Up then Down: A Rookie Mistake

I made a bit of a rookie mistake this ‘cross season.  I went too long without a break, and ended up too tired to race or train properly. Ultimately, I ruined my chance at a decent result at the last race of the year, and ended on a bit of a low note.

As I mentioned in my first post about ‘cross, I wasn’t expecting much when I lined up for my first race in September. I figured I’d be racing for top 20-maybe top 10. However, after taking a convincing lead in the first race and riding toward a win before flatting, I came to realize that I was super fit, and could win some races. I went on to win the next two.

Winning races puts a certain level of pressure on you. People (including you) expect to see you win, and suddenly anything other than first is no good to you.  The most pressure comes from within. The bar is raised after a win, and the pressure is increased along with that bar’s adjustment.

One of many crashes in this spot. Photo by  Brianna Brandon .

One of many crashes in this spot. Photo by Brianna Brandon.

Once the rain came, I finished second at the first muddy race of the season. I rode terribly and crashed several times a lap. I wasn’t tired at the end though; I simply couldn’t push myself as hard as I wanted to because my skills couldn’t match the pace I wanted to set, hence the crashing.

After that race, I lost my interest in cross races. I was 7-8 weeks into a long block of training, and hadn’t had much rest since Canada Games. Naturally, it was about time to take a few days off, but I didn’t want to.

Photo by my Bryanna from a dry one. 

Photo by my Bryanna from a dry one. 

I wanted to push until ‘cross was finished. There were a few reasons for this.

First and foremost, I wanted to postpone my break until racing was done so that I could take my time off during bad weather. The later I rested, the better the likelihood that I would be resting during consistently bad weather when my motivation would be lacking anyways. This would take a week or two away from the struggle to train without any motivation. I also didn’t want to miss any races. I had a shot at winning the overall Cross on the Rock series. I wanted to win. I wanted at least something to put on my CV from this season that said 1st. I know it’s local cross, and in the grand scheme of things people won’t make too much of a fuss over that sort of result, but next to all my 55ths from this season, it would’ve at least been something.

Something else that worried me was a ‘what if?’ What if like last year I took a break, and didn’t want to get going again? I was going well and was relatively motivated to ride, but if I took my time off, it might be hard to start training again. With shitty weather and no races in the near future, at a time of year where I’m down and have very little motivation, what if I had a repeat of last year? So I kept riding, afraid to lose the fitness that I hadn’t had in a long time, and afraid that if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to start again. I wasn’t questioning whether or not I wanted to ride, but I wasn’t trusting of my future mental health.

I was losing motivation for cross though. As the races started to favour mountain bikers more and more, the weather got much colder, and I wasn’t as fast as I had been a month or two prior. After finishing second at the first muddy race, I was bruised and sore all over. I crashed and nailed my tailbone the following Wednesday on a cross ride which hurt for weeks after. The next Saturday I crashed again on a training ride on the road, and managed to increase the amount of bruising and rid myself of some skin.

 By the time we had a double header near Victoria, I didn’t want to be there. I was really sore, super tired, and had no capacity to handle the cold or interest in taking on more bruises or reopening healing wounds.  It snowed on the first day, and I flatted both days when I was fighting for podium positions. On Sunday morning I was virtual leader of the entire series, despite my flat the day before, but I flatted again and finished 18th, which put me down to a provisional fourth overall.

Riding ahead of Raph who won the series! Well deserved!

Riding ahead of Raph who won the series! Well deserved!

I barely rode during the week after. I was pretty done with cross at this point. I had a lot of fatigue built up and all my confidence had disappeared. My fitness from September could no longer compete with my fatigue. I wanted to take a break right then, but decided that I wasn’t ready. I wanted to win the series and end my season on a high note. I got a bit motivated and made a plan. I trained a bit for the next week and tried my best to recover. I didn’t touch my cross bike until the day before the race.

We drove up to Nanaimo the morning of and I knew it was a mistake.  I should’ve dropped it and taken a break. I was so tired that morning even though I’d only ridden four hours in the past week. I drove up with Bryanna, and the only thing on my mind was my excitement to have a rest period beginning that night. I couldn’t wait to throw my bike in the van after the race and drive home, leaving cross behind me and having the chance to ignore my bike guilt-free for a while.

I lined up to start but my mind didn’t - it was already in rest week. Or maybe it was simply too exhausted to be present. Either way, I didn’t hear the start siren, I just responded to the racers accelerating away from me.  I followed.

My lines were sloppy and my legs were empty. My elbows stayed in line with my shoulders and wrists, too tired to fight for my position. I passed a few riders only to crash and have even more pass me. I rode (didn’t race) three laps and moved up to eighth. Half way into the first lap I wanted to go home. I gave up on racing on the second lap. By the third lap I couldn’t wait to ride past Bryanna and turn off the course. I coasted onto the fourth lap and turned as soon as I found her. I sprayed off my bike and we drove into Nanaimo to find a coffee. I was sad for a few minutes, but laughed at how the outcome was exactly what I had predicted.

Figured I should post at least one photo of me running, as I did a lot of it. By Bryanna. 

Figured I should post at least one photo of me running, as I did a lot of it. By Bryanna. 

Fitness is fragile. We work so hard to achieve it, and once we have it we don’t want to let it go. But peak fitness is peak fitness, and it cannot be sustained. I’m currently on week two of rest, having dug a bit of a hole, but I’m looking forward to focussing on being on the road for 2018 now and leaving the mud behind. This experience has also encouraged me to be careful as I try my first full season on the road in 2018. I must listen to my body and rest in order to make it through the whole year.

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to race cross this fall. Having competition at this time of year kept me going, kept me (a little too) motivated, and allowed me to win a couple of races. Jon Watkin, Russ Hay’s the Bicycle Shop and Cross on the Rock made it all possible, and I’m very grateful for that.

2017 Cross Results:

Hot Cross Bunnnies: DNF

Days of Thunder #2: 18th (flat)

Days of Thunder #1: 6th (flat)

Cross on the Commons: 2nd

Kona Cup: 1st

Coal Cross: 1st

Tugboat cross: 10th (flat)

Don't Call Me Lucky (please)

“Which of you was the lucky guy in the break yesterday?”

Amiel points to me.

“Nice! That was lucky!”

We were sitting on the patio outside a café before the stage two criterium at the Tour of Walla Walla, one of the Pacific North West’s early season stage races.

Amiel and I looked at each other. I didn’t like what that guy had said, but this was one of my first times being around Amiel, so I didn’t want to make something out of nothing, unsure of whether he would feel the same way. I thought to myself: Luck? Is that what did it on yesterday’s stage?

Team chat pre Criterium at Walla Walla.

Team chat pre Criterium at Walla Walla.

The previous morning’s stage was a time trial, which did not suit my junior gears and landed me somewhere around 25th. That afternoon we had a road stage, and my goal was to get in the break and move up on GC. Jacob Rathe of Jelly Belly was present, and although I hadn’t heard of him until I had seen the time trial results sheet, I figured he was the only pro present. He’d be a good guy to watch. I learned later that he had raced for the Garmin-Barracuda (now EF Education First-Drapac) world tour team in 2012/13.

As we climbed the finish hill to complete the first lap, a few guys started attacking. I followed the wheel of whoever was setting pace, until they blew up. Then I’d follow the next guy. Eventually, I saw Jacob who had been doing the same thing, decide to set pace himself. I, along with one other rider, followed his wheel and crested the climb.

I yelled at my two breakaway companions who wanted me to pull through on the decent that followed that I couldn’t pull unless it was flat, or we were going uphill. I had junior gears, which meant I was working hard in their draft just to keep up. The previous year I would have been too timid to take a stand, but I knew I couldn’t mess around with a guy like Rathe as my competition.

TT recon pre Walla Walla.

TT recon pre Walla Walla.

We rode for the next couple hours, taking turns pulling. I’d spin as I held on for dear life on the descents, and pull on the climbs and flats. I made sure I ate and drank, and positioned myself behind Rathe as we started the final climb. I wasn’t going to risk having the other rider lose his wheel, and take me with him as he got dropped. Sure enough, as Rathe picked up the pace, it was only him and I left. I followed his attacks as best I could, but with 1 km to I couldn’t match his final attack, and I settled for second. I was now second on GC.

The next day at the crit I finished 7th. I’m not particularly good at crits. But I wanted to defend my position, and I was strong. I finished fifth the following day on the queen stage. After losing all of my team mates to flats or getting dropped, I had to fight tooth and nail to protect my GC position. I spent a lot of time chasing. I got dropped with 20 km to go but dug deep to catch back up to the lead group. Upon rejoining, I turned to Rathe in his yellow jersey, and told him we should work together to neutralize any attacks. He had guys on other teams helping him a bit, but he had entered the race solo, and really we were both without team mates. He nodded. I wasn’t a threat. I just wanted to lose to him and no one else.

My junior gears were again unkind to me on the downhill tail wind sprint, so I had to watch riders sprint away from me as I spun at 130 rpm and went nowhere.

Sprinting (in my hoods-I know) to second at Race the Ridge.

Sprinting (in my hoods-I know) to second at Race the Ridge.

In 2015, the year earlier, I did the same race. I finished 102nd, 45 minutes back on the second stage. I barely held on to the back of the peloton in the crit. On the last stage race I was dropped after 30 km and quit. I knew what I would be facing in 2016, and I did not want a repeat of my 2015 experience. I had my ass handed to me for the weeks following Walla Walla in 2015 as I continued to try my hand at races of that level, until a concussion put me out of commission. Once I was able to ride again, I kicked my own ass. I trained hard. I did a camp the following spring before the race. I chose who to follow during the race. I paid attention. I suffered. I suffered like a fucking dog.

But here was this guy, a dude I don’t know from a club in Vancouver, telling me that I was lucky to have ‘gotten in the break’ the day before. And there I was, wondering if it really did come down to luck.

The week after Walla Walla 2016, I got in the break both days at Race the Ridge. I finished second in the road race, fifth in the crit, and third overall. Two weeks later I got in the break at Tour de Bloom on stage 1, finished seventh in the downhill sprint with my junior gears, and then rode solo to win the following hill climb stage. I finished seventh in the crit again, and got in the break on the last day to finish third on the stage and second overall. For three big stage races, not a stage went by with a breakaway that I wasn’t in. How lucky could a guy be?

Breakaway in the crit at Race the Ridge.

Breakaway in the crit at Race the Ridge.

The reason I’m writing this is not to boast. I don’t want to be that guy who’s stuck bragging about winning races back in the day. But terms such as lucky, gifted, or natural talent have their time and place. When used thoughtlessly, people can find them be degrading.

I’m a self conscious athlete, and I know I’m not the only one. I can’t tell you how many races I’ve driven away from thinking ‘there’s no way I could do that again’ or, ‘that was just luck.’  The year I won Junior ‘Cross Nationals I told so many people that it was just a fluke. Having someone else say the same sort of thing really takes away from an athlete’s accomplishments. If you boil it down to luck or a gift, then I’ve accomplished nothing. My work, my suffering, and my reading of the race are totally discredited.

I appreciate that I am lucky in many ways to be where I am, racing where I am. I was fortunate to be born into a family that could support me at the beginning, in a first world country. I’m very fortunate to have so many people in my life who support me, and help me make opportunities for myself.

But in terms of racing, for the number of breakaways I’ve missed, teams that have rejected me, injuries I’ve had, flat tires I’ve suffered, trips I’ve been unable to afford, I’d like to think that there’s more to what I achieve than just dumb luck.

2016 was a good season. These photos bring such good memories.

2016 was a good season. These photos bring such good memories.

The Three Epics

With the weather being less than ideal for riding, training is becoming a bit of a challenge. I actually decided not to ride today. I’m sore from a weekend of getting thrashed in cold snow, rain and mud, and running with flat tires at both Saturday and Sunday’s cross races.

Instead, today I’ve been thinking a lot about the best rides I had in 2017. I’ve already written about one, (my “#2”) my 300 km journey in late August. Each memorable ride took place primarily on roads I’d never before explored. They were all on sunny days, done in good company, and of ‘epic’ length (or duration).

The first ‘epic’ of the year took place in February. It’s odd to think that in the darkest month of my cycling career I had such a positive experience on the bike. The day occurred in the midst of a torturous month, where I would spend, on average, five hours a day riding alone in the cold rain.

Almost at the top of the first climb on my 'Third Epic'. Photo by Maxim of course!

Almost at the top of the first climb on my 'Third Epic'. Photo by Maxim of course!

On my ride the day following this epic one I found myself alone, crying as I climbed one of the Santa Monica climbs, wishing I was at home and never had to ride a bike again.

We started early in the morning, and rode North on the Pacific Coast Highway towards Santa Barbara. Past Ventura, we continued north and climbed toward Ojai before riding past Lake Casitas. We then traversed north-west through vineyards along a hill side on narrow, winding, quiet roads.

The sun was shining for what felt like the first time in years. I rode in a short-sleeved jersey and bib shorts. For the first time, I could feel warmth on my bare skin while riding. We rode through forests and always had a view of the ocean to the left. It was breathtaking. I was laughing and chatting the whole time.

We climbed Gibraltar about mid-way through the ride. I thought how, a year earlier, I  had watched Neilson Powless of Axeon Hagens Berman ride away from a world-class peloton as a U23 during the Tour of California. He was caught later on, but his ride was incredible. It was unreal. He was so strong, so smooth, and so fast. After watching that ride live, I found myself imagining riding that same climb, in the same race, in the same style as Powless.

Now I was on that very climb with my two team-mates, Jure and MA, who were riding at a steady tempo. I struggled to hold their wheels, and was reminded of how weak I’d been for the past few months. But I held on to the top. We waited for the others to catch up, and met with some other BC cyclists from Langlois Brown. We started riding again and found ourselves climbing more, which was unexpected. The Langlois boys were riding at a harder pace, and I decided to tag along. I started to lead. I pictured myself sitting on my bed watching Neilson. Then I pictured myself there, on that very climb, in the Tour of California with spectators lining the roads. I felt as strong as I wished I was. My legs felt better than they had in months. I started to believe that a successful season might actually be possible. I dropped everyone.

Mitch on top of Mount Tuam. Photo by Maxim.

Mitch on top of Mount Tuam. Photo by Maxim.

We were out for almost 9 hours and had ridden for 7. I had done 198 km, so I rode around the block a few times to hit 200 km. Everyone else was inside. I was exhausted, cold, and it was dark. But I wanted to hit that mark.

This day served to remind me that I love riding, but it wasn’t enough to lure me back completely. In fact, when my ride the following day was just as bad as the ones leading up to our big ride, I was even more disappointed and confused. A low after such a high felt even lower. The clouds after a day of sunshine felt even darker. The cold was colder. My heart was heavier and my passion was missing all together. I found myself riding alone, crying as I climbed one of the Santa Monica climbs, wishing I was at home and never had to ride a bike again.

Almost seven months later, after taking time off the bike and rediscovering my passion for riding, I had my third epic of the year.

T-shirt rides are the best rides. Excuse my crooked helmet. Thanks Maxim!

T-shirt rides are the best rides. Excuse my crooked helmet. Thanks Maxim!

I raced the Whistler Gran Fondo on Saturday, the 9th of September. Following the wet, cold race, I got pretty sick. I had a cold for the week. On Friday I picked up my new cross bike from Russ Hay’s, but didn’t ride it as I was still recovering from my cold. I had registered for the cross race that Sunday, and needed to ride to get the legs moving. With the cooler weather we’d been having (as compared to the summer highs), Saturday’s high of 16 looked too nice to pass up. Maxim had planned a birthday ride on Salt Spring, and I had to do it. I didn’t want to miss the last opportunity to ride in shorts and short-sleeves.

I left around 6:45 am to meet at Mitch’s place at 7. I arrived first and Mitch opened his door. He had just woken up; still in a hoodie and boxers. He was hastily eating some oatmeal and rubbing his tired eyes. Maxim showed up and we patiently watched as Mitch pulled together some mismatched kit from the floor of his bedroom. The ride was meant to be pretty relaxed, but this slight delay meant we had to set a solid pace to ensure that we caught the ferry to get to the island.

Photo by Maxim.

Photo by Maxim.

It was freezing when we arrived on Salt Spring - too cold to fully enjoy the ride. We stopped at the cafe just off the ferry and sipped coffees before embarking. The 20 minutes inside the café was well worth it, as the sun was up and warming when we started to climb Mount Tuam. Energized by coffee and our anticipation of an adventure, we set-off. The road was empty, the view was breathtaking. We took a wrong turn and hiked through the forest to find the road we were meant to be on. The climb eventually became gravel, and at the top we were on private property.

We descended the rough gravel track from the peak and I flatted right away. I changed my tube only to have my replacement tube’s valve break. Another tube went in and we made our way toward the second summit of the day. The following climb to Bruce Peak was brutal. The exceedingly steep gravel road had Maxim and Gordon walking for a bit. It was super difficult to maintain traction, so one slip-up and you were off. It was too steep to get back on. I had to put my foot down once, but managed to keep moving and climb the rest of the way. Mitch cleared the whole climb without putting a foot down once, which was super impressive!

After soaking in the view from the top, I flatted again on the decent. Maxim spotted me a tube and we rode to Ganges. The gravel further along the decent was packed, which made for an awesome ride. The rode was empty and we bombed around the sweeping turns.

Last climb of the day - Mount Maxwell. Photo by Maxim. 

Last climb of the day - Mount Maxwell. Photo by Maxim. 

After a pit-stop in Ganges to restock our tube supply, I was not in the mood to spend money on food. The others wanted to though, so we made our way over to Thrifty’s. The store was celebrating its birthday, so I helped myself to two massive pieces of birthday cake and a cup of Kicking Horse coffee while I sat on the curb and guarded our bikes. Free cake and coffee? An excellent day had become even better.

The final climb up Mount Maxwell was another steep, gravel one. We all rode our own pace and I was the first one up. I managed to climb at a comfortable pace on all three peaks, but my pace was faster than the rest of the guys. This was a testament to the form I had gained at Tour of Alberta. We weren’t competing at all, but I was proud of my strength.

My three ‘epics’ consisted of a minimum of 2,000 metres of climbing, took place on primarily unfamiliar roads and were all at least 6 hours long. They took place on sunny days and in good company. I now know my requirements for a good day on the bike, which I don’t think I was aware of until late this year. I’m looking forward to turning more rides into epics in 2018!

Here are links to the three rides on Strava!

Epic #1 - Cali

Epic #2 - 300 km

Epic #3 - Salt Spring

And if you would like to see more photos by Maxim, here's his Instagram

Flying Squirrels

A lot has changed for me in the past year. Among the many adjustments I’ve made in my approach to training and racing, perhaps my most significant decision was to work with a new coach.

I trained under the mentorship of Jayson Gillespie for nearly seven years. He took me on my first road ride all those years ago late one evening in October. Jay rode with me as I pedalled my 26” Devinci hard tail mountain bike while the rest of the provincial athletes rode their road bikes. I did what I could to keep up, and more than once Jay put his hand on my back to push me as I rode, ensuring I could keep up and complete the 70 km ride.

Coach Jay on the left on the podium with Danick and I after winning our respective 2014 Cyclocross National Titles. Assistant coach Lindsay Argue on the right.

Coach Jay on the left on the podium with Danick and I after winning our respective 2014 Cyclocross National Titles. Assistant coach Lindsay Argue on the right.

The hand on my back, pushing me along, makes me think now of the hand of a parent on their child as they push them along on their first attempt at training-wheel-free cycling. Jay was more than a coach for me for a long time. When I went through some rough stuff at home, whether he knew it or not, Jay was a bit of a father-like figure for me for a while.

I was less than well-behaved during those first couple years. He put up with me somehow. I would talk incessantly, goof off, swear and joke inappropriately. He patiently taught me to behave better. He taught me to always have my bag zipped up in team vans, to thank volunteers and to shut-up sometimes. Perhaps the most important lesson he taught me was to control what I can control.

Eventually I moved to Victoria. He remained my coach for the two years I raced on Russ Hays. What I didn’t realize was that for me, long-distance coaching wasn’t ideal. I needed him to see me. Without the guaranteed face-to face interactions that we’d have during team training in Winnipeg, it was up to me to update him on what was going on. Up until then, Jay could see it at training. I didn’t have to bring it up if I was having a tough time. Jay saw me race. Jay saw me train.

This year, when my depression started to take control of me, Jay wasn’t there to see it. He wasn’t there to understand it. It was up to me to explain it – and I couldn’t do it justice through words. With no disrespect to Jay, and I absolutely mean NO disrespect to him, he was too far away to fully provide the support I needed on the mental side of cycling.

I decided that this winter I need to train my brain. More than anything, my mental health needs strengthening, support, and understanding. I wanted a coach in BC, someone who I could see once in a while. I also wanted someone who would be able to help me train effectively while I dealt with depression and anxiety. When it comes down it, I need to be 100% mentally fit in order to race. I could train 25 hours a week, like I did in February, but if I’m not paying attention to my mental health, I’ll crash and burn.

The first name that came to me when I decided I needed a new coach was Jacob Schwingboth. Other, possibly better-known names floated around my head for a while as well, but something about Jacob seemed right.

Jacob racing for H&R at the 2015 Whistler Gran Fondo. Being chased by one of his athletes.

Jacob racing for H&R at the 2015 Whistler Gran Fondo. Being chased by one of his athletes.

Jacob had been through some of his own shit when he raced. Mentally, he had really struggled for a while. And he’s very open about it. Knowing that he’s experienced similar challenges to what I have faced, do face and likely will face, and his openness about it, gave me a sense of confidence. I knew that he would be understanding, empathetic, and encouraging. I also knew that he would have strategies in dealing with and working around my struggles while riding.

I approached Jacob to coach my mind first and my body second. I told him everything I went through, asked him to read my blog, and met him for coffee after the Fondo to discuss working together. We hit it off really well and I knew he was the right coach.

Jacob cares. It’s obvious. He created a spreadsheet after we met which I fill out after every ride. I rate how I felt mentally and physically, I explain the rating, and describe whether I enjoyed the ride and why or why not. Every Sunday I fill out a form he created to explain each day of the week in detail. There are questions regarding my mental health, my physical health, how confident I feel, what I want to work on, as well as spaces for me to ask him questions. He then has all of my feedback in writing to aid in developing my plan for the next week We then have a call, typically the following Monday, to review the week and plan for the next one.

He listens to what I want and need. We train around my mind. We’re training my mind. I don’t hesitate to tell him if I didn’t like something, or if I had was particularly anxious at some point. We back off when I’m not doing well, and charge ahead when I’m feeling great. He’s instilled in me a confidence in my coach, and more importantly, a confidence in myself.

Jay got me to where I am now in the sport. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him. I say that with utmost conviction. I am so grateful to know him and to have been so fortunate as to have him as a coach. He’s taught me so much. From the bottom of my heart, I’m utterly grateful for the time and effort he put into developing me. It was a very tough decision to stop working with him, but it was a necessary one. Thanks for everything Jay!

Conversely, my decision to start working with Jacob was an easy and obvious one. I’m extremely grateful to him already for taking me under his wing. Jay developed me, and Jacob will continue to help me excel in the sport. I’m incredibly excited to be working with someone who gets the different me.  I’m the proudest new member of Jacob’s Flying Squirrel Academy!

Cross is Here

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.

One of the technical descents in Nanaimo a few weeks ago. Photo courtesy of Bryanna. 

One of the technical descents in Nanaimo a few weeks ago. Photo courtesy of Bryanna. 

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?

The photo doesn't do justice to how muddy the course was. Pic by Bryanna!

The photo doesn't do justice to how muddy the course was. Pic by Bryanna!

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.

Another one from Nanaimo by Bryanna. 

Another one from Nanaimo by Bryanna. 

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.

Last weekend's mudfest! Photo by Petra Knight

Last weekend's mudfest! Photo by Petra Knight

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!

One more by Petra Knight

One more by Petra Knight

Five Minutes

At night it taps me on the shoulder as soon as I start getting ready for bed. On rides in the gloom of a west coast autumn the clouds sometimes cast a shadow over my thoughts. Thoughts too become darkened; colourless. These thoughts aren’t bad, not like before, but I remember my bad thoughts and find these reminders worrying. I shake my head as a chill runs down my spine and I focus on the positives in my surroundings.

As soon as it began I became aware of the ever-lazier sun, which has been sleeping-in later and going to bed much earlier these days. I started to feel a little sad when I got home from the Whistler Gran Fondo last month, because I knew the seasons were changing. It became challenging to remind myself that I was feeling sad simply due to the anticipation of sadness that would likely take shape in the coming months. I wasn’t sad yet, I was sad because I expected I would be. I feared that I would be. I feared that a pattern would repeat itself.

Identifying my depression has had its pros and cons. The negative side that I’ve experienced is that sometimes, when I’m sad, I think: ‘Oh fuck, not again. I’m depressed.” Then I have to remind myself that, no, being sad doesn’t mean I will sad be for long. Everyone gets temporarily sad, at least, and that’s normal. This being said, I’ve perhaps become over sensitized, in that I expect to be sad, so that expectation can bring sadness upon me prematurely...if that makes sense. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that, I now know that I get sad, so maybe I get sad at times because I think I’m going to be sad. It’s very difficult to explain, but for now that’s the best I can do. It’s difficult to expect someone to understand how my mind works when I don’t understand it myself.

After a hard climb on Sunday to Royal Oak Reservoir in my WPG CX 2014 wool jersey. Photo by Maxim.

After a hard climb on Sunday to Royal Oak Reservoir in my WPG CX 2014 wool jersey. Photo by Maxim.

Anyways, as fall approached and then came upon us, I started to fear what I thought to be an inevitable sadness. However, so far I’ve been doing a really good job of staying positive. I got a job, which I enjoy, started racing cross again, and have been training a lot. This time last year I had a job I didn’t like, and could barely bring myself to ride more than 4-6 hours a week. I hadn’t really been riding at all since July, and had no interest in racing.

I’ve been having fun on the bike this time round. I’m winning races! I’ve been looking forward to rides. In the past three days I did over 13 hours of training. I did 4.5 on Friday, 4 on Saturday and 5 on Sunday. I surprised myself. I was proud of myself each day. I enjoyed it all. I finished my ride yesterday thinking that this was pretty great, it being mid-October and my motivation and mental health being at a level which allowed me to do what I did, without any sort of mental challenge. That’s why when I woke up sad this morning, it was a shock. It scared me.

I don’t know why, but this morning I woke up in a bad space. The only bit of sadness I’ve been feeling lately is a bit of a heavy feeling each night for the past couple weeks. Apart from that, I’ve had the odd ‘oh, this time last year I felt like this’ as I recall my struggles during bike rides. I’ve sort of known that soon it would catch up with me, but after the weekend I had it just doesn’t make sense.

Autumn coloured bikes. Photo by  Maxim.

Autumn coloured bikes. Photo by Maxim.

I really wasn’t feeling it by the time I got to work at noon today. I walked in, said ‘hi’ to my colleagues, put my jacket in the back and thought ‘oh, please not today! Please.’ I grew aware of a faint head ache.

I fucked up an order right away. Then I dropped a spring from the locking mechanism on a drip coffee jug into a freshly brewed pot. I had to pour the whole thing out and fish out the spring. I began to sweat. I could feel my eyes gloss. These were small mistakes, but I couldn’t handle them. When I started to brew another jug and then walked away to work on the till, I forgot to open the hole to allow the coffee to drip into the jug. Five minutes later my boss showed me the huge mess created by the coffee dripping with nowhere to go. I told him I’d clean it, and then I’d need five minutes to go outside. I barely got the words out because I didn’t want to cry in front of my boss of only two weeks. I was now aware of a throbbing head ache – stress.

I went outside and ran both hands through my hair as I do when I’m stressed. I tried to regain control of my breathing. I cried for the first time in, shit, I don’t know how long. I thought about the fact that I’ve gone so long without crying. I remember when I used to try and go a day, just one day, without shedding a tear. I wondered if I was about to start that pattern all over again.

My boss, Alan, who’s also the owner of the café, came out a minute later. He asked what was up. “No idea.” I said. “Yesterday was good, and I woke up today and I was way off” I managed to say.

When I went in for my interview at this place a few weeks ago, Alan asked what I do off the bike. I started to tell him that I took a few months off at the beginning of the season because I needed a break. Before I could finish, Alan interrupted me, and said, “I know. I did my homework. I’ve read your blog.” He Googled me, I guess, after I left a résumé with him.

So I knew that my response to his ‘What’s up?” would be understood. We had a long chat in the parking lot as I continued to push my hair back. Eventually I became less aware of how difficult it had become to breathe. My hands travelled to my pockets. I started to relax. I laughed a little as we chatted. I felt accepted, understood. He told me about his experience with emotions of the sort that I was experiencing. “You’re strong, physically, but mentally, not so much. And that’s good. You’ll work through this, and later in life you’ll be better equipped for what might be thrown at you. But we all have weak moments, or days. It’s okay.” I asked for a hug, and he gave me one.

As hard as it may be to ride at this time, I've started to focus on the positives. The colours are certainly a positive. Photo by  Maxim .

As hard as it may be to ride at this time, I've started to focus on the positives. The colours are certainly a positive. Photo by Maxim.

I wanted to ask if I could go home, I didn’t believe I could work anymore. I wondered if I’d ever be able to work again. But then Alan said, “all right, come on in. Just hammer out drinks today.” Not in a bossy way. To me, this was encouragement. He wasn’t sending me home. He knew I could do my job.

That belief in me was enough for me to believe in myself today. It got me through. My head ache still hasn’t subsided, it’s 10 pm, but fuck am I grateful to be working with someone who cares and has more than a clue. I’m also glad that I had the courage to say that I needed five minutes. A year ago, I couldn’t have done that.

Whistler Gran Fondo

The Whistler Gran Fondo took place just under a week after Tour of Alberta. I spent the time between races in Vancouver.

After the final stage of the Tour, we crossed the line, chatted for about five minutes, and then walked to the hotel to shower and change. We had no time to stretch or spin. We were on a tight schedule to get to an event at Lexus to thank our sponsor, and spend some time with local cyclists, supporters and fans. It served as the perfect opportunity for me to spend some more time chatting with young local cyclists and their parents.

I may tend to over share now that I’ve opened up about what I’ve struggled with. And sometimes I worry that that may be the case. But at this event, I had some time to talk to parents, whose kids are at the age that I was when I started to really take cycling seriously. I took the time to tell a shortened version of how this spring went, and what I wish I had done differently. Kids and parents had plenty of questions for me, and I stressed to them all that the most important part of cycling at their age, or any age for that matter, is to keep it fun. That’s the most important lesson I’ve ever forgotten.

I don’t know if that’s what my role is, or if it’s appropriate to assume that people want to hear my two cents, but if I can share a little bit about what I’ve experienced, perhaps others will be able to navigate the same waters as I have, but with fewer hurdles.

I loved spending time with people who look up to me and want to hear what I have to say. I felt a sense of importance and got the feeling that cycling, for me, has grown to be about more than riding bikes quickly. Perhaps it’s also something that gives me a sense of purpose in the role of a mentor, and can put me in position as someone with answers, or valuable advice.

I enjoyed my first beer in probably a year at the event. I don’t care much for alcohol, but as a reward for such a monumental and successful change in the direction of my life, it seemed fitting to celebrate. We went from the event to a pub, and had a few more drinks, before walking to Denny’s to see who could eat the most all you can eat pancakes. We ran the 2 km back from Denny’s to the hotel around 2 am, with full stomachs. I was asleep by 2:30, and up again at 4:30 to be on the road by 5:00 for the drive back to Vancouver.

After a 2 hour sleep, proceeded by a 12 hour drive, I was pretty wrecked when I woke up on the sixth. Despite being in no condition to receive any benefit from training, I wanted to ride. A friend I had met in Calgary before TOA was in town, so he and I along with a few Vancouver friends went for a ride up Cypress Mountain. It turned into a lovely four hour ride, but by the end I was toast. The following morning, the tour, the post tour, the drive to Vancouver and the ride up Cypress caught up with me. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. The next two days were strictly for coffee shop rides with my friend and ex-team mate, Amiel.

The Fondo started at 6:30 on the morning of Saturday, the 9th. It was a ridiculously early start, barely lit by the not-yet risen sun in the overcast Vancouver sky. It was cool, and I rode into Stanley park at 5:30. It was pitch black, lit only by the lights of other keen cyclists. The cool, damp air, and the fact that I was up before the sun to ride for the first time in ages, combined with the warm light emitted by the hundreds of bike lights gave me a feeling similar to that of a child’s on Christmas morning. I was excited and filled with nervous anticipation. In that moment, I came to peace with the less than ideal weather, and was grateful for the amount of summer I had experienced. As cold as it was, I felt warm inside. This was a welcomed feeling, as cooler weather had otherwise been fairly dreaded by me.

We started with a neutral roll-out through the park and across the Lions Gate Bridge. The flag dropped as we turned right at the base of a short but steep climb up Taylor way. I had heard that someone usually sets a hard pace up that first climb in an effort to thin the pack. I took it upon myself to set the tempo, as I wasn’t interested in having anyone but myself test my legs. As we crested the climb, attacks started to fly, and the first few drops of rain streaked across my carefully selected clear glasses lenses.

With $15,000 on the line for the winner, I knew the racing would be aggressive. My main competition would be Nigel Ellsay, of Silber. The others were Ryan Aitcheson and his team mate, Dylan Davies of Langlois Brown, the Toronto Hustle squad of four, Ted King, two UHC riders, and a handful of others. As the only H&R rider, I had my work cut out for me. With no one to share the workload, I had to cover any move that I considered risky, which was difficult to narrow down.

A photo by Yash of Al Murison and I atop a smoky Cypress.

A photo by Yash of Al Murison and I atop a smoky Cypress.

The attacks were constant for the first 10 km, and the rain was now properly upon us. Eventually a group of four rode off. The pack settled down a little, and I waited, watching Nigel. Around 30 km in, I attacked and Michael Van Den Ham followed. We were a group of two chasing a group of four. A few km later, Ryan and his team mate joined us. We rode steadily, and caught three out of the four leaders around 60 km into the race.

Throughout the ride, I tested the other riders in my group. I would go to the front on the climbs, and set a tempo. I’d listen to the others breathe, encouraged by how laboured it was. I’d wait for someone to yell ‘steady!’ or ‘chill the fuck out’ as Ryan’s team mate liked to say. Those remarks were confidence boosts. It meant I had better legs. Around 80 km in, after we caught the lone leader, we were suddenly and unexpectedly caught by a large chase group, led by Nigel, and made up of Ted King, Dylan Davies, Gavin Mannion and several others.

I was now less confident. These riders are power-houses, and they’d spent less time in the break, and were therefore fresher. As soon as they caught us, Nigel rode past and attacked. I chased on. Another attack went. I followed. Soon I was the only one left from the original leaders and chasers, in a group 12 or so strong. With 12 km to go, Nigel put out the most ruthless attack I’ve ever witnessed. I knew I had to follow, and closed my eyes as I dug deeper than I ever have. It might have only been a minute, it felt like it was at least two, but I had to focus on putting every ounce of energy through the pedals. Keeping my eyes open would have been inefficient. I latched onto his wheel as we crested the hill. Uninterested in towing me to the line, he sat up a bit. I was too cracked to pull. We were caught by the group. Had I been a little stronger, we might have stuck it, but I just didn’t have it.

Nigel attacked again with 8 km to go. I started to dangle off the back, and Ted King, the retired world tour rider, looked back and saw me falling behind. He soft pedalled for a few seconds to let me into his draft and helped me back up to the group. I had some extra momentum as I caught the back of our now reduced group of six at the base of a small rise, so I rode by and tried an attack. I was empty. It was like firing a blank. So close to the finish, I knew I was no longer in contention for a win. With three km to, I was dropped. I crossed the line in 6th, 18 seconds behind the winner.

I still finished within the record time set by the winner last year. It was a fast race.

I raced hard. I rode smart. I knew what cards I had and I played them. There’s not much I would have done differently. Sometimes, people are just faster than you. I have no excuses. I’m pretty pleased with how I raced. I felt strong, which is a good sign.

Unfortunately, I have no photos of the Fondo, but here's a link to the Strava file if you're interested!

Tour of Alberta

“I’m really struggling guys. I’m fucked”

“It’s all in the head now, Oli. Everyone is fucked. You must to think about getting up the hill, and not about the pain. You can do this. Follow Chris”

We had spent the day at the front of the peloton chasing the breakaway. H&R was represented in the break by Alexis, but we weren’t happy with how outnumbered he was. Our main GC hopeful, Travis, had suffered a crash earlier and would no longer be in contention. Chris and I had to follow the front of the group up the final 13 km climb to Marmot Basin. After helping the team chase for over 60 km, I was cooked. I felt dizzy.

Photo by  Stirl and Rae.

The conversation above took place over the race radio between my director and I 140 km into the race. We had 10 km to ride before the base of the climb. They went by too quickly, and I wasn’t with the team at the front. I was struggling near the back. I managed to take the inside on the tight left hander at the base, and followed wheels as we started going up. I didn’t stare at the wheel in front of me, I watched three riders ahead. This way, if a gap opened up as someone in front of me tired, I would see it immediately and wouldn’t hesitate to go around them. It didn’t take long for the peloton to reduce.

I was taken aback by the size of our group. Around 35 riders strong and I could barely hold on. Last season I could pretty confidently drop my opponents on climbs. My only pro ½ win came from a hill climb. Now I found myself on the back of a group – not even the break away. All these riders could, and did, drop me on a climb. I’m racing at a new level. I have respect for my new opponents.

I was dropped with 6 km of climbing remaining. I crossed the line in 38th, 5’09” after the stage winner. I remembered passing Nate Brown, who wore the polka dot jersey for two days at the Tour this year. Past the line there was a gravel climb to a parking lot. I ground my way up, riding from one side of the road to the other, like a paper boy. I was so dizzy once I arrived at the van that Mark had to help me off the bike. I sat down in a chair and closed my eyes. Tears came out. I fell asleep.

Finishing stage 1. Photo by  Stirl and Rae.

Finishing stage 1. Photo by Stirl and Rae.

Twenty-four hours later I found myself holding on for dear life at the back of the peloton. Stage two. I had tried to get into a break a few times early on. After one such attempt, the peloton accelerated past me. My legs were sore, and they rode by me so quickly that I barely managed to grab on to the last rider’s wheel before they left me for good. We were in crosswinds.

In crosswinds, you don’t ride one behind the other in a straight line. You ride in an echelon, to get a draft from the rider in front and beside you. This limits the drafting potential to the width of the road. Only so many riders can fit across the road. The edge of the road, where riders are forced to ride one behind the other with an insignificant draft, is called the gutter.

The wind was coming from our right. I was in the gutter. I couldn’t move up. I hammered. I thought my race would be over soon. I could only hold on for so long. It was brutal. Finally, we turned, and with the wind at our backs we started a small climb. It felt like I’d been riding for hours. We were only 35 km in. Shit. A few kilometres back, I had hit a bump and my saddle tilted forward. I couldn’t comfortably sit on it. I stood up as we climbed, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a Cannondale rider hit a bump. His hand slipped off the bars and he turned and ran straight into me. I fell over onto my team mate, Matt. A few others crashed on top. I got up right away and Kevin grabbed my bike, pulled the seat back into position, and hung the bike by the adjusted saddle over his neck to cycle through the gears. Meanwhile, I brushed my hands off, grabbed a water bottle off the road, thought about what I had to do next, and refused to look back at Matt. I could hear him screaming about his leg. I heard Maxime, my director, yell for an ambulance.

Kevin handed my bike back. I got on and started to pedal. Do I really just ride now? The race is gone. Matt’s seriously injured. Although I can’t help him, it feels wrong to leave him. I was riding though. Time to try and catch the race I guess. I put my head down, and pedalled hard. I couldn’t see the peloton or caravan ahead. Commissaire and police cars and motos passed me. None of them would give me a draft. I chased on my own for around ten kilometres. There was no way I would catch them, but I wasn’t slowing down. I don’t know from where that senseless drive comes. Desperation?

Relief took over when I heard my Director calmly speaking over the radio. I got in the draft of our car. He took me to the back of the caravan. Slowly I made my way through the team cars. He would calmly tell me when to ride and when to sit in a car’s draft. Eventually, I made it back into the race.

Around 30 km from the finish, the team assembled at the front of the peloton. A small break of three was up the road, and at 20 km to go we would enter the finishing circuit. I started rolling through at the front with some Silber riders. We made contact with the break as we entered the circuit. At that point, it changed from a chase to a lead-out. I rolled through with Travis and MA. I was flat-out as I pulled. The team following behind with Ryan protected for the sprint would yell at us to move left or right, to prevent attempts by other teams to take over our position at the front. With just under 10 km remaining, the three of us were swarmed by an acceleration from the other teams. I was at the back thirty seconds later. I went from setting the pace to holding on. Jure stayed with Ryan, and Ryan sprinted to third on the stage.

I felt a part of the team that day. I was proud to be a part of that result.

Hug for Ryan after sprinting to third. Mark Ernsting and Alexis in the background. Photo by  Stirl and Rae.

Hug for Ryan after sprinting to third. Mark Ernsting and Alexis in the background. Photo by Stirl and Rae.

Stage three was hell. I was tired. We did eleven, ten km laps of an urban circuit. The profile of the course, filled with turns and two short, gradual climbs a lap did not suit me. I found myself riding at the back for most of the day. I got off the front a couple times for only a few minutes. I was nowhere during the lead out. I just didn’t have the legs.

Stage Three. Stirl and Rae.

Stage Three. Stirl and Rae.

On the morning of stage four I woke up and wondered if I’d finish the race. I lined up on the start line a few hours later. I wanted to get in the break. I wanted to finish the race. I wasn’t confident I could either.

The rider in front of me sprinted off the line and I followed. Four of us had a small gap by the first corner. I got to the front and hammered for thirty seconds, flicked my elbow, and let the other three take their turns. A few minutes later I looked back. We were now a breakaway.

As we rode through the start/finish onto the second lap, I wanted to raise my hands in celebration. I was in the break at the Tour of Alberta on the day that marked exactly three months since I had started riding again. I didn’t (thank God), and continued to ride. I crossed the line for the first KOM sprint of the day in second. I just wanted some points.

The break swelled to 16 riders. Around kms 80-90 a dozen attacks were launched from our group. I followed every acceleration I could. Rob Britton went with a UHC rider on the hill, and I tried to chase. I couldn’t. I fell into a small chase group, and a lap later a group of riders who had bridged from the peloton caught us. One of the riders was Alexis. He rode by me, and that was it. I was dropped. I rode on my own until the peloton caught me and spit me out. I chased through the caravan and caught back on with about 8 km remaining. On the climb I dropped a second time, and chased until the line.

In the break on stage 4.  Stirl and Rae.

In the break on stage 4. Stirl and Rae.

I moved up to 35th in the GC, 5th in the young rider (U23) classification, 10th in the KOM classification and 9th in the Canadian classification. I’m actually pretty content with those results. I’m proud to have made it to Tour of Alberta, the start and the finish.

Living the Calgary Dream pre TOA

The day after my big ride, I packed up and caught the ferry over to Vancouver. I would meet the team before driving to Calgary for a week of training and sponsor functions leading up to Tour of Alberta.

That night I stayed at Mark’s place (team owner) along with two other team mates, his two kids, and our DS. I don’t know where Mark slept, but I later found out that I had slept in his bed with our DS, and my team mates shared the spare bed. This guy runs the show, and even gives his bed up for his riders! I was in a very hot room, lying next to my DS, without a fan (I use a fan EVERY night to sleep). And I was without Bryanna. It always takes some time to adjust to sleeping without her next to me. I was uncomfortable and a little grumpy that night, until I realized the following morning that Mark had likely slept on a sofa in the basement. A seriously generous gesture.

The 12 hour drive the following day went by pretty quickly. I read Phil Gaimon’s “Ask a Pro” and played crib in the back of the van. We stopped once due to forest fires and sat on the roof of the van lazily watching the helicopters. I thought back to my short time in Campbell River where I trained for and got a job as wildfire firefighter. Part of me thought I should be out there, participating in the effort to suppress the worst fires in BC’s history. The more logical voice in my head reminded me that I have no obligation to do such a thing, and it simply wouldn’t be a job that would do me any good mentally.

I settled into my host house that night. It was a clean, comfortable and welcoming house and host. This is always a relief and something I worry about beforehand. I do not want the host experience to be a cause of distraction. Alexis, my roommate for the week, and I joined our host at his block party that evening.

I rode the next day with Travis and Jure. It was a super windy day with smoke in the air. After two days off and a long time spent in the car the day before, I felt pretty flat. We hammered into a block headwind for an hour or so, before turning around at Bragg Creek and flying home with the wind at our backs. We rode hard, but I successfully kept pace with the two power-houses. I was relieved when Jure said it was a hard ride and Travis said ‘Fuuck’ which probably meant he also felt it had been hard. We ended the ride at their host house. I was given the task of driving our team van and trailer to my place. I had never driven a van that size or ever anything with a trailer. That combination coupled with rush hour traffic in an unfamiliar city and a broken indicator stressed me out. I completed the journey with no issues though, and laughed at how easy it had been in light of my anticipation.

I spent an evening with Aidan. He took this on the way down from his roof which offered an amazing view of the city.

I spent an evening with Aidan. He took this on the way down from his roof which offered an amazing view of the city.

The following morning we met Todd, the Vice President of H&R Block, and four other riders from the Vélo Café cycling club at a coffee shop before a ride. We were treated to coffee and treats before going on a beautiful ride in really awesome company. We finished off at Vélo Café, owned by Gilles Brassart, who had joined us on the ride. He treated us to a traditional glass of Panache (beer and sprite) et Frites, along with an array of other snacks. We stayed for hours after the ride chatting and snacking with our host and new friends. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more content than I did that afternoon, sitting and chatting in the sun with new friends, good food and bikes.

Originally, my plan for that morning had been to go for the ride, and then meet some friends downtown for coffee. I had informed my team mates of this plan and said that I would be unavailable to drive to the airport to pick up our mechanic (Kevin). However, as we were sitting and chatting, they told me I had to go pick Kevin up. I was unsurprised that this happened, as I’m the ‘junior’ on the team, which for many is synonymous with ‘bitch’ or lackey. I informed them that it was bullshit that they had not told me that I needed not to have bothered making my own plans -I felt annoyed, but I got it- I was on the bottom rung of the ladder. Instead of getting wound up, I decided I would try to make the most of it.  

I called Aidan, the friend I was planning to meet, and asked him to be my navigator. I drove with him to pick up Kevin, and then drove downtown with the two of them. I called Kevin’s host to inform them that he’d be arriving soon, gave Kevin the address, and proceeded to walk with Aiden to a coffee shop while Kevin drove to his host. The issue with teams and trying to coordinate plans is that, generally, no one is decisive. Out of fear of imposing, it’s rare that someone will bluntly make a plan. I discovered that taking matters into your own hands can really eliminate stress, and that it is possible to make your own plan. No one seems to mind too much as long as they’re informed in good time.

We spent the next several days meeting at Gilles’ Vélo Café before and after rides. Gille always made sure we had a coffee in our hands and a snack in front of us. He took us on lovely local routes and provided the best company. Gilles is an inspiration - a man who has created and is living his dream. From France, with a beautiful family, two successful restaurants, his café and a little market, he’s created a most vibrant community in his relatively new home. He has his own cycling club that hosts weekly group rides, with the Saturday ride attracting upwards of 70 riders. The ride ends with a barbecue in front of his restaurant and café. The community he has created is what blew me away. Immediately I had found a sense of belonging in a new city. Everyday spent in Calgary was filled with happy interactions.

One night we went to another host, Bryce’s, place for a house warming party. He too is part of a very vibrant community. As a successful professional photographer, he also leads an inspiring life. He is part of a very healthy and happy community of friends, and is living his passion. We spent some time talking about his days as a racer, and he showed me his race bike, a steel Bianchi almost identical to mine. He also showed me his camera collection, which blew my mind.

I hung out one day with some friends at Elbow River. Photo by Aiden.

I hung out one day with some friends at Elbow River. Photo by Aiden.

We joined the Vélo Café Saturday ride the weekend we were there. I learned that we, as ‘pros’, are respected by the very people I had spent the week respecting and admiring. I hadn’t before thought of myself as anyone people would look up to, but the excitement and encouragement our ride partners displayed for us in Tour of Alberta filled me with pride and confidence.

The riding was top-notch that week on account of our riding company. I did 25 hours of riding and felt pretty good on the bike. But the best part of Calgary was the people we shared our experiences with. It was perhaps the most social week of my life and I loved it. The morning we left for Edmonton we stopped at the H&R Headquarters for a meeting. We did a quick Q and A with a handful of staff members, and I was asked to give a little spiel about being a young rider on the team. Again, I felt special.

Our time in Calgary ended all too soon. This was the type of trip you aspire to as a child- it would have provided me, as a younger rider, with lots of motivation to get to the a high level in the sport. Although I’m not a proper professional, this was a rare occasion where it felt as though there is perhaps a level of glamour as a cyclist, where people admire and cater to you, and are happy to be your friend. Perhaps glamour is the wrong word, I know celebrity isn’t it either, but perhaps a level of success is what I felt that week, as I had a glimpse of what it is I’d like to accomplish as a cyclist, or as a person.

Mental(ly) Health(y)

After Canada Games I decided to take a little break from training and catch up with friends at home. I started with a mountain bike ride at the mountain bike venue with my old friends Ari and Terry. It was loads of fun to swap pavement for dirt for an evening, and check out a venue that was the result of endless volunteer hours from Manitoba’s cycling community. The hard work had paid off as it really was brilliant.

I then spent about a week doing coffee shop rides before flying home. Each morning I’d ride ~15 km to meet a friend at a cafe, where we’d sit and chat for 2 plus hours before heading home. I think I did at least 2 minutes chatting for every minute spent riding. My Tour des Cafés was a real treat- it allowed me to spend most of my morning out in the sun with great company, and I got to check out at all of my favourite spots back home. By the end of the week, I felt really, really mentally healthy. I’d had non-stop positive interactions with great people, and had allowed myself some proper recovery time from the past two months of hard riding.

On my flight home, I didn’t really know what lay ahead. I had no races scheduled for the rest of the season, but I wasn’t yet ready to stop riding. In the past, after a target event all I’d want to do is take a break from riding. But this time it was different; all I wanted to do was race. This drive felt like a testament to how far my mental health had recovered. Unfortunately, I had no goals to work up to, so I made some on my way home. I wanted to ride 300 km in a day, climb Mount Baker in Washington, and do the Triple Crown (three peaks) ride in Vancouver. If, as it appeared, there was no more racing for me, I needed something to keep me busy.

I got home on the 17th. In the evening of Sunday the 20th my Directeur Sportif called to inform me that I would be racing the Tour of Alberta, as Connor couldn’t due to a concussion. I couldn’t believe it! This is a race I’ve dreamt of doing for years, but had accepted that I wouldn’t be doing it this year. I would be leaving that Tuesday. Suddenly my Winnipeg Tour des Cafés didn’t seem like such a good idea. I started to fret seriously about my fitness. Alberta would be my first stage race in over a year, and the highest level road race of my career. I managed to get a grip pretty quickly though and turned my nervousness into simple excitement.

On Monday morning I set out around seven to attempt a 300 km ride. The loop we had planned was only 270 km, so I’d have to add some on at the end. Until then, the longest ride I’d ever done was around 230 km, and the longest one I’d done since getting back on the bike was only about 130 km. It was an ambitious goal and I didn’t really know what to expect. I packed a ton of bars, several tubes, and my credit card.

Pretty fresh 20 km in. 

Pretty fresh 20 km in. 

I rode with Emile, who had done the loop before. My plan was to ride easy, eat every hour, and wait as long as I could to look at my Garmin. I didn’t want to spend the whole day watching the kms slowly tick away, willing them to pass quicker. I wanted to focus on enjoying the ride. I’ve done far too many rides watching each kilometre slowly register on my computer.

The first ~80 km to Jordan River were pretty familiar, as I’ve ridden and driven the route many times. Once past all the beaches on the Jaun de Fuca, I was on a stretch of road I’d never seen before. It was gorgeous. We twisted along the coast before a climb and then a fast decent into Port Renfrew. We stopped for the cheapest gas station pastry, which tasted like ass but felt like fuel. Solid dollar to calorie ratio. I finally looked at my Garmin for the first time and we were already at over 110k.

The ride out of Port Renfrew was beautiful. After about thirty minutes, we found ourselves on a long, steady climb. We climbed for 45 minutes, which was a nice surprise, as I haven’t found a climb that long anywhere near Victoria. It was beautiful and relatively car free. A Twix bar from Port Renfrew made the climb even better. We weren’t rewarded with much of a decent after though, as a massive headwind forced us to work all the way into Lake Cowichan. I ran out of water on the climb, so a huge bottle of PowerAde in town was a real treat. We sat in the sun for a bit by the Esso station car vacuum, and drank, grateful for a break from the saddle.

Past the beaches.

Past the beaches.

Getting back on the bike was tough. We were 175 km in. I felt pretty terrible as we started to make our way toward Duncan. We did about 5 km on the highway with no shoulder, before turning onto the old highway, which was empty. I started to get pretty nervous. Would I make it? I still had 125 km, some solid climbing, and at least four hours of riding to go. By the time we turned out of Duncan and onto a beautiful little climb out of the Cowichan River Valley, I was at 200 km. That milestone switched something in my brain. Now I had less than 100 km to go. Double digits! My legs felt amazing.

We stopped in Shawnigan Lake for some water. I bought and ate an entire loaf of chocolate chip banana bread for a dollar. Again, nailing the dollars to calorie ratio. On the climb out of Shawnigan it felt as though my legs were constantly being punched, but I was now on familiar roads which meant we were getting closer to home. The following decent to Goldstream also hurt. Emile felt awesome and was setting a decent pace.

We decided to treat ourselves to an extra bit of climbing by turning up Finnlayson Arm. Finnlayson is abouta 2 km climb, that is viciously steep, with several sections over 20% gradient, maxing out at ~29%. At 253 km into our ride, I climbed it in 10:55. I wasn’t riding full out, but rode a pretty hard pace to get it over with. It put me in 25th on the segment on Strava, which I’m pretty stoked about considering my ‘warm-up’. That would be the last victory for a while though, as 20 km later I hit a wall. I completely bonked.

I rode the last 15 km alone after dropping Emile off at his place. I could barely pedal. I couldn’t hold my head up. My legs were moving because that’s all they knew how to do at this point. There was no power behind each pedal stroke, simply gravity pulling my feet down. I rested my forearms on my bars and stared at my Garmin, finally succumbing to the habit I had fought most of the day, watching as every hundred metres was recorded. I could have taken a shorter route back, but I wanted to hit 300 km. It was a sick goal I had made for myself. I wasn’t miserable. I just wanted the ride to end. I wanted to hit my goal. I wanted to sit on a couch and watch Netflix. I rode at 15 km/h. I couldn’t go any faster.

Dr. De Brosney

Dr. De Brosney

My Garmin read 300 km 2 blocks from my house. I had done it. I got home, and immediately uploaded my ride. Strava said 299.9. You can’t go back out and add to a ride after, so that was that. Training Peaks read the same file as 300. I was so exhausted, I started to cry as Bryanna passed me some food. I cried because I was so proud of where I’d come. Having only ridden for three months, and still often feeling that certain lingering darkness from which I recently emerged breathing down my neck at times, I had done something I never imagined doing even at my healthiest. But going from being unable to get out of bed to riding for 10 hours and 300 kms filled me with a certain pride. I was proud of how far I’d come. I was happy that I was so mentally healthy. I might’ve also been a little pissed off at Strava, but, I also laughed about it. Of course I would end up 100 metres short of 300 km on Strava. Of course!


Here's a link to the route we did: Big Loop