Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Jacob, I said NO DISCS



So last fall, I caved, decided to upgrade my 8 year old cyclocross bike. I’d kept it so long because it didn’t feel like it was holding me back. Being spec’d with excellent wheels, good components, and an aluminum frame that wasn’t an afterthought by a company trying to hit a low price point, it was easily under 18lbs. It served me well when I sold my road bike that I wasn’t using very often. Since then, disc brakes have been deemed legal for use in cyclocross races and after a few hiccups, we now have hydraulic brakes on road shifters.


I’ve always felt that the push for legalization never really came from the top athletes. It came from recreational riders who wanted Shimano and SRAM to make hydraulic disc brakes. I don’t know why these recreational riders had to go to the UCI to get disc brakes, I would think they would have enough market share on their own. 10x as many riders show up to a gran fondo/charity ride/buy road bikes compared to a local road race.


Cantilever brakes are “good enough” for cyclocross and nobody at the World Cup level really wants to add another pound to their bikes when the races are so competitive. They’ve got clean spare bikes to use during the races, personal mechanics to keep the brakes dialed, and equipment sponsors to replace worn out rims. World Championships are still being raced and won on cantilever brakes.


For the privateer or recreational rider who doesn’t have a mechanic around to dial in their brakes every ride, or free carbon rims, discs are pretty nice! I can even use my nice mountain bike wheels on my cyclocross bike.


There’s a similar push bring disc brakes into road racing, but with resistance from the top levels of the sport regarding valid points of safety and wheel change logistics, the experiment is being put on hold. I don’t have much issue with this, if I wanted to road race, I’d buy a road bike. But I don’t want to road race. My cross bike lacks the snappy handling of a road bike for criteriums. Cat 2 races hurt too much. But doing the odd spring series or midweek road race? Should every aspect of provincial...er club level be run to UCI spec?


Legalize my Marin!


Post race analysis with Strava Flybys

Strava Flybys can be a useful tool when not being a creepy intrusion on your privacy. For those unfamiliar, Flybys are a new feature in Strava that lets you view the activities of the people who pass by you when you are out training and also compare positions over time.

In the context of racing, you can relive the crushing blows of defeat:
-What happened at the crucial point in the race where someone got away. How much of a gap did they get.
-Quantify who is a faster climber vs. descender.
-Who is closing the most on the final lap/final climb.
-Appreciation of the speed of the top guns.
-Should you risk it to try and catch the group ahead, or play it safe and try to stay away from the chasers behind.

Ken Jones Classic racers in the latter portion of the race.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Jerry of the Day



The world of ski media has been mesmerized by Jerry of the Day. Some kid named Colton found his calling on Instagram by posting pictures and videos of hilarious crashes, behaviours, and outfits. But what is almost as hilarious as the videos themselves is watching ski media institutions like Powder Magazine, Teton Gravity Research, Freeskier, Unofficial Networks, etc... take a break from posting garbage clickbait and fall over themselves to repost the latest Jerry of the Day video to try to cash in on the phenomenon and battle for the scraps of page views and ad clicks. The joke's on them as Jerry of the Day has almost double the amount of Instagram followers.

Ski media has always tried to present itself as "more hardcore than thou" and is almost completely devoid of the self depreciating humour that makes Jerry of the Day hilarious. What is lost in the never ending quest for progression of abilities, ski design, and fashion that they are trying to sell is the reason why people ski. We don't ski because it is serious business and goggle straps must be placed under helmets and toques must be worn at all times to cover up messy hair and skis must be at least 5 inches wide and the gnar is where the deepest pow is. We ski because it is one of the only activities where we can go wherever we want and we can control the accelerations of our bodies around corners, over bumps, and through 3D snow. We ski because it is fun. We laugh at ourselves when we faceplant.  Doglotion gets it. Powder doesn't.

7 years have now passed since Shane McConkey died while ski BASEing. I am constantly surprised that his impact reaches well into the mainstream; to be honest, I only knew of him from seeing him in the odd ski film and reading about his signature ski, the Volant Spatula in a copy of Powder Magazine my mom picked up for me at the gas station (And 7 years later, I'm still skiing on traditional cambered, traditional sidecut skis). Shane was famous for his ability to laugh at himself and his way of life, even creating a game to quantify the ridiculousness required at the top of the sport. Few skiers are talented enough to collect line score points in G.N.A.R. but everyone can enjoy the quest for extra credit points. Like licking Scot Schmidt's boots.

Colton found the humour in the mistakes we all make. Not everyone can relate to that time they skied 7 days of deep Alaska heli runs, not everyone cares about who is the best skier on the mountain, but everyone's got a story of that time their buddy forgot a key piece of equipment at home. Or that time they bit off a little more than they could chew and ended up face down in the snow.  Look in any social media comment section and it's filled with average Joes...er Jerry's! They might dream about the couple of trips out west they are taking this winter. They still think moguls are cool. They still think that skiers hate snowboarders. They probably have a Jerry of the Day worthy outfit collecting dust in the attic. These are the consumers of ski media. All people looking forward to getting out, even if the only time they are "the best skier on the mountain" is around the water cooler.

An honest take on sponsorship


Is sponsorship a sin? from Scott Semple on Vimeo.

I came across the above video on a recent internet odyssey. Scott Semple who has transitioned from suffering on steep, cold, north faces to suffering on the skintrack in ski mountaineering races called out climbers with no noteworthy accomplishments for cheating more accomplished climbers out of gear and money. He asks, is sponsorship as sin?

Sponsorship is a marketing strategy. A company provides gear and possibly money to an athlete with the hope that they will be a good ambassador for their product and increase sales. To answer Scott's question, I would say that if a company believes a particular athlete will sell more widgets than a stronger athlete, then the company is justified in sponsoring the weaker athlete. But if I see some punter plugging a product (mostly some obscure nutrition company), it actually makes me less likely to buy that product. First of all based on principle and secondly, you can plug it all you want about how the product is the greatest, but it doesn't change the fact that you still suck at running/cycling/skiing/climbing.

I'm envious of the runners fortunate to have sponsors that also happen to make ski mountaineering gear. They get free or cheap gear to power them to another midpack finish (except Luke Nelson, Mike Foote, Paul Hamilton, and Rob Krar who can  throw down podium results). While I wouldn't particularly say that they are deserving of getting free stuff based on merit alone, you can't deny that they bring a lot of exposure to the table from their following in the running community. And that is probably enough to justify sponsorship.

I often question the effectiveness of sponsorship. I've been provided with access to discounted ski and bike stuff. I can tell you that I've sold 0 Xprezo bikes, though I've had a bunch of people come up to me and tell me that my bike is cool. I might not have sold any Dynafit race equipment, but I have sold some buddies on Dynafit touring boots. I feel that many athletes don't connect well to the broader community. If you are only hanging around your friends, peers, and fart smellers, you're just preaching to the choir. Go lead some group rides, go hang out at your local spot.

Salomon should be releasing their anticipated skimo ski, the Minimum to the public in the fall, and I expect reps to get bombarded with requests for free or cheap pairs from runners dipping their toes into skimo!

Not to be confused with the Minimax!

Friday, April 1, 2016

#crossiscoming

BREAKING NEWS: #crossiscoming but a lot sooner than you think. All Alberta Cup XCO races to become cyclocross races. All Alberta Cup Road races to be gravel grinders or gran fondos.

Citing declining registrations in traditional Alberta Cup disciplines, Alberta Bicycle Association (ABA) executive director Heather Lothian has recommended that organizers move events to trendier formats to boost numbers.

Former Cycling Canada board member and race organizer responsible for bringing mountain bike Canada Cups to the spotlight of Edmonton’s River Valley, Mike Sarnecki, normally a proponent of Olympic format cross country admitted that interest in the format was waning. “Back when I brought Canada Cup mountain bike racing to Edmonton, I had riders from out east complaining that the course was too rooty and unsustainable. I guess most riders appreciate the smoother courses typical of cyclocross racing”.

Coach and former national team cyclocross member Shaun Adamson welcomes the changes. “Athletes can kick off their season with some high intensity racing and the rainy months of May and June will give riders experience in the mud”.

The transition should be smooth, especially for Iron Maiden race director Bella Amberiadis. “The Canmore Nordic Centre has a bounty of wider ski trails that would be excellent for cyclocross. We’ve always been trying to find ways to get the whole race course closer to the start/finish area; switching to cyclocross should do that for us”.

Asked whether a 3 season cyclocross race calendar will affect interest in his popular Dark Knight event, Ed Garvin wasn’t worried. “I’ve been inspired by tough mudder style events, I think those are the future of cyclocross. I’ve got something up my sleeve for the 2016 Dark Knight”. Leaked information suggests that construction heaters will be used to turn the sand pit into a lava pit.

Ed knows the struggles that XCO race organizers face. Garvin had success with hardcore sounding event names like “Organ Grinder”, but he admits those can only go so far. “I brought National Championships to Canmore. ‘National Championships’ just doesn’t have the same ring around the water cooler on Monday morning as it used to. Fluffy Bunny? What were those guys thinking? The races are only 20 to 30km long, it’s hard to impress anyone with the kind of numbers you can spin in one hour on the bike paths”.

Deadgoat Racing has picked up Garvin’s Organ Grinder calendar spot for their Giver 8’hr. Club president Tim Brezsnyak has has stated that the 8 hour format will stay, but on a UCI spec. 3km course. “We’re going to give you a lot of time and repetitions to dial in your corners, dismounts, and remounts”.

The few die hard cross country mountain bikers left are being encouraged to try Enduro racing or Strava hunting in the mountains.

On the road side of things the Velocity stage race looks to move a couple of township roads over and embrace the gravel grind format. “We looked into going for the high profit gran fondo, but we figured that the aid stations would just get blown over in the wind”.

The Rundle Mountain race in Canmore is another prospective gravel grinder. Although the community’s hotels and restaurants are attractive to gran fondo types, the area is already saturated with three gran fondos. President James Kendall is looking forward to racing on Hwy 742. “I just got this sweet BMC disc brake cross bike, it will be perfect for the washboard road conditions”.

Pedalhead Roadworks and Speed Theory will go the gran fondo route for their events, keeping in line with the bike shops’ target demographic. Aerobars will be allowed for these events. Aero helmets are recommended. Early bird registration ended last October.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ken Jones Classic 2016

The Ken Jones Classic was the final race of the SMCC calendar and also served as the Canadian National Championships. With the death of the Dogtooth Dash, the Ken Jones Classic now stands with just Castle Mountain as a top Canadian course. The field  that assembled at mid mountain early on Saturday was one of the strongest to take on the course. Sure it was lacking certain racers of a bygone era hailing from Valemount and Revelstoke.

Strung out off the start. Interestingly enough, two skiers in the bottom of the picture would work their way up into the top 10.
I got my typical holeshot start and skied out front for what felt like an eternity, but in reality it was not even to the first switchback of the groomed ascent. Eric and Nick were battling all year from Canada Cups to World Cups. When Nick got on the front, all I could do was try and see how long I could hold on. My shins protested, but I hoped  the pain would go away, unlike last year. I settled into 4th behind Rob Krar.

The descents were skiing well, and the skintracks were well set. I was more relaxed on the 2nd climb, and could even watch the battle unfolding behind me. Ben was ripping the descents, and blew by me a couple of times in some tight sections. The 3rd climb consisted solely of a bootpack up into the ER5 zone, which has not opened for a couple of years.
Chasing Rob on the large bootpack of the 3rd climb.
The 4th and final climb up to the top of Elevator shaft from Temple Lodge is always hard. It is long and it comes late in the race. It is never really steep or technical, but it is important to keep the pace high on the flatter sections. Here I slowly faded behind Ben and Rob and ended up in 5th after skating the long skiout trail to the finish. I was hoping for a little more fight on the last climb, but I was pleased that of the 4 climbs in the race, I buried myself deeply on 3 of them. As the 3rd fastest Canadian citizen, I even got a chance at podium glory.

I'm impressed with the progress that I've made this season. Even though I've been doing this sport for a couple of years, and training for even more, there are still ways to markedly improve! Frequent readers will recall that last year I was a little worried about the large group of enthusiasts nipping at my heels; this year I was pleased to be racing for spots ahead of me.

Results 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Growth of the Skimo Canada National Team

Ski mountaineering racing in Canada has traditionally been a regional affair. While Whistler once held the most prestigious race in Canada, 8 years have passed since races were held on the final portion of the Spearhead Traverse. The Ski Mountaineering Competition Canada (SMCC) calendar is now with the exception of a race at Whitewater, entirely in the rockies. Thus the “national team” members are all based in Alberta and BC. I believe if you were based in Kimberley or Cranbrook, the entire calendar including Whitefish would be within a 4 hour drive. That’s not to say that people on the coast aren’t trying, it’s just that the resorts around there aren’t cooperating! And our officials are based in Calgary. The sport is very slowly gaining momentum with more people showing up in suits and light gear, and at the sharp end of the pack, more people training specifically and race times are getting faster.
2010
http://www.alpineclubofcanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/P1020375-300x225.jpg
2013
https://www.alpineclubofcanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/20150212_115356-950x633.jpg
2015

Numbers on the national team aren’t increasing with the growth of the sport. For the 2010 and 2011 world championships, Canada sent a full, 8 person men's team and had to turn away interested racers. Down to 5 men in 2013. In 2015, only 3 Canadian men (and 1 Junior, Oliver Bibby, who stepped up for the Teams and Relay races) made the trip to worlds. Similar numbers to the 4 who went in 2008! Low numbers mean that we’ve been avoiding the politics that come with team selection and have been able to focus on being fast in February, rather than being fast in January just to make that team. The womens team has been steady at 3 members...
Racing is emerging out east having grown beyond the NE Rando Race series with the Skimo East series. These guys race a lot and yeah, they allow snowshoes and runners, but they make do with what they have. George Visser and Lyne Bessette, both former elite bike racers look to be logging the victories over there.

Meanwhile, the growth of Ski-mo in the United States has also brought in interested Canadian citizens living in the US. Canadians Rob Krar finished 3rd (2nd in the sprint) at the recent Wasatch Powderkeg North American Championships, while Tosch Roy finished 8th (5th in the sprint).

It will be interesting to see how these “out of series” racers stack up against the SMCC national team members if they are interested in 2017 World Championships. With no direct comparison, it could be difficult to select a team. Will there be a showdown at the 2016 Ken Jones Classic in a couple of weeks?