Cyclocross racing… for the love of the sport
text : Alain Cadorette - photo : Gophrette Power
Team Cannondale / ABC Cycles is a well supported Master’s road racing team with great sponsors, but from September to November, part of the team converts from road to cyclocross. Far from having a pro team budget, we still get it done with limited resources. Valuable resources like family, friends, sponsors and girlfriends that are always there no matter how bad the weather is. They may not all be able to wash your bike, change a wheel or adjust a derailleur, but having someone next to you at the start line on a cold early morning really means a lot. Someone to take your winter jacket with 30 seconds to go, someone to give one last word of encouragement…Priceless with 30 seconds to go. Having someone cheer you on for 45 to 60 minutes also makes a huge difference and we can only give them warm thanks for standing around in cold, damp and windy conditions just so that we can ride around our 10 speed bikes in the mud.
We have 3 riders that have done all of the provincial races leading up to the Canadian Nationals and a 4th member that makes a special guest appearance from time to time just to go steal a podium spot from the regulars in the 30-39 age group. more on him later...
The 2016 Canadian Nationals was going to be a special event for our team for a couple of reasons. 1st, the Nationals were back in our province. 2nd, it was held in Sherbrooke which is the home town of our best CX rider and 3rd, this same Sherbrooke rider was the organizer of this great event. Stephane Vallières is one of the reasons why we had the Canadian Nationals in Sherbrooke. He and his organization are hard core CX fans. The venue, the course, the sponsors, the volunteers, all of it was well above expectations and the cyclocross community only had good things to say about their weekend.
For Stephane, it’s also a family affair and they all had an important part to play in the success of the 2016 Nationals. His daughter Magdeleine, not even old enough to race in the Junior category at the Nationals, has been ripping up the provincial circuit in her age group moving up to the Elite class mid-season. His girlfriend Ines, has won almost every race in the Sport’s class, her daughter Jasmine has also been winning her share of races. Stephane support all three ladies and is also very active coaching local kids in the Club Cycliste de Sherbrooke. He ends up being racer, driver, mechanic, pit crew and coach weekend after weekend. You have to wonder where he finds the time to train, but he obviously does since he’s damn fast in the 40-49 class often ending up on the podium.
Over and above the long dedicated hours spent organizing the Canadian Cyclocross Nationals, the months of racing, travelling and day to day life took it’s toll on Stephane. Wanting the event to go off without a glitch, he didn’t really get any sleep on the eve of the Nationals. He essentially mortgage his own race for the sake of the event, but Stephane not being at his best would still be a really good race day for most of us. He still managed to finish in 17th place in the 40-49 age group. Being the 7th fastest from Quebec at the Nationals isn’t anything to be disappointed about
Stephane isn’t the only “racer/organizer” out there. Most of the cyclocross races are held by dedicated cyclocross racers that all have regular jobs, families and life events to deal with. Considering the trials and tribulation of racing cyclocross in itself, adding the logistics of running such events makes it even more daunting…This is where I plagiarize myself from something I already wrote, but I really believe that the next paragraphs were fitting for this article and needed to be shared beyond a vulgar Facebook page.
Cyclocross racing is probably the closest thing to life itself when it comes to sports. Just like life, cyclocross racing is too short lived. The race itself and the season doesn't last long enough...or maybe it does? It might be for good reasons that it doesn't last as long as a road season. The intensity, the efforts, the preparation and the training, probably could not be sustained month after month, but there's something about this very punishing sport that keeps us coming back to race in miserable fall weather week after week allowing us to find what our real thresholds are...and I am not talking about finding your FTP
Just like life, cross racing is an emotional roller coaster. You have good days and bad days, efforts in vain, efforts rewarded, pain and suffering, joy and disappointment, fitness and illness... All for what? For results that only you care about? For bragging rights? For the feeling of accomplishment? For the 45 to 60 minutes of forgetting all of life's little problems? Certainly not just for fun? There's some fun involved like when you clear a hard section without loosing time or when you nail that remount just right, but there's too much pain involved that it can't be just for fun. It's easy to see the level of pain, you just need to look at the distorted faces during a cross race, looks like fun right?
Just like life, you look up to the guys (or girls) that sit at the top of the totem pole and secretly wish you had what they have. The big house, the perfect job, the expensive cars, the perfect family...in cross racing you wish you had their speed, their strength, their skills, their youth...They never seem to fumble, they never seem to make any mistakes, they have mastered perfection...yeah right. Not all is perfect, they surely also have their demons to deal with.
Everyone has their own failed battles, losses, embarrassing moments, but everyone also has their own little victories. That rush of adrenaline when finally passing that guy you can never catch. The pride of clearing that section that drove you crazy during practice. That feeling of nailing that corner just right... The day's event sending you home with a feeling of satisfaction to quickly realize after a 2 hour drive that you have 3 hours of bike cleaning to do with another $50 worth of drivetrain parts to change again. Yet, you do it week after week and you just can't wait until Monday to scan through endless Facebook pages to see what great pictures someone may have taken of you in your moment of glory. You also pray that the photographs were not quick enough to capture that embarrassing moment for everyone to remember when you crashed. That's the little vanity and narcissism in most of us that kicks in on Monday mornings.
Cyclocross, although more marginal that road racing, also has it's share of unwritten rules that some live by religiously. Just like life, there is a fashion etiquette that must be respected at the cost of being marginalized or frowned upon...Oops, wrong sport, that's road racing. All kidding aside, cross is more laid back, but it does have it's considerable share of fashion dictatorship that most of us fall victim to...like life itself. It even goes as far as to how you should hold on to your handlebars to have that Pro Belgian look.
So why go through all this trouble to do a sport that no one in north america really cares about, even less than road racing? Hard to explain, but once you get a taste, you can't wait for cross season to start. In July, you start drinking only beer made in Belgium and you are already thinking of what tire pressures you will be running in October. In August you are shopping for new wheels and reading reviews on which $200 tubulars are the best with the false hope that you will find the ones that will save you 20 seconds per lap. By early September you prop up your new cross bike in the living room to stare at it for hours (or at least you hope that your better half let's you)
This is yet another version of a team Cannondale / ABC Cycles race report. At the end of the day, who really cares other that the ones who were there, but the important thing is that we care. We care enough to keep promoting this idiotic and moronic sport of grown men and women running up muddy stairs in their Lycra's in near freezing weather, just like we did in Sherbrooke last weekend…for the love of the sport.
...Saturday, #crossday: 6:00 AM, it’s cold, there’s snow on the team SUV and all over the hotel parking lot…Time to drive to the local Tim Horton for a drive true breakfast on the go. 6:30 AM, it’s pitch dark and our Cannondale Rep/sponsor shows up early to help with setting up the pits. Much appreciated...7:15 AM I hit the rollers to warm up for the first start of the day and it’s still dark out. My Garmin display changes from night to day time reminding me how early it really is for an old Masters racer to go out and have his heart rate pegged for 45 minutes…that can’t be good at my age?
7:59:30 AM on the start line for the 50-59 age category. The winter jacket is off, snow on the ground, it’s near zero celsius with a mist and I'm wearing only my long sleeve skin suit knowing how hot it’s about to get. That’s the reality of Master’s racing, you get very very early start times for the Nationals. I’m only 49 and still haven’t accepted the fact that I now have to race in the 50-59 class, but 10 minutes into the race, I quickly realize how fast these guys are. The course is wet, muddy and technically challenging making experience and skills as important as raw power. The right tire pressure making the difference between going slow, fast or ending up looking like a kid that belongs in a Tide commercial. The race went really well and I could go on and replay each and every lap, but will spare you the details of how great I thought my lines were and how great my legs felt...that was all in my head anyway. In the end, I was happy with my lap times that were good enough for a 14th place out of 41. Was also proud to be the 4th Quebecois to cross the finish line with only 2 being in the top 10.
8:59:00 AM, It’s getting only slightly warmer and Stephane Vallière and Jean-Francois Fafard are on the starting line trying to stay warm for only one more minute. Stephane has a good start, but the pace of the 40-49 age group is also very fast. Stephane, on vapours from not sleeping the night before, is riding on adrenaline and to the encouragements of his local fan club. He might be disappointed with his 17th spot, but he was still putting in fast laps. Jean-Francois did not have that good of a start, but worked his way back up to a 23rd place passing many riders using is raw power to his advantage.
9:59:50 AM, Rowan Barrett is 10 seconds away from starting what will become a great performance for someone that was sick with a cold and had little sleep with a new born keeping him up. Plus, he was running late and had little time to recon the course after driving in from Montreal the same morning. Rowan is our part time cross racers that shows up from time to time to steal a podium spot, just like he steals KOMs on Strava. Rowan’s technique is…well, let’s just say it needs work, but his aggressive riding, speed and Pro level power to weight ratio makes up for it. At his first ever cyclocross Nationals, he finishes 8th in a field of 35. I believe that he also finishes 1st of all aliens racing in that category.
On paper, other than Rowan’s top 10, it wasn’t that stellar of a day for the team overall, but in reality, we each had our little victories and moments of greatness making our efforts worthwhile.
Full photo report of the saturday race here : Sherbrooke CX 2016 : Day No.2
The next day was the last of the Provincial Maglia Rosa cyclocross series and conditions only got slightly better. Sunny, but not that much warmer because of the blistering winds, Jean-Francois, Stephane and I were back together to race in the 40-49 age group. The only problem was that Stephane was MIA at the start line. Too late to find out where he was, the gun goes off and we are racing for one last time in Quebec in 2016. I felt great, had great lines and…wait, I said I would spare you the details before, but it was all falling into place. I had worked my way up to 6th place with a considerable gap on 7th until…until a rear puncture just before the muddy technical section that was far away from the pits. With my girlfriend urging me on running along the tape of every section, I kept going for 1/2 lap and entered the pits without loosing a spot, but a long wheel change took me out of contentions to finish 11th. Jean-Francois fought hard and finished a solid 7th to also clinch 7th place in the overall standings.
But, what about Stephane? Cruel faith, after having organized such a great weekend, Stephane was rewarded for his efforts by being locked out of a locker room minutes before the race. Without a key to get back in to get his shoes, he saw the clock tick down and was not able to make it back to the start line on time. Life is sometimes so unfair. Fortunately, he did not lose his 2nd place in the overall standing and can finish the cyclocross season with the satisfaction of having successfully organized a great event which was worth far more than any podium.
The end of a great cyclocross season, the end of trials and tribulations…until next year.