Sunday, September 26, 2010

Its on: The 2010 Cyclocross Season Kicks Off With a Bang!

Today was a beautiful day for cyclocross in Ottawa, you know, in the sadistic sense cyclocrossers evince when talking weather. Steady rain all night, then a fine mist in the morning made for ideal conditions for those with a penchant for slip-and-slide and a good set of tires. The rain subsided early enough to ensure we'd get a chance to enjoy challenging conditions without having to worry too much about getting cold.

A full squad of Tall Tree/Steelwool Bicycles riders were on hand today, with Mike and Anna and Glenn letting loose in the first race. The format has changed this year, with all ladies categories running along with the Masters B and kids in the first race, followed by the Senior, Junior, and Masters A fields.

Beyond the sea of green, it was obvious that there was an very large turnout today (238 racers!!!), and many spectators as well littered across the course. I was extremely happy to see what appeared to be more kids racing than any other year, as well as special course modifications to accommodate their smaller bodies: a skipped uphill barrier and a lower barrier as well. After seeing some of the kids courageously dragging their bikes over barriers in previous years - AND returning to race again - these lowered barriers seemed brilliant. The more fun and accessible cross is for the kids, the better. I can't wait until my daughter is able to try a race, maybe another year and a bigger bike will do it.

The A race kicked off near 11am with a fast start. Rodd and Neil were both out of the gate very well, and I found myself in the top 20 not feeling like I was going tooo hard, which seemed like a good idea. The course was excellent today, with more turns that previous Brittania courses I've raced, and really good spacing of red-line and tempo sections. I consider a run-up a red-line section, as these are normally where I tend to come close to blowing a gasket, then have to recover from. I find the courses where you can hammer then recover and repeat the whole time more fun than those where you have to keep the pace more or less pinned all the time. When its technical the skills come into play more and everybody recovers more, so the race unfolds differently than more roadish courses, like Kanata tends to be. Good times.

Rodd's classic green Michelin Mud tire/wheel he offered me to use performed extremely well, confirming Michelin was mental to discontinue the tread. Confidence inspiring in the wet, fantastic! Since my Steelwool Truffle Pig is still under construction, I was on my Secteur 18 road bike we had built last year. Thankfully, the wet grassy mud was flowing well enough for clearance to the brakes not to become a problem, and the bike worked flawlessly. Sure, a tire sharper than my 30c Grifo in the back would have been nice, but that'll have to wait until I've got the TP. Two tubulars...crazy time it will be!

I managed to work my way up, contra my usual.......fade.....back 'method,' which was pretty fun to experience, that is, after the imploding feeling subsided post first lap madness. I found myself riding with Keirnan Orange, Warren McDonald, Steve Proulx, and Imad El-Ghazal after a while, and recall Greg Reain blow past us about mid-way in. Steve pulled away, and after some back and forth, including Warren drag racing down the finishing straight and flinging mud UP my nose(!), Imad and I ended up paired up heading into the last two laps. I turned on the 'jets' and attempted to shake him, but there was no doing, he was riding too smoothly and strong to break off. On the last lap I eased up and Imad passed, so I went into 'tactical mode' and planned to tail him closely and come around for the line. Well, I learned a valuable lesson, as a botched turn heading toward the final barriers allowed Imad to open a gap, and I simply did not have time to close it fast enough to come around at the end. We went for it full on, and I'm pretty sure I didn't bet closer than half a bike length away. Awesome sprint finish to a great race; it was good to work with Imad to get a bit of space between us and the others. I look forward to more battles like that over the season.

I'm very happy to report that my 10th overall spot behind Imad netted me my first cyclocross win evaaarr, which I am really excited about. I don't think Shawn Marshall is on form at the moment after weeks away in China wrenching for the US National Road team, so I'm pretty sure its going to take a lot of effort to have a hope of winning another. I was pretty uncertain about how my season of endurance riding would set me up for cross, and I'm both pleased and surprised to find that I am able to handle the intensity pretty well. As long as I keep learning every race I'll be able to improve each race, no matter what the results show. I also predict a number of the newer Tall Tree racers will be making big leaps in their racing over the course of the season. Their excitement and satisfaction at the end of these races really is the best thing about going. Well, that and the kids flying around on the course; that's the best thing, really.

See you all next week for the Madison! Then its time to Frolic!

Brad holds it down for the Tall Tree Beardos
Jamie, best finish ever?
Martin and Pascal rode well together.  Here Martin ATTACKS!
Rodd had his best start ever and ended up fifth in MA
BMX Jim had his first taste, and he likes it!
Neil, tight in the skinsuit, as usual.

 Here is a great shot by Sarah, Rodd had
no idea of the chaos behind him.
He ended up in a sprint with Glenn,
after he had dropped him,
then slid out on the second last corner. DOH!

Rob "Parsnips" Parniak. Check out the shouldering in the air!
J-to-the-P. Cool as a polar bear's toe nails, as usual.
Jay Heins was rocking the best horn, from a Dutch bike, I believe.  Excellent. 
Yep, this is what you do to avoid vomiting.
Then move to this. The modern man is not afraid to show vulnerability, right? I"m very modern. 
Neil, Pascal, Brad, Jamie (and that's me on the ground, grovelling). 
See what I mean, Pascal looks like a PRO Frenchman. BMX Jim, not so much, but he sure does look like he can kick your ass.
Imad and me, post race, all smiles. Great ally to have in the races, let me tell ya.
Creative re-enactment.

This is Rob's patented post race face. He doesn't tend to resort to flopping on the ground, unlike someone. No, he's just not that modern.
Post race coffee at Bridgehead. Oh so sweet.
Two Xtracycles in our camp today. Rodd's was full race-wagon. I can't wait to roll to races like this, hopefully next year. Much better then risking the tubulars on the way across town.

Thanks to Steve and Tanya for their photos. If you have a link you'd like to share, post it up in the comments.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fall Fixed Gear Frolic: Sunday October 3rd!

Hi all, just locked down the date for our third annual Fixed gear Frolic this morning: next Sunday, October 3rd.

This year has posed the greatest challenges of any other for scheduling both the Frolic and Double Cross. These events are just too well loved to skip, so I knew we had to find a way. With an intense cyclocross schedule locked down, including more three double race weekends, things were looking pretty grim. However, I think we've come up with a good solution.

Running the Frolic next Sunday gets us in before daylight savings. I didn't really want to run it on a Saturday, as too many shop folks would be cut out, so Sunday was kept, following the Brittania cross race. Racing will end at about 11:30, so racers will have time to run home, change clothes and bikes, and meet at Tall Tree Cycles for 2pm to roll out. Since we want people to make it home for dinner, we're going to do a Tour de Recreational Paths, covering pretty much all the best chunks of path in Ottawa-Gatineau, including Lac Leamy, Gatineau Park, the Voyageur Trail, Pinecrest Creek, The Arboritum, Vincent Massey Park and more. The route will be about 80k, rolling, and really pleasant.

We'll figure out a mid-way coffee stop. Apres ride, folks can opt to catch drinks/food as they like. I figure many will want to head home for dinner.

So get your fixed gear rollin! We'll ride rain or shine, so fenders might be golden.

More info to come. Here's the map:

Double Cross will be held on Thanksgiving Monday @ 09:30

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

2010 Paul's Dirty Enduro: "What doesn't destroy you makes you stronger"

At first blush, the quote above verges on trite. But a bit of thought, given it was delivered in the context of stage racing by a Pro Tour rider, reveals substance below the surface. "Destroy" needs to be operationally defined, because if we take it literally, its equivalent to 'kill,' right, except more violent. In this context, 'destroy' means thrash, trash, empty, cook, bake, fry, toast, crack...completely deplete. In cycling, completely emptying yourself might win you a battle or two, but you won't win the war if you do it all the time, especially when it comes to stage racing. This is because recovery is essential to actually maintaining form, let alone improving. So destroying oneself is ok at select times, given you have time to recover. That can take anywhere from a day or two to a couple weeks, depending on the sort of destruction you've wreaked

I headed to Paul's Dirty Enduro with a clear intention not to destroy myself. After all, my cyclocross season is about to start, and I committed myself to improving on my 2009 results way back in the winter. Yet, as September hit I was still signed on for endurance events, which I knew would mean I would not have much chance to tune up for cross until October. Oh well, Hastings is awesome, and I've wanted to do Paul's for years. As long as I didn't destroy myself in the process it would be all good.

Step one was getting there, and as no other Tall Tree riders were signed on for the race, I had to scramble at the last minute to find a ride to Ganaraska Forest. With not a bit of arm twisting, Peter Mason and Mark McNab, of Big Ring Racing fame, granted me a spot in their car, and away we went Friday night. Conversation abounded on the drive to the venue, and we were there before we knew it, Zen navigation and all. My start was at 8am, theirs 11, so they dropped me off at the venue, helped me set up my tent, and rolled off to their motel 20 minutes away.

There is something comforting about sleeping with your bike next to you. And your shoes, cause they make good clubs in the case of a bear attack.
"Everyone has a plan...'till they get punched in the mouth" - Mike Tyson

Before I knew it the clock had struck 11:45 and I was ready to sleep. Or not. As it turned out the 100g of chocolate I'd pigged out on at 5pm had other designs for me: insomnia. Not exactly to plan...more like a punch in the mouth. Ah well, I've had my share of insomnia this year, so I don't stress much. I'd slept well Thursday night, and that's always the more important sleep.

Ugh, this is my face at 6:30am. Not pretty.
Day breaks, and its time for breakfast in the tent and suiting up for the race. I didn't have a clue about their feed zone practices, so after sussing that out I placed a bag of bottles in a truck that would stop at two feed zones, and placed another couple 30 feet from my tent, where we'd pass by at 40k into the race. Then it was go time, but first, call ups/attendance: "Yada yada, Ben Dawson, yada yada, Hatt Surch." "Matt, its Matt," I said, and under my breath "or perhaps 'ass-hat,' guess we'll find out.' Go.
Mmm, layered Clif gel. Mocha/Vanilla, repeat. I fit 6 packs in here and consumed about two thirds. Kinda gross, but effective.
"Healthy Energy" apparently. Hey, why not try this stuff for the first time before a massive race? Sure, sounds good. Pretty much juice, FRS seemed pretty good. I think I will experiment some more. FRS, wanna send some samples?

If you'd expect a fairly mellow start to a 100k mountain bike race, you'd be right. Group ride pace would be right. The faster guys moved up right away out of the 20 or so rider field. I knew who to follow, Ben Dawson, reigning King, so I did just that. However, a few others had other ideas, so they moved up, and started falling down. After the second or third time this happened, about 5k in, I instinctively took advantage while second wheel, and surged ahead. This created a gap I maintained for about 10k. Then 5 came back to me after a long slog through very sandy singletrack. As it turns out, motorcycles ride a chunk of the 100k course, and have clearly been doing so for some time. The top soil is long gone, and the trail is up to two feed deep, forming a channel. While the motos clearly contribute to some interesting trail features, such as whoops and berms, I can't help but wonder how their riding can be considered sustainable? From a cyclists perspective, the sand sucks, literally.
Hanging with the others felt good, so I was happy. By 40k in there were just four of us, Ben, Andrew and Alex. Alex had won before, as had Ben, numerous times, and Andrew apparently lost it last year after being misdirected. Rolling out of the 40k checkpoint it was just Ben, Andrew and me, so I figured my odds were looking pretty good.

It was clear how Ben won numerous times: he was steady and smooth. It was pretty clear that Andrew had a bit more go from my perspective third wheel though, so I kept a close eye. Then I took another punch to the mouth. On a quick descent about 58k in, I clipped a tree with my bar on the right, saved it, but careened into another, which I could not avoid. Down I went, handlebar turning 180 degrees and requiring the jaws of life to turn back around (its a 29er thing). Andrew had asked if I was ok when he heard me go down, always nice to see that sort of consideration. I was ok, but they were gone. Ok, so, protect 3rd now. At the 60k feed zone I fixed my shifter and brake lever positioning, and got rolling again.

"Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever." - Lance Armstrong

My chain was squeaking. Pulling a total rookie move, I'd only applied a thin lube, Pro-Link, at home, and after going through a couple puddles it was gone. Sure enough, chain suck followed, then a broken link. I always carry a spare master link, so in that went and I was rolling again. 3rd place, hold it. My pace was steady, and felt pretty good. I'd come into the race with tender hamstrings, so I'd been taking it easy on them, and walked some really loose steep climbs to preserve my legs. That was the smart thing to do, and I needed to be smart. After breaking the chain I knew the granny was a no-go, so any steep climbs should be run. That worked really well, and felt pretty good too. Cross training, I thought, cool. Then the unthinkable: I spotted Dawson! Ok, how long until I get to where he is? I wondered. About 3 or three minutes it turned out. Wow, big surprise. We were about 70k in. Soon I hit a feed zone and asked where he was. One minute ahead. Wow, ok, thanks folks. I caught Ben about three minutes later, and confirmed that he was completely cracked. I offered a word of encouragement, and he indicated Andrew was long gone.

A choice had to be made: chase or maintain. In my mind, holding steady was akin to quitting, to giving up the fight; I had to chase. There was no telling how far ahead Andrew was, so I simply had to ride as hard as I thought I could. Agony ensued. After consuming Shot Bloks and caffeinated gel all morning, my chest felt like it was imploding, while my neck ached immensely and, quite frankly everything from the waist up just plan hurt. But my legs were fine, so I just kept them going and tried to savour each tic of the computer. Descents at 35kph were a gift, eating up the distance. Mental gymnastics were required to stay positive and gain satisfaction from each meter gained. At 90k in I was prepared for the last 10. The hills did not stop coming over the last 20k, but in fact increased in length. I was thankful to be able to stay on top of my 34x34 and avoid walking. I figured my computer was a little under in total distance, as it had been visibly missing some of my rolling, but I was not prepared to find myself riding toward the start/finish area at just under 94k in. Would they have my bypass the finish, rode another 6k, then finish? That’d be sadistic, wouldn’t it? It would. A short looparound had me pointed at the finish line and delivered one of the highest points of elation I’ve experienced in a long time. Katie thought I wanted more when I remarked on the 94k total, mistaking my joy for disappointment! I’m sure my intonation in that nearly-destroyed state hardly sounds joyous. Andrew was way ahead, about 16 minutes away, so that was that. I ended up rolling in with a total time of 5:52, and my computer showed 5:36 of that was spent rolling. With an average speed reading just under 17kph, I hit a high of 50kph; my 34t big ring was more than sufficient.

After a scrub with poison ivy neutralizer and cold water, staggering to my tent, cleaning up some more and lying down for a bit I was ready to return to the world. Tents sure are great to have around post race!

Post race food was excellent, featuring wonderful volunteers serving up both veggie and carnal chili, salads, buns, apples and drinks, along with a coffee stand and beer. While waiting for Peter and Mark to roll in I had opportunity to really soak up the vibe of the race after spending so much time alone over the course of the morning.
I ate more than twice this amount of food, then repeated when I got home at 8:30. The veggie chili was great, as was the rest of the fare, especially the pasta salad here. Thanks cooks, this was all much appreciated after a day 'eating' space food!
Lots of families and kids, this was a great grassroots sort of race. Everyone seemed to be in a great mood and enjoying themselves.
Peter and Mark came in with three minutes between them. Aside from feeling like puking for the last 10k or so, Peter was lovin' it. Mark was going strong until about the same point, when he faded a bit, but still finished strong. 9th and 12th in  the 40-49 category. Well  done guys!
Peter rocked the one cog like a champ!
Chattin it up with a fellow Hastings Hilly Hundred rider I met the previous weekend. He figured he'd make his 7th mtb ride a race, why not? That's the spirit, biking rules!!!!

Katie, event organizer extaordinaire and super cool lady, delivers a bit of Shakespeare to the crowd. Or tosses bottles, your pick. Katie is an awesome MC, no question. I'm sure she's a total hoot to ride with.

The Big Ringers are sponsored by beer. Yep, beer, Steamwhistle specifically. They had to pay for these, as they forgot their 'get beer free' cards at home, but Peter did have his PRO-issue bottle opener handy. After one of these Peter's nausea subsided; neat huh?

Damn, talk about a pants catastrophe. Mine are so droopy I look like a spaz, and Ben's...well, I'm hoping they were meant to be ironic. Yep, ACDC. 
"The King is dead, long live the King." Andrew Decal and Heather Gray. Congrats on awesome races folks!

Super cool booty! I'm holding a handmade tile I'll have to work into a backsplash, an exercise ball (I've been wanting to get one for a while; yes, I'm serious), Ergon grips (which I've wanted to try for a while, but refused to because of their offensively wasteful packaging), and polka-dot Sugoi arm warmers in XS! I figured my daughter would like them as leg warmers, and I was right! They are darn cool.  It was nice surprising her with a prize back at home.

Big thanks go to Katie and the Paul's volunteer crew, who put on a heck of a great event with a really positive atmosphere. I'll be back, and I'll try to bring some friends along. A big thank you also goes to RE:FORM Body Clinic, specifically, Katie, who fit me in last Monday to cash in the massage they donated at the Hell Climb. I'm certain my legs would not have felt nearly as good had I not had the opportunity to benefit from the massage therapy RE:FORM provided. And last but not least, a big thank you to Peter and Mark for helping me out at the last minute to get to the race, and for being such great travel companions. I look forward to more opportunities to hang with you guys. 

Ok, so that's a wrap on my endurance racing season, and it is now time to turn full attention to cyclocross. With an exciting Steelwool cross bike due any day for field testing, I'm psyched to get racing and keep on learning and improving. With so many Tall Tree riders and friends taking up cross this year for the first time, it's going to be a really fun atmosphere at the races. We'll continue to do what we can to liven up the vibe, cowbells and all. Hope to see you all there; bring your kids if you have 'em and get crazy for cross!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2010 Hastings Highlands Hilly Hundred: Still the toughest ride around

Too beautiful not to share. This mist awaited us 2 minutes from the our abode, Jacques' farm.  T'was to be a perfect day, meteorologically speaking at least.
Since Rodd and I did the 4H four years ago, we were sold on the event. Sure, we, particularly I, suffered a fair bit that year, as we/I did the following year, but last year ended up being pretty good. Improvement was made each time, and we put in solid rides. However, we didn't ride with out team-mates much, and green bastards ended up strewn across the route. This year would be different, we had a new plan.
Krakalak. Daybreak at the farm. Pascal is up and attem, wollied and bearded; must be a Tall Tree guy. Yep.

Two groups, two objectives. The 'touring' group, composed of Rodd, Pascal, Jacques, Chris, and, by circumstance, Mike, had a clear mission: ride steady at a comfortable group pace and don't chase anyone. Group two, Rodd referred to as the 'pro' team, but the reality is we were and are just a bunch of masters dudes, three of 5 with children, who still like to hammer: Rob, David, Todd, Jamie, and yours truly, Matt. 'Prosers' might be apt. Having finished with the lead group the last couple years without team-mates, I was keen to ride as a team this time around. Rob, David and Todd were new to the ride, and Jamie was returning. I knew David and Rob would fare well, but Todd's lack of big miles this year and Jamie's still burgeoning form made their prospects unknown. From my perspective, success would mean the five of us would finish with the lead group, and our tourists further back would come in happy. Neither goal would be realized quite as hoped.

The 'tourists': Pascal, Rodd, Jacques (the most interesting man in the world), Mike. Notice the conspicuous absence? Read on.

Whoa, who are these studs? The prosers: Todd, Jamie, Matt, David, Rob. 3 steel bikes to two 'others.' Just sayin.

As seems to happen too often, my carload wasn't quite prepared for the 7:45am start, which led to a chase out of the parking lot. Only about 1 minute had been lost, so it didn't take a monumental effort to bridge up to the front. As Todd chased my wheel, Jamie jumped on as I overtook the TT tourists, and followed me up to David and Rob up front. Nathan Underwood, who joined us at Jacques' farm for the stay over, was up there too, spinning effortlessly. The pace was high to the first splendid checkpoint, as open roads allowed the peloton to cruise around 40kph. Selections were made in short order, sooner than previous years. I don't think anyone was trying to make this occur, but it did. Pulling into checkpoint one our group was about 20, and we moved quickly in and out. The pace continued briskly to checkpoint two, also typically 'manned' by friendly volunteers. Then we took it down a notch or two and settled into a more mellow all-day pace fit for the hills.

All were accounted for and faring well. Knowing the difference of a couple kilometers an hour could hurt Jamie and Todd too much, Rob, David and I made conscious efforts to maintain a steady moderate pace up a series of climbs. If others wanted to attack, that would be up to them. We'd set the pace when we could and keep it just shy or at tempo. It was working, and I could tell others were appreciating the manageable pace. Nathan was also setting a steady pace when pulling, measuring his efforts and avoiding surges. Consequently, our group was staying together well. More wind buddies for the open road sections sounded great to me. Then the tables turned.

Climbing a shallow grade on open highway after turning from a secondary road seconds prior, Jamie delivered unexpected news: Todd had dropped his chain and stopped. Rob and I eased up and looked back; Todd was hidden below the horizon. We agreed it would be hard to catch the pack if we waited much, but our choice was clear; Todd would not ride in purgatory, we'd work together and try to catch back up. Rob and I took the opportunity to take shot bloks and gel, preparing for the effort to come. Then we waited. When Todd emerged a couple minutes in, we rolled out and got up to speed quickly. Soon Dave was spotted ahead, preparing to join the chase. Meanwhile, Jamie was in the lead group, attempting to calm the horses. Time would tell whether he could. The pack was nowhere in sight.

The chase felt pretty good for a while, but my biofeedback was not sufficient to meter my effort well. After a series of hard pulls I realized I was digging myself into a deep hole. Rather than experience pain, my legs emptied. I was hollowed out, a translucent husk floating in the breeze. I swore. I felt like I jettisoned the team as I fast became the weakest link. Despite my implosion we were still gaining, and the pack, small as it was, was within shouting distance. Yet we dangled. Jamie floated back to help. We hung on...just barely. Then, turning a corner we spied a checkpoint. Elation. We'd done it, whether we could hang from there didn't matter, we were back on. Yet, elation turned to dejection as the others rolled out before we had finished filling our bottles. That was it, I knew it, WE knew it. We couldn't chase. I gave Rob an out: "You and Dave can go with them if you want." Rob's reply was emphatic, and carried a great deal of meaning: "No." It was settled, we'd ride on together, and if we caught them, fine, but our chase was done.

David picked up on my lost confidence as I lamented being thrashed. "Your legs will come back, they will," he said. I half believed him; I wanted to. Thing is, I'm not accustomed to the feeling of empty, useless legs, outside of the odd occurrence early in the spring at the end of long rides. I'm more accustomed to pain, and I'm perfectly content to feel that. You can push through pain, but you simply can't push through emptiness. I wanted Dave to be right. I did what I could, focusing on technique, eating, drinking, warding off the bonk hammer, and staying positive.

With perhaps 30k to go we picked up Edgars Apse and Don, both of whom I'd ridden with last year. Edgars was just wrapping up a flat fix so we waited and rode on, now seven. As foretold by David, my legs came around with about 20k to go, and we all managed to ride well for the duration. Edgars put in what might have been taken to be an attack as we rolled through town, leaving us waiting for a light and scratching our heads...hmmm. Regardless, we started as a team, and we finished as a team. Despite my personal disappointment about cracking, I had a lot to be happy about. David finished feeling awesome, meaning he's right on form for Crank the Shield later this week, his priority event for the year. I'm super happy for him and hope it goes really well. Todd rode his longest ride in years and turned himself inside out to hang in, showing grit, character, and astounding form. Jamie pulled off what had to be his strongest ride of his life, for which I am very proud. This has been a huge year for Jamie, and I can only look forward to new heights reached down the road. And of course, Rob was a consummate team-mate, demonstrating pure poise and class over the course of the day. The camaraderie we manifested exemplifies an integral part of cycling's beauty. 

Rob and Dave had to jet, leaving Jacques, Pascal, Todd, Mike, Jamie, Rodd and myself to take care of the eating. To my chagrin, there were no vegan veggie burgers again. I guess I should have emailed. I liken my un-burger of bun, onions, tomato pickles and condiments to a bad coffee; you just have to right the wrong with some proper food/coffee. My lovely wife and inlaws saved take-out from Green Earth back in Ottawa for me, so all was right again in the world by 8pm.

I suspect one of the TT Tourists will recount a tale or two from their perspective. Their day took a nose dive when Chris hit the ground at 50kph and sustained pretty heavy road rash on his right side. Locals were quick to help out, and Chris was well taken care of. Emails indicate he's got much more fight left in him and he'll be back on his bike as soon as he can. Live to ride another day!

Check out Rouleur Marc's great video here.

Our ride time was 5:53, at an average of about 32kph over 190k with 2500m climbing. 

Rodd's photos, including the a couple of first aided Chris, can be found here. 

Many thanks to Clive, Christine, and all the fabulous folks who volunteered their time to make the Hilly Hundred a great event, once again. There seemed to be more riders than ever this year, and it was great to see so many riders from Ottawa make the trip to Bancroft to ride. We'll be back in 2011.

Friday, September 10, 2010

City of Ottawa Cycling Survey

Folks - here is your chance to tell the city about problem areas for cyclists on the city streets. From a commuting perspective I am happily on the western pathway for 8 months of the year so I focussed my comments generally on the "connectivity" and the "condition" of designated bike lanes. Many of you who commute in other parts of the city will I'm sure have specific "trouble locations" you may want to identify.

Ride the Rideau for Cancer Research

Let me introduce you to the non-cycling part of my life: I am a cancer researcher at the General Hospital Cancer Centre. I am currently pursuing my master's degree in cancer therapeutics as well as working part time as a researcher studying biomarkers for ovarian cancer.

The funding that we receive for our research comes from a competitive grant submission process organized by government agencies. However, this funding is only applicable to day to day costs and salaries, not to infrastructure. In order to shorten the time between basic lab research and patient-ready treatments, a new addition to the Cancer Centre is being built with the purpose of running in-house clinical trials. However, the money for this construction must be raised by the community. This brings me to my focus: tomorrow I will be participating in a 100km bike ride from Ottawa to Merrickville to raise money for this new research facility. I have already raised $2400 over the summer and I'm hoping to reach my goal of $2500 by tomorrow. If anyone is interested in supporting this cause, donations can be made at my homepage:

More information can be found on the fundraiser's website where I am featured (under tab#3)

Thanks for your support!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

D2R2 2010: Ruminations (with photos!)

Many readers will be familiar with the CBC, Canada’s public broadcasting corporation. I often stream the radio feed while working. Recently, one of the hosts made mention of a study that examined the impact of highly mediated experience – television, photography, telephony, texting, email, computing, etc. – on memory and creativity. It so happens this, specifically, photography, was the subject of my masters thesis, so I’m quick to geek out. I mention this here following my earlier post’s comment on creativity and riding. Riding is, or at least can be, the antidote to the ‘plugged in’ existence so many of us articulate. As I try to gather thoughts to convey ideas and impressions of D2R2 in an interesting and creative way, I think about what I remember and why. I am a forgetter, except when it comes to things that have a strong latent ‘charge’ for me, experiential or emotional (not that those two are ever really distinct). For instance, aspects of rides are unforgettable to me, as is the multitude of cycling minutia. I believe this is because I have many neurological pathways new information/ideas can link to/travel/anchor in. Few cycling facts are isolated, they are always relational for me in an embodied sense, even, or perhaps, especially, technological stuff. Strange but true.

In writing about D2R2 outside of my ride report format, I feel challenged and obligated to do the ride justice in my rendering. The fact is, its the most influential and special cycling event I’ve participated in. The question arises: what is so special about it, why does it pull more and more people every year? I can only hope my memory and creativity, indeed fettered at this very moment by virtue of my use of this here computer, will come through for me and meet the challenge.

I want to extract and convey some of the key elements that made and make D2R2 a unique opportunity to tap into the beauty of cycling. 

Rapha Continental | D2R2 from RAPHA on Vimeo.

Can a race deliver a special cycling experience if the course is lacking in creativity and challenge? Yes, it can, because creativity can and does manifest in the actions of the riders. The route is a canvas the racers paint with their attacks, counters, blocking, climbs, descents, turns and the rest. Emotion pours into the road in pursuit of greatness, however it is defined. Great courses don't always translate into great races, but they usually do.

A randonnee or any other non-competitive cycling event demands more. The route has to stand on its own, for many riders will find no solace in the draft of others; they will work alone, engage the route solo from beginning to end at their own pace. A route lacking in features will only disappoint; why bother if one can simply ride a nice local near home?

D2R2 is the route of routes. As a neophyte route planner/event organizer, I think about routes a lot. What makes a good route? How does one design a route that will please the majority or riders? Well, it depends, certain decisions about the sort of rider you want to attract, and please, must be made up front. A ride like our Fixed Gear Frolic is meant to be inclusive, so its flatish and not too long. This way, its within grasp for most fixed gear riders with a bit of road time. But more than anything, its a social ride, and its good to do those once in a while. D2R2 is another beast, yet it still manages to be very social. However, this is mainly because Sandy’s description certainly weeds out hundreds of riders who are not prepared for the hardest ride of their lives. But the intention is not to hold a ‘hardman’ event, its to hold an amazing event,  one that is not about winners and losers. From a look around, I’m guessing few felt like losers, even those who didn’t quite measure up to their expectations. I read in a Rapha Continental interview of Sandy that he designed the route by pinning all the best views, climbs and descents in the area, then connecting them. He didn’t try to emulate any other route, but create the best route the terrain had to offer. I won’t forget this approach; I use it myself when planning routes now. Every time I see an event called "XYZ Roubaix" I can't help but think of Sandy's words. I think it really is best to create events that play up the best elements of local topography and other features rather than try to emulate other events. 

Daybreak pulling into the start finish area. Glenn, Pascal and I rode over on Friday night through the cornfield. The road was much faster. 
There is a certain mystical aspect to the D2R2 route I’m trying to understand. Even though its the hardest route I’ve ever traveled, it has not caused the same degree of pain and suffering other far less difficult routes have. And I’m not even talking about races alone. There is something about riding a ‘just get up the hill’ pace that seems to keep me, and most others it seems, from going into the red, and that, combined with the scenery and conversation, seems to really mitigate the difficulty of the route. Then there are the descents, which are numerous and so exciting. Could it be that the lack of flat sections actually helps conserve energy, as one can often drive too hard on a flat? Maybe. Quite possibly. Probably.

Traction might be another mitigating factor. If you can’t put the power down for fear of slipping the back wheel, you can’t get into the hurt locker as easily as normal. This year's loose conditions allowed those on mtbs to ride more efficiently on loose climbs than rigid bikes. I was astounded by the speed of a number of mtb riders over the route, and find it really cool that the roads can be covered so well with such a diversity of setups, from full rando bikes to race bikes, 29ers and full suspension 26ers. It really is a 'run what you brung' route, though low gearing isn't really optional. The classic D2R2 question: 'So, what gear are you running?' Rest assured, they are not asking about your high gear!

The diversity and quality of folks out to ride D2R2 is another factor that mitigates the difficulty of the route. The guys I rode with this year were really interesting and fun, and happy to tell stories and share insights about all sort of stuff. They were also observant. Best example: Todd remarked on the sign reading “Caution, Deaf Blind Dog” on the side of a tiny dirt road, while a pot belly pig lay across the dirt. I didn’t see any of that! I was also treated to a history lesson about the roads themselves, granted, I did prod a bit. Turns out, little did I know, that 80% of New England was deforested about 150 years ago. The carriage roads much of the D2R2 route were used by locals for quite some time to conduct a myriad of resource related activities; they pre-date automotives by decades and centuries. Thus, their grades and curves are gentle enough to be navigated by horses and carriages. For bikes, this translates into blissful descending. Sight lines are long, and incredible speeds can be reached. As Todd said, "Any road with 'old' and/or 'stage' in the name in New England you gotta hit up." Noted! In general, I noticed that the names of roads in the area are a lot more telling than those I'm used to, except, perhaps Chamonix near Wakefield. 'Woodsmoke' doesn't exactly suggest 'crazy elevation gain;' this sort of name is more typical around here. I'm starting to think one might be able to choose great routes in New England based on the names of roads alone. I guess time will tell. 

Unlike any other cycling event I've attended, D2R2 is very much about camaraderie, and I really appreciate that. Everyone in our group met interesting folks along the way and I think we all look forward to seeing them again in the future. To think that I might see the same faces for years to come at D2R2 really provides a feeling of belonging to something enduring, something good. Races are not like that; one does not expect to see the same faces year in and year out. Its just not sustainable for the majority. D2R2 is sustainable, and cycling is a lifelong passion, lifestyle and commitment for the majority of the riders. I think this is what makes it unique, most of the folks are on the same wavelength, and its not emanating competitiveness and machismo. This environment is refreshing. 

Rock and Roll. From left to right: Chris, Ariel, Jamie, Matt, Pascal (back), Glenn, Holden, Felix, Ronan, Beatrice (front)
Great routes don't necessarily involve a thousand turns, but this one does. After my 2009 ride, where I could only follow others with local knowledge or useful cues, I knew tulip notes were the way to go. We use these for our events and they are meant to be pretty much idiot proof. Even though my computer kacked out for 20miles, I was still able to use these, as the arrows helped me recognize turns. These were painstakingly created by Steve for the team, and massively appreciated all around.
 Simple and effective mounting with a section of tire underneath the clip to add grip and protect our fancy stems. Ariel provided the sectioned tire, and helped set these up at 5am. Team work.

My ride, custom Steelwool Secteur 18 (now dubbed the Rover for production). Handling was spot on, always confident on the descents and stable. My second bottle ejected on the last high speed descent, so I didn't bother to stop for it. My 30c Grand Bois tires are great, but I simply had bad luck with pinch flats this time. Next year I'll run larger volume tires on my Steelwool Truffle Pig cross bike to provide more traction all the time, and more pinch protection. Judging by the prowess of the full suspension mtbs on the route, I don't think I'll lose much on the climbs, as traction will be boosted. Then I'll be able to plummet the descents without concern for flatting. Cause one could say D2R2 is all about the descents.  
Glenn sported a nice roomy seatbag to carry his 'goodies.' Next year I plan to use a nice handlebar bag like Todd's Ortleib Ultimate 5 Compact, in orange! This bag is foam lined, so perfect for bananas, cameras, and perhaps even crystal good luck charms.
Mad Alchemy's warm weather embrocation was just right for the day, blocking the cold 10 degree celcius wind in the morning. Pretty decent flypaper action too.

How many cycling events do you know of that people see themselves doing every year for as long as they keep riding? D2R2 gains more and more devotees every year, which will surely lead to massive start lists down the road. The only limiting factor is likely the capacity of the volunteer crew to provide the level of support they pride themselves on: phenomenal. Lets hope Sandy and company have the energy to keep it going for many years to come.

Pembroke MTB Race Sept.19

Did you know there was an Ottawa Valley Mountain Bike Association? I'll admit I didn't know until last Fall when I made the trek up to Pembroke for a race they were hosting. And I'm glad I did -- the race was loads of fun with a mostly singletrack "enduro" length course and a really positive vibe overall. Some of the better parts of the course were constructed by Algonquin College students training in the Outdoor Adventure program in Pembroke. That program has three or four mountain biking courses and one of them includes some IMBA-style trail building education. The local riders get to reap the benefits of a "hands-on" education! Anyway, their race is coming up again on September 19 so if you're looking for one last mountain bike race before 'cross season here's your chance:

Monday, September 6, 2010

More diversity, new adversity and a podium...

Two weeks ago saw a return to racing after a much needed break. I was feeling a bit burnt out after the GP, 8 Hr, then Wilderness 101 as well as some midweek travels. I was really looking forward to Lake Placid XTERRA off-road tri....a great combination of multisport that really suits me. I’m not the best at any of the diciplines but I can swim better than the average mtn biker, and when I’m on my running game (sadly not this year) I can trail run with some of the best around....been known to dabble a bit on the mtn bike thingy too.
Friday afternoon saw me and three tri buddies headed down to LP in the orange Westie. We arrived in time to meet another friend from NY and had enough daylight to head over to Wilmington and climb Mt. Whiteface. I had never been there before and was stunned at each corner as the view just got better and better, sun setting on one side, Lake Placid below, and the moon rising above...magic. Making the top in 1:03 on a dualie was pretty magic too....chasing my buddy on his road bike all the way just a bit behind. Two others on mtn bikes stopped at the gate...I was not going to miss this opportunity. Screaming down at 75+ kph on a mtn bike was a rather...unique experience too...and damn chilly !!

Saturday pre-ride brought an interesting course, very tight twisty turny, no climbs just some short grunts up, and some rough new cut sections. It was a loooooong course, 35 km in total. After the preride (in perfect dry conditions) my 2 tri buddies downgraded to the half-race. They were only expecting a 2.5 - 3 hr race (for the full) which is what they ended up with for the half so it was all good.
Camping in the westie brought some Saturday night rains. Sunday morning was cool but not cold. About 100+ starters for the full race gathered at the beach at Mirror Lake. The 1500 m swim was rather uneventful, and I came out in the back half at 32 minutes and change, a couple minutes slower than expected. The run to the transition area is about 500 m on cement so I opted to doff my wetsuit and donn my shoes at the swim exit...good strategy, passed many people in that couple minutes. Out on the bike it was raining, I wore a plastic garbage bag over my kit for the whole ride, very smart and warm !! About 4 k of rd and gravel to get to the trails. I passed a lot of people as soon as we hit dirt, the shitty swimmer can ride much better than these slightly faster swimmers. The course was much more difficult than the pre-ride with the overnight soaking, but the race kings held up well in the wet mostly loamy soil. Even the tree roots were not too bad and there were very little in the way of rocks to worry about. There is almost no place to pass in these trials but riders were almost always ready to move whenever "track" was called. Only one time early on I arrived at the back of an 8 person line and after a minute or so we got the lead guy to pull over. This group broke up, then broke up again, til it was myself and one guy on a relay team together. The air was at solstice...again my glasses fogged and were slipping down my nose when all of a sudden a spruce bough swept across my face, and unfortunately into my right eye. I was temporarily blinded but with the adrenaline pumping just kept going. Once the shock wore off I could see albeit quite blurrily. Lucily the guy I was riding with was a great rabbit and I only needed to watch him and not the trail (with my weaker left eye, in the rain and fog). He left after the first loop then I was lonely for quite a while on the second. I could go my own pace which as we all know can be good or bad depending on the situation.

By the halfway point of the second loop I was catching other riders, many of whom were on realy teams or were in the half race. It was quite a struggle to get through this ride in the conditions with a gimpy eye, and while my ride was good with no mechanical or problems I was glad for it to be over and get running.

The trail run here is awesome, tons of elevation, a variety of terrain, mostly single-track, a river crossing and mud bog, some big uphills and crazy screaming technical downhills....all times 2 loops for me ! I had a good run, not stellar but then again I had not many runs under my belt in the past few months and was intending on a 2.5-3 hrs race. I eventually finished up completely spent in 3:59 and change. Good enough for 13 / 111 overall and a top spot on the age category podium !! The overall winner was about 3:25, probably 40-60 minutes slower than your typical XTERRA. The race was awesome and everyone had a great time - even the tri-geeks who were so impressed with the mtb riders....(they should see us on a real mtb technical course) !

Since then I’ve been nurturing my eye and have kind of sunk back into a non-enthusiastic mode. I want to get the eye of the tiger back for CX and after the past bunch of days of doing nothing but flipping channels and walking to the fridge, today’s mtb at KL was fun and refreshing.
Next up will be the Hastings Hilly Hundred....this will be the determination of whether or not I have the fire, will, desire, health and shape to sign up for Paul’s Dirty Enduro for one last big endurance event before that season winds down and CX winds up.