Bonjour from the TORQ team in Mont Sainte-Anne and Bromont, Quebec!
Week 1 - Bromont
After a bumpy start to our journey - complete with hired car, credit card and accommodation "bumps" - the TORQ team drove up the highway from New York after long haul from Melbourne, Australia. After only one U-turn and just one case of me driving the wrong way up a road towards headlights (sorry everyone in the car that night!), we eventually found our way to Bromont, a picturesque town in southwest Quebec, 75km east of Montreal.
Once in Bromont, we were lucky enough to find some last-minute accommodation at Auberge Les Jardins Intérieurs du Lac, which was originally built as accommodation for the people and horses competing in the equestrian events in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The accommodation facility is the perfect place to base for training and racing - the property has a relaxing vibe and is surrounded by forest, and the hosts and staff are friendly and generous and cook great scrambled eggs.
For me, the highlight was all the animals at and near our accommodation - in addition to the resident cat and the wild turkey on our roof teaching its babies how to fly, there were deer and racoons, and bioluminescent insects scattered through the forest at night. I've so far only seen one racoon, but delighted in seeing lots of marmots; according to our hosts, the marmots are "beaucoup, beaucoup, beaucoup". There were also lots of stunning horses in town for the annual Bromont International Horse Event, a massive and popular event that was scheduled in the same week as the Bromont mtb World Cup, making our search for accommodation extremely difficult.
The course in Bromont that we rode was tough and sustained, and made much easier when the mud was dried by a few days of warm sunshine. The weather seems to change from pouring rain to glaring sunshine within a matter of minutes, and the soil changes from mud to concrete just as quickly. I'm looking forward to racing there this weekend!
Mont Sainte Anne
Now, for me and the rest of the TORQ team, the focus is on tomorrow's World Cup [Editor's note: See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Mont Sainte Anne World Cup which occurred last weekend]. Most of our team are out at the course, busily preparing bikes and wheels with the guys at the GT tent (our home away from home), and trying to predict which of the Conti tyres will be the most suitable for the slippery yet changeable conditions. The choice has for me been made very simple by the fact that the big package of Continental tyres for some reason hasn't arrived, so I am left with one set of tyres that were generously lent to me from a mechanic in another team, in exchange for a big bottle of his favourite beer. A fair exchange!
I'm looking forward to the race. I'm feeling a little nervous about the start of the race, particularly the start loop(s) - I just haven't raced in such a long time, and have no idea of my form. Despite being nervous about plunging in to the unknown, I'm otherwise feeling relaxed and excited about testing myself physically and mentally around tomorrow's tough Mont Sainte-Anne course. I'm feeling focussed and well-prepared, and much more in control of my physical and mental preparation than in previous seasons. In terms of performance, I'm not expecting a miracle, but I have a race plan and I've committed to going out there and doing my best with what I've got. My coach has emphasised the importance of planning and preparation, so as long as I do everything I can to ride to my race plan, and ride to the best of my ability, then I'll cross the line feeling proud of my performance. I'll need to resist distraction and focus on recovery from the finish line, as we are hoping that tomorrow's race will be good preparation for next weekend's race in Bromont.
Life changes for the better
I think it makes a big difference travelling and racing as part of our TORQ UCI team. I enjoy having more responsibility in terms of planning and logistics, and there's always someone saying something funny, so never any shortage of laughs. It's especially great to be here with Tim, who is in the role of TORQ team manager; it means I don't feel homesick and can share the laughs and the challenges with him, and makes the trip so much more like a holiday. Tim's also a great physio and knows how to manage my ongoing and permanent injuries, so my back and legs are reaping the rewards of regular massage and physio sessions.
I've also made some changes to life off the bike, which has had a massive influence and impact on my cycling. The first change is that I've been seeing a brilliant Sports Psychiatrist once a week, Dr Adam Deacon, and I'm finally feeling like I'm starting to reap the benefits of my commitment to travel the five-hour journey to Melbourne every week.
Mainly I think I'm much happier on and off the bike, and this has made training and racing much easier. The second change is that I have a new coach, Damian Grundy. I started working with Damian two months ago when I decided I wanted to race the Canadian World Cups - I still can't believe he agreed to take me on, particularly as I really wasn't in great shape.
I've struggled with ongoing illness for about two years, yet since working with Damian I haven't been sick, and haven't missed any training sessions due to illness. He's managed to get me through a really hectic period of juggling travel, a new job, and training, happy and healthy. Wow! This is the longest time I've stayed healthy while training in years - so a big thank you for Adam and Damian.
Whatever the outcome of tomorrow's race, I'm glad I came away to experience another few World Cups - being here has reminded me why I love racing cross country. It's a buzz riding the course alongside some of the world's best athletes who are striving for excellence, and being in an environment where you have the luxury of time and opportunity to prepare perfectly for your performance. Also, racing cross country World Cups is the perfect excuse to catch up with old friends and meet new people.
I've attached a few pictures to try and capture a bit of our journey so far. We'll be sure to check in after the World Cup.
Thanks for reading,
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The only UCI-registered mountain bike team in Australia, the TORQ Performance Nutrition team features some of Australia's top racers and future stars, including current national and Oceania Champion Dan McConnell
For 2011-2012, TORQ racers are targeting the Australian Mountain Bike National Series, National Championships and Oceania Continental Championships. The team's top priority is racing Olympic distance cross country events, but it is also mixing things up with some short track, marathon and endurance events - and maybe even some road races.
Some members will head abroad for the World Cups - an important part of Australian national team selection process for the 2011 World Championships. In the past two years, the team has grown to include some new faces with some great results to back them up.
McConnell, who represented Australia at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, is perhaps the team's most well-known member. Mark Fenner, Brenton Jones, Mark Tupalski, Luke Fetch, Robbie Hucker, Jenni King, Katherine O'Shea, Joanna Wall and Becky Mates are also on the roster. Members take turns writing diary entries.