Monday, September 21, 2015

A little rant on dopers…

It was with disappointment, but not necessarily shock, that I read about a fellow competitor, Blaza Klemencic, testing positive for EPO.  (With improved testing, a sample from 2012 was retested)

Blaza was the kind of person that would try to start a race with two feet clipped in and holding onto the start rail (both rule violations) when everyone else started with one foot down and both hands on their handle bars.  After warnings from officials she would do it again the following week.  Some people will cheat to get ahead, but most respect the rules of the game.

I choose to believe that mountain biking is 99% clean, although this revelation shook me a little. I have been fortunate to win a lot and to know that when I haven’t won, it was because I wasn’t at my best.  It wasn’t that others were impossibly fast, they were just better riders on the day. I made mistakes technically, tactically or just didn’t have my best legs.  I have the confidence of knowing personally that you can be the best in the World riding clean. I have faith in others I have seen rise to that top step on the podium, like my Canadian and Luna teammates.  I feel surrounded by good honest people. If there are dishonest racers out there, I do not feel you do yourself any favours turning yourself into a victim. If every time someone passed you in a race you thought you hadn’t a chance because they’re a doper, you would just deflate and give up.  Racing is already tough enough without starting a race feeling defeated.

How did Blaza’s actions affect me?  Well, If the ban from 2012 was still in effect I may have finished 3rd not 4th overall on the World Cup this year without her finishing ahead of me twice, so on paper and financially she had an impact.  But honestly, I don’t really care about that.   What I care about is how she casts doubt on our sport, Olympians and World Class athletes in general. There is already enough skepticism of athletes out there.

When a top 15 rider dopes to get results many people willingly jump to the conclusion that you can’t be faster than that without help, rather than concluding that SHE couldn’t or wasn't patient or hard working enough to find out.  There is skepticism of what is physiologically possible, often thrown out there by people with limited knowledge of physiology or elite performance.  People that are “good athletes” or have read a few articles or texts, or coached a talented rider and have difficulty believing that someone else could actually be significantly faster than themselves (ego doping) or their athletes.  I don’t know many people that would look at a nuclear physicist and assume that to have their intellect they must have somehow cheated, but that is the attitude elite athletes must contend with.  

Let’s be honest, to be truly world class you are different.  You likely have an excellent VO2 max, a high ability to transport and utilize oxygen, the ability to maintain lean body mass while producing high power, a good immune system, an ability to handle time zone changes, an excellent work ethic, a strong mind, tactical awareness, confidence, passion, technical skill … there is a lot that goes into being a World Class athlete and not everyone has it, but some do and by thinking people are doping because they are incredible athletes is such a heart break, and that is the atmosphere dopers create.  

It is sad that some athletes prematurely give up on their own abilities or are so intent on winning at all costs that they cheat.  For those in the sport system I think we can do a lot for future generations by promoting a well-rounded approach that emphasizes success in life, not just in sport.  I imagine people resort to cheating when they feel sport is all they have or their performance is their only value. 

Encourage athletes to go to university or trade school, to have something outside of sport where they are successful - so that winning isn’t everything.  Value them as people and for their contributions to a team. Value their effort, not just their performance.  Show them that when someone cheats, they lose what they value most; the respect and acceptance of their peers and the pride in having worked hard for something.

There are a lot of harmful ideas out there, one of the most appalling is that, “You should just let all athletes dope”.  These people obviously don’t have family members in high level sport.  You would never wish potential long term medical problems on a family member. You do not want to see high school kids doping if they ever want to have a hope of reaching the NFL or NHL. You do not want to see great athletes decide to quit sports because they feel they have no chance of success unless they dope.

In the end, what makes dopers losers, is not a limitation of physiology, but a limitation of integrity. They owe every clean elite athlete an apology, their nations an apology and every person that has ever looked up to them an apology.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Cross Vegas and InterBike

After touring Spain and getting in a couple days at home it was time to go back on the road, this time to Vegas. Vegas is always a crazy experience of busy days, limited sleep & limited exercise.  The oxygen infused, dimly lit rooms create a time warp where you become unaware of how many hours have passed.
Home just long enough to get out on the play bike a couple times
Riding SilverStar
The view from my hotel
There are several highlights of the show for me.  One is Cross Vegas which this year became a World cup, another is our annual ClifBar Party.  
Cross Vegas Venue
 Cross Vegas is awesome, not only because we get to be outside moving, but because we race under the lights at 8 pm with about 12000 industry folks out having a good time and cheering us on.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect of my first cross world cup, but was excited to get out there with my Luna teammates and our guest rider Eva lechner to crush some laps.

The race went way better than expected and quickly an ideal lead group formed with Eva, myself, Katerina and Sanne Cant.  I was happy to not trip over myself and be left behind on the mounts and dismounts and worked with Eva to keep our group ahead of the chase group.  It was windy and a super tough course, but an absolute addictive blast. 

 Katerina attacked with 15 min to go and got a gap, half a lap later I was slow through some steps and Eva rolled away, but Georgia was able to bridge up to my self and Sanne and I lead out the sprint into the finish getting nipped on the line by both and took 5th.  Maghalie scored a 9th place finish making it an amazing night of racing for the whole team and a perfect way for the Luna team to wrap up the season together.
You get back to the hotel from Cross Vegas at about 1am totally wired and hoping for a couple hours sleep before another full day at the show.  You have to be rested for stage 2, the ClifBar party, which hosts intense matches of skill like foosball and corn hole (aka speed bagging).

ClifBar knows how to host a great party, with Scott Whips as DJ, Dave Towles announcing and free beer and food, it is an industry crowd pleaser; and that was before Maghalie started dancing.  Speed bagging was intense. Maghalie and I made it to the semi finals before being knocked out of the match.  

                            More shenanigans was had and then it was back home to recover.  Yay!

Home Sweet home!
Just a couple more events to go this season,  CykleScramble this weekend in San Fransisco and the Olympic Test event in Rio in October.  Excited for both, but first, sleep!

A month on the road

The last month has been one of the most fun of my racing career.  I love travelling for races, but so often we are in and out of these amazing areas before you can get to know and explore them.  With worlds at 1900m this year, the plan was to head over early to acclimate and enjoy training in Europe.  First stop was Livingo, Italy where we ran into some of Canada’s fastest xc skiers Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey and Jessie Cockney.  Fun fact: Alex Harvey and I both raced mtb Worlds in Livingo in 2005. 
Fitting it all in the rental car
Mornings always start with coffee stop

Keith and I scoping out some cols
lots of beautiful places to explore

After 10 days of training with my favourite training partners; Sandra and Keith, we were off to Val di Sole, Italy for World Cup finals.  To get there we drove over famous cols like the Gavia and Tonale. The Gavia is so narrow it is handwork just to drive.

After a tough race in Windham I was feeling recovered and strong and was able to put out a good hour of racing at the front of this World Cup, but I still fell apart a little in the final 3rd of the race finishing 11th and dropping by 4 points to 4th overall in the WC series.  Worlds was still the big goal, and having experienced a big upward trend in my racing from two weeks ago and with two weeks left to prepare, I was feeling positive as I joined team Canada to head to Alpe D’huez for our final training before Worlds.
4th overall on the World Cup
Alpe D’huez is an amazing place. At 1850m we were nestled in the mountains with spectacular views.  The best day was hitting up the epic Mega Valanche on our xc bikes.  The 1.5+ hr climb back up was totally worth chasing canucks Peter, Sandra and Alex down, but next time I’d take a big bike;)
This way for fun!
Alpe D'huez, our backyard for the week
and of course no trip would be complete without a climb of Alpe D'huez and toping a podium
MEGA Valanche
The climb back up 
Pancake breakfast! 
and we even left Dre a little 
Funnest teammate award goes to ...Sandra Walter!
After another epic 9hr drive with Tina Fey on Audio Book (Hilarious) and Tara at the wheel we arrived in Andorra to 34 degrees and smoking hot apartments.
Col d'ordino (some other big bike race went up it the same week...vuelta something)
This year Canada entered 4 National champions as our relay team (Raphael Gagne Sr, Alexandre Vialle U23, Raphael Auclair Jr and myself).  Prepping and racing with that crew was a blast and after posting a strong relay time I was excited to get to the big race.

Then the skies opened up.  It poured epic rain for the jr and u23 races.  The day before my race I was wearing 4 layers on my upper body and was still cold, but I had so much fun riding the streams of water flowing the course with Sandra and Mike that I didn't mind.

Check out this video for a taste of Vallnord

By race day it was blue skies and warming up but the course had gotten destroyed and was crazy difficult to climb and descend.  I had a great ride, quickly climbing to the front of the race, slipping and sliding down the traversing descent and eventually settling into an on-and-off the bike rhythm with only 2-3 wipeouts a lap ;-) With our assigned race laps based on dry weather times, our race ran way over length being nearer to 2hrs.  Although I had a good ride I was not able to hold off a charging Yana Beloima of the Ukraine on the last lap and had a sprint to the line with Gunn Rita Dahle finishing 5th.  

Although I would have loved to defend my World Championship title with a little more authority, after a couple difficult races it felt good to be able to go out and give it my best and be in contention for a medal.  And Wow, new Olympic selection criteria meant a top 5 qualified me for Rio!!!!!

There was nothing left to do that weekend but party with the team and that was pretty fun too!
On Monday, raced and partied out, I joined my parents for two days touring Girona and Barcelona, two of my favourite cities and places to go for cortados!

Thanks to everyone in my life that made this such a fun, full & rewarding trip!
Sagrada Family Basilica in Barcelona
More Gaudi Architecture: Amazing stuff
And just around the corner is Orbea Campus!
Walking in the Gothic Barrier

Christian & Amber Meier's coffee shop "La Fabrica Girona"
It's not too often I get to be a tourist with my parents.  Loved the time in Spain with you guys!
Team Canada XC 2015

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Respecting your limits

Looking forward!

After slugging through to the finish line of my lowest World Cup result since 2007 I found a nice piece of grass to collapse on and contemplate what the heck had just happened out there. How had I gone from racing to win, to just trying to finish?  My manager, Waldek, worried came over.  He picked up my bike and spun the wheels.  I laughed.  I had already checked that.  My brakes weren’t dragging, just my body.

I pride myself on my consistency, I have finished in the top 3 of the World Cup overall since 2008 and top 5 in 75% of the World cups I have done.  When I’m off I can usually still piece together a decent ride, but after 3 laps of trying to hold wheels in Windham my dig was gone and I was just trying to turn my legs over. (If the race had been all downhill though I would have been on fire!)

As with any performance it is never just one thing that leads to having a good race and never just one thing that leads to a bad one.  Typically if you have the legs you have the head, and if you don’t have the legs a strong head can’t help you no matter how many tricks you try.  

Windham wasn’t an A race for me, but it was still important and I felt I could put out a good ride with some training load.  This course had always favoured me and I had won off of a big training week the previous year, however, training weeks are never stand alone events.  You must consider the weeks leading into them as well.  I didn’t respect mine enough.  It’s easy to ride momentum and still perform but eventually 9 weeks of racing in a row, 4 x 3-9hr time zone changes, 100+hrs of travel and training catch up to you.  

I wanted to race, to do as many events as I could and still build form for Worlds on September 5th and hopefully that long term goal is still a success, but for the short term I did not give enough respect to what the past two months had looked like.  As a North American, even my “home” World cup is 4500 km away.  So lesson learned, I’m not invincible:-) the depth of the World cup is damn good and sometimes just doing a bit less gives you much more.

So now into final prep and easing back into training surrounded by beautiful mountains and possibly every rider on the circuit, here in Livingo, Italy!

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Mont Sainte Anne

And now that MSA went so well I can say that the stage race training hit was a great success!  I had raced day1 of ST3 pretty hard and so backed off on day 2, but then got caught up in racing again on day 3 and was a little worried that maybe I overdid it, but 2 days of recovery and then 2 days of light course prep had me feeling sharp and ready to go.

It was the 25th anniversary of MSA hosting a World cup or championship event. I always love racing here, the course is tough technically and physically allowing no hiding.  You have it or you don’t.  It suits my aggressive “go for it” race style and the fans create an awesome atmosphere.  The course was its usual gnarly self with the addition of a new rock section and was super slippery the day before the race.  I chose to ride my full suspension Orbea Oiz with Fox electronic lock out system and Maxxis ikon tires (18psi).  It was the perfect set up to have me feeling fast on the descents and able to put out power on the climbs.
Photos by Matt Delorme

I had a decent start but not good enough to not get caught in traffic on the first switch back climb and stuck going slow on the descents.  By lap 1 Jolanda already had an unsurmountable 50 second gap. With another half lap I was clear of traffic but the gap had grown to 1.22.  I set into chasing down the win feeling great physically and technically. Lap by lap the gap shrunk down to 34 seconds.  Not enough, Jolanda remains the woman to beat.

My teammate Katerina Nash rode to 7th in her first World cup of 2015 and Georgia to 25th and we were able to claim the Top Team award for the first time this year.  Emily Batty also took a strong 4th.

After cheering on the guys and our 3 Luna U23 riders, all of whom were able to finish the MSA World cup for the first time, we celebrated with team dinner and then the MSA 80’s party. With a few hours sleep and Madonna still playing in my head we were back on the road, this time to Windham for the next stop on the World cup circuit.

Singletrack 3; Life is good

Having done so much racing and travelling recently it was time to readdress my aerobic base before the next round of World Cups and travels.  But how do you get a good training hit that will help you carry form till September with only 2 weeks between nationals and World cups?  I decided to take a gamble on stage racing.  Doing the BC Bike race last year had worked so well for my July-September races that I felt a mini-stage race might do the trick.  Singletrack 3 , a transrockies event, was being hosted in my region of BC this year.  Keith was already registered for their 6 day event so I figured I could get in a solid training block …and some fun… with the 3 day event and still have sufficient time to recover for the MSA World cup.

I am so glad I did.  Although I live within 1.5hrs of all the stages I raced, of the 120 km of trails we did over 3 days I had only ever seen 20 km of them before.  The first descent we hit in Salmon Arm had me smiling ear to ear knowing I could easily come back to ride it again.  Each day offered superb trails, marking and race organization and so much fun.  

What I love about mtb stage racing is the community feel.  From the first night where we pulled into camping to see familiar faces already set up, to meeting riders during the race and hanging out rehashing the day afterwards, everyone had such great energy and excitement for the adventures that lay ahead with each stage.  
Photos by John Gibson

The stages were pretty short (ideal in my mind), my longest day being just over 2.5hrs of trails and each day had a timed descent where we could focus on putting out a best effort.   I was happy to make the top 20 overall on the timed descents, even better placings than my overall stage results.  Day 1 was Salmon Arm, Day 2 Silverstar mountain at 1600+m and Day 3 an epic 1.5hrs of hard switchback climbing to a 1200 m descent.  Needless to say it was awesome.

Living out of the van with Keith, sharing an adventure every day with friends and getting in some good training was the perfect summer training block for me.  I definitely see more mtb stages races in my future and was sad to stop at only 3 days of racing, but also excited to head to MSA for the World Cup.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The last 4 weeks have been quite the whirl wind, 4 heated races in 3 countries, triumphs and narrow misses.

After almost a month at home with great local racing in Squamish and Revelstoke, camping, gardening and a tough training block that left me using all my best mental tricks to bring quality to my final sessions it was time to hit the road again. 

US Cup finals
Travel began by touching down for 4 nights in Colorado Springs for US cup finals.  Heat, elevation and my always strong teammate Katerina Nash pushed me to earn a narrow victory as well as the US cup overall and this little belt. 

World Cup, Switzerland
By Monday, my manager Waldek and I were off to Switzerland to join our Swiss teammate Andrea for the 3rd World Cup of the season.  Lenzerheide was one of the most beautiful places I have had the fortune to visit.  It felt like a true summer vacation having clear and sunny skies every day  and time to read in the mountains after lake swims and fun training. 

After having focused on my start for the last training block I was happy to enter the singletrack in  6th and quickly move into first with Gunn-Rita.  We rode together for 2.5 laps before I slid out on a loose corner and never quite got back up to full speed.   The course was so fun to ride it was tough not to do too many laps in my pre rides, but it became quite punishing  by the end of the race. With a half lap to go I was caught and passed by a hard charging Lea Davison and claimed 3rd on the day.   The first half of the race were some of the best sensations I had had racing all year so I left the race excited for what could come and inspired by Gunn-Rita breaking the record of world Cup wins with her 29th and Lea Davison riding to her best ever World cup finish.
One of the neatest parts of the weekend was having the chance to watch and cheer for the u23 women’s race which was after ours.  It’s inspiring to see how talented and hard working the next generation of riders is.

Pan Am Games
As soon as the races finished, it was back to the airport, bound for Canada, but not home.  A quick change in the airport and I was in team Canada red and white rather than luna blue.  I’ve been fortunate to enjoy the excitement of a games event before (Rio 2007, Beijing 2008, London 2012, Glasgow 2014), but never a games in my own country.  Arriving in Toronto to the Pan Am colours was a lot of fun.  Through the week I went through some the usual Games extremes of being totally nervous and wired to completely relaxed and ready to go.

Mountain biking took place near Barrie Ontario at Hardwood Bike and ski so the mtb team did not get the chance to visit the games village in Toronto, but instead got our own perfect little village at Horseshoe resort.  We were totally spoiled with our apartments and catered meals.

Proud Papa.  Mum and Dad volunteered at the Games
Looking good on a rest day.  Our secured residence in the background 

In case you were wondering how tight the racing was.... two gals going for Gold

Our race course was on the same course we had raced at nationals one year previously.  The year before it had been a tough battle for the title with Emily Batty where after several laps I was finally able to ride away and become national champion.  

This year however the tables would turn.  The racing was just as heated, driving full gas from lap 1, but Emily raced with an assertiveness and drive that was impressive and on the last of 5 laps pulled away in the final minutes of racing to claim gold by 7 seconds.  I was disappointed not to win, but happy with the way I had ridden and fought to the finish and happy to earn silver for Canada and share the podium with Emily Batty (CAN) and Erin Huck (USA).
A 1-2 finish for Canada
Catching up with ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and family at Canada House after the race
The crowds were amazing.  It was so loud I could not even here my husband cheering on the climb, the event sold out and mtn bike fans and curious new comers lined the track.  It was a beautiful experience to get to race a home games, win a medal in front of Canadians and share that experience with them.

Emily and I were invited into Toronto for an outdoor medal ceremony downtown and then to visit Canada House.  By midnight i was finally able to get some sleep.

But there no time to stay and enjoy the games.  Keith and I were off for the 10+hr drive to Saint Felicien Quebec for mountain bike nationals. After a pancake breakfast with friends in Oshawa Monday we headed to Ottawa for a night to check out the capitol and visit family.  
The bike paths in Ottawa are awesome for riding and seeing some of the most competitive commuter racing ever
We pulled into Saint felicien Tuesday evening just as the skies were opening up.  After 3 weeks of 34 degrees, temperatures had plummeted to 13.  I was feeling pretty exhausted from a busy Pan Am race day and two full travel days, but after so much racing and travelling it was time to target that aerobic base again and I logged some good rides on and off road leading into the race.  I was a little worried I might be tired for Saturday’s race, but the best thing about being beaten the weekend before is the motivation it gives you to not let it happen again!

Sometimes you need help to realize how hard you can go to win a race and this weekend it was my husband Keith out on course encouraging me to keep driving and asking myself for the 100% that allowed me to win.

After a relatively dry week it poured rain overnight and the course was extremely slick race morning. Although I was able to open a second here and there on the climb and descents on lap one a slip or not being able to see on the descents through incredibly fogged up glasses caused me to slow again.  On lap 2 I had to ditch eye wear and set to pushing for my best pace while racing mistake free on such a slick track.  I eventually pulled away at the crest of the climb and grew the lead to 37 seconds by the end of the race.  I was proud to earn my 6th national xc title and represent Canada for another season.
It got a little dirty out there
What a crew! Happy to stand amongst this group of up and comers and also to share the elite women's podium with Emily Batty and Sandra Walter who rode strong for 3rd

Flying home now where I will take part in Singletrack 3 and Keith in Singletrack 6 this weekend.  Some good local racing from our camper van is always a treat mid-season and I’m looking forward to my first transrockies event.