A Race Rookie’s… First Impression.

Insight’s into a first O’Cup mountain bike race, by Bevin Reith.

I’ve ridden socially all over Southwestern Ontario. Friendly rides at a spirited pace and rides where the point was to attempt an obstacle again and again until we succeeded or learned we had more to learn. I’ve participated in the organized side of the sport via charity events, endurance races and charity races. But I had never experienced the phenomenon of a cross-country race day until the 2012 Ontario Cup season opener in Mansfield. With the goal of ‘more fun’ in mind I waded in.

Pre-riding the course the day before the race proved that I could in fact make it up the big climb. Even better, it proved the attack and recover techniques learned in LapDogs Cycling Club’s Bootcamp interval training could be applied very directly to the rising and falling terrain. One slow obstacle sighting lap and one fast race line lap seemed like enough but I added a third lap just for fun. I asked for and received lots of good advice from other Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDogs there at the same time. Picking up my number plate for the season put an official seal on the day and I headed home for a nice big healthy meal – the fourth such monster meal of the week.

Car-pooling to the course gave plenty of time for conversation on what to expect. It was great to arrive in time to see the 10:00 groups start their race. Encouraging other LapDogs and carrying their warm-up clothes and bottles to the feed zone was a great way to see firsthand exactly what I could expect for my own start at 11:45. Knowing that my category would be lapping the 8K course 3 times I would be able to skip my customary hydration pack and rely on a quick bottle snatch from other Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDogs in the feed zone just past the start finish line.

With a twenty minute warm-up complete I made my way to the start line with approximately 15 minutes to go. My strategy was to start near the front or my corral, push hard to keep my place up the hill, then rely on my training to allow a recovery and attack cadence timed for the climbs. If someone were to prove themselves faster they were welcome to pass but I was determined to make them work for it. I made all the climbs clean, recovered while still maintaining an aggressive pace on the backside of every hill and set a strong time through all of the single-track. Coming to the end of the first lap I ended up behind a slower rider on the downhill and stayed on the brakes for most of the section rather than chance a pass. This left me with plenty of breath to whoop it up for the crowd in the feed zone at the bottom of the hill and I was rewarded with lots of cheering from LapDogs and non-LapDogs alike. I now knew that I needed clean air in front of me for all of the descents since the Mojo loves a good gravity run after earning it on the uphills.

The second trip up the big start climb spaced out the contenders a bit more. I caught and passed several people on the following sections but still had enough breath to engage in some good natured banter with them and also the riders who earned their way past me. Pushing hard still felt good and I managed to set a blistering pace on the final downhill en route to the feed zone and some fresh water.

Lap three started hard up the big climb. Encouragement from a passing rider to “keep the pace” was exactly what I needed and I flowed well through the last lap by focusing on where I was strong, pacing myself to prepare for the technical bits but not allowing myself to slow too much on the flats. I had been chasing a rider who had passed me on the big climb all the way around the course and when he missed a technical feature I jumped past. Opening a gap on the downhill I continued to push on the final section and stayed in front across the line. A satisfying finish to a great 90 minute ride.

In the end the Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDogs had a great day and I had a good time chatting with some familiar faces after the race. I was impressed by the wide range of people participating in the event. Folks with kids out to race early in the morning, photographers capturing the excitement, spectators along to support the racers, hardcore and light hearted racers on a broad spectrum of bicycles all mingled together. The LapDog camaraderie was strong as we cheered on the final 1:30 start group and I expect I’ll see many more friendly folks as the racing continues. Looking forward to a fun season!