That's about 10 over the total based on the map, which I supplemented with distances of sectors from Bikely. I think we'll have to do recon in order to get accurate distances next year. Its important to know where the woods are.

A great morning of racing was capped by some great food and coffee at The Grounds on Main street. I couldn't have been happier with the result, having worked with Neil and finishing with riders I have much respect for.

None of us seemed to remember our cameras, so I have no before and after shots to share; sorry. I didn't see a single photographer on course, but if I find any shots I'll post them. I'll put up the results when they become available.

NOTE: Tall Tree is having their GRAND OPENING on May 9th. I'm not certain what sort of festivities will be in effect just yet, but I'll follow up. Whatever goes down, I suspect it'll be a fun event. I'll likely be there helping out, so if you're in the neighborhood, pop by and say hi.

It is likely that the following Sunday (May 17th) we'll do a big group ride to Paughan Dam. It'll be a moderate pace sort of thing, probably around 150-160k, with plenty of dirt roads. We'll have some posters up for that at the Grand Opening. If you fancy getting onto some backroads for a good dirt flogging, join us.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Race Report: Tour of the Battenkill

Excellent race. Sub-excellent luck.

My wife, daughter and I headed South Friday morning. A pleasant drive through New York via Ogdensburg delivered us to our Hyatt in Malta, not far from Cambridge, where the race was to start begin and end on Saturday. After a sort drive over to Saratoga Springs, we were pleased o find a great health food store called the Four Corners that has a hot counter much like that of The Table and the Green Door here in Ottawa. We had an excellent dinner for a little more than $25 for two adults and child. It was nice to have complete that degree of control over what I was putting into my system on the eve before the race. To bed by about 10, I barely woke to hear Candace and Greg arrive some time around midnight.

A solid continental breakfast got us underway in the morning, and we were off to Cambridge to check in and get Candace ready to roll. The event was clearly as big as we had imagined; people were everywhere. The organizers had a very streamlines registration system going, and we were in and out. All we had to do was apply Candace’s cue sheet Greg has made up (mine is below), check her finicky rear derailleur, and get her bottles and food sorted. It was mild enough for a base layer under short sleeved jersey and shorts with knee warmers. Rain was a distinct possibility.

Candace left with her group at 10:55. They clumped the Cat 1s, 2s and 3s all together to fill out the field. After a few minutes, Greg was off with Candace’s and my bottles for the first of two feedzones. Before long, it was time to chamois up and spin around a bit.

My race was to begin at 12:05. The Cat 1s were to begin 20  minutes later. I wondered whether they’d catch our lead group.

Then it began. Rolling out of town, our field of Cat 2s headed for the addendum loop to the 100k route. Greg had marked the climb on the 32k addendum as fairly serious. It wasn’t. Its hard to really tell from the available information. The pace was steady on the flats, probably around 40 or 45k/hr, and the climb was not attacked. I was happy to see that I was having an easier time with it than some of the others. The rest of the addendum was pretty straighforward. Some fast downs, but fairly flat. I was a little perturbed about the way my legs felt – a little nervous, and barely warmed up. I was concerned I would not be ready for the real work to come.

After the initial 30k loop, we were onto the main route. The traffic was still very light, which was nice when we blazed downhills at speeds above 80k/hr on pavement and near that on dirt. I didn’t load up my legs anywhere, including a long dirt climb I though was Juniper Swamp, the steepest of all. I made the selection there, near the front, but the peleton regrouped anyway on the descent. Disaster struck soon after. Well, not disaster, more like misfortune. We turned onto a dirt sector, and I was positioned in the first third of the pack. I’d been making an effort to move up after repeatedly noticing I’d drifted to the back! Close to the wheel in front of me, I caught something dark in front of me just before I walloped whatever it was. The impact to my front wheel was so severe I knew I had to have flatted, even with my primo Challenge Paris Roubaix 28c open tubular! Hisssssssssssss. Of course. I made my way to the side and rolled over a ton of rough stuff before managing to stop. We were probably doing 45 at the time. I looked back and saw the wheel truck stopping for another rider. A moment of indecision. Fix it...don’t fix it...wait...fix it.... I pulled out my tube and C02, only to resolve to wait for a spare wheel. It took a couple minutes, but I knew I was out of contention anyway regardless. I wound up with a Taiwanese bladed spoked wheel of some description, with what seemed to be a 25c clincher on it. “Better not flat this sucker,” I thought.  No computer now with the magnet gone. Chase.

Why chase? I was following my plan. I’d intended on staying with the lead group until the top of Juniper Swamp, then doing whatever I could. At the time I though that was what I had done. I suspect Juniper Swamp was actually a little further on now. I climbed it alone. It was fine. I don’t think it would have posed a problem. I knew in advance that a flat would mean I was going to be alone. If that happened, I’d try to finish strong and use the day as preparation for the Almonte Roubaix the next Sunday. So that is what I did. No negative thoughts, just: “This is how it is, so make the  most of it.” I hammered as hard as I could sustain. I tucked all the downhills as tightly as I could manage; tight enough to bruise my chest. I caught riders – from my category, from others. One le Yeti rider from Montreal hung on until he could duck off to take a shortcut back. Why? I guess some prefer not to be seen off the back, for whatever the reason. I knew it might look like I got dropped because I couldn’t hack the pace. But looking like you are on it or off it is irrelevant to your capacity to ride hard. People likely saw me roll by and thought I was dropped. But I was getting incredible training in – certainly better than if I’d stuck with the pack – on my own.

After a long while the leader of the Cat 1 race passed me in a solo break. He was motoring, a BMC rider who had raced Roubaix  and the other classics in Europe in the weeks prior. I resolved to keep him in my sights until I couldn’t. I kept that up for about 15-20 minutes. That was a small victory. Shortly after he was gone from sight the chase group of about 8 passed. I didn’t bother chasing them; that would not have been a good idea. Soon I was joined by a Cat 3 I had ridden and chatted with about an hour prior – he’d flatted too.  He had dropped off my pace, but got back on with the help of a 53 year old racer I recognized from my field (I’m not an expert age-guesser, he told me his age later). As the rain came down we rode together, pulling equally for a while. Then the Cat 3 dropped off and it was just the two of us. We kept on the pace, but we had plenty of time to get to know each other a bit. We probably rode about 60k together, probably more. He had ridden the route the previous day and knew it well. He coached me on the upcoming sections, advising on pace. We reeled in many riders, and none got on.

The most difficult sections of the course were the stair step climbs. There were two sections, both near the end. One was dirt. I had switched to a new compact double 10sp SRAM drivetrain on Thursday; I was happy to have the 36x28 climbing gear. With that option I never loaded my legs up during the whole race. I’m not sure whether that’s good, but it was certainly odd. Rather than endure lactic acid pain, I just put steady hurt on my legs, and had to slug down lots of gel and shot blox to stave away cramping. And fluid. It worked. We crested the last dirt step and descended into the flats. My partner had prepped me: “Lets keep it under control up the last climbing section, then light it up with short pulls to the finish. I’ll lead you out so you can finish strong.” He was training for the Masters Nationals, which he plans on winning; I listened to him. 

On the flat 5k or so into town I put it all into the pedals. He was driving hard and I was grimacing like a maniac to stay on his wheel. Falling off was not an option. I pulled as hard as I could, then dropped back, and on and on. He signaled the finish in the distance and I took the last pull. Within the last 100 meters I sprinted with everything I had, wobbling all over the place as my body struggled to control gross motor coordination. At the line my wind buddy took it with a wheel length. Awesome. I thanked him for being such a gracious wind buddy, and wished him luck with his season. 61st place for me. 68 finished. 101 were confirmed at the start.

I have my tongue out here. I didn't know it. Just like the pros!

15-20 minutes behind the leaders. About 33k/hr average speed including the stop.

Upon finishing I was eager to hear Candace's story. Turns out she rode well with the pack, and found herself in a chase group after a breakaway materialized. She endured some rather coarse coaching from one of the pro ladies, but learned from it. She was working hard with the group when she flatted. She fixed it, chased, and flatted again. She only had 2 miles to go, but no additional tube or support vehicle. I suspect she would have finished in the top 3 of the Cat 2s has she not flatted. She was happy with her effort and the overall experience, and I think she will be keen to take another crack next year.

I'll do everything I can to return to the race next year and try my luck again. Maybe I'll get to find out how it goes without a flat. 

I'd characterize the event in the following way: rolling hills, nice dirt roads with no difficult turns, buff dirt, blazing downhills, scenic, well organized. I would use 28s again; it'd be nice if everyone did, as the smaller tires made riders respond to cracks and other roughness erratically. That's dangerous. The 36x28 climbing gear was nice, but a strong rider can get away with a taller gear if desired. I'd run a 37x27 if I had the choice.

Interesting sights seen: 1) On the way we spotted one serious rider, on a TT bike wearing a baggy wind breaker, tights, and an aero helmet over a baseball cap. 2) Amish horse and carriages. 3) A bat hunting mid-day over a pond. 4) Numerous laughable store names: Wise-Buys, Family Dollar, Save-a-Lot, Price Choppers.

After leaving Malta, my fam and I headed for the Lake Placid area to spend the afternoon and night. We found a great hostel in Keene Valley for $25 per adult per night. Laundry, showers, kitchen, great family running the place. Lake Placid was not interesting for us. Many say its great, but we were not impressed. No cool cafes or food spots. WIthout that we are not interested. 'Rustic' shopping and the Gap can be found there though, if that's your thing.

I took an early morning ride on Monday from Keene Valley to explore a bit. I found many private dirt roads lined with expensive cottages. One took my up for a while. Nice descent. Later I found a paved road that took my to Keene, the next town. It was winding and rolling - very scenic and fun. I took some pictures, below. This area might be a good place to stay and launch rides from. The Hostel is perfect. The question is whether there are enough backroads to get away from the traffic. We have far more dirt backroads around here, since it is less mountainous. Down there, any road that goes anywhere is paved. 


Long dirt climb

Hills Falls

Thursday, April 16, 2009

THE BIG RACE: Tour of the Battenkill 2009

Tomorrow Candace and Greg, my wife, my daughter and I depart for our first attempt at the Tour of the Battenkill, America's Queen of the Classics. Battenkill attracts thousands of racers, so many there are four Cat4 fields alone. Candace and I are both taking on Cat2 for the first time, which will certainly prove painful. It always is. Greg will occupy the role of team manager, providing invaluable feeds and plenty of encouragement and moral support. He has twice played such a role in mixed 5-person 24hr races we've done, where we finished 3rd and 1st. Its incredible having someone dedicated to helping us perform to our limits. My wife and daughter will take up their roles of best fans ever, and cheer their heads off.

The weather report for Saturday calls for clouds, 15 degrees, and a 50% chance of showers. We've done our fair share of riding in far nastier weather than that this year, so that should not be a problem. The key is to try to turn nasty weather into an advantage by liking it, drawing strength from it. We'll see how that goes. Sunny would be nice. Either way, we'll deal with the cards we're dealt and leave it all on the road.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Toronto's Hell of the North: Sweet Suffering

What luck to have had opportunity to experience the revival of Toronto's Paris-Roubaix inspired race on Easter Sunday. The event was a success, and I think many will return for more next year. I plan to.

Jamie and I headed for Toronto at 5pm on Saturday. At around 9:30 we pulled up to our host's place and settled right in for a little pre race bike related banter. Good times. Up by 6am, we broke our fasts efficiently and chammied up.

As the sun came up I took the photo above of my first generation Roubaix and Jamie's brand new one. I had no qualms about subjecting mine to whatever was in store, and neither did he. Good on em. I think he was a little surprised by what followed.

Jamie, Brad, Rodd

Pinkie and Tarmattack!

Rodd opted for his custom steel True North with 30c Grand Bois tires, and Brad (who also used to work for a Specialized dealer) had his Tarmac rolling on 24c Vittorias - just like the pros except in open tubular.

And off we went.

Getting up to Musselman Lake took no time. Registration was smooth, and we had opportunity to grab muffins and coffee to top up our levels. I could sense some apprehension in the air, but for most part the riders assembled seemed pretty relaxed about what was to come.

As we layered up for the weather and checked out tire pressures we took our last looks at our bikes in their undefiled states, and mounted to head over to the start. The main organizer from La Bici Squadra - who's name I did not learn - clarified all the necessary details... "This is a 'tour,' not a 'race;' the usual fare for sportif events. After that detail is take care of we can all go ahead and start calling it what it is: a race. Cool. Neutral start for a couple kms at most, then its to be game on. Cool. No butterflys, just ready to go.

We all stick behind the pace van as prescribed. Once we pass the designated Stop sign its go time. And people go. I positioned myself near the front to keep an eye on things. A few guys put the hammer down right away, but it was no problem for the pack to follow. The van paced rolled just in front of us to the left, filming the pack. This conjured recollection of the segment in Pure Sweet Hell (1:20) where the rider is being filmed hammering behind a pace motorcycle. Did we have pace motorcycles? Uh, no. But there were some dudes with huge legs! More on that later.

It seemed the camera solicited some Kodak Courage, as a few riders tried hammering off the front in what might have been confused for breakaway attempts. I didn't think so. It was too windy for that to stick. Instead, the attempts were just entertaining. One of the attackers was a stocky guy on a mountain bike with narrow tires. 'Whoa, that's weird,' I though to myself. I figured he was just trying to liven things up, because he had to know that he would not get any where. I could tell by his composure on the bike that he was an experienced rider. Sure enough, afterward he rolled over to chat with Brad; it was Adam Ruppel of Chico Racing. He'd ridden most of the way with Brad. They had a good time.

If I find the footage later and post here, you will likely see me riding on the front for a bit before the first offroad bit. Am I stupid? Well, yeah, often, but in this case, I was trying to warm up. My legs and feet were numb with cold to the point that I knew I was pedaling fine, but couldn't really feel anything. I figured I could get rid of the numbness and prepare my legs for the first real climb if I did a little extra work out front. One might suggest that it would be warmer to stay in the pack. I agree, now, but when I race I am dumber. I don't think this effort out front was a big mistake. I warmed up and was not cold again, and I felt ok on the first steep climb.

The attacks were quelled by the first climb. It was a pinchy one close to the entry of the first offroad section, and it definitely hurt people. When the pack entered the woods Hell broke loose. I was near, but not at the front, and this was a mistake. Most of those ahead braked hard upon seeing the snow an ice, and consequently had difficulty handling their bikes. Being an ex downhill mtb racer, I tend to like to carry momentum over really nasty stuff, and am not shaken by packed snow and ice, but not everyone has spent time working on that kind of riding. So riders were sliding out, crashing, and generally all over the place. I made it through the carnage, just skirting around an unfortunate fall a guy who took a header into an ice covered, water filled rut. Then it was pursuit time. Not for long though. Apparently, this section, Boag Road, pretty much runs through a swamp. a long section was deep water. I did not even consider riding it; wet feet could have ruined my race (I'm prone to cold extremities). Instead, I, like the others in front of me, ran along the sides. This was ok, but very slow. Rodd passed somewhere along here and pulled away. He is a superior runner compared to me, and always moves well on his feet. By the time I exited the bog Rodd was about 300 meters up the road. I chased and caught him without having to work too hard, then we worked together. We caught another guy and he joined us. As a trio we moved well, and progressed into and through 'The Trench' smoothly. This section was excellent. It was whoopy - I presume from snowmobiles - and a nice surface of soft yet quick dirt. Very few hazards came up to pinch tubes, and there were few sections that required dismounts. We rolled at a consistent 30k/hr, with Rodd setting the pace and picking the smooth/fast lines. A race with more sections like this with turns and elevation change would be a treat.

After the Trench we continued on, only to find ourselves turn a corner into a true Roubaix (2006) moment: a train crossing the route. Three riders were waiting while the lead group was up the road continuing on. In my mind this was a blessing: more wind buddies for us to work with. I don't know whether the three were close enough to have reeled in the other 5 up ahead; I'm thinking it could have gone either way. Once the train had crossed we continued, and got going fast right away. I felt good and did some work, and Rodd was right there, but a bit down the road, the group was down to four. There was a diagonal wind (there must be a proper term for that) blowing and we worked well together pulling through rapidly. Once we hit the biggest climb of the route I had to slow. The two strongest pulled away (one of which had monster legs!), and maintained a gap while the other rider and I had to take it down a notch. Ed, his name was, of the Sound Solutions team, was very strong. I suspect he was strong enough to hang with the other two, but probably lost his chance when he was behind me on the climb as they pulled away. He was very gracious, and put in the lions share of the work as we took on the remaining 20 odd kilometers remaining. At points we were cruising the flats at 45k/hr, and I thought of the Roubaix, where the winners tend to average around 43-45. We had a tailwind though. The final offroad sections were either too deep with snow or too sloppy with gooey mud to ride a lot of. A moment after remounting his bike, Ed's rear derailleur sheared off. He took it in stride and wished me a good finish. There was no way I was going to gun for his position, but I wound up with it by default. But not without effort. I turned back with about 3k to go, while in an offroad section, and saw another rider! After my lapse in Uxbridge late in the race I refused to be overtaken. Despite cramps coming on in my hamstrings and quads (I've never had quads cramp before???), I stayed focused and kept on it. The final dirt bit was fairly mental - in a good way - with a steep descent that was severely rutted and sandy. It was very difficult technically, and really spiced things up late in the game. I made it through with a dab and when I looked back the rider was gone. Nevertheless, I rode as hard as I could manage for the remaining kilometer or so and rolled through the finish properly destroyed. Rodd followed soon after, then Jamie and Brad. All had stories to tell, and were happy to have raced. Brad was smiling the biggest, having taken on the challenge despite uncertainty; it was a personal victory. His elation was the highlight of the day for me. Jamie was pumped too, having ridden really strong and smart. He loved the Trench and wasn't too sad about putting his brand new bike through the wringer on its maiden ride.

Brad, happy!

Jamie, stoked!

The day was muddy for the feet, but worse for the bike. Mid-reach calipers would have fared better, but I think cantis are the best option. I cleared frozen mud from my brakes at the train, but in the last section my wheels would not turn as I pushed it. Riding it took care of the mud pretty well over a couple minutes though. All of the riders ahead of me were on cross bikes. A nearly smooth center tread 'cross tire with minimal cornering knobs might be idea for days like yester. We'll see how things shape up next year with the weather.

Not bad - miraculously dry

This bike might never look like this again. Awesome.

My computer worked despite this coverage. Radio waves are relentless.

The event was really well organized, the course clearly marked. All the racers received Rapha winter hats, and some scored additional draw prizes as well. Mike Barry was on hand to present the winner the trophy that had been used for the annual race he organized for so many years. It is an actual cobble from the Forest of Arenberg; very special indeed. There was plenty of soup and vegan chili (I was hoping there would be!) on hand for all the riders and volunteers. A great day in the saddle could not have ended in better fashion. If only we didn't have to drive home...

The Top 25:
98 starters
1. Cameron Jette 2:55:47
2. Nathan Chown 2:58:11
3. Justin Hines 2:59:48
4. David Dermont 3:00:18
5. Bryan Rusche 3:05:12
6. Andrew Bradbury 3:05:13
7. Sean Kelly 3:06:50
8. Matt Surch (64) 3:10:14
9. Jamie Davies 3:11:00
10. Marco Li 3:11:16
11. Evan Mundy 3:12:30
12. Derrek Ivey 3:12:44
13. Rodd Heino 3:14:10
14. Kyle Douglas 3:14:59
15. Jay Murad 3:15:44
16. Tom McDonough 3:19:24
17. Rick Meloff 3:20:00
18. Paul Beit 3:21:10
19. Sam Bail 3:23:01
20. Mike Greenberg 3:23:02
21. Gary Fogelman 3:23:15
22. Craig Barlow 3:23:18
23. Keith Hopkins 3:23:24
24. David Anthony 3:24:00
25. Rod Olliver 3:25.58

Jamie ended up 32nd
Brad was 40ish

Almonte Roubaix Recon

We headed out to pre-ride the Almonte Roubaix course on Good Friday. And it was good. We chose to follow the "traditional" route of recent years including the muddy doubletracks as opposed to last year's modified course.

The gravel road sections were hard and fast. Perhaps frozen. They have not seen a grader yet this year so they're pot-holed but mostly free of loose gravel. The doubletrack sections were not so smooth. In fact they were covered in a surprising amount of snow. It looked very much like fresh snow from earlier in the week though and I'm sure it will be gone very soon. This late-season melt should make for some nice mud bogs.

Our group of four riders tried out a variety of equipment/tires: 32mm Vittoria file tread 'cross tires, 28mm Grand Bois slicks, 28mm Continental slicks (all on 'cross bikes) and even 23mm road tires on a standard road bike. All clinchers. The 23mm tires are Hutchinson tubeless on Dura Ace wheels. Nobody had any real problems except one pinch flat (28mm Contis under a 120lb rider on a smooth road... go figure.)

I ran the 28mm Grand Bois at about 70psi (I weigh about 170lbs) and had no problems whatsoever even in the mud/snow. I'm sure the 23mm road tires were somewhat faster on the paved sections and the 32mm 'cross tires were likely more stable in the slop, but I'd say 28s are a nice all-around compromise. Under a skilled rider the 23s can handle the mud but I'd rather sacrifice a little speed for increased pinch-flat resistance and comfort. This tubeless thing though.... that's interesting. Tubeless 28mm tire maybe?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Preview: Hell of the North 2009

On Sunday Rodd, Jamie and I will experience the return of 'Toronto's Paris Roubaix Challenge' in its new instantiation: The Hell of the North. While this spring has failed to serve up hellish conditions for the coming weekend, some of us have put in our fair share of riding in the cold and wet; I think we are ok with riding in the sun. If this is the case, the route may not be anywhere near as nasty or epic as prior years - one where the riders had to endure freezing rain! - but rather dry. We shall see. Our trio will be running Challenge Roubaix 27c (Jamie and I) and Grand Bois 30c tires (Rodd), which should be perfect, on our rough roadies - two Specialized Roubaix's and a custom True North (I have a custom Steelwool Roubaix style bike in the pipe). 

Above is the official map, followed by the map Jamie created on bikely (I didn't notice mine was wrong) in an effort to glean more detail. This reveals that there is little climbing, probably under 500 meters. That is not a surprise.

C'mon back Monday for a full report. Happy Easter weekend!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Race Report: Uxbridge Icebreaker

Thanks for the photo Big Ring

I only really tolerate getting up at 4:30 am for riding. Or going somewhere where I will eventually be riding. Or going somewhere interesting enough to not miss riding. I'd get up for my daughter too. Today was to be spent in a car for 8 hours and on a bike for two. Kinda sounds like a day of downhill at Bromont (driving really slow), except that'd be more like an hour and a half riding max. Unless you count time on the lift; that'd be pretty pathetic though wouldn't it?

Roll out of town at 6 with Dom (Eurosport) and Stu (Bushtuka). Drive. Arrive at Durham Forest despite my navigational failings. Register and change with 20 minutes until the gun fires. This is one thing I dislike about racing, rushing the prep process. Once changed and watered up, there was no time to spare to warm up. Problem? Yes. But before elaborating, let's take a moment to set the scene.

The Course:

The 'long course' was supposed to be 50k. It was more like 41-42k. I didn't mind. It was comprised of a mix of wide logging road trail, dirt road and a small amount of singletrack. Packed snow, in varying depths covered anywhere from a few to 200 meters of trail. Some was perfectly rideable fast, other sections not rideable. Big ruts developed in some areas over the course of the race. I suspect most crashed at least once. There were a couple sections of sheer lumpy ice. Dirt sections varied from soggy to pretty firm. There were very few rocks posing the risk of pinch flats. The dirt roads were smooth and rolling. I can't attest to the elevation profile, but there was a moderate amount of climbing. There we very few if any difficult turns to navigate. 

The Bike:

I opted for my 'cross bike for a couple reasons. 1) I like it a lot; 2) The course was sure to be muddy, and cross wheels roll well through that; 3) The 'cross bike should be better for running; 4) It should also excel on the road sections. 

My bike was set up with the usual bar position, a 34c cross tire in the front and a 32 in the back - full knobs. I ran a 39/42 x 12-27 drivetrain. Why so weird? Necessity. I only actually needed the 42, which was nice; this particular set-up requires a soft touch to shift accurately. Rim brakes with Scott-Mahauser compound brake pads. No power issues; not much braking to do though.

Its hard to say whether the 'cross bike was the best move. I also have a Niner hardtail with a rigid fork I could have used. On the soft snow an mtb would have been far easier to control, but would have been slower on the road. The overall winner was on a 'cross bike, and Ryan Atkins (EMD-Sorono) was second on a full suspension Epic with 26" wheels. Toss-up.

The Race:

Ryan evidently decided to roll out at a mellow pace. That's good for one without a warm-up right? Or is it opportunity knocking? Uh, no, that's your ego shlepping suffering with the promise of 3 minutes at the front. Sold. I took the lead on the first downhill and turned onto the first deep snow section, which required a dismount and run, uphill. Poof. A gaggle of young guns passed and I had to chase. Not good, approaching red zone. Onto the road things mellowed a bit. I got onto Ryan's wheel and we cruised for a while. In the next trail section he got away, as did others. Trying to catch up while flailing on unridable snow took its toll. Burnt-lungs. Had to slow down. Some more guys passed. After that, it was damage control time. I sucked wheel where I could and powered where I could, which was good enough to hang with a monster of a man on a vintage Rocky Mountain Blizzard for a while. This guy was hammering the road, and I easily hung with him on my cross bike until a deep snow section where I flailed and he pulled away. He ultimately won the 30-39 category. I managed to real in a trio of juniors on the road on the second lap, and broke them down until only one chased me. I knew he was not in my category, but my goal was to keep him behind me. One minute he's out of sight, the next he's 50 meters back. Depite my best efforts, the deep snow near the end of the lap bogged me down and he passed and held his position while I exploded chasing him up an icy single track that was barely walkalbe. I decided to be ok with that, as I had no choice, and wrapped up the last kilometer. 

Unfortunately, burning my lungs kept me from really using my legs to their potential. It was a pretty good legs day, and I had hoped to really hurt them and gain some strength, but I don't think that happened. Off-road racing can really bite you when it comes to the starts. With road events people never go out super hard. In contrast, this is the norm for mountain bike events. Without a proper warm-up you are prone to burning the lungs if you go too hard. After that the body can't get enough oxygen to do the work, so there's only so much you can accomplish. I seem to need to remind myself of this every year by doing it wrong.


Our car rounded out the podium today:

1st - Dom - Clydesdale short course
2nd - me - 30-39 men long course
3rd - Stu - 30-39 men long course

While I can't see myself returning to the Icebreaker in the future when there is deep snow on the course like today, I would be willing to do it again with less. I am poor runner. The running in 'cross is just right for me; more is bad. My personal goal was to ride hard and get some intensity training in for the upcoming races. The lung burnage limited my ability to realize that plan, but I'm happy to have had the experience nonetheless. I think Stu and Dom were happy with their efforts.  This week will consist of a bit of recovery spin tomorrow, followed by some intervals midweek. That can't be put off any longer. The Hell of the North should be a great time next weekend.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Thursday Recon

High of 14, giddyup. Went out for a solo ride yesterday with a plan to check out Voyageur and Lac Leamy sections of bike path, which we like to take over to the Cantley side of the river. There was a good bit of ice and snow after Jacques Cartier park, and lots along the river. I went down twice, the first at about 25k/hr. I slid into second smoothly; lucky. The surfaces are really hard-packed and bumpy, which makes for difficult riding. It'll go soon enough, but I recommend staying off with a group for now. 

After the bike path section all was well (aside from a valve separation), and the rest of the route to Wakefield and back along River rd and Cross loop etc, was nice. I put the legs up for about 10 minutes once home, followed by the full cold water treatment in the shower, and subsequently feel fresh today. We'll see how they fare on Sunday at the Icebreaker. I'll be on my 'cross bike so I think I'll run the ice bits! If nothing else, the race will be good training for Battenkill, which Floyd Landis and team will be attending. I've heard that most of the pro teams racing the invitational on Sunday will also race Saturday. This means I might end up 'racing' Landis. Ouch!

Icebreaker 'Bobsled Run' on the 29th