Whether you like to admit it or not, fashion and selecting and coordinating one’s cycling wardrobe is a big part of cycling. Especially if you follow professional cycling, jerseys, bibs, gloves, helmets, glasses, socks, shoes, arm and leg warmers, and any other accessory you can think of, are carefully and strategically chosen, although the end result and actual appeal of the “coordination” can certainly be debated.
Let’s be frank. For some reason, there are is a lot of ugly cycling clothing out there. Interestingly though, while we can all agree that a great deal of ugly cycling clothing exists, it is much harder to come to a consensus on what is ugly and what isn’t. For example, ask greazypanda his opinion on “team x’s kit” and be prepared for a lengthy rant. However, ask another cyclist about the same kit, and you will hear the complete opposite opinion. Therefore, all we can safely conclude is that it’s tricky to put together a team look that is appealing, catchy, and unique, while also providing any team sponsors appropriate advertising space. Our Kokanee Redbike team, in my personal opinion, has an exceptional looking kit that achieves this blend of requirements nicely. Made by Champion System, our shorts and jerseys have a great fit and are comfortable for those long days in the saddle. The colours have been carefully chosen and paired well – no garish or unflattering combinations – and our sponsors are well advertised on our kit. Sticking with a tasteful combo of blue, black, grey, and a bit of white also makes it easy to match all our other equipment with our kit, which is really what we’re being judged on at the start line.
To really top out and polish our team look, we are lucky to have Giro on board again this season as a sponsor for all our other essential wardrobe components. I feel very lucky to have Giro as a supporting sponsor, especially since their full range of cycling wear is stylish, fits amazing well, and is durable. It’s not often that a company’s full line of products works; often you find that while a company’s helmets may fit great, their shoes or gloves don’t work so well. This is certainly not the case with Giro; their gloves, helmets, shoes, and socks are all solid items for whatever type of cycling you’re into. In particular this year, we’ll be sporting the new Giro Synthe helmet and the Giro VR90 shoes, both in colour schemes to match our kits and to also add a little flair to our look. Up top, we will be protecting our noggins and greazypanda’s exceptionally well-maintained haircut with the matte black-blue Synthe, a lightweight racing helmet that is also designed with aerodynamics in mind. Down low, our feet will be looking extra flashy this season with the silver/yellow VR90 lace-up mountain bike shoes. I’m eager to try out a lace-up shoe this season, which proponents claim offers a more precise fit and eliminates the problems of Velcro strips and buckles that wear out quickly. The soles on the VR90 also promise to be significantly grippier than our previous team shoes – the Vibram sole should provide some much needed stability when it comes time to clamber by foot over loose or wet un-rideable sections of trail.
I think you’ll agree we’re going to be a pretty good looking team this year. I’m not sure there’s any scientific proof that having an awesome looking kit makes you any faster, but nobody remembers results anyways, so as long as we’re winning the cycling fashion battle I think we’re doing alright.
A new addition to the ABA racing calendar is always welcome in my books. Especially when it’s a bit different from a standard XC mountain bike, cyclocross, or road event, I’m typically keen to give it a try. Anyone that had the pain and pleasure to experience the Kettle Cross bicycle race will tell you what a unique and great event it was, and it also was able to attract a large number of cyclists not part of the regular licensed racer crowd. This is a win in my opinion, since it gets those who cannot be coaxed to line up to an ABA race to come out and see what it’s all about.
Sadly, the Kettle Cross is on hiatus this year, but the Deadgoats threw in a late edition to the calendar of a comparable flavour – the Ghost of the Gravel road race/fondo. Promising to be something completely different and targeted at racers and non-racers, and also an area I haven’t had a chance to cycle through, I signed up and put some 28mm slicks on my trusty Van Dessel FTB cyclocross bike as suggested by the race organizers to tackle the various types of road surfaces and 1500 m of climbing.
The 144km route was a challenging, yet enjoyable and very scenic mix of rolling pavement and gravel/dirt roads that looped through the foothills northwest of Cochrane via Water Valley and Waiparous Village (Strava route here). 28 mm slicks were perfect even along the wet dirt roads, and none of the climbs were too steep or long for my single ring cyclocross 40/11-32 set up to manage comfortably. Two neutral feedzones were provided at 70 and 94 kms, which were well stocked with basic cyclist-style energy products like Clif bars, bananas, and water or Gatorade. Weather was a mixed bag on the day, starting out on the meagre side with rain and strong winds and audible cursing by some, but there were eventually a few sunny moments in there and luckily some sweet tailwinds most of the way home. I started the day off with a rain jacket, which I was glad I packed, and it was shed and re-donned during the day with the variable weather conditions. I’ve left the rain jacket in the car one too many times, and now don’t mind dealing with the extra pocket bulk in exchange for the chance to stay a bit warmer when the rain hits. The roads were essentially quiet, with the exception of a few over-aggressive redneck Alberta land trains, appropriately named by Katy Curtis, who couldn’t get their ATVs and dirt bikes to the various trailheads along Highway 40 fast enough. I’m sure most of them had never witnessed that many spandex-clad men in all their lives and were concerned if they didn’t drive fast enough away it may affect their masculinity somehow.
Interestingly, although not really pushed heavily by organizers as a race, the event was part of the ABA Road Cup points series. Unfortunately for me, this made the start way too fast on a day that I was more interested in a pleasure cruise, and after a few kms of trying to sit in riding a tempo that clearly wasn’t sustainable for 144km and getting constantly sprayed with water and road grime on this particularly rainy and windy day, Katy and I settled into a much more enjoyable and civilized pace that allowed for conversation and to enjoy the magnificent views. We happened upon more than a few riders along the way who had cracked from starting too hard, and even witnessed one overly dramatic bike toss at a feed zone. There were a fair number of DNFs, which I will tentatively blame on the weather conditions and under-preparedness, but for those that stuck it out, finishing times ranged from 4:30 hours for the Cat 1/2 winner to around 7 hours for some. This made it hard to coordinate any of the podium presentations, and maybe next year it would be worthwhile to reverse the staging and start the slower groups first so the race ends more or less at the same time of the day for everyone.
For a first time event, it was well organized and attended, and I hope the Deadgoats bring it back next year so a few more Edmonton riders make the trip down and try something different out. It’s the kind of riding that we certainly don’t have around here, and an event like this makes it easy to get a flavour and taste for long and epic gravel grinds.
I’ve had a bit of time now to use the Giro Synthe helmet and Empire VR90 shoes whose arrival I professed to keenly awaiting a while back, so here’s a quick review of my thoughts so far on the two.
Giro Synthe Helmet
The Giro Synthe is an expensive lid, but fits amazingly and is exceptionally light. To quote Ned Flanders, “It’s like wearing nothing at all”. I cannot profess to the aerodynamic claims of the helmet as I don’t road race or typically participate in events where aerodynamic savings come into play, but it sure looks fast, so I’ll take Giro’s word for it. The helmet’s retention system is designed in a way that allows the helmet to levitate a bit and not squish directly against your skull, and as a result the aeration and venting is outstanding and almost too good – on a couple of chilly rides I was secretly wishing for a cap.
A Giro Synthe Haiku
Light and aerodynamic
My head is chilly
Giro Empire VR90 Mountain Bike Shoes
I’m really enjoying the Empire VR90 shoes so far. Even though I’m not one for attention, I really like the eye-catching colour scheme, and I will admit to slightly enjoying the “ooohs” and gawking the first time I showed up to the start line in them. They feel just like my most comfortable walking shoes, but while maintaining the stiffness and performance needed for a race-level cycling shoe. There must be some wizardry and sorcery in the design and manufacturing process somewhere. I wasn’t sure how laces on a cycling shoe would pan out; however, the ability for laces to fine tune the fit and snugness exactly where you’d like is not just an empty claim, but actually a very true and really beneficial feature. As with other high end Giro shoes released in the past, they come with three different arch support inserts so you can further fine tune the fit based on your foot shape. On the outside, the lace holes are nicely reinforced and laces don’t slip once you’ve cinched them to where you want them, and there’s a cozy little elasticized snuggy to stow the extra tied laces. I’ve worn them in both uncomfortably hot conditions and rainy/windy/cold conditions, and my feet were comfortable in both, which I can only assume is due to more secret mystery ingredients.The Vibram sole is wondrous, and unlike other mountain bike shoes I’ve worn actually provides traction when you need to scramble on your feet, unlike most mountain bike shoe treads, which typically make it more dangerous to walk than ride. Like the Synthe, the VR90s are also on the expensive end of the spectrum for gear, but with the fit, looks, and features, I don’t even hesitate to say they are worth the investment. Did I mention they come with a snazzy Giro shoe bag and an extra set of laces?
A Giro Empire VR90 Haiku
A glass slipper fit
Maybe made from unicorns
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Let me start this off by saying that I’ve been riding the same cross bike for a long time. I’ve been using a Redline Conquest with a custom build for all of my cyclocross and road riding since 2009. A buddy asked me how many km’s I have on it and I have no idea, but it’s a lot.
At first I was a little sentimental about the bike and even asked myself if I really needed a new one (it worked flawlessly). But after Kettle Cross, the Canmore CX race and Cupcake Cross this weekend, I was happy to see the Harrow show up after my race on Saturday (all very rough races). The Cupcake Cross course was so bumpy I DNF’d when my back started to seize up. At this point I was thinking about bailing on the next day’s race, but 2 hot laps on the Harrow and I was coming out for sure.
I basically adjusted the seatpost, threw some pedals on, and hit the course. The guys at Redbike built the Harrow for me and, as always, everything was absolutely perfect. The first thing that I noticed was that the lateral and pedaling stiffness are considerable but the vertical compliance is outstanding. The engineers at Foundry didn’t just lay some sticky carbon fiber up in an open mold, this frame is dialed. With the addition of the whiskey through-axle 15mm fork, the bike goes exactly where you point it and holds a line until the tires don’t (might have happened a few times).
I’ve never really ridden a cross, or road, bike with disc brakes but the Avid BB7’s with 140mm rotors were flawless after a little bedding in. I’m a big guy (195lb) and being able to single-finger brake from the hoods is something that I’ll now never give up (amazing on bumpy courses).
The drivetrain, being SRAM Red with FSA SL-K BB30 crank, performed flawlessly as expected from such high-end components with the Red shifting being noticeably crisper that SRAM Force. The FSA cranks are super stiff and the BB didn’t make a peep.
The wheels were one thing that I was originally unsure of; I’m pretty committed to my Stan’s rims with Michelin Mud 2 tires run tubeless. But the Velocity disc hubs with A23 rims felt laterally stiff but not harsh. The biggest eye opener for me were the Clement PDX tires. These things have some serious grip in dry grass and gravel and still feel fast on the straights. During the next day’s race I really tested the cornering traction and was very impressed.
So, after one very bumpy race, I’d say that I’m extremely happy with the Foundry Harrow. Weight is right around 18lb stock (for a 59) and everything works well together. I originally had plans to convert it to single ring and replace the rims with Stan’s Iron Cross right away. But after feeling how dialed the bike is I think I’m going to leave things stock and really get familiar.
Josh testing the limits of his new carbon steed on the Rodeo Grounds in Airdrie. (Photo: Masa Higuchi)
And just like that, we’re already a third of the way through the ABA cyclocross season with five races done and about ten to go. Cyclocross is a funny beast; it’s kind of like a cycling version of what the average non-cyclist would think about a weekend trip to Vegas – when it happens it hurts like hell, you don’t really remember much about what actually transpired during the whole thing, and your body hates you Monday morning, but for some reason you’re able to laugh about it after and even secretly look forward to the next time. Also along the same lines, you suddenly notice you’re making a lot of new friends on social media, and pictures of you (both good and bad) keep popping up of you from your weekend endeavours…
Shanny rippin’ (Photo: Bill Quinney via Social Media)
My thought on the season as a whole so far is the events have all really been top notch. It’s great to see the registration fees have come down to a reasonable amount from the staggering heights they had climbed to last year, and I would say everyone’s enjoyment factor is the same if not even higher, which goes to show you don’t need a ton of money to host a great event if you know how to budget and put your registration dollars in the right places. Another highlight so far this season has been the inclusion of some new locations for events. RMCC came through on short notice to host a fabulously fun and scenic race in Canmore, and despite being faced with an unsympathetic Parks Department in Calgary, Crave Racing and Bicisport used some great initiative to find and transform the Airdrie Pro Rodeo Grounds into a great cyclocross venue. Finally, the addition of the Novice Men and Sport Women categories have really been successful at getting new and inexperienced cross racers to the line.
Now on to some on the ground reporting from this past weekend’s races, the Crave Cupcake Cross and the Bicisport Rodeo Cross, both held at the Airdrie Pro Rodeo Grounds. I’ll admit to being a bit hesitant when I first heard about the venue – as a kid I saw my fair share of rodeo grounds while spending my summer holidays travelling around Alberta in a motorhome with my Grandma, and my now distant memories of them are two: 1. Flat and open, and 2. Dry, dusty, and windy. Bicisport organizer Brent Topilko’s directions to the site: “Follow the signs to the Airdrie Waste Transfer Station!” only added to my anxiety, but upon arrival and survey of the course all my fears faded quickly as racers were treated to a fun and dynamic course with several elements that highlighted the unique flavour the grounds had to offer. Yes, it was still windy and dusty, but you can’t really control that. Yet. I think everyone agreed the section through the gymkhana corral (see, I wasn’t lying about knowing rodeo sites) was a definite highlight and test of skill – the loosely packed dirt meant you couldn’t take the corners too fast, and I noticed more than a few people must have slid out on those corners judging from the dusty thighs I saw. Maybe chaps are in order for next year. The back section provided some punishing and bumpy climbing and descending, which rewarded those with the endurance to suffer consistently through the 6 to 10 laps of the course. Several long, fast swoopy turns and a couple of punchy ride/run-ups also helped to keep things interesting for racers and fans alike. It was definitely one of those courses where a couple of mistakes could cost you a few places as I quickly found out dabbing on the run-up, watching my gap become someone else’s. Especially with the wind making it hard to close any gaps that opened up, once people became isolated not much changed between racers, and when it was all said and done I ended up second to the super fast Andrea Bunnin (curse those super-fit Bunnins!). We all got delicious Crave cupcakes on the podium though, so it didn’t take long to turn my frown upside down. Crave Racing hosted a super day, and while I didn’t indulge on a cupcake hand up during the race (I’ve made that mistake before), it was fun seeing the photos of all those that did.
The next day we were treated to even stronger winds (boo-urns) and the course run in reverse. The lap was equally fun and challenging backwards, a true testament to the well planned out course design. The previous day’s long, rough descent now became a leg-sapping climb, and a tricky off camber descent with a sharp corner became an even trickier, short, punchy climb up. Despite riding a much cleaner and solid race, I finished a step lower in third as I find I am still lacking that extra gear in the speed and fitness department I’ll need if I’m to climb up onto the top step of the podium this season. Maybe next year I’ll actually start cyclocross training early like you’re supposed to instead of trying to race myself into shape. Who am I kidding? I’m just going to stick with the “I’m looking to peak a little later in the season” façade. Toy ponies instead of cupcakes were our reward on the day, with Pepper Harlton claiming the largest and most glorious pony for finishing first, although she very graciously surrendered it to some little girls who mobbed her when she was least expecting it. I’m all for the crazy novelty podium prizes in cross, and Bicisport really came through with the podium ponies in addition to a very well organized and run event. Looking forward to coming back to this venue next year for sure. Next up on the calendar, the Dark Knight Cross, which I am forced to sit out due to my night vision akin to that of a naked mole rat, and the Cadence Coffee Cross Classic at Canada Olympic Park, a course that with it’s super long sand pit and punchy climbs is one of my favourites.
This past weekend was the Iron Maiden XC/Organ Grinder Marathon at the Canmore Nordic Center – a guaranteed double-header suffer fest. The Nordic Center has it all – great trails that keep getting greater every year due to some phenomenal trail building and maintenance, amazing scenery, great facilities, nice town… If you haven’t ridden there yet, what are you waiting for?
Both Mark and I signed up to race, but Mark also signed up for a 40-year-old boys gone wild weekend, so this was destined to be a solo donkey trip bringing back fond memories of my early days racing as an Independent. Luckily, a late 2:30pm Saturday race start even permitted me to perform a gig Friday night in Edmonton and have a full night’s sleep. The drive to Canmore went quickly with the new Daft Punk to keep me company, and I pulled up with a generous 90 minutes to get ready for the XC race.
Let’s just say my race prep in the days leading up to my first couple of races this season has not been ideal – I arrived to the Lethbridge Coulee Cruiser with little more than two hours of sleep and working the nightshift, and the Summer Solstice race (not affiliated with the actual summer solstice in any way shape or form) had me rolling up to the line not even a day after arriving home from two weeks in Germany with a serious case of jetlag as a souvenir (I don’t know how the pros do it…). These “shananigans” rewarded me with two last place finishes and left me questioning my ability to duke it out with any of the girls in Elite. Needless to say, I felt a bit nervous as I put on my kit and zipped tied my race number, especially with a very stacked ladies field including the likes of Trans Portugal dominatrix Kate Aardal and Olympic track medalist Tara Whitten. Yikes. Racing Elite is a funny thing. You learn early on how to keep things in perspective and choose your battles and set your goals wisely. Since it was a beautiful sunny day, and I knew from last year’s race the course was an awesome one requiring a complete skill set to match the technical trails, I decided early on to focus on riding a clean race and, with any luck, to not finish last.
The start was fast, and Kate, Trish Grajczyk, and Tara immediately gapped the other four of us and carried on to scoop up the podium spots in that order. I knew from a hesitation and mistake I made last year that I needed to make it to the single track before some of the more fit but less technical riders, so I dug deep and managed to hammer into the single track in fifth place. I quickly realized with the number of technical descents and climbs to follow, if I could ride clean and steady I could maintain my positioning and perhaps move up one more spot. Well, moving up one more spot wasn’t meant to be, but I did ride an exceptionally clean race, which I was very happy with. I also came away with something I lost after the first two races this season: the confidence I needed to call myself an Elite rider. Even though I don’t have the natural fitness and lung power of most in my category (I like to joke my VO2 max is more of a VO2 min), I can say I have some pretty good skills, as evidenced by my ability to clear all of the advanced “A-line” sections of the course consistently on an outdated, aluminum 26er from 2008. Sweet.
Celebrating my draw prize and new race-walking kit
Because the weather was so glorious, clean up and pack up was quick, and I even won a killer draw prize – a kicky visor and headband combo that will come in handy when I start my next athletic pursuit: race-walking. Visors off to the SpinSisters for putting on a great event complete with schwag and post-race eats, two things that are sadly becoming few and far between at many ABA races.
I was able to steal Mark away from his mountain man-cave sausage fest for supper, and we enjoyed some fantastic flatbreads and a celebratory pint from the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. We then parted ways as Mark wasn’t racing the five hour enduro the next day and had a bonfire to build, so after a quick stop at the Sobey’s for some chocolate I turned in early to rest up for five hours of fun and punishment (phunishment I like to say) the next day.
Reason to race #17: No guilt for eating things like this
Like the SpinSisters, the Cyclemeisters promised to also put on a quality day of racing on Sunday complete with schwag and post race food. This event is one of my favourites if only for the all-you-can-eat Spolumbo sausage post-race barbeque. Marathon XCs are an interesting beast; for some reason they attract quite a different field of racers that don’t attend regular XC races, which undoubtedly makes for an unpredictable race full of dark horses. On the other hand, I can usually pull out a pretty good result at these events because they complement my steady-eddy, donkey style of riding. On the other hand, I was a bit unsure of how I would actually fair at this race having not yet raced a marathon yet this season, so I kept my goals reasonable and told myself if I completed three of the 12km laps I could call it a day and earn myself a sausage with all the fixins.
The start was typical of an enduro: the fast racers took off and jockeyed for positioning while the rest of us eventually sorted ourselves out according to our desired pace. I quickly found myself in an enjoyable group of chatty guys (whoever says women are chattier riders is dead wrong – men are total riding social butterflies) and was enjoying the trails and moderate pace. However, to add a little spice to the mix, the weather gods decided to be not quite so kind on Sunday, and by halfway through the first lap an off and on, yet persistent drizzle settled in, and each lap the trails became a bit more challenging.
By the third lap, I had no idea where I was in the mix, but I did know I was getting tired and starting to make little mistakes. With the trail conditions only deteriorating, I told myself I just needed to finish off this third lap to earn my sausage treat and call it a day. I was really looking forward to finishing as I pedalled towards the start/finish, but then an interesting thing happened. As I walked my bike through the transition area with nothing but the thought of sausage in my head the commissaire casually mentioned I was in 3rd place with the 2nd place rider just 30 seconds ahead. I couldn’t stop now. I had a podium spot to defend. Crap! With two hours still left in the event, any girl behind me merely had to ride another lap to steal third place. I silently mouthed a creative series of expletives, and after a morale boost of supporting words, a rice krispie treat (thanks Ryan!), and a delicious homemade cookie (thanks Aleks!) I hopped back on my bike and told myself I could have a second delicious sausage if I rode a fourth lap and defended my position. Well, those sausages and my love for them proved to give me the upper hand that day as I ultimately caught that second place girl and built up a seven minute gap to give me my first podium finish of the season. My aged bike also helped out in its own special way, as it and the muddy conditions conspired to make riding in the granny ring a futile battle with chain-suck, forcing me to push bigger gears than I would have otherwise chosen to do.
Unlike the day before, it took a long time to clean my bike and myself of the coating of mud and forest floor debris, but I did finally get my two sausages and a chance to enjoy the glory of the podium. And what a payoff it was. Four and a half hours of suffering and second place in the Open Women’s category earned me a Knog blinkie light. It’s a good thing I don’t do this for a living. I do it for the sausages.
Every year Highwood Pass closes to cars for the winter. This turns a normally busy motorway into a cycling wonderland. It’s 60km from gate to gate with 950m vert reaching 2300m elevation. Sometimes, there are snow-banks at the top of the pass covering the road with only a skinny track through, and other years (like this one) the park goes ahead and snow-plows the pass so that we cyclists can have a few weekends before the gates open.
So at about 11am I was turning the cranks on the 34km trip to the summit. Funny thing is that it wasn’t long before I ran into a guy that I went to University with and ended up riding the remainder of the way to the pass summit with some nice conversation. I like riding by myself but after a while it’s nice to have someone to talk to.
There was quite a bit of snow on the sides of the road at the summit but nothing on the road itself. There was literally a traffic jam of bikes right at the top. People riding everything from $10k colnago’s to a hipster on something from 1973. After parting ways with my new riding buddy and putting a jacket on, I was pointing it downhill toward Kananaskis.
The ride down to the other gates was fast with my 52-11 combo being spun out most of the way. After hopping over the gate it was another 8km to the Fortress junction gas station where I ate a 480 calorie ice-cream sandwich and f-ing loved it.
After making mouth-love to my ice-cream sandwich and re-filling water bottles I was off for my second summit of the pass. Going from Kananaskis to the summit is shorter (~20km) but very steep compared to the other direction. At this point I was pretty tired with my legs feeling the 900m vertical from the first summit and the weather looked like it might come in. Snow at the top of the Highwood pass was not something that I was interested in.
After the 20km grind back to the top, it was a quick stop for some pics and then back to the car as fast as my toasted legs could take me.
Finally back at the car after just under 5 hrs ride time and my Garmin was telling me 3000 calories (based on HR). So I headed to the near-by gas station for some M&M’s and Ketchup chips.
I would recommend this ride to anyone. You can go as fast as your fitness level allows and enjoy Canada’s highest paved mountain pass (sans cars).
I recently had a close friend who I hadn’t ridden with in a while pose I very simple but inherently deep question to me: “Mike, you still ride a ton…why do you ride?”
On that beautiful Kelowna spring morning, as we enjoyed the silky smooth tarmac, I began to collect my thoughts to answer Evan’s simple question. Wow, so many reasons, where do I begin…?
I love it.
I love the pursuit of fitness. I love to see how I can push my body to new heights. I love how I can continually grow with the sport of cycling and how my passion does not fade. I love the feeling my body provides when I’ve pushed it to a new level in training and it’s now going through the remarkable process of adaptation. The ability of the human body to adapt and change truly amazes me.
It makes me look under thirty, not mid-thirties. I feel pleasure when I reveal my age to non-cycling related colleagues and new acquaintances. More often then not, people are genuinely surprised to hear that I will be turning 35 this fall.
It helps me think creatively and gives me the opportunity to create clarity in my thoughts. I have my best ideas while out on the bike. Some runners I know like running because it is a form of meditation – their brain closes down and don’t really think anything. For me, it’s the opposite. Churning away a constant cadence seems to stimulate my creativity, so much so that sometimes I have to stop and write stuff down.
I have broken knees and riding makes me feel normal – not like a 70 year old man (I really feel like an old man with my knees when I stop riding for a duration of 2 weeks or more). I was in a bad car accident when I was 16, and I injured my ‘good’ knee while playing hockey in ’09, so for me, cycling is a form of constant therapy. Honestly, I have pain walking down stairs when I haven’t’ ridden for a couple of weeks. It’s almost something I must do to stay ‘normal’.
I get really cranky if I don’t ride and I become a grumpy moody bugger (just ask my wife!). This one is pretty straight forward. I admit it. I’m a cranky bugger, but riding buffers all of that crankiness.
I love the sound of a free wheel buzzing in the silence of a calm morning. It’s like music to my ears. Like the gentle whizzing of a fishing rod, or the soothing sounds of crickets chirping on a warm summer’s eve, the sound instantly puts me in my happy place.
It is a reminder of how great life really can be. I mean, riding a bicycle is one of the best things life has to offer in my opinion.
At the end of the day, why do I ride? It’s just part of who I am.