I’m back home now for about a week after a successful block of racing in Ontario. It was not a success because I hit all my goals perfectly, or because I had my best Nationals result or because I had the races of my life. It was a success because I had one of my worst races of the year and then the following weekend I had my very best. That was hard, really hard and that is something that I am really proud that I was able to do.
At Sudbury my preparation was good leading up to the race and I was ready to hit it. I started second row at Sudbury and had a great start, by the first section of singletrack I was 4th wheel, behind the Scott- 3 Rox train. I was in a good spot, the best spot really. After the first lap I had drifted back a bit but I was still sitting pretty, in a place I would expect to be. The next few laps everything got bad, I couldn’t push my legs well any more, the heat was getting to me and I made a mistake because of it; crashing in a section of rocks. I got up pretty quick, I was able to keep riding but that crash was the icing on the ice cream cake of mental focus that was melting in the heat. I cracked. I had one lap left, I was sure of it, I refocused as best I could and gave it my everything. I came through the feed zone on what I thought was my last time, rode by Havi without taking a bottle and then learned that I still had one to go. If I was already cracked, this was beyond cracking; I was done. I had put everything into my final lap after a terrible race and I learned I had to do another lap. It took everything I had not to quit and pull out; everything. I soft pedalled the next section after the finish going over what I should do, weighing my options. If I stop I’ll get to stop, and that would be really nice. But if I stop I’ll have a DNF and I don’t think I can deal with that. But if I keep going I have to keep going, can I deal with that? Can I deal with quitting and get over if before Nationals next week? This went on for a little while and I finally decided that I had to give my everything to another lap, this was all my mental strength put to work. At the finish I was very disappointed, I had my worst race of the year, by far, and it was a week before I had to perform at my very best. Basically, I had to get over this quick, learn from it and forget about it. So that’s what I did with some support from Havi and my coach I was able to talk through it and move on. It was a mental crack that needed to be filled and I had less than a week to do it but I was up for the challenge.
Sort of like Fight Trail, black rock. Credit Lori Mitchinson-Bailey
This is where the story takes a turn and gets positive. Rolling into Nationals.
After Sudbury we drove south towards Barrie but stopped short in Bracebridge enroute to a cottage destination. This cottage on Clear Lake would be our base for the week leading up to Nationals. This was the perfect setup; a beautiful cottage set in the trees on the nicest lake I have ever been in. This was a different setup than we have had for other National Championships but it was certainly the best. It was a relaxing atmosphere where we could put the upcoming race out of our minds and just have a good time. We swam everyday, in the morning and before bed to cool off. We cooked all of our meals on the BBQ. Although it was an hour drive to Hardwood Hills each way, it was certainly worth it.
Keeping it tidy. Credit Jamie Lamb
We went to the first time on Wednesday and did some laps on the track. McNeely tweeted afterwards, “Wait…Did I just ride at Hardwood Hills?” and that describes the course perfectly. It was not the usual Hardwood course. There were challenging features, steep climbs and proper technical sections. My favourite section was the run into the Bone Shaker with a rock jump to flat, a rock drop to a transition and a boost over a hydro pole. With just short of 200 meters of elevation gain per lap it was a proper course that would certainly be worthy of deciding the very best in Canada. After a few laps I was stoked on the course; I knew that it would suit me well and I would be able to do a good race. With dry and dusty conditions that would only improve with a rain storm the day before I was able to run a set of super-fast tires. I ran the Kenda Kosmik Lite II’s which are mind blowingly fast with good controllable slide in the corners and grip on the edges in tight corners.
The next few days involved lots of driving to and from the venue. I had the Eliminator race on Thursday, training on Friday and finally the main event on Saturday. I had pretty high expectations coming into the Eliminator as it is an event that suits me. Earlier in the year I won the first ever O Cup eliminator and the goal would be nothing less than the final. My qualifying went well, coming in with the 10th fastest time after a broken spoke and thus holding back a bit to play it safe. My next heat was a breeze, winning it with teammate Bretton Matthews right behind. In the next heat I had a poor start and was in 4th halfway through the course, I dug deep closed a big gap up to second. I sprinted with a Quebec rider for 2nd but unfortunately lost it in the last few meters. I was very disappointed, as that mistake cost me a chance to compete for a spot in the finals. In the end I ended up 9th, and I was happy with that. On to the next one, I still had the main event coming up.
On Friday, on the way back to the cottage, we could see some pretty mean clouds forming overhead, along with that thunder storm and tornado warnings had been issued for the area. When we drove down the dirt road to the cottage we found a tree down across the road that had taken out some hydro lines. Adventure begins here? We couldn’t drive all the way in so we walked the rest of the way and found that we were without power. As we were walking to the cottage the skys opened up and within 15 sec of heavy rain we were completely soaked. Tree tops were breaking overhead and we were scrambling to get inside. Once inside we got to enjoy a pretty impressive storm that apparently overturned cars in a nearby town. We would not have power until we left for the race the next day. We fired up the “genny” to get the fridge going but that was about it. Everyone embraced the small setback and made the best of it.
Saturday was race day. On the drive to the venue with “The Evans”, hardly a word was said. We all had our game faces on and we were ready to race. When I got on my bike for warm up, everything felt great and I knew that I was going to have a good day.
Focus. Credit David Klaver
Cutting it close. Credit David Klaver
I got off to a good start off the line and all the Norco Factory U23’s were near the front calling, “Wide CUT” to keep the mood light. We were all in a great position. We hit traffic halfway through the first lap, the back of the Elite field that started two minutes ahead. This was a real cluster, and something we really shouldn’t have to deal with in our race. I tried to stay clam though and didn’t let it affect me too much. After the first lap I was sitting in 6th place and finding my rhythm. I felt great, really good legs and I was up and out of the saddle on the punchy climbs and riding really smoothly. In the end I rolled over the line 8th after slipping back a couple places on the last 2 laps. I was very happy with my performance and if you saw me cross the finish line I crushed a small fist pump.
Now, 8th place does not seem like a fantastic result, I have done better at National Championships before in this category. But if you look at the depth of the U23 field and how tight the racing was it starts to look good. Additionally, regardless of my result, I had my best performance possible on the day. On top of that I was coming off my worst performance of the season just 6 days earlier. Overall it was a very successful Nationals for me.
Also, I want to say congrats to all my teammates, the entire Norco Factory team brought the rain and hit some solid performances. All of our riders finished in the top 8 of their respective categories. In the U23 Men McNeely hit 2nd place and qualified himself for World Championships in South Africa. Guthrie rolled in 4th just shy of the podium with one of his best races of the year. Haley finished 6th in the U23 Women; a disappointing result for her but good showing despite having a bad day. Sue Haviland crushed a 6th place in Elite women showing that “Mom” strength is a real thing. And finally Andrew Watson had his best showing in a couple years with a 7th place in a stacked Elite Field.
Thanks go out to so many people to help make this race and my season possible and successful. Thanks go to my coach Dan Proulx. Thanks do to Kevin Haviland for being the best manager/mechanic/friend/life coach anyone could ask for. Thanks go to Andrew Feenstra and Jamie lamb for the constant support. Thanks go to Norco Bicycles for the bikes and the support. Thanks go to Shimano, Kenda, Rock Shox and all the other NFT sponsors. Thanks go to my personal sponsors Oakley and Cyclesmith. Finally thanks to Mom, Dad my three brothers and all my other friends and family that support me; with such great support it’s like you’re racing with me every weekend.
This is not the end of the story for me. I have the most important racing block of the season coming up in less than a week when I travel to Sherbrooke, Quebec for the Canada Summer Games. I will be racing for Nova Scotia on the MTB at Games, then travelling to Mont-Sainte-Anne for the World Cup round there racing for NFT, then back to Sherbrooke to race Road in the second week of Games. I am still on an upward path with my form and I believe my best performances of the year will happen in the next three weeks.