I decided that I’d better go ahead and sign up for the first enduro-version of cyclocross in the province even though it really didn’t fit with plans for ‘resting and not doing anything stupid’ the week before flying to France to go ride bikes. The race was not a rest, and depending on how you look at it, it was pretty stupid. Luckily it was also very fun. If it had been raining, it would have been very stupid and very-much-more fun. If you want to support the growth of a sport you want you’d better attend the race when it happens even if it’s a bit inconvenient. That’s the same question I’ve been asking myself with the arrival of the Challenge Family in Penticton. If you want to support it then you should show up right?
I had been out to Blackfoot to pre-ride the ‘Kettle-Cross’ course twice before race-day, one time having done some ‘race pace’ efforts with Robin interspersed with some really mellow sections. The next time out I rode largely steady with Terra and Aaron.F and was feeling quite familiar with the demands that the race would throw at us. There were demands, but they were not overwhelming. It would be a test to see who could stay focused and motivated all day in-spite of an expected level of moderate discomfort in wrists and lower back. Riding with a group would prove to be a huge advantage in terms of not wasting time, and it would be challenging for me to be in an easy-enough gear for much of the race. I have bad habits with cyclocross, and instinctively I try to turn the cranks too hard. I expected that I could be in contention for racing with a lead-pack if the race played out that way. I had no intentions of setting pace until the turnaround halfway through the second lap, if I could be with a few competitors at that point I would make a move on the fastest and smoothest part of the course and go for the finishline from about 30 minutes out.
My race started out pretty much as I expected. A lead pack formed with 7 people. I was there. There were interruptions caused by crashing but I evaded them and had made the lead bunch, a feat I was quite proud of as all the rest of the dudes in that group race elite (and I do not!). We hit the fenceline, a relatively open section of the course, and I was working hard but I was still in contact and was confident that I could remain in contact. The grass had been freshly cut here, and by freshly I mean “it smells like freshly cut grass”. The freshly cut grass amassed in my rear brakes and started to drag. I tried to flick it out but it wasn’t coming out. At this point I had to either get off my bike and lose contact with the lead group or keep pedalling and hope that the clump of grass would come dislodged. It didn’t and eventually my heart-rate had reached 192 bpm, with me trying to keep up while riding with the brakes on. Essentially that was the end of my racing. I had to get off the bike to clear it out, but even after I was remounted and rolling again I was suffering from a visit deep into the red-zone.
I rode with a couple chase packs for a while but a few minutes of absolute maximum effort had messed up my back and my blood sugar. Retrospectively, I should have dislodged the brakes earlier, or been sponsored by Norco and riding a disc-equipped Threshold, or been luckier. I would have chosen either of the last two options if they were presented. I had sorted myself out a little bit by the time I was on the Lost-Lake-Trail headed towards the end of the first lap, but at that point I crashed and crashed hard. I was railing a corner and came across another cyclist stopped on the trail, totally surprised to see him I instinctively grabbed the brakes and hit the ground. Luckily, the ground was mostly mud and quite soft to land in, unluckily, the mud also contained a big root which got me right in the ribs. It took a bit to get going again but having no other option but to ride my bike out of the woods, I didn’t have a lot of choice about what to do. I was on-track for 3 hours at the turn-around but took a break to stretch my back and get a water bottle before venturing out for another lap at the advice of Corey “let’s just get some training in”. I was about 10 minutes out of contention at this point and took it easy through the next bumpy section, chatting with a few friends and generally trying to give my body a bit of a break from the abuse I had already dealt it while still making forward progress. As I neared the end of what Strava terms the ‘Hilly Section’ I decided I had better still make a race out of it.
I started lifting the effort at around this point and made my dash for the finish from around the 40 minutes to go mark. I didn’t ‘max effort’ the return trip because I had reminded myself not to do anything else stupid, but did put down a consistent solid effort on return. It would have been about this spot that I would have decided to go if I had been ‘racing’ so I guess it was good practice for next year. Now you all know my strategy so I should be easy to beat. I’ll do a lot of things the same next year, both a camelback and bottle for fluids and gummies loose in a pocket for food. Hopefully I don’t crash into a mud puddle as that leads to a significant degradation in the flavour of said gummies.
Saturday I fly out for the French adventure. Total ride distance is 1953 km with 43060 m of elevation gain. The equivalent of riding from Edmonton to Moab Utah with 153 repeats up and down the switchbacks at Mount Norquay.