I love shooting cyclocross. Especially if the weather is bleak. That just makes the muck much more epic.
Leaden skies and rain might mean the end of summer. But for cyclocross racers, the fun is just beginning.
The Vancouver Cyclocross coalition kicked off its season of nine races in the Lower Mainland Saturday with the annual Donkey Cross at Castle Park in Port Coquitlam.
Cyclocross is where road riders go to wallow in the mud.
It was started in the early 1900s in northern Europe as a way for road racers to stay fit as their summer season wound down. The cyclists would challenge each other to race to the next town or village in Belgium, France or the Netherlands and they were allowed any route to achieve their destination. That often meant traversing muddy farmer’s fields, skittering along narrow dirt trails, hopping fences.
By 1924, cyclocross had become a recognized cycling discipline when the sport’s first international competition, Le Criterium International de Cross-Country Cyclo-Pédestre, was held in Paris. But the sport wasn’t officially sanctioned by cycling’s governing authority, the Union Cycliste Internationale until the 1940s and the first world championship was staged in Paris in 1950.
A cyclocross race is usually contested on a tight, twisty route that includes several obstacles and challenges that forces participants to carry their bikes, over a barrier or up a steep, slippery hill. Saturday’s event included races for kids, youth, novices, masters and elite men and women.
BC Superweek is Canada’s largest, most prestigious series of pro bike races. Over the course of a week, riders from as far away as Germany and New Zealand converge in Metro Vancouver for nine races, most of them criteriums around tight, fast city courses.
This year’s PoCo Grand Prix was the first time the racers did their thing in the fading light of twilight and, for the men’s race, darkness.
The Friday-night party vibe around the course and the city’s central square was unrivaled, and the racers put on a great show, even if it was hard to see in the growing gloom.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Mitch Kettler, right, pips Florenz Knauer on the finish line to win the men’s professional race at Friday’s PoCo Grand Prix. The third annual race was the first in BC Superweek history to be held under the streetlights.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The next generation of racers test their skills at the Kids Zone.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The pro men’s race speeds around the darkened streets of downtown Port Coquitlam at Friday’s Poco Grand Prix.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS A commissaire keeps track of the laps at Friday’s PoCo Grand Prix.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The pro women’s race sets off in twilight.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS A replay of the women’s race plays on the monitor as the men await the start of their race at Friday’s PoCo Grand Prix.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Bikes can even create art.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The women round a corner in fading daylight at Friday’s Poco Grand Prix.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The entertainment doesn’t stop even as the bike race begins at Friday’s PoCo Grand Prix.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Kendall Ryan, of Team TIBCO, pops the champagne bottle to celebrate her victory in the pro women’s race at Firday’s third annual PoCo Grand Prix.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The early laps of the pro men’s race at the PoCo Grand Prix are held in dwindling twilight.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Canadian criterium champion Sara Bergen, right, chats with her Rally Cycling teammates before the start of the pro women’s race at Friday’s PoCo Grand Prix.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The women race past a photographer along the course.
“Ride,” she said, as the sun broke through the clouds. “You need to go for a ride.”
Of course, Princess of Pavement was right.
It’s been a dismal winter of ceaseless cold and snow and ice and rain. And it’s put me in a sullen state.
Last year at this time, I’d already put 1,300 kms into my legs. This year, it’s a third of that.
It hasn’t helped that the wintry weather also cost us nine weeks of road hockey.
There’s no doubt the lack of activity has softened my belly. And the diminished endorphins have soured my mood.
So when the morning rain turned to sunshine, Princess of Pavement prodded me. She knows the frustration of inactivity as injuries and school commitments have kept her from her beloved running for more than a year. She’s only just getting back to it, heading out for measured 5 kms when she has the opportunity; her smile lights her way.
But while the sun was out, an icy wind blasted up the river. We’re in the back half of March and we’ve ventured into double-digit temperatures maybe a half dozen times. Last year, the cherry trees were already in full pink bloom.
It was slow going into the stiff headwind. My ears chilled even under the flaps of my winter Castelli cap. I harboured no great ambition for the ride, other than 90 minutes of turning the pedals in fresh air; but it was so much warmer at home in the condo.
But at the turnaround, when the head wind became my booster, my mood lightened, my face warmed. My heavy legs suddenly became powerful pistons. I was a jet engine, rocketing along the flats at 35-40 kph with barely any effort.
It had taken an hour to get to the turnaround; it took only 30 minutes to get back home. Grinning from ear to ear. Mission accomplished.
This was originally published in my cycling blog, The Big Ring.
My feed is pocked with reminders of last winter, when the weather was mild, the roads clean and riding opportunities seemed endless; in the first two months I already had 1,000 km in my legs.
This year has been all about stealing rides.
Sure, there’s the whole job thing; earning a paycheque again does have a way of curtailing long midweek days in the saddle, turning the pedals.
But mostly it’s been the weather.
This has been a winter unlike most.
It’s snowed, a lot. So much in fact, even our weekly road hockey game was put on ice for two months.
It’s been cold. Thaws have been few and far between. And when they did happen, they were quickly followed by more snow and extended stretches of freezing temperatures, icing the roads and bike routes all over again.
So when the clouds do part, the temperatures moderate, and the roads are dry, it’s time to pull on the tights, layer up and steal a ride. Even if it’s just for 90 minutes or so. Before Environment Canada issues the next “weather advisory.”
Spring can’t come fast enough. The way things are going this year, it likely won’t…
For cyclists that can mean waking in the pre-dawn gloom to hunt down streaming feeds from bike races around the world because Eddy Merckx knows we don’t get those on mainstream TV. Or exchanging quips about the results from the latest World Cup cyclocross race.
Around here, some serious geek jones can be fulfilled by a ride to The Musette Caffé.
I’ve written about The Musette before. But that was when Vancouver’s favourite cyclists’ coffee shop was a hole-in-the-wall tucked into a back alley off a bike route.
In January, The Musette emerged from its secret spot to a highly-visible location on one of the main thoroughfares for bikes and cars into the downtown peninsula. It had been closed more than a year after the old site was bulldozed for a gleaming new condo tower, and the owners built out the new café. The wait was worth it.
The Musette has been a destination for Vancouver’s cycling community from the day it opened. The snacks are tasty and healthful, perfect fuel at mid-ride or as a post-ride treat. The walls are adorned with all manner of cycling bric-a-brac and memorabilia, from classic steel bikes to a collection of cloth musettes from various pro teams, to autographed pro team jerseys to route markers collected at the Tour de France and the Giro. There’s even bike racks inside the café so cyclists never have to be out of sight of their ride.
The new location takes that cycling geek chic to a whole new level. The memorabilia is still plentiful, with new discoveries to be made every visit. But the café now offers a full immersion experience into cycling lore and legend. The outdoor patio is constructed of cobbles. The communal tables inside are made of wood reclaimed from an old velodrome track in Antwerp, Belgium. The banquette overlooking the main floor area is modeled after the open concrete showers at the Roubaix velodrome in France where the Paris-Roubaix spring classic race concludes every April; the race’s winners are commemorated on little brass plaques affixed to each “stall.”
The attention to detail is stunning. Interior pillars are wrapped with ad banners from the roadside of the Tour de France. Order number stands are modeled after number plates affixed to bikes at the Tour and the Giro. The impressive espresso machine has been painted with World Champion stripes.
Stepping into The Musette is like walking into cycling, and everything that is great and colourful and historic about the sport. And yes, there’s still racks to park your bike inside. Although it was so busy on our holiday Monday FRF pilgrimage, we had to lean our bikes amongst the dozen or so already parked outside.
This post originally appeared on my cycling blog, The Big Ring.
Keeping your head down on the bike is how you power through rough weather, or a bonk on the third mountain climb of the day.
This winter, it’s a matter of survival.
It’s been an extraordinary off-season. After a run of virtually snowless winters, we were hit hard in early December by three consecutive storms. The thaws that usually wash those snows away never really happened. Instead we descended into a weeks-long deep freeze that iced the land and roads and bike paths.
Now that temperatures have moderated, and most of the snow and ice has melted away, we’re finally able to safely get back on our bikes. But keep your head down and your eyes on the pavement ahead!
Because the consequence of our wintry weather is streets and bike lanes cratered with crumbling asphalt, gaping potholes, yawning sinkholes. A moment’s inattention can collapse a front wheel, pitch a daydreaming rider over the handlebars, destroy a season.
The work crews are out there, doing what they can to patch the pocked pavement. But they can’t keep up with the structural failings. The repeating cycle of freezes, brief thaws and subsequent deep-freezes expanded cracks into fissures, pocks into potholes. And with more cold temperatures forecast, it’s only going to get worse.
Still, a couple of weeks of warmer weather has afforded some chances to ride. The legs are still feeling the effects of the season’s sloth, so the routes have been conservatively flat, the pace languid. But the air filling the lungs feels good, the muscled fatigue is welcome. Because it means we’re actually out there, turning the pedals, keeping our heads down. Dodging divots.
Two weeks ago, on my way home from road hockey, the radio traffic update reported River Road in Richmond was closed for a “police investigation.”
My blood ran cold, my heart sank.
River Road is a popular cycling route along the Fraser River, especially on weekends. It’s flat, there are few feeder streets, not many residents and no traffic lights or stop signs. It’s a major west-east conduit for group rides. It’s essentially a rural road on the edge of the big city.
That Sunday morning was dry and mild; after nearly a solid month of rainy days, groups and individual cyclists were sure to be out in force.
So when the traffic report said the road was closed, my immediate thought was “cyclist down.”
When I got home, I started checking on the Strava feeds of various FRFers. I knew they were out that day and likely would have traversed River Road at some point; they were all checked in safely.
A quick browse of local news sites reported the worst news possible; a car had plowed into a group of six cyclists. Two were badly hurt. One had been killed.
The rural character of River Road that attracts so many cyclists also makes it dangerous. The pavement is narrow with virtually no shoulder. One side is flanked by a water-filled ditch, the opposite by the Fraser River. Cars and trucks trying to avoid more congested routes often travel too fast.
As scant details about the tragedy trickled out on the internet through the afternoon and then on the evening TV news, its true horror gripped the cycling community; the riders had been hit head on, mowed down like bowling pins when an oncoming car drifted out of its lane for whatever reason.
That could have been any one of us.
Whenever we throw one leg over the top tube and clip into our pedals, we know there’s a chance we may not make it home. Most of us try to do whatever we can to mitigate that risk: we follow the rules of the road; we stick to designated bike routes.
But it just takes a moment of inattention or carelessness by a motorist or cyclist to tip that delicate balance of risk vs. reward against us.
The full story of what happened that Sunday morning have yet to be revealed; police are “still investigating.” But their official statement quoted in the media that day was quick to point out the motorist “remained at the scene and is cooperating” (Yay for him!), and the “cyclists were all wearing helmets (like that will make a difference when you’re smashed by 2,000 pounds of speeding metal). The police spokesman quoted at the scene also felt it necessary to remind cyclists to “ride in single file.”
It almost felt like he was blaming the victims, somehow implying they may not have been riding safely.
These kind of throwaway statements appear all too frequently in media reports of car vs. cyclist collisions. The police may think of them as necessary rejoinders that reassure the public the roads aren’t filled with crazed hit-and-run maniacs, but they just serve to reinforce the narrative that the roads are built for cars, and cyclists are just guests who should feel privileged to be allowed to share their space. It’s as if the onus is on us not to get hit.
That sentiment was further inflamed when a Richmond city councilor was quoted that one consideration to make River Road safer for cyclists would be to ban cyclists from using that road altogether. He happens to also own a trucking company.
On Saturday, about 400 cyclists gathered in Stanley Park to remember the fallen 33-year-old rider and his injured companions with a mass loop through the park; it’s one of their favourite routes. I didn’t know him. Likely many in the throng didn’t either. But we are all him.
Cyclists from around Metro Vancouver rode around Stanley Park on Saturday to remember one of their own who had been killed by a car two weeks ago.
Cyclists from around Metro Vancouver gather in Stanley Park to remember a fallen roadie before heading out on a slow loop through the park.
The weather was supposed to be rainy, cold and windy. By the time our group of FRFers gathered to ride into the Stan, the rain had stopped. Along the way, the sun started to fight its way through the clouds. It was, it turned out, a good day to ride. It was a good day to be alive. RIP Brad Dean.
This story was first published on my cycling blog, The Big Ring.
Confidence is the cornerstone of athletic achievement.
Gold medals aren’t won by the timid or meek.
When an athlete steps up to the starting line, climbs on the block, straps into their seat, clips into their pedals, they have to believe in their ability to compete with their rivals, to win.
They also have to have confidence in their equipment, that it will perform as they’ve come to expect, that it will hold up to the most vigorous demands, that it will enable their best performance rather than disable it. In fact, their confidence in their equipment has to be so strong, they don’t even question its capability.
At the end of August, when a spoke on my rear wheel snapped during a speedy descent the damage went beyond the wobbly wheel and the carbon fibre stay that had been pierced by the flailing spoke. My confidence in my equipment had been compromised.
The spoke was quickly replaced.
And thanks to the specialized craftsmanship of Robert Mulder of Roberts Composites in North Vancouver, the stay looks as good as new, even if it is missing a Lapierre decal.
Mulder guarantees his work. His reputation for excellence has been built on years of minor miracle repairs to shattered frames, broken seat posts and well as custom building handlebars, rudders for sailboats, oars for paddlers.
The wheel was a longer journey.
When I was researching the Easton EA70s as a possible replacement for my worn Fulcrum 5s, I came across a few posts in forums and reviews that detailed dismay about broken and popped spokes. But almost all of those were from four or five years ago. The current model, according to the shop where I bought them, and Easton’s website, is a new design.
I laid down my credit card. With confidence.
And frankly, until the spoke issue first presented itself , the wheels had performed admirably. They rolled smoothly. They were relatively light. They seemed strong.
But the spoke failure shook my faith. Perhaps the wheels had something to do with the frequent flats I endured this season? Would other spokes fail? Could I count on the wheels to hold up during speedy descents?
My ears listened for every tell-tale click or pop that might indicate another spoke exploding.
To its credit, Easton stood behind its product.
Shortly after I posted my story of the Fondon’t failure, and promoted it on social media, they reached out and offered a deal I’d be hard-pressed to refuse; send back my EA70s, plus a little money, and they’d upgrade me to their top aluminum wheelset, EA90SLs.
The new wheels are a revelation. They’re extremely quiet and beautifully smooth. Their lightness, 200 grams less than the 70s, was immediately apparent the first time I hoisted the Lapierre. That seemed to translate to the road as well.
As for their durability; only time will tell. For now my confidence in my equipment has been fully restored.
Of course now that Easton customer service has whetted my appetite for $1200 wheels, my upgrade path just got a whole lot more complicated. And expensive. First World problems…
What happens when you cross a bike race with a mud bog?
Saturday’s driving rainstorm may have deterred all but the hardiest spectators, but dozens of riders from beginners to elite men and women relished the chance to battle each other and the elements at New Westminster’s Queen’s Park in the fifth race of the eight-race Vancouver Cyclocross Coalition’s series.
Cyclocross is an off-road version of a road cycling criterium race in which riders lap a number of circuits on a two or three kilometre course comprised of dirt trails, grassy meadows, over barriers and across creeks or gullies. It evolved in Belgium and Northern France in the early 1900s as a way for road cyclists to stay fit during the fall and winter off-season. Sometimes getting to the warmth and shelter of the nearest café or brasserie meant cutting across farmer’s fields and through forests; cyclocross replicates that experience.
Saturday’s cold torrential downpour was worthy of the worst weather of the Ardennes and turned most of the course at the west end of Queen’s Park into a track of thick, viscous muck. At the end of each event, the line at the hose station was 20-30 muddy cyclists deep. Even through their exhaustion, many managed a smile. After all, there’s often a rainbow at the end of a rainstorm.