Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Commonwealth Games

Photo by Rob jones
Moving into the Village
After two good training sessions in Ontario after nationals, Max and I were off to the airport to connect with Emily and Raphael for our flight to Glasgow Wednesday night.  (Max and I stayed to check out the mtb athlete accommodations for the Pan Am Games next summer and enjoy the local riding).

At the airport we were escorted to the front with special commonwealth athlete status. Bonus! Quickly, we were settled into the 6hr flight to Glasgow where we were greeted by Games staff at the airport, again streamlined through customs, accreditation and were met by our bags on the other side.  You could really get used to that level of service!

With time to grab a coffee we were on a bus with athletes from track and field and headed to the village where Ian Hughes from Cycling Canada was there to meet us after security.  Getting into a games village is very similar to going through airport security.

Ian gave us a tour of the village showing us critical things like where we could get the best coffee, get laundry done, make our own fruit smoothies and of course our home for the week.  Emily and I moved into the top floor of a house we shared with the Canadian track team.
Lochness in the vilalge
Over the week we had the chance to see them racing live and I think I finally understand how all the different events work!  Luckily with 2 days before our race the track events finished…spectating was getting a little too exciting and we needed to focus on some more chill time.
On this side, the Canadian Commonwealth team staff travels with physios and massage therapists, norma tech boots and ice tubs so we can get in all the recovery we need around training.  We have an athlete’s lounge where we can go to hang out and unwind, cafes and meal halls to connect with friends.  It’s a pretty sweet 24 hr/day set up.

1 day after arrival the team road out to the venue together for some laps.  The course was fast with lots of little rocky features that wound us through Cathkin Braes Park 7 km from the village on a hill overlooking Glasgow.  As a team we were able to test out all the lines and really get the course dialed.  That time training with the team really helped. By race day I had 10 laps in on the course and was feeling confident and ready to go.
Even though the depth of competition would not be the same as at a World cup, the top ladies were on form and my nerves were much higher as we approached the race.  Games events become so medal focused that you have to keep reminding yourself that it is not wanting a gold medal that makes you go fast, it is being prepared, calm, confident and riding well.  Our team environment was perfect for this.  The village was very relaxed.  We didn’t talk about the race more than we needed to, we treated it like just another bike race…and yet darn those nerves still creep in there when you know a medal is possible!

The race
Tuesday we awoke to overcast and blustery skies.  I was anticipating a 4-way battle with Emily, Annie Last and Rebecca Henderson for several laps before any separation would occur to determine the top 3.  We lined up, the gun went off and all the favorites seemed to have fallen behind.  Rather than dictating the start it was being dictated for me, but I stayed calm feeling the race really wasn’t going to separate until the first climb and I had time to get to the front…but I better make it happen.

The race went smoothly sitting in about 6-10th until that first climb and then I made a move to go around and try to claim the front.  I got there before the climb started switch-backing and found only Rebecca Henderson was still with me.  The climb was less than 3 minutes long, but by the time I reached the top and the ABC line descent I was alone and knew it was my opportunity to create some more daylight.  Training with Emily we had realized the least risky C line was also the fastest so I set to work on gaining seconds wherever I could.
Overcast and Blustery on race day but the Scotts were out in force
The crowds were brilliant.  On the grassy sections where they were clapping politely I felt like I were in a golf tournament and at other times a really well attended noisy mtb race!  Friends and family were out there cheering us on as well as other Canadian athletes with a break in their racing and training schedule.  It was really special and as I worked my way around the course trying to secure a healthy time gap in case one of the plenty of jagged rocks lining trails such as Broken Biscuits and Timorous beastie decided to give me any trouble, I was able to see the big screen tv’s and see Emily riding strongly in the silver medal position.  Go team!

With 3 of 6 laps done and a healthy lead I was able to minimize risks and back off in the rough sections.  But man is it stressful when you feel a race is yours to lose!  My Maxxis Crossmark tires were trustworthy though and guided me to the finish where our team coach Ian had the Canadian flag ready for me to carry across the line. 

It took until we were walking out to the podium and I saw our flag ready to be raised for it to really sink in how incredible a day it had been.  Seeing two Canadian flags rising side by side was icing on the cake and having a fan in the crowd start singing our anthem made the moment even more special.

Thanks to everyone who came out to cheer us on, who was at home yelling at their tv’s and sending us great energy.  It is always a pleasure to race for you.

So now until Sunday!  Time to learn a new course and settle into Mont Sainte Anne!

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