Monday, May 28, 2012

Racing Locally

I love it when I get the chance to do races in BC.  Not only because they always offer amazing riding, but I love the atmosphere at the races and seeing all my favourite BC riders. 

This weekend Keith and I headed to Pemberton, BC Friday to pre-ride the Nimby Fifty course we’d race Saturday.   It’s a rugged and demanding course with almost an hour’s worth of singletrack switchback climbing ((100 Switchbacks) followed by some of the gnarliest descending I’ve ever raced…especially when you’re seeing it for the first time in the race which is what I did 2 years ago.  The course then gets hard!  After that you have to tackle World Cup tough climbs to get to the super fun and a little scary No Err descent, ramble on, Mobey Dick and Dark forest.

We had an awesome fast ride and then a delicious dinner with the race organizers Dean, Russ, and Terry as well as their wives and fellow racer (and unofficial Olympic teammate) Max Plaxton.

My race was fun.  I always love riding with the boys, especially being able to joke back and forth with old friends like Ricky Federeau when he goes off course and has to repass you.  An hour plus in I had crested the Nimby and started descending to the first aid station.  I guess I got a little excited about the change in altitude and punctured my tire.  A big air saved the day.  I would have been SUPER Bummed to have missed out on the Red Bull down time!  So a water and air refill and I was on my way again.

Coming into the Red Bull Downtime was pretty cool.  There is a banner set up so you pin it to the entrance and then see what you can do.  I had a good run with only one lay down on the loose trail so was happy with that.  As soon as I got back on BC trails I felt awesome descending.  I just had a bad day in La Bresse.  Like a friend said (actually Brandi that ended up winning), once the granny panties go on they are hard to take off!

From there it was into the feedzone and some tough climbs where I was able to re-pass a bunch of the guys that got ahead of me while I was refilling.  One of the guys walking up a steep pitch said “I’ll see ya on the downhill”.  Had I known he just schooled everyone on the Red Bull Downtime I may not have joked “That sounds like a challenge!”

On the final descent into town I maybe should have dialed it back a bit over a rocky section, but was having too much fun.  And then pssssst.  No more air in my cartridge, tube with a hole in it (mental note check tubes) I was lucky to have friends loan me some supplies to get home as I defended myself from mosquitos and watched about 20 racers go by including eventual race winner Brandi Heisterman.  I tt’d it in with Ted to finish 30 seconds back.
Well I can’t complain about my luck.  I’ve had pretty great luck at World cups, I guess there’s something about a 5 and 5 bike that makes me push the envelope a little more;-)  I may be converted to Dual suspension!  I may even be able to test out Orbea’s newest xc fully design as early as Mont Sainte Anne.  Can’t wait!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The La Bresse World cup: Wicked course, wicked legs, not so wicked handling skills

Warning: Blog entries are my way of working through races, brevity not guaranteed.

My teammate Katerina Nash rode an amazing race this weekend.  She demonstrated grit, fluidity on the bike and took risks for the win.  The win seemed assured for her until crashes the final lap.  Such is bike racing.  Nothing is ever sure until you cross that line.
                                                                     Photo: H Boue

The race got off to a good start.  I learned from the week before and chose my passing places more wisely and was in a decent position coming through the start finish.  We wound our way through the town of La Bresse towards a climb of several minutes, pretty rare on a world cup course these days.  The climb switch backed its way up the mtn, the last minute traversing baby head rocks that required good timing and smooth power delivery to not slip up.

                                                   The course crisscrossed this mountain

I found my way into 3rd before the descent, but had trouble matching the pace of Katerina and Julie. I was feeling timid on my bike and couldn’t force myself to commit and let my bike go.  Instead I tensed up and grabbed lots of brake.

I knew that if I were to have any chance of winning I would have to get myself together and go into the descents next lap with zero space between me, Katerina and Julie, so after the descent I dug deep and brought back the 17 sad seconds I had allowed to open on the second half of the course (which was a combination of rocky descents, rooty climbs and steep chutes).

“Ok” I told myself, “I’m back.  Stay with them”.  This lap was better, but still mid way though the descent I lost time on the chutes and had to bridge up again.  “Ok, this lap no messing around.  Get to the front and let leading inspire my descending”.  I got to the front and started descending better.  This was the turning point, I still wasn’t as good as them on the second half, but I was better.  And then, entering the final decent, the previous laps had caused a big wheel sucking hole to form on entry.  My wheel went in, I got squirly, but saved it with a foot out until behind me Julie also got her wheel lodged and sailed “ass over tea kettle” into me and the surrounding rocks.  We both went down, Katerina got slowed up and Gunn Rita got back into contact with us.  I got back on only to find my chain dropped.  To not risk getting it lodged in there for good I was off my bike to fix it and then chasing back into the climb, now in 4th and again about 20 seconds back with 2 laps to go.

Photo: Eduardo Prieto
Since this made every newspaper in Canada it may as well make my blog.  I swear I did not drop an “F” Bomb.  thanks to all the fantastic photographers out on course capturing the moments!  

Frustrating.  I could tell Julie was hurting as I made my way up to and past her into the climb.  Julie is a great fighter though and she came back to my wheel as Katerina and now Gunn Rita slowly pulled away.  I was feeling a little mentally and physically depleted, but the amazing crowds pulled me out of my self-pity…on the climbs at least.  On the descents I was still berating myself for riding so poorly.  I knew it was just a matter of switching my mindset and embracing a little lack of control, but on the day I just could not do it and it was incredibly annoying.  I pride myself in being a good descender as well as a climber and get very distracted by sucking!

Final lap and it’s the same story.  The highlight was the roar of the crowd as Julie (of France) and I raced through the top feed zone.  It rivaled the noise from team Canada on my final climb at Worlds, but this time was directed at my competition.  I knew how it inspired me back then and tried to use it to dig.  I did, but it wasn’t enough to cause separation and Julie overtook me into the descent.  From then on I just tried to hang on to 4th and was in this, successful.

Gunn Rita over took Katerina for the win in the final minutes of racing for her 27th Career World Cup win. Katerina scored her best ever World cup placing in 2nd, Julie took 3rd in her home country, I was 4th, Maja 5th and my other LUNA team mate Georgia Gould backed up her 4th place ride last weekend with a 6th.

Emily Batty was the second ranked Canadian in 9th and Marie Helene Premont finished 21st.  Official Olympic selection will not be released until mid June after the IOC guarantees each country their spots, but Luna is looking pretty darn good!

So what happened to your Skills?

Because I will over analyze this anyhow I thought I might as well share my thoughts for those interested in reading.  Thank you to all of you that sent nice notes to help me keep things in perspective.

“Catharine you’re normally pretty competent on a bike.  What happened?”

I rode timid.  I didn’t trust my bike or myself.  I was too on the brakes and too tense.  But why?

Arriving in France Monday night, I arrived much earlier than normal for a world cup.  I did my big day on the course Wednesday and after 3 laps felt pretty solid.  It had rained and snowed and the course was slick, but I embraced it.  I liked the course.  All the terrain was natural and challenging.  It reminded me of Mont Sainte-Anne before it’s renovations.  It was natural gnarly and I liked it.

My legs were feeling heavy and tight still from the Czech race and I wanted to be fresh so the next two days were on the road.  By Saturday my legs felt good and the sun had decided it was coming for the weekend.  I headed out to do my prep and all was good until I balked at a rock face.  I got it, but wasn’t feeling confident, like I could place my bike where I wanted it, like I was the driver.

This was me on Sunday

Having done all my course prep in slow conditions before the course inspection and wear and tear of hundreds of training laps by other riders the course had changed and I was thrown off a bit.  The final descent was incredibly slippery and I just couldn’t commit.  I fought my bike and myself and just rode it really poorly.  I watched many around me also flailing, but others riding it like there was no issue.

I took a time-out gathered myself and moved on.  I thought it was a bad day and that when I got into the race I would just go for it.  I didn’t want to subject my legs to that climb again.  I have had pre rides where I felt off and then was able to put it together in the race, but this time that didn’t happen.

Racing mtn bikes is about fitness, technical skill, confidence and mental strength.  You need all of these.  In this case I would have been better off to do another lap or at least re-ridden the sections I was riding well to get my confidence back, instead I just thought it would come together.  That’s an arrogant presumption when you are trying to best the best in the World! Not riding well the first couple laps of the race just confirmed in my head what I had felt the day before.

The Solution?  Time on good BC trails on my Occam with my husband.  Kamloops being dry and loose, I’ll be headed to Pemberton for the Nimby Fifty and the coast for some rocks and roots!  Let the good times continue.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

52, 44, 35, 15, 17, 1:10: Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want

But why must I relearn the same lesson as if it’s the first time?  Yesterday’s World Cup race in Nove Mesto Na Morave, Czech Republic was good, but fell short of being fantastic through a combination of being too impatient early on and too patient later on.

After a fumbled start taking forever to get my pedal, but luckily avoiding two huge crashes I was in the swarm.  A couple minutes in however, I saw some opportunities to move up by taking the inside of corners.  I got chopped once, but didn’t learn and tried to go inside on the next corner as well.  This time I was forced off my bike and running and lost precious spots.  On this course every rider between you and the front is dangerous as the descents offer little or no passing.  By the time I got to the start/finish line at the end of the start loop I was still 18 riders back and 52 seconds.

Charge.  With large gaps formed between riders it was hard to make headway.  I was able to make up 10 seconds lap 1 and move up to 10th, but had to sit in on descents knowing I was wasting needed time.   Oh to be able to set my own rhythm!  I really felt for the people that are always racing in traffic.  It definitely makes it hard to race at your potential.  At times you are forced to just relax and wait for a passing opportunity watching the race ride away from you, but if you lose focus you lose your passing opportunity and are stuck again.

 I fought back against the negative thoughts creeping in my head.  Still in 10th after 25 minutes of racing was not where I like to be, but the race was not over and every position counted.

By the end of lap 2 the gap was down again, this time to 35 seconds and the race was coming together in front of me.  I became more motivated.  I just had to make contact.

Lap 3 and the front of the race was changing complexion.  Katerina, who had been riding absolutely beautifully off the front had been reeled in by Bressette and Kalentieva and later, Maja, Blaza and Leuman.  Georgia and I were working together in 7 and 8th.

Lap 4 and I eventually made contact with the leaders.  I of course have lost all track of laps at this point (I had to watch the replay to know how my race took shape).  I had no idea the final lap was approaching.  I connected with Irina and Julie, 3rd! and  rode with them for awhile.  But they were ready to set into final lap mode, where I just thought, finally I got here!  Before I know it they have put 10 seconds on me in the last climb of lap 4.  By the start finish it is 17seconds.

Lap 5 Julie proves she is the worthy winner, cleaning the slick rocky climb none of the other women have mastered.  She gets 10 seconds on Irina here and goes on to build her lead to 28 seconds for the win.  Katerina and Georgia have bridged up to me.  I stop thinking about racing for the win and settle into following, never a good thing for me.  Katerina gaps Georgia and I try to bridge up on the climb into the final descent.  My legs are definitely juiced, but not done, but when I enter the final climb I get forced off my bike on a rooty climb and for some reason just can’t seem to get back on.  It takes me 3 tries and running half the climb to be successful and by that point Katerina and Georgia are long gone and Blaza has caught me from behind.  On one climb I lost 15+ seconds!!!  Argh.  I push into the finish trying to hold off Maja and finish 11 seconds short of the podium.  Georgia out-sprinted Blaza for 4th.  Katka was 3rd, Georgia 4th and me 6th.  That’s a pretty solid day for Luna. The girls raced so impressively, leaving nothing out on course.

Next week, calculated patience and as ass-kicking attitude in La Bresse.