Conor O’Brien preps for cyclocross worlds

DSC_6899Stevens Racing p/b The Cyclery rider Conor O’Brien of Ottawa will be representing Canada at the U23 cyclocross worlds in Louisville, Kentucky, next weekend. Conor tells the tale of how he made the team and how he prepped for the worlds.

After a summer of road racing with the crew at Stevens Presented by The Cyclery, my true goals began in September with the aim at being selected to represent Canada at the first ever Cyclocross World Championships held in North America.

The season began with the Green Mountain Cyclocross weekend, I had put in the miles and knew that I could pull out a good ride. A short drive down with my support crew (mom) and the first weekend of racing was in the books. Next up was down to Gloucester, Massachusetts and Providence Rhode Island with my  partner in crime, Evan Mcneely. Over the past few years we have gotten pretty good at running a two man show, and this year was the best yet.  We seem to get into the rhythm of driving nine hours on Friday, meeting some new folks at host housing, racing our brains out for two days, then driving back Sunday night for Monday class, pretty flawlessly. Aside from the quick turnaround to pick up forgotten credit cards at restaurants we were in our groove.  We are thinking of stealing the “Two Guys and a Truck” moving company slogan, except it would be  “Two Guys, A Bunch of Bikes and a Minivan” … at least, I was thinking of it, Evan might take some convincing.

After a few weeks of training and participating in the awesome local OBC cyclocross series it was onto the national championships in Surrey, B.C., on Nov. 17. Again, Evan and I packed up and began our travels, but this time by air. After a quick flight out west, we were picked up by our new friend and local Stevens supporter Dave and off to the hotel (thanks Dave!) After a few days of sitting and waiting the big day had come, this race would hold my fate for the season. If I could ride my way to a top-five finish, I would have all but punched my ticket to Louisville.

The morning of the race, not much was said between Evan and myself, we both knew what we had to do. I always tell people that I don’t get that nervous before races, I’ve done quite a few and I know what to expect, but this was an exception. The most tense moments of bike racing for me are the two minutes before the start when everyone has been called up and we are all ready to go, just waiting for the whistle to blow. Its at that point that you start thinking of all the possible outcomes, and the definite pain that you will be in for the next 60 minutes. Once the gun fires, the nerves and fear dissipate and you begin to battle with raw strength and passion, and you realize that bike racing is such a primitive sport, at the end of the day, all you need to do is pedal fast.

I spent most of the day duking it out with Mike Van Den Ham for fourth place. In the end, due to a tactical mistake and some lapped traffic, Mike came out on top, he rode a strong and smart race.  I crossed the line and knew I had done what I needed; I had all but secured my trip to Louisville.

The next few weeks were spent at home pretending to be a normal student and catching up on schoolwork while I could. December rolled around and it was back on the bike.  Alternating between trainer rides and waiting for the temperature to go above -10C so I could ride outside (side note: I learned the hard way what my temperature threshold for riding outside is). My winter training on the roads was a lot more pleasant than I anticipated, some of the highlights include: riding some cool snowmobile trails, finding some good new routes, getting lost on good new routes, and finding a wolf pack in a field while getting lost on new routes. Another part of my prep for cyclocross worlds that was new this season, was teaching Mike Woods how to run …. or something like that, I can’t remember the specifics. If Superman has kryptonite, I have running (and ice cream sandwiches). Every Saturday we would go out and practice mobility drills and do some running exercises.  The combination of trainer rides, riding outside and running drills has left me primed and ready to go. I am [on Thursday] sitting here at the Ottawa Airport, waiting to board our flight on the way to Cincinnati to race the Kings CX weekend an take on current world champion Niels Albert, after that its off to Louisville for the big day.

As I end my rambling, I’d like to thank everyone who helped me get here, my friends for putting up with me, the Cyclery, especially Vince and Steve P for helping me out whenever I break stuff (more often than not) and Stevens bikes for supplying me with top notch equipment. Last, I’d like to thank my family for their endless support.

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