Monday, June 16, 2008


The Test of Metal is a classic mountain bike race in BC. A Canadian Epic as they say. And it is. A 67km point to point mountain bike race thats been running for over 15 years on some of the best singletrack in BC. Plus they have one of the biggest prize purses. With 10 x $100 primes along the route for the first male and female rider, it always attracts a lot of fast racers.

I have raced this event as a newbie pro and a seasoned pro. I always knew I wanted a win but it had to be put on the back burner as it often conflicted with other mountain bike races or Norm's Half Ironman. But this year, with no worlds invite (bastards) my dance card was wide open and I was just starting to hit some good fitness. I had the win in the back of my mind but really just wanted to have a fun ride. I looked in my stable and chose the Hei Hei Supreme. Yeehaw! Time to play.

A big crew from the island was heading over for the race which always means a good battle. I have a long standing feud with our friend Justin Mark. He is currently killing me 3:0. Also Norm had thrown it out there that his goal for the race was to beat me. Where is the love?? And I can never dismiss Dik Cox who always seems to catch me on the descents with his big ol' Dawg.

The cool thing about the Test of Metal is that it is dominated by the weekend warrior. Mass start with maybe 50 pros, maybe another 50 ex-pros, 100's of hard core closet trainers, and 100's more weekend warriors. All shapes and sizes, ages, bikes and backgrounds. I think its cool we all race the same course but when I was registering I heard this poor girl freaking out at her boyfriend when I walked by in my perfectly matched white Kona kit. "Look at HER, she looks like she is really fast HOW COME YOU MADE ME RACE AGAINST HER?!" the pitch was getting higher and higher. I thought she was going to crack. Tears were definitely on the way. Apparently some beginners don't think mixing the pros and warriors together is all that cool. I told her not to worry about me, I was a different category so she would be fine.

With 900+ racers the start chute is usually pretty congested. The self seed had hundreds in the estimated "under 3 and a half hours" sector and maybe half a dozen in the "over 5 hrs" sector. Hmmmm. Everyone is always pretty jiggy off the line. Noone wants to be behind on the singletrack so its a mad rush up the first big climb through the residential neighborhood. Plus it might be joe blow's only chance to make $100 on the first prime. But as I looked up the road, who did I see towing the entire train of 900 racers?? - my teammate Kris Sneddon! Surpise, surprise.

I was nearing the first prime at the top of the big climb when I started to hear some exceptionally femine breathing on my left. Uh oh. I was being challenged. I felt like crap so Jean Ann McKirdy crushed me and made the first $100. But up and over into the first singletrack I pushed past and never saw her again. I found myself in a group with a few island boys (Norm included) so the trash talking began. Justin Mark would pop but not die. Norm tried to drop me up the climb but I reeled him back in. I asked him if he had been doing some secret training without me. He shot back "no, have you?" I dropped the island boys at the top of the climb. Norm claims it was because the drunk boys gave me an extra long push at the top. I guess he didn't hear them say "don't worry we are pushing everyone, but you have the nicest ass out of everyone so far"

I could catch glimpses of the boys closing in on me but they never caught me. I looked at my watch through crumpet woods (also known as crampit woods) and saw that I had a chance to go under 3hrs! I was pretty sure no girl had ever cracked the 3 hour mark so I pushed past chatty joe and didnt stop when Norm's friend Graeme CRACKED and pulled over on the sideof the trail to pull it back together. A long look behind to make sure the boys couldn't catch me and I pulled in for a course record and $900 in primes! Not too shabby.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fort William World Cup

Saturday I was in sunny Scotland getting a tan racing the Fort William Mountain Bike World Cup and Sunday I was in Vancouver freezing my butt off watching the Triathlon World Championships. Crazy time travel.

I will back up....Sandra and her mom and I left our relaxing little resort on the coast of Spain Wed afternoon to head to Scotland. We were sad to go but it was probably best as the buffet was going to catch up with us sooner or later. My belly has been out of practice this year since I am no longer eating roast lamb lunches and cheesecake for lunch at Malaspina. Ryanair was a little sticky with my excess baggage but we shuffled it around and voila - nothing was overweight. The check in gal couldn't quite get her head around it either but she let us through.

We arrived in Scotland at 7pm and picked up some Scottish pounds (2.2 exchange rate - ouch!)and the rental car. Sandra was the lucky winner for driving on the left hand side but after hopping a few curbs and missing a few left hand shifts she started to feel a bit more comfortable. I was the navigator and the second brain "stay left...stay left..LEEFFT!"Google maps had suggested a 3hr drive but we hit a detour and ended up arriving after 1am. The crazy twisty, narrow roads were a bit terrifying, especially when you started to focus in on the deer munching in the gutter or the sheep sleeping in the small gap between the road and rock walls. But the second brain was vigilant. "sheep...sheep..SHEEP!"

We went to put our bikes together the next morning and got eaten ALIVE by the midges. I had HUGE hair from swatting at them biting me up around my hairline. I hear big hair is in. When we prerode the course it was kind of freaky looking at volunteers with screen faces to keep the midges out. I am sure they would have gone mental without it. I have a couple seasons of tree planting experience and I know that biting insects can drive you to a. drink or b. kill. I guess it just depends on your personality which direction you sway.

Sandra's mom did a solo summit of Ben Nevis in less than 3 hours, without oxygen, and in flip flops. Ok she had hiking boots on and there were 100's of other tourists but she looked like she was out for a stroll in the park compared to the HUGE packs some of the people were carrying when we dropped her off at the trail head. She just got back from hiking in Patagonia so I think she was a bit disappointed in teh difficulty level....

The race course was super fun. Completely different than 2 years ago when I had one of my best World Cup finishes. It wasn't as technical but it had great flow. It was basically one huge climb, one super long downhill and then a flat double track bringing you back to the start area. Repeat. The talk of the town was the hot sunny weather we were having. The course was built for rain and lots of it so the hot, dry, dusty conditions were unexpected.

Race day: I had a great start and was climbing pretty well in the top 15. I fell behind a bit on the climb every lap but would usually catch them on the twisty downhill. Unfortunately this meant I was at the back of the pack for the flat doubletrack section so I was yo-yoing after every corner. I was feeling pretty good though for the first few laps and then I started to fade. I am starting to realize that my 7 weeks base training after CX worlds just wasnt enough for the world cup mountainbike circuit this year. I could fake it for about an hour and a half but then I would be exposed for what I really am: a 45min CX racer that prefers short punchy climbs to long mountain passes. I slipped backwards the last two laps to end up 29th. But I felt like I was actually racing in the first 3 laps, so I took it for what it was: another step at bring back my MTB endurance. I should be flying by August....

No time to watch the mens race this week as I had to pack up my stuff and catch a train by 6pm. A 3hr train ride was an amazing way to see Scotland. I saw lots of sheep, wooly cows, wild purple rhododendrons, Scottish broom, a few rabbits and lots of lush green grass. They couldn't fool me with their hot sunny weather. I knew it rained a lot here.

Sunday 6am I was on a flight back to Canada (first class wahoo!). Norm picked me up in Vancouver at noon and whisked me off to see the World Triathlon Championships. Team Canada was hoping for some medals. I was listening to all of the politics associated with that sport as the Olympic team would be decided immediately after the race and announced that night. Rumour had it one of the athletes had a lawyer waiting....

I was pretty fuzzy from jetlag and I don't think the 2 cupcakes helped but I was happy to be home. Now I am trying to get some miles in so I am ready for BC Bike Race. Home court advantage. Bring it on.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Spanish hot chocolate. Chocolate caliente. Its pretty much as thick as pudding. Yum!

The castle at Tossa da Mar 

Sandra and the sasquatch at the top of a climb on the coast. I am not a monster!

The Kula Supreme kickin' it on the Costa Brava

The Cataluyna ass

The hike to Tossa da Mar

The hike to Tossa da Mar

Costa Brava

So I had 3 choices on what to do between the world cups 
1. Stay in Andorra at altitude and train in the rain in the Pyraneese 
2. Go to Scotland right away and train in the rain at Ben Nevis
3. Go to the coast of Spain and train with Sandra in the sun
hmmmmmm tough choice. 

So we are here at a “fitness resort” called Giverola just north of Barcelona. Sandra used to guide the bike tours a few years ago so she knows the area and everyone at the resort. Its awesome! We have a little apartment overlooking the beach cove and there is everything we need and more. The Swisspower team is here too but they are making us look bad, handing out trading booklets with postcard sized autograph cards to all the kids. 

Recovery mode
Sunday was spent washing clothes (my white kit came clean!). And eating. They have a huge breakfast buffet and theme night dinners. We considered a road ride but it was raining pretty hard so we hit the gym for some stretching and a spin indoors. At least it was probably warmer than Andorra and Scotland. A swim in the mineral pool and a Jacuzzi pretty much made my day. AND it was only Sunday! I am not used to racing Sat so it seemed like “found time”. Sandra figures its just as valuable as found money. I agree.

Back on the program
Monday we had to do some serious bike cleaning. We had pressure washed the bikes after our race in Andorra but there was still a ton of mud in everything so we spent an hour at the bike wash station. Frischy rode by and joked that he was going to bring us his bikes to wash next. Ha ha ha ha. Dick. Afterwards, Sandra took us on this cool mountain bike ride in the hills behind the resort and we found some “extreme” terrain (yah right) for us to ride in the sun. 

Euro massages
The legs still felt pretty tired so we booked a massage with Ali the moroccon massage therapist. Now I know us North Americans are a little body conscious compared to the euros but I am pretty sure I got felt up. His wayward fingertips strayed a little too far off course a few too many times to be coincidence. And I seriously didn’t think my groin needed to be stretched THAT much. And who ever heard of a stomach massage that conveniently strays close to the boobs?? Yvonne doesn't have that one in her arsenal of tricks. I made a comment to Sandra and she said the same thing! Her mom panicked and cancelled her appt. 

This morning I did a road ride into the next town. It was along this great highway that twisted up and down along the coast. And the cars didn’t freak out if they were behind you. Then we went into Tossa de Mar and checked out the castle and took a glass bottom boat back. Off to dinner. Tonight is Greek night. One more day here then we are off to Scotland.

Quote of the week

Sue Haywood (Trek-VW) describing her crash while pre-riding the course in Andorra:

"it was like the hand of God came down and SMACKED me...."

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Regula Walter (Sandra's mom) was the official photographer for the trip to Andorra. 

Wildflowers all over the place in the Pyreneese

Post race Sandra with a little extra mud.

The start of the women's race - 2 Canucks on the front row, one in the leaders jersey. Impressive.

Our accommodation, the Velvet Apartments, nestled in the Pyreneese mountains. Not too shabby.

A helicopter crew dismantling the chair lift towers outside of our Velvet Apartments. Geo would have been glued to the action all day with his binos.

Andorra World Cup report

I wasn’t really sure if I was going to come back to Europe again after such a disappointing trip in May. But I shook off the funk and remembered that I had taken the year off work to travel to cool places and race my bike against the best in the world. So I quit my whining and booked a first class ticket on points. May as well travel in style. I could easily be a 5star girl. I DO like my luxuries. Traveling first class is sweet! They treat you like gold, they give you chocolates and wine with your meal and they practically tuck you into bed when they are done. Ahhh. It makes for pretty smooth travels and is much easier on the legs. The only problem with first class is you never want to go back to economy.

The drive from Barcelona to Andorra was a bit more of an adventure. Mapquest had estimated a 3 hr drive however it was closer to six with a crappy map, poor navigation skills, my lack of Spanish and a super twisty drive through the mountains. But the car rental had upgraded me to an Audi3 TDi so it was a pretty fun drive, especially with the 80s tunes pumping out of virtually every radio station. I finally got to Andorra and even in my jet lagged state I could appreciate how incredibly beautiful it was. Well, except the 5km stretch of Robson-like shopping that I had to drive through many times before someone finally pointed me in the right direction to the mountain. As Rob Jones said, “they may as well put a dome over it and call it the biggest shopping mall in the world.” I finally reached the Velvet Apartments. I stayed awake until my travel buddy Sandra Walter (XO-Felt) and her mom arrived after midnight and then I crashed hard. I was so tired. But… I was wide awake at 5am. Jet lag is a bitch.

The race in Andorra was at 2000m. Altitude sucks. Well, I hope that is what made my “3 blocks from the water” body feel like crap, otherwise its ME that sucks. It felt like someone was sitting on my chest. And I was drinking as much as I physically could but I still had headaches. Come on! It wasn’t even THAT high. But lots of top racers had decided to skip this race because of the altitude. Many are getting ready for the Olympics so it doesn’t fit into their grand master plan. I am usually affected a bit by altitude but I had nothing to lose. 

UCI Trade team perks
Kona is a UCI trade team. I don’t have the receipts but I am pretty sure Kona pays THOUSANDS of dollars to the UCI for this designation which seems to get them 1. a spot at the expo 2. the team name on results 3. a coveted rainbow pass for the manager (often includes drinks and snacks) and 4. parking passes for the team. Sounds like a great deal. I asked for a parking pass at the registration but they said they couldn’t get me one, limited parking so everyone was supposed to park at the bottom of the hill and take the gondola up. Huh. Nice perk. When we drove up to check out the venue and preride, the police stopped me on the way up and said “no pass, you park here” (this was ~750m down an 8% grade hill from the venue). But, but….."NO PASS, YOU PARK HERE!” he yelled. Ok. I should admit he was pissed at me because I happened to be accelerating up the hill when we came upon him. And he was telling me to slow down but it took me a second to come to a complete stop. BUT, in my defense, he was wearing a BERET. How I am supposed to take the Andorran police seriously when they wear berets?? It would really suck if we had to park down the hill and haul all of our gear in the rain on race day. That afternoon I went back to the registration and asked for a parking pass again. We gave the beret wearing cops a BIG thumbs up when we parked at the TOP of the hill race day with our thousand dollar parking pass. Thanks KONA! I don’t know if it was worth thousands of dollars but it made my life easier.

Sweet Sylvain
So I was checking all my bolts the night before the race, as I am prone to do (ha ha, Norm knows he is the one that usually does that!) and I noticed that my rear brake caliper was totally loose. Yikes! Close call. But when I tightened it I had some serious brake rub. I tried to fix it but needed a bunch of spacers. Norm packed me a few but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t need altitude AND brake rub slowing me down. It was almost 10pm but Sandra texted Sylvain to see if he could help me out. Not only did he fix it FOR me, but he showed me me a trick on what to do next time. Thanks Sylvain!

The race
I woke up race day and the fat man that had been sitting on my chest seemed to have taken a break. Or so I thought. It had also started drizzling a bit so the rooty rocky course was probably getting slipperier as we ate breakfast. Hmm. To pull out the mud tires or not? When it opened up and poured an hour before the race the answer was obvious. Everyone scrambled. I had to do my warm up on the course in the trees because it was pouring. I was soaked and muddy by the time we were called to the start. But I knew the bigger tires were a good call.

I didn’t want to blow up at altitude (been there – its painful and impossible to recover from) so I had a conservative start.  I got caught behind a big line of riders in the technical sections as a result of my conservative start but I told myself to not panic and try to make up time in the last 2 laps. Ren (Chines rider) was apparently a little more stressed out as she screamed "WHY!?!" when a girl crashed in front of her. Well, I guess its good that they are learning some English. I was riding technically well but I felt so slow on the climbs. My bike weighed a ton with all the mud on it. Neil Ross was feeding me and it felt like he had time to knit a frickin' sweater from the time I crested the hill to when I took a water bottle from him. (thanks for the feed Neil!). By the last 2 laps I soon realized that my speed wasn’t picking off any riders and noone was blowing up and coming back to me. The gaps were too big and I didn’t have the extra energy that was supposed to available according to my master plan. Dammit. Hopefully it was the altitude. Otherwise I might start losing my stalkers to someone faster….