Smile because it happened

It is with a mixture of sadness and excitement that I announce that the chapter of my life as a professional cyclocross racer has come to an end.

The past three years of racing CX have been some of the happiest of my cycling career. It has been an honour to be national champion and a privilege to work with the best people and equipment in the world. The CX community around the world has been like a family to me. All these things make the decision to leave professional racing a difficult one. This announcement is the end of a long decision making process that I made in consultation with my sponsors and the A-team. It hasn’t been easy, and I want to thank them for their understanding and support during a challenging time.

It’s no secret that I’ve been struggling with my health for the past few months. After failing to recover from my last European season I’ve realised that my body is no longer able to cope with the demands of a full CX season. In the past two years especially, between working full time and trying to train full time, I have been pushing my body beyond what is sustainable, and it has simply hit its limit. I have been through more tests and seen more specialists in the past few months than I’d care to relate. At the end of the day, what my body needs is time to recover fully. It is frustrating, but my health needs to take priority.

While I’m sad to be leaving this level of sport a year earlier than I’d have liked, I am excited as well. I cannot tell you how much happiness cyclocross brings me, and once my health is back on track, I’m looking forward to racing domestically and for fun. I’m looking forward to adventures with my mates, to sleep-ins on rainy mornings, and to spending time with the people I love. Standing on the sidelines for the next few months is going to be tough. But seeing cyclocross flourish and grow, particularly in Australia, gives me great joy, and I plan to be a part of that for a long time to come.

My elite cycling career has spanned almost ten years, first on the road and then CX. I never expected to start an elite cycling career at 25, and I never would have imagined I’d still be here at 34 in an entirely different discipline. This journey has been unexpected and brilliant. It has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s given me some incomparable moments. More importantly, it’s brought lifetime friendships and experiences that will stay with me forever. The women’s Giro d’Italia, the 2011 AIS survival camp, my VIS family, racing on the Australian road team, and those bloody ergos Donna dreamed up before my first CX national champs win… these memories stick with me like a hook that I can hang onto at times when I need strength. Likewise, the people I’ve been privileged to work with have taught me more than they’ll ever realise. There are too many to name them all here, but I need to give special thanks to the Supercoach Donna Rae-Szalinski, Neil Ross, Harry Brennan, Nick Owen, Wendy Braybon, Dr Andrew Garnham, Ryan Moody, to my Belgian crew of Christian, Frank, Dirk and everyone at Hof Ter Kammen, to the Fields of Joy crew, to DC Cunningham, Paul Larkin, Scooter Vercoe, John Groves, Murray Fenwick, Marcus Speed, and to Gary West and Ben Cook from my SASI days. I also want to recognise my awesome sponsors: Rapha, Focus, Curve, SRAM, FMB, Kask, Salice, Tune, Feedback, Horst Spikes and SQlab, and to those who have supported me in the past, particularly VIS, SASI, health.com.au, Apollo, Perfect PIlates, Fitzroy Revolution and Swiss Eye. These people have given me the freedom and opportunity to race at the highest level with the finest equipment in the world. I am extremely fortunate to be able to choose who I work with and to be able to work with the best. Every time I jump on my bike I remember how special that is, and how much fun it’s been. I’m looking forward to the next chapter.

Ride happy.

Pic: Okamoto

Pic: Okamoto

Pic: Okamoto

Pic: Okamoto

Pic: Mark Gunter

Pic: Mark Gunter

Pic: Jarrod Partridge

Pic: Jarrod Partridge

Pic: Pim Nijland

Pic: Pim Nijland

Lisa's Mum weighs in on mechanical doping

BREAKING NEWS

Just as professional cycling seemed to be emerging from the dark shadow of doping in the 90s and 2000s, a new integrity challenge has emerged: mechanical doping.

Speaking at a hastily-convened press conference in Zolder, Belgium, UCI officials yesterday confirmed that it had uncovered evidence of mechanical doping during routine checks of rider bikes at the 2016 cyclocross world championships held over the weekend.

The news delivers a harsh blow to the UCI's Department for Uniformity of Nations against Corruption Events (DUNCE), who until recently were thought to be making progress on cycling's various integrity challenges. A DUNCE spokesman confirmed that the activity had taken them by surprise, "in much the same way as Oprah's Lance Armstrong special."

It appears that on Friday a rider had reported suspicious activity coming from the Paraguayan national team area during one of the designated practice sessions at the Zolder championships course. The exact activity was unconfirmed by the UCI, but several teams confirmed that Paraguayan national team coaches were sighted attempting what appeared to be the installation of a small monorail around the Zolder course. A subsequent search of the Paraguayan team van carried out by the UCI uncovered a number of rail tracks, cladding and small digging tools which experts later confirmed were appropriate for light rail construction. Paraguayan national team managers were unavailable for comment when contacted by Ride Happy, but cyclocross subject matter expert Lisa's Mum has provided the following insights in an addendum to her latest book, Committing to the Rut: A Short History of Technology in Cyclocross:

"'Committing to the rut' is a saying that best describes the confidence, agility and technical skill required in cornering on a muddy Belgian parcours. On a typical race day, thousands of wheels travel over the same corner on a race course. The constant traffic quickly wears a deep groove, or rut, into the fastest line going into the corner. To take that fast line, a rider must approach the rut quickly and, like a train, allow their front wheel to slot into the rut and carry the bike around the corner. The rut, carved by the thousands of wheels before it, is 33mm (tyre-width) wide and derailleur-height-deep. Taking the rut means a smooth, fast corner. If the wheel misses that rut, even by just a few millimetres, the rider will crash. Fast cornering, and therefore fast racing, requires commitment to the rut.

"European cyclocross racers are not renowned for their adaptability to technology. Half the professional field, for example, still uses cantilever brakes, on the premise that hydraulic disc brakes are the devil's work. However, their commitment to winning is unquestionable. If a rider is physiologically excellent, but wavers in their commitment to the rut, there is certainly merit in the argument that they will seek to achieve that commitment by alternate means."

It appears that Paraguayan national team management had intended to install small sections of monorail track on parts of a race course in order to give their riders an advantage over the rest of the field.

When approached with this hypothesis, Lisa's Mum had this to say:

"Paraguayan race courses, while beautiful, do not equip riders with the skills necessary for Belgian racing. 'Committing to the rut' is a common fear of Paraguayan racers, such that 'commitment phobia' is a diagnosed medical condition entitling an athlete to state-funded psychological treatment. It has been common knowledge for years that the technology for guerrilla monorail construction exists. Indeed, in the past five years several high-profile Paraguayan masters racers have been busted for monorail doping. It is only a matter of time before we see this technology infiltrate the professional peloton.

The news that mechanical doping is real and present in professional cycling threatens to undermine not only the UCI but also the hard work of microdosing drug cheats everywhere, who had previously held the primary advantage in the doping stakes.

In response, DUNCE has introduced a new mechanical passport, which professional teams will be required to submit as of March 2017. The passport tracks a rider's technological profile using parameters such as model of iPhone, brand of warm-up headphones and number of Instagram posts per day. Sharp fluctuations in a rider's technological profile triggers an alert to the UCI that the rider's predisposition to technological corruption has changed, which in turn prompts investigation by DUNCE.

"Mechanical doping is the new integrity challenge faced by professional riders everywhere," a spokesman for DUNCE explained. "Previously our belief had been that the mere presence of a competent mechanic could, in certain circumstances, constitute mechanical doping when racing against a field of hubbards with self-installed groupsets from ProBikeKit. This new discovery has put the UCI on notice that monorail construction, tragically, exists in CX, and is here to stay."

A quick word on world champs

Those of you who are on social media will already know the background to my day in Zolder but for those of you who aren't, it was a day I'd rather forget. I got sick a couple of days before the weekend and it was a big decision to be on the start line at all. I started, but found very quickly that I had nothing in the tank and pulled the pin at the second pit entry. 

It's disappointing to spend a year working towards a goal that doesn't work out, but it doesn't mean it was a bad year. Thank you everyone for your messages of support. It sucks to be sick but it rocks to be doing a sport I love with great people. I love cyclocross and this one disappointment will only make me more motivated for next season.

Thanks to my awesome pit crew of Christian, Frank and Dirk, who made all my races here fun, and thanks to Rapha, Focus, Curve, Tune, FMB, SRAM, Kask, Feedback Sports and Horst Spikes for  supporting CX and CX riders. A huge thank you as well to the SuperCoach and brains trust: Donna Rae-Szalinski, Nick Owen, Harry Brennan, Wendy Braybon, Neil Ross and of course Hof Ter Kammen for being my second home in Belgium. 

Time to wrap up the season and head home.

Ride happy

Timing is everything

So today I woke up sick. Not something you want to happen two days out from a world championships! So instead of heading to Zolder to do course practise today, I'm in bed, dosed up with cold & flu medication and trying not to think too much about the weekend. It's terrible timing, but these things happen in racing and there's not much you can do once you're sick - just wrap yourself in cotton wool, watch terrible daytime TV and try to get better.   

I'm hoping I'll be well enough tomorrow to go to course practice but that's a decision for tomorrow. In the meantime, here's a picture of Cipo showing what exceptional luft looks like. 

Ride happy.

(PS - the cover image is by Marc Deceuninck, who is always a friendly face at CX races here. Thanks for the shot Marc!)

Lisa's Mum presents A Culinary 'Cross Guide

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It should come as no surprise to regular Ride Happy readers that Lisa's Mum, while waiting patiently for SBS to respond to her petition to replace Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin on their Tour de France commentary team, has many things to fill her day. Being on call for the Tour Down Under, for example, means that she can never be far away from her computer and long-range binoculars. Should Lisa's Mum receive the call up, her fans deserve the benefit of knowing exactly how many Weet-Bix Rohan Dennis has for breakfast, or the brand of tea that Richie Porte buys in the supermarket. Mum is nothing if not meticulous in her research.

A fan has recently written in to ask Lisa's Mum her insights on a typical CX rider's diet. The query is fortuitous in its timing, for Lisa's Mum is currently serving as adjunct professor at the School of Dietetics at New Hampshire University while completing her PhD in exercise metabolism of waffles in off-road cycling athletes. The PhD has taken slightly longer than anticipated on account of the School's strict ethics policy of using mice as subjects, meaning that Lisa's Mum spent the first two years of her studies teaching mice how to ride tiny cyclocross bicycles. However, with the bulk of her work now behind her, and a fleet of competent bike-riding mice, Lisa's Mum is well placed to advise on the ideal diet of CX riders.

 The diet of a typical 'cross rider can change depending on the season. Given that CX is a winter sport, the end of the racing season (often an opportunity for post-season blowout) also marks the start of bikini season. One cannot indulge in too many frites if one wishes to be bikini-ready by Summer. Many riders, therefore, choose to join road teams in the summertime so as to retain the right amount of peer pressure required to keen one's skinfolds low. 2014 CX world champion Zdenek Stybar, for example, recently announced that he would not be contesting the 2016 CX world championships, choosing instead to focus on his bikini ambitions with Etixx-QuickStep. The exception to this rule is Antipodean CX athletes, who craftily avoid summer by moving from southern to northern hemisphere as soon as the weather gets nice, thereby ensuring maximal frite gains.

Niels Albert looking bikini-ready

Niels Albert looking bikini-ready

Leading into race season, a rider's diet varies depending on their season goals. Before Cross Vegas became a World Cup, riders targeting this race would focus specifically on beer-hand up repeats, which are broadly similar to hill repeats but with a bit more vomiting. Those focused on a strong performance at Koksjide incorporate a lot of sand-eating into their diet, particularly those expecting to fall outside the top 10.

This is delicious. It just doesn't have your best interests at heart.  

This is delicious. It just doesn't have your best interests at heart.  

In Europe, a typical pro rider's diet in race season looks like this:

9am: Wake up. Espresso and muesli (the boring muesli, not the chocolate one).

10am: Consider riding. Wait for rain to clear while drinking espresso.

11am: Still drinking espresso.

12pm: Ride a little bit.

2pm: Spaghetti (no cheese), recovery drink. Pangs of espresso regret.

6pm: Spaghetti (no cheese), de l'eau petillant, one segment of orange.

Occasionally, riders slip up and find themselves rapidly approaching race season being very much bikini-unready. This may be because their diet has looked like this:

Breakfast (9am): Muesli met chocolade. Croissant with speculoos.

Speculoos: the Nutella of Benelux

Speculoos: the Nutella of Benelux

10am: Consider riding. Wait for rain to clear with spoon and speculoos in line of sight.

11am: Dispose of empty speculoos jar.

12pm: Ride a little bit (to waffle store).

2pm: Pick up some Belgian chocolate ('for the kids'). Eat chocolate on way home, dispose of wrappers under car seat next to empty speculoos jars.

6pm: Celebrate the end of the day with a couple of Belgian beers to wash away taste of chocolate. Kebab on way home. Extra cheese.

Tyler Hamilton's pre-tour meal

Tyler Hamilton's pre-tour meal

For those riders, the days immediately leading into race season follow the Tyler Hamilton Grand Tour Weight Loss Plan (TM) of 6-hour rides followed by de l'eau petillant and 2x temazepam. Lisa's Mum has limited data on these riders, who when contacted for interview declined to respond to emails, answer the phone or admit they were home.

Lisa's Mum hopes this answers your query, dear reader, and thank you for taking the time to write in with your question. Further insights will be published in Lisa's Mum's PhD thesis, entitled Waffles, waffle regret and Niels Albert, due out soon.

 

Ride happy.

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The Mojo Rollercoaster

 Do you know what 'Form' is? Form is the combination of preparation, planning, hard work... and a bit of luck. Not luck in the sense of 'chance', but luck in the sense of 'nothing going wrong': not getting sick; not having your credit cards wiped while you're overseas; not crashing on your rear derailleur in your warm up lap. You can only control so much, and no preparation in the world can overcome a well-timed sneeze from a stranger.

Getting Form is hard. Keeping it is harder. I've had the best coach in the world for the past 8 years and it still pains me that elite sport doesn't provide predictable outcomes in the same way that my regular job does. In the office, outcomes are generally a direct result of how much work you put in. The more work you put in, the better the result. In sport, sometimes the worst thing you can do is work harder.

Form is a shy creature. It doesn't like the spotlight. It prefers to lurk in the shadows, promising to come out but often turning back at the last moment. It's like those Facebook friends you know who tick the 'Going' box to an event but never actually show up. How good a friend are you really, Form? I totally invited you to that race.

Form's close friend is a creature called Mojo. Mojo is like Form, but with an added je ne sais quois - maybe a mixture of confidence and happiness. If you could personify it, it would look a lot like Grug, but with a little more exuberance. Mojo is mercurial: when you have it, it's the life of the party, but next minute it will pull a ghostie and its absence feels like a beach in the winter.

Since starting cross, Mojo has been one of my most treasured companions. It loves the mud, and the excitement, and the rad people who make CX so much fun. Every 'cross trip I've had, Mojo has come along; sometimes shyly at first, but it's always there after the first five minutes of a race. But this trip, something strange happened. Mojo got lost after my first race - the Zolder World Cup - and I couldn't find it. In Diegem, Louenhout and Baal it was nowhere to be seen. I tried everything I could think of. I slept for 10 hours a night. I skipped Christmas celebrations. I went to bed at 9pm on New Year's Eve. I watched two whole seasons of House of Cards, during the day, after training, while horizontal on the couch. I ticked all the right boxes. But I just couldn't put together a good race. I was starting to feel pretty low about it, which was making things even worse. Here I was, never better prepared for a European season, with the best equipment and race support that I've ever had - and yet I felt like I was hitting a glass ceiling in my races. Every other CX trip I've done has seen a step up in my racing and results, and this was a shock to the system.

I talked through it with the Supercoach, and we realised that despite all the box-ticking and diligent TV watching, I had overlooked Mojo's most important ingredient: fun. I hadn't hung out or gone for dinner with mates in ages. I definitely hadn't had a good laugh, because I was too busy trying to be serious. Working harder wasn't the solution: I just needed more beer.

The next day I went riding with a mate and rather than sticking to the regular well-trodden recovery roads we went off-piste and ended up riding some muddy country roads that we'd never seen before. I went to a party that night hosted by my Belgian family and drank beer and heard stories about riders in the off-season. The next day at the Soudal Classic in Leuven, rather than riding the course by myself during the practice sessions I teamed up with a fellow Aussie and we sessioned the technical bits together. I realised that bike racing is only one small part of my trip. When I look back on my good race tours of the past two years, it's not the races I remember so much as the people I've met and the fun times we've shared. It took nearly two weeks of solitude to realise it, but finding the fun in bike riding is like crack to Mojo.

So with that, I'm committing to fun and ruts. I'm riding happy again. I'm taking a couple of days to visit mates in London and to forget about watts and heart rates for a while. Ride Happy, it's a good philosophy. Someone should write a blog about that.

Lisa's Mum answers your CX questions

Earlier, I promised to write about things you'd like to hear about on request. @bikesanddogs on Instagram asked me about the differences  between European and American CX racing. It's a good question, and one that requires a considered response, so I've called Lisa's Mum* to the plate. *Lisa's Mum, world-renowned road cycling expert -turned CX afficianado, former understudy to the Paul Sherwen/Phil Liggett Tour de France commentary team, currently completing PhD on Everesting.

Lisa's Mum likes European CX racing because she enjoys mayonnaise, frites, and second-hand cigar smoke in equal measure. She also enjoys being paid to START races, rather than finish them, because it appeals to her je ne sais quois air of casual indifference that characterises many Euro CX pros racing in February. Before world champs (typically the last weekend in January), riders are dead keen. You can tell they're frothing for a good world champs by how narrowly their eyes slit when asked if they want dessert. AFTER world champs, however, one turns up, one collects one's start money, and one turns one's pedals in anger. Then one retires to the campervan and eats speculoos. 

In America, people seem to be keen ALL THE TIME. Very few gallic shrugs have been observed in Sacramento thus far. America is also the home of the hand-up, a tradition dear to cross riders everywhere, and slowly making its way into Australian CX racing when the commissaire is not looking.* Last year at Cross Vegas a young Focus compatriot of mine almost paid for his trip with handup money, although he did have to drink a lot of bourbon. Luckily, he is Australian.

*@bikesanddogs I notice you did not ask about Australian racing, presumably because of shyness. Fortunately Lisa's Mum can tell that you are really bursting to know about the emerging CX scene down under

European racing is also COLD. Cold enough to require three layers of merino before breakfast. Cold in a 3-pairs-of-kit-at-each-race type cold. Cold enough that you don't take gatorade to races; you take soup. Lisa's Mum was not present at the 2013 world champs in Louisville, Kentucky (where it was so cold that water froze on bikes as the pit crews were blasting them), but appreciates that the US enjoys a spectrum of racing conditions not seen in Europe. The first world cup in Las Vegas next week, for example, is forecast to be around 40 deg C, a temperature not seen in Belgium since Sven set fire to his enormous campervan at Superprestige Hoogstraaten. This means that European riders must learn to master foreign actions like mounting bidon cages and wearing short sleeves. Time will tell how this will go. 

Lisa's Mum is open to receiving more questions from her public so that she can flex her CX grey cells. Hit her up at @LJridehappy on Instagram/Twitter, or pop a comment below. 

Back in Sac

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Day 1 in Sacramento and it's about 30 degrees. The kind of temperature where you can wear shorts and a singlet and not even have to pack a jacket in your back pocket. Coming from Melbourne, where the weather regularly hits 4 seasons in 1 day, you appreciate this kind of dependability.  It's forecast to be around 40deg for race day here, and around the same for Cross Vegas. So in the name of acclimatisation I'm off to work on my jersey tan. 

#ridehappyracecross