Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The 2011 Cyclocross Season: a retrospective.

Tonight marks a bitter sweet end to a cyclocross season in the lower mainland of BC. Although the season officially ended last Saturday, I have put it to rest tonight. A season that came in like a lion and went out stuttering and out of rhythm. Tonight, I reluctantly unpacked my race bag.

Left unused for the last race of the season, the BC CUP finals in my neck of the woods, I replaced all clothing and accessories to their proper place in the house. It is something I have avoided doing. I became quite good at packing all the things I needed for each weekend race throughout the season as the weather turned, cleaning and replenishing all used items well before race day. Race bag prep is a skill in itself. Before I let on to why it was unused, let me give a quick race report on my last race of the season, one that I actually raced in, the BC Provincial Championships.

The BC CX Championships, held at Mahon Park in North Van came at the end of a very miserably rainy week here on the coast, setting up for a slippy and muddy riding course. Driving to the course on Grey Cup Sunday, I was convinced that we would get soaked by a torrent of rain. However, something beautiful happened that day, as the skies opened up and voila! Beautiful Sunlight at 12:00 PM Sharp.

Dirty!! Doug Brons Photo Credit.

Managing another front row call up (I only started outside of the front row for one race this year--and that was at Aldor Acres--BC Cup #1), I thought my chances were pretty good for the day looking at the field. Spotting James Cameron in the start grid, I pegged him as the favourite for the race, and I hoped for a top 5 or 6 finish on the day. That would have made me happy.

From the gun, I slipped a pedal, and took an extra second to get clipped in. This is something that I have not had problems with for the majority of races this season. If it happens, I usually just pedal until it clicks. But on this day, I did not pedal at all, electing to try to get my cleat to interface with the pedal properly. That had 15 guys pass me before I even started. So much for the call up.

My effort for this race was huge, which is good considering the lack of training I had been putting in leading up to the race. I saw Niels get out to a good lead in the race, as everyone fought hard for the first lap to shake all pretenders. I clearly was a pretender in this race, realizing this after lap 1. The race went like this: some dudes passed me, I passed them, then they passed me. Those were namely Niels and Alex Cojacaru. Jeff was on my tail, he passed me, then I dropped him. We had a bit of a battle going on. By lap 3, the fastest masters 40-49 men, followed a little while later by the fast M40-49 men, Tyler Dumont being one of them. Those guys passed me too as I was having a rough day on the bike.

The mud pit was a mother of all mud pits. Something to behold as it sapped the energy out of my legs if I tried to run or ride it, which I tried on every lap to do. I was unsuccessful to clean the mud pit, and the ride up after it became a run up. After every time out of the run up, I was cooked, and slowed to recover from the effort. I lost scads of time every lap on that thing. I never kept track of my laps, riding to just finish and stop the bleeding. I think all CX technique from Aaron Schooler's School of Cross went out the window on this race for me, costing me a top ten finish. I felt like I was inefficient and slow on all the key features of this course.

I finished the race in 12th place, holding off Ryan Newsome, an M40-49 rider, whom I thought was in my category. All told, this race gives me a bit of motivation for next year to challenge for a higher placing, because I know I can beat some of the guys that came ahead of me on most days. I could not do that for this race. This day, I was content to enjoy the race, and not force myself to barf in my mouth.

I had a tough time when the courses got slow or wet. Pumpkin Cross and Mahon Park seemed to be the toughest for me, followed by the DE-Mighty Race at the South Surrey Bike Park.

I had tough time when my bike and I did not see eye to eye, ending in my having to run to the pits in two races--New Brighton and Lions Park.

I had a great time when the skies were open and beautiful--a win at Aldor Acres, and a third at Vanier--the biggest race field of the season for the Masters 30-39 category. These two races are absolutely my highlights of the year, with my win taking it by a bunch. I thought to myself back at the start of September "Is this a sign of things to come, or the peak of my season, and after this it is all downhill from here". It seems I was right, and as the races became more competitive, I seemed to slow down. Late days at work, fleeting summer fitness, daylight savings time, getting fat on carbs

The BC Cup finals was supposed to be my last race of the season. As our team was putting it on, members were saddled with course set up dark and early. Arriving at 6:30 am, Peter Holzhuter, me and my brother Aaron, grabbed our wheelbarrow full of fun and started to tape out the course. This took us just until 8:30, at which point I began to set up the announcers tent and sound system. by 9:30 we had music and announcements, thanks to Mike Dolling and his extension cord from home.

Race announcing for the citizen class races was fun, but I do not know many of the racers, unlike the BC Cup series racers, Cat. 3/4 riders, and masters. Seeing many of the same folks week after week helps to build a cool community of people, something that is happening surely and slowly. Those riders who show up each and every weekend make it easy for me when I am announcing. Many of them I have raced against for years, so I have some memories of their efforts, crashes, wins, etc.

I enjoy race announcing, just a bit less than racing itself. I would describe myself as one part cheerleader, one part stand-up comic, yet another part as a knowledgeable local cycling fan to be able to make things interesting for the racers and spectators. Perhaps my theatre background and drama teaching experience lends itself to race announcing. I have a long way to go to get good at this, but I think of guys like Phil Liggett--one of the best around, or Dave Towle on our side of the pond--(the latter has announced the Tour de Delta  back in 2009) who know the racers, can slip in anecdotes about them and their successes and career highlights, and can paint a picture of the race for the average spectator. Towle is particularly good at this, as he also has an awesomely distinctive voice.

I just go out and have fun, and hope that it is fun for the races. I heard that James Cameron, BC CUP #6 winner at the South Surrey Athletic Park asked Jeff if  "the guy from last year was announcing this year". I hope I didn't piss him off with calls of "Get this guy and upgrade." I stopped short of saying "He is filling bags, one at a time, with sand." I thought about saying it. Better to leave well enough alone. He will have his work cut out for himself next year as he faces the likes of Bob Welbourne and Kim Steed. Oh wait, those are the same guys I will be racing against. There is the bitter in my bittersweet.

One highlight for me was meeting Andrew Pinfold at the end of the day, and chatting with him over a bowl of chili. What a great guy. Winner of the Tour de Delta, Gastown, White Rock, Ouch team member, Symmetrics, and United Healthcare, this was a treat for me. Down to earth, willing to talk about anything cycle racing related--I really soaked up the bits of banter that we had about his experiences. That was a pretty cool end to the day for me.

My season went like this:

Aldor Acres: 1st-----A great win after my injuries and surgeries

New Brighton: 22nd-----A crash and flat 500m into the race push me to last place

Vanier: 3rd-----I fought for 2nd. Simon Pulfrey wins on a 29er

Lions Park: 6th-----A crash and flat and I drop from 3rd to 6th

Pumpkin Cross: 13th-----A poor warmup, late to the race, and slug like conditions = Hard

South Surrey DE/Mighty: 7th----- Coldest race ever. A killer course. True CX.

BC CX Champs: 12th-----Lack of fitness and warm up, I lacked a killer instinct I had in Sept.

DE BC Cup Finals: DNS-----Announcing is fun. I hope I don't have to give up racing to do it. (If I do, I had better be getting paid to do it.)

So. I unpacked my bag tonight. For the last time for a while. Even though I feel that I lacked consistency this season, each week I went into races with the mentality that I had the chance to win, my confidence bolstered by the first race of the season. That is huge--the ability to believe in yourself, to positively self talk yourself into fighting for every inch of the course. This is something that I have taught myself over the last few years. A bike crash and time in the hospital, with 12 month recovery, helped me believe that I can return to an even higher level than where I was when I went into the hospital in August 2010.

Racing with Tyler Dumont, Tony Bachler, Ryan Newsome, Niels Steiner, Alex Cojacaru, Simon Pulfrey, Mike Murphey, Jeff Hanninen, John Irvine, Ted Matson, Dave Neubeck, Mike Dolling, Matt Hornland, Stacy Hutton, Jean-Ann and Mike Berkenpas, Glen Reitsma, Jason Fluckiger, Scott Sportsman, Jason Bond, Paul Craig, Sven Sturm, Bob Welbourne, Matt Drown, Brian Gunn, Tobin Copely, Aaron Schooler, and many others made this year fun. Having Doug Brons shoot amazing pics on course, and them my scavenger hunting on the Internet for them was a big highlight.

The biggest of thanks goes out to Daryl Evans Mechanical and Daryl Evans Racing for the sponsorship of our team and riders. It helps to have a solid sponsor behind us to help put on some of if not the best cyclocross races around. Jeff and Kari Hanninen do a fantastic job of managing our team, taking care of much of the logistics that we as races know nothing about. Clothing orders, parties, permits, meeting, Jeff does it all. He has a very good wife in Kari for understanding the time he needs away to get it all done. Rocky Mountain Bicycles have been great race and bike sponsors for us over the last few years as the team has evolved, grown, and matured. Hopefully these relationships continue.

We have a good thing going here in Vancouver. Our races are getting there, our courses are more CX like than in previous years, and the vibe is a chilled out, friendly one. I look forward to next year, and to seeing all the cool folks that I had a chance to share some time with this time around. I finish this season tired, ready for fried food, beers, and ice cream, and excited about running the trails through the winter as I hang up my wheels for a while. I look forward to new team clothes, perhaps a new bike or two....Who knows? I might cross the border in January 2012 to race some more CX..... I hope to see you out on the CX bike.

I love CX.