Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Mountain Bike National Championships 2015

The pressure, the nerves, and the anxiety going into this race had been building since Baie-Saint-Paul. A good race there, being the top U23, and the confidence from my season so far had placed myself as a favourite. I do not enjoy not living up to these expectations. I do not enjoy feeling like I lost control. I do not like to follow – I’d rather lead. 
The weight of the race and the determination I had to get that jersey was weighing heavy on my shoulders. During the days leading in, I felt confident. I felt like it should be just any other race – I could win. The warm up told me otherwise. Heavy legs, heavy heart, head spinning – I couldn't pull myself together. Factors I could not control weighed heavy on me. I thought I would just make the best of it, assuming making the best of it would mean I would drop the other riders a lap or two in, instead of off the start. 
The start – boxed in - legs screaming at me, my mind racing as I was in a terrible start position. I would recover from this for sure. Not an issue for Peter Disera to come back from a bad start – but not today. Getting back to the lead of the race, my heart rate was maxed out. My legs were cooked. They refused to turn. My lungs were shallow. My heart rate was really high. The brutal pace continued as the three riders: Marc-Antoine Nadon, Alexander Ville and I, pushed each other’s buttons and tested each other’s legs. I was on the brink. I was not in control. My mind was racing. I couldn't race 'normally', as I was on the defensive, not the offensive putting the hurt on everyone else. Heading into the third lap, the pace was not letting up. I kept my cards close to my chest as to not let the other riders know I was at the limit. However, I was chasing on, closing gaps on the downhill(s), loosing time on the up-hills, and getting really frustrated. My race was going to shit – even though I was sill in contention.
Mentally I wanted to cry. I wanted to give up. I was not having a fun day on the bike. It wasn't because I wasn't winning, it was because I just felt so off, and I couldn't get my head in the game. I needed the tides to turn, but they wouldn't. I don't want to make excuses; I have none.  It was a bad day on every front except for equipment. My Norco Revolver Full Suspension with Kenda Karmas was the best. It was awesome and I slayed (when gravity wasn't working against me). I remember yelling at myself “what are you doing? Go faster!” but I couldn't. I tried to remain as positive as I could but I was slipping darker and darker. 

Upon finishing a very respectable second place I was met by Angry Johnny. I just looked at him and said I need out, I need away, I need to be alone. A quick and meaningful congrats to the new national champion: Alexander Ville, and I was off. I made my through the crowd to be alone as I was about to explode. All of the pain, self-anger and disappointment was released. It was the worst mental performance of my life, and I am determined to make sure it’s the last. Yes I understand second at nationals is still very good and I am happy. However, this is also the first time a Canadian U23 has beat me this year. I had my ‘off’ race at the second worst possible time (first would be W
Regardless of the pain, anger, and upset on that day, I’ll live. 

The following day at the national relay we had a quick sub since Quinton Disera was out with an injury from the day before. Malcolm Barton gave it his all, and I mean his all! It was incredible and huge shout out to that guy! Myself, well I started for the relay. Medium start, actually quite bad, but I came back. And today, of all days, it seemed I had legs to turn the crank around. I came through in 3rd with the other two just in front. Haley Smith and Evan McNeely tied off the Norco Factory Team relay team and demolished. We hit that last podium spot for the first time in three years I think. Maybe next year we can step it up a spot or two! 

St-Felicien always puts on a good show. The steep climbs, hearty descents and rock/roots make it a world cup worthy course (which it was, well before my time). Looking forward to next year already! Baie-St-Paul should be a blast! Looking ahead though, Mont Ste Anne is up next and I can’t wait! 

Photos: Miss Hans Clarke

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The H&H Special

Horseshoe and Hardwood: the hosts of Canada Cup rounds 2 and 3. Located a blistering 500m from my house, Horseshoe Valley and Horseshoe Resort would be the stomping grounds. The course designed to be like any good Ontario course with mass amounts of flow, tacky dirt and tight trees. The valley would pose a great threat to rider’s legs as we ascended it 6 times. The very rewarding downhill to follow featured some great jumps, berms and rocks. This ladies and gentlemen, was going to be a good race.
The week started off like most: tired, jet lagged from returning from Europe and kicking teammate Evan McNeely’s butt wrestling. My legs started to come around two days before the race. With some of the major competition missing this could be my time to shine I thought. And shine, mainly because I was covered in sweat, I did.
The race was awesome. I had a good start, avoiding a rambunctious Guatemalan (i.e the pinball), and settling in to 4th. From there I let the 3-Roxx boys set pace as Norco Factory Team rider Evan Guthrie was well established on his solo flyer. Upon catching Guthrie I launched an attack and got separation on the main climb. From this point on it became a very lonely race.
I established a gap and kept the pressure on to ensure I would get out of sight and therefore out of mind. I didn't let up and my gap continued to grow. Now all I needed to do was ride safe and don't do anything stupid. Nearing the end there was a small miscommunication as my mother told me I was on my last lap – although I was positive I had one more. This was quickly cleared up, and I was all set to light it up for one more lap. Cruising to victory with a gap of almost two minutes felt really good. I couldn't have been more pleased to win on home soil. I was unbelievably happy with my bike choice for the day: 650B Norco Race Development (prototype) cushy in the rear – can’t say more but y’all know what I mean. Best bike for the day for sure!

Moving on to Hardwood was like walking out from underneath a tent during a torrential downpour – hint: it rained. But just like the differences in weather there were differences in the course too. Hardwood is punchier. Horseshoe has some snappers but a sustained section too. Hardwood the recovery is very limited. Horseshoe has a wicked downhill. Hardwood has many small, man made features. Horseshoe has more natural feeling features. I was not aware of the contrast between the courses until last week. It was interesting, for living so close to both you would have assumed I’d know they would be different courses, different feel, but I just hopped on my bike expecting the same thing.
Riding my hard-tail revolver this weekend was the best decision for me however some athletes felt that a full suspension was the way to go. The race was medium, I wouldn’t say I had it fully together in the mud but my legs seems to fire not too badly. I’m not going to dive into too many details but I found myself off the start chasing hard. I couldn't close the gap to the 3Roxx leaders and settled into 4th after a Columbian scouting out the Pan Am course passed me. I was pleased with my race but I lost the leaders jersey. Kind of distressed about this I knew my focus would shift to Baie-Saint-Paul as that would be my next chance to seize that jersey.
Great times were had racing at home. Life was good, BBQ was pumping out food, slack-lines were tight and racing was a success with the Norco Factory Team.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Nove Mesto & Albstadt World Cups

On Monday after racing the Canada Cup in Mont Tremblant I flew to Czech Republic to compete in the 2015 World Cup opener. Going back to Czech was super exciting. I thoroughly enjoy the soviet feel of the area as well as the stellar course and arguably the biggest crowd of any World Cup on the circuit.
The course is my favourite European course. It is more fun than most European World Cups – since it consists of real dirt, trails, and actual features. Some of the elements of the fabulous course are technical rock gardens (both up and down), lots of slippery roots that become more exposed as the race goes on and a sick BMX jump section. I had to relearn how to ride wet roots and rocks since my winter training in California consisted of only one day of rain…of which I did not ride.
The start would prove to be exhilarating as most international events are. My call up was 68 and breaking out of three digit call-up numbers felt good. Off the start the usual pushing and shoving, bar locking, hip checks and shenanigans happened but it was nothing special. As the end of the start double track began to near the first downhill single track I was pleased with my position. The first downhill was the BMX, which was simple and wide enough to pass people if necessary. After this short bumpy break the course turns vertical with a rooty and rutted climb. I was caught between some guy and a tree when he spun out and fell into me therefore pinching me and allowing copious amounts of riders by. So much for my good start.
I hit the first two laps hard and crushed some dreams. There were a few more cases of poor piloting and bad luck, whether it be slipping on rooty climbs or attacking a group only to get held up and caught again. However it’s just racing and these things are a part of it. Nearing the end of the race I was holding strong. I attacked the group I was with and was slowly bridging to a group of two. This would put me even closer to the top twenty if I could reach them. I put in the work and caught them as two riders behind me caught me as well. This was now a pack of blood thirsty animals. It seemed every single track we entered we entered as a group – so not one person wide but 4 or 5 wide. This caused a ruckus and forced guys to dab or slow up or spin out. It was a wonderful mess.
At the beginning of the last lap I started to cramp hard. The very bumpy, rooty course did not help, as every bump was a stabbing pain through my back and sides. Unfortunately because of this I got separated from the group and caught by riders I had worked so hard to get away from. I kept my foot on the gas but it wasn't really enough as 4 of them caught and passed me. I made a last ditch effort on the final two climbs to catch two riders in front of me. This last ditch effort also included taking a few risks on the descent but it was worth it. By the time we reached the last feature I had caught up to them so fast that I made a pass on the exit of that feature. Rad! This then put me second wheel going into the sprint. I was confident in my sprinting abilities and was ready to slay. As we kicked out on to the tarmac I locked out my fork, bent my elbow and got low. We hit the gas immediately. I was locked onto the Brazilian’s wheel in front of me. My eyes locked on his rear wheel and as I slowly brought it closer and closer to me I jumped out into the wind and crushed some dreams. With a nice bike throw at the end and a photo finish it wasn't clear if I had achieved 26th or 27th at the 2015 World Cup opener. Unfortunately, both positions were out of UCI points but the result for a second year U23 was adequate. Later I would learn I won the sprint confirming my result of 26th here in beautiful Nove Mesto.

Then it was time to move to Albstadt, Germany. Keeping it short and sweet, Germany is neat but the course is not enjoyable. The very steep climbs and short, steep, unrewarding descents make it a pain to ride. Note I said pain to ride because when you race it becomes more painful.
Although this is one of my least favourite courses, it is still a pretty good time. There are lots of spectators, good food close by and the bike paths surrounding the hotel and venue are vast. One night I wasn't really in the mood to cook so I went to the local Doner spot – called Little Berlin. A nice place run by a father and son that speak no English. I got the “Big Doner” and it was massive. A pita stuffed with roasted chicken on a stick and veggies and more chicken and sauce – it was the size of a small child by the time it was finished. Man was it good.
The race was pretty medium as far as excitement goes. This year Albstadt decided to throw in a 750m start loop, which is good as the course creates a huge bottleneck at the first steep climb. Starting 61st this round was an improvement compared to Czech but not by much. The start loop was fast, as it should’ve been, and I only moved up 20 spots. Upon the first climb the bottleneck still happened and we all were off our bike running up the monster of a steep climb. Not too much drama occurred in the first lap, some passing, some bottlenecks, a bit of swearing and relatively slow descending. As the race went on I began to pick off people. Moving up and up until I was in the 20s. Now that I was sitting comfortably in top 30, and by comfortably I mean in extreme pain on every climb, it was time to shake-and-bake. I put in a couple digs with the groups I was riding with in order to get into the downhill first. There I would let it all hang out and bridge to the next group on the downhill and start of the next climb. It was a good tactic until I caught the group riding for top 20. I had finally made the big leagues because these guys I couldn't shake on the downhills and they had tons of power for the climbs. Going into the last climb of the race I was a part of a group with 5 other riders riding for 18th place. Some elbows were thrown, some passes made but when it was all said and done I did not land a top 20 finish. 23rd was the verdict for Albstadt.

All in all a great euro trip once again. Thank you to Cycling Canada and the staff for making it a success. Shout out to my teammate Haley Smith for a wicked result in Nove Mesto. Great time riding my Revolver 9 and can’t wait to put the gears to the euros again in Mont Ste Anne.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Otter that Lives By the Sea

Sea Otter Classic, the ultimate kick off to the cycling season (at least from an industry standpoint). The Mazda raceway, located just inland on Monterey, California has been the host for more years than I have been alive. The stomping grounds would be the desert brush terrain surrounding the racetrack and extending into the large cannons. It was an exciting time for me as I have heard about the ‘Sea Otter’ for years but never been able to go. It is massive. The expo is huge. There are races of all disciplines going off ever hour. Everyone who is anyone in the cycling industry is there – including the Norco Factory Team.

Downtown Monterey
I arrived with the intentions of racing hard and giving people a run for their money. However, the fatigue that Redlands had installed within me had other plans. The short track would prove ok, but no where near what I was hoping for, on the other hand, the cross country race wouldn't go nearly as well as I had planned. This race is a different one, that's for sure. There would only be two laps raced – two very large laps with very minimalist terrain. The most technical thing would be the fast gravel double track. It was wild…

The short track would be simple: hit hard from the start, don't let up. I got a reasonable start, but still had spots to make up. The course was interesting with more than half of it on pavement and the rest of it loose sand/gravel. There were some good tactical areas with some tight turns and elbows out. There was a fair amount of pushing and shoving in the beginning of the race, which I found extremely amusing. As the end became nearer I attacked the group I was with but was unable to get clear. Finishing up 19th, well, it’ll take more than that to ruin my day at Sea Otter. Although, I was sad I didn't really get to test out my new RS1 Rock Shock since it remained locked out for the majority of the race.

Driving Along the Coast
The cross country event, I don't even want to really talk about it. There isn’t much to touch on; we climbed single track, descended double track or road and raced for over 2 hours. Legs weren’t really there, I wasn't super pleased with my result but I had fun on my new bike. I will mention that I enjoyed my medium (650B) Stans wheels. Wait?! Gasp?! Peter Disera is riding 650B? But maybe, just maybe, he’s riding both! Gasp! More to come on this exciting development.

All in all Sea Otter was a blast. It was exciting to go around and talk to some of the sponsors face to face. Thanks to Kenda and Stans NoTubes for being such supporters and including their athletes in their development process. It was cool to be a part of such an incredible experience.

Ok, but enough with business, now lets play. There was a Norco Factory Team photo shoot scheduled for early Monday morning after Sea Otter. The idea was to get some cool riding photos on bikes that are neat during the sunrise. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the fog rolled in and this original idea was scrapped for a better idea. We made our way up to Los Gatos, just north of Santa Cruz, where MTBR was having their post Sea Otter industry ride. Norco joined in on this and we had an incredible time and I didn't think I could get any better until…we reached the brand new “Flow” trail. This is a rad trail. After talking to some of the volunteers at the post ride tailgate party I learned that the 10+ minute, berm, jump, manicured downhill took just about a year to build and over 6000 man hours. It is a piece of art. The berms are perfect, the rollers and jumps just right. You can ride it as fast as you like, or at a comfortable pace, it is fun either way. Incredible and hats off to all the volunteers and trailsmiths that made it happen!



Thursday, 16 April 2015

Redlands Classic

Redlands Classic would be my second race with H&R Block Pro Cycling. The five-day stage race would push this team of 7 to their limits. Most of the crew had been broken in at San Dimas a week and a half before. However, for Bailey this would be his first test. The weather was looking good, the legs were turning well, it was going to be a good hard week.
For myself the week started off stressfully. I got sick on Saturday and only had until Wednesday to get better before the racing began. I got out for a little ride on Tuesday but besides that I would be starting Redlands cold. It would prove to be a little test racing on antibiotics.
Crit - Stage 4
The first stage would prove to be harder than I thought. The 250m wall took a gnarly bite out of my legs each lap. The rest of the course was fast and exciting. I was sliding backwards near the end until my terrible positioning started to work against me. Without my punch on the climb the rest of the course was spent chasing and closing gaps. On the last lap there was no more holding the wheel, I got popped out the back with a few others. We rolled around and made it up the wall once more to finish. Stage one was complete and H&R Block’s Adam DeVos was sitting top 10 GC.
My First Road Crash - Doing Alright
For the second day we made a little trip up to Big Bear Mountain. Well, it was quite a trip up to 8400 feet. We raced the Individual Time Trial just under 7000 feet on a tight course. The TT would prove to be a challenge for many since it was at altitude. Most of the team was told to take it easy and save our legs for the wild day that would be stage 3. I was thankful for this since day one proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated and I was still trying to get over being sick.
Getting in a good warm up before stage 5
Stage 3 was the going to be a big boy. It was the Oak Glen day. We would ride the 20 km circuit five times before turning up Oak Glen road and finishing with a 9km climb. My job was to help Adam stay near the front before the turn up the climb. The circuit proved to be difficult with a long dragging climb and some nifty descents. I was feeling pretty decent today, but covering moves and trying to make breakaways happen was starting to take its toll on my legs. Coming around on the last lap it was time to shine. The boys of H&R Block moved up to the front showing off their sweat covered Norco Tactics. It was a little drag race up the climb on the circuit the last time. Most teams had trains of some sort lined up to position their top GC contenders. I lasted as long as I could until the pace picked up once more. My legs had had enough and couldn’t turn over. I cracked. I was shot out the back of the group very quickly. I would then join the other dropped riders and cruise to the top. We needed to still ride fast enough to make the time cut. It was a day of pain. I had to urge my legs each pedal stroke to just make it up the climb. Decent day at the office I must say.
Crits are chaos
The day of speed was to come on the fourth day. This was the day of the downtown Redlands crit. I enjoy crits because they are fast, lots of corners and serve mountain bikers pretty well. From the start I knew this was going to be a fast and dangerous one. There were over 150 races starting on a 1-mile circuit and a total of 9 corners. This was going to be an interesting race. There were lots of attacks in the first couple minutes however the pace was so high it didn't seem like anything was going to stick. The pace began to let up just a little bit and I realized the breakaway was going to go soon. I moved to the front, followed some wheels and before I knew it I was in a group of 6 with 10m over the pack. We just made it clear but with the help of the corners we extended that gap and established a lead. It was now time to settle in for the next hour of racing. Out of the group of 6 we had some very strong veterans and some younger guys. I was able to test out everyone with some of the intermediate sprints and cash primes. In total I won $500 in cash primes. However, when it really came down to it, I was lacking in the intermediate sprints. This would prove unfortunate, as those points could’ve boosted my overall standing in the point general classification. With about 7 laps remaining in the race the pack was chasing hard. We were all getting really tired and a small, but deadly, mistake was made. I rounded turn one, having to change my line slightly as the rider in front of me shifted left slightly, this caused my to hit the small reflector on the road. Unexpectedly and very quickly I was on the ground. My front wheel had skipped out and I lost a lot of skin off of my arm and leg. The bike had no significant damage so I jumped up quickly and made my way to the pits for my free lap. Making it there just in time to get back in with the breakaway and I was back in the race with 5 laps to go. The pack was breathing down our necks and it was getting heated. Coming up to the finish it was important to keep the pressure on but also get in the right position and conserve. I made a tactical error and didn't attack into turn 7. I was going to wait until the sprint coming out of turn 9, however, the chicane of turns 7, 8 and 9 proved that a strong rider could lead the whole thing out and still take the win. With this, fatigue and the pain of my road rash, I ended up getting 5th. The pack finished just behind us. It was unreal that we stayed away. Next up was getting the tarmac brushed out of my arm and then sleeping on my left side only.
Bailey and I get way too into animated discussions
The last stage was going to be insanely hard. In addition I only got about 5 hours of sleep from the road rash waking me up. Getting fresh wrapping from medical at the start I would be hitting it hard from the gun. The stage started and finished with laps of the previous nights’ crit course. The thing was that there were sprint points at the start/finish on the first two laps. With the amount of points I had made from being in the breakaway on stage 4, I could potentially move up to a podium position with these two laps. I had to get going from the gun. We would hit two short crit laps with points on the line and then turn and climb over 10km to the sunset loop. We would do 12 laps of this sunset loop before descending back down to the crit again, finishing off with 5 laps on the crit loop. I missed the first sprint only getting 1 point, however I won the second one and claimed 7 points. This would not be enough to move me up to a podium spot for GC, I would remain in 4th only three points behind 3rd. The rest of the race would be painful. My legs were not there. My body was sore and my skin stinging. I lasted 5 of the 12 laps before dropping out and getting a pro-rated time.

Cracked on Stage 5
Overall, I was not super pleased with my performance on the last day, however, considering the situation I am quite pleased with the way I raced. Overcoming my first road crash will be a big one. I am looking forward to the next time I touch the road bike with H&R Block Pro Cycling at Joe Martin Stage Race. It is a good one and I can't wait to rip it up.