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.