I used to dislike the Calabogie cyclocross races we did as part of the Eastern Ontario Cyclocross Series. It was rocky, I punctured tubulars. Boo. I wasn’t there in 2015, but heard it was great. What? ‘Great?’ C’mon! With no conflict this year, I simply prepared for conditions I knew we’d face. There would be rocks, so I’d leave my tubulars at home, mount up clinchers, and hope for the best. As it turned out, I received a pair of Compass’s new Steilacoom cyclocross tires in 38mm early enough to mount and test them before the race. On grass and trail they felt smooth and grippy. I tried rolling the tire off the rim by hand at 10psi, failed to, and thus headed into the race with confidence that only a puncture from a sharp rock would cause a problem. I will do a separate post on them asap.
I’m approaching these races differently this year. My approach isn’t unique, a number of us in the club are doing the same, given we will race the Canadian Cyclocross Championships in Sherbrooke in November. Since we have this big race to look forward to, we’re approaching the Eastern Series races are B-races to train through. This approach could be demoralizing, given we’re bound to have some weak days between now and November. But there’s a particular perspective that enables this approach to work: fun. What I mean is that when we remind ourselves that we’re doing all of this for fun, stress falls away. The plan is to arrive at Nationals strong and rested, and try to have the best race of the season. Whether our performances get us onto podiums isn’t what it’s all about. For some, that’s simply not a realistic goal. But improving through the season, rather than losing form, is a realistic goal. Using each race as a learning opportunity is a realistic goal. Taking races as opportunities to experiment is a realistic goal. It requires a certain humility to approach the season in this way, as it could well mean that we’re racing tired, and not beating the people we might typically beat. But the reality is that a whole lot of people in the series are likely taking a similar approach!
Heading into Calabogie, I was tired, but had a plan: focus on racing the middle 20 minutes of the race strong. DO NOT OVER-DO THE FIRST 10 MINUTES! For some, starting mellow might come naturally, but that’s not the case for me. I start fast (relatively), and can ride the first lap at the front. But is that a good idea? It depends, right? If all the best guys are in the race, I might be better off easing up, letting others close gaps, figure out the course a bit, then try to move up. Choosing not to go with certain guys early in the race can be very difficult, because it tends to feel like a concession right off the bat. Restraint might be the most challenging tactical aspect of bike racing. Some are great at it, I’ve not been good at it in cyclocross. So I’m working on it. The race won’t be won in the first lap, but it can be lost!
I won’t give the blow by blow today, but a nutshell recap of the race so I can talk more about why the course was really, really fun, and made for really good racing.
I started well, following Warren MacDonald down the opening gravel straight, a very fast section. Soon I was in the lead position, riding at about 90%, not wanting to over-extend myself. Osmond Bakker passed at 1.5 laps in, and I felt ok following his pace, trying to smooth corners more and use less energy than he was. Evan McNeeley, Matteo Dal Cin, and Derrick St. John trailed closely, and three laps into the race I dropped my chain while pedaling and turning through a ditch. This is the primary way one drops a chain from a narrow-wide ring, it seems. Try to avoid pedaling when you heavily side-load your bike at speed!
Off my bike to replace the chain, Evan and DSJ passed, but Matteo was gone, having flatted. At least one of my tactics was working out: don’t flat. I loved the way my wheels handled in the sand.
I chased DSJ, but had to avoid going into the red, otherwise I’d fall apart and do worse. Ben Andrew bridged to me, stuck on my wheel for a few laps, then came off, as I’d hoped. My strategy was to make him chase me as much as possible where I could use technical skills to open gaps, and it worked. Steve Proulx was in hot pursuit, but instead of worrying about him, I tried to take the positive approach, and chase DSJ. I maintained a consistent gap of about 15 seconds, carefully tracking the interval between us, and looking ahead to see how Derrick was handling the steep, loose climb. This approach worked great, as I figured out where to do more work and where to do less, refining my efforts each lap. This was fun racing, always engaged!
Steve didn’t make it up to me, and I didn’t make it up to Derrick, but in the end, was 17 seconds behind him, which is the closest I’ve ever come. Meanwhile, Evan took 36 seconds out of Osmond for the win, 1:34 up from me. I don’t know how things would have played out had I not stopped for the chain, but the great data captured by the chip timing system suggests I was doing the same pace as Derrick after getting back up to speed. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to find battle him, Evan and Osmond on a course that similarly fits my strenghts.
So, why was the racing at Calabogie fun? Truth is, just about everyone seemed to really like it. How come?
– The course was short, but this was actually a positive for racers. With so many technical elements, there were many opportunities to try different lines, braking points, and accelerations. There was a lot of opportunity to learn the course and refine how to ride it. This was a big bonus for riders, especially with features like the big climb, which could be ridden, or run, or a combo. If we had only ridden that feature 4-6 times, it would have been hard to know, not enough data points. While riders were lapped more, the chip timing must have helped sort that out. I didn’t hear anyone complaining about being lapped.
– The course’s turns were very, very good. While a few should have had tape further back on the outside, to avoid people riding over or around flags to set the turns, they were all built really well. It was possible to do many of them really fast with skill, which gave riders with ability a chance to use bike handling as part of their strategy. The sandy turns were supremely good, requiring all sorts of decision-making, and with repetition, learning. Yes, there was a big rock in the middle of the sand pit, which I told everyone I saw about after hitting it in practice. I never hit it after that. Pretty much every other rock was visible.
– The alternation of technical and less technical pedaling was perfect. There were many, many places to decide where to pedal more or less, planning for the hard feature coming that would require some recovery in advance of.
Hopefully more riders will opt for bigger tires in 2017, and we’ll see fewer punctures, no tires spared. Sunday was a great start to the series, stoking many a rider for the races to come. This weekend is the annual Madison, which pairs riders up to take turns ripping hot laps through the Renfrew Fairgrounds course. It’s a fun, fast course with a few cool features, ideal for those who are new to CX racing. See y’all there!