Best intentions don’t always translate to concrete plans, and although I had told myself that I would make most mainland races this season, schedule conflicts, family commitments, and a phobia of the wallet-draining BC ferries has thus far kept me on the rock for cyclocross season.
Queens CX put an end to my mainland exile. Not only was I eager to return to one of my favourite courses, but it was also the first in a two race long weekend, with a nice rest day nestled in between. And the mud potential was off the charts. Heavy rain forecasted for Saturday promised a repeat of last year’s mudfest.
I woke up Saturday morning to what felt like a monsoon. A muddy race was a guarantee, and although racing in it is fun, everything surrounding it is a pain in the ass. Set up, warm up and futile attempts to stay dry and warm prior to the race can be taxing. The limits of our canopy’s waterproofing were severely tested and in the end I ditched my gear in the main picnic shelter in the hopes of keeping it dry. A couple laps into my reluctant warm up and any remnants of green grass once on the course quickly turned to brown slop. There was a mix of grass and dirt sections, but the terrain made little difference. It was all mud. With each successive lap it became slicker and in some spots, deeper. And the racing hadn’t even begun yet.
It was my first mainland race since upgrading to Elite and I was anxious to find out how I would fare. Finishing on the lead lap was my main goal, that and not passing out before the hour was up. The start came fast and frantic and before I knew it I was spit out the back while everyone powered ahead. I pushed hard to keep up. I was so focused on staying dry that I neglected to eat or drink enough prior to the start, and the first laps were excruciating. Hungry, thirsty, with legs burning I cursed myself for ever thinking that upgrading was a good decision and was a ball of negativity until I managed to talk myself down from the edge. It was going to be a long race and I needed focus.
I settled into a groove somewhere after lap three and tried to keep it consistent. Pick good lines, stay upright, try to catch anyone up ahead. Options for good lines were not plentiful – a solid rut had developed in many of the corners and any deviation from that meant pushing through thick, heavy slop to forge a way back to the main line. There was one section that was a series of uphill muddy corners. Back and forth they ran leading up to the team tents before hooking down near the beer garden. After a couple failed attempts at riding it, I decided that, despite my aversion to it, running would be the best option. Unable to look up without getting whacked by my rear wheel, I slipped my way through the mud. The thirty seconds of running each pass left me gassed. I made the mistake of asking the peanut gallery if others were riding it “Yes everyone but you!” came the heckles back.
Sadly that wasn’t the only time I was off my bike – there was the deep mud filled trench at the bottom of the course that threatened to swallow my shoe every time I ran through, the boggy log that was too deep to ride, and of course, the barriers which were cruelly placed each on either side of a 180 degree corner which required even more running. It was little wonder my arms were aching for days after lifting the bike so much.
We slogged through the mud for over an hour (1 hr 12 mins for me) and with that much mud the race felt like a constant climb. No recovery, always on the pedals. My legs were spent, but I did manage to finish on the lead lap, so my goal was accomplished. After multiple drenchings from the water bottle I was able to clean up enough to be presentable for BC Ferries and my return journey home. I had one day to recover before I was back into the fray.
The Bear Xing
After a relaxing rest day feasting on turkey and chilling out at Mt Washington, I woke up early Monday for the long drive to Victoria. I had convinced Mark to join me and after a pit stop to pick him up from the ferry terminal, we were en route to Bear Mountain to see what was in store.
The course for this sufferfest wound its way over the driving range at the Bear Mountain resort. The weather was a far cry from Saturday’s deluge. The sun was doing it’s best to break through the clouds, but not enough to dry the damp grass (I quickly discovered how slick it was when I went down during a warm up, muddying my only change of clothes – serves me right for warming up in jeans). It was a good mix of flowy and tight corners where half buried gold balls served as obstacles and the damp grass made the corners slicker than they appeared. The dominating feature of the course was the steep descent from the row of team tents that shot the field past the gawking crowd and into the corners below. Easy on the brakes was the name of the game. By the time the elites raced, modifications had been made so that instead of dropping straight down, there was an off camber corner leading into it.
I had a good start, managing to stick to the plan of taking the wide line into the sand, which put me just outside of the pack and away from any pile ups. Those first laps were painful as I dug deep to keep people behind me. This time I had paid more attention to my pre-race fuel and hydration, and it paid off. I didn’t immediately feel like imploding. It didn’t take long for the leaders to pull away from me, but they were never on my radar to begin with. With 49 people taking to the start line for the expert race, there were plenty to keep it competitive and I felt like I was always alternating between looking to catch someone in front and fending off those behind.
It’s funny how having the right wheel to follow can open your eyes to different lines. I was following someone into the first run up (which in warm up I dismounted and ran) who went high, carried speed, and pedalled all the way up and over. I followed suit, surprised at how easy it was to ride. I opted not to ride the second one, as those I did see ride hit it hard and got ninety percent of the way up only to lose momentum and awkwardly jump off the bike.
Each time past the team tents I felt a slight twinge of nerves as I rolled into the off camber, steep descent. The terrain itself didn’t bother me, it was more the potential of crashing in front of the crowd. Luckily, it was a non issue as I bombed down with enough speed to pull a bit of air over the next hump in the grass and garner sympathy cheers from the crowd.
Unlike Queens CX, here it was possible to carry speed and recover in some of the corners. The lack of mud meant that there were times when I could be off the pedals, but the recovery was always way too short. Again, my race pushed well over the hour mark at close to an hour fifteen minutes. Prior to upgrading, my races usually clocked in at around 40-45 minutes. I’m still finding the right pacing for the longer races. I finished eighteenth and well out of danger of being lapped by the leaders, so overall I considered it a successful race.
It seems that after every race I say “that was the hardest race that I’ve done,” and this weekend was no exception. Both races were challenging for different reasons and while I enjoyed the Queens CX mudfest, I feel I went into the Bear X’ing a little bit more prepared. Overall a great weekend of racing, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.
Check out Jeannine Avelino’s gallery from Queens CX: https://javelino.smugmug.com/Sports/Watermarked/Queens-CX-2016/