We are into April and I have 10 days of bike racing under my belt for the 2020 season. Our race seasons, as we envisioned them, have come to a grinding halt amidst the global pandemic. Now, more than ever, I feel very lucky that I was able to get that early season racing in and I wanted to revisit and relive it for my own sake, but also for your interest. Over the course of this two part series, I’ll take you through the approach my coach and I took in the preparation for the Salamina Epic races in Greece and how it played out. I’ll take you deep into the power numbers of the final two days of racing where patience and steadfast belief paid off and I finished 3rd overall. I don’t have many photos from these races, but I do have data, daily comments in TrainingPeaks, journal entries and good memories. I will try to tell a story, take you into the racing and hopefully share useful insights along the way. Sharing this kind of information is actually quite personal, racing is a major way of how I express myself so I hope you enjoy.
I have been working with my coach for 7 years and we have learned so much together throughout this journey. We have learned what works for me and we are constantly refining our approach to try to be the best we can be. We have figured out that I function very well off easy-endurance training and that is what the vast majority of my training looks like. Heading into this racing block I had done a lot of volume work but just two high intensity sessions on the mountain bike the week before leaving to race. The idea was that I would race into form on this one.
I travelled to Athens from Vancouver on Wednesday, February 5th, arrived the next day in Athens and met up with the rest of the Norco Factory Team the following day. The first race was an XC race, I finished 24th.
TrainingPeaks comments from Sunday, February 9th, 2020.
“Finished 24th, lots of learning from this one.”
“Big win of the day was that my head was in it and not being distracted by negative thoughts or feeling about moving backwards or not racing where I “should” be…My head was 100% in it and my body was not all there. Few things to that. I have done very little intensity so far this year so I will certainly be riding into form in these races. I believe just getting today’s workout in will make a major difference for the races next week.”
That first race and how I managed it, set the tone for the upcoming 8 days of racing. My head was in the game, which was an awesome sign. I have been putting in a lot of work on my mental performance in the past 3 years. I know that for sure I would not have been able to have this perspective 3 years ago, the comments would have been heavier, negative and as a side-effect, more costly in terms of my approach to the upcoming races. Big win, no doubt.
After this first day of racing, we had one day off and then we were into the first stage race. This is what it the first stage race looked like.
So, as you can see, we had some very short and intense races. The first two days were a time trial (XCT) and then a short track (XCC). The XCT was raced on an 11 km course and it took just over 30 min. My NP for the race was 392 W and I finished 13th, 1 min 30 seconds down on the winner. The course was essentially 2 big climbs, with descents between them. I felt like I paced it well, but this was just the first try, I would get a chance to improve my time and performance when I did the XCT race in the second stage race. The XCC was tough! It was a very simple course; start straight, 2:15 or so climb and then a descent back down to the finish. The climb each lap was between 460 W and 510 W for between 2 min and 2 min 30. I finished 18th after losing the front group towards the end of the race and moved up on GC.
Before we get too deep, I want to also add the highlight of each day was probably the spin back to the house after each race with my Norco Factory Team(mates). We were all jacked on the racing and satisfied with our efforts. The ride home was 45 min of post-race stories and re-hashing the details; this is the good stuff!
The last two days of the first stage race were my chance to move up in the GC and put all the volume work I have put in to good use. The other athletes would be tired from the previous days of racing and I would be just getting warmed up.
But…things don’t always go to plan.
TP comments from February 13th, 2020 after the XCP
“This one was a tough day, but I have to believe that this is all in the process and all part of getting better. Lots of ups and downs throughout the race…”
I finished up 24th in the point to point race and dropped back to 17th overall on the GC. Going into the final day of racing I would have some work to do.
One of the things that helped me maintain enthusiasm despite have some very challenging days of racing was owning my position on the Norco Factory Team as a leader. We had brought a team of our younger athletes who had limited experience stage racing. That isn’t to say they didn’t hand it to me on some of the days, they did, but just that I had done this type of racing before and I could help. I did my best each day to act as a leader. For me, this looked like sharing advice from previous experiences, leading by example in terms of my approach to the race and keeping it fun. It was important for me to maintain a positive outlook day-to-day despite what was happening on the racecourse to set a good example. To make these races work in the context of an entire World Cup race season, a light approach is best, and I tried to exemplify this as much as possible. I would say in general, we worked very well as a team and the approach was spot on, each athlete improved or maintained performance from the first stage race to the second. To me, this was a way to diversify my success, if I was being successful as a leader and helping the rest of the team, then my race results didn’t seem to matter as much.
Now, back to the racing. On the final stage, the marathon, my patience paid off and I had a very good day, I finished 10th overall and moved up to 12th on GC. This was super exciting and got me jacked to see what I could do in the second stage race. The race was 3 hours 22 minutes, 71.3 km long with a 10 km neutral section at the beginning. For the entire race my NP was 342 W and my avg HR 166. We climbed 2524 m in this race, so we were pretty much always climbing or descending, it was tough. Within the race I spent 28:29 pedaling above 470 W! My peak 10 min power was 421 W and 20 min average power was 373 W with a 20 min NP of 414 W. Here is the final stage on Strava.
TP comments from February 14th, 2020 after the XCM
“I had times when I was very much on the limit but I did not back down. I just kept going. A few times I was gapped off slightly but I just kept riding my pace and eventually caught back on. On the final climb, Ben attacked and opened up a 5-7 second gap that held for the next 5 min but I just stayed on it and eventually caught back on. That was huge. Such a good feeling of success.”
On that note, I was very lucky to get to know Ben Sontag a bit more at this race before he was tragically taken from us. Reading this comment makes me tear up and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to race with him head to head on this day. On one of the other days I spent the ride home after the race with him and I really enjoyed the chat. What a guy and boy was he ever strong at this race.
So, I finished up well, and more importantly I finished up with motivation and fire to try and see what I could do at the next race. We had two days off and then we would be back at it in a very similar format but with the days swapped around slightly. This took more words than I was expecting so you will have to wait for Part 2 to find out how the second stage race unfolded and how I turned 10th on GC into a spot on the final podium. Thanks for reading.
If you have any additional questions, or just want to chat, give me a follow on Instagram and send me a DM.