Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Olympic Test Event in Essex, England

Under clear and sunny skies the men and women of many nations lined up to race the Olympic course for the first time.

Team Canada had arrived on Wednesday for the Sunday event to test out our accommodations, driving routes and log some serious training time in London.  The four of us athletes had a great time chasing each other around the course, trying out the drops and gap jumps and seeing what lines helped us carry the most speed.   I think as a team we did a great job of collecting information for whoever ends up racing at the Olympics, we had a lot of fun and despite some good training load going into the race, we raced well.

It was a little surprising how real it did feel.   All the workers, volunteers and fans were so excited and happy to have us there.  There was a ton of media and helicopters hovering over the spectacularly open course.  There was definitely more excitement than at a regular World Cup.

The women raced first and were paraded around the start loop before going to the line.  Many of the top riders of 2011 were there, but missing from the mix were 2008 Medallists Maja and Irina who chose to sit this race out and instead focus on the European Championships. Marie-Helene Premont and Emily Batty of Canada also chose not to travel over for the race.

We lined up to what had to be the most intense start line music ever and looked up to lines of people stretched out on the horizon.  Our mechanic Scott Kelly said he half expected the people to lean down, string a bow and shoot a row of arrows skywards.

My start was mediocre, but Julie shot to the front followed by Lechner, Georgia, Osl and Schneiter.  Passing was tricky, but by the 2nd set of tight switch back corners I was able to get past Osl at the crest and slowly work my way back up to the leaders.  On a tough grassy climb I made contact with Julie and Georgia and we just sort of pulled away.  I sat on for a lap or 2.  Honestly with 6 laps and a course that loops back on itself so much it is hard to remember how it all played out, but I got off the front earlier than I had planned or desired so was happy to be rejoined by my Luna teammate Georgia.  It's always great to have some horsepower to share the front.

It was looking like the race would come down to the final couple of minutes when around a loose corner last lap I heard Georgia slide out behind me.  Unlike road racing though, when there's a crash you keep going as staying upright in the loose is part of the challenge of our sport.

I rode the race in solo with great support from the British fans and my cousin who had come out to watch.  It was a pretty cool feeling to win this event and no matter what happens next year I'll have this incredible memory.

Huge thanks to the Canadian Team & staff, Keith and Waldek who became an honorary Canadian for the day.

Fellow Canadians Amanda Sin finished 14th, Andrew Watson 18th and Big Wheels Evan McNeely finished 33rd.

Some stories and photos from the day http://www.skysports.com/story/0,19528,12040_7074671,00.html
http://www.cyclingnews.com/races/olympic-test-event-hadleigh-farm-international-2011/elite-women-cross-country/results

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fast and Female

So I did two other things Fast and Female outside of the women’s Canadian Championship race this weekend.
The Fast and Female mtb camp, the brain child of Olympic gold medallist Chandra Crawford.  We had over 40 girls age 9-15 come to learn some mtb skills,  be inspired, dance and just have fun with the women of the number 1 ranked country in women’s mtn biking.  That’s ride Canada. Whoot whoo

Super cute Event video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w35G9lfjqE0

I also had the pleasure of meeting Olympic silver medallists in Bob sled Hellen Upperton and Shelley-Ann Brown and teach them how to mtn bike as we filmed a segment for “How tough are these sports?” for CTV Olympics.  What fantastic women and great sports!  I don’t know if I would have been so gutsy learning to bob sled….but would relish the opportunity!  You have to wait till next August to see the show, but you can follow these ladies on twitter (which they have gotten me ontoWinking smile)
Hellen, myself and Shelley-Ann

Good things come in 3’s

Photo: Rob Jones canadiancyclist.com

Last weekend we had our Canadian National Championships in Canmore, Alberta.  The course was fantastic.  Lots  of great trails, some fast that you could really set your bike into, others requiring you to back off to make a tough step up or uphill switchback.  The course was demanding, but very fun (actually so demanding a section was taken out (but luckily after I overcame my mental demon and rode it smoothly a couple times…a story to come here later).

Coming off of 3 sleeps at home and some pretty intense world cups I was having a bit of trouble switching gears back into battle mode.  This worried me as at the last world cup Marie-Helene was less than a minute off of me.  I knew her and her team were hungry for a win and with the different dynamic of not sharing the start line with an additional 60-80 women the race might play itself out differently.

MHP took to the front on the start loop and as we headed into the lap I took over.  Emily Batty was sticking to our wheels.  Through the first singletrack, and they were on me like glue so I launched an attack into the next climb.  Emily didn’t follow, but MHP was not going to give up the lead with out a fight.
Up the singletrack we climbed with only the sound of our heavy breathing to accompany us.  Normally on a climb like this I can get some breathing room, but not today. I am already starting to look at plan B. Where on the course can I get an advantage, what lap?

We crest the climb and I hear that great sound of the rider behind you downshifting rapidly.  Okay so she was working maximally.  Phew.  I attack across the flat and into the descent and just try to be smooth and focused.

By mid lap I have 15 seconds, but I mess up “get up” (the step up) and nervously check my shoulder.  I feel fast on the 2nd part of the course, well the down hill at least.  The climb back to the start is a suffer fest, but I know it is a critical part of the course so I push with everything.  The effort with MHP and the altitude make climbing hurt more than usual, but this is for the national title so I push to create a gap I hope will buffer any late race surges MHP comes back with.  After railing the trails in practice I feel sloppy at 180+ bpm, but resolved to keep searching for smoothness.

In the end I was able to build my gap to 2 mins and take my 3rd Canadian Championship.  MHP rode solidly to 2nd, 2.5 minutes into Emily who was 3rd in her first Nationals as a senior.  Congrats!  The battle for 4th-8th was more hotly contested.  Unfortunately a bee sting to the eye 1st lap meant my friend Catherine Vipond raced with only one eye open, climbing like a billy goat, but wanting that other eye on the descents!  She pulled off a strong 6th place after Amanda Sin and Sandra Walter in 4th and 5th respectively.

A HUGE thank you to Luna mechanic extraordinaire for driving to Nationals from Windham even though he had to be back in Idaho for the Us short track nationals the next day.  Greatly appreciated!

Thanks also to all the cycling fans and family out there cheering and congrats to everyone who had their best nationals yet!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Windham World Cup

Photo: Rob Jones. Check out canadiancyclist.com for all race news

Yesterday was one of the best World Cup battles I have had.  After a slow week in the countryside of upstate New York, staying in a farm house without the usual time occupiers of cell reception and internet I was looking forward to some race action and Action is what I got Saturday.

After recovering from a mediocre start, I was able to grab the lead and pull away with only Julie Besset coming with me.  It's always neat to have number 1 and 2 duking it out blow for blow for an entire race and there was an amazing Canadian and American crowd cheering the entire time. Even all the team managers were getting into it and every word of encouragement was appreciated!

To have a hope at winning the World cup overall, I could really use another win. I was entering world cup #5 140 points behind, but a win would bring it down to 90.  I also had set a goal of achieving back to back victories and winning the end of a race. Often in a head to head, I am the one settling for 2nd.

Although I didn't win the race I still feel like I hit many of my goals.  I raced strong two weekends in a row, I battled hard and felt strong and challenged Julie the entire race right up till the last hill sprint to lead the single track.  Julie barely nipped me for it, but went on to put out very strong surges on the 2 single track climbs that were mixed into the descent.  She opened a 7 second gap, but I wasn't giving up and with less than 2.5 minutes to the finish it was down to 5 seconds. I chased her hard and felt that the lower section of the descent was where I could hopefully make up some time.

Then some misfortune struck. The spare tube attached under my seat unraveled and went into my rear wheel.  I ended up losing around 30 seconds and any hope of closing on Julie.

So in the end I did have to settle for second, but I feel good about my form and the knowledge I gained of what I need to improve in my riding to be able to win a head to head next time....not to mention I will always mount my spare tube on stem from now on! I also feel inspired by the challenge of earning another World Cup win.

It was a good day all round for the Luna team with Georgia claiming 5th spot on the podium and Katerina finishing 7th.  We also took the number 1 team position for the 3rd consecutive race.

Canadians rode strong with Marie-Helene finishing 4th, Emily 18th and Amanda, the  3 amigos (jean-ann, Catherine, Sandra) and Mical between 30th and 40th.

Next up, National Championships in Canmore, Alberta

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Racing World Cups at home

You realize how big Canada is when you are talking about growing up pretty close to Mont Sainte Anne, only a 7hr car drive away.  But the trails feel like the trails I learned to ride my bike on as a teenager.  Challenging single track through dense forest, exposed roots and rocks and when it rains, mud and lots of it.  To me the trails in MSA, Quebec are mountain biking.  The course there has always allowed me to excel from Nationals in 2004 until yesterday, my 34th World cup (incl championships) event.  Wow, how have I suddenly become a veteran having only started doing the WC series in 2007?
No matter, I am still loving it and the people that surround me at these events.  Over the years the locals have come to embrace me as a favourite alongside local Marie-Helene.  I even had a french woman yell out during my race “we are proud of you Catharine.”  That is why racing in your home country is so special.  To be able to make those that share a connection with you proud.  It’s what makes the Olympics special and inspires greatness and gives meaning to what I do.

So yes, with my mom, dad, aunt, uncle, husband, brother and sister in law all out there cheering I was able to claim my 5th World cup win.
The race got off to a worrisome start as traffic ground to a stand still in the woods before the first climb.  What should have been the fastest line was completely stopped and women went streaming by me on alternate lines.  Up the first climb I was somewhere in the twenties and then got to experience what the women with less favourable start positions always see the walking lines in the first single track.  I swear women are way more aggressive when running with their bikes than when they’re on them.  Luckily they’re also creatures of habit and tend to follow each other’s line so I was able to take a couple alternate line options to try to regain the top 10.
By the Beatrice (the sketchy rock chute descent) I was closer to this goal and kept working my way forward.  The course zig zag past itself a lot and I saw the Georgia and Katerina had stellar starts and were leading in the top 5.
Through the start finish heading onto lap 2 I was able to grab the tail end of the top 6 all riding together.  I picked off a couple to better position for the steep climb and then set my hardest pace on the climb and moved into the lead with Georgia and Julie Bresset following me into the single track.  Julie used an alternate line to get ahead of Georgia and I lead into the Beatrice.  Down the descent, up a switch backing climb and single track and then down a fast, but mucky switch backing descent I was able to put 11 seconds in to Julie who had also opened on Georgia.  From there i had to keep on the charge.
On the right side Julie brought in a couple seconds on me, but I had a bit more climbing speed on the day.  Julie crashed on the Beatrice that lap and the gap opened to over 40 seconds. Georgia also had some bad luck crashing near the Beatrice and damaging a wheel.
For me the rest of the race was just a charge to stay ahead and stay focused even though it seemed like all sorts of stuff was happening in the race behind me.  Irina overtook Julie for 2nd and Katerina finished 4th after getting  up to 3rd before Bresset clawed her back.  Unfortunately Georgia, who had amazing legs, lost a lot of time after flatting.  Still Luna walked away as top team once again and 2 podiums.
It was a phenomenal day for Canadian women, taking 1st, 5th (Marie-Helene Premont and 7th Emily Batty, not to mention a host of ladies from 27th to 41st.
Kabush later went on to continue the good rides with a 7th in the men’s race and Lauren Rosser our DH World Champ won the women’s xc followed by her Canadian team mates.