On the ski hills, on the bike trails, and thru life in general

Archive for September, 2015

My Time with the Pros

The Tour of Alberta is a professional, UCI 2.1, road cycling stage race and has been held in Alberta for the past 3 Septembers. It is the highest ranked professional road bike race in Canada, participated in by many of the same riders who ride in the Tour de France, Olympics and World Championships. I have volunteered at many of the Edmonton area stages in a number of capacities for the first 2 years – as course marshal, crowd control, team parking, and anti-doping chaperone – but this year I decided to go all in and follow the tour around the province. Through a friend with connections, I was able to snag a position as “hydration staff” in the VIP tent. Sounds great, doesn’t it? I mean, how much work can it be to be a bartender? In this case – lots! It was supposed to be a plumb job but I haven’t worked that hard for years! Long hours and more physical than I imagined because we were considered as part of the crew, helping set up and take down the show every day. One of the regular crew described it as like working for a traveling circus.

There were 4 of us volunteers in the VIP area – 2 hydration staff, 1 hospitality manager and 1 hospitality front door manager. None of us expected the work to be as physically exhausting as it was. For the four of us, it meant setting up the VIP area at each of the 6 finish locations – hauling and setting up tables, chairs, and enough cases of beer, wine, pop, juice and water to serve up to 300 guests; decorating the venue with sponsor banners, flags, etc.; serving the guests for a 3 to 4-hour duration; deconstructing the place back to how we found it in the morning; loading it all back into our supply truck, then helping the finish crew pack up everything else on site in preparation for the move to the next day’s finish line. It wasn’t often that we got to sit down. At least contractors set up and took down the tents each day so we didn’t have to do that too! Besides the long hours and the physical effort, the abnormally cold and wet weather was draining as well. The longest day was September 5th, the mountain top finish at Marmot Basin. We were up at 5 a.m., on the road by 5:30, and at the top of Marmot by 6 to start setting up. We opened the bar by noon, “hydrated” the guests until an hour after the race ended at 3:30 p.m., then started the tear down. Once our work was done at 6 p.m., we were able to start the 4-hour drive back down the mountain and home to Edmonton. After 2 nights in Grande Prairie and another 2 in the Jasper area, the next day’s stage was in Spruce Grove so at least I got to sleep in my own bed that night!

All this is not to say that we didn’t enjoy the experience. It gave us a great insight into how a well-coordinated, time-constrained operation worked and was an eye-opening example of organized chaos.

It was also great to see how the pro riders and different teams dealt with the day-to-day challenges. Weather that I wouldn’t think of going riding in, these guys did it for over 200 kms. Of course, that’s their job but it still takes a special type of person to love the sport that much to endure that much discomfort and pain. Dirt – no, check that – mud roads, temperatures barely above freezing, pelting rain and buffeting winds were all in their days work. And the riders we got to talk to were all regular guys. No prima donnas with elite athlete arrogance, just regular guys who like to ride bikes very fast over long distances.

Also a hoot for Chris, my hydration partner, and I was a chance to ride in a VIP pace car for 2 laps in the Edmonton circuit. My driver was an ex-highway patrolman from the U.S. who also taught pursuit driving to his officers. Whoa – what a ride! It wasn’t long on lap 1 before the circuit went downhill and the riders were doing 70 kph. Blasting through the red lights and stop signs and cutting corners very fast was a little unnerving and VERY fun! Something we don’t get to do every day – or ever.

I came back from the tour with a bunch of team bidons (water bottles), hats, and musettes (courtesy of friendly soigneurs) and a ton of respect for the people who put this show on, from organizers to racers. And I’d love to do it all over again next year.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Axeon Cycling Team members rode into the VIP tent to have a pre-race coffee.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Axeon Cycling Team members rode into the VIP tent to have a pre-race coffee.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Axeon Team Cipollini bikes. Yes, I was drooling.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Axeon Team Cipollini bikes. Yes, I was drooling.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Bauke Mollema after sign in. He was the GC winner after 6 stages.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Bauke Mollema after sign in. He was the GC winner after the 6 stages.

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Ryder Hesjedal after sign-in. First Canadian winner of a Grand Tour (2012 Giro d'Italia).

Sep 3, 2015. Grande Prairie. Ryder Hesjedal after sign-in. First Canadian winner of a Grand Tour (2012 Giro d’Italia).

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Setting up the finish on a foggy, cold day.

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Setting up the finish on a foggy, cold day.

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Snow line almost down to race level.

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Snow line almost down to race level.

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Great view of the stage from the bar but the speakers were deafening.

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Great view of the stage from the bar but the speakers were deafening!

2015.09.04 Miette5

Sep 4, 2015. Miette Hot Springs. Stage 3 winners.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. Cloudy below but sunny on top.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. Setting up at 7 a.m. Cloudy below but sunny on top.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. Setting up the fences and banners.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. Setting up the fences and banners.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. The presentation stage and beer garden area. Still cloudy below the summit finish.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. The presentation stage and beer garden area. Still cloudy below the summit finish.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. The crowded VIP area.

Sep 5, 2015. Marmot Basin. The crowded VIP area.

Sep 6, 2015. Spruce Grove. Mike and Chris in their bar.

Sep 6, 2015. Spruce Grove. Mike and Chris in their bar.

Sep 7, 2015. Edmonton. The Timeboard moto message, taken on my VIP car ride.

Sep 7, 2015. Edmonton. The Timeboard moto message, taken on my VIP car ride.

Advertisements

Ahead By a Century

Although I’ve done a lot of longish rides over the past 9 years I have never ridden a true “century”, i.e 100 miles (161 km) or more. I came close 2 years ago when I rode the 150 km route in the Tour de l’Alberta, which turned out to actually be 153 km. You’d think I could tack on 8 more km but that’s not where my head was at when closing in on the finish line. I just wanted to get off that torturous bike saddle!

This year the TdA had a new organizer – the Town of Morinville took over from the Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club (EBTC), which had run the ride for the previous 20 years. The biggest change was the routes. In the past, EBTC had 2 long routes – 150 km and 180 km. This year, Morinville dropped a few destination towns and consolidated the long rides in favour of a single 160 km ride. Fortunately, the 160 km turned out to be almost 166 km, so I could get my century in. Why they didn’t label it as that, I don’t know.

Since a scheduling conflict meant that I couldn’t do the Banff Gran Fondo for ATB later in the month, I wore their kit in this ride.

Mike grinding it out east of Legal.

Mike grinding it out east of Legal.

For the past 20 years, the Tour de l’Alberta had been held on the last Sunday of the Tour de France. And every year the weather has been perfect for the ride. This year, for reasons of their own and late in the planning process, Morinville changed the date to 2 weeks later, in this case August 9th. Besides upsetting people’s schedules – I know of at least 2 couples who planned trips in early August just so they could be free to ride the TdA on its usual date in July – everyone was fearful of the wrath of the weather gods. Would we still have it sunny and warm, as usual, or rainy and windy? The weather gods are known to be capricious and it doesn’t take much to piss them off! Thankfully, they must have been busy flooding some town in China or scorching an area of BC because the day was perfect. If anything, it was too hot, maxing out at 30C.

As in the GF Highwood, I hooked up with a good paceline and we averaged 32kph for the first 53 km to Westlock. And, just as with the GF Highwood, I flatted – this time at 76 km. There went my paceline and I ended up riding the rest of the route on my own, unable to find another group that went at my pace. Although the “official” lunch stop for the 160 km riders was in Westlock, we were there before 10 a.m., not exactly lunch time. I arrived in Legal – the lunch stop for the shorter routes –  after around 90 km, at a more lunch worthy time. I downed a few goodies, replenished my water and met with some of the other riders in our club.

Mike and Archie in ATB kit, with some other RMSSC riders in Legal.

Mike and Archie in ATB kit, with some other RMSSC riders in Legal. Our club had about 30 riders participating in the Tour. I was the only one doing the 160 km route.

By the time I hit the 115 km mark, it was getting warmer than I like and I was starting to get cramps in my legs. I was downing lots of fluid but didn’t have any salt tablets or electrolyte replacement. I slowed down my pace, hoping that would help, but to no avail. The further I went, the more my legs cramped. At the 142 km rest stop, I walked around and stretched, besides gulping Gatorade, until things started to feel ok. I got back on the bike and made it about 2 km before the cramps kicked in with a vengeance. It felt like every muscle in my legs – quads, calves, hams, shins – spasmed all at once. Somehow I was able to dismount and just stood there. Trying to stretch one muscle seemed to set the opposing muscle off! I stiff-walked around for about 5 minutes then decided, what the heck, just gut it out. I rode slowly and, as long as I kept my legs moving, the cramps weren’t too bad. I was worried about a long uphill portion but it proved to be no problem. Once I turned onto the final 10 km section, I was feeling relatively fine and was able to average 30 kph into Morinville.

Lesson learned? Have electrolyte replacement tablets, powder or drink for hot days on long rides! Another lesson learned? Jens Voight was right – “shut up legs” works! Focus the mind and you are stronger than you think you are. I was truly ready to quit at the 142 km rest stop and if someone had offered me a ride back I probably would have taken it. I am SO glad, and proud, that I finished that ride on my own!

Gran Fondo Highwood Pass

I have been investing with Alberta Treasury Branch (ATB) for about 10 years now. My investment advisor, besides making me money, also shares my recreational interests – namely cycling and downhill skiing. Whenever we get together, we generally talk as much or more about these as we do about my portfolio. It came as a surprise, however, this April when he called me up and asked if I would be interested in going for a couple of bike rides courtesy of ATB.

“Umm, sure” I responded, wondering what the catch was and where the rides were. As it happened, there was no catch and the “rides” were the Gran Fondo Highwood Pass in early July and the Banff Gran Fondo in mid-August. No trifling rides these – the GF Highwood is 135 km long with 1700 metres of climbing. The Banff GF is a little longer, at 150 km, but with a little less climb. ATB would pay for everything – entry fee, full ATB kit (jersey, bib shorts, arm skins, thermal jacket), weekly training rides with coaches (followed by complimentary snacks and beers), even hotel room the night before the rides! All I had to do was suffer.

As it happens, I was not able to do the GF Banff due to the fact that I had already purchased tickets for the Edmonton Blues Festival which was being held the same weekend. I have been going to this fest every year since it started, 1999, and have been taking my daughter for the past 10 years so I was not about to miss it. My schedule was wide open for the Highwood though.

The unusually warm and dry May and June enabled me to get about 2700 km of riding in beforehand to get my legs and lungs in some sort of shape. Moreover, our ski club biking group had its annual trip to Canmore scheduled for late June and one of the rides would be close to the base of the main Highwood climb in Kananaskis Country. I had done this climb in 2010 with a few friends when we biked from Peter Lougheed park, at the base of the climb, to Longview. I remembered the climb as being long and exhausting.

Aug 2010 - Highwood Pass. Me on far right.

Aug 2010 – Highwood Pass. Me on far right.

The difference with the GF would be that I would be riding from the casino at the intersection of Hwys 1 and 40, 50 kms from the start of the main climb. I say “main climb” because, although the road is a continuous series of ever rising rolling hills, the last 17 km to the summit is an unrelenting, leg searing, category 2 bitch that just goes UP. No coasting, no chance to rest – just pedal until you run out of gears and then KEEP PEDALING.

By coincidence, one of my friends (Archie) with the ski club was also invited by ATB to ride the Fondos so we did a lot of training together. He, I and another friend (Gary) decided to do a pre-ride of the 17 km climb while the rest of the club rode the trails in Peter Lougheed park. Somehow, Archie got our meeting location muddled and arrived after Gary and I started our climb. It was as bad as I remembered.

The climb. That's Gary way, way back at the curve of the road. I liked waiting for him.

The climb. That’s Gary way, way back at the curve of the road. I liked waiting for him.

Gary, usually a very strong rider, had taken a month or so off and fell far behind. This was a good thing because, being the gentleman that I am, I felt that I should wait for him to catch up periodically. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Eventually we made it to the summit.

Mike and Gary at the top.

June 24, 2015 – Mike and Gary at the top. Hmm – I’m wearing the same shirt as in 2010.

The ride down was much easier, although I limited it to 50-60 kph because of all the grit on the shoulder. Luckily there wasn’t too much traffic so we could ride on the road for much of the time. We flew past Archie, still on his way up. “Where’s the top?” was his plaintive cry.

A few weeks later, Archie and I made our way back to Calgary, where we spent the night before the GF. Up at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m., we found a McD’s, had a nutritious breakfast (not!) and drove the hour to the Stoney Nakoda casino, the start/finish of the ride.

Start line. Early morning.

Start line. Early morning.

Thankfully, it was sunny though, at 8:15 a.m, not particularly warm. I got into a good paceline group and made good time to the first check point rest stop at the 36 km mark. This was my first mistake. I felt good but spent too long at the rest stop, about 15 minutes. Unfortunately, I had to pee and there was a lineup for the few cans. I should have just wandered into the bush.

Check stop 1 at 34 km.

First check stop at 36 km.

The 14 km from the check stop to the base of the climb was fairly easy, but then came the 17 km of climbing pain. I am usually pretty strong on hills but there is nothing like that in Edmonton to practice on! I started out with 3 other riders, dropped one after the first km then was dropped myself after a few more. After that, I was all on my own. I passed some slower riders, the faster ones passed me. I tried the Jens Voight strategy – “shut up legs” – but they wouldn’t listen. I passed one of my fellow ATB riders, who I always passed on the hills in training. “Damn you, Mike. Again”. I told him he would likely pass me further on when I stopped for a rest. I passed another ATB rider. “I’m out of bullets!” he gasped, already in his smallest gear with 4 km left to go. I planned to stop at a particular point, the Rock Glacier turnout, about 2 kms from the top, and forced myself to keep going until there. However, the organizers picked that precise spot to put up a sign that read “Pain is temporary”. How the hell could I stop there, in front of that sign! Reluctantly, I kept going until I spied another rider stopped about 1 km from the top. I thanked him profusely for setting a good example and chatted for a few minutes. Stew passed me, as I predicted, so I took off again, passed him again and made it to the top, legs cramping. The last km is the steepest, between 6 and 12%, and I don’t think my legs would have done it without the rest, brief as it was.

I took Stew’s picture at the sign but never thought of asking him to take mine 😦 I lingered longer than I needed to – time wasting mistake number 2 – then set off on the fast downhill. The second check stop was at 76 km and, again, I lingered longer than I needed. I replenished my water bottle and headed off, only to flat at the 80 km mark. I changed the rear tube with no trouble but it still took me almost 10 minutes. And now it was starting to get hot! The rest of the ride was fairly easy, mostly downhill, except for a 1 km stretch at the 122 km mark with a 6% grade – a Strava segment that someone had appropriately named “L’il nasty”. That was almost the last straw but I persevered and managed to make it back to the finish. Total time 6 hrs 11 minutes, riding time 5 hrs 15 minutes. The Highwood route. Not great but I made it. I wasn’t fast but I wasn’t last. I was also the second oldest person on the ride (only Archie was older), so I can take some satisfaction out of that. Maybe next year I’ll do it faster!

Such an accomplishment called for a celebration so Lucille rewarded Archie and me with my favourite beer once we got back to Edmonton!

Lucille giving me and Archie a celebratory beer.

Lucille giving me and Archie a celebratory beer.

Better Late Than Never

I think it is time that I actually got down to work and filled in some spaces in this blog. My intentions have been good but life and summer fun kept getting in the way of me keeping this thing updated.

It has been a summer of some cycling firsts though. Not that I set my bar very high compared to others, but to rundown:

  • most km ground out by the end of August – 4500 km;
  • first Gran Fondo completed – the Gran Fondo Highwood Pass, a 135 km ride up and back down (thankfully) the highest paved road in Canada (summit at 2206 metres);
  • first real century ride – 166 km (103 miles) route in the Tour de l’Alberta;
  • volunteer “hydration staff” at all 6 stages of the Tour of Alberta, a UCI 2.1 stage race – the highest ranked professional road cycling stage race in Canada.

Besides my usual riding around St. Albert, I also cycled in Edmonton, Canmore, Banff, Kananaskis country, Red Deer, Sturgeon county, Strathcona county, and Fort Saskatchewan – mostly with the cycling group in our ski club and Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club (EBTC).

Alberta has pretty much been in a drought all summer, which is bad for farmers and forest fires but great for cyclists. The minimal snowpack from last winter and sunny and warm days starting in March, meant that the roads and trails were ice free early. My first ride on the hybrid was on March 14th and I was able to get the road bike out by April 9th once the grit had been removed from most of the roads.

I take pictures at the same locations over the biking season to follow the progression of winter retreat, the slow emergence of spring greenery, the fullness of summer and the inexorable march into fall. The following pictures show this progression, month by month, on one of my favourite trails in St. Albert:

March 14, 2015

March 14, 2015 – trail clear but wet. Good to be biking on clear pavement!

April 19, 2015

April 19, 2015 – still a few snow patches.

May 12 - green starting to show!

May 12, 2015 – green starting to show!

June 17, 2015 - summer has arrived.

June 17, 2015 – summer has arrived.

July 25, 2015 - still enjoying summer.

July 25, 2015 – still enjoying summer.

Aug 29, 2015 - What! Are those leaves starting to cover the trail?

Aug 29, 2015 – What! Are those leaves starting to litter the trail? Already?

The lack of snowpack has resulted in abnormally low water levels throughout the province, including the Sturgeon River which passes through St. Albert. The flooding of the Red Willow trail underpasses, a common occurrence most springs, sometimes to the point of sandbagging low lying buildings, didn’t occur this year. The river has shrunk considerably in width and depth over the summer, becoming barely more than a trickle in some places and the torpid flow has promoted considerable algal growth. I’ve seen lots of herons this year though, with a lot more shallows for them to fish in.

March 14, 2015 - river starting to melt.

March 14, 2015 – river starting to melt.

May 12, 2015 - water level at high point.

May 12, 2015 – water level still ok.

August 29, 2015 - water low and slow.

August 29, 2015 – water low and slow.

Heron fishing in the shallow Sturgeon River.

Heron fishing in the shallow Sturgeon River.

The receding water level in Big Lake can be seen in the following photos, using the guy wires from a power pole as reference:

March 14, 2014 - Big Lake ice retreating from shore.

March 14, 2014 – Big Lake ice retreating from shore.

April 19, 2015 - Lake ice free and water level at peak.

April 19, 2015 – Lake ice free and water level at peak.

May 17, 2015 - water level receding.

May 17, 2015 – water level receding.

June 17, 2015 - more a "damp level" than water level.

June 17, 2015 – more a “damp level” than water level.

July 25, 2015 - Lots of new grass where there was once water.

July 25, 2015 – Lots of new grass where there was once water.

August 29, 2015 - waves of grass instead of waves of water.

August 29, 2015 – waves of grass instead of waves of water.

We have had a little more rain in September so far but not enough to raise water levels. I’ll be gone for most of October, cycling in Italy and Slovenia, so it will be interesting to see if there will be any change by the time I get back. Perhaps snow.

Tag Cloud

Breaking Chains and Taking Lanes

Bicycle Adventures in the Great White North

tuckamoredew

Everyday cycling in Edmonton.

Winnipeg CycleChick

On the ski hills, on the bike trails, and thru life in general

chasingmailboxes.wordpress.com/

ride your heart out. washington d.c.