Wednesday 25 January 2017

Hoogerheide WC

It's been a little bit of a different and slower season for me. I've decided to go back to my adult job again (thought I've quickly missed my freedom and my life) and have raced and ridden a lot less than normal....and definitely a lot less then I would like.  I find I'm in a little bit of a tough position right now; I'm really excited for all the other things in life that I've missed out on with focusing on racing....but I still really love racing.  I want it all!!

This past weekend was the my third CX World Cup of the 2016/2017 season.  My first WC in Vegas went a lot better then I was expecting, my second WC in Iowa ended in a long run due to a snapped rear derailleur/hanger and besides the amazing local series and Canadian Nationals it's been a slower race season then the past couple of years.  I was sad to miss out on the Kerstperiod this season, though really happy to spend the Christmas season at home (however working over the holidays wasn't my first choice).  So that left me really excited to be in Europe for the final World Cup in Hoogerheide and World Championships in Luxembourg.

Having lost a lot of UCI points from not racing my start position was a bit of a kick in rear, but I've always enjoying racing from the back.  This year Hoogerheide was unlike anything that I thought possible for this area of the Nederlands.......dry, frozen and extremely fast.  I came prepared for a cyclocross race and was shocked to have to race a crit in January against the fastest women in the world.  Typically I rely on my technical skills to make me competitive, but this race was pure fitness, something I'm sad to say has taken a little hit this year (could be all those pastries I'm really really enjoying this year).

Fifth row call up wasn't horrible for a field of 76, but with a straight shot road start, it wasn't easy to make any spots off the start.  I definitely burnt a few too many matches on the first lap trying to move up as much as I could.....panic sets in a little when you see the lead of the race five corners ahead by the time you hit the dirt.  By the end of the second lap I managed to move myself up as far are top 25, lap 3 and 4 I had to dial back a little.  When the Belgian Loes Sels who I ended up racing around a lot last year, passed me I was finally told myself to suck it up and get moving!  In the final lap catching Caroline Mani going into a tight treed section, she dismounted right in front of me to run so I was left with no choice but to dismount as well.  As soon as my foot hit the frozen ground I was on the ground.  I really wish someone had a video of it because I think I was up and running again all in the same stride...I feel like it looked like I meant to do it haha.  I managed to pass Caroline shortly after only to have to attack my running up the Red Bull stairs (remember to practice stairs in the future).  Digging deep I grabbed her wheel through the last corner and attacked on the road finish to take 30th place.

Although this is my worst placing at Hoogerheide, I'm actually really happy with how the race went and it was an amazing way to blow out all the "gunk" from a month of working on a boat and jet lag! This week has been a great week of pastry eating, watching pre-rides of the course and some opener work for the legs.  I'm really excited to see what the Luxembourg course has in looks technical!!!

Monday 17 October 2016

Thursday 28 January 2016

More Mud at Hoogerheide WC

Hoogerheide mud is definitely the mudder of all mudder races, it’s so hard physically and technically due to the mud, and yet somehow ….fun?  From what I can remember last year was really wet, having snowed the night before pre-ride, and then melted.  But this year, I think was muddier, with a good amount of rain on and off all week, there were some good soupy sections.  The majority of the course was the exact same, however there had been a lot of construction along the start straight, making the start a long sweeping uphill with a hard right into some gnarly mud and ruts after about 500m. 

3rd row call again, love not having to start all the way at the back anymore J  I had a great start, elbows were definitely out in that first corner, but I managed to come through unscathed and upright.  Past the pits, a couple of fast corners and into a fast descent with a bermed (or maybe rutted) right hand corner at the bottom.  You could definitely catch a lot of speed here, and if you played the rut at the bottom wrong, you could easily end up in the trees.  Popping out of the trees into a long flat grass straight away past the busy VIP tent, I found a great line out of the corner carrying momentum along and moved up most laps along here.
Photo from Marc Deceuninck

Sharp right hand hairpin at the end of the VIP tent and the mud started to get thicker.  A couple more flat corners and with each passing corner the mud would get thicker and thicker.  This was the section that I seemed to struggle the most with this year, not being able to find that balance point on my bike to get enough traction to move forward efficiently in a straight line.  Give me all the greasy corners and off camber, I rocked those, but muddy straight sections were my kryptonite.  Once clear of the worst of the mud, sharp little power uphill back into the trees, short downhill with a 180 at the bottom and up the greasy climb.  This one 9 times out of 10 due to the mud is a runner, for me anyways J.  Up the first pitch, the course turns left out of the trees and into a flattish very muddy section….so you just keep running.  Hairpin corner at the top and you can finally hop back on your bike, hopefully getting clipped in just in time to hit the first of 2 deeply rutted, very muddy and very slick left hand corners.  I proudly rocked the big rut safely and somewhat quickly most laps, having to hop off and run up the small incline the lap I messed the rut up and almost ended up on my face.  The second left hand corner had a lot more options for lines and the main rut had a good “jog” in it half way through the corner making for trying to stay in the rut an interesting exercise.  Up a small slick incline and back through the pits.

Photo by Luc Hermans 
This short section seemed to be the least muddy and you could catch your breath a little going through the fast corners.  Picking up speed, the mud got thicker and deeper as you neared the next hairpin.  This corner in particular is one that you always see on video, for me it really stands out in my memory from watching races, and it’s easily distinguishable with a huge tree and a giant running rut around it.  Flying what feels like break neck speed into the corner, trying to get off in the uneven mud, and trying not to fall flat on your face because you’ve just jumped off your bike while it’s moving faster then your legs can move, makes for some great facial photos at this corner!!  Going into this corner with anyone nearby spiced it up even more, having to look out for bikes and feet flying you way.
Photo from Bart Raeymaekers

Around the corner and running back up the hill with your bike, hairpin at the top and try to get clipped in again before the slightly off camber downhill with the right hand corner at the bottom.  A couple more flat really muddy straights with rutted corners and the course popped out a road climb.  Old course had a fun series of really steep and rutted shoots with steep run ups, but new course took us up past the start and into a really hard off camber soggy sand section.  There were two paths that were about a tire width, and if you got off those you were essentially riding in what felt like wet concrete.  Power through that section, tight right hand corner and a huge 44 set of concrete steps that were built specifically for this race, OUCH!!!!  And at the top, just when you were weak in the knees and out of breathe, there was about a 100m of what again felt like wet concrete to power through.  Making it about ¾ of the way through each lap I found it faster to get off and run at a certain point.  Pop out on the pavement and you have about a 100m to stretch your legs out and get ready to do the lap all over again!!!  I got my new blue Giro Empires so dirty L

Photo from Luc Hermans
I’ve know for a while that I need to work on pacing, but this race yet again has reinforced the fact that I love to go out too hard…..but I do have a good start J I battled with a solid group of 4 or 5 girls for a large chunk of the race, and finished happily with a 24th.

One more week of rest and the last race of the season back at Zolder!!!

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Ligniere-en-Berry World Cup

Back in Belgium after a quick stop over in France for the Ligniere-en-Berry CX World Cup, stop number 6 out of 7 on the World Cup circuit.  The course was held at a Hippodrome, also known as a stadium for horse or chariot racing.  Beautiful venue in the French countryside, it was a very flat area.  The course took advantage of every piece of terrain change available in the area, however with a pretty flat venue, there were a lot of long straightaways, some sharp slick off camber corners and more straightaways.  Morning of pre-ride was a chilly -5 and snow, race day ended up being sunny and just above freezing.  The sun and breeze cause the ground to dry up a little and the course was fast!

Moving up slowly, I was the 18th call up and landed myself a third row start for the first time J. Long fast straightaway, and somehow I found a really nice opening on the left side and managed to move up a lot.  Sweeping lefthander into a tight righthander, off camber into a tight right uphill corner bottleneck.  Back on the bike for a quick couple pedal strokes and up the first set of stairs.  Quickly back on the bike, small downhill trying to get clipped back in, and off camber sand section and more running.

From there, back on the bike, up through the pits and into a slow tight section with some good off camber downhill corners, if it had been really muddy this would have been a blast!!!  Short straightaway, some more slow corners, then a long….I mean loooooong, like 200 m long, straight away along the back side of the course, followed by another tight twisty section, then another looooong downhill straight away through the pits.  This was definitely the suicide pit direction, you were going so fast it was nearly impossible to get into; I had tried this side during pre-ride only to get completely run over by one of the juniors…..I have a really good bruise on my rear end to show for it.

Tight nasty weird corner at the end of the pits in mud, which claimed a lot of people, followed by yet more straight aways, tight twisty off camber corners, some running, some barriers, a fly over, some more stairs and some really weird tight corners on sand, then off to the finish straight.  It wasn’t your typical European cross course, definitely not as technical overall, but there were some corners that kept you on your toes for sure.

Came through on the first lap in, WHAT, 11th place!!!  First 3 laps I was in the mix, battling back and forth, but I think I may have worked a little too hard to be in this place because my fourth and fifth lap were painful.  Painful like when you get that empty heavy feeling in your legs, and every pedal stroke is a battle.  Held on for an 18th place and my first top 20 in a World Cup, so I do have to be happy with that!

Letting to body heal and recover and back to Hoogerheide (my first European CX race last year) for a much anticipated mud fest J    

Friday 8 January 2016

And BPost and Soudal Classic Races too!

And that’s a wrap for my first Kerstperiod (Christmas Cross) series in Europe.  It’s been on the radar for a while, always getting up early to watch the races in Europe, and this was the year to make it happen.  I opted out of two of the six races during that nine day period because I knew doing a stage race at this point in the season would totally destroy me…but watching those races from the sidelines was really difficult J. We finished off the week with a Friday race in Baal and a Sunday race in Leuven.

The race in Baal is Sven Nys’ (literally the king of cyclocross for those who don’t know) race in his hometown.  Being Sven’s last year of professional racing I knew this was one even that I really wanted to attend and the crowds were nuts.  This is typically a mudder race with a lot of elevation, and this year did not disappoint, even though it has been unusually warm and sunny this winter.  I had an amazing start, sitting fourth or fifth wheel going into the first corner.  Over 2 large barrier logs, up and over the fly over and into the first time climbing up through the pits I was sitting comfortable but pushing hard.  Sharp left drop into a full on squirrely mud pit descent with wheel eating ruts.  These are definitely features that we doing get to practice in North America and European racers are far superior at this. 

Skiing your way down the mud, there is a sharp hairpin and then straight back up.  Only a handful of people, including the men could ride this, so there was a lot of running.  Back on the bike and surfing down another slick, rutted out straight away, deep rutted corner at the bottom, through some sloppy mud and grind back up the hill.  This one was a little more rideable, but definitely had to hump the bike up over the top.  A couple more muddy corners, running in deep mud, then hitting a pavement climb back up to the pits.  The second time through the pits is the ideal place to pit, it’s slower and at the end of the pit you have to get off your bike anyways to go up a giant set of like 20 stairs….OUCH!!!! The second half of the course was a lot drier and faster then the first half, bombing downhills and hammering climbs, a couple good rutted corners and back to the start/finish straight.

Sharpen those mud skills for Baal
I had a great battle back and forth with a couple girls, going into the last lap I found myself gaining fast on the girl in 9th place.  Dropping into the first real muddy second on the lap for the last time I was just about to make contact with 9th place and decided to make my move……only to end up on my butt in the mud, much to the crowds delight J.  I didn’t catch her again, and had to ride my sideways saddle all the way back to the pits, but I did catch my first top ten in a Belgian cyclocross race….yippee!!!

Rest day Saturday was much welcomed, the mud and running from the Baal course left me with a lot of mystery cuts and bruises and very sore all over!  Leuven on Sunday was a completely different type of course.  Pretty much a slick road race with four of five gnarly little a lap, a lot of rough bumpy ground, and a short really muddy section with 3 steep uphills and 3 steep downhills in fast succession. 

A second row call up allowed me a great start again, scrambling around the first two hairpin corners and over this weird double stair feature (two wide steps up and 2 wide steps down), over the fly over and through the first two ditches.  The ditches really spread the field out as there was really only one good line.  The first time through the bumpy pits was pretty near the position that I would end up in.  There was a huge bottleneck at the short technical section and everyone was off their bikes running up.  Once we passed the pits for the second time and hit the flat section I worked really hard to catch the wheel in front of me to be able to sit in a little and draft.  I quickly realized I probably couldn’t have picked a better wheel, Christine Majerus, a road racer from Luxomburg, was driving hard and we quickly opened up a gap to the group behind.  I was able to stay with her for the first 3 laps, doing work when I could, but once we caught Sabrina Sultjens, the pace picked up and I had a harder time closing the small gaps that would open, finally loosing contact.  I finished the last 3 laps in no mans land,  just over a minute down from the girl in front and a minute ahead of the girl behind me……grabbing the 9th place on the day!!  Baby steps!!
Road tactics in Leuven

2 day drive through France to get to Girona, Spain, and I’m putting in some fun miles on some amazing roads in the sun, recharging my batteries and getting ready for the last push of the season. 
Jan 17 – World Cup in Lignieres-en-Berry, France
Jan 24 – World Cup in Hoogerheide, Netherlands
Jan 30 – World Championships in Zolder, Belgium

It's so cool getting to know the locals once you do a couple of races in Belgium :)

Also, the pastries in Girona are amazing and totally worth the drive!!!

Wednesday 30 December 2015

World Cups and Superprestige Adventures

Awesome roads everywhere in Belgium
CX World Cup round number 5 of the season in Zolder, Belgium was a full preview of the World Championships course at the end of January….and I have to say that I’m really excited.  The course is has a great mix of everything, some fast straight aways, tight corners, sand, off cambers, roots, steep drops, and some really cool history.  Circuit Zolder is an old F1 racetrack used in the 70s and 80s.

Christmas day was a cold, wet pre-ride of the course.  Wet, sandy muddy conditions made the drivetrain unhappy within a single lap.  There is an interesting combination of sand and clay, enough sand to keep things together and enough clay to make it slick and keep you on your toes.  Though Belgium has been having an unusually warm dry December and Boxing Day (race day) proved to be warm and sunny, drying the course out throughout the day and making it a very fast track.

Moving up to a fourth row call up, I had a solid start, but I still have to learn to be a little more aggressive fighting for spots with these European racers.  Long straight away on the track, and the field bottlenecked in the first hairpin corner after about 200 m.  Second hairpin corner and through the pits, everyone is jockeying back and forth trying to move ahead.  Through a treed section, I hopped off my bike to run a backed up corner and found myself being checked left into USA’s Ellen Noble by a Rabobank rider, things were getting rough!

Through the pits and accelerate hard into a tight, slick uphill hairpin corner.  Two lines here, if you can rail the corner hard enough and take the high line it’s faster and smoother, but really hard to get to; most times I got shot to the bottom and had to ride the mud to the off camber corner up to the pavement. 

First lap I’m sitting in pretty good company and feeling somewhat comfortably uncomfortable.  The long sandy clayey shoot is relatively dry and fast, with a couple good ruts.  Hitting the bottom you have about 100m to regroup then straight up a cliff.  If you’ve watched the past races this is a super steep cliff with steps cut into the side…..this year they decided to move the track over a little and there are no steps cut in, so it’s a free for all.  Literally scrambling up, using my hands to grab whatever I can while the front wheel if hitting the ground and the seat hitting me in the head, throwing me totally off balance the whole way up.  At the top there is another small run then a short flat section to smack the sand out of your pedals, clip in and hump it up the long steep climb….if you can ride you will definitely pass anyone running. 

Photo from William Beerland - going into the steeeeep run up
Loose off camber corner, couple steep little drops and a huge flyover back down onto the track to the finish line.  Lap 2, I managed to move into the top 20, lap 3 I was apparently in 17th position……then just before the long steep shoot I hear the dreaded “psst psst psst psst” of my tire letting out all the air L (turns out to be a half inch cut in the side wall, nothing would have saved that). I definitely let out an audible choice word and limp my way to the pits.  The steep downhills and flyover are so sketchy trying to ride with a front flat and I almost end up on my face 2 or 3 times so I decided running the drops was my best option….gaaaaah!!!!  Loosing about 1 minute in lap 3 and at least 20 secs in lap 4 to just get to the pits, I move back in the high 30s/ low 40s…..and I had my work cut out for me!  Trying to stay calm but make as much time as I can, I slowly pick off a rider here and there and move up to finish in 33 place.  Definitely not how I wanted the day to end, but I am really happy with how my body was feeling.  Loved the IRC tubeless Mud Seracs on my NoTubes rims at 23 psi on this track and was able to rail the technical sections with ease!

Quick recovery and straight into my first Superprestige the next day one of the oldest courses on the circuit, Diegem…aka Cross Vegas of Europe.  This is an interesting course, using some tight cobbled roads, through some back yards and a lot of features around a soccer pitch.  I made the full rookie mistake of putting Mad Alchemy Embro on my legs (yummy) and then my chamois cream on……ouch! 

Men's Race - that's Sven Nys!!
Second row call up here, yippee!!!!  I’m so close to those fast girls on the front J.  I have a good start up the long road climb (though definitely not as good as fellow Canadian Anna Schappert who came from behind to a top 10 before we hit the grass!!!), through the first couple of corners and into the slick off camber that jams everyone up and I find myself in the top 20.  Around the soccer field and past the pits we start to climb, first up and over a fly over, around a corner and through an alleyway, then hitting the cobbles we turn left and climb up a long climb (the TV definitely makes this look flat). 

Short recovery at the top with some fun singletracky corners and let the legs recover enough to hit the thick heavy sand pit.  There is sort of a beat in track in the middle of the pit, the farther you go the less of a track it is, and if you get off of it you sink another inch and stop dead.  This effort really cooks the legs and if you have to dismount and run, good luck getting clipped back in!!  So much sand was jammed into my shoes and pedals when I had to run that once I got in, I also had troubles getting out in time for the barriers….that made it interesting a couple times J

Yaaay for Arcteryx waterproof gear
Fast downhill on cobbles with some good curbs to hop, and into the last couple greasy corners.  I had a really good battle with the girls for 13th place, but plugged my front wheel in one of the final hairpin corners and she got away.  I was able to make up some distance in the final mud put run into the stairs, but I didn’t have the gas to close it on the final straight and finished in 14th.  Pretty cool race with an unbelievable number of people watching!  It’s been said before, but cyclocross is like the hockey of Canada, everyone pays good money to get in and watch, they buy all the supporters gear, and make an evening out of it drinking beer and eating meat on a stick, then they hit the disco tent and things get crazy!  Washing my bike in the pits after the race was an adventure and I didn’t escape the crowd in my little skinsuit without getting groped and kissed by some Belgians… time I’ll leave my bike for Regan J

Couple recovery days, though when I went to watch AzenCross in Loenhout I really wished I had raced!!  Getting ready for the Sven Nys BPost in Baal on Friday (New Years Day) and the Soudal Classic on Leuven on Sunday.  

Merry Christmas and Happy New Years!!!!

Monday 21 December 2015

Namur WC - Storming the Citadel

The Namur Citadel is a pretty amazing place to host a World Cup cyclocross race, I had to do a little research after the race to find out a little more information on it.  The original structure was dated back to the year 937 and the current citadel that we see now was finished in the 1600s, though apparently Napoleon had some of the walls dismantled in the 19th century, and is one of the most fortified structures in all of Europe.  I could only imagine the tunnels and hidden rooms in a building like this.

The course has a lot of steep climbing and a lot of steep shoots, some gnarly off camber rutted out sections and usually tonnes of mud.  After pre-riding on Thursday for the first time it had just rained the day before and there was a lot of slick deep mud……I love it!!!!  We’ve had a very uncharacteristically warm, dry and sunny Belgian December (which is apparently the general forecast right to the end of January), so the course tacked up a lot making it really fast.

4th row call up, 37 out of 70, was the best call up I’ve had a world cup, but with the big climb right off the start, we bottlenecked really fast.  At the very top of the first climb it kicks up and there is a covered wood plank on the transition to the road…..after watching videos of previous races I knew this was a problem spot, and sure enough, someone on the right side of the track ended up running into the post at the top and took the whole rest of the group down….all it takes it one.  Not a huge deal, my goal for this race was to not go out too hard, pace myself because all the climbing and running really catches up to you fast.

At the top of the first climb, you have about 50 feet to catch your breath before you dive back down a rough paved section, then hairpin transition onto the track to power back up to the top.  Another small bottle neck here and we were off and running back up to the top.  From the top of this there is some fast, rooty and technical descents, I managed to straight line over the roots and make up two spots here and grab a good wheel headed into the only flat sections through the pits.

Exiting the pits there is a huge drop in which was getting progressively rougher due to braking bumps, shooting you out on a slick mud road to climb up to the short steep run up with a 6 foot transition at the top to remount and drop back down the cliff.  At the top of this climb I was so out of breathe every lap it I felt a little cross eyed dropping back in, half the time not even clipped in to my pedals yet.  From here we hit the muddy sloggy straight away to a hairpin corner and into the infamous off camber straight away.  It’s funny, if there were no ruts on this it would be totally fine to ride, but with years of racing cutting ruts into this hill, and the ruts being really slick mud, this section is deceptively treacherous.  I had this dialed the first 3 laps, but really struggled the last 2, making some back decision and I really should have run, but racer brain had me slowly struggling with the tripod….though at least I didn’t crash J

Remount for a quick descent, and off the bike for another steep run up.  This section always felt really good until I remounted again for another short downhill, followed by a little power corner climb and slick slog into the bottom of the longest steep run up of the course.  I fumbled this corner and slog pretty bad in the last lap and got passed by two more girls here L.  This last run up was one of the toughest (though Sven did ride it 2 times during the race) and I found that it was all I could do to drag my ass up there the last 2 laps.  Having watched lots of video of this course, I knew it was actually okay to walk this section, a fast walk J.  Back on the bike at the top, short transition and one last big drop and one big rideable (YAAAAY) climb back to the top, through the pits, through the finish and back up the first big climb.

I thought I had done a great job of pacing myself, I felt great coming through the first lap in 20th position.  Second lap felt great, not pushing too hard on the climbs, there was enough elevation in the course to force you to go hard, but by the fourth lap I was really starting to suck wind and make some silly mistakes.  My last two laps were slow, and I lost a lot of spots in the last lap.  But I’m really happy with how I raced and I know I left everything out on the course.  My goal for the race was a top 20, so I’m definitely disappointed with a 31 finish, but what a race to start off my Europe Cross adventure!!!

What’s next??
December 26 – Zolder World Cup
December 27 – Diegem Superprestige
January 1 – Baal – the Sven Nys race
January 3 – Leuven Soudal Classic
January 17 – Ligniere World Cup
January 24 – Hoogerheide World Cup
January 30 – World Championships, Zolder
February 1 – Fly to Canada J