Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Race Report: Mont Tremblant Canada Cup #1

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Intuition; what is it? In layman's terms, intuition is embodied thought. I like wikipedia's paragraph on Carl Jung's take:

In Carl Jung's theory of the ego, described in 1921 in Psychological Types, intuition was an "irrational function," opposed most directly by sensation, and opposed less strongly by the "rational functions" of thinking and feeling. Jung defined intuition as "perception via the unconscious": using sense-perception only as a starting point, to bring forth ideas, images, possibilities, ways out of a blocked situation, by a process that is mostly unconscious.

Over the years I've gotten a lot better about following my intuition, but I'm far from expert. In the realm of cycling, I've had to learn the hard way many times. The main thing I've learned is that I shouldn't force things. For example, if I have a race planned, but I don't feel motivated to do it, I shouldn't. In the past, saying I'd do a race, to myself or others, meant full commitment. I'd make it happen. But if my head was elsewhere, I was inviting disaster. Back when I raced downhill, that often meant injury. Hard-learned lessons....

I'd planned on racing the Gatineau Grand Prix road race on the long weekend. Road racing was going well, keep it going, right? The Beachberg Spring Chicken enduro mtb race the prior weekend was fun. I came out of it saying: I want to race mtb again soon. Click. I'd not been considering doing Mont Tremblant, after a pretty unpleasant race there a couple years ago. After that race, I'd made a rule: no racing Tremblant without sufficient mtb riding beforehand. The course is too technical to do as a first mtb ride of the season. 50k of mtb racing in Beachberg set me up well. I was motivated, and confident. I had to break it to Alex that I was bailing on the GP, but I was going with my gut, my intuition, that this was the right thing to do. The fact that my family loves to go to Tremblant was icing.

Matt: "How is it? Normal, or extra gnar? Do I need a sick front tire?"

Rob: "Same as usual. Only muddy on the descent and it's no big deal. I don't think you need to bother with a bigger tread. We are not."

Rob and Neil were already in Tremblant on Friday when I checked in on tire set-up. With dry weather leading up, the course should have been mostly dry. However, melting snow was usually a factor in May. The first time I raced Tremblant's XC, three years ago, I used aggressive tires, and they worked well. The next year, I ran less tread, and almost ate it more than once. This time, I'd be on Maxxis Ikons, which I felt pretty good about. 

Arriving at 11 a.m. on race day, Saturday, the parking lots were full, and racing was underway. Rob and I would race at 12:45, Neil at 2:45, Master Expert 30-39 for the first, Elite for the second. Sunny and warm, all was good. 

Rob and I warmed up by climbing all manner of roads around the base of the hill, keen to ensure we didn't stray too far and wind up staging poorly for the start. Speaking of starts, this one has to be my least favourite anywhere. Loose gravel and uphill. Yay. 

Go time

The Senior Expert field and Cadet Experts are starting before us. Why? Expert; ok, some of them don't get caught. But Cadet? Really? 

The start is fine, though, of course, clipping in doesn't come easy. Rob and I were wary of guys taking flyers off the start, then blowing up, as this often seems to occur at the Quebec races. You don't want to blow up too, following a no-hope move. 

Its fine. One guy is off the front a bit, but Rob is keeping it cool. I'm coming from behind, working  up along the side, knowing I will be good if I'm at worst third wheel into the first singletrack, which comes after climbing for perhaps 1:30. The leader has a few meters on us as I pull up close to Rob. He's fading as the pitch steepens toward the mouth of the trail. Rob and I don't slow; Rob takes the lead into the woods, with me on his wheel. 

Relax. Breathe. We'd talked about this earlier. We knew it would be hard to close gaps, and there would be traffic. We'd want to be at the pointy end right away, and hold that. Rob's mantra: smooth is faster. That's exactly what he's doing, no mistakes, not manic, just smooth. After a few minutes I comment on the efficacy of this approach; it's working. 

We're moving through traffic already. Careful, be patient. Everybody has to deal with getting by these guys, but they are chasing. We are leading. The pace is letting me recover, I'm comfortable, but its hard to know if this is fast enough. 

Out in the open, Rob is slowing, so I take the lead and push into the next woods. I hope he will follow, but I don't look back. Passing, passing, smooth, passing....The intensity up the toughest climb, which ascends to the top of the hill, is brutal. I stay on the gas, knowing I can't be the best climber here. I can't give them (except Rob) hope. I have to appear as though I am too strong to chase, get out of sight and mind. 

The descent is good. I haven't overdone it, so I've got my whits. Cadets, Seniors...they are everywhere. This is my first time down the descent in two years, and some of it is new. Overall, its good, I like it. I'm having fun. Smooth is fast. 

Out on the bike path I'm fooled into thinking the two Cadets in front of me are going fast enough. I pass and realized that was not the case. This is just like cyclocross, where you can get lulled into thinking the riders in front are going fast enough. Then you pass and they're gone. The trick is the passing part. 

Up through the village, my family is ecstatic, rocking the cowbells and cheering me on. I don't know whether the others will put up a fight yet; I just focus on doing everything right. Drink, pedal, shift. Just ride. 

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Lap two of four, I overcook the brutal climb and have jello arms on the decent. Ok, note to self....I'm monitoring the chasers, but its so hard to tell who is who as I pass other riders. Is that my guy? Can't tell, but I kinda think so. I'm up 45 seconds. 

Lap three. I have the rhythm down. I'm doing the climbs and singletrack fast enough that closing is not happening. I'm up 60 seconds. Atop the brutal climb, I'm behind two Cadets. I'm patient, waiting. How long can I wait? I must pass now. Off a drop, crack! Pssssssssssss.

Shit. Its over. I claw my way out of the bushes; that was close, I almost ate it. My front tire is punctured. I cross the trail to high ground and get out of the way. Cadets and Seniors I've passed are coming by. I'm getting my tube out and my chaser, then Rob come by. My race is done. By the time I fix this I'll be down three to five minutes. But Rob can still win!

I'm not pissed, not sad. I'm fine. Interesting. Why? I've never won a Canada Cup, but been twice second, and once third. I'd love to tick it off the list. Today was the day. But I'm not bummed. Why? I prepared well, I did the right things, I had the form. My focus was good, I made virtually zero mistakes. I did everything I could do, but it didn't work out. 

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This had to be the most successful 'loss' I've ever experienced. Back in April, at the Calabogie Classic, something clicked. I decided I wasn't afraid of losing, and that liberated me to put everything on the line to win. This was about taking tactical risks, not simply riding as fast as possible, as I used to do in my youth. Winning races is hard, but getting into the headspace where you can feel good about not winning has to be the secret to true success, defined as satisfaction, not rankings. Matteo dal Cin revealed this to me as his secret a couple years ago, and I didn't understand what he meant. Now I do. 

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Not sure to where to go to say I'm out....
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My kids had a great day too.
I ride in on my underinflated front tire, pull out, and refresh myself while I wait for the finish. My chaser comes in 20 seconds ahead of Rob. Second place for Rob and the team is fantastic. I wish he'd been able to make the catch, but he just couldn't close the gap, despite full effort. Congrats to Rob for a great race!

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Rob Parniak rides to a 2nd place finish.
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1) Ian Carbonneau 2) Rob Parniak 3)Eric Morneau
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I have only good things to say about my Kona Hei Hei Supreme. 4" travel certainly was superior to my hardtail here. Pilot error caused my flat; the bike was up to the task.


Anonymous said...

Really enjoying your race reports Matt. They provide a good inside perspective to the mind of a competitive racer. Too bad about the flat. Now the questions. 3-5 minutes means you won't win the race, but why not fix the tire and just make minimizing the damage the next challenge? What of the tires - UST, TR, tubes or gorilla? Seems that flats kill many victory attempts so do you have advice on durability vs. weight?
Keep up the great work! Mike D.

Matt Surch said...

Thanks Mike, I'm glad these posts are proving interesting.

Once upon a time, I'd finish MTB races no matter what. Ride on the rim, or run if I had to. For longer races, I still tend to keep fighting. For short ones, especially near the end, I just don't care about the result on paper if I'm not accumulating points. This is probably a result of doing cx and road racing over the years; a different perspective. Its kind of like a tactical risk you take in road; if it works, great. If not, live to fight another day. If I'd flatted earlier, I'd have rushed and got back at it.

I use medium weight casing tires usually, Stan's tape and sealant. I find the sealant rarely actually seals the cuts I inflict; I want to try Orange Seal next. I only use tubeless ready tires these days. For Quebec courses, tough tires are always required, but it's a fine line. For Ontario, much lighter and less aggressive tires tend to do fine. The thing is, though, that it can be enough of a pain to mount the tires that we tend to want one set for everything.

Another note is that 29ers in full suspension format should be able to get away with lighter, less aggressive treads than, say, a 26" hardtail. Only thing is, you might just end up going faster and hitting stuff harder.... Like on the road, it's all a matter of compromise. Rob and Neil have been doing a lot more MTB racing than I have over the last decade, so they have way more experience with the tires out there. I often ask them for the lowdown on the latest offerings.

Speaking of Neil, he raced hard and finished in the middle. He mustered a smile for me every time I cheered him on course, which I thought was mighty impressive.

Nick B. said...

Hi Matt- you're going too fast yes maybe?!

How may psi you running, other than, obviously- "Not enough" :)

Matt Surch said...

I'm definitely not going too fast, Nick! Some of the elites were going significantly faster on hardtails.

I run in the low 20s, tubeless. Definitely enough; I didn't pinch the tire, I clipped a rock with my side knob and scraped the sidewall against the rock. Small cut, but enough.

Anonymous said...

You sure this wasn't a cx race or a triathalon? What's with the one piece skin suit?

Excellent report and attitude about winning at losing. If it's not fun than you shouldn't be doing it IMHO.

Hats off !

Matt Surch said...

Anon, thanks for picking up on my skinsuit! I got it for TT and CX, but the thing is so comfortable, and awesome, I decided to wear it for short mtb and road races. Neil's been doing it for years, so I figured, why not? I think I spotted a bunch of the Elites wearing them too, which might indicate that this is becoming normal. At the very least, its a conversation starter.