If you were thinking you might like to get your ass kicked this past weekend, the Canadian National Mountain Bike Championships in Canmore was a perfect place to do it. The best cyclists from across the nation gathered to contest for national championship jerseys on Saturday—Oh man I want one of those, but the only way to get one is to be faster than Geoff Kabush, who just claimed his EIGHTH one!!! Yikes. Congratulations to our friends at Hardcore Racing who had riders lined up for a shot at those sweet national jerseys in the Elite category: Bridget Linder, Peter Knight, and Andre Sutton. These riders were in tough, racing against the likes of professionals and Olympians, but did an amazing job of representin’.
On Sunday, the age and ability categories faced off where jersey titles were up for grabs in the age categories as well. A full suite of riders from Hardcore Racing also contested the Masters 30-39 category, and Steve Martins made a good race of it finishing in the top five.
The Fiera Race Team was represented in the ability categories by Shari and I, both contesting the Sport categories for our respective genders (but we were not racing for a national jersey – just pride, ’cause the Sport category is too slow for a National jersey…).
Shari was off the front from the start, and ripped along with the Woman’s Expert category. She was worried about this race course because there was not much for technical sections which are one of her strengths. Fortunately, her climbing ability has been improving steadily over the past few years, and this course had plenty of climbing. None of the Sport Women’s field could touch her, and she spent the race matching her pace against the experts. In the end, it was pretty sweet to see her standing on top of the podium in front of the Canadian Nationals back-drop–a big gold medal around her neck, her mitts full of swag, being simultaneously filmed, congratulated and heckled by Crazy Larry.
Warning: the following summary is an over dramatization of a modest performance achieving mediocre results in a field composed of below average cyclists, and may not be worth the time it takes to read.
Enough about winners; now for something completely different—My goal this race was to finish top 10, and my objective was to experiment during this race with a couple tactics different than my usual approach which is;
STEP 1: Go as hard as I can and get off the front for the first lap;
STEP 2: Completely blow up part way through the first lap (not always, but frequently puking during or immediately after this step);
STEP 3: Attempt to recover, while letting the entire field pass me;
STEP 4: After recovering, spend the rest of the race steadily working my way back up toward the middle of the field;
STEP 5: Finish mid-field, short of my goal of top ten.
After I explain to him my usual tactics, Coach Stefan asks “why not start a little slower, skip STEPS 1, 2, and 3, and begin at STEP 4? If that works, he says, maybe there will still be some time to keep working my way up to the top ten. “Save the puking for after the race” he advises.
I say “pretty theory Coach Stefan, I’ll give it a try”
The second tactic I was experimenting with was to pick someone at the starting line whom I knew consistently placed better than me, mark them, and set the goal to hold their wheel if I ever found it, and pass them if I could on the last lap. I lined up beside a Pedalhead rider who I have not placed ahead of this year.
In addition to trying some new tactics, my training has changed a little too. A month ago, Coach Stefan asked me how I trained, and I told him that I am very motivated when I train; I like to go for a ride and go as fast as I can for 1 to two hours. I thought he would be impressed by this, but instead he said “tell me Grasshopper (he likes to call me Grasshopper when I say stupid things), do you not go as hard as you can when you race?”
“Of course” I said.
“But you do not win?” he asked.
“No Coach Stefan, I do not win” I answered bowing my head in shame.
“Then perhaps, Grasshopper, as fast as you can is not fast enough,” he said. “You should train to go faster than you can.” He said it as if that was actually possible. Then he helped me put together a weekly plan of interval training.
Last week was actually the first time I put the interval training to the test in a mountain bike race, and I was happy with the 6th place result at the Edmonton Canada Cup.
At the National Championships though, I knew the competition would be tougher, with riders from Calgary and Canmore showing off their technical skills and that cardio advantage that comes from training at higher altitude, so I set my sights on a top ten finish—ambitious, but doable.
When I learned that our race was to be only 3 laps, I suspected that it would be a short race, but since I didn’t time my practice lap, I wasn’t really sure (lesson learned). As it turned out, this was a very short race, (the winner finished in just over an hour) and in retrospect this might not have been the best race to try the “start slow” tactic. The lap was a long long long climb, followed by a pretty fast and un-technical decent, finishing with a 500m smooth run-out to the start finish.
Lap 1: Now I consider myself to be a good climber so I had to exercise a tremendous amount of control not to go super hard up the climb at the start. Instead I just watched my heart rate monitor, and tried not to count the riders going past me. After about 300 m of climbing, I looked back to see how much of the field was behind me, one, two,……..two, thats it, me and a couple grey-haired tubby guys in baggy shorts. The urge to remedy that immediately by standing up and hammering up the field was just about all I could take, but I told myself “not yet Grasshopper, not yet.” I just kept my eye on my heart rate, about 5 to 8 beats lower than I would normally climb (at my maximum), and soon I was climbing up, back through the trailing end of the field… comfortably!
I went down the first short section of single-track (not the Eye-dropper, but the section with the spaced logs), and found myself at the back of a group of eight riders going up a steep section of fire road that I knew ended in a single-track climb. Too tempting… I hammered past them and into the single track—heart rate~178, I settled back into easy climbing mode and watched my heart rate slowly settle down to 168. I realized at this point that I was nearly mid-field without that puking feeling—and through the trees, up ahead, is that a Pedalhead jersey? Maybe, not sure.
Lap 2: I felt good. I came through the start finish alone, and there was a notable headwind on the run through. I hit the climb hard managed the first half hard in a big ring, then about half way up it seemed like a good idea to use a smaller gear and spin faster. I caught a couple guys on the way down—I don’t usually catch anyone on the way down that isn’t having medical or mechanical trouble, so I was pretty happy to see them still riding, and not in obvious need of first aid. We popped out on the run-through to the start finish, and I drafted behind them until the start of the climb, then left them at the bottom, determined to have my fastest lap yet. Reports from the feed zone say I looked strong, and that’s how I felt.
Lap 3: I rode the middle ring on the front and ground my way right up and past three guys on that section where I made my move on the first lap. One of the guys was the Pedalhead guy, my mark. I thought I had left them all back there in awe of my obvious superiority, but when I looked over my shoulder about 200 m from the top of the climb, Pedalhead was on my wheel, ready to fight for whatever spot was waiting at the finish line. This frightened me a bit, but I felt confident I could out climb him easily, but was not at all confident I could maintain any gap I achieved once the climbing ended, so I slowed down a little to conserve for the sections where I thought he would attack—already I was worried about that run-through stretch to the start-finish—flattish finish, into a headwind, my opponent sucking my back wheel—I watch the Tour de France, I know what that means. Snatched glory, that’s what that means. With about 15 m of climbing to go, I hammered hard up the remainder with as much effort as I could muster, and onto a fire road descent, then back into single track, still descending. I could feel him on my back wheel in the single track, I tried to stay calm and just anticipate the sections where he might try to get around me, and explode through them as fast as I could, then settle down. When I popped out on to the run-through to start finish, I was surprised to have been able to defend my position to that point and was happy with the speed of my decent—having all the while expected to hear those hated words “on your left” and have Pedalhead squeak by me on the inside of a turn. When the trail opened up, I stood up and hit the pedals as hard as I could for two or three seconds, confident that I had created a bike-length or two of gap. I gripped my handle bar in close to the stem, and crouched as aero as could, turning the big ring as fast as I could. As I got to within 60 m of the finish I could hear Shari and Bridget–who did not seem to notice my obvious superiority either—screaming as if I was being chased down the mountain by a wall of molten lava or something—it wasn’t lava, it was Pedalhead and another guy from Cafe. I didn’t stand and sprint I just stayed low and pushed the pedals hard…it might not have been the correct tactic, but it worked. I won….er, I mean, I came in 9th, ahead of Pedalhead and company. I rolled through start-finish, pulled to the side, quietly puked, and went looking for some shade. The profound glory at that moment was immeasurable.
1) Coach Stefan might know what he’s talking about after all.
2) Increasing my effort slowly over the course of the race rather than going all out at the start seemed to work ok for me; I might have started to push myself a little too late though given the short length of this course, as I feel certain I could have placed 4th or 5th if there had been a fourth lap. Still, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I’d gone hard from the start, and then held it together for the remaining laps! Podium? Oh well, I’ll just do what the coach says, take the glory if it comes, and publicly doubt his advice when it doesn’t.
3) I’m not sure that marking an opponent in this instant was a huge help, but it was fun, and it made loosing the race feel a little like winning
4) I always feel better about a race I puke at, so this race was better than last week’s in that regard, despite placing better last week.
You can check out all the results here.