The weekend I was most looking forward to had arrived: the Nanaimo double header – Beban Park and the Kona Cup. Not only was it a chance to race a couple of my favourite courses, but I was also playing host to friends making the journey over from the mainland. The rain had been pounding down all week and we were primed for some proper late season cyclocross conditions.
Hot Cross Bunnies
The Beban course is the only race that I have ever won. The course works well for me, especially when conditions turn sloppy, and the recent heavy rains had turned the course into a thick soupy mess. Perfect.
Saturday’s start was a short section of road before it rounded the barn and headed into the grass. I earned enough points to get a second row start, and I made good use of it. When I first upgraded, my starts suddenly became timid, and I felt that I needed to let the faster riders through. Now that I’m feeling more comfortable racing in Expert, I was ready to fight for position.
It was fast and frantic around the barn and after a few sloppy corners we were sent spinning around and around into the spiral of doom, where the course tape keeps winding inwards until it just doesn’t anymore but instead abruptly starts winding out. These features inevitably cause congestion at the start once the spiral can’t accommodate the volume of riders coming through. Some people were off their bikes running, while others were determined to stay on. I don’t even remember what I did, but I made it out unscathed.
Any attempts to keep my bike clean prior to the start were thwarted by the time I reached the boggy puddle. I decided to forgo riding it and instead trudged through, praying I would keep my balance – and my shoes!
For the majority of the race I traded blows with Sam Whittingham of Naked Bikes. It became a race within a race, and I forgot about the others and focused on not letting Sam get away from me. In many races I end up in no mans land, essentially doing a cyclocross time trial, so it was fun to have someone to do battle with throughout the entire race.
My race was made up of marginal gains. Due to the heavy mud, it was a slow course, so I focused on finding good lines through the corners. I had a couple corners where by cutting directly across the slop, I seemed to manage to gain ground. They weren’t all successful. “The tight line close to the barn is the best one” Owen told me prior to the start, which it was, but as I found out there is a fine line between getting close to the barn and running into it. I kept cutting closer and closer to the barn until I finally nailed it with my shoulder, leaving some skin behind as testimony.
Due to longer lap times, we ended up doing only five laps. There is something about seeing three laps to go that boosts the spirits. Even if those three laps take 33 minutes. I kept it together, and despite a few run ins with course tape, managed to finish 17 / 39.
By the time we finally hosed off six sets of gear, sorted out the bikes, and showered it was pushing 8pm before we sat down for dinner. I was thankful for the hot dog I scored after the race to tide me over because I was ready to collapse. After a good meal and well deserved beer, it was off to bed ready to do it all over again the next day.
Bowen Park is one of the more challenging courses on the schedule as it has a little bit of everything. Short punchy climbs, wicked fast descents, a long (really long) staircase, two sand pits, and a 500 m paved section that always tricks you into thinking you can go harder than you actually can.
Despite being one of my favourites, it is a course that hasn’t held much success for me in the past. I crashed hard my first time racing it on a sketchy descent shredding my leg and shorts in the process. I wasn’t alone. I saw numerous others go down in the same section, one breaking his carbon frame. This year I made sure to keep my speed in check when hitting that section.
As eager as I was to race, I had this nagging feeling that I wasn’t up to it. I was worried about the paved start, fearing that I wouldn’t keep the pace. My legs felt heavy from the previous day and I was having a tough time getting psyched up to race.
Sure enough the horn sounded and everyone was gone. When all the single speeders had past me, whom I assumed would at least be spinning out, I knew I was not in good shape. The pavement seemed to go on for ever, and by the time we left the road for the trail, I was near the back. I tried to settle in for the hour and make up time, but things were not going my way.
Perhaps it was because I watched so many in the intermediate race execute it so smoothly, but for some reason I became fixated with being able to bunny hop a log that had been placed across the course. Almost as if the entire success of my race would depend on being able to hop over the log.It became my piece de resistance. The reality was that due to the fairly immediate 180 degree corner and a subsequent steep climb, the gains made from bunny hopping were negligible, but that I wasn’t about to let logic get in the way.
I made numerous attempts during warm up and made it over the log without issue. They weren’t all smooth mind you, but they were successful. “I totally have this log nailed” I told myself. Fast forward to lap one. Coming in much hotter than I did in warm up to a cheering crowd (that also was not there during warm up) and I pull up the front and shakily make it over the log, but not without almost crashing upon landing. That should have been fair warning to give up, but no.
Next lap, feeling much more tired and not at all confident, I got up over the log, but when the front tire touched the ground, it stopped and I went sailing ass over tea kettle onto the ground, with my bike crashing into me for good measure. Surely that was enough to deter me from trying again. But again, no. Next lap my log hopping confidence was now at rock bottom, yet still I try. Front wheel up. Front wheel down. Me over the bars onto my back. That one hurt. After that, I stuck to running that damn log.
I tried to shake it off, but an already difficult race had taken a painful turn. Back on the bike I was less than enthused about finishing. Luckily, a couple liquid hand ups at the bottom of the stairs changed my outlook and I set about trying to salvage my result.
When I first upgraded to Expert my main goal was to finish on the lead lap, so I pushed back with that goal in mind, even though I felt more than happy enough to be put out of my misery early. I could see the leaders gaining on me from across the course, but I gave it everything and was happy to see the one on the lap board. I had made it.
Finishing on the lead lap is not always glamorous. I was far enough behind that the course was mostly empty. Spectators were packing up and the handups had run dry. By the time I rounded the final corner to the sand pit I could see that half the course had already been taken down. It was a somewhat depressing end to a race I would rather forget.
In hind sight I may have set myself up for failure on Sunday. Those negative feelings I had before the race put me into a bit of a funk that I couldn’t seem to shake. I’ve been training enough that I should have had the legs for the race, but it just didn’t come together. As difficult as the physical part of racing can be, the mental aspect can be just as tough, and something I need to work on more. Lessons learned for next time. That log didn’t help though.
It was a mixed weekend. Saturday I was elated with my result and had the feeling that I raced well, while Sunday just wasn’t my day. In the end, it was still a great weekend of cyclocross and more than the racing, I was happy to just have a weekend hanging out with good friends and riding bikes.