As a proud and long-time cross-country mountain bike guy, born out of the glory days of the Canadian Adventure Racing scene in the mid 90s, I stood firm to my belief that mountain biking is about riding your bike, which means going up before you go back down. The downhill had to be earned. The idea of simply jumping on a chair lift, or catching a ride in the back of a truck to the top of a mountain wasn’t something I was interested in – to me, DH was largely a sport for those who ’couldn’t’ climb the mountain first.
While Alberta cyclocross is but a slowly fading memory as winter’s cold embrace envelops us, it is alive and well elsewhere in the world.
We were lucky enough to have our ‘foreign corespondent’ Rob Pryor do some legwork and catch up with Aaron Schooler to see how his season overseas is progressing.
Well, thats a wrap! The 2014 cyclocross season is in the books, and there is nothing left now but the fond memories of the pain, the crashes, the DNFs and the suffering to keep us warm until spring. Snow fell just in time for the last races of the year at Velocicross. That’s 2 years in a row, we’ve descended into the confused and quiet neighbourhood of Capilano, bundled-up under our lycra and scoffed in the face of winter’s first volley, to race one more time with our squealy canti brakes and skinny knobby tires. To any casual onlooker, it must look astoundingly ridiculous.
But therein is the fun of it all.
If you’ve been to an Alberta CX race this season, you’ve probably seen the boldly branded Shepard Fairey inspired Hot Sauce t-shirts and cycling caps around. It was the caps that I noticed first, poking out from under more and more helmets at each start-line as the season progressed. Then, at the Dark Knight I saw a booth, and I walked up and asked, ‘So… what is Hot Sauce’, to which the fellow behind the merch table replied, ‘the question is, who is Hot Sauce…?’
Meet Mark McConnell.
Did… Not… Finish…
There’s nothing more humiliating than seeing a DNF next to your name on a results sheet. There’s no space for excuses there… Just three letters, staring back at you – and everyone else, for that matter.
Sure, if you taco your wheel, shred your derailleur, or snap your femur, it’s pretty legit. But what about that feeling of complete helplessness mid-race… When you’re out of breath, miserable, aching… Isn’t that what cross is all about?
Sure you could tough it out to the finish, “but why?” asks the little voice inside your head… Or at least that’s what it said to me.
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I’m not joking when I say that the highlight of my entire cycling season, is hands down the Dark Knight Cross Race.
This year reassured me of that fact, without question.
It wasn’t that many years ago now. Well, okay, it was probably 5-6 years ago… Dang. Anyway, I remember my focus was still on MTB, fully. To me MTB was all there was. I didn’t do road or want to, and I’d never even heard of CX really. I was out for a trail ride on my own in the valley, and I ran into Pepper. I didn’t know her, but I recognized her. I said ‘Hey…’. She said ‘Hey’. I asked if she was going to Canmore for what I think was the Iron Lung. She said ‘No. I’m already in cross mode.’ I didn’t know what that meant, but I said something like ‘Oh yeah’, and nodded knowingly. Then she added, ‘It’s all about cross’ and then smirked… I didn’t get it, but I never forgot it, and I still remember it today because I’ve caught myself saying it more and more the last few seasons. For me, when it comes to racing, it really is ‘all about cross’ for many reasons – and the Dark Knight is the Acme of cross races.
On a recent ride, I came closer to getting hit by a vehicle than I’ve ever come in my life… I felt the sideview mirror of your 1990s burgundy Dodge Caravan brush my left elbow as you sped by me!
In the seconds after, I struggled with what just happened. I questioned if I’d been out of line, maybe too far from the curb, but I wasn’t. I gave you lots of room, and the two cars that had passed me moments before you, confirmed that – you had room. I also questioned if you were really going that fast, but I could still hear the sound of your engine revving up in my ears… No, you sped up as you drove by, through that construction zone going north on 121 St near Fox Drive, coming needlessly close to me, and you put my life at risk when you did!
Taking time off the bike is a normal, and healthy thing to do. Your body and your mind both need a break from time to time, to rest, recover and recharge. But, after last year’s cyclocross season, I stepped off the bike for more than a break – it was nearly 5 month black hole… that was largely unplanned and definitely unwelcome.
2013’s CX season was my most successful to date. I had focused my entire riding season around it, keeping my miles up through the winter and well into the spring and summer, before ramping up the intensity just prior to September. The result was I had reasonable fitness going in, certainly the best I’d had to date, and I was able to peak in October and early November – perfect timing for our season here in Alberta. The shocker for me though, was that by mid Nov, I was done! It was lights out. I’d cracked. Physically, I felt drained, between building work stress, home-life with family and kids, not sleeping or eating well and then riding/racing… my energy levels plummeted. And mentally, I was zapped too. I knew it was time for a break, but the idea at the time was for a few weeks, not 5 months.
The Alberta CX season swan song has been sung… And with that of course comes tears, followed by the sudden and vacuous void where you’re left with one thing, the unanswered question, ‘so… what now?’
Sure, like most people at the end of the race season, I’m tired and ready for a break of somekind, but I can’t say I’m excited about heading into the off season. While a few of my racing palz are headed for B.C. to continue racing, others are facing the upcoming Alberta winter bravely, by already waxing their skis, lacing up their skates for beer league, or pumping up their tires on their Fatbikes. But I’m feeling directionless… I don’t know what I’m going to do over the next 5 long months of dark, cold winter.
Bikeridr is self-described as ‘the adventures, rants and ramblings of Ken & Sheldon, two guys who like to ride bikes.’ Truth be told though, we also really like to race bikes. Sadly we just don’t get to do this that often, especially not against each other. Being that as it may, we did manage to line up in Calgary at the 2013 Dark Knight for one all out, no holds barred, battle of the bleedin’ ages!
The Pre-Race: A lot was at stake this year. Not only was this the only chance we had to race against each other, but back at the 2012 Dark Knight we’d had a close one, resulting in Ken taking the win coming in 9th, while I rolled across the line just 2 positions back, in 11th. In reality, although we were close in standings, there wasn’t any true ‘battling’ going on. The whistle went. Ken surged off the line, and although I kept it close, he held his lead right to the end that year. It was a bitter pill for me to swallow, but he’d won handily, and all I could do was put it behind me and look to 2013, which was what I did… This year, waiting for the whistle, staged right on the front row, I was absolutely determined to beat Ken – or blow up tryin’! Some key factors were stacked in my favour. Firstly, I had been riding a bit more this year so my base fitness was better, plus I already had 5-6 2013 season CX races under my belt and felt like I was on form. Ken on the other hand, although he’d been getting his miles, only had 2 races in at that point, so I didn’t expect him to have much ‘punch’ and I assumed he’d be rusty in the turns. Secondly, I was on the much lighter bike. My bike comes in at a svelte 16lbs, while Ken’s is more like a boat anchor weighing about 21lbs. Hard to say exactly how much this impacts things, but it certainly does make a difference and I wasn’t about to ask him to trade whips for funzies.