Sunday, 20 May 2012

Niagara Climbs - Race Report for the Niagara Classic RR

The Niagara Classic Road Race, O-Cup #3, was Sunday 20 May, in Pelham, ON. Pelham is in the Niagara region, a little south of St. Catherines, and the Niagara Classic is put on by the St. Catherines Cycling Club.  This race wasn't on my schedule, but we happened to be in the area visiting family, so I managed to negotiate in a morning at the race.
As you might imagine, any race with the word "Niagara" in it better include the predominant geological feature in the region - the Niagara Escarpment - and this race doesn't disappoint.  The course is a 12.3km loop of country roads, with lots of descending, and a little bit of climbing.  I know, that doesn't make sense, there is the same amount of vertical descent as vertical ascent, but the descent is spread over about 10.3km, and the ascent is the remaining 2km.  Even that is not quite reflecting reality - the main feature in the Niagara Classic RR is a short, steep climb known as the Effingham Upper Wall.  Strava stats show it as 400m of distance with 45m of elevation difference, with an average gradient of 11.1%.  It seems to peak out somewhere north of 16%, and hangs around 14%~15% for a good portion.  The finish line is just before the top of this hill.
Well, I sometimes like to think of myself as a climber, and it is true that much of my success in the past has come in, and as a result of, the hills.  However since my return to racing in 2011 (following a 7 year hiatus to have kids) I haven't really found that I'm able to really fly up the hills with the same ease as I could "back in the day".  I nonetheless allowed myself to think that the uphill finish on this course might suit me, and in fact started to make a plan to win both the KOM (points awarded for 3 of the 5 laps) and the race.
The M3 race (5 laps, 61.5km) start was at 8:30am, and the organizers got things going fairly close to plan.  One advantage of being "stuck" in M3 is that we race in the early hours, before the day heats up too much; that was a factor on Sunday, with unseasonably high temperatures.  It was a pretty easy roll-out, with a sharp downhill right at the start.  The commies were right there on motos, almost immediately handing out warnings for yellow-line violations, no doubt to scare us into not repeating the M1 full race DQ at the Good Friday Road Race.  It worked.  Much of the roads have no yellow line, so in order to avoid the dreaded DQ, most guys stayed clear of the middle.  One clear exception was in the corners - this seemed to be a free-for-all, with guys all over the road at each corner - not just the 90 degree sharp intersections, but also the twisty section leading to the last corner.  In fact, disaster was only nearly averted in that twisty section, as we came around the corner, almost totally across the road, and some cyclist was in the oncoming lane - those of us at the front had a bit of a scare, but clearly this is what the yellow-line rule is for; if she had been a car, we would have been in trouble.  Nonetheless, I observed the apparent leniency at the corners and used it to my advantage a few times to work my way up to the front.
So up we go to the Effingham hill for the first climb.  No KOM points on this climb (points were awarded on laps 2, 3, and 4), so I figured I'd sit back and observe.  And I didn't like what I observed.  I was about 15 back going up the steepest part, digging fairly deep, and not really gaining on the first few guys.  At that point I decided I wasn't going to go for the KOM, given that my relative climbing shape was clearly not that much better (and maybe even worse) than other guys in the race.  I also looked ahead and decided that I should plan on being happy with top 10 for the race; what a great way to talk yourself out of a race - mentally throw in the hat in the first 12km, at the first hard effort.  Such is my mental strength and confidence these days.  Anyway, I crest the hill a few seconds behind the lead guys, panic a bit as I try to jump on, and realize there is no need to panic - they're all coasting.  Like it's a club ride, taking it easy, letting everyone else jump back on.  That seemed strange, I felt we should be making it hard for the guys as the back, so I moved to the front, took up my place with a hard pull, and did my work.  About 60s into that, I start looking around to see who is going to go next, and the boys are happy to leave me out there.  The guy behind me said something about "if you want someone.. . to work  ..  you'll have to ..".  It was lost in the wind, so I kept on for another minute or so, then started to ease off to encourage someone else to do a little work.  It took a lot of easing, and a lot of time before someone else came out front.
Shortly after that, #66 launched an attack.  I was a little winded, and didn't go; it seemed a little early to be going off for the day anyway.  But at that point I decided that the teams should be at the front doing the work, and I should save myself to be able to cover attacks, and maybe break.  It seemed I wasn't going to be able to out-climb anyone, so I figured an attack was my only hope.  The Kurzawinski Coach guys were at the front, watching #66, and they talked about letting him dangle a bit, but not get too far away.  Yes, that's why the teams should be at the front.  They've got the manpower, the tactics, and the ability to control the race.
Second climb (of 5) up the Effingham hill, and this one is for KOM points.  I am once again near enough to the front, but unwilling to dig deep enough to go over the top first.  Maybe I don't really want to know what will happen if I giv'er, maybe I'm trying to save myself, either way I've already given up on the KOM race before it's begun.  I'm still not sure the exact truth; hindsight may be 20/20, but the heat of the moment still makes it a little blurry, looking back.
Same easy coast off the hill, I can see that the boys are not in a hurry to make this race hard.  I ended up spending a little time in mid-pack, chatting with one of Jarrod's friends (Joel Rose), and a few other guys.  Obviously I am just as guilty, as I could have been up there pulling hard, but at the time I figured there were a few teams there with 3 or 4 guys, they should be doing the work.  I'm saving myself for my only real chance at winning this thing: a break.
#66 went away again on lap 3, quite close to the end of lap 3, just going in to the twisty section.  This section is mostly down, so I didn't think it was a really good time to get away.  We caught him again on the run-up to the big climb.  Mid-way through the 4th lap, I came along side of #66, and asked him if he was going to go again.  I had figured a fourth lap attack had the highest chance of success.  Fifth lap, the last lap, seemed like a bad time to go, everyone would follow.  So he asked "when?", I said "like, now".  So, just after the corner at Maple Street and Kilman Road, I moved up the inside to get away.  It was a bit of a risky maneuver; at least one guy told me so as I passed him on the very edge of the pavement.  In (20/20) hindsight, I might not take that risk again; however I was stuck inside, and figured my best bet at winning was out front - now!  So I got out front, #66 on my wheel, and pushed.  Maybe about 90% effort.  #66 came through for a pull, and it was obvious then that the pack was watching, and wasn't going to let us go at that point.  After another minute or so, I eased up to give up the escape; the pack was happy to leave me out front, though, so I dropped the speed slowly until someone went by.
Now we're on the last lap.  Amazingly, still a fairly easy pace.  I end up sliding back a little due to inattention; once again, #66 goes on Maple Street, and I'm stuck on the inside, a ways back, and have to watch.  I'm still a little too far back when we get to the twisty section at the end of Kilman Road, so I tried to move up a bit in the corners.  Turning onto Effingham Street for the final 2km, on the final lap, I was probably about 20 guys back.  It's all strung out, and gaps are opening up all over the place - not good!  I'd get on to the back of a few guys, and then they'd be gapped by the guys in front of them!  And so it was, I worked my way across gaps up the false flat approach to the hill.  When I finally hit the hill, I believe I was in 6th or 7th place, and a ways back; it didn't look good.  Push on - it seemed like I was closing on the guys, and I start doing the math - there are 5 guys ahead of me, it looks like I can take 1 or 2 of them at this rate.  Then they all started moving backwards, and it felt like climbing "back in the day"!  Effortless, and fast.  At the steepest part of the hill I pass all the guys, and keep on going; I pushed on for another few seconds, before looking back to be sure no one is charging behind.  By now, I'm out of the saddle, and starting to grind; it's no longer effortless, and probably not very fast...  When I finally hit the line I probably had about 25m or 30m on them!  It was a fun finish, lots of cheering along the final climb; I could hear the announcer, and I was anxious to hear him say my name - I still wasn't totally sure that no one had gotten away, and I need to hear him say my name.  He did.
So as it turns out, my best tactic was most definitely not to try to escape, that was probably a total waste of energy.  However opting out of the KOM points race was a good move, and probably one that played significantly into my winning the race.
Here is my Stava data, for anyone that's interested.  One interesting point is that, as of this writing, I hold KOM on the segment called Effingham Long Climb, for the approach to the finish.  This is undoubtedly as a result of turning on to Effingham St. so far back in the pack, working hard to bridge gaps up to the lead guys, and then putting in a respectable climb up the wall.

Overall, a well run event, with good organization and nice facilities.  I still think 65km is a little short for M3, but I can't complain for now!
Full results at this link: Niagara Classic Road Race Results.
On a side note: Niagara Falls, too!  Some guys went over the falls on May 21, and lived!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

First Cross Race

Jensen after his race
OK, this isn't really my first cross race.  It is the first one of the season for the Ottawa Cross series, but that's not really what this post is about.  It's about the first cyclocross bike race (in fact, the first bike race) that my son, Jensen, participated in. 

Jensen has been biking for several years, and began mountain biking in earnest this summer.  Of course, I'm anxious to encourage his biking, being that I'm quite obsessed with it (OK, at least I can admit it...); however I'm also careful not to push too hard, to avoid turning him off the activity. 

So the Ottawa Cross series kicked off on 25 September at Calabogie, and the conditions couldn't have been better.  We had decided to travel to Calabogie on Saturday, and camp Saturday night.  We traveled with Rob Kerr and his family, making the trip as much about camping with friends as it was about a bike race.  Rob's son, Liam, has quite a bit more riding under his belt than Jensen, so it has been good for Jensen to bike with Liam - to give him motivation, to give him a good model for skills, and to make it fun.  I've found out the hard way - as soon as it stops being fun, the kids tune out fast!  And as expected, the kids (Jensen and Liam, as well as the girls Mia and Breagh) found a hill, a jump, and a loop to occupy lots of time on their bikes at the camp site. 

Start of the B race, Liam in red and yellow
Camping was fun, but there was a race to do!  Sunday was a great day, once the sun rose it felt like a summer day - good for the kids, since they were in the 9:00am start!  Unfortunately, due to my poor planning, we showed up too late for Jensen to do a lap to see what the course looked like.  Well, he'll just have to figure that out on the first lap (I know, that's not fair, it won't happen again!).  But off they go anyway.

Carving a wicked turn

The kids did two and a half laps, and it was very exciting for me to watch.  I now believe that a cross race is probably the best venue for youngsters to start racing.  The cost is minimal, the race is short (or as long as they want it to be), and the scope of the course is small.  I was able to walk back and forth across the course and watch him at each part of the course.  At one point, the kids were supposed to turn right to bypass the big run-up - unfortunately, since we didn't get a chance to pre-ride the course (oops), he went the wrong way - but at least I was able to call out to get him back on course.  It was awesome to watch him racing around, on his own, making his own choices to try to ride, or dismount and run, and to just keep on given' 'er! 

It was also fun to watch him racing around on his "new" bike - which is actually his mother's old 14" Santa Cruz Juliana, 26" wheel.  If someone would have told me a few weeks ago he could ride a 26" wheel, I would have argued that the geometry is all wrong, little kids can't handle the 26" wheels, and they won't learn the right skills.  I take that all back now.  Especially when mountain biking, the 26" wheels are a huge asset compared to smaller wheels.  And I can fully understand the issue: I've switched to a 29er this year, and I love the bigger wheels.  Not to mention that the Santa Cruz is probably lighter than his current 20" bike.

In the end, Liam came 2nd and Jensen came 3rd in the Under-11 category.  I am very proud of the effort he put in, and I expect he'll be out there for a few more races this year. 

Jensen and Liam after their race
We're all looking forward to the Madison next weekend in Almonte.  Jensen and Liam are going to be on a team, and it looks as if Jensen's younger sister, Mia, is going to race also - apparently the fun at the cross races is contagious!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


This is a late update, but an important one for team orange. Saturday Sept.3. Camp Fortune. New course. Fast!

Imad and I were excited,when we heard 3 weeks prior to the Quebec cup final that it would be on our home course. Also, it was to be a revised/repaired course.

After a sunset series race, we were shown the course by the race organizer himself. Eric (CycleOutaouais), was excited to be taking the reigns and wanted our feedback on both selection and race pace lap times. We were both impressed. It was fast and had 209 meters of climbing per lap.
For those of you who have riden Brian's, you know how technical the climbing is. I really enjoy that type of stuff as opposed to climbing CBC.

We knew what we had to do: Train, and dial the course. Dial we did. Imad showed me some lines, I showed him a couple. Man we knew that course!

So race day came, we assembled at the start line with our new matching helmets. Ready to race!
The start was blistering!
By the end of the start loop climb, we were sitting in 6th and 7th-Awesome!
By lap 2 we had caught 4th place Devinci rider and left him behind.We continued to ride well together, sharing the lead.
Eventually, it was evident that Imad was stronger on the long climbs.Going into the last lap I yelled to him to go for it as we were getting close to the 3rd place Val Morin rider. He did!
At a switchback point he informed me that I could catch 4th. I did!
I jumped around 4th place coming into the home stretch, I botched the last right turn due to some confusion at the finish line and ended up losing the sprint by half a wheel length.

So 3rd and 5th! Best elite result ever for Imad and not far off my best either. Looks like this season is going to end on a high note! Congrats to Imad for a stellar ride. Nice to see all his hard work pay off.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Bras du Nord Raid #4

In the city of Saint Raymond, Quebec this past weekend was the 4th and final of the Raid Extreme series. This final edition was to be 2 stages of 70km each. It promised lots of single track on day 1 and it did not disappoint!

Day 1
About 500 racers took to the start line.Within the first 10km a small selection happened. Marc-Andre Daigle,(MAD), pulled away on a long climb but never got out of sight. I ended up with his teamate Leni Trudel,(LT). I chased for a while with Leni sitting on my wheel until Aroussen Laflamme, (AF), bridged up to us and we proceeded to work together catching MAD shortly after. The 4 of us were riding well together and attacking one another on the climbs. AF and I shared the work of responding to the attacks of the 2 Garneau riders MAD and LT.
After a very long section of downhill single track AF and MAD had a small gap on LT and I. I was sitting on LT's wheel going downhill at about 45km/hr when he missed a turn and slammed on his brakes abruptly. I was caught off guard and hit him, launched myself over the bars and landed on my head pretty hard. I crushed the helmet. Broke my derailer hanger right off! Race over. Damn!
Nothing I could do about day 1.

Sat afternoon we went to a shop called Biclyclette Record, in Quebec city. They set me up with all the parts I needed and even did the work! Great guys. Thanks to owner Mike and fellow racer , (up and comer) Vincent! You guys saved my race weekend and even hooked me up with a racer discount.

Day 2
An even bigger crowd too to the start line of Day 2. I felt good as I only had a half day of racing in my legs due to the crash. Took a little longer to get to the steep stuff. So it wasn't until 15km in that we had a selection. About 9 of us popped out on the road.
Entering the next section of trail I drove it pretty hard and managed to get a good gap taking the lead. I was joined by a Scott rider. We took advantage of our gap and worked together well. About 30 km in we were joined by the Garneau boys again. We hit a big climb and dropped the Scott guy right away.
Me against 2....been here before. The biggest longest most technical climb of the weekend and they just kept launching attack after attack.
Finally I cracked and MAD got away. LT sat on me again until I showed a small sign of weakness and he pounced! I was alone in no-mans land. I knew I had to keep my speed up. It was hard being alone in the wind for the remaining 30 km but I managed to pull off 3rd,(4min behind the Garneau boys).

Overall, great weekend. Time to buy a new helmet!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Quebec Provincial championships

Monday, August 8, 2011

Late Report

Val Morin, a beautiful little town with super steep hills and lakes everywhere you look. Located just down the 117 from Tremblant in the Laurentians.
Imad and I headed out for a pre-ride on Saturday around 3pm with Rob and Trish who had already done 1. Rob showed me some lines I showed him a couple and proceeded to do some sections way too fast having way too much fun, crashing spectacularly numerous times!
We all ended up staying in the same super 8 because le Radison burnt down the night before. But it ended up being pretty good, as they had an awesome water slide which we setioned for about an hour and continental breakfast with fresh wafels in the morning!
On to the race.....Rob had a catastrophic technical, exploding his bearing on his rear Hope Pro II rendering his bike completely unrideable,and being in the Masters category has to carry any parts and tools on him. Too bad he didn't have a new bearing and a hammer in his pockets, then he could have fixed it and finished the race.

Our race was sure to be really fast on a super dry hot course. I went for it right from the gun. I was able to stay with the lead group for the 1st half of the first lap. Really hard efforts. Eventually fell into the chase group where we proceeded to attack each other repeatedly. By the 3rd Lap I was joined by Imad, we dropped all of the chase group and it started to pour. I slipped my right hand off the bar , crashed pretty bad and got passed by 4 guys, got up, and settled back in, eventually passing them all again. I ended up about 40 sec behind Imad going into the last lap. I gave it all I had and finished 34 seconds behind him. He was 7th and I was 9th in the end!!
I can't imagine it going much better than this, considering the extremely strong field of young Quebec guns who were in attendance.

I highly recommend Val Morin (Far Hills Ski resort) for MTB'n---only $5/day and about 2.5hrs from Ottawa!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

84km MTB Marathon in the Heart of Quebec. Victory!

Quebec has a MTB Marathon series called the Raid. There are 4 races in the series this year,
1)Raid Velo Mag (the one we did at MSA in June)
2)Raid Massif du Sud(missed it but will go next year)
3)Raid Jean D'Avignon(East Hereford )
4) Raid Bras du Nord( near Quebec city)
To be a "Marathon" it needs to be between 80- 120km, compared to the usual regular mtb race which is around 50km or less depending on the terrain.

This past Sunday I did the 3rd one, in East Hereford. The town is about 45min south east of Sherbrooke. Right on the border to Vermont.
It was my second year doing this race and last year I finished second overall to a local Elite strong man named Jean-Philipe Thibault Roberge(JPTR). We blew punches all day at each other and after 4hrs he won by about 20 sec!. Anyways, that was last year.......

This year he was away out west doing a string of Canada cups and Nationals. I looked around at the start line, some familiar strong faces but nobody I was really worried about, except maybe Pierre Harvey, (yes that Pierre Harvey). I was confident in my fitness and was ready to go. The gun went and all 110 of us were off. I surprised myself and easily took the lead down the road, with everyone sitting behind me waiting to see.
We turned right on the first gravel climb, I had a gap, so I said lets see what I can do here!

I went for it. 1km in with 83km to go --I went alone! I was just bombing and felt great all day, I ate, I drank, my bike was excellent. There was tonnes of Kingdom Trail style downhill singletrack. It was 4hrs of just me, my bike and the trails. I almost forgot I was racing, almost....On the long stretches on rolling straight gravel, I could see a group of 4 in what looked like an organized chase, so I had to buckle down, and for the final 35km I really dropped the hammer.

It worked, I came through the finish at 3hrs 51 min. 8 minutes ahead of second place.

Feels good to get a victory once in a while. Seems like it's been a long time!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Better Fortune? Maybe just a bit...

The latest Camp Fortune Sunset Series mountain bike race was last Wednesday evening. The temperature was mercifully moderate - well below 30, if I recall. I'm pretty sure that if the race was Thursday night, I would have skipped it; actually, I probably wouldn't have skipped it, but I would have gotten heat exhaustion. I'm happy to have not suffered that fate (again)!
The field expert/elite field was quite thin - a total of 5 guys. No doubt, this is in part due to observations described by Neil two weeks ago. In any case, I had arrived early enough to be on the bike 30 minutes prior to start, and caught up with Imad and Dustin heading out for a lap - to do a little course prep. Yup, to get the course ready for the race. Uh-huh, the race put on by Camp Fortune, a race for which I (and everyone else) have to pay for entry, as well as for trail access, and which starts in 30 minutes. But I digress!
OK, off we go, no time to spare It doesn't take long to find a "small" problem - a large tree fallen across the trail. Well, this is no good, it sure would suck if the race had started with that in the way. Not to worry, Imad heads back to the start to get a few big burly racers to move the fallen tree. Not being in that particular category, I keep going. As Neil noted two weeks ago, the course is poorly (i.e. not) marked. Well, that's not quite true. Most of the single track has tape along both sides of the trail - that must have taken forever. On the other hand, none of the intersections are adequately marked. It's not as if the intersections have never been marked - at most places where there is a choice on which way to go, there is ripped tape on the ground. I did my best to retrieve random unused tape segments (such as the tape along most of the single track...), to tape off as many incorrect turns as possible. I hope it helped, and I will say that this sort of course marking is the absolute least we should expect for a sanctioned race that carries an entry fee. I'm sure my tape will be gone in two weeks - no big deal, it'll just take someone from the race organization 30 minutes to go around and prep it before the next race.
OK, we didn't fix all the problems, maybe not even most of them. There is still lots of erosion, and the course does need attention - but hopefully we helped most of the racers go the right way most of the time...

A few race notes:
- as mentioned, the expert/elite category was thin. With only 5 of us on the start line, it was a very civilized pace.
- Imad crashed hard, right in front of me. I was sure there would be a dislocated shoulder, or broken clavicle, but it turned out to just be just a flesh wound, and a bent bike. Bend it back and keep going!
- my string of flats on the 29er has finally come to an end. I'm set up tubeless with my ZTR rims - no more pinch flats, and the bike is handling great.