Worlds

This week the cycling world has all eyes on Copenhagen, host to the 2011 World Championships.  I found out a couple weeks ago that I would be going to represent Canada in the U23 time trial which took place on Monday.  It was pretty exciting to get that chance as a first year U23, and quite the experience to spend the week with the best pros in the world.

Having not focused on time trials as much this year, the 2 weeks leading up to the event were devoted entirely to that.  I’ve worked a lot on climbing this year, and can see it paying off – but the Worlds course had all of about 4 meters of elevation gain, so it was time to get quick on the flats yet again.  Preparation went fairly well, and I was looking forward to a big ride.

Pre-riding the course on Sunday, it seemed like it would be extremely fast – with 4 or 5 lane boulevards for most of the course, but also a slightly tricky last 2kms featuring some cobbles and some tight corners.  It was clear the deciding factor would be the wind, which was forecast at a fairly strong 30km/h.  

Finally the time came – I was early to go, which was actually a little nice not to have to wait around all afternoon.  I got in a really good warm-up and made my way to the starting ramp for my 1:06 start time.  35.2kms of agony awaited me as I sat in the start house, listening for that final beep to send me on my way.

For those of you who have followed my career over the last year – I’m very pleased to announce that things went much better than last year’s World Junior TT Championships.  There were no hospital trips, ruptured muscles, broken noses, or any of the like.  Unfortunately, that’s about where the positive ends.  My legs didn’t seem to have it right from the start, and I really struggled to control my bike in the strong winds.  I felt like a little bird being thrashed around in a hurricane, while the bigger and more powerful guys were cruising along like airplanes.  I was fighting just to keep my bike underneath me at times, and lost my focus on making it go as fast as possible.  I ended up with a pretty disappointing finish, but sometimes it just isn’t there for you.

Although I’m not pleased with how things unfolded, I’m really glad I went.  Even if I had put in a great ride, I would still have a long way to go before I’m where I want to be.  That’s the reason the CCA sent me – to see the level and plan for the future.   I have 3 more years of U23 World Championships, and I guarantee I’ll be better prepared in the years to come.  This is going to be a big motivator for me.  It’s been a long year with many lessons learned, and now it’s time to take those lessons and put them to good use.  I want to thank everyone for their notes of encouragement and support – they mean a lot.

For now, I’ve got a few races left in the year – but I’m starting to get into a bit of recovery mode from this season, and already planning a really big winter.  Time to go hammer out some frustration.

Tour du Pays de Gex

Although the season is winding up in the next few weeks, there are still a lot of quality races left here in France, and the Tour du Pays de Gex was no exception.  A short stage race with a road race Saturday, TT Sunday morning and another road race in the afternoon.

As I checked over the course profiles about a week ago, I thought it looked like a relatively flat couple of road races, and a very flat TT.  Well, they were a little more than slightly deceptive, with both road races being rather mountainous, and the TT with two tough climbs.  As we drove to Gex, the realization that the weekend would be anything but flat was setting in, making our way through the Alps with nothing but snow capped mountains in view.

In any case, things still went fairly well for the weekend as a whole.  I was not great on Saturday’s stage, and lost some time after getting caught behind a split on the toughest climb of the day.  Although it’s always disappointing to lose time, especially on stage 1, my main focus for the weekend was the 10.6km TT on Sunday morning.  The course was a crazy, technical, euro type of TT with a steep descent right off the start, some tiny farm roads, and a few tough climbs to get over.  Being an earlier starter, I set the fastest time as I crossed the finish line and was really pleased with how I felt during the ride.  Unfortunately the real horsepower was still to come as the GC favorites started towards the end.  There were some very fast times put out, and I got bumped down to 15th for the stage, but I was not unhappy with that considering the level at this race.

The good but also unfortunate thing for the TT was that Jerome, our main GC contender took the win, as well as the overall lead.  Great, right?  Well yes, but that also meant that me and the 3 others on our team would spend the entire afternoon stage chewing on our stems in the wind to defend his lead.  Of course I’m joking that this is an annoyance, but it certainly was a lot of work!  It took a long time for a break that we were happy with to get clear.  There would always be one of the GC threats trying to get into it and we would have to chase it back right away.  Finally, after nearly an hour of sprinting after riders we couldn’t let go, a group of 11  went clear with the closest rider 3 minutes back on GC.  Perfect, now a minute to take a breath!  Not much more than a minute though, as soon as they could establish a gap, the 4 of us had to make sure they didn’t get too much, so we tried to keep them around 2 minutes.  This sounds pretty easy, but when they are 11 working together, and your only 4 it makes for some very hard work!

In any case, the day played out perfectly.  Our job was to keep the gap low enough so that Jerome was still leading with 13kms to go.  At that point there were two KOMs back to back, and our job would be finished.  Then it was just up to him to keep any of the tiny climbers from gaining time for the win.  I’ve never really looked forward to hitting the base of a tough KOM, but since this one meant my day was done, I couldn’t wait to get there!  We got the gap down to one minute and said good luck to Jerome.  Both me and my other teammates were dropped like a sack of bricks over the steep grade, and then cruised to the finish.  Unfortunately, despite a great effort, Jerome couldn’t stay in contact with the young phenom Kenny Ellysond, who managed to get away on the climb and stay away to take over the lead overall.  In the end we had to settle for 2nd, but all in all I think it’s nothing to be disappointed with.  We showed that we were clearly a dominant force on the race and everyone seemed to work together like a well oiled machine.  So, yet another weekend of racing in the books…only a few more of those before a much needed break back home!

Update

I must apologize, it’s been a long time with no posts!  Things have been fairly busy as of late, with a bunch of changes to my plans as of late, but I think things are coming together with a fairly solid plan to finish up the season.  Most of you probably thought I was going to be racing the Tour de l’Avenir this week, and so did I until a little while ago.  At first I was disappointed not to be going, but after talking with the national team coaches I can see that it would have been a bit too much to have me race there and then continue racing afterwards for the rest of the season.  So, instead I have a really exciting opportunity coming up for the end of the season, but I’m going to be a big tease and not say what it is just yet.  Stay tuned for an announcement on that in about a week.

So with that, I’m back to some serious preparation.  At first it was tough to get my head around really hard training in September – usually I’m ripping around on a cross or mountain bike by now – but once I got into it I really started to find new levels of motivation.  It’s like I’m coming off a big break and am completely fresh, even though I’ve been racing like a nut for months now!  In any case, the legs are feeling strong right now and I’m confident for this upcoming mystery race.

In the meantime, I’m back in France doing some races with my team.  This weekend we were in the Prix de Coligny – a tough race with lots of climbing.  The race was a bunch of 20km circuits, which started right away with a 4km climb, then a small descent, another couple kms of climbing, more descending, and more climbing into the finish.  I don’t think there was a meter of level ground on the course.  The climbs were not overly horrible, but the fact that they came at you so often had me nervous going into the start of the race.

To my pleasant surprise, I was climbing really well.  Being a French race, there were naturally about 3 different attacks going at the same time for the entire race.  One person will attack on one side of the road, someone else on the other side, and probably another down the middle.  When they inevitably get brought back, there will be more.  It continues this way the entire race.  Knowing that fast accelerations are not my strongest point while climbing, I tried to ride to suit my strengths.  When the punchy little climbers would sprint away, I wouldn’t panic, and just kept riding at my pace.  Without fail, others would react, and as more and more go to chase down the escapees, the acceleration becomes less and less.  Basically I could just increase the pace a little to hop on one of these trains, and it would bring me back to the lead of the race.

Each lap played out in about that fashion.  Until there was only one lap to go.  This time, a big group got away on the climb, splitting the field in two.  For us, climbing legend Benoit Luminet was there, so we simply had to be attentive for groups trying to bridge.  However, as we got towards the top of the hardest climb, I could sense a certain weakness in everyone around me.  By no means was I feeling comfortable, but I knew it was time to try getting across the gap.  Attacking hard, 3 others were able to follow me.  It was perfect because we were 4 riders, each representing one of the bigger teams in the race, so there would be little organisation to chase us down.  We worked well together and soon found ourselves coming up on the lead group.

After making contact, we found out there were 3 riders with about a 30 second lead and only 10kms to go.  Since we had nobody up there, I did what I could to bring back their move.  Pouring everything I had left into the pedals, the gap was coming down, but time was also running out.  Thankfully some help from other teams resulted in the 3 leaders being swallowed up before the finish, and Benoit managed to get 5th in the sprint from the small group that remained.

All in all it was a really good day.  I’m pleased with where my form is at right now and excited for what’s to come.  This weekend coming I’ll be at the Tour de Pays de Gex – a small stage race with 2 road races and a TT.  I’ll try to do a better job of staying up to date for that!  Thanks for checking in.