Monday, July 18, 2011

Tall trees in Vancouver

Like other enthusiasts, every trip is a reason to ride somewhere new. Weddings, cottages, whatever there will be a window of opportunity. And now that Westjet only charges $22 per trip for your bike, it opens some possibilities. All you need is a bike box under 62 inches. Mine was 66 and they let it slide on the way there but got me on the way back. Nonetheless, $100 for 170km ride is a fair price. Family away, ride every day.

First up was a proper mountain climb. The North Shore Mountains are just 8km from where I was based near Commercial Dr. Mountains 8km away: I guess that’s how you become a good climber. So off to Mt Seymour, across the perilous Three Narrows bridge, a narrow steel cage that soars and sways above the narrows below.

I have only climbed 4 mountains in my life so in my brief window of comparison I can say Mt Seymour is 13 km at 6.9% but is not incredibly hard. Its an engineered highway so there are only 3 or 4 switchbacks and no sustained crazy pitches that put you over the edge. Long pleasant stretches at a reasonable gradient.

That said, 13km is an honest 13m, no flats, no false flats, no breaks, just stretches of 5-6% with the periodic ramp of 8-9% to put the sting in your legs. Desperately hungover the night after a wedding is no way to start but I took it easy on the first 3-4 km and felt surprisingly good. 5-6km tempted me to push it, but thankfully I didn’t because km 7-9 were steeper and felt like the stations of the cross.

But after the midway point, the magic mountains take effect, gravity lets go and as you reach the top that second wind comes and the speed goes up. There was even the odd standing climb. The North Shore mountains aren’t huge, but they’re rocky, they have snow on top in June (lots, 10 foot base maybe!) and people are skiing in shorts on a 25 degree day.You then realize what BC has that you do not but you enjoy it and don’t mourn it because after you leave the sky seals up again and its a grey tomb for another 6 months of drizzle.

The descent is long straight stretches on good asphalt so there is as much speed (and braking) as you want. The road back to Vancouver on Mt Seymour Blvd is perfect: pristine asphalt, huge rollers that mostly go down and a nice ample bike lane.

I did feel slightly bad riding a road bike in one of the meccas of mountain biking, but I just would have hurt myself.

I don’t miss the ever present dread of being in Mr Grizzly’s neighborhood. Plenty of warnings for 'Aggressive Grizzly in area'

Next up was a ride with Tall Tree Alumni, Ariel. We aimed to meet up for something easy, the classic Vancouver loop around UBC.

Point Grey, UBC Point with Marine Drive to Horseshoe Bay in the background

But Vancouver rides are never easy, a simple ride down a city street and there is an 20% hill or a big 500 meter ramp. Its hilly everywhere in the city. We met in the south of town and rode down to UBC. Nice spacious boulevards lookouts, easy riding. Ariel showed me all the places he ambushes local roadies and unleashes his EI earned strength. 80km for me, 100km for Ariel. A coffee on the beach, a sunny BC day with a Sunday gravel regular. I think we take for granted the friendly sight of a matching shirt so I bet that was nice for him. One of the more disheveled residents commented on our lovely matching shirts and asked who had the bigger unit. It seemed like a good opportunity for a ‘soup kitchen’ but I didn’t know if Ariel was cool with it so I let it pass.

And there he is full flight on one of the many urban cycling arteries, kid is looking good, staying strong, we’ll miss him at D2R2. But we’ll ride again!

I had big plans to try out the new bike lane on the Sea to Sky highway and a ride along Marine Dr up to Lions Bay but 2 good rides and long nights left me a little spent so it was a couple laps around Stanley park up to Prospect point. A great little climb and you can’t miss out on the seawall.

Float planes, mountains and ocean, yup its a nice town.

That’s it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


OK the name of the event may be a bit of a misnomer, this is not an XC race and is in fact essentially an enduro off-road stage race. The really hardcore adventure racing crowd was doing the real ultimate…about 60 k paddle, 58 k trail run and 100 k mtb. Others would come out just for one day of the various 3 days of events. I, being in reasonable endurance shape but not with any uber-endurance under my belt….and wanting to enjoy social time (and beers) in Tremblant, opted for the demi-course, 21 k paddle, 21 k trail run and 50 k mtb….enough but not too much ! While I’m not in much of a race mode this year I was kind of keen to do a few more AR style races and get back to my roots…this one had a great rep and lots of friends signed up made it hard to pass up.

I stayed in a room with 3 friends, 2 doing the long race having to get up at 4 or 5 am, and Steve Mayer, a fellow multi-sport athlete and a very close competitor in fitness and ability in many of our head to head events. I decided to enjoy a swim at Meech Thursday night since the short paddle did not start til noon on Friday, and in typical Mike fashion, ended up arriving at Tremblant at 11 am rushing around to get my race kit and drop my kayak off at the beach and re-park. After a bit of frenzy I actually even had time to demo a race boat but in the end opted just to use my own kayak.

Off the gun went on a lovely sunny calm day with narry a wave in sight. The 7 race boats (all 1-dayers) were gone like rockets while Steve and I rocked the front of the “slow boat” flotilla. After about 10 minutes of same pace paddling I suggested that we work together but he promptly poo-pooed that idea saying “this is a race - no working together“…..musta been the triathlete in him. So about 50 meters ahead was a dude with a cool outrigger kayak and marathon paddle (canoe style). He was given’er and I decided I had a bit more jamb than Steve so did a series of about 3 or 4 jumps to slowly bridge the gap and eventually got to suck his wake for the last couple km to the turnaround. I had to work VERY hard to bridge and haven’t upper body sweated like that since….never mind…

At the turn I decided not to stop to keep my distance on Steve but I forgot that I had left the skeg down making for a very wide and inefficient turn…lost my rabbit and Steve was closing in. Eventually got back on track and now there was a slight headwind - just enough to make one work harder but also aided in the cooling as it was now smoking hot midday.

After a couple K into the second half I caught outrigger boy and shortly thereafter Steve caught a second wind and me. We had dropped everyone else behind us and paddled together taking it slightly easier for a while. But as the last couple K approached it was time to get competitive again and I slowly….veeery slowly peeled in front of Steve gaining about a 100 meter gap. The end just did not want to come and I was now killing myself with everything to keep as much lead as possible. Crossed the line in about 2:20, and 40 seconds ahead of Steve. Victory on day 1 !

Great afternoon to enjoy and watch the full racers come in…also to nurse some SERIOUS rashes from moving a bit in the kayak seat….all around my lower back and sides…..I was a bit worried how this would be with the next day’s run and a water bottle belt.

After a semi-reasonable sleep it was trail run time..and by the 10 am start things were already hot and humid ! Steve is a comparable runner to me, runs smart and probably does a bit more trail running so all things being equal he might have a slight advantage on me today. I was feeling Ok at the start tho was a bit tired from the hard effort Friday. The first 6 k is a “flatter” undulating section mostly south east of the main parking lots. Steve led out a blistering pace with only a few of the many many one day racers in front. I had little choice but to stick to his heels and we were ahead of some of the guys we trail run with here who I know are uber-fast. I cautioned Steve (in a vain attempt to slow him down) that we still had 50 hard k on the mtb to save some legs for…but he would have none of this slackitude and we pushed on to a 25 minute at the 5.5 k mark….blistering fast for trail - especially when there is 15 more to go and BIG climbs !

At this point we loop back down and into the village similar to the Canada Cup finish then out along the gravel climb of the Cup start. At this point Steve had 100 m on me and I was starting to suffer from the outset pace which I knew was going to do me in. We crossed the creek and went up up up through the forest….by now I was walking anything that looked like a hill…I tried to keep it going…got chicked once, then twice and finally got my act sort of together but just could not recover and was suffering up the steep kickers and trying to pull some flow through the flatter sections on the way up. Finally we hit the downhills, which were very technical. Not usually an issue for me and I can normally blow past A LOT of people on technical downhills. I figured I was likely at least 10 minutes behind Steve now and just had to rely on speed, agility and no mistakes on the way down. My feet were on fire and I felt every little rock underneath them - and you know there are lots of rocks there ! I grimaced in pain all the way down like my socks were made of sandpaper and quad were being smashed with baseball bats. Finally sweet relieve (almost ) as I hit the village, but still had a good chuck to go all the way down the cobbles then back up slightly to the beach for the finish. Came in about 2:10 and managed 12th overall out of about 130 day racers and second in age cat. Steve bested me by a solid 6 minutes which was a few more than I would have been comfortable with. The competition would come down to Sunday and who still had legs, skillz and mechanical serendipity. Saturday night brought an invitation to dinner with a group of friends that were there for the trail run only at the summer house of a one of them. Later it was a hot tub and (for me) and illicit cool water leg bath in the stream and the bottom of the village gondola.

Sunday morning came early but I generally felt good as we pack up to check out and shuttle drive to the remote start. There was some massive crazy road event going on right at the village base which had us a bit concerned as we had difficulty getting out and the RD had not mentioned anything about this to us. We made it to the remote start on time (just) and I was fiddling with getting my shyte together on the bike and just made it to the start line in time. At the start another competitor (JR) who is a very good mtn biker from Quebec and in 3rd place overall about 20 minutes behind me and 25 behind Steve, took off like a shot. I was not really paying attention til I saw Steve chasing him anxiously. I told him “today I’m just going to ride my pace” and not get sucked into going too fast off the hop. Well the old man’s pace kept up with the front bunch for the first km or so then with a few very small hills I seemed to surge a bit and gradually passed some day racers, Steve and JR.

The opening was mostly wide or double track, very fast and easy. I just kept a steady moderately easy tempo after passing and figured a group of 4-5 was right on my wheel but when eventually looked back there was a 30 m gap or so…I thought WTF, how could they not hang on?? So I just kept the same pace so as not to overexert too early and figured they would eventually bridge. But I was wrong….perhaps they were tired but the gad had widened to 60-70 meters as far as I could tell whenever a long straight would appear. Now we are not even10 k into a 50 k race that was to get progressively more difficult, but my spidey senses told me that this was my opportunity to put some real time in the bank so I moved up to a high tempo and pushed any of the climbs to just shy of red zone. The course between the start and Tremblant was a quite fun variety of moderate climbs, a little technical, some fast double track, and twisty turnys. Then the climbs and descents become progressively longer and steeper. After one long such climb appeared a baby-head filled never ending descent, not steep enough to go slow and too steep to go slow… it was an all out bounce fest. I stopped counting how many times the rims bottomed out and I was very happy to have had the UST Rocket Rons on. Then at one point I got thrown of line and landed hard on something, and gradually began to feel the sqishy wobble of a flat front….damn that DH was just too long !! I knew I had a few minutes lead but felt I could not afford to lose anytime and in a bit of a hurried panic tried to pump up the tire thinking it was just a burp, no there was a cut somewhere. Now I had to fiddle with going from tubeless to tube all while dripping like a waterfall and getting eaten by the first bugs I had noticed all weekend. 8 minutes in JR passed me and briefly stopped asking if I was Ok - I told him I should be and he wished me luck and flew off. 3 minutes later I was on the road again but very nervous now about the rocky course and my penchant for pinch flats with tubes.

A few minutes later coming out of the forest we were at the back lower part of Tremblant and I could see a few riders in the distance, one being JR. After passing the uphill feed station and grinded my way up what was to be a 1 hour climb and passed JR surprisingly shortly. He was shocked also that I caught him that quick but I guess I had my hill climbing legs that day. Riding together and chatting briefly (apparently Steve was now at the bottom and saw us up in the distance), I took off and continues my moderate to high tempo up the climb in the blistering sun. There were a few aid stations but the volunteers seemed often clueless standing around staring instead of getting drinks and food ready or providing any info. Thankfully one girl had ran up after me on one climb with a couple of gels that I was shouting for coming into the station. It was to be a day where hydration and nutrition was a factor and on the last open climb I felt the familiar twinge of cramps as I had missed some refills and was likely low on electrolytes too. They were not debilitating so I just slowed for a while to regain control while downing some salt pills and a gel. Still a long way to go near the summit I crossed paths with Cameron from Beechburg (Rob knows him) and great guy and we were chatting as we leapfrogged each other between the ups and downs. He knew I had no tube left and was leading the 50 k race as well as the 3 day total so said to stick with him and he would toss me his tube if I got a flat. He was not too worried about himself as he was in about 15th place of the 100 km day racers. The downhill was crazy fast as I tried to keep him within some semblance of my sight, then every once in a while there would be an uphill jog and I would eventually catch him. After a little more of this and with about 7 k to go we figured it was all downhill and he gave me the tube and told me to hammer. Unbeknownst to us there was a few k of fresh cut trail that required a lot of walking as some was too technical or rough for either of us at that stage.

Finally out we came, a few km longer than expected and with a few additional climbs that left Cameron a bit farther back….but the light at the end of the tunnel was in sight (figuratively). I was absolutely destroyed from pushing the climbs, killing the downhills and wacking the bush. One last long and convoluted roll through the village and back up to the beach for a finish of about 4:20. That was good enough to take first place on the bike of all the one day racers and first overall by about 15 minutes on the 3-day. JR came in about 7 minutes after me for 2nd on the day and 3rd overall while Steve came in about 20 minutes back for second overall.

I was feeling a bit dizzy with the dehydration and heat so took the offer of a liedown in the shade of the medical tent and slurped a coke and some salts while waiting for the awards. I did take a few sips of my requisite beer while on the podium for the day and 3-day wins but decided to forgo my full beer allotment.

Lots of great heavy metal came out of this with a couple of medals and one big-ass cycling trophy, plus swag of 2 camelbaks and 100$ to spend in Intrawest shops, (that day of course). So after hanging out and watching other friends come in we hit the village up for some shopping and departed for home about 5 pm. A very long and full weekend of great racing and a really fun event. The organization and pretty much everything (save for some lackluster aid station volunteers) was top notch. Beautiful location, terrain and course, excellent facilities, great friends and summery weather made this pain a real pleasure !

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Tour de France

I am currently on holidays in France for two weeks with my wife and children. We spent the first week staying in a mas (farmhouse) in Provence with my wife's family enjoying excellent weather and even better cuisine. Luckily, I was able to rent a bike and sneak in a few rides.

Renting a bike here is quite painless and I ended up with a well fitting Cannondale Synapse outfitted with a Shimano 105 triple-chainring and Mavic wheels. Not too shabby until I realized that my brother-in-law was assigned a Cannondale Super-Six. Oh well, he would need the lighter and stiffer bike being 5 inches taller and 70 pounds heavier than I am.

Resetting the bike computers

After a brief sortie into Les Alpilles for a warm-up, we set out last Tuesday to climb Mt. Ventoux. This venerable climb has been a mecca for cyclists and was last ridden in the 2009 Tour de France. It sits at the northern boundary of Provence and from the top, you have a clear view of the alps as well as the Mediterranean. While geologically part of the Alps, it really stands alone and is visible from most of Provence. Most people are well familiar with the moonscape appearance of the upper reaches, but the lower part of the mountain houses beautiful forests. It has been lovingly described by Graham Fife in his book, "Great Climbs of the Southern Alps" if you would like more information.

The view from Sault

My cycling partner for the day was not an experienced cyclist, so we chose the easiest route to the summit from the east via Sault. After a short descent out of Sault, we slowly started climbing through fields of lavender and vineyards. The odour was amazing. This soon gave way to a winding road through mixed forest. The first 20 km were very mild and I enjoyed dancing forwards and backwards from my brother in law to snap pictures and take in the view.

The lower slopes

After Chalet Reynard at 20 km, we joined the more difficult southern route and began the final 6 km ascent through the lunar landscape. By this time, it was hot and the road went steeply up with the gradient never falling below 7%. In addition, the mistral winds for which Ventoux is famous for were gusting quite strongly. I received permission to go forward alone without my riding partner for the last 5 km as I was on a mission not not use the small chainring on my triple crankset. The gradient was not an issue, but the wind gusts were enough to almost stop you in your tracks as you rounded the corners. Despite this, I never felt in trouble and sprinted up the last steep section to the summit where I was greeted by hundreds of other cyclists and tourists. I took in the views for a short time and then headed back down to pace up my brother in law, this time using the granny gears. When we were both safely at the top, I checked out the gaudy souvenirs (I'm a proud owner of a Mt. Ventoux snow-globe complete with cyclist), the candied fruit stands, and the fresh sausages!

Final destination

Looking back down the south side

Tom Simpson memorial

The road is well marked with distance, altitude, grade (sometimes a bit discouraging...)

Looking down off the south side

Looking down off the north side

A new energy bar replacement? Fresh sausage!

The candied fruit was more to my taste

The summit looking northeast with the Alps in the background

While waiting for the rest of the relatives to reach the summit by car, I descended a short way down the north side and climbed the last 3 km up sheltered from the wind. Then it was a quick 25 km descent back to Sault before a relaxing lunch of pizza and rosé.

There is excellent riding in Provence including the rugged Luberon and Alpilles hills. Towns are close together and cyclists are almost always spotted in the cafés around the central square enjoying a coffee and pastry. Renting a high quality racing bike is easy and the opportunity should not be missed if in the region.