Monday, July 21, 2014

Back to Maple

Emily Batty, me, Sandra Walter.
Photos by Marc Landry
This weekend I regained the right to wear the maple leaf on my Luna kit.  Being National Champion is something I have always cherished.  It was tough, not being able to challenge for it last year, but luckily Canada has another great Champion in Emily Batty who wore it well.  
Not much space between Emily and I for the first 3 laps. Photo Jeremy Allen
This year's battle for the Championship was fast and furious.  From the Start Emily, myself and Sandra Walter distanced ourselves from the field.  Within 10 minutes it was down to Emily and I duking it out.  When we entered the 2nd lap and there was no sign that Emily had any intention of getting dropped I started to wonder if and how I was going to be able to pull off the win. On lap 3 Emily surged to the front, I retook the lead, she countered and overtook me, it was awesome racing.  I knew I was going to have to make a big move to create separation so saved up and gave it everything into the Endo rock/Bone shaker section of the course.  Finally this did the trick and over the next 2.5 laps I was able to grow my lead to 45 seconds and claim the National Champion title once more.

One of the many features on course. Others included a gap jump, 2 rock jumps, several log hops, step ups and a rock garden...oh and some bmx.  It was a super fun course that never got boring.  It will be a great Pan AM Games 2015 at Hardwood Bike and Ski 
Not only was the course great but the spectators were amazing.  Such a welcoming and positive environment to race in!
 Huge congrats to Evan Guthrie on a Gutsy ride.  He charged to the front on lap 1 with Cam Jette and Raphael Gagne in tow and rode up there for all of 6 laps with the race favourites dangling 20-30 seconds back.  In the final lap he was caught, but finished a career best in 5th behind Winner Geoff Kabush, 2nd Derek Zandstra, 3rd Raphael Gane, and 4th Max Plaxton.

and that's my Keith who did a great job prepping Evan for Nationals and was a great team mechanic/manager for me this weekend!

National Champs from jr, U23 and Elite
L-R Quentin, Soren, Leandre, me, Geoff, Frederique, Marc Andre and Erica

Thanks to mom & Dad, Liz, Rick, Joan, Phil  and Ollie and Peggy for the family cheers!

Monday, July 07, 2014

My week as Domestique

Luna teammate, Maghalie Rochette and I just wrapped up a week of racing at the BC Bike Race (BCBR).  It was my third time doing this awesome event where we race hours of the best BC single track every day for a week. 

The first time I did BCBR, it was with my teammate Katerina Nash.  We were evenly paired in fitness and technical skill and raced our buts off for 7 days straight to stay ahead of Lea Davison and Alison Sydor.  In 2010, we had a bit of a “Dream team” in the mixed category as I paired up with my Olympic teammate Geoff Kabush.  Rather than having to share the load on the fire roads, I sat in his comfortable draft and did my best everywhere else to give him some good training.

This year, I was the stronger teammate physically and technically.  I would be domestique trying to get my protected rider from point A to point B as quickly as possible, but also at a rate that she would be able to complete the week…. And at a rate that wouldn’t have her throwing death glares my way!
A photo to remember how hard you can dig! 
Each pairing was an amazing and totally different experience. For Maghalie, it would be her first time doing a stage race.  Like me in 2009 she was wondering if she would be able to go race pace for 2-3.5 hrs every day for 7 days.  That is a pretty intimidating idea to someone at any level let alone someone in their 2nd year of mtn bike racing after a youth spent in triathlon.  But Maghalie impressed us both getting stronger as the week progressed.

Here’s a brief note on each day…well as brief as I get and I am still leaving out so much!

Day 1: North Shore Vancouver.  The gnarliest stage and earliest wake up!  Having gotten to bed at midnight after flying in from the US cup in Colorado I was a little bagged.  Despite the fact that this was a stage race, the pace from the gun was like any high-level mtb race start.  Maghs did an awesome job and we were with all the top solos women into the first single track.  The slick rocks and roots threw me off a bit after Colorado’s dry and loose but Magh’s was on fire …until her handlebar hooked a bridge railing and sent her flying.  Like any bad crash it took a while to shake it off, but an easier day for me was probably a good thing.  We still put out a solid ride, railed the enduro and got into the spirit of BCBR with all the awesome costumed fans out on course.
Van Base camp

Day 2: After catching the ferry the night before we woke up at base camp in Cumberland on Vancouver Island.  This stage starts with an epically long climb.  Starting in waves of 100 riders it is super cool to watch the streams of riders snake their way up ahead of you.  Today’s enduro, Teapot, was my favourite of the week.  The enduro is raced individually, so at the 250 m to go mark I would put in a dig and race to the finish banner, where Maghalie and I would regroup.  She half joked that that was her recovery timeJ 

Having so many people out on course means there is some traffic to negotiate.  After pulling off to the side of the trail for me to pass, a guy swung back into the trail and I was sent flying.   I hyperextended my brake lever in the process and would have to ride the rest of the day with my finger on the front brake so that I could reach it when needed. Sketchy. Luckily Shimano was there for race support and my brake was fixed and ready to go for the next stage.  Thanks Shimano!

The enduro was fun, but my favourite part of the day was when I set the pace for 20+min along some fire roads.  Initially there were a lot of guys with us and then we caught and passed another group of 5, but by the end it was only Maghalie who was still on my wheel.  I was proud and she was fired up.  With 6 km to go we reeled in Lea Davison and rode in with her for a 3-way tie in the women’s secret raceJ (most women were racing solo, but you know we all like to be the fastest girl!).  that is we rode in together after going off course together and crashing together on a blind corner where Magh’s handlebar actually went between Lea’s tire and frame!  Wendy Simms was unbeatable on the day taking the win.

Day 3:  Another Ferry and a whale sighting later we were in Powell River. 

Our welcome parade

This stage is less climbing intensive, but heavy on the flat to undulating rooty singletrack.  After 7 year’s of helping me Dial in the Fox Suspension on my Orbea’s for BC riding my husband Keith (our race support for the week) had Magh’s Orbea Oiz tuned perfect for her and after her asking “how do you ride roots fast” her already good riding really started clicking.  Being Canada Day there were lots of crazy fans out on course.  It is pretty surreal to be winding through single track, across bridges and then to pass Hawaiian dancers and Sasquatches on a hillside.

Day 4: Hump Day, should be called survival over steep power line climbs day!  Another Ferry ride to the Sunshine coast and we were lined up at the Ferry terminal exit to race straight up a hill and into fire roads for a long time!  The road to trail ratio of this stage is a little off, but we are going point to point, From Earl’s Cove to Sechelt” and have to earn our way.  It was hot, but an Ocean Breeze, our Camelbaks and that lovely watermelon aid station kept us cool.  It was our longest day at 3.5hrs, but a good day.
See us in action
Day 5: Maghalie asks if I want to try winning today.  Atta girl!  We are winning the women’s team race ahead of Leslie Tomlinson and Gretchen Reeves, but like I said we girls like to be the fastest girls.  Starts are kinda crazy as we try to keep track of each other amongst the other racers while going as hard as we can, but not so hard we lose each other.  We raced a great race, being in the mix all day with Wendy Simms and Kim Hurst, Lea Davison having gotten off the front early.  Amazing single track deposited us right at the Langdale Ferry where our shower trucks, Bike wash stations and food vendors awaited us.

Hanging out with all the other girls after the race Maghalie starts unpacking the gear from her Camelbak.  It includes and emergency blanket and flashlight among other things.  We figure we can lighten her load for the last two stages!

Day 6: Squamish, one of my favourite places to ride.  This close to the end I can see Maghalie is feeling more confident that she can finish the race strong and I have figured out my pacing so we race more smoothly as a team.  I pull fire roads setting a good pace, but giving a draft and she leads the trails so I don’t have to guess whether making a pass will separate us.  Leading, it can be too easy to go too hard or too slow for race pace.  Soon enough we had caught up to Lea and had fun riding with her for several km, then on the fire road up to the enduro I looked back and it was only Maghalie on my wheel and no Lea.  We both saw the opportunity to lead the race and gave our best to the very end.  It was actually really emotional to see how far we had come as a team through the week as we came into the finish line.  My teammate that had been racing hard all week, just found another gear.  Confidence is a beautiful thing.  We were pumped with our legit and secret victories and headed out for a good sushi Dinner in Whistler with her boyfriend/coach David and her Dad Reg also doing the race as a team as well as Lea and her Dad.
Day 7: Whistler.  Day 7 and a short day! Only 20 km to pin it and Maghalie was game.  We climbed well into the top 30 overall on the long opening climb and held it to the finish.  I was so impressed with Maghalie, digging deep and going so fast on the last day.  As we descended the final single track with her leading, it was rewarding to her people go “Wow”. 

We had done it.  We had raced 7 tough, fun days and come out stronger, No team divorce all smiles.  Thanks Maghs for being an awesome teammate, Keith for the race support, Luna, Clif and Camelbak for the fuel, Orbea, Fox, Shimano, Maxxis for the smooth ride, Champion for all the needed Lycra and Oakley for protecting our eyes through the more rural areas!

Sporting some sweet Leader's jerseys
Finally thanks to all the 128 full time volunteers, local volunteers, staff, fans and the other amazing people and racers that make BCBR such a great experience.

I really recommend checking out the BCBR videos and site.  It’s a pretty cool bucket list adventure.

Oh yeah, and I won the enduro:-), Wendy Simms 2nd, Emelia Thy 3rd.
Thanks for the Challenge ladies!

My teenage mentor Anna Healy turned into my athlete and crushed the Enduro and mixed category
Daily Shennanigans

Maghs and her awesome family support.  Dad Reg and boyfriend/coach Dave
No team Divorce!  all smiles after Day 7

Saturday, June 28, 2014

After a successful World cup campaign, I was back home but still itching for some racing.  Fortunately BC delivered.  After a down week to recharge, my husband Keith and I hit up the local Wednesday night toonie series in Revelstoke doing as many laps as we could in 1.5hrs.  Revelstoke trails are so good I could ride them all day so the only problem was the fading light and the fact we still had a 2.5hr drive home for keith to work the next day.  More impressive than the trails even are the amount of women Revelstoke has gotten into racing!  When is the last time you have seen a 50/50 guy/girl ratio?

On Friday we were off again in our camperized Sprinter van, this time to Squamish BC for the infamous Test of Metal.  The next morning we joined over 800 riders on the start line for 60 km of climbing and singletrack. The day winds up with a post race BBQ and awards where everyone swaps race stories.  Test is one of those great examples of how mtn biking is a lifelong sport.  There are both 15 and 55 year-olds beating the coveted under 3hr finish time.  For me these local races are a fun chance to ride with the guys and push myself and themJ.
Riders like Olympian Geoff Kabush and Max Plaxton can do the course in around 2h30min, myself around 2:50 (when I don’t flat) while some people take 6hrs.  But we all can do it and the fans for everyone are amazing….yes you ladies in pink tutus and the guy with the bag pipes!

Then it was back to some solid training leading into the Stoked to Get Spanked Race in Revelstoke.  From Nationals in mid-July to Worlds in September there aren’t a lot of non-A race training weeks so this was an important time to really get the most of my fitness and training, rest into BCBR (7day mtb stage race) and then sharpen for Nationals, Commonwealth Games and the World Cups.

Revelstoke delivered once again with a wicked weekend of riding, racing and spending time with friends.  Saturday was a birthday get-together for Keith at his parents, complete with Spiderman balloons and piƱatas thanks to our little niece and nephew Eva and Ivo.  Then next morning it was race day again! Early in the race Matt Hadley, Raphael and myself were able to open a gap on the field until we hit the enduro timed-descent.  I gave Matt the lead and as anticipated he opened a gap I couldn’t reclose.  But I too opened a gap on third and rode solo the next 1.5hrs.  Over 2hrs at race pace on Revelstoke trails is definitely a test of condition. Matt won; I was 2nd and Raphael 3rd.  My husband Keith took 2nd in the Enduro (Wahoo) and 10th overall.  I was pretty happy with a 7th in the Enduro and a great lake swim afterwards!

Next Race: Packing.  On Thursday I left for Colorado Springs and the final US cup of the series.  I am sitting 2nd overall to my Luna team mate Katerina and want to show my support for all the time and energy that has gone into promoting domestic racing this year and helping us achieve HC status race in North America.  Thanks Sho-air and USAC.

Right after the race though I am back to the airport on a direct flight to Vancouver.  I should arrive at 9:30 pm where Keith will meet me with my full suspension Orbea Oiz and our camper van so that I can start racing the 7 day BCBR stage race the next morning at 8am with my Team mate Maghalie. 

Perhaps an ambitious schedule, but the kind of thing I thrive on and feel you should do every once in a while.  Races of passion keep the mtb fires stoked and taking on something ambitious makes you feel capable and ready for anything….

So let the games begin!

Monday, June 02, 2014

After feeling amazing in Czech, riding my way through the field, I was looking forward to the World Cup in Albstadt, Germany and hoping to be able to give last week’s winner, France’s Pauline Ferrand Prevot a bit of a challenge for the win.  However, she is currently riding in a league of her own and handily rode off the front once again.

This weekend I was able to navigate my way to the front a bit more quickly than last week, but not quickly enough.  Pauline and Gunn-rita had already distanced themselves from the field.  In the early laps I thought I might be able to bridge up to Gunn-Rita but found myself in a bit of a cat and mouse situation.  I had the legs to maintain laps with her but not to escape my group and close the 20 second gap.

A chase group was formed between Jolanda, Maja, Adelheid, Tanja and myself.  I say chase, but don’t really feel we chased, rather we raced each other for 3rd.  A little disappointing of a situation, but one you find yourself in when you are up against teams and everyone wants to be as rested as possible for the killer climbs!  We climbed as hard as possible and chased each other down the descents.  At one point, (the funnest time of the race,) Maja and Jolanda tried to get away and I got to chase them down the descents, later Adeheid went to the front and pushed a punishing pace which formed a gap between her and I and the rest of the group, but that closed again on the descent.  For 5 laps our little group stretched apart and came back together until the final lap when first Jolanda surged off the front and then Tanja.  I thought my legs were still ok, but the power seemed to go and I was left chasing them down for the final podium position.  It was one of the toughest races I have done in recent memory, punishing climbs and tactical positioning.  It reminded me how hard World cup racing is and how critical it is to have rock solid determination and grit.  It made me excited to race more. 

The World cup is now on a 2 month break and it is time to turn attention to training weaknesses and building strengths for the second part of the Season.
Thanks for the cheers


Monday, May 26, 2014

Coming Back

I realized the other day that the last two articles I wrote for Pedal Magazine were “Overcoming Fear” and “Overcoming Injury”.  I joked that it would be nice to title my next article “What to do when everything goes exactly according to Plan!” but when does that ever really happen?

After a fun week and Canada Cup with my Luna teammate Maghalie and her family near Montreal, Quebec we were off to Europe for our first World Cups of the season.  I was excited and ready to be back at it, but also aware that I was coming down with a cold.  Really?  Can’t I just have a regular old problem free comeback?

The best thing about a cold that knocks you out though is for the first time EVER I think I slept 7hrs on an international flight and then had 4 naps between Munich and actually arriving in Nove Mesto!  All I seemed to want to do was sleep.  My body has a pretty killer immune system though so by Thursday I was feeling pretty good.

The course in Czech is awesome.  The climbs are wide enough to enable lots of passing but strewn with roots; the descents all lead to flowy undulating singletrack where you can open some space on rivals if you’re riding well.  It’s the kind of course that is hard not to have fun on, especially on a full suspension like I was riding.

The weather was also phenomenal, low to mid twenties, but enough recent rain that everything was gorgeous and green or brilliant yellow.  We settled into our home at the Four Cats for the 3rd year in a row.

My prep was up and down, some days feeling sharp other days off.  The twinges of self-doubt when you haven’t raced at that level in a while were trying to creep in, especially after the Friday thunderstorm and slick Saturday conditions that resulted in me hitting a tree off of the vertical drop.  I had to do some serious regrouping Saturday.  Reminding myself of all the work I had done to know that I was ready for this race, reminding myself that I ride my best when I’m having fun, enjoying each moment rather than focusing on what could be or what was. 

I went for a walk in the fields behind our house to clear my head, listening to Daft Punk “Get Lucky”.  It was such an awesome song I couldn’t help but dance; and why not?  I was alone in a field right?  So I’m really givin’er dancing down the lane oblivious to the two mtn bikers about to pass me… trying to pretend they didn’t just see that.  It was an awesome moment and got me back in the right headspace.  Have fun with Life!
 Pre-rock out session in the fields

So a couple people decided to show up in the Czech countryside to watch the race

The race was awesome.  I felt strong and smooth.  I gained a few positions on the start loop so that I entered the singletrack in 15th.  By the time we had made it to the start finish however, the accordion effect of riding single file through tricky terrain meant I was already 50 seconds off the leaders.  I felt calm though and tried to leap frog my way from group to group.  It took me several laps of riding through roaring crowds, but I made it to the front, or so I thought.  When I caught Gunn-rita and Annika I thought they were the leaders.  Pauline was already so far off the front that I wasn’t even getting time-splits to her, so far that my win that day would be finishing second.  I’m not typically one to settle in, but for my first race back I was pretty happy to ride it in clean and consistent for 2nd on the day.  That being said I am pretty excited to tow the line with Pauline and the other top women again next weekend in Germany and do my best to ensure a tight battle for the win! 
Thank you to all the wonderful people that really made this weekend shine Waldek, Dusty, Mike, Keith, Julien, Alex and my luna teammates.

BBQ time with friends from Orbea and Oakley