Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Testing Rio

Twenty-four hours after boarding my first plane in Kamloops BC I stepped off of another into the gathering heat of a spring morning in Brazil.  Five members of Team Canada connected in Houston, Texas for the final 10hr flight into Rio De Janeiro, the host city of next year’s summer Olympics.

This was my third Olympic test event and each has been an incredible experience. Test events exude the excitement, magic and adventure of preparing for an Olympic Games without the actual pressure of Olympic performance. They are the one high-level event where athletes are encouraged to be tourists, soak it all up, familiarize yourself with the city, the course the venue.  To train as long and as hard as you want on course to get to know it, without needing to ensure the appropriate rest to perform on race day. As long as you’re learning what you need to improve for next year, then mission accomplished. 

Test events are also incredible collaboration opportunities between athletes, coaches, mechanics, sport scientists and officials.  Everyone there wants to create an event and a team that will be absolutely world class. The relaxed collaborative environment is energizing, making you feel excited about what you are doing in that moment, about the journey that lies ahead and about the community that will share that journey.
We arrived on a Wednesday, but the course was not available to view until Friday so rather than getting right down to business we were forced to be tourist with ocean swims and body surfing in Ipanema and urban rides along Rio’s vast beach fronts like Copacabana hopping on and off of the extensive Bike Rio path infrastructure, dodging streams of beach goers, vendors, share-bikes and the occasional discarded coconut.  Rio’s poverty confronts you with every glance at a dilapidated building or human curled up on a makeshift bed of cardboard. There is so much Graffiti, some of it really amazing, that you feel the city and it’s citizens have given up on trying to clean it and instead embraced its character. Rio’s homeless rate is as soberingly real as its landscape is intoxicatingly surreal.

Dre really immersed himself in the experience
Cable car up Sugar Loaf mtn to some amazing sunset vistas

Christ the Redeemer looks down on you from almost every angle and once you’ve climbed to the top, as of course we did; running into the French, Kiwi, Slovenian and Chinese teams, you are rewarded with a spectacular panorama.
Once training opened our Brazilian hosts transported us from Rio de Janeiro out to Deodoro park, a military compound converted into the BMX, white water Kayak and mtb venue.  The venue is flanked by lush green hills and even in spring reached a humid 40 degrees each day.  
Whitewater kayak venue
The venue and event were spectacular.  Recruiting Paul Davis, London’s 2012 technical operations manager, and South African course designer Nick Floros, we were presented with a high quality ready-to-race course.  Does it look totally man made?  Yes, and I know this visually looks wrong to many of us.  Where are the trees?  The natural terrain? I would love to show the world that mountain biking is the beautiful singletrack I wind through at home, but that’s the issue, it is incredibly tough to film and share racing through dense forest.  85% of this track is visible from one viewpoint. It is highly accessible for spectators to run from section to section, it’s fun and it provides all of the essential elements of mountain bike racing, a technically, tactically, and physically challenging course, yet it can also be filmed, shared with the world, and stand up to whatever weather conditions mother nature throws at us race morning ensuring a quality event.  Yes, Rio’s got it dialled. 
Emily checks out line options @pedrocuryphoto
The women’s and men’s test races went smoothly.  Some riders succumbed to the heat, flat tires and off-season fitness while others left with some sweet bruises after getting into fights with the rock gardens, but on the whole I think everyone left excited with the track and motivated to come back and crush it next August.
The Start/Finish Randy Ferguson image

Monday, September 21, 2015

A little rant on dopers…

It was with disappointment, but not necessarily shock, that I read about a fellow competitor, Blaza Klemencic, testing positive for EPO.  (With improved testing, a sample from 2012 was retested) http://www.afp.com/en/news/klemencic-gets-provisional-ban-international-cycling-union

Blaza was the kind of person that would try to start a race with two feet clipped in and holding onto the start rail (both rule violations) when everyone else started with one foot down and both hands on their handle bars.  After warnings from officials she would do it again the following week.  Some people will cheat to get ahead, but most respect the rules of the game.

I choose to believe that mountain biking is 99% clean, although this revelation shook me a little. I have been fortunate to win a lot and to know that when I haven’t won, it was because I wasn’t at my best.  It wasn’t that others were impossibly fast, they were just better riders on the day. I made mistakes technically, tactically or just didn’t have my best legs.  I have the confidence of knowing personally that you can be the best in the World riding clean. I have faith in others I have seen rise to that top step on the podium, like my Canadian and Luna teammates.  I feel surrounded by good honest people. If there are dishonest racers out there, I do not feel you do yourself any favours turning yourself into a victim. If every time someone passed you in a race you thought you hadn’t a chance because they’re a doper, you would just deflate and give up.  Racing is already tough enough without starting a race feeling defeated.

How did Blaza’s actions affect me?  Well, If the ban from 2012 was still in effect I may have finished 3rd not 4th overall on the World Cup this year without her finishing ahead of me twice, so on paper and financially she had an impact.  But honestly, I don’t really care about that.   What I care about is how she casts doubt on our sport, Olympians and World Class athletes in general. There is already enough skepticism of athletes out there.

When a top 15 rider dopes to get results many people willingly jump to the conclusion that you can’t be faster than that without help, rather than concluding that SHE couldn’t or wasn't patient or hard working enough to find out.  There is skepticism of what is physiologically possible, often thrown out there by people with limited knowledge of physiology or elite performance.  People that are “good athletes” or have read a few articles or texts, or coached a talented rider and have difficulty believing that someone else could actually be significantly faster than themselves (ego doping) or their athletes.  I don’t know many people that would look at a nuclear physicist and assume that to have their intellect they must have somehow cheated, but that is the attitude elite athletes must contend with.  

Let’s be honest, to be truly world class you are different.  You likely have an excellent VO2 max, a high ability to transport and utilize oxygen, the ability to maintain lean body mass while producing high power, a good immune system, an ability to handle time zone changes, an excellent work ethic, a strong mind, tactical awareness, confidence, passion, technical skill … there is a lot that goes into being a World Class athlete and not everyone has it, but some do and by thinking people are doping because they are incredible athletes is such a heart break, and that is the atmosphere dopers create.  

It is sad that some athletes prematurely give up on their own abilities or are so intent on winning at all costs that they cheat.  For those in the sport system I think we can do a lot for future generations by promoting a well-rounded approach that emphasizes success in life, not just in sport.  I imagine people resort to cheating when they feel sport is all they have or their performance is their only value. 

Encourage athletes to go to university or trade school, to have something outside of sport where they are successful - so that winning isn’t everything.  Value them as people and for their contributions to a team. Value their effort, not just their performance.  Show them that when someone cheats, they lose what they value most; the respect and acceptance of their peers and the pride in having worked hard for something.

There are a lot of harmful ideas out there, one of the most appalling is that, “You should just let all athletes dope”.  These people obviously don’t have family members in high level sport.  You would never wish potential long term medical problems on a family member. You do not want to see high school kids doping if they ever want to have a hope of reaching the NFL or NHL. You do not want to see great athletes decide to quit sports because they feel they have no chance of success unless they dope.

In the end, what makes dopers losers, is not a limitation of physiology, but a limitation of integrity. They owe every clean elite athlete an apology, their nations an apology and every person that has ever looked up to them an apology.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Cross Vegas and InterBike

After touring Spain and getting in a couple days at home it was time to go back on the road, this time to Vegas. Vegas is always a crazy experience of busy days, limited sleep & limited exercise.  The oxygen infused, dimly lit rooms create a time warp where you become unaware of how many hours have passed.
Home just long enough to get out on the play bike a couple times
Riding SilverStar
The view from my hotel
There are several highlights of the show for me.  One is Cross Vegas which this year became a World cup, another is our annual ClifBar Party.  
Cross Vegas Venue
 Cross Vegas is awesome, not only because we get to be outside moving, but because we race under the lights at 8 pm with about 12000 industry folks out having a good time and cheering us on.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect of my first cross world cup, but was excited to get out there with my Luna teammates and our guest rider Eva lechner to crush some laps.

The race went way better than expected and quickly an ideal lead group formed with Eva, myself, Katerina and Sanne Cant.  I was happy to not trip over myself and be left behind on the mounts and dismounts and worked with Eva to keep our group ahead of the chase group.  It was windy and a super tough course, but an absolute addictive blast. 

 Katerina attacked with 15 min to go and got a gap, half a lap later I was slow through some steps and Eva rolled away, but Georgia was able to bridge up to my self and Sanne and I lead out the sprint into the finish getting nipped on the line by both and took 5th.  Maghalie scored a 9th place finish making it an amazing night of racing for the whole team and a perfect way for the Luna team to wrap up the season together.
You get back to the hotel from Cross Vegas at about 1am totally wired and hoping for a couple hours sleep before another full day at the show.  You have to be rested for stage 2, the ClifBar party, which hosts intense matches of skill like foosball and corn hole (aka speed bagging).

ClifBar knows how to host a great party, with Scott Whips as DJ, Dave Towles announcing and free beer and food, it is an industry crowd pleaser; and that was before Maghalie started dancing.  Speed bagging was intense. Maghalie and I made it to the semi finals before being knocked out of the match.  

                            More shenanigans was had and then it was back home to recover.  Yay!

Home Sweet home!
Just a couple more events to go this season,  CykleScramble this weekend in San Fransisco and the Olympic Test event in Rio in October.  Excited for both, but first, sleep!

A month on the road

The last month has been one of the most fun of my racing career.  I love travelling for races, but so often we are in and out of these amazing areas before you can get to know and explore them.  With worlds at 1900m this year, the plan was to head over early to acclimate and enjoy training in Europe.  First stop was Livingo, Italy where we ran into some of Canada’s fastest xc skiers Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey and Jessie Cockney.  Fun fact: Alex Harvey and I both raced mtb Worlds in Livingo in 2005. 
Fitting it all in the rental car
Mornings always start with coffee stop

Keith and I scoping out some cols
lots of beautiful places to explore

After 10 days of training with my favourite training partners; Sandra and Keith, we were off to Val di Sole, Italy for World Cup finals.  To get there we drove over famous cols like the Gavia and Tonale. The Gavia is so narrow it is handwork just to drive.

After a tough race in Windham I was feeling recovered and strong and was able to put out a good hour of racing at the front of this World Cup, but I still fell apart a little in the final 3rd of the race finishing 11th and dropping by 4 points to 4th overall in the WC series.  Worlds was still the big goal, and having experienced a big upward trend in my racing from two weeks ago and with two weeks left to prepare, I was feeling positive as I joined team Canada to head to Alpe D’huez for our final training before Worlds.
4th overall on the World Cup
Alpe D’huez is an amazing place. At 1850m we were nestled in the mountains with spectacular views.  The best day was hitting up the epic Mega Valanche on our xc bikes.  The 1.5+ hr climb back up was totally worth chasing canucks Peter, Sandra and Alex down, but next time I’d take a big bike;)
This way for fun!
Alpe D'huez, our backyard for the week
and of course no trip would be complete without a climb of Alpe D'huez and toping a podium
MEGA Valanche
The climb back up 
Pancake breakfast! 
and we even left Dre a little 
Funnest teammate award goes to ...Sandra Walter!
After another epic 9hr drive with Tina Fey on Audio Book (Hilarious) and Tara at the wheel we arrived in Andorra to 34 degrees and smoking hot apartments.
Col d'ordino (some other big bike race went up it the same week...vuelta something)
This year Canada entered 4 National champions as our relay team (Raphael Gagne Sr, Alexandre Vialle U23, Raphael Auclair Jr and myself).  Prepping and racing with that crew was a blast and after posting a strong relay time I was excited to get to the big race.

Then the skies opened up.  It poured epic rain for the jr and u23 races.  The day before my race I was wearing 4 layers on my upper body and was still cold, but I had so much fun riding the streams of water flowing the course with Sandra and Mike that I didn't mind.

Check out this video for a taste of Vallnord  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyi3gXirUN0

By race day it was blue skies and warming up but the course had gotten destroyed and was crazy difficult to climb and descend.  I had a great ride, quickly climbing to the front of the race, slipping and sliding down the traversing descent and eventually settling into an on-and-off the bike rhythm with only 2-3 wipeouts a lap ;-) With our assigned race laps based on dry weather times, our race ran way over length being nearer to 2hrs.  Although I had a good ride I was not able to hold off a charging Yana Beloima of the Ukraine on the last lap and had a sprint to the line with Gunn Rita Dahle finishing 5th.  

Although I would have loved to defend my World Championship title with a little more authority, after a couple difficult races it felt good to be able to go out and give it my best and be in contention for a medal.  And Wow, new Olympic selection criteria meant a top 5 qualified me for Rio!!!!!

There was nothing left to do that weekend but party with the team and that was pretty fun too!
On Monday, raced and partied out, I joined my parents for two days touring Girona and Barcelona, two of my favourite cities and places to go for cortados!

Thanks to everyone in my life that made this such a fun, full & rewarding trip!
Sagrada Family Basilica in Barcelona
More Gaudi Architecture: Amazing stuff
And just around the corner is Orbea Campus!
Walking in the Gothic Barrier

Christian & Amber Meier's coffee shop "La Fabrica Girona"
It's not too often I get to be a tourist with my parents.  Loved the time in Spain with you guys!
Team Canada XC 2015