Progression and Satisfaction at the Cascade Cycling Classic

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Two years ago I wrote up this cute little article (http://wp.me/p3tHad-1) about my first major foray into the world of National Racing Calendar events at the 2013 Cascade Classic. In it I remark on the big, bad scary nature of the 200-rider pack and the difficulty of throwing down with the battle hardened professionals of the sport. I barely scraped through that race. By the last day, I was seriously considering skipping the circuit race to get an early start home and avoid another day of desperately scrambling for wheels in the sweltering heat. I often tell people that I stay in this sport because I am addicted to my own progression. Let’s just say that I am glad to have progressed beyond that sorry state I found myself in racing around Bend two summers ago.

My 2014 race was better but barely. Having already raced about fifty days on seven different teams, I didn’t have much left in the tank by the time I rolled into Bend. At least I was racing though. I made attacks (many of them ill advised) and could actually move to the front of the massive 230-rider pack if I committed myself to the task. Still, I languished in the 40-60th place region, the land of hard-fought mediocrity. The race just seemed too big, too fast and too much of a puncher’s parcours for a pushover racer like myself to succeed.

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So despite the consistent year of good results I have had thus far and working up some of my best ever form in training, I had little confidence going into this year’s event. I could not squash the negative imagery of myself getting tailed off the peloton yet again on the way to Mt. Bachelor or getting punted to the back in the fight for wheels leading into the crucial Archie Briggs climb. I also felt the pressure to perform and impress at my last big event ahead of September’s Tour of Alberta and Quebec ProTour races. A good result would be critical to a chance of participation in those big-time races. The drive from Bend out to the Stage 1 start in rural Madras felt long as my stomach grumbled and my heart thumped with a will of its own.

It is a big sports cliché, but the moment the flag dropped at kilometer zero the nervousness blew away and my fears were dispelled. I moved to the front of the peloton naturally and started battling alongside my young teammate Dannick Vandale try to infiltrate the early breakaway. In just 10km I did all the things I could never do in previous years. I rode at the front, I was aggressive and I was strong enough to feel in control of my own race. In my head the words “Game On” repeated over and over and I got excited about the racing ahead.

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The early stages weren’t immediately rewarding. The first 205km stage turned out to be much ado about nothing with a stiff headwind marginalizing the impact of the finishing climb and producing a frustrating bunch sprint. The Stage 2 time trial bore a little more aggravation as my legs never quite engaged on the super fast, flat course. I still shaved almost a minute off last year’s time, but it was hard to settle for 18th after my TT success this year. Still, the result bumped me up to 11th GC and put me in striking distance with two hard stages to come.

The aftermath of a big push up to Mt Bachelor.

The aftermath of a big push up to Mt Bachelor.

I hammered it into my mind that I needed to make my mark in the 180km Stage 3 race to Mt. Bachelor. With many miles of gentle gradients and a high altitude finish, it didn’t suit my strengths very well. Still Stage 3 was a better opportunity than the Stage 4 Nascar-style crit or Stage 5’s hectic circuit race. I went on the attack from only 10 km into the race and after 2 hours of aggression in the pack, finally made the decisive 30-rider breakaway. As a solo rider up against 5 Hincapie riders and multiples from many other pro teams, I tried to break free again and improve my odds to win. Those efforts proved to be wasted as the Hincapie boys neutralized me over and over. I struggled to recover from my efforts in the high altitude run-in to the finish and saw the stage slip away but fought on for GC time. By the time I dragged my empty body to the finish I had done enough to move to 7th overall.

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The next two stages were somewhat of a nervous blur. With a solid GC position in hand I engaged my typical crit survival mode on Stage 4 and actually managed to move up to 6th GC.

The final day’s 132km circuit race my hard training paid dividends and my body performed perfectly. Unlike the final day of Beauce when I was crushed with fatigue, I felt strong and fresh the whole day. I played it fairly conservatively but I was able to follow the many daring attacks volleyed by Mancebo and the other strong men.

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I also couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I watched the 19-year-old rookie Dannick scamper up the road in the break of the day. I did the small job of bringing Russ Hay’s young talent to the front ahead of his attack and it was gratifying to watch him escape and ride in front of the peloton for 80km. On the final lap of the race I overcame my usual hesitation and rode at the front all the way to secure my GC result. I also watched teammate Cody Canning pull off a magic trick to rocket from the back of the race to a 9th place stage finish. After two baffling and discouraging years at the Cascade Classic for me and the Russ Hays/Accent Inns team it all seemed to change in an afternoon. We finished the job and finally I felt satisfied with my efforts in North American cycling’s big leagues.

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A note of appreciation: My success at Cascade this year was supported by some big extra efforts.

  • My Ride with Rendall team made sure my equipment was in order and I had what I needed across the continent from our home base in Ottawa.
  • The Russ Hays/Accent Inns team was very generous to have me back as a guest rider for the race and went the extra mile to support the squad in a logistically difficult race.
  • Our hosts in Bend Anne and Ken were beyond fantastic and kept the morale of the team high with perfect accommodations, logistical assistance and some of the best food (and margaritas) I have ever enjoyed.
  • Fresh Air Concept in Kelowna for dealing with my usual pre-race mechanical problems and making sure I am always ready for race day.

Beauce Always Wins: Success and Suffering in St Georges

The Tour de Beauce is always difficult. The results sheet may change year to year, there may be better weather or weaker fields or a slightly more forgiving parcours but the race always finds a way to punish you. Or at least it always punishes me:

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2012:

My experience with the hilly, windy and pothole-ridden menace that is Beauce started with H and R Block in 2012. I came into the race on what I thought was good form after early season success and winning my first regional stage race in Walla Walla. Two stages, two flats, a ridiculous crash and 60 km grappling in the caravan later any inkling of form was long extinguished and I was on my knees with fatigue. I made it about a half lap on the Quebec City circuit before my Tour faded to black, my body completely empty. I had done damage to my fragile body that would take 6 months to repair. I watched from the feed zone as the likes of Francesco Mancebo and Marc de Maar punched it through the Grand Allee and pondered the impossibility of it all.

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 2014:

In 2014, after a yearlong pseudo-apprenticeship of racing all over the NRC and UCI circuit I was finally figuring the game out when I lined up again as a guest rider with Ride with Rendall inBeauce. Still, blinded by my zeal for racing, I failed to give Beauce the respect it deserved. I took the start after racing 7 days of the last 12 and travelling across the country in the interim. What little reserves I had left were wiped out by a wind whipped, rain soaked, 6-degree Celsius slog to Mt. Megantic on day two. I am not exaggerating when I say that the rest of that Tour was a blur of suffering and some sort of automated determination to finish.

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I somehow finished in the top 20 twice that week and death marched home in the top 30. Still, there was no mistaking the personal outcome of the race. Beauce had beaten me again.

2015:

With an improved schedule and a coach to meticulously build and guide my form, I managed to muster a fair amount of confidence for this year’s race. I knew my numbers were good, my body was recovering better than ever and I was coming off of a successful and aggressive campaign at the UCI GP Saguenay. The Ride with Rendall team, especially Glen, Jason and new helper Gene Samuel, contributed hugely to this self-belief. It is so much easier to stay positive and feel like a contender when you have complete support every step of the way.

Stage 1 reaffirmed my good headspace. On the undulating circuit that will also be home to 2015 Nationals, I was able to follow moves and stay calm when various powerhouse teams tried to stake their claim on the race. There was no glory for our team in the harrowing sprint finish but guest recruit Morgan Schmitt, “retired pro” Tim Rugg and I all managed to stay safe and finish same time.

If I was one to spout cliches, I would tell you that Stage 2 was “EPIC”. I found myself in a group of 20 top riders after only 7 km of howling wind and steep hills. After that was swept back, the race repeatedly split and reintegrated for 140km before finally settling down on the run in to the 5km Mt. Megantic finishing climb.

That would have been too simple and easy for Beauce though and with 4km to go before the finishing climb, I was swept up in a huge 30-rider pile up. I was seeing stars for a moment but I managed to straighten out my bike and get back on the road. After a huge dig on the bumper of the team car I caught the pack and was able to take exactly one deep breath before the climb began. I suffered, I groveled and I clung to wheels for the first 3km before finding some legs and getting a rhythm and chugging to 11th place in the final meters. My body stung from the impact and I was dismayed to find my brake rubbing my newly bent rear wheel but I was pretty damn happy with the effort. Stage 2 was a proper fight and I didn’t back down.

Finally a decent ride up the mountain.

Finally a decent ride up the mountain.

Maybe it was that fighter’s attitude that carried me to the podium on Stage 3 or maybe all of my time spinning away on the TT bike this spring paid off. Either way, it was brilliant. A well-executed TT is almost surgical, everything is precise, no effort is misdirected and the result is a rush of accomplishment and relief. I can only hope for more days like this.

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I got through the crit and on to the war that was Stage 4 in Quebec City. After just 3 minutes of racing, I required a monster pull from teammate Conor O’Brien to avert a split in the waterfront cross winds. Each and every one of the 13 grueling ascents of the Col de Montagne climb brought another wave of splits and aggression. Caja Rural never stopped attacking and Hincapie never stopped responding. I had my good moments and I suffered fiercely when I found myself out of position in the disintegrating peloton. By the end, I was proud to plow home in 16th place on the tail of the shattered lead group.

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And then, just like that we were taking off on the iconic final circuit through St. Georges. I was hoping to defend my 6th place GC but I was walloped by the familiar sensation of accumulated fatigue from the early moments of the race. With the help of great teammates and support from Jay, Glen and the guys I weathered the storm for 10 of 12 laps. Then suddenly, my legs let me down as we accelerated up the KOM climb and I couldn’t respond. I came around and chased hard but never regained contact. And as if Beauce had to rub it in, I hit the deck on the final descent. I got up and rode away but the cosmic message was clear: “not this year”. 12th GC was the final result.

Looking a lot fresher than I felt on St. 5

Looking a lot fresher than I felt on St. 5

Despite the familiar sting of Tour de Beauce disappointment I have found the perspective to be satisfied with the experience. I have progressed from being a virtual spectator in 2012, to a solid finish last year, to a week where I threw down with the very best in the race. In a word: progression is the reason I still do this, so I can’t ask for much better than that. Thanks to everyone from Ride with Rendall, all the sponsors, my bicoastal mechanical miracle workers at Bloomfield Bicycle Club and Fresh Air Kelowna, coach Chris Baldwin and my family and my love Emily for supporting me so well. I hope I can reward all the effort you put behind me again at Nationals next week!

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This is IT. This is racing

It:

I had It for what seemed like only a brief moment in September last year. On the rainy, winding roads of the Buck’s County Classic I decided exactly what I wanted from the race and threw myself towards that target. My effort wasn’t spent desperately clinging to the wheels of the top racers but instead competing amongst them. I didn’t win the race but I felt like it was within my power to do so.  It wasn’t a breakthrough result that weekend but it was a breakthrough sensation. It was a new frontier of confidence and excitement that carried me through a seemingly endless winter of grueling sessions on the indoor trainer. I thought that I had cleared a defined mental hurdle and was ready to burst forward and fulfill my potential at the big races. However, this untethered optimism only proved that I have much to learn about the ebb and flow of success in professional cycling.

Early Struggles:

I had mixed feelings about my first major race at the San Dimas Stage Race. Mechanical issues and an otherworldly March heat wave dashed my ambitions of overall victory but I was already focused on the iconic Redlands Bicycle Classic the next week. In contrast, Redlands-the revered National Racing Calendar season opener was a virtually unmitigated disaster for my Ride With Rendall teammates and me. Despite superb, professional level support from team managers Glen and Jason, I was the only finisher and a lowly 50-somethingth place at that. Between an untimely visit to the tarmac the day before the race, mechanical issues and a lack of race mileage I just didn’t have it. I completely lost my Mojo over those three weeks in the California sun. Instead of the aggressive burst forward I had been expecting, I was swept back in the receding current of bad form and worse luck.

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In Transition:

Coming just after I wrote the final exams of my undergrad at UBCO, the Joe Martin Stage Race marked a transition in more ways than one. When I boarded the 8 am Southwest flight towards Fayettesville Arkansas for the race I finally put my academics in the rearview mirror for a while after a long balancing act with racing and training. I joined my guest-ride teammates from Guttenplan Coaching and set about trying to recapture my previous vigor. The time trial, a major season goal after my 2nd place last year, was a day to forget. My body failed me after 20 hours of travel and I grieved the loss of another golden opportunity. I knew I was starting down the barrel of 3 stages that almost always end in bunch sprints. I wanted to quit the race and battled the creeping, dark thoughts of giving up entirely that all racers must experience at certain points. It was only the relatively massive sunk costs of getting to the race, and the gentle reassurance of Emily over Skype that convinced me to give it one more good crack.

I was in almost every breakaway attempt the next day, including the one that finally made it up the road for 100km through Arkansas’ undulating terrain. Immediately I felt It again. I knew what I wanted in the race and I made it happen. The next two days, I challenged myself to stay well positioned, follow key attacks and even mix myself into the bunch sprints to get the team name up on the results sheet. Upon arriving home in Kelowna, I was as fired up as a person could be after a couple top 25 results and a continuous 22-hour travel day.

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With a clear, school-free schedule, I trained as hard as I ever have in May. My coach Chris Baldwin gave me more than I thought I could handle but I consistently surprised myself by pushing through crap legs and hammering out the prescribed intervals. I surprised myself even more by winning both the Escape Velocity Stage Race and the Mutual of Enumclaw Stage Race in succession despite having no teammates and some serious training fatigue in my legs.

These smaller races were beneficial for my confidence but also ended up helping my emotional balance and well being. It has been extremely fulfilling to cheer on Emily and even my 15-year-old coaching client Alex as they made their first respective forays into stage racing. Cheering for people you care about is absolutely exhilarating and this past month it gave me some valuable perspective on the sport and its core value. That stuff made me really happy this past month.

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I always find it difficult to appreciate when things are going well in my life as a cyclist because so much can change in a single day of racing or even training. But I appreciated this past month as one of my best for a long time. I feel like a purposeful professional again after languishing in frustration and uncertainty through the early season.

The Real Races:

In the past winning a race like Enumclaw would have been an exultant moment and brought deep satisfaction. It was a definitely a good day, but this time it was just a stepping-stone to the “real races”: The UCI Grand Prix Saguenay, Tour de Beauce and Canadian Nationals. Last week’s 4 day romp in Saguenay was the kick off to a crucial, make-or-break month of racing for me and my Ride with Rendall team.

On the start line of Saguenay it was hard not too feel nervous knowing the potential I had after such a good month of preparation. With the professional level support of Glen and Jason as well as soigneur recruits Glen and Kiernan, the team didn’t have any excuses to fall back on either. I was never going to win the race, which is far more suited to a sprinter or roleur who can climb than a climber who can pretend to sprint like me. I just hoped that all my efforts would pay off and I would be able to leave an impression with my teammates. I hoped that I would find It again on the bumpy roads of northern Quebec and spur on a month of confident, successful racing.

I attacked on the first hill in the first kilometer of that cold and windy opening stage and found exactly what I was looking for. My mind engaged, my legs responded and I tore my way into the defining breakaway of the race and a 9th place finish. Over the next 3 stages we scored two more top tens with monster-sprinter Ed Veal who I was proud to support and bury myself for. I attacked the race whenever and however I could, even in the sopping wet downtown crit. The aggressive confidence I had so desperately wanted to find seemed to permeate the entire team over the week with a complete turn around from our melt down in Redlands.

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In the end, the Silber Pro Cycling team proved to strong and too organized for our moves to pay off and good friend Matteo Dal-Cin scored a well-earned overall victory. Still, Saguenay was exactly the start I wanted to this month-long campaign in Quebec. That is how I want to feel and that is how I want to race. That is racing. Bring on Beauce.

The hills of Beauce await.

The hills of Beauce await.

New Year, New Coach, New Motivation

Feeling Different

It is January and I feel different. Usually at this time of year I am overwhelmed by the sensation of searching. Searching for energy to maintain a hefty training load and a new semester of studies. Searching for the elusive building blocks of good form amid setbacks of illness and fatigue. And searching for precious sources of confidence for the cycling season looming ahead. Looking back, this time of year is typically unsettling and even a bit manic for me. I always want success so badly and feel the need to dispense every ounce of energy preparing for it.

I would deliberate endlessly on my training and nutrition approaches. I would psyche myself up for workouts designed for optimal physiological stimulus. I would then abort most of these workouts soon after starting because “the legs weren’t ready” or “the body wasn’t recovered”. No sense doing intervals if you can’t hit the wattage targets and appease your insecurities, better to just pedal an extra hour as punishment and call it good.“Maybe I should go a bit further on my easy days to help me lean up?”–“Maybe I a hard effort or three on my recovery week, just to check the form?”–“Maybe these numbers mean that I am guaranteed a win?”

It ended up being a mess and my fitness and eventual results reflected it. If I had one good training day in 5, that was lucky. And low and behold, come racing season 4 out of 5 races were a disappointment. They say winners are made in the off-season and I suppose inconsistent performers are too. All considered, it is a good thing I feel different this time around. It’s a good thing I have a little help.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been working with my new coach Chris Baldwin at Day By Day Coaching since August. I hired him (and fired myself) because I wanted to eke some semblance of a good ride out myself at the Tour of Alberta. Embarrassing myself with a bad performance in B-F-Nowhere Quebec was one thing, but doing so on Sportsnet One was something I wanted to avoid. It was a hesitant decision born out of fear but it forced me to change a lot of bad habits and perhaps change my direction in the sport.

The Right Motivation/Type A is Not Enough

When I reflected and tried to make a list of the important changes I have made based on Chris’s coaching I came up with over a dozen. Cycling is a game of inches and the little things add up. But taking a closer look, really it all comes back to a common thread: Motivation.

A lot of athletes say that their coaches help to motivate them and push them forward. This isn’t the case for me. As a certified top of the range, 100th percentile Type A personality I am teeming with motivation but it wasn’t getting me anywhere in cycling. I wasn’t steering my motivation towards the right things.

In a somewhat subconscious approach was making it my goal to produce superior power numbers in training and empty myself with unrelenting high-zone 2 slogs. This, in my mind conclusively proved my capabilities and my commitment. And then with my Type A personality already appeased, I would passively let races slip through my fingers with little motivation left in my tank.

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Chris has helped redirect my motivation and reminded me (and I need a lot of reminding) what should motivate a professional cyclist. Professionals train to win races and get results. That’s it. They don’t train to battle inner demons or for a daily self esteem boost. As I came to realize, in order to dig myself out of my rut I would need to tame the petulant Inner Chimp managing my and let my logical mind manage my training and racing.

At first this meant motivating myself to “Do The Work” everyday in training no matter what the power meter was saying or how I felt. One coaching mantra I go back to is that “some workouts are diamonds and some are stones but they are both good training days”. I still surprise myself with what I can do on tired legs and even more so with the improvement to be had by doing every last painful, Goddamned interval.

Doing ALL the work

Doing ALL the work

Motivating myself to go further in training meant straightening out my terrible Type-A recovery habits. Uploading to my workouts to Training Peaks meant I could no longer get away with turning my easy days into mini-workouts. When I overdid it on an easy ride I was greeted by a nasty yellow-flag on the workout and a gentle chastising from Chris. In addition, in my first week being coached I was force to take a real day off. I hadn’t done that in years and it was kind of hard. But I practiced my off day routine every week and by September I was able to take about 30 of them in a row! In the past 6 months, these off days have helped me recover better, finish a dozen books (up from around zero) and feel like a normal person once in awhile. Sitting on the coach is hard work but it is worth it.

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Finally and most importantly I reworked my motivation to race. I was used to trying to prove myself in training but Chris reinforced the old adage of “saving for race day”. That was a start, but even with great form and a hunger to succeed I found myself getting pushed around and feeling competitively inert racing the Tour of Alberta. Chris helped me see that it wasn’t enough to want to win; you have to believe you deserve to win. You have to get a little angry when a rider gets in your way regardless of who he is and what jersey he is wearing. It is all to play for, every time the commissaire drops the paddle to start the race. I took this attitude to Buck’s Country a week later and I ended up sprinting narrowly outside the top 10…in the Crit! In the last 500m I thought I deserved to get a result 900 watt sprint or not. That is the right motivation and it makes all the difference.

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So here I am in January and I don’t feel tired or scared or unprepared. I am not searching for anything but a few extra watts and a little patience to tide me over. I am on the right track, I feel different and I think it will be a different kind of year.

On to San Dimas, Redlands and the rest of 2015

On to San Dimas, Redlands and the rest of 2015

Accepting Rejection and Starting Over Again: On to 2015

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Rejection

“Life is not fair. But no one ever said it was going to be.” I have heard those words since I was a child whenever I began to complain about world’s great injustices (mostly hockey penalties and rules about seconds on dessert). The phrase is something of a family heirloom passed down from my Granddad Graham and like a lot of what he says it is a little harsh but true. Like any other self-important person I have experienced a lot of things that seemed terribly unjust in the moment and had me bitching to whoever would listen. But never has my life seemed so unfair as it did in this fall as I tried to pull plans together for my 2015 cycling season.
Rejection has had a lot to do with it. To be certain, rejection is nothing new to me. Sports are full of rejection and so are academics and so is everything. But the volume and unpredictable nature of the rejection I faced over the course of 8 weeks this off-season overwhelmed any defences I might have had. The internal mottos of “Let it motivate you” and “learn from failure” and “you take the good with the bad” all get pretty old the dozenth time around.

All told I probably called and emailed and begged about 15 teams to give me a shot in 2015. All I wanted was an opportunity to target North America’s top races with strong teammates with good support and guidance. I nurtured thoughts of “turning pro” but I would have been ecstatic with any team competing at the Continental level. I got 15 rejections. Not in rapid-fire succession, but in a slow, anxious drip of disappointment. I have never tried so hard to stay positive, an effort that I found to be pretty exhausting after a while. Pro and amateur teams alike turned away citing everything from location and nationality to already full rosters to a lack of personal wins on my part. The worst rejection of all was the vexingly succinct “Thanks for asking but no” which never failed to inspire mountains of self-doubt on my part.

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As I deleted the final potential team names off my Mac dashboard notepad in late October I was nothing short of depressed. There was no way around it. I had hit the jagged bottom after a long slide of worsening disappointments. I felt my prospects beginning to slip back in June when I had my annual meltdown at Nationals and 4 months later I had lost my final grasp. This subtle slide was an emotional ordeal I couldn’t really understand or express and so I stopped writing here. I have missed it.
With time I have made sense of it all. I made huge steps forward in my racing last year and scored results that I am very proud of but it simply wasn’t enough. Gradually I pulled myself back together. With the help of my love Emily, my family and some newfound therapy on Kelowna’s mountain bike trails, I moulded the frustration into motivation and the disillusionment into hope. Life wasn’t fair and it isn’t going to be but I can still kick ass on a bike.

A Breath of Air

Even with the tremendous personal support I have, I wouldn’t be anywhere without the last minute opportunity I have been given to race next year. After several rewarding experiences guest riding for the Ottawa based team Ride with Rendall in 2013 and 2014 I approached them about the possibility of a full time ride in 2015. Team bosses Jason and Glen did me a massive favor and allowed me to explore every last Continental and development team option I could think of before arranging to sign the RTR for 2015. It was a huge relief and the breath of air I needed to move forward.

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As far as backup plans go this team is a pretty great one. Not only did they agree to have me on despite my cross-county location but also additionally the team program is expanding in 2015 to include top NRC/UCI races across North America.

From my guest riding experiences with RTR I know that support will be great and that I will fit in with the relaxed but competitive attitude the team brings to the table. When I guest rode for the team in Saguenay, Beauce and Buck’s County this year, the mood was light and pressure minimal but invariably we got shit done. With solid teamwork and individual performances by Tim Rugg, Max Jenkins and the moustached assassin Jake Sitler we rattled off a series of top results including a memorable KOM jersey effort in Pennsylvania. I know that Jason, Glen and all the other RTR club support staff will bust their collective asses to give the team a chance this year. I am pretty good at busting my ass too and together I know we can surprise a lot of people on the Pro circuit. So thanks for the opportunity guys and for giving me something to get excited about in 2015.

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Back to Life

And so finally, I have accepted the rejection and moved on. After the first real off-season (or as I now call it: Netflix season) of my career and precise guidance from my coach Chris Baldwin I am already smashing PBs in training. Refreshingly, I only have a few courses left in my degree at UBCO and I am ready to fully commit to a peak racing season this summer. I even managed to nab a new sponsorship from Ryders Eyewear so that I will look cooler than ever this year. And finally I have a great new team behind me that has the same goals that I do. It’s all good and more importantly I am good again. It wasn’t easy and it isn’t what I expected, but I am happy and ready for a huge 2015 season.

If You Ain’t First, You’re Second: My Runner-Up Trip Across America

After a couple months of travel, school related annoyance and National Racing Calendar induced fatigue I think I am finally ready to start writing cycling again. Usually I lean away from personal update/race report type articles but I think this is the time to make an exception. I have had some really satisfying moments in my last two weeks of racing and the narcissist in me wants to tell you all about them.

 A Hectic Life on the Road

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I am currently sitting on the coach/bed/closet at my host house here in Fayetteville, Arkansas awaiting my tornado delayed ride to the Tour of Gila in New Mexico. That drive will be around 15 hours and the race starts in about 44 hours, so that is a little anxiety invoking. I am also staring across the living room at the carcass of my Specialized Tarmac, which has a nice quarter sized crack down the seat stay. I am frantically trying to find a replacement option for that little UCI race in 44 hours and hoping that Sram neutral support will be nice to me and lend me a bike on race day. And just to ice that particular cortisol layer cake is the fact that SouthWest is trying to avoid all liability, leaving me holding the bag.

This is all feeling a tad overwhelming but I constantly remind myself that overcoming this type of…ummm…bullshit is part of success in the nomadic adventure of bike racing. And so I will trudge onwards towards another long night on the road and more logistical scrambling while repeatedly reminding myself that it is bike racing I am worrying about, not real life.

Pressure, Success and Stupidity

I have had to repeat that reminder to myself a lot in the last few days as I have enjoyed and sometimes endured a whirlwind ride at the Joe Martin Stage Race here in Arkansas. More on that in just a minute.

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The Tour of Walla Walla

Even before I arrived in Fayetteville I felt the pressure creeping up on me as I enjoyed a strong weekend of racing in Walla Walla Washington. I entered the race knowing that I had great form coming off my first NRC race/beat down in Redlands Caifornia at the beginning of April. To begin the 3-stage race I completed my first TT of the year on my brand new Specialized Shiv TT. Despite the novelty of the situation, I managed to settle in to the effort and surprised myself with 2nd place at only 11 seconds to Jamis-Hagens Berman professional Ian Crane. After a frustrating and crash-marred criterium I was bumped to third overall by my former teammate and crit-specialist Kris Dahl.

The next day, the team brought an aggressive attitude and strong legs to the 100-mile road race and continually attacked to try to move back up in the standings. Thankfully, the good form I knew I had shone through because it took a full day of attacking and a huge team effort on the last lap to force an elite selection of 12 riders and take back 2nd overall from Kris. Ian Crane would prove to be immovable in the leader’s jersey, which would become a bit of a theme. Overall, Walla Walla was a very satisfying result in my first real race with the team this year and confirmed that I had the form I wanted for my next foray into the big leagues.

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Joe Martin Stage Race Part One: The Ecstasy

Thursday’s 4km 5% uphill time trial in Devil’s Den State Park was an event that I have been thinking about for months if not years. While an 8 minute, 30 km/h climb isn’t ideally suited to my strengths as a pure climber, my careful analysis of past year’s Strava data told me I had a good shot. Still, I entered Thursday with carefully managed expectations. I had also fixated on the San Dimas uphill TT in March but proceeded to produce a choke of Bill Buckner proportions on race day and finish a distant 17th. I made a huge effort to stay calm and act as if the race was just another training ride and I think it actually worked.

I relaxed my body as I rolled off the start ramp and I rode strong and steady for the first 6 minutes of the hill and then suffered furiously as I started to fade towards the top. I didn’t quite have the power I was expecting based on my training but I still ringed everything out of my body on the day.

It wasn’t until 3 hours later that I finally got the results back at our homestay’s palatial ranch house in the woods. It took me several endless moments to finally scan far enough up in the results to see my name in second place-only 5 seconds behind a certain Mr. Ian Crane. I was shirtless, balancing my computer on a towel on the way to the shower-and that was how I got the biggest result of my young career.

At first I tried to convince myself that it was really nothing special. Maybe it was a slow year? Maybe this wasn’t actually an important race? Looking at past results allowed the skeptic in me to accept it: I had just achieved a breakthrough result. My time on the course was on par with past rides from NRC champions Rory Sutherland and Francisco Mancebo. I am also the first amateur to podium in the Joe Martin TT since Andrew Talansky won in 2010. This isn’t bragging here, this is just the validation process I went through in my own mind. My conclusion? Yes I can do this and yes I will keep going.

And the Agony:

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The next 3 days of racing consisted of roughly 11 hours of good, focused bike racing and about 3 minutes of horrible execution that cost me a podium spot on General Classification. On stage 2 I fought tooth and nail not to loose time on the super technical and ferociously fast final 1500m of racing and I pulled it off while two thirds of the field got time gapped. On day 2 I felt strong as the race roared through the windy and hilly terrain outside Pine Grove, AR. And then on the final lap of the race those 4 terrible minutes happened. A 50m gap opened up in front of me as the field exploded on the day’s final substantial climb. I panicked and made a series of explosive efforts to try to bridge to the leaders ahead. In what seemed like an instant, I had blown myself up completely and could only watch, bathed in lactic acid, as the race rode away. Stupid move, very stupid. I lost 9 minutes riding in with the grupetto and slipped to 51st overall. Lesson learned.

After a rough night of chastising myself and with just the right amount of support and encouragement from my peers and loved ones I decided to ride out the next days hellish criterium to prove that I could. I finished in the front group of 25 amid mass carnage on the wet, hilly and technical circuit. Perplexingly, it was perhaps my proudest moment of the weekend because I overcame such doubt from the day before.

Yes I can do this and yes I will keep going.

Fifteen Free Watts from Muve Lube?

About a year ago an article from VeloNews had every performance minded cyclist suddenly talking lubricant. The article boasted the bold result that the very best lube, Prolink by ProGold, saved up to 6 watts of friction loss over the least effective lubricants in an exhaustive efficiency test. Apparently six watts is enough to capture the hearts and minds of the cycling community because the article I must have heard about that article a dozen times and Velonews published several follow up articles and tests. Apparently lube is a bigger deal than we all thought it was.

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So if 6 watts of savings could inspire such rampant enthusiasm about friction reduction, imagine my incredulity when my industry source Shawn at CyclePath Kelowna boasted about a new lube that could save 15 watts! Indeed according to Muve Lube, a Kelowna based bike lubricant specialist company; their lube will save an astonishing 6% over other, unspecified lubricant. If that sounds crazy high that’s because it is. Most aspiring professional cyclists would consider committing a modest felony for that kind of wattage gain. Still despite the possible wattage hyperbole, the Muve website is complete with a testimonials from cycling legend Axel Merckx and Canadian triathlon pro Trevor Wuertle. With this strong nudge of credibility and growing curiosity I decided I needed to try this supposed wonder product. So as Kelowna’s first stretch of beautiful outdoor riding weather arrived, Shawn gave me a bottle of “Muve” to sample.

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How Did it Do?

I could have tried to compare power outputs on different meters and try to tease out the performance difference between Muve and the other lube choices at my disposal but I felt this was just asking for trouble. The last thing I need is a nerdtastic argument over my testing methods and sources of error. I decided early on that I wasn’t going to try to test the wattage savings claimed by Muve but rather try to judge the product as a whole.

Some of Muve's test results

Some of Muve’s test results

I began by thoroughly degreasing my chain and pulley wheels and then applying Muve carefully as directed on the product website. The lube goes on thin and spreads readily into the crevices of the chain. The chain seemed to soak up the Muve and there was little excess to wipe away after application.

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On the road the Muve-lubed chain felt noticeably smoother than with the Finishline lube I had been using previously.  There was that silky sensation of the rollers gliding over the cogs with that “new-chain” feel that you usually wears off after a few rides. This performance was maintained over 3-4 hours of damp and dirty spring road riding. I usually find that my drivetrain gets a little clunky or squeaky towards the end of a ride in such conditions as debris accumulates in the drivetrain. To test Muve even further, this past weekend I raced two particularly miserable and wet Spring Series races near Vancouver and put Muve’s “all weather, long lasting, waterproof” to the test. Again, the lube’s performance held up and my chain stayed squeak and rust free with a little wipe-down and reapplication post race. I didn’t even have to use a degreaser; the lube seemed to do all of the work. I don’t claim to understand Muve’s advertised “single-micron thickness-ionic bond matrix” technology, but it succeeds in creating a light viscosity lube for all weather conditions.

 The kind of weather my chain was exposed to last week.

The Verdict:

Over the seasons I have used many different chain lubes and none has really stood out from the others. I would never have insisted on a specific lube product for its special attributes. Muve lube may change that for me.  You can take or leave the incredible claims of wattage savings and durability but the lube qualitatively outperforms anything else I have used.

For more information including testing results and protocols for those magic 15 watts, check out Muve Lube: http://www.muvelube.com/

For best pricing, Muve is available in several retail locations including Cyclepath Kelowna.