Thursday, November 24, 2011

Eastern Ontario CX Upper Canada VIllage

Mike ripping in Upper Canada. (photo: Graham Page)
I've lived in Ottawa most of my life. I grew up here, but it took a cyclocross race to get me to Upper Canada Village for the first time. Not that I didn't want to go as a kid; I simply never did. In hindsight I can't understand how that happened, or rather didn't happen...better late than never.

Despite the Village being closed for business on Sunday, I still got a chance to get a sense of the place, and I look forward to going back with my family. It would be nice to race there while the place is open, but I suspect they are too busy for that to be safe for the kids running around.

Those of us visiting the Village for the first time to race didn't know what to expect from the terrain. I was surprised, pleasantly, to see a fair sized hill in the centre of the course with a fast downhill into a hairpin that looked fun. The course looked expansive, though didn't feel that way once riding. Following a good sized B field, a small A group lined up just as the clouds positioned themselves for a dousing. As we were about to launch the rain began.

With Steve Proulx racing the Anvil in Nepean, my next closest competitors in the Masters A field were Craig "Smoking Guns" Hawkes and Charles Plamondon. Both were vying for big points, as was I, so I knew I'd have to ride well. Neil and Imad would surely apply pressure from the Senior group, and I'd aim to go with them and work hard to stay out of trouble.

Off to a good start, Neil forgot or ignored my advice to cut the first turn  by using the dirt shoulder, allowing my to come up his inside and lead the pack into the first section of grass. My pace was clearly not as fast as that pressed by the usual suspects at the front, which meant the field was still pretty close over the first half of the lap. Neil and Craig were in tow, while Charles, Todd, and Marcel (among others) chased. On either lap one or two, Neil attempted to remount on a hill with a barrier at the base, and erred (his chain dropped). I pressed the meat hard and created a gap with Neil and Craig about 5 seconds back. With a fair bit of wind along the St. Lawrence River gravel road, I'd planned to try to avoid pulling into the wind solo a lot, but now I had no choice. I accepted the race would hurt more than I had hoped, put my head down, and rode. Nearing two laps to go, I committed an unforced error approaching a set of double barriers; I failed to unclip and ate it. My bike landed on my ear, but everything was A-ok, so I was able to get back on and keep going without delay. However, Neil was now on my wheel, and I'd have to fight.

After pulling for a bit, then changing positions and following Neil through the wind, he outpowered me on the first run-up, only to have me close by taking a drier line up to the second hill-mounted barrier. Right on his tail, I was careful not to position myself in such a way that I'd hit him if he slid out. He held his lines, leaving me little room to make a move, until rolling onto the flat pavement we'd started on. Since it had rained hard for a good half hour, I was not confident about taking my dirt line, figuring I might sink in enough to slow down rather than gain ground. Heading toward a 90 degree turn onto an uphill paved path, I attempted to get in front, but Neil closed me down. We headed up the hill, Neil in the saddle, my watching. I couldn't tell whether he was tired or waiting, so I went again, attempting to get to the hairpin turn at the top first. Neil countered, and held even with me, him on the left, me on the right. This placed me on the outside of the turn, the weaker position. Nevertheless, I kept my speed up all the way to the top, and tried to turn. But Neil wasn't giving up any ground, which meant I ran out of room to turn and wound up augering into one of the course stakes and tape. Full stop, Neil was off, and I was off the bike to turn it around and finish off. One turn to go, there was not a change I'd catch up, so that was that. My gamble didn't work out, but it was fun trying. Next time perhaps I'll have the presence of mind to ease up and dive under....

Todd finished 3rd Master, his best result to date, after Charles Plamondon, followed by Jamie and Jim in 4th and 5th (also top finishes), and Andy came in mud covered 10th, grinning. Earlier Tanya and Mike battled it out to strong finishes, 3rd and 2nd, respectively, gaining valuable points for the overall competition. The course had become greasy, and was fun all around. It turned out to be a power course, but the effort was pretty steady, with the only spikes coming on the two hill run-ups. I look forward to racing at the Village again.

While we were racing in Upper Canada, Rob Parniak hit up the Anvil at the Nepean Equestrian centre....and won the Master A race! Congrats Rob, way to go! It was a great deal for Steelwool and Tall Tree riders.

Next up is the final race of the season, #10 in Almonte. With snow on Wednesday and rain to come, I suspect we'll get another taste of classic cyclocross conditions come Sunday. I'll be gunning to secure the series victory, and Rob could take the third spot if the stars align. Meanwhile Mike's in the running for the Master's B second place spot; I'm not sure whether its mathematically possible for him to overtake Jay Heins. Thom and Will will be there with their tent, coffee and pastries for folks to enjoy, so keep an eye out for them. It ought to be a great cap to the season, so c'mon out, and don't forget your cowbell!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

2011 Ontario Cyclocross Nationals

Ride with Rendall brought the Ontario Provincial Cyclocross Championships to Ottawa this year, building on two years of races held at the Nepean Equestrian Centre. Featuring a whole lot of tape and a whole lot of turns, the Hammer and Anvil tracks are all about cornering and accellerating. With virtually no cruise control sections on the track, racers were out for a hard hour of racing.

A dry day with a good bit of wind, Saturday delivered the fastest CX track conditions I've encountered. While I'd normally think tire like out Clement PDX tubulars would be just right for such a twisty course, the grass was so dry and grippy I think a file tread with a side knob would have been better. Pre-race, Rob commented he'd added air to account for the extra grip; he didn't want to roll a tire. I left mine alone, as they felt fine in warmup. As it turned out, my rear tire squirmed around so much I thought I had a slow leak!

All of our male riders lined up for the Masters A (30-39) start at 1:30pm. Hours later than usual for us, it felt off having so much time to fritter away before the race. To his chagrin, Iain lined up with the Senior field rather than the Masters, having to default to his road category. A minute after they went off, so did we. 
Andy heads into the difficult off-camber turn.
Jamie, same place
The pace off the start was fine, though I seemed inept at clipping in, losing some ground I'd have to make up. Peter Moog was in the lead, followed by local John Fee and Jon Barnes from Toronto. I sat in fourth and tried to be patient, watching carefully to see whether Fee would stay on Moog. I slipped into third spot somehow, and found myself narrowly avoiding going down on the most challenging offcamber turn when Moog slid out. I dismounted and ran, trying to get onto his wheel as the other two were delayed. Moog was elusive, and I was unable to hold his wheel, so I worked alone, lap after lap, moving through the back of the Senior field. A rival from T.O., Tristan Smith, shod with a chest-mounted video camera, was closing. With about 4 laps to go (of 9), he caught me, then played it smart and sat on my wheel until he was ready to attack. I went with him, but ultimately clipped a pedal and saw him open his gap enough that I could not close. On I went, only to realize late in the race that Barnes and Fee wwere chasing hard and gunning for my podium spot! Heading into the final lap I buried myself, and kept the pressure on at 100% effort to keep them at a distance. The race had been gruelling, working in the wind alone for much of the time and never really feeling good. I couldn't let 3rd slip away....It felt good to step onto the podium after a near miss at Nationals.

Rob finished a strong 8th, followed by Jamie and Andy in 12th and 13th, and Tanya 7th in the Masters A field. Iain took 9th in the Senior field, a solid result for a guy who's pretty green on the cross bike!

Thanks to Greg, Mark, Chris and Mike for coming out to support our racers. I can't overstate how much it helps to be urged on out there when we're suffering. Thanks to Ride with Rendall for putting on a great race, and all the folks from out of town who came to compete. The more the merrier! Congrats to all the Provincial Champions! 

Jamie Over the barriers.

Jamie powering out of the off-camber


Matt, mid off-camber

Rob powers up and out

Matt, cooked....

Thanks for the hand-up Chris!

Moog #1, Smith #2, Surch #3. See the Steelwool cap? Available now at the shop!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Kingston 'Cross 2011

Todd shrugged off the damage he took to his hand during a crash on gravel. Turns out my electrolyte drink served as an effective cleaning fluid. Gnarly.

Four hours in t he car on Sunday was worth it. While many Ottawa-based CX racers are finding it challenging to find the extra time required to drive to some if not all the out of town venues, those who made it to Kingston on Sunday were welcomed by many spectators and an excellent race course. Featuring long 10 minute-plus laps, the course had it all. A few features were striking, including a long stair run-up and serpentine descent. This was a course for those who could dismount well, with five forced leaps off the bikeI In fact gamut of skills were necessary on this track. Post race conversation among our Tall Tree/Steelwool folks confirmed the 'most rockin' feature had to be the roll in we were hitting full speed and pumping to keep the wheels planted. If hucking was desired, hucking could have easily been accomplished. The drop allowed confident riders to carry more speed and gain a second or two with no extra energy; outstanding.

While the A race went down with no significant injuries, unfortunately the same can't be said for the B race. Sadly, one of the men in the race took an awkward fall in the snaking desent and fractured his leg. I don't know specifically who it was, but wish him well in his recovery.

The A race was fast and furious. Imad led us out over the first lap, to be superceded by Osmund. I managed to get past Steve Proulx on the second lap (first full lap), and pulled away with Neil, to have Doug VdH bridge up. Meanwhile, Steve, Marc Boudreau and Matteo formed a chase group and drove hard to close. After slipping back from Neil and Doug, I maintained a tenacious mental game and fought to stay close and not allow the chasers to bridge. Many a spectator recommended the same tack, thus preventing me from letting up, easing the pain, and letting the others come to me. The dismounts were hardly more than flail-fests, but I was determined to drive hard, which meant I was nearly blowing up, but pushing on, a few times every lap. With two to go, Boudreau pulled away from Matteo, and Steve was nowhere to be seen. Marc was closing the gap, so I kept the pressure on and kept hime at bay until I caught Neil on the last lap. Neil was clearly recovering (from Doug's repeated vicious attacks, he'd later tell me), and I didn't want to make a dangerous pass, which allowed Marc to get on. Neil faltered leading into the stair run-up, leaving Marc and me to duke it out. Totally gassed after the stairs, Marc had the door wide open to pass, which he promptly did, allowing him to lead into the snake run downhill. Turning onto the uphill finish on Marc's wheel, I knew I didn't have as much, let alone more than he had to give, so away he sprinted to third overall, leaving me in 4th, 1st Master A. No regrets, Marc rode a blazing final lap, an excellent display of skill and power. Bagged but smiling, I was yet happier to see my team-mates roll in with strong finishes too, with Iain in 4th, Rob 5th, Jamie 6th and Todd in 8th. The guys are all motivated by the overall points ranking, and Sunday's results might well have solidified top 10 finishes for all of them. We've got two more races to accrue points; its great to have the overall as a motivator!

Mike finished a strong 3rd in the B race, Anna 6th, and Tanya 5th, excellent! Everyone is riding consistently right now and many are still improving each race. Bring on Provincials on Saturday, and Upper Canada Village on Sunday!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Double Bill: CX Nationals and Perth CX Weekend Bonanza

This past weekend marked the first of two double CX weekends on my schedule this season.  I love doing races back to back, but its surely a good thing I don't have opportunity to do that every weekend. If I were flying solo it wouldn't be a big deal, but it must be awfully tough for those with families. I'm happy to take in a couple each fall.

Saturday's race was event I've been 'focusing' on all season. After welcoming my son in March, my plan was to take things as they came with road and mtb racing and try to be in good form for CX. Nationals would be in Toronto, mid-season, so I'd have ample time to tune up. As the weeks progressed through October, it became more challenging to get adequate training in outside, so I hit the trainer to do intervals. Hopped up on a colleague's dad's home brewed echinacea and goldenseal tincture and regular doses of vitamin D, I was staying on top of the multiple bugs entering my system via ample exposure to my kids. Friday involved more Toronto driving than I'd curse anyone with, but I felt good if not a bit mellow come Saturday morning.

Last year's Nationals, also in Toronto, was rather lackluster for me. I was coming off walking pneumonia and not at my best. Jamie was going well though, and I think we rode a bit together, if memory serves. This time round we were once again the two Tall Tree riders representing, though this time flying the Steelwool colours, given the launch of the Truffle Pigs we're on. Jamie's still ramping up, after a busy foray into home renos over the last couple months, and was hoping to improve on his 12 place finish from 2010. I'd come 7th, and was aiming for at least a top 5, if not a podium. You have to aim high.

Steve, who recently returned to Toronto, his hometown, to take up residence, was on hand helping us out with logistics (taking our jackets and knee warmers) and taking photos. He'd be one of many with Ottawa ties to cheer us on along the course.

The morning had broken cold and clear, frost covering the ground and rapidly melting as the sun cast its glow over the hill and flat grounds of Pine Point Park. We couldn't tell how deep the frost penetrated, so we could only speculate about how the course would evolve over the two hours of racing preceding our 11 am start. Riding from 8:00 until 8:45 gave us a rare opportunity to experience what the local B racers often undergo. Slippery, but fairly predictable.

The race course would have to be characterized as 'turny.' Turns dominated its design in terms of handling, but at the same time, a medium sized hill also featured heavily, as racers were routed up it three different ways. One approach was a steep bank that Rob Orange impressed many on by riding up, while most others ran. I ran, after never making it in practice. The other two ascents were different, one switchbacking with a kick at the end, the other a straight run up with the same kick. I can honestly say the hill was not my favourite feature. Perhaps if I was 5 or 10 pounds leaner I'd like it more. Perhaps not. The other aspect of the course that was significant was the long flat straights on the backside. There was little wind in the morning, which made these less difficult for strung out riders than they could have. Overall, the course was well balanced by these three main components.

Log Barrier in the Woods

Log Barrier in the WoodsRun UP


I won't go into gory details, but suffice it to say that our Master 30-39 race was high paced and painful. Jamie drew a front row call-up, and I say in the second. Too much traffic off the start required a 100% effort on the second straight to move up to the front. Heading into the woods, a singletrack, no passing sector, I was third. The Albertan in front of me was clearly strong, but braked in every turn as the man to beat, Peter Moog, National Champ three years prior, didn't brake, and pulled away. I spent a great deal of effort trying to get by, and did, then tried to claw my way to Moog. I was at the limit, erred, went down, and the next two, both Albertans, went by. From there, I was not able to close the gap that opened, and only narrowed it to 4 seconds, despite my best efforts. Jon Barnes took over the pace making, rode strong and skillfully, but we didn't make up ground. After he, like many, went down on a greasy turn on the backside of the course, I had to go hard, and this proved decisive, as I opened a gap and rode out the last lap to claim 4th spot. In hindsight I could only wonder whether I ought to have never chased Moog in the first place. Looking at the lap times, I think it was the right move, it simply didn't work out. Hopefully Nationals will fall in Eastern Canada next year, and I'll get to try again. Congrats to Mr. Moog, Chris McNeil, and John Clark for their podium performances. Moog took his fourth National Champion jersey home (in a row), quite a display of dominance! Thanks to Jon Barnes for riding like a gentleman. I dedicate my 4th ahead of Jon to Rob Parniak.

Jamie improved on last year's result in 11th spot, despite coming in with perhaps less form. Experience counts for an awful lot. Next year it'll be a top 10! If we go.

That's enough for now, I'll post photos from Perth on Wednesday.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A mid-season reflection on ‘Cross

Cyclocross season 2011 brought with it some changes, no more races in Ottawa which meant a bit more driving and perhaps (hopefully not) less participation. The first race of the season was held at the first time venue of calabogie peaks. Last event there was likely the off-road tri I did about 4 years ago. The day was beautiful and sunny, the course was a delight for most - although some professed to have a hate-on for the sandy sections, while I despised the loose hill climb with no toe spikes. I expected to have a mediocre race (and season) due to the type and amount of athletic endeavours in which I had partaken as of late. Surprisingly found myself up with the almost top guys of Belinkey and Heins only to have dropped a chain and 50 m just prior to the last lap. Somehow I summoned a suitcase of courage and bridged the gap on the flats to eventually sneak David (who did a LOT of work throughout) at the finish to take 3rd.

Race 2 was the always fun madison at the familiar and typically mtn bikey venue of Almonte. Noah and I were teamed together and we seemed to keep a great pace with some of the other Tree teams of Grant and Matt, Rodd and Alex; and while Andy took a bit out of Noah I managed to keep Jim in my sights. The weather was a contrast to the previous week, coolish and grey with a few spittles, but a dry race.

Race 3 brings us to what was last year a very bumpy frozen Renfrew fairgrounds. This year still had some bumps but was a bit more forgiving...the Clement PDX seems to have aided as well. A group of green Trees were up early to set the course. While not my favourite course I do find it fun with the spectator stands to wind up and around...and later to observe from. A great start again for me but somehow on a second lap remount my pedal came out of the crank-arm. It must have worked loose on practice laps and ....This dropped me from Jay’s wheel in 5th to about 45th place as I tried to put the pedal back in by hand then failing that one legged it along the back stretch and bumpy grass to eventually reach the parking lot where I got a wrench from Andrew Olive. A couple minutes later I was back in the game and passing people left and right....kind of a surreal experience. Managed to put in some solid lap times that would have otherwise put me into contention for the top 3 again but alas only made it to 20 or so. Another lovely day was had.

Race 4 took us to Logos Land Christian retreat....which kept me thinking of dismounting over lego barriers. Never heard of this place before but it seemed to be a hit with all who partook. This was an exceeeeedingly long course but it was shaping up to be another dry day after imminent threats of a deluge prior. The base here is very sandy which was quite forgiving and would result in a pretty manageable course even in wet conditions. The length of each lap was daunting and after a start right at the back of the pack due to an ill-timed pee break as Bob was speaking prior to the start, I had to hammer through the field in desperation. Withing the first lap I caught Dave Munden, J-C and a few others to ride with. We did a lot of leapfrogging though the course as it contained such a wide variety of open flats, twisty woods, sandy ruts and a couple of hard grunts. Dave washed out at the little stream section before the picnic table section and this was the opportunity for J-C and I to hammer some distance. Eventually we came to Chris Olsen riding backwards and the three of us did some leap-frogging over the last lap. On the last hill after the barrier then 180, J-C put the quads to the rods and rode away from me. I had nothing left to hang on and just concentrated in staying ahead of Chris for another 3rd place finish.

Finally race number 5 brings us back to a challenging Renfrew course at Mah-ta-way park. A few cool mtn bikey elements along with a lot of flat power sections were augmented with a tricky off-camber greasy ditch section. I managed to ride this one on the low part, while others had success with the top. Many had difficulties here. This time the ladies started 2 minutes ahead and as suspected we were clamouring to get space in the ditch and again at the steep dirty climb into the forest. Traffic on the first couple of laps negated riding this climb but after than it was a least for a few of us. Apparently many in the first race were not successful or not even attempting to ride it. The slick dirt however seemed to serendipitously dry out a fair bit for the second race. The forest is lovely and even though your are still hammering for the first 50 m into it there seems to be a tempered reprieve - if only for a fleeting moment - before the VERY tight switchbacks down. With the addition of Andy Leger, Marc the point, and Old man Orange the top end of the field had some stiff competition and some points defrayed. A 6th place sounds a bit slack but was actually a pretty solid race, tho with a 15 second lead on Belinkey and J-C coming down the last gravel road they almost caught me at the steep run-up to finish. This was again a beautiful warm sunny day...very un-crosslike !

So after five races the series seems to be going pretty good for everyone. The Wooly Trees are experiencing some great results and everyone seems happy with their new steeds. Will have to wait til next year and a smaller size to join that club....I’m having better results than expected and more importantly, a lot of fun so far. This weekend will be a Halloween break but next up will be Perth...a really fun course last year so I look forward to that...and the rest !

Monday, October 24, 2011

Renfrew Ma-Ta-Wey Park CX


Ouch. Terrific course, long laps, and a death march uphill finish. A bit of barfing, plenty of maxed heart rates, lots-o ripped lungs, and the odd heinous muscle spasm. Glad to see an extended off-camber section, a taste of Europe, and a great variety of turns to test technique. My nemesis, Steve Proulx, crashed in front of me going through a ditch, which led to me stomping on his Zipp front wheel....eeee. Steve's tire rolled, yet he still managed to get back up to me, pass me, and ride away. Respek. I'll have to get faster, maybe pedalling harder will work? Yep, its probably just that. Or more beet juice.
Aarg, I be Captain Pegleg, where be my treasure?
This is called child's pose, aka, the fetal position. Assume this and you know you've left it all on the course.  Own it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Logos Land CX

Logos Land. An odd place, and a terrific cyclocross venue. The property was expansive, and afforded Bob and company room to create a 10minute plus lap, long for CX. The terrain varied, and favoured a well rounded racer, particularly those who could climb. We'll be fortunate if we're invited back to race again, and I'm sure all will be eager to see how the course will be laid out.














Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Double Cross III Redux

The Rock, Meech Lake. We used to ride down its deadly.
Most Ottawa valley residents have likely noticed a fair bit of anomalous weather of the last couple decades. When I was a kid, the seasons seemed to turn over fairly consistently, including winter, which I tracked carefully due to my hockey obsession. Spring tended to really be in full swing around Easter, and summer was summery. Fall was nice for a bit, then gray. Then we got hit with the ice storm, a few winters with little snow, a winter with MASSIVE snow, the warmest March ever, a summer/fall with the most rainfall ever, and just this past weekend, the warmest, most beautiful Thanksgiving weekend ever. At least, that I've heard of. So sometimes climate change sucks for us in the valley, and other times it rules. This Thanksgiving weekend it ruled.

After a great CX race in Renfrew on Sunday, a bit of swapping was required to get bikes Double Cross ready. With the forecast calling for nothing but sun and temps in the high 20s, water bottle cages had to be mounted. With many leaves down, and plenty of rocks on the route ahead, carbon tubulars and the like were puled off, and aluminum rims shod with higher volume tires thrown on. Unless you are a honch like John Large, in which case 28c slicks would do. Pack the saddlebag with treats, and off to Gamelin to assemble.

The before-math.
Sunday saw an outstanding turnout for the ride. Despite many potential riders having other holiday commitments, 50-60 folks showed up at the gate, ready to donate to Bicycles for Humanity and take in a terrific ride. After pulling in an incredible $465 in donations for B4H and distributing cues to all the riders, we were off shortly after 9. 
Rolling out on the Gatineau Parkway before it became a parking lot. Maybe tour buses instead of cars would make sense?
We set a mellow pace down the Gatineau Parkway to start, and kept that up until Scott Road, when Pascal, functioning as ride marshal, let us know that the riding was getting dicey in the back, so we ought to pick it up and string it out. So we did, and I think that helped smooth things out. The front group continued a quick pace once we hit the trail, and continued on, making good progress, while groups naturally formed behind. Before we knew it, we were all reconvening at Pipolinka, and enjoying coffee, soup, sandwiches, empanadas, and baked treats. Phil and his crew were ready for us, and I think everyone enjoyed their fare. 

Steve was in the house, glad he made it. Jamie on the left.


Steelwools were in ample supply. Truffle Pigs flank Steve's Rover.

Aarg, the cougar was all over Buffalo Rider's back...

Ahhh, the valley....
Once all the other groups had rolled out, our green machine hit the road. Once on trail again, we were all treated to fresh sand (!) dumped on the steepest pitches. With much effort, the first few were rideable, but the last was impossible. None of us could conceive of a reason why the NCC's contractors would think it wise to dump masses of sand on steep pitches of trail. It is dangerous going down - imagine trying to steer around a family with a dog in sand - and it is generally almost impossible to ride up. Plus, it will not be a stable surface to weather rain. I hope more work will be done to these sections to make them both rideable and safe. Building them up into ridges, like on Penguin, would not be wise, so I hope that is not done. Trails like that are deadly.
Alex and Iain, soaking up the sun.
Wrapping things up, many folks caught up with each other at the gate and either rolled home or headed out for a drink on a patio. We can only hope for weather half as good for next year's ride. We'll very likely maintain the same route, as it seemed to balance all the elements we want (distance, smoothish trail surface, limited foot traffic, scenery, interesting trail features) the ride. We do have longer CX bike routes that might appeal to the more adventurous out there, so if you think you'd be interested in tackling an epic route next summer (also self supported, yada yada), let us know.
Thanks go out to Greg Cosgrove for another great poster, and of course, to all the riders (not least Greg from Kingston!) for coming out to make the ride so much fun. An extra big thank you to everyone for your generous donations to Bicycles for Humanity. The $465 will be very much appreciated by the fine folks there; shipping bikes to Africa is expensive!