Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Racing is officially over…time to be a tourist

The official count down!

The gang Houshang (coach), Kiara, Me, Richard (Chiro), Chad (mechanic), Michel (Performance manager), Ben (physio). Yes it does seem like a huge staff, but COC has alotted funds for a performance team.

Michel Leblanc, former national mtb coach is now Sport Performance manager for the COC. He was with us through the week ensuring all the things were in place for us to have good preparation for the event and to workout the kinks for next year. He was also our guide/host for some great sightseeing.
The Birds Nest will hold the opening/closing ceremony and athletics. Check out that haze!!!

After the race we got cleaned up and headed out for an eveining on the town. We drove by the Olympic village and related buildings and then did a walk around Tianamen square and checked out the official Olympic countdown timer. After that we went out for dinner. Again they served us Western Chinese food, but we got to have some mooncakes. Sept 25th is the moon festival in China and a big celebration. Baked goods stuffed with a range of things from nuts to fruit to bean paste are eaten this day.
We could choose between Pumpkin and Egg/peanut mooncakes

Sunday was an epic tourism day. We started with a drive out to the great wall. We took a chairlift up and hiked along the wall for about a km. It is quite steep in sections with lots of stairs. It’s amazing to think the wall extends for thousands of Kms. I can’t imagine the hours put into its construction. Not worried about preserving the nature of the area a tobbogan type slide runs from the wall back to the base. It was a super fun ride down, made frustrating by the people in front who wouldn’t lay off the brakes in the corners. Still though, it was a good time.
The great wall

Afterwards we took our chance with a food vendor to try sprout filled dimsum.

From there it was off to the Forbidden city where michel bargained with a local who offered to be our guide. He was a funny guy who enjoyed joking around and telling us little trivia about the emperoros and concubines (3000) that had once filled the city’s walls. The palace and grounds were very ornate and attractive with most of the construction in marble. The city is having many renovations done to it so it is prepared for the Olympics and swell in tourism next year. We ended out tour in the Emperor’s garden and moon festival building.
Inside the Forbidden city.
The city opened to the public in 1925 after 3 years under the Child Emperor appointed at age 3

Now things got serious. We headed to the Silk Market with our game faces on. The silk markets are all about bartering. From the outside you have no idea of the Chaos that awaits you. People pull you into their stalls to check out their wares which ranged from perls, to Arcteryx jackets, beautiful silk embroidered clothing and tablecloths, shoes, artwork and chopsticks. They give you a retail price and immediately say for you a special price. From then on it is barganing back and forth with prices being offered on a calculator. If you pay more than 10% of their original price you’re likely overpaying. The market was 5 stories high and we all split up to seek out our items and compared finds and prices when we next saw eachother. 3hrs later we all carted shopping bags full of gifts out to the car. You can’t rent a car in china, you have to rent a driver and his vehicle. Our poor driver must have been glad to drop us off at the end of along day!

Last Day
Kiara headed off early for her flight while Houshang, Chad and I didn’t leave until 4:30 that afternoon. We had planned on a trip back to the silk market, but with Monday morning traffic we didn’t want to risk it. So instead we explored the area around our hotel finding a street full of produce and snack food vendors. As the food was lain out beside heaps of garbage and stagnant water, it wasn’t something we intended to try, but was neat to see that other side of the city. From the giggles of the locals I don’t think they were used to seeing tourist there.

In 24 hr’s I’ll be home with Keith!!!

Race Day:

The polution is definitely more noticeable today with the haze dexcending into town, but there is a nice breeze keeping it cool and clearish. The women raced at 11 and the men at 2. There were 24 starters in the women’s field. Only certain high ranked countries were invited and each could send 3 men and 3 women. Some nations or riders were not invited to participate, but travelled to China as Staff so they could ride and check out the course. Gunn rita was there, but did not race. There were atleast 5 different teams from China racing and I was a little curious of just how many uber fast chinese girls there were. The race was an opportunity for riders and staff to learn as much as they could about the course, conditions and logisitics. Some riders treated it seriously where others were their purely for information.

I decided the best way for me to get valuable information was for me to race the course like I would any other race. It was going to be tough. There is no recovery on the course featuring many short steep climbs. It’ll be hot and the air might be bad. Again we monitored my core body temperature throughout my warmup and race and will be able to compare that to heartrate and lap times.

I was given Lucky number 13. I know the Chinese read a lot into numbers. 8 is a lucky number so the Olympics will begin the 8th day of the 8th month, 2008. 9 signifies longevity. I’m not sure what 13 means to them…. But hopefully something like a promising future! I had a typically bad start and found myself in the last 5 headed into the dirt. On the climb I picked some girls off, but not enough to have a clean and traffic free ride up the steep poppers where girls were veering in all directions.
Start/Finish area
The race stayed together for a long time as the terrain wound up and down with lots of super sharp turns. By lap 3 Ying Liu was off the front – I honestly don’t know if anyone tried to go with her. Sabine was leading a group of 5 with Rosara, Gould, JingJing, Lene and myself. I could tell Sabine was just setting pace and not full out racing so I decided to see what the course was like without traffic. I passed the line of girls and took the front with JingJing hoping on my wheel and overtaking me a couple climbs later. I think this split the group apart and made things more interesting. I came through that lap in 3rd, but Sabine passed me soon after and me, Rosara, Georgia and Lene rode in and around eachother for most of the remainder of the race. My legs started feeling fatigued and I could swear my seat felt too low. I was feeling some cold chills in the woods. I kept looking down at my knee angle, but it looked okay. I caught and passed Rosara who looked to have blown. On lap 6 I could no longer deny that my seat was too low. I hoped off and sure enough it had sunk an inch. Here’s a lesson for you. Don’t put energy gel wrappers in the same pocket as your allen keys. It makes them hard to open! I got my seat adjusted and was back on without out loosing too much time. Lene and Rosara had repassed me, but when I arrived in the feedzone I saw Rosara had stopped feeling sick. Feeling much better with the right seat height I set out to attack the course once more. Maja Wokowlski caught me on that lap though and I finished in 7th.

The final descent has had rocks planted on it.

It was a good race and a good course. I think if I’m back next year I will be ready and able to race it hard and well. Being in China was definitely some motivation, but it was a little bittersweet as it is likely that either Kiara or I will have to stay home with Marie Helene being the favorite for one spot. Kiara had a tough race hiting her handlebar on a tree while descending and being flung from the bike. She tried to get back on, but was unable to pedal due to bruised or torn muscle. She’s walking around fine now, but is a little tender.


From my hotel window. The hotel had all the luxuries of home...except a smokefree environment

Kiara and I flew from Graz - FrankFurt - Beijing. We had been expecting to travel with Max as well, but I guess he wasn’t feeling up to the trip. As we waited to board our plane we saw news flashes that a typhoon was to hit Shanghai that evening. Great.

It was another sleepless 9hr flight for me, but the time change was only 6hrs from Europe so it wasn’t too bad to switchover. A “Goodluck Beijing” Team was there to pick us and the Aussie’s up and take us to bike storage and the hotel. We had to store our bikes at the mtb venue, as will be the preocedure for the Olympics, and then stayed at a nearby hotel as the Athlete village is not completed yet. It’ll be about 25km from the venue. The skies were clear and the pollution not nearly what I had expected. Maybe Typhoon Wipha had cleared the air for us.

China was a different travelling experience than any I’ve had before. Usually I can feel my way through an area, but with all the signs being in symbols rather than letters I was hopeless to guess at what I was reading.

The hotel was nice, but allowed smoking… except in bed of course. It served us western style chinese food which was a bit dissappointing, but still pretty good. Everyone was trying so hard to please that it was like we were being constantly followed and greeted everywhere we went. That night we headed back to our rooms after super. I looked out my bedroom window because I could hear music and the square behind the hotel was filled with people. Hundreds of people were out there line dancing, exercising, couple dancing and playing music. It was crazy and Kiara and I wanted to be a part of it so we ran down and joined in. Just like at home there was a group off to the side in the shadows of a tree fumbling as they tried to learn the steps. We fit in there perfectly and joined in for several dances before heading up for bed.

On Thursday Kiara and I did 3 laps of the course. We monitored our body temperature in the heat (about 30 so not extreme) by ingesting a pill with a thermometer in it and wearing a monitor. We also experimented with cooling vest as it is anticipated to be around 42 with the Humidex for the Olympics in August. The course is well shaded, being predominately double track in the woods, but it’ll still get warm.

The course is interesting. Traction is awesome, hard packed and smooth. It is definitely a power course with many short steep climbs. Although the base elevation is 68m and the max elevation 125m the course is for the most part climbing. The descents have had rocks planted in them adding new meaning to the term "Rock Garden". There's a couple of little drops with young officials yelling out caution so we don't hurt ourselves! The venue has transformed since we got here with flags and banners going up and sod being laid down. We will do 7 laps of the 4.5 km course.

On Friday we did another 2 laps and Ben the exercise Physiologist took some video of different sections and riders. Back at the hotel with time to Kill we had one of the volunteers take us shopping at the grocery store across the street. We needed someone to explain to us what the foods were that we were seeing. She was a great help and Kiara and I got a couple items to sample.

Crossing Slovenia

That mtn in the background is part of the Pohorje range and the site of the World Cup. Below is Maribor.

Sunday, after riding around Maribor to check out some local scenery, Sandra and I packed up the Golf and Headed west to Portoroz and the Adriatic Sea. Although most Europeans seem to be great drivers, Slovenians miss this talent a bit making for intersting driving. On the way to the coast we stopped in Postojna for some cave exploration. We spent and hour and a half walking through underground caverns surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites. Although from the outside the place looked disgustingly touristic the caves were absolutely amazing.
Stalactites and Stalagmites.
The caves were huge and went from 80 to 150m down. Some caverns are so large they hold concerts in them twice a year. Neat, but bring your coat!
After that long in the cool caves we were happy to return to the sunlight and warm temperatures and continued on to the coast. Although only a 2.5 hr drive we had to go through something like 5 tolls. We arrived in Piran, a coastal city, only to find parking in the city was only available to locals. As I tried parking within the town a parking officer came up to me and said. “you are soooo Lucky I see you. Look.” I looked. “Look” In small print, below three other languages was a little sign that said “Parking for inhabitants only”. Again I was told how lucky I was as I was made to move my car. I didn’t feel lucky. I just wanted a parking space!
A beautiful evening awaited us in Piran
We strolled around the city for a bit, but not wanting to hike all of our luggage and bikes to the hostle we headed down to Portoroz, the next city. Portoroz was more than a little more swanky than we had anticipated. We couldn’t find anything less than a 4 star hotel with prices to match, but at this point we were so beat that we gave in and settled on the hotel that had offered us 40 euros off their standrad price…still almost double what we had envisioned paying.
Our hotel
The next morning we enjoyed the deluxe complimentary breakfast and headed out for a ride. The ride was amazing. We just biked around until we saw something interesting and then headed in that direction. First we climbed up the wine route through vineyards, olive groves and Bamboo. Then we saw a neat old church atop a steep hill and found our way to the village of Korte. The houses were all built close together so we passed through narrow cobbled alleys with stone buildings in various states of repair or disrepair on either side of us. From there we were treated to an 18% twisty descent. We decided to head up to the next church on a hill and made our way to Paden a similarly enticing town.

Through lack of road signage we ended up at the border to Croatia. We then figured we obviously should have turned right not left and headed back to where we had come from. We rode up a long gradual climb to a gas station at the summit. We took advantage of the gas station to check out a map and planned our ride home through the various coastal towns. After a 5 minute intense rain shower we found our way onto a bike path that took us along the Sea, through tunnels and farmers fields and 2.5 hrs later we were back in Potoroz in time for me to pack up my bike for China, grab showers and head to the beach.

We had come to the coast with some Bikini time in mind, but the weather was not cooperating. After a blustery beach walk we headed to an internet café. Just before we made it it started to down pour and we were trapped under a shop awning. I haven’t seen rain that hard in a long time. You could watch sheets of rain blow down the street. In a minute of running we were thoroughly soaked making the cappuchinos at the café pariticularly good. 1hr later the rain stopped and the sun came out. Yeah!

We headed into Piran and spent an hour in Bikinis dipping in the Adriatic and soaking up some sun. We then did another pass through the town to get some gelato. Kids were out in the sea getting a swim lesson… Sure beats the pool.

Sandra was in Heaven floating in the Sea with the City of Piran in the background

Unfortunately we had to make it back to Graz Austria that evening so our beach and town time were cut short to make the trek back across Slovenia and into Austria. It was an awesome way to finish off the World Cup Season and get some mental freshness before heading to china the next morning.


Best Bull rider ever!
Sram girls crashed the Shimano party with Mike from Rocky

That night we headed out for some typical Slovenian food. Basically meat and potato type dishes. After the 4 cross a popular Slovenian Band played ska/punk type music on the hill and we all got to have some fun. I gave Bull riding a go –mechanical - which was awesome. It makes you crazy dizzy though.

Slovenia: World Cup finals

Slovenia is an interesting country. Maribor, where our race was held, is in the North east corner. It’s a fairly typical European town and has lots of rolling hills dotted with church steeples. Compared to Switzerland it seems more natural, less manicured and there are way more trees, softwood and hardwood. In 2.5 hrs you can cross the country and hit the Adriatic Sea and the border with Croatia. Food is cheap, but hotels, laundry etc are pricy.

The finals course proved to be very tough. The laps were only 4.5km or so, but the trails were demanding. There were a lot of singletrack climbs that were rooty or turned upwards sharply. Sandra and I got to line up side by side being numbers 24 and 25. The start was pretty good and soon enough I was able to pick my way up to the front. About mid climb however me and another girl interlocked wheels and I was brought to a standstill. After separating I got going again, but someone told me my quick release was open so I had to get off again. It was frustrating as I knew I needed to be near the front before the woods, but now had to repass a bunch of girls. I wasn’t able to work my way up to where I was, but low 20’s or high teens.

We entered the woods and descended down a mesh of roots.the traffic wasn’t bad on the descents, but as soon as we entered the tricky climbs mistakes started to happen and I could see the girls I wanted to be racing pulling away on the front. By the end of that lap I moved into 14th or so and was able to pick off a bunch of fast girls on the next open climb. From there on it was picking people off 1x1 where I could. By lap 3 Rosara, Ren, Petra and myself started riding together. I felt stronger on the climbs, but they were better at the transitions keeping us together for nearly 3 laps. When Ren decided to go it was decisive and she opened a large gap. On Lap 5, after attacking each other for lead position several times, Rosara and Petra had more in the tank and pulled away from me. Elisbeth Osl, who had been slowly closing on us from behind, also picked me off for 9th. I didn’t have a huge fade last lap, just more than the other girls. It was a good race and my first top 10 at a World cup…yeah Prize money! It definitely would have been nice to hold 6th which was the best position I had gained that day, but it was a good fight for 6-10 place.

Sandra had a tough day .The legs just didn’t want to go for her, but she’s pumped for another wicked WC season next year. Wendy also had a tough day doubling flatting while on her way to a 20 something placing.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Warm "Homecoming"

On Monday I was back at the airport and again headed to switzerland. Sandra picked me up at the airport and had truffles waiting. Yummy! We then headed back to her aunt's and Uncle's place near Bern.

Sandra and her family are amazingly awesome. They had a bouquet of flowers and a Congrats cake waiting for my arrival. Having a Chef in the family comes in handy. Her relatives Sepp and Sonya were off to Slovenia the next morning where they are going to holiday and come cheer us on at The World Cup finals.

Sandra and I started the trek to Slovenia that evening after getting in a good workout. We made it to Freidrichshaffen that night....only to find out we weren't actually supposed to be there as it was in the wrong direction. Ahwell, only 30km off track and we found a nice place to stay. German breakfasts consisted of a meet tray, cheese tray and buns, but it was pretty good.

Travel Day two saw us through 3 countries as we passed between Germany and Austria a couple times to follow the autobahn and then down into Slovenia. We again went off course, the directions being in German, and found our selves on the highway to vienna. We passed through a ton of tunnels, one of which was 8km in length. But we made it and saw some great country side. Fresh snow dotted the mtns in Austria, but we arrived to Sunshine in maribor.

The course looks great. a lot of rooty singletrack and a nice climb off the start to separate the field. It should be good and I'm looking forward to having another go at a top 5 podium.

I'll try to get some pics from Slovenia up soon, but here's a snap shot from my hotel.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Forgive my lack of eloquence, but HOLY ****

You know those days when you get on the bike and your like, “ooohh I’ve got good legs today”. That was this morning warming up for the world Championships. I arrived in Scotland on Tuesday after a couple days and a race in Switzerland. We’ve been staying at this great hotel and have been completely taken care of so I was able to completely indulge in resting my legs. Yes I did get a little stir crazy at times, but got some good reading in.

All the Canadians were feeling that the course was awesome. Although it was a little over constructed with all the corners being burmed, it was really fast and fun. I was also pleased to find a 10 minute climb to stretch my legs on, knowing that even in a world cup field I’m one of the strongest climbers.

So it’s Saturday morning and my legs are feeling awesome. It’s overcast, but dry and I have a fun course ahead of me and a third row call up. Off the start Petra Henzi and a woman from the Netherlands crashed, but I was able to avoid the downed riders and tried to move up. I had a good start, but wasn't really able to move up until about 2km as the pace was fast. After that I cranked it up a notch and passed a ton of fast girls. Georgia Gould and Rosara Joseph grabbed my wheel. By the top of the first climb we were in the top 10 with a Polish girl in front. I reeled her in steadily with Rosara urging me to pass her as she was slowing us down. We eventually got by and on the flat I bridged up to the lead 4 women who were playing cat and mouse and letting Marie Helene sit up front. I briefly thought about taking over pulling, but quickly reminded myself this was the first time I’ve ridden up front so I should probably not be pulling WC winners around the track on lap 1.
Photo by Fraser Britton (Pedal mag)
Heading out into lap2 we have to climb up this rock face type deal. A lot of riders were struggling with it –men and women- and the two girls in front of me messed it up and forced me off the bike, but I was quickly back on. Sabine was just in front of me, but had the gas to burst back to the lead 3 where I had to try to steadily bring them in. On the climb lap 2 I guess the Chinese rider Jing Jing attacked forcing the pace and opening on me and dropping Marie. I bridged up to Marie mid lap 2 hoping that together we could ride faster and reel the women in, but she was setting her own pace and I opened up on her. Pretty cool. I had secret hopes of a top 5, but to be riding in 4th ahead of Marie was pretty cool. From there I was alone until the end of lap 3. Athough I wasn’t making mistakes on the descent, between the flats and burmed corners Marie and Rosara were finding some time on me. By the start of lap 4 they were on my wheel. My legs started hurting pretty good on lap 3, and lap 4 was no different. I was hoping to be able to pull something special out for that last climb, but my legs were the limiter. At about 1/3 of the way up the climb Marie and Rosara passed me. Marie stormed away while Rosara and I battled back and forth for position. Rosara eventually claimed the lead going into the descent. Both women pulled away from me that lap and I rode in still very ecstatic with 6th. Wahooo!!!!! Marrie finished in 4th and Kiara in 11th. Great rides all round.

Thanks so much to everyone that has supported me this year. Keith, mom, dad, Geoff, Grandma, Norco, Dan. Thanks also to everyone that believed in me and my ability to get a top 10 at Worlds. Hopefully it’ll just keep getting better!

I'm off to cheer on norco Team mate Fion tomorrow in the DH as well as the Canadian DH'ers.The Best Western GlenSpean was our home for the week. It's a great hotel about 15km past Fort William. We looked out at lush rolling hills and our hosts Suzanne and Ian were amazing. I'm sure they celebrated our departure with some good beer. The good Scotch was to get through the week.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Ich Bin Ausländerin Und Spreche Nicht Gut Deutsch

On my way to a 4th place finish at the SwissPower Cup Finals Race in downtown Muttenz near Basel.
Photos by Michel sturder www.msturder.ch

Yeah!! I’m back in Switzerland hanging out with my friend Sandra and her Aunt and Uncle. Ricky Federau and I arrived in Zurich Thursday after a sleepless 16hrs of travel. Our VW Golf was waiting at the rental agency and was the perfect fit for our bikes and gear. Awesome! With my second immersion in German it’s getting a little easier and I’m picking up some good phrases thanks to Ricky and his remembrances of German classes as a kid. He taught me the lyric above - I am a foreigner and I don’t speak German well – a convenient phrase to have at my disposal.

So it’s been a matter of trying to get our sleep schedule switched to this time zone, not an easy task and working the travel kinks out of the legs before Worlds. The three of us headed to Basel, near the border with Germany this weekend. On Sunday we raced the SwissPower Cup finals. I have to say it was one of the more interesting courses I’ve done, but definitely wouldn’t go so far as to say it suited me. The race started on a rough horse track. The week before we arrived had been so rainy much of Switzerland was flooded and the track had water ruts. Being more like a road race start, I took it pretty casual and wasn’t fighting for the front. With 2.5 start loops I thought I’d have lots of time to move up, but when I made my move with half a lap to go, dropping to the bottom of the track I found it was really sandy and slow and got shut out heading into the “technical zone” which consisted of three 3 foot drops and a sharp uphill. Some girls were struggling with the drops and it got all clogged up. So when the course opened up again I was way off the leaders. Good going Kika! I chased like crazy across the dead flat road stretch and into the paved climb and caught up to the top 6 or so girls by the single track climb. I was done though. I was wheezing and my legs hurt bad. The lead three girls –including Sandra - still had a sizeable gap that I was going to have to recover before I could close.

The descent was slick clay, but they had removed a tight corner making it a bit better to clean. It was still challenging to stay upright and putting a foot down meant you got nasty guck in your pedals and cleats. The single track up and down section only took 4 minutes. The rest of the course was pancake flat and a large amount of it was paved. From the descent we headed into a singletrack section along a stream. Nothing too tricky, just some twisty trail with a couple short steep poppers. The final section of the course was within the race track’s centre field. It was basically an obstacle course that had us riding up stairs, jumping a gap over water, riding logs, little bridges and drops. It was kinda fun, but got redundant by the 5th of 7 laps. I was able to catch Sandra by lap 3 or so and after putting a little gap into her we basically maintained the same pace all race. Had we known that was to be the case we could have teamed up. I was pulling away on the climb and she was reeling me in on the flats. Unfortunately I didn’t get my chance to ride up front because of a poor starting approach. The top 3 women, Sabine Spitz, Lene Byberg and Katrin Leuman road almost the entire race together which would have been fun. But Sandra and I had a good time and finished up with me in 4th and her in 5th. She wound up 4th overall all in the series.

Didn't I used to do this on horses?

It wasn’t really the race performance of my dreams, but I was definitely glad to get this one in before worlds. It’s been a month since my last race and I could definitely still feel the travel in my legs. Ricky too suffered in the race. He came up with several colourful descriptions in German and English to describe the way he felt and raced. He finished up 35th of 103 world class guys though so not too shabby off of Jetlag. We head out tomorrow (Tuesday) for Scotland and I am feeling confident my legs will be happy come race day Saturday. Wish me luck!