The Whistler Gran Fondo officially marked the last road event of my short season, but I wasn’t ready to stop racing.
Last year, I was dying to take a break. I stopped riding after the Cascade Cycling classic in late July. After taking two weeks off, my miserable attempt at getting back on the bike served only to further feed my distaste for riding, (See: The Off Season). Almost two months later, I could not bring myself to ride more than 6 hours a week in October.
The 2017 season only started for me in June, so I was obviously much less fatigued come September after the Fondo. But if the weather on the day of the Fondo was any indication of what we could expect in the not-too-distant future, summer would soon be over.
Thinking about the inevitable end to summer unsettled me. In the evening following the Fondo my unease, which is generally relatively subdued during the warm months, came to the surface- as if it was coming out of hibernation after summer and preparing to feed off me in the winter. This discomfort groaned that night, warning me that it could wake up soon.
I made a plan to ease the transition from summer to winter in an effort to prevent last October’s reluctant, useless training habits- to do things differently. I would apply for jobs as soon as I got home, and take up cyclocross. A phone call with Mark a day after the Fondo, during which he offered to release me from the team to allow me to pursue support for cyclocross, got the ball rolling. Coincidentally, a few minutes after this call Jon Watkin, who managed the Russ Hay’s Cycling Team, texted me to ask if I was planning to race ‘cross. I let him know what Mark had said and he immediately went to Russ Hay’s to see if they’d be interested in supporting me. Three days later I had a cross bike. Thank-you Mark, Jon and Russ Hays!
My belief is that cross is what I was missing at this time last year. Without it I had nothing to motivate me and no method of gauging my fitness. I was alone in my training, and it was boring and solitary. I would ride on the road in the rain on my own. That was it. With motivation low due to fatigue from the road season, how should I possibly expect that such shitty conditions for training would make matters any better?
This autumn has been about having fun with training. I’m riding twice, sometimes three times the hours per week compared to last October. I rode all of August and September, unlike last year, and am racing as well. I plan my rides with others to ensure I have company, and keep the weather in mind when making plans. If it’s too rainy I’ll ride on trails where the wind is less of a factor and the atmosphere is generally more laidback and fun. I won’t commit to a five hour road ride if the weather is going to be shit.
My reintroduction to cross has been super positive. I was sick for a week after the Fondo, so didn’t ride until the Saturday (six days) after. We did a 6 hour ride that day on Salt Spring. It was my first day on a cross bike in two years. We rode on a mix of gravel and pavement, but didn’t do anything off road or technical, so I didn’t practice any of the fundamentals of cyclocross, such as running, dismounting, and riding on unpaved surfaces. Going from no riding for almost a week to a six hour ride before being fully recovered from a cold might sound foolish, so I felt pretty silly that night as I packed up for my first cross race the following day.
I wasn’t stressed about the race. The plan was to keep it relaxed. No pressure nor expectation. Aim for a top ten and enjoy myself were the objectives. The race was in Ladysmith, and was the second of the Cross on the Rock series. I started near the back, and rode aggressively for the first lap. Lots of leaning on opponents and taking their lines were necessary strategies to get me up to the leaders before their gap grew significantly. By the second lap I was in fourth, about 10 seconds from second and third and another 10 seconds from first. As I started my third lap, I had a five second lead on second. I was flying. My legs were a little fatigued from the day before, but I was still relatively fresh from my few days off and my fitness from Tour of Alberta was still present. I flatted soon after, and had to run for two-thirds of a lap. I went from first to twentieth, and made my way back up to tenth by the finish.
During my short-lived lead, I was stoked. My gap was substantial, and I knew it would only grow. It was one of those rare occasions where I knew I would win. When I flatted, I was furious for a few seconds. Of course I would get a flat on my way to my first victory of the season. I ran to the pit with the intention of quitting when I got there. But Jon had other plans, and handed me his bike. I got on and started to ride. That’s when things changed. I realized that unlike on the road where if I flatted and had no support vehicle, it would likely be game over. I’d have to ride alone, and there would be no chance of getting back in the race. But in this situation, it didn’t matter. I could still ride just as fast as before. People were still cheering, and there was no shortage of people to pass. I was still racing, just in a different position. Racing for tenth instead of the win was less intense, so I could play around and take some Snickers hand-ups and risks by jumping and setting the fastest time through the sandpit.
After that race I had a new found confidence. I went to Victoria’s Crossclub, a weekly Wednesday night training race, and won. I won again the following week. Two weekends after my first race I went to Cumberland for the third Cross on The Rock. It was a close race. I spent the whole day chasing Drew, but I got him at the start of the last lap and managed to ride him off my wheel by the finish. I was hungry for a win, and he really made me work for it. I won the next Crossclub race, and then won the next Cross on the Rock race in Nanaimo. All of these races were dry, so the conditions were definitely in my favour, as fitness and power could take me to a win. I knew that soon the weather would turn, and we’d have muddy technical races, which would require more than fitness to win.
This past weekend we had our first mud fest. The race was in Qualicum Beach. It poured before the start of the expert men’s race, and I knew a win would be much more of a challenge. I lead for a bit, but crashed way too many times. I fell back to third, and continued crashing. I never found a rhythm, and started to get extremely frustrated by how often I was falling. Watching Raph and Drew ride ahead of me so smoothly was degrading. The two cross gods have such superior bike handling skills. Fourth place almost caught me, but somehow as I started the final lap I collected myself and put some more pressure into the pedals. I caught and passed Raph, and heard him get a mechanical just after I overtook him. I rode in for second. I had no chance of catching Drew. I didn’t like losing, but I was happy to take second. I raced from start to finish, and never quit despite having so many crashes.
Cross is where I really started to find a passion for cycling six year ago. I’m happy to have returned to where it all began. I’ve been afforded a victory this year, which otherwise seemed very unlikely. I’m becoming a part of the cycling community/family that goes hand-in-hand with cyclocross, and feels a little more like home. This is what I needed to do to ease the transition from racing on the road to staring at a wall from my rollers.
I should quickly thank the volunteers who put these races on. From Manitoba to Victoria, volunteers are the reason I get to race my bike. Norm, who puts on the Cross on the Rock Series, has created an awesome ‘cross culture on the island! So thanks Norm, and everyone else!