Spring Snowstorm you say? Oh, The Coulee Cruiser Must be Coming Up

Spring snowstorm should be an oxymoron, but alas, it is not. Last year at this time, I was in California on a vacation enjoying the infamous Los Angeles sun and the resplendent glamour of Beverly Hills. After the Morrissey concert, I befriended some LA locals who invited me on a tour of the nightlife the tourists rarely get to see. So, I went to some surreptitious hipster clubs in Echo Park where my newfound friends were surprisingly more interesting in my life in Edmonton, more specifically the weather as they never ventured more north than San Francisco. Between sips of Pabst Blue Ribbon, I told them that it was snowing back home, and with incredulous looks, they asked if that was a freak storm like the ones in some trite Hollywood movie with a biblical end of the world theme. I sternly told them that it is quite normal for Alberta to get snowstorms during the March/April time periods; we call them spring snowstorms.

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Mark’s Beer of Choice

For me, and perhaps other ABA mountain bike racers, the spring snowstorms manifests in me this linger feeling that the first mountain bike race is nigh and that I better stop my winter diet of tacos and beer. For those unacquainted with my dietary habits, this really is no joke. So without any further adieu, Bert and Mac’s Racing via the Alberta Bicycle Association announced that registration for the Coulee Cruiser had opened, just as 20cm of snow hit our lovely city. Cruel irony? Maybe in the Alanis Morrisette sort of way, but I suppose it’s like a Pavlovian response for us to get our training in order as the first mountain bike race is quickly approaching.

My fellow chiropractor/mountain bike junkie Kevin Nemeth is the local legend / race ambassador for the Coulee Cruiser located at the Lethbridge College campus. If you haven’t been down to Lethbridge before, they have this valley system called a coulee. The word coulee comes from the Canadian French coulée, from the French word couler meaning “to flow”. Now, how more appropriate can you get for a mountain bike race. Before you snub your pretentious cycling noses about racing in a gravel valley course in southern Alberta, just remember how often we Edmonton mountain bikers have to defend our love for our river valley trails despite the fact we don’t have such monolithic elevation like Canmore or Jasper. I always get surprised at how much climbing there seems to be at the Coulee Cruiser or maybe it’s just my beer-engorged belly amplifying the elevation. Nonetheless, it’s a challenging course for any level of racing, and the warm desolation of the area is a welcome respite from the cold, icy winter we just experienced, or experiencing, depending on your point of view.

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Mark’s Winter Beer Gut

The most interesting aspect of this race is, of course, the fact that it is the first race of the season, and so we can all gauge who did or did not put in a good winter training camp. There are always the surprise racers who come out of the gate fast and hot, while some of us are just hoping and praying that we haven’t lost too much of our speed, power and cognition due to the inevitable scourges of aging. It is also a reunion of sorts, as you will reconnect with people you haven’t seen over the winter months, so there the awkward “what’s your name again?” and “you look fast”, while the whole time, you hope that they had put in less effort to training then you did, so you don’t end up in last place. Oh, local ABA racing is such a social hodgepodge of emotion.

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Edmonton’s Multi Use Paths – Spring Edition

The last time I raced the Coulee Cruiser, Kevin and I were in a back and forth battle for the coveted 5th place, which for us older chiropractors, it was a really big deal. I think we were looking at it like it was the Alberta Chiropractic Mountain Bike Championships (ACMBC) for 2012. On the last climb, I surprised Kevin when I put in a last ditch attack. As I passed him, he yelled out “You’re an animal”, which in retrospect, I think he yelled “You’re an asshole”. The chiropractic brotherhood is alive and well. So, if you have been training like Kabush and Pendrel over the winter and want to show off your hard work, there is no better place to do it than the first race of the year. Or, if you have joined a beer club over the winter instead of joining a spin class (Seriously, I really did join a beer club), the Coulee Cruiser is the perfect race to enter, as it’s the first race of the year, so it’s a “Mulligan”. Kevin will give a free adjustment to every registered racer. Well, maybe not, perhaps just a firm chiropractic handshake, but come down to experience the University, the coulee (The Flow) and mountain biking on dirt instead of snow.

Talk About Peaking Early

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have an important announcement to make:  I have retired from bike racing for the year 2014.

Unlike following in the footsteps of Brett Favre, Michael Jordan, ACDC and Lance Armstrong, I am willing to walk away whilst on top.  So with my second place result, finishing behind my teammate and illustrious Kokanee Redbike team manager, Mike Sarnecki, I think it’s best for me to stop racing and savor this victory for the rest of 2014.IMG 3822

The Parka is making a fashion comeback at bike races

This past weekend was the first of many ABA sanctioned races in 2014: The Blizzard Race in Devon, Alberta, which for those of you not familiar, is just south of Edmonton and is also known as BikeTown Alberta.  The town of Devon worked very diligently to deservedly appropriate that title from other municipalities as they have provided the province with some important bicycle related facilities and events; they have built an envious bike skills park, dirt jump and pump track, flowing singletrack in their river valley and have hosted many cycling races, most notably The Tour of Alberta.

Having a winter cycling race is ambitious and precarious due to central Alberta’s fluctuating weather and temperature, but I am so glad someone is willing to give it a go, because as someone who winter rides assiduously, I would like to frolic in the snow while racing.   So, when the Devon Bike Association decided to think there was enough people like me to invest in creating a winter bike race and with the nascent popularity of Fatbikes, it was perfect timing to put on a winter cycling race.1507159 10152283719865030 210730441 n 2

With February 22 looming, the weather on the day of the race was becoming more and more clear, and of course, it was projected to hit the deep freeze of minus 25 Celsius.  We all had a feeling of consternation towards this news as the week leading up to the race was hovering at around minus 5, but I suppose it could have been minus 35; we often have to look at things half full as cyclists.  I was hoping to race with my normal cycling shoes as the Wolvhammers are designed to keep the feet warm, but they are heavy and ponderous.  I bought thicker Pearl Izumi winter booties at redbike specifically for the race, but I figure getting frostbite wasn’t worth the glory of victory so I reluctantly went for the fat boots.  My next angstful decision was whether to put the BarMitts on or just go with the AME heated grips.  I didn’t want to put the BarMitts on because it didn’t make my bike look “racy” for the race, and yes, I know how ridiculously superficial that sounds, but it’s the truth.  Being the classic narcissist, I went without it because I wanted to look fast, accepting the risk of freezing my fingers, at least only my posterior side. 1897707 601095963305933 59039576 n

Sarns leading the LeMans start

The layering of clothing is the next ponderous event.  It’s going to be coldish outside, but I am racing so my body temperature is going to be running high.  This is where being an experienced cold weather cyclists was beneficial, as I knew which part of my body gets hot and cold while riding.  My upper body usually gets really hot, for the exception of my belly, which considering it’s surrounded by my childhood fat, gets unusually cold, so I just wore my long sleeve Kokanee redbike winter jacket with a base later.  But, my arms get cold, so I like to put on my arm warmers over my base layer which was a long sleeve merino wool.  With a fleecy bib shorts, leg warmers, wool socks, winter tights and finally, baggy shorts, my bottom layers were set.

With a warm up lap in the books where I hilariously saw Trevor Pombert fall into the snow on the only descend of the race, I was corralled up with the other racers in the Fatbike category for the start was a LeMans start.  This is where I announced, “As the intergalactic winter interclub president of the known universe, I get to my bike first”.  Obviously, Pepper and Mike didn’t hear that declaration as they quickly pushed me aside as the whistle blew.  I was able to lumber to my bike, but not after I found myself behind 7 people.  Curse my fat short thighs!!!  I was behind Justin, Pepper and Gary, but I quickly saw that Mike and Neil were distancing themselves from our chase group.  There wasn’t much or any room to pass so I was relegated to stay on Gary’s wheel and conserve energy.  The course Stu designed was just brilliant as it was flowing, fast and packed down so I was already having fun racing.  After a Pepper fall (extremely rare) in one of the corners, Justin, Gary and I continued on to the open road section where I was able to pass Justin and Gary.  As my carbon BearGrease weighed about 10 pounds less than both of their bikes and Justin’s bike was shod with those ghastly Vee Rubber tires, it was something that I was hoping I was able to do. 1004955 601095976639265 1907203737 n

Gary (Hardcore) & Turkington (Redbike) navigating the LeMans start

Eventually, I was able to bridge up to Mike and Neil on the second lap.  I know we were on Fatbikes, but we were moving at a quick pace.  On the open road section, Mike and I were able to pass Neil and take a pull as Neil was leading the whole race to that point.  On the third lap, we started to catch up to the 4 lap Fatbikers; this is where the race started to get really adventurous, as it was tricky to pass people.  I tried to sound friendly and casual about letting them know that we wanted to pass by, but I suspect that my levity wasn’t translated well.  I “accidently” pushed Michelle over into the snow while I passed her, then I heard Neil yell that I was a “c***”, but then we started to laugh.  My contrition was quickly dismissed by the time we caught up to Mike as he was caught behind racers up ahead.  I thought Neil and I were going to be able to follow Mike’s wheel for a lap, but that didn’t happen as Mike just dropped us when he cleared the slower racer.

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Winner of the Blizzard Bike Race receives a Large Blizzard from DQ!

By the time Neil and I were in the last lap, we knew we were in the clear so we just raced to the finish and crossed the line close enough to get the same time.  This may be the last time I finish on the podium this year, unless the Expert field this year is poorly contested, so I’m going to enjoy it, especially since it was with two good friends.

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Sarns repeat his reward

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Mike & Mark – Fatbike Selfie

Where’s The Fatbike Love?

As a stalwart cyclist, I have accepted the fact that I will be ostracized, ridiculed and occasionally physically accosted by the general Alberta population, and really, I don’t blame them sometimes.  With our garish lycra club kits and general anarchistic attitude towards traffic laws and motorists, cyclists are generally viewed as enemy number one along with those pesky raccoons and crack smoking mayors.  This is why it has been a pleasure to reap the benefits of the sunshine coming out of people’s intrigue and affable attitude towards my fatbike.  Unfortunately, the derision and vitriol is now coming from my fellow cyclists.

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been riding my full carbon Devinci Leo road bike with full Sram Red and Shimano C50 wheels thinking I was the BMOC (Big Man On Campus) singing “I’m Walking On Sunshine”, when a truck drives by and someone yells “loser” dashing my good mood.  Then I think to myself: “Didn’t that gentleman realize how achingly expensive, light and laterally stiff this bike is?”  The answer is, of course, no, as all he saw was some goofball in a gymnastics outfit occupying his God given driving lane in truck dominant Edmonton.   I try to ignore the rolling of the eyes of people in cafes as I waddle in with my clicking cycling shoes, clutching my Garmin in my hand like Gollum and sitting down exposing my private parts for all to see.  Surprisingly, nobody has asked about my new Enve carbon wheels which costs more than my car.  It really is a sad and lonely existence we cyclist endure.

Then like Cinderella with her fairy godmother, redbike gifted me my BearGrease, and now, I feel like I’m the prettiest girl at the dance.  Fairly close to a daily basis, I have people approaching me to talk or ask questions about my bike.  Most are obvious comments like “Those are some pretty big wheels” or “That bike must be good in the snow”, and some are just plain expressive like “Sweet”, “Awesome” or “Rad”.  I even had some people in, God forbid, trucks who gave me the thumbs up instead of the customary middle finger or the slow pathetic head shake.  People have crossed the street to see the proportions in closer proximity and take pictures of it.  Yes, I have had multitudes of people stop me to take pictures of my bike, and it was pretty obvious that they were not cyclist keening on the newest cycling technology.  It’s just a very common Alberta saying, bigger is better, so Albertans love the fatbike.

In those rare moments when being a cyclist is actually cool, I thought my fellow cyclists would revel with me in this minor victory of public opinion. And in some cases, yes, but surprisingly in some cases, it was a resounding no.  Now, I’m not talking about people who just decided that fatbikes are not something they are interested in as I respect people’s right to voicing their opinion on anything, but I’m talking about people who disparage in a vitriolic or acerbic tone about people who own or even appreciates fatbikes.  Last month, a friend of mine introduced me to a fellow cyclist when the topic of fatbikes came up. I thought we would have this convivial discussion about fatbikes, but then it turned into a personal attack where he implied that riding a fatbike was emasculating and that it was unnecessary for winter riding if you had his particular set of skills on a bike.  It was obvious that he wasn’t looking for an informative debate, but he was just attempting to be truculent and belittling.  We exchanged some moot verbal comments when it was clear that we were debating opinions that were very unwavering.  I tried to defuse the situation by deciding together that it wasn’t fatbikes he hated but fatbike owners, of which, he had some validity.  It ended out that he was a fascinatingly obstinate person whom I probably could have some fun debates and conversations with as I tend to find wishy washy people boring.  Anyways, as it turned out, there were other cyclists I would run into who just had this latent hatred towards fatbikes for some reason or another.  I was ever so fascinated by this fact.  Why does the general public find fatbikes interesting but some cyclist find them such an annoyance that they would personally attack someone who owns one?  Maybe we are just so vulgarly emphatic about them that we just annoy the crap out of some people, but are cyclist prone such petulant behavior?  Like hipsters hating anything that is popular?

 Looking back at the way cyclists reacted to full suspension bikes, disc brakes on cyclocross bikes, 29ers, 650B, dropper seatposts, etc, it’s obvious that we are our own sharpest and harshest critics.  I suppose that’s what makes us so interestingly unique in our goofy bib shorts and gram counting. We are critical of things we don’t fully understand and we like it like that.  Maybe we make fun of each other because it’s our way of controlling our spending so we just don’t go buy every new thing that comes out.  Overall, I find that cyclists are very forgiving about our transgressions and can be contrite about our past opinions if we decide to change them.  I used to think full suspension bikes were a fad back in the day.  So, I will make a solemn promise that I will stop telling you how awesome fatbikes are if you stop telling me how lame they are.  Until you change your mind.

Rubbing My Cycling Hands with Anticipation

Most people spend a cold snowy evening drinking hot chocolate cuddled up with a loved one next to a fireplace watching a nameless Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy, and I am no exception.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any hot chocolate, I have this pathetic electric fireplace that blows fake paper flames like a Gillian’s Island campfire and I won’t bore you with stories of my floundering personal life, so I spend my nights scouring the interweb for cool and interesting cycling things to covet for the next 6 months until spring.  Here are a few things that I can’t wait to try out next year:

Dropper seatpost:

I can remember when the mere mention of a dropper seatpost at the shop would set you up for an earful of vitriolic derision like “Learn how to descend better, loser”, “Do you want training wheels with that?” or “Is your mother learning how to mountain bike?”  I personally would love to see my mom on a mountain bike so I didn’t see the point of disparaging mothers along with dropper seatposts, but I digress.  We didn’t understand why any self respecting mountain biker would want one as most of us local Edmonton cyclists can clean all the technical descents, and if we were doing anything else like chairlift or shuttle access downhilling, we just rode our downhill bikes with a low saddle height and 8 inches of travel.  Very few people have them locally, but reading the general reviews online, it made me understand some of the inherent benefits of a dropper seatpost, especially the remote actuated ones.

The first misconception I learned is that they are not used to help clean a decent, but to help you do them faster.  Sure, having a lowered saddle will position your body with a lower center of gravity to stay in more control thus helping you with completing the downhill section, but it’s really about being able to do it faster.  If you come up to a steep technical section and your saddle is at the normal pedaling height, you may have to brake a bit more because if you hit something and your center of gravity is high, you have a greater chance of going over your handlebar.  With a dropper seatpost, you can attack a downhill with more speed without stopping to lower it manually.

Second, a dropper seatpost is actually an advantage to the more skillful technically sound rider.  For example, if you are riding a rolling section of trail with lots of obstacles, a rider who has strong technical skill can “pump” speed into and out of the corners and smoothly “bunnyhop” over obstacles instead of hitting them and lose speed.  Imagine how fast Roddi Lega can ride “Golfcourse trail aka Rollercoaster trail” if he can drop his saddle 125mm and really use his bike handling skills to go faster in the corners and “pump” harder on the rolling bumps.  A hack like me probably will go slightly faster with a dropper seatpost, but not as much as a skilled cyclist like Roddi, Brad, Kurt, etc.

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This is how fast Roddi can rip RollerCoaster without a Dropper Post

Third, the dropper seatpost will allow you to use larger stronger muscles on long descents during mountain multi-day races.  There are some races where the descents are so long, your arms actually get tired because your weight shifts to your upper body. With a dropper seatpost, you can lower your stance on your bike so you can transfer your weight to larger and stronger muscles or at least, you can shift positions on the bike to rest muscles periodically.

Lastly, with RockShox leading the industry with their well-reviewed Reverb, the dropper seatpost seemed to have left the plagues of the past in regards to their poor performance and durability behind.  Specialized, KS, Thomson and others are in the market and all seem to be producing some quality product.  I am personally excited about Thomson getting involved and hopefully imbuing their meticulous engineering into their dropper seatposts as they have with their other fine cycling products.

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Thomson Dropper Seatpost

XX1:

Ever since the beginning of my mountain biking history, which goes back to the early 90’s, I’ve always loathed the front derailleur as it seemed archaic and poorly designed for it’s purpose.  I can remember countless moments when I wanted and needed to drop from the middle ring to the granny ring, but when I turned my thumbshifter (Yes, I wrote thumbshifter you young punks!!!), the front derailleur cage just rubbed sadly against the chain without action, much like a husband getting a lapdance from his wife.  Once you knew the chain wouldn’t drop, you had to concede, get off your bike, lift the rear wheel, pedal with your hands until the chain dropped to the granny ring, then you can continue with your epic cycling journey.  The design of the front derailleur didn’t change much over the past 20 years as it seemed the technology hit it’s zenith in the 90’s, so what did the geniuses at SRAM decide to do?  They just got rid of it.

XX1 is a single ring drivetrain with a rear cassette that has 11 cogs ranging from 10 to 42 teeth effectively making the mountain bike an 11 speeder.  I don’t know why they call it XX1 as it implies that it has 21 gears; I thought they would call it XI to correspond to their 20 speed 2×10 XX nomenclature.  Anyways, you can change the ring up or down 2 teeth without adding or subtracting chainlinks so you can add variability to the gearing without too much effort.  Sure, I may need a 30, 32 and 34 ring collection, but apparently, the switch is simple with only 4 bolts to deal with.  The idea of not having a front derailleur is exciting and monumental as this could be the beginning of a mountain bike standard.  The simplicity of having just a rear derailleur and shifter opens up more possibilities like a 1×12 system and clearing space on the handlebar for other remotes like lockout and dropper seatpost.

My Beargrease is coming with XX1, and it really makes sense for winter riding as the front derailleur can freeze up or get clogged with snow and ice rendering it nonfunctional.  It comes with a 28 ring which seems logical as you need the lower gears to trudge through the snow, but as a race bike, I am considering a 30 ring.  Overall, I am just excited to never look down with consternation at that pathetic front derailleur again.

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XX1 Groupset

Enve carbon Wheelset:

This was a total ego purchase as the logic of spending $3000 on a set of wheels seems to escape most people, including me.  As a mid pack Expert ABA Master racer, my pedigree deserves a $3000 bike with decent reliable parts as my weakest link is probably my “muffintop” from drinking too much beer with my fellow cyclists (or anyone to be totally honest) and my penchant for 1 hour rides and 3 hours of coffee with Paavo or Shantel.  I never rode or raced with carbon wheels, and with its availability, I just thought the time for self-reward was now.  With it’s gossamer weight claims and purported durability, I chose Enve XC wheels because I didn’t want to second guess my decision as this may be the last chance to purchase such a decadent piece of cycling equipment.  Contrary to most people’s opinion, I despise the Enve logo/font plastered on the rims as it is reminiscent of some tacky 70’s USSR propaganda design.   Thankfully, the stickers peeled off easily to display the carbon rims in their beautiful naked form.  Despite my hopeful intentions of buying a set of light carbon wheels, I don’t really expect to see my racing results change much, unless you think placing 15th instead of 16th is an improvement.  I just really love the way it looks on my Rocky Mountain Vertex with XX1.  It’s a $3000 ornamental accent so I plan on taking plenty of pictures and posting them on facebook ad nauseam.

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Enve Wheels in all their glory 

The Cycling Waiting Game

Patience is a virtue for those who seek it or already have it.  For me, I always liked sulking and whining like a petulant child when I don’t get my way or get what I want right away.  In today’s society of instant gratification, it’s very easy to get things or information immediately from the palms of our hands, literally.  If we have any fleeting thought whether it’s trivial or a cathartic epiphany, we just go to our social media outlet and just type it out on our virtual soapbox and hope to get an appropriate response from our adoring audience.  We, as a society, do not have much patience for anything anymore so I can feel somewhat justified, or at least an assuaged guilt, to have a wrenching angst in my gut for my new carbon Beargrease XX1.

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Carbon Salsa Beargrease XX1 in the flesh @ Interbike.  With these HED fatbike wheels, the bike tipped the scale at 21.5 lbs!

This story starts back in April of this year where I was propositioned by redbike to demo a carbon Beargrease XX1 with a purported weight of sub 25lbs for the upcoming winter.  There were a couple of real concerns regarding this offer: First, I really had a great time riding my old Mukluk the past winter without any complains or failures, other than the time I broke my chain misshifting on a climb.  Secondly, will the BearGrease show up in time for the winter season or at all?  There are some famous quotes describing this situation: “ Once bitten, twice shy” and “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”.   The second quote was fantastically mishandled by George W. Bush which still makes me chortle whenever I think of it.  For those unacquainted, last fall, QBP failed to deliver my Beargrease which left me fatbikeless for the impending winter.  Fortunately, redbike had a Mukluk that I was able to filch as a replacement for the BearGrease, then winter fatbiking history was made.  Hyperbolic?  Probably, but I put in so many winter trail miles, it felt monumental.

I will not be too redundant about the benefits of riding a fatbike as you can refer to my previous blogs, but I think that is why this waiting game is so frustrating for me.  I don’t have to guess, surmise or anticipate the fun of riding a fatbike on the snowpacked singletrack as I know exactly what I am missing.  I hate looking at my friends’ smug little faces as they discuss rear hub spacing, which tire width is best on what conditions and them feigning sympathy about my situation.  I love and hate being so covetous.

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Salsa Beargrease Glam Shot

So here was are, at the beginning of December, still waiting for my BearGrease to arrive from Salsa.  I can almost hear George W. Bush laughing at my misfortune, and that man should have no reason to be laughing at anyone.  Well, perhaps the American and Iraqi people.  Please don’t let me give you the impression that I don’t like winter riding on my 29er Devinci as it works really well, and I love the serenity, silence and Robert Frost whiteness of cycling in the snow with my friends.  As a lifer Edmontonian, I realize that fondness of cold snowy days is paramount to surviving the winters, and I just sampled cycling’s next big thing for snow so I want it, now.

Devon-ately a Cyclocross Town

This past weekend Alberta CX racers congregated in the scenic town of Devon, aka Biketown, for races 10 and 11 of the ABA calendar. The racing promised to be fast and furious with only a handful of races left before the Provincial championships and the end of another Alberta CX season. Bicycle races in Devon have always ranked among my favourites – no matter what the discipline, racers and spectators can count on an enjoyable day and leave feeling inspired by a community in love with bicycles.

Sadly, The United Cycle race team was forced to move their race from the Devon Lions Campground (my personal favourite) due to some flooding and erosion issues, but luckily an equally cross-worthy backdrop exists just up the river at Voyageur Park. This venue was introduced last year, and from memory I knew it would provide plenty of variety and challenging terrain to make for a satisfying doubleheader. Special mention should be made of the town’s very impressive bike skills park at Voyageur Park. What was just a small park with some skinnies and teeter-totters last year, is now a fully developed park complete with jumps, a flow trail, and plenty of features to practice and build skills on. I know more than a few of us were wishing we had brought our mountain bikes along; however, the distraction of the bike park quickly faded as racers donned their skinsuits and focused on the task at hand.

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Task number one for me was to get in solid warm ups this weekend. As I get older and older, it takes me longer and longer to get warmed up. Despite knowing this, I’ve been rather lacksidasical with regards to warming up all season, and you really pay the price for this in cross. So, as opposed to just squeaking in one lap before my race, I arrived early enough to get in a pre-ride a full race before my own and then concentrated on pedaling to keep the legs warm and on staying hydrated until my race.

The pre-ride helped to highlight the technical nature of the course – lots of corners, loose soil, bumpy grass sections, a sandpit with a challenging entry, and a super steep run/ride up – all features that gave me hope I could finally bag my first win of the season. I tried to remain positive but realistic, since anything can happen during a race, especially on a course such as this one.

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The skills park at Voyageur park even found its way into a section of the course. Photo courtesy Chris Hubick.
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Josh murdering the steep climb. Photo courtesy Chris Hubick.

The promise of a holeshot prize made for a fast and furious start, and without even knowing what prize I was racing for I went for it and made it to the woods first to score a ginormous 750g Toblerone. Podi-yum! I maintained the lead until the first time through the sand pit, where what I had cleared without too much difficulty during pre-ride punished me for not choosing the proper line. I stalled out magnificently, getting caught up in my bike in the process, and watched Andrea sprint past me in what has become a sort of first lap Groundhog Day pattern for me: lead it out, screw it up, spend rest of race trying to make it back up. Only difference was that in this race I was actually able to make back up enough time in the corners and on the climb, and by the last lap I was back with Andrea and pretty confident I could make a dig for the win when the timing was right. Unfortunately though, I was a bit too hesitant and sat back too long, and when we got to the final time up the steep climb, Andrea stalled out just as she got to the top. She was able to foot push over the top, but positioned right behind her I was forced to stop and hop off my bike and scramble up. The gap was made, and Andrea earned the win. Drat. The sting didn’t last though, as deep down I knew I had the steam to win, and it only made me more hungry for a win the next day.

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The holeshot Toblerone. Victory never tasted so sweet. Photo courtesy Chris Hubick.

I stayed smart about warming up again on Sunday, and once again the pre-ride revealed a course well-suited to donkeys. Essentially the previous day run in reverse, the Devon Bicycle Association had strategically rerouted a couple sections to include the full length of the sandpit, a riverside beach section, and a stair run up out of the beach section. These alterations also allowed the reinsertion of the previous day’s steep climb, although now much trickier to ride since you approached it from an awkward angle. I had a feeling this was the feature that was going to make or break the race.

Race started fast again, and not wanting to ruin my streak, I led it out and proceeded to screw up the steep climb magnificently, taking the opportunity to step on my bike and rear wheel in the process, and just like so many times before watched Andrea run by and get a gap. I shrugged it off and focused on keeping her in sight, but my attention on her was quickly replaced by what was happening behind me – wonder kid and wonder lady cyclocross phenoms Sidney McGill and Marg Fedyna were just behind me and chasing at a furious pace. I knew I couldn’t afford to make a mistake, for they were both there ready to capitalize on any seconds I was willing to give up. Luckily, this initiative from behind inspired me to go a little faster, and as the race wore on I was able to latch back on to Andrea about halfway through the second last lap. I hesitated here for a bit, but knew I couldn’t play it safe if I really wanted the win and made a dig so I could lead going into the last lap. We stayed together, and as we approached the steep climb I knew this was the deal maker/breaker. Clean it and I would have a gap and an essentially clear run to the finish, or dab and likely have to settle for second yet again. No dab. Made it up and over and headed for home as fast as I could muster, finally earning a spot on the top step of the podium.

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Being tailed by Sidney, who is more than 20 years younger than me. Where’s my botox. Photo courtesy Brent Topilko.

I wasn’t the only one scoring a personal victory. Mighty mite Sydney came in 3rd, and barely in her teens she will surely prove to be a force to be reckoned with in the next couple of years. It was an excellent showing by new racers also, including a group of local ladies who looked like pros using all the skills cross champ Pepper Harlton had taught them in the weeks leading up to the race. I bet they’re as excited for next year as I am!

I’m really loving how the smaller Alberta communities are embracing cyclocross. Everybody wins – we get awesome courses and can visit new communities, and the communities get to experience the excitement of our sport and hopefully also get caught up with a healthy dose of cycling fever. For some great video action from the weekend, check out Sheldon’s video here: