Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tour of the Battenkill - 2014

The Battenkill  (a ""kill" means a creek) is a 59.4 mile tributary of the Hudson River. Known for its fishing, it runs from Vermont into New York state. It's probably the covered bridge which crosses the Battenkill that is most identifiable in this 10 year old annual Spring road race that has quickly become a "classic" for North American amateur bike racers. The race is known as The Tour of the Battenkill. But whereas most of the 2200 participants rode the Tour of the Battenkill Road Race, I seemed somehow to have been teleported to some parallel universe that featured the Tour of the BattenHELL. This is my story of that parallel experience.

Shortly after 9:30 AM on a cold Spring morning, along with roughly 70 other Men's 50+ racers (of the 103 who had registered) I lined up behind the start line. Judging by the flags hanging limp on their poles there was no wind as of yet but with forecasted westerly winds of 17-24 mph gusting to 44 mph, I expected that to change. I found a spot near the front not far back from the green kits of 3 Team Keltic riders I recognized from my Coupes Des Ameriques debut last year. William Thompson, of Team Keltic, had done quite well at last year's Coupe Des Ameriques and was registered for this race along with at least 4 team mates; I expected the team to figure prominently in the race. My race strategy hinged on staying close to the wheels of Team Keltic. And so, armed with my race strategy, at promptly 9:38 AM, my epic "Battenhell" began.

My travelling companions, Joe and Phill, preparing for the race.

Officially, the neutral zone was 1 km but unofficially the first 10 km was for the most part neutral. The road along here was wide and paved with paved shoulders half as wide as the road itself. It should have been easy for me to stay near the front but I found myself drifting gradually towards the back of the peleton along this section. There's a degree of aggressiveness required to defend one's position near the front that was missing from my arsenal. And so it was that as we passed under the covered bridge at about the 10 km mark, I found myself towards the back of the peleton. Upon emerging from the far side of the covered bridge, it was game on.

I had trained hard over the Winter and felt confident going into this race. I was stronger than last year where I had a pretty decent finish placing 15th in my race with a time that would have won the Men's 50+ race that year. Thus, I had expectations of doing well in this year's Men's 50+ race. But as we raced over the soft dirt surface I found myself having to dig harder than expected just to stay with the pack. This wasn't supposed to be happening.

I also wasn't anywhere near the front which is where I should have been at this point in the race. Juniper Swamp Road, with the steepest and toughest climb to get over, was approaching quickly. I needed to be near the front for the start of that climb. But as previously mentioned, I was lacking in aggression on this day. I didn't feel quite ready to "mix it up" in the pack and rode somewhat tentatively. So, here I was close to the back and it was getting hillier. I clicked my left lever to drop into the small chain-ring. Nothing! I flicked both levers back and forth several times but still nothing. Crap! Doing Juniper Swamp Road in the big-ring was out of the question. I unclipped and kicked at the front derrailleur with the heel of my shoe. Clipping back in, I turned the pedals and the chain to shift over to the small chain-ring. "Phew, dodged a bullet there," I thought. I buckled down to catch back onto the back of the peleton.

The start of Juniper Swamp Road was fairly gentle but I could see up ahead where the road kicked up. The front riders were just about there already with the rest of the pack strung out in a long line. I was at the back. Damn! The peleton bunched up as we hit the climb. The yellow line rule was not going to be obeyed along this stretch of road. The full width of the road was required. The road surface here was terrible. It wasn't just the ruts in the road. Like quicksand, the dirt seemed to want to suck your wheels into the sludge. The thing to do was to keep pedaling because the slower you went the worse it got. About halfway up the climb, the entire road ahead became blocked with stuck riders spanning the full width of the road. It was mayhem, there was nowhere to go! Just as I was about to unclip a space opened up to my right. I kept pedaling, barely making it through the deep ruts onto the comparatively harder surface beyond. Up ahead, the rest of the pack was pulling away. I dug deep, past riders who were pushing their bikes, and finished the climb a short ways off the back but close enough to be able to get back on.

"Phew," I thought, "dodged another bullet there. I clicked the lever to shift into the big-ring. Nothing! "Wtf!!!" I reached under the down-tube to try and pull on the cable but my lobster claw gloves were useless to the task. Shifting into the smallest cog, I pedaled furiously to try and close the gap. But no amount of spinning could make up for losing the big-ring. I could do nothing as the peleton pulled away on the long descent.

Coasting down the descent, I tugging off my lobster claw gloves and was able to get enough of a grip on the cable under my down-tube to shift the chain back onto the big-ring. The peleton was still in sight so there was still hope. I went into time-trial mode in a vain attempt to try and catch them single handed. In actual fact, my effort was closer to VO2 Max than TT effort not sustainable for too long. However, as I barrelled along about as fast as I could pedal, I was passed by a Cat 3 rider from the race after mine (The Cat 3 race had race numbers in the 400's).

Since this was the first Cat 3 rider I'd seen I assumed he must be off the front in a solo break-away. Whatever the case, he was very strong and I jumped on his wheel. Being in the draft of this stronger rider didn't provide me much recovery. To make matters worse, I couldn't stay behind him indefinitely and at some point had to pull through to show him I was willing to work. For 2 or 3 km, I was able to hang on but it was getting tougher. But then we picked up another Cat 3 rider followed shortly by a rider from my own race. We now had a working group of 4 but instead of making it easier the pace picked up and I found it even tougher to hang on. Eventually, the pace riders proved to be too much; I was barely hanging on. With every pore of my being screamed at me to stop pushing, I gave in and pulled out of the rotation. I was gassed with absolutely nothing left with 3/4 of the race still to go. I pulled over to work on my front derailleur.

The support vehicle for the Men's 50+ race was already ahead of me but fortunately a neutral support vehicle pulled up just as I pulled off. This was fortunate. The mechanic was able to get my front derailleur working again by spraying it with water from both the top and bottom. It seemed that grit had gotten into the channel in the frame where the cable came through and spraying it with water cleared out enough of the grit that it started working again. I was back in business albeit with much less enthusiasm and confidence than what I started the race with.

The thing about the Tour of the Battenkill race is that even when you're off the back by yourself, you're never really alone. On the Saturday alone, 27 separate races were being run on the same course. It didn't take long before I had picked up a bunch of stragglers and had a working group of four. But such was my luck that it also didn't take me long to squander my opportunity. At the next turn onto pavement, a patch of gravel took away my traction and I ended up "in the rhubarb" as the saying goes. My companions cruised on down the road as I put my chain back on from the shelter of a decaying corn field.

While riding solo for the next 10 km or so, at least two groups passed me. The first group to pass was the Cat 3 race which had started 8 minutes after my race. The next group to pass was the huge group Men's 4B 40+ race which started 24 after my mine. I could have (and perhaps should have) hooked onto the back of this huge pack which would have made my race a lot easier but it didn't seem right. So I kept to the right and let them pass by. This was such a huge group it took a couple of kilometers for them just to get by. I soldiered on solo, somewhat dejected at having been already passed by at least 2 peletons with only a third of the race done so far. To add to my misery, the wind was starting to pick up.

Over the next 10-15 km, I passed a number of stragglers who didn't seem much interested or perhaps were not able to work with me. At about the halfway mark I spotted a rider in the distance who took awhile to reel in. But just I reached the Cat 3 rider, we hit a particularly bad section which seemed to slow me down much more than him and I had to reel him in all over again. But after reaching pavement together we began automatically trading pulls. This allowed me to stretch my aching lower back a bit and provided some much welcome relief to my overworked thighs. We rode in silence together for several kilometers until at some point he asked me how far we had to go. I was shocked not by his question but by how young he looked. Such was my mood that I hadn't even bothered to glance in his direction as we traded pulls but as I looked at him now he appeared to be not much older than about 16 and sounded as young as he looked. I replied that I didn't exactly know how far we had yet to go but that we hadn't yet reached the second feed zone which was at mile 42 (of 65).

A short while later, another Cat 3 rider went by with another rider from my own race stuck to his wheel. My young companion and I fell in behind them. Like the earlier Cat 3 rider, this rider was also very strong and just as I was beginning to think he didn't want any help, he sat up and pulled slightly to the left. Instead of pulling through, the other 50+ rider also sat up. The youngster ahead of me cut across my front wheel in an attempt to get around the two slower riders ahead of him. I went down! Hard!

To his credit, the young kid came back to make sure I was ok. In fact, I had to tell him several times that I was ok. He was very hesitant to leave. I felt almost bad for him as he looked devastated that he had caused me to go down even though I don't think it was his fault. But, reluctantly, he went on his way leaving me to straighten my handlebars and brake lever and make my way at my own pace. A few hundred meters down the road, I stopped to bend my rear derailleur into a semi-respectable position. Halfway up the next climb I discovered I wasn't properly clipped in and it took me until the next paved section before I could stamp my cleat on hard pavement to shake loose the grit in my cleat before I could once again clip in.

For the next 10 km or so, I pressed on alone. For a long while I could hear a couple of riders behind me. One of them in particular was quite a chatterbox. But by now I had not much interest in working with anyone. I was in my own zone, pushing the pedals against the wind and was semi-comfortable with that. But shortly before the second feed zone, the two finally caught up to me so I worked with them and as it turned out that was nice because once again it provided much needed relief for my lower back. I was ok riding on the hoods but as soon as I dropped into the drops my back started hurting. The problem was that the wind had picked up so much so that riding in the drops was essential when riding solo. Thus, my new riding companions allowed me to ride on the hoods and relieve my lower back.

At about the 73 km mark, we hit Herrington Hill Road which was part of the new section of the course. The climb started out steep then levelled off a bit not quite as steep but long. I lost my riding companions here. I wasn't even pushing it on the climb but the chatty one was unable to keep up and the other guy was just plain struggling. I got back into my zone and pressed on. The view from the top of Herrington Hill Road was astounding so I took the time to stop and take a photograph.

The view from the top of Herrington Hill Road. My photograph doesn't do the view justice.

From here to the finish, the course was either going up or down much of it on gravel which proved to be more a blessing than a hindrance as it afforded me some opportunities to stretch out my aching lower back. I also seemed to pick up a second wind along this stretch because the kilometers seemed to start going by much quicker. The Men's 4B 40+ peleton passed me somwhere around kilometer 79. Other than that I was but a single rider amongst a long line of stragglers. But unlike many of the others I passed, I actually started to enjoy the ride somewhat. Ok. so maybe "enjoy" is a tad over-stating it but it was certainly less painful than previously.

Just one in a long line of stragglers.

From Meeting House Road to the finish, I pressed on mostly alone. For a short time I worked with a small small group of 4 but that group disintegrated on the final climb up Stage Road. On the descent from Stage Road, I again picked up a couple of guys, including one from my own Men's 50+ race, but it was still me pretty much me doing most of the pulling. The guy from my own race didn't take a single pull. Finally, there was 5 km painted on the pavement. Then 4 km to go. I kept pedaling. Three km to go then two and then finally we were into the last kilometer. We turned onto the finishing stretch and my two riding companions sprinted for the line, including the guy who hadn't taken a single pull. I didn't expect anything less. I was happy just to cross the line, 50th of 64 starters, 47:44 behind the winner.

Tour of the Battenkill 2014, done and dusted.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Are We Having Fun Yet?

In my previous post, I outlined my intention for this year to put the fun back into cycling. With visions of group rides, stage races in a far off land (New York, Vermont, and Quebec are far-off for me), and fun-filled day trips, I optimistically filled my Summer calendar with just about every fun cycling event I could fit in. But with the crappy weather we've been having, I look at that same calendar for this month, every day filled with yet another trainer workout, and ask myself 'Are we having fun yet?'

Getting close to mid-March, I had expected to be riding outside by now. Instead, we get yet another snowfall.
Considering the unplanned extension to my Winter training, I've been coping surprisingly well. Having a hard date of April 5 for the first A race of the season, none other than the unforgiving Tour of the Battenkill, will do that to you. If it wasn't for that, I don't think I'd be as diligent about completing my scheduled workouts. It's amazing how strong a motivator that fear of "being noncompetitive" really is. It's caused me to dutifully continue my daily trudge down to the basement for each scheduled workout.

My "pain cave" has become an all too familiar haunt over the course of the past 4 1/2 months.
I've learned to keep my time on the trainer comparatively short this year with most workouts lasting between one hour and an hour and 15 minutes. If there's one thing that can be said about trainer workouts is that they are very efficient in terms of training time. You can get a pretty decent training effect over the course of an hour and 15 minutes on the trainer. But, dammit, I am more than ready for a nice outdoor ride in comfortable conditions. Yet, that ride looks to be a long way off. A quick check of the long range forecast doesn't offer much  encouragement with daily highs barely above zero through to the end of the month.

The long range forecast shows daily highs barely above zero.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, back in September of last year when I registered for a Tour pass for the Tour of the Battenkill and Tour of the Catskills races. Now, as I'm cranking out those all too familiar intervals, I find myself wondering what the heck I've gotten myself into. The Tour of the Battenkill is a fun race when the weather is decent as it was last year but in the tradition of the "classics" it's also a tough race with a number of significant climbs. And with less than 3 weeks until race day, I have yet to get in an outdoor ride this year. That's less than optimal preparation for a challenging A race.

The Tour of the Battenkill is a fun race with numerous gravel sections like this one but it's also very challenging.
Lest I convey the idea that all is doom and gloom, I have to confess I'm actually somewhat excited. Today I picked up the frame of my beloved Masi road bike after having it repaired. There is at least one advantage to not having any long rides in the near future. It gives me time to rebuild my Masi. It will be nice to have both a training bike (Masi) and a dedicated race bike (Cervelo S2).

The lack of outdoor ride time has given me more time in the bike workshop.
The other thing that has me excited is what's on my calendar. Rather than doing the usual series of O-Cup races this year as I've done that past couple of seasons, I'll be focusing on a series of stage races in Vermont, Quebec, and New York state. I did the Coupe Des Ameriques stage race last year and it was a blast. Moreover, these races tend to cater to my strengths as a cyclist, including at least one time trial stage and with road races that include a number of challenging climbs. Assuming I can get back down to the weight I was at last Summer, this gives me a competitive advantage whereas most of the O-Cup races result in sprint finishes and I've learned that sprinting is not one of my strengths.

While my Summer calendar is filled with many interesting and fun events, the front end so far looks rather gloomy

On top of the stage races, my season this year will also have a number of interesting cycling-focused activities including: an annual Muskoka weekend with the Usual Suspects, Rideau Lakes Tour again with the Usual Suspects, a day trip to the Annual Buttertart Festival in Midland (probably also with the Usual Suspects), separate day trips to visit my sister near Barrie and my parents in Kincardine, and a week-long cycling getaway with friends (most of which are the Usual Suspects) split between the Lake Placid, NY and Stowe, Vermont. So, yeah, the weather sucks right now and I'm feeling somewhat unprepared for my first A race of the season. But "are we having fun yet?" Well, I'm trying to keep an open mind :) Stay tuned!


Friday, February 14, 2014

Putting the fun back into cycling

Not that what I've been doing up to now hasn't been fun. I mean, I wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't fun... would I? But my approach to cycling as become increasingly clinical over the years. This is reflected in my blogs which tend more and more to have a technical bent to them. Don't get me wrong, I like the technical aspects of my training and enjoy explaining it in a way that makes it easier to understand for my readers. But I'm beginning to wonder whether I've strayed too far up the river. For example, I have 3 different posts from last year which are still in draft state because... well, they've just become too technical. So this year, rather than focusing on the technical aspects of my training, I've decided to try and put more fun back into my cycling... beginning with my blogs about it.

So what is it that makes cycling fun? Back in 2005, fun was doing the FMCT Sunday group ride. Actually, it started a bit earlier than that with the Sunday run. Prior to joining the fledgling triathlon club, I did all my swims, bikes, and runs by myself. Which was fine. I've always been somewhat of a loner and the solitude that came with training alone suits me. But that first Sunday group run injected a whole new social dimension to my training that quickly turned it into the highlight of my week. Weekly swims were added during the Winter but it wasn't until early April with my first group ride that I found my true love.

I bought my first decent road bike in time for my first ever group ride.

On a cool, damp Sunday morning in April, we met in the Fortinos parking lot. It was still early and the lot was empty. I drove there with my bike in the back of the van but there were several who lived close enough to ride. One by one, cyclists trickled in until within the space of about 10 minutes, we had a group of 8-10 cyclists ready to roll.

The parking lot at Fortinos was the designated meeting place for what was then the Sunday group ride.
As a group, we left the parking lot, hung a right onto Worthington, a quick left onto Grovewood and were soon turning right on Creditview which back then was still a country road. For me, the excitement of riding in a group hit before we'd even left the parking lot. Though we weren't connected through any physical means, we moved as one. An ethereal collection of spoked wheels spinning purposely towards some goal. I'm not sure what that goal was. I don't know that anyone knew. But the group seemed to know.

The roads that April morning were damp and sandy from having not yet been swept. With little to no traffic, we fell into smaller groups of two and three, chatting amongst ourselves over the quiet crunch of rubber on grit. A couple of punchy hills followed by a series of rollers served to briefly interrupt the conversation. But we all came together again in Terra Cotta to ride the river valley once again as a group before making the left to start the King of the Mountain hill. At just over 4 km long with an average gradient of 4%, our KOM hill couldn't exactly be categorized as a climb but it's what we had and was where the more nimble riders among us demonstrated their climbing prowess by racing to the top... only to turn around again to ride part way back down in order to graciously (sarcasm) accompany the rest of us slower riders the rest of the way up the hill. Having re-grouped at the top of the hill, we descended into Cheltenham where once again got organized into pairs for the easy ride back to the parking lot. Not, however, before the contesting the final sprint where I redeemed my lack of climbing prowess by taking the first sprint of the season on my first group ride.

Those early years with FMCT were a blast. I did more triathlons/duathlons that Summer of 2005 than in all the previous years 7 years combined. It wasn't just that I had discovered a new found enthusiasm for the sport which I had. There was more to it than that. Training, racing, road trips with my new friends was... just fun.

FMCT members pose for a group shot after finishing the 2005 Orillia Triathlon.

Things began to change for me during the Summer of 2007. I had been doing Ironman training with my friends who were training for Ironman but by no means felt ready to do an Ironman myself. I had done my first marathon the previous Fall and for me that was daunting enough. The prospect of doing an Ironman was terrifying. And yet somehow I got talked into signing up for Ironman France. Not that the prospect of two weeks in Nice, France was a tough sell but the training was a big nut to crack. I spent countless hours reading forums, blogs, books, articles on training for an Ironman, mostly out of fear. One area of my research that intrigued me was training with a power meter. The more I read, the more convinced I became of its benefit. And so I became the proud new owner of a wired Powertap purchased second hand off eBay for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000. That was probably the best investment in training equipment I have made. And it changed my approach to bike training.

This yellow hub became the focal point of my training.

Post Powertap, I became the "numbers guy". Instead of hammering up rollers and cruising down the other side, I would keep the watts steady, losing speed on the uphill but flying by everyone on the downhill as I continued pedaling with the same power. My friends all wondered what the heck had gotten into me and I suspect my new riding habits quickly became annoying. In fact, I "know" my new riding habits became annoying. But it worked! I started placing top five (often 1st) in my age group on the bike leg (of triathlons). I even starting placing top five in my age group overall which, given I was a mid-pack swimmer at best, came primarily from my strength on the bike. The Powertap paid dividends and the more successful I became, the more emphasis I put on training by the numbers. FTP. CTL, ATL, CSS, TSB, Watts/Kg, HIT, VO2 Max, 20, 30, and 40 minute Sweet Spot intervals all became an integral part of my bike riding volcabulary. I became a slave to the numbers.

So where was I? Oh yeah, I want to put the fun back into cycling. What's fun, you ask?

This is fun...

Rideau Lakes Tour
This is fun...

Start corral at Centurion Collingwood

This is fun...

Trail riding at Terra Cotta Provincial Park

Believe it or not, this is fun...

Stage 1 hill climb at Coupe Des Amerique (Sutton Stage race)

Doesn't get much better than having your own team bus...

Team Kurzawinski at Tour de Terra Cotta

And, sometimes you've just gotta stop and smell the coffee...

Enjoying breakfast at "The Scruffy Duck".

Now, I'm not about to throw away my Powertap... Ok, so I have four of them and I'm keeping them all. But for this year at least, it will be fun first, numbers second.

Have a great year, everyone!


Friday, September 27, 2013

Bay of Quinte Road Race, 2013 Race Report


After a promising start to the 2013 bike racing season, my Summer didn't exactly go as planned with a series of 4 DNF's, beginning June 29 with the National Road Race Championships in Megantic, Quebec, and ending August 5th with the Tour de Terra Cotta. Not a great season! So, after the Tour Di Via Italia on the Labour Day weekend, I shut down "training" for the season and embarked on a campaign of beer and comfort food. With 2 "races" remaining , the 100 mile Centurion in Collingwood and the 100k Tour de Hans in Waterloo, I didn't stop riding completely but my rides weren't so much "training rides" as, well... just rides. In fact, I dropped out of the 100 mile event at Collingwood, opting instead for the 50 mile event and that was fun. The Bay of Quinte Road Race only came up on my radar due to a Facebook posting by the OCA the week of. When Marco texted me to ask if I was interested, I decided to do it, more to get in a quality training ride prior to the Tour De Hans than anything else.

I had looked at the course profile ahead of registering. It was pretty much flat with only one climb of any significance about midway through the race. I didn't anticipate any difficulty even with the additional 7 pounds I'd gained since Labour Day (how did that happen?). It would probably end in a bunch sprint as characteristic of most Ontario road races and I figured to be able to sit "in the draft" for the majority of the race. My biggest concern was what to wear as the weather forecast was calling for morning temperatures in the single digits.

Marco Salvati, who lives just around the corner from me, picked me up at 5:50 AM and together we made the 2 hour trek to Trenton. By 8:30 AM, we had picked up our registration kits, pinned on our race numbers, attached time chips to bikes, and were out riding through the crisp morning air in an effort coax race legs into action. Race start was at 9:00 AM.

Start of the 100k race. I'm in there somewhere, off to the right, near the front.

Since this was an "open" race, I expected there to be a reasonably large field of, say, 200 or more. But as we lined up at the start line, there looked to be no more than about 30 (in fact, there were 49 to be exact). In one respect, this was good as it meant less fighting to stay near the front. On the other hand, it afforded less opportunity to "hide" in the pack as was my plan. This wasn't at all how I envisioned things (what was that saying about "the best laid plans of mice and men"?). As if to rub salt into my wound, this morning featured a stiff 25 kph wind blowing in from the NW.

The warm up

As we rolled out of Centennial Park in Trenton, I tucked myself safely somewhere around the middle of the 49-rider pack in an attempt to hide from the wind. I could see the bright lime-green jersey of Marco sitting near the front around about 4th wheel or so. I wasn't ready for that yet, content to just sit in the middle of the pack. There was plenty of space on the road and I wasn't feeling any pressing urgency to get closer to the front.

At 1.5 km, Greg Cushing (Team TDI/Zuck Bikes) attacked. This strung out the peleton but there were no gaps of any significance opened up. The attack served merely as a brisk warm up, at least for most of us. I wasn't about to look back while riding 40 kph in the middle of a cruising peleton to actually confirm that everyone was still with us. I wasn't going to be "that guy". Cushing attacked again at 5 km, this time more convincingly. This one caught my attention and I resolved hereafter to keep close to his wheel. Cushing had won the Bloomfield Classic Road Race earlier in the Spring in similarly blustery conditions (even worse, truth be told) and had started the Chin Picnic Crit similarly aggressively, going solo off the front for several laps of that race. He was definitely someone to watch out for.

Distance: 18.3 km
Duration: 27:55
Avg Speed: 39.3 kph
Normalized Power: 80.6% FTP
Average Power: 63.5% FTP

The bridge

There were a couple more burst attacks at around 8 and 10 km, respectively, but the next significant attack didn't come until about 20 km into the race. As we made a left turn at 20 km, Cushing launched a vicious attack  into the cross wind that caught most of the peleton off-guard. I was about 15 riders back when the attack came and, even though I had anticipated an attack coming, I turned the corner to find a yawning gap to the break-away riders. I didn't hesitate. I launched myself after the break-away, standing on the pedals to coax more power out of my straining legs, passed a number of riders who had been caught off-guard by the attack, and soon found myself in no-man's land between the peleton and the small break-away group ahead of me. About 3/4 of the way there, I was beginning to feel I had nothing left and took a quick glance behind me to see who might pull through. To my surprise, there was no-one behind me . It was up to me. Anyone who has done a Time Trial or, better yet, a timed hill climb knows the burning sensation in the legs from pushing oneself to the limit. With my legs screaming at me to stop, I kept pushing and after a 58 second all-out effort, I just made it to the tail end of the break.

Distance: 800 m
Duration: 0:58
Avg Speed: 49.9 kph
Normalized Power: N/A
Average Power: 188.9% FTP

The snap

Having made the break, I soon wondered what I had gotten myself into. The small break-away group of 6 had already established a smooth rotation by the time I reached the break and now I was expected to take my place in the rotation. My first turn through the rotation was brutal. I felt I was going to die. It was all I could do to pull through at the front and hold on until the next rider pulled through. There was method to this madness, of course. A high pace was required in order to "snap the elastic" to the chasing peleton. Everyone in the break seemed experienced enough to know this and were all pushing hard. But the frantic pace was such that there was not much "recovery" in the draft, especially with the strong cross-wind. After having used everything I had just to get into the break, now I was turning myself inside-out just to stay in the break. "How much longer I could keep this up?" I asked myself. I thought of dropping back to the peleton but that was not an option. The only option I felt I had was to keep going until I couldn't. But even while suffering I felt a tinge of excitement. I had made the break! And it looked like a good one. After about eight and a half minutes, the pace settled into more of a Tempo effort. We had broken the elastic.

Distance: 5.9 km
Duration: 8:38
Avg Speed: 41.0 kph
Normalized Power: 103% FTP
Average Power: 97.5% FTP

The break

Once the pace had settled somewhat, I had a chance to evaluate my break-away companions. Including me, there were 7 riders in the break: Greg Cushing (Team TDI/Zuck Bikes), Kevin Black (Octto Cervelo), Derek Harnden and Keiran Andrews (Peterborough Cycling Club), Casey Roth (Ride With Rendall), and Lucas Bent (Jet Fuel Coffee/Norco Bicycles). I didn't know it at the time but, of those six riders, four raced at Elite 1 level (Kevin Black - winner of Gran Fondo Niagara, Derk Harnden, Lucas Bent, and Casey Roth) and the other two raced at Master 1 level (Greg Cushing, and Keiran Andrews). I was the only Master 2, racing in the Senior category in just my second year of racing. I think it was fair to say I was a bit out of my depth. But, ignorance is bliss. I executed my place in the rotation like I belonged there.

The pace over the next 30 km was hard but manageable. At 45 km, we turned into a headwind and the next 15 km were very hard at the front but easy in the draft. At 60 km, we reached the only climb of the day, a 1.5 km climb averaging 6%. The gradient was not hard as climbs go but its length along with the stiff headwind proved to be my undoing. We started the climb gently enough but, apparently, this pace was too pedestrian for Kevin Black who rolled off the front. The rest of the group seemed content to let Black go, at first, but that didn't last long. Casey Roth attacked, dragging Harnden, Andrews, and Bent with him. I debated whether to dig in to stay on the wheels in front but instead chose to climb at my own pace, reasoning I'd be able to grind my way back. Big mistake! Even with my recent weight gain, the climb shouldn't have been that overwhelming but the strong head wind was like the hand of God. "No, my son," God was saying, "not on this day!" Glancing back, I saw Cushing having an even tougher time than I, probably from all those earlier attacks, and I had to sit up and wait. Four legs were better than two, I thought. There was still a slim chance that the two of us could catch back onto the break by working together.

Distance: 37.5 km
Duration: 1:02:47
Avg Speed: 35.8 kph (the wind)
Normalized Power: 95.3% FTP
Average Power: 86.4% FTP

And then there were three...

Cresting the climb, I tucked in to begin the descent. About 300 meters down the road were some police vehicles and several police officers directing traffic. This was confusing! Cushing was yelling at me to turn. I tried to see where to turn but it was unclear. There was a road coming up on the left but the police were further down, past where the road was. We got closer to the road and Cushing's calls became more animated: "turn, turn...". I didn't see the white arrow marker until we were actually at the turn. It was very easy to miss. Cushing, on the other hand, seemed to know where he was going and we made the turn without going off course. Just as we were making the turn, Kevin Black appeared, riding from the opposite direction. It seemed he had missed the turn. "That's good," I thought. "Now there are 3 of us instead of two. Completing the turn, I could make out one lone rider ahead of us. "Where were the other three?" I wondered. With that question unanswered, the three of us got a rotation going and set about chasing the rider ahead of us.

Catching the lone rider took longer than I expected and it wasn't until about 8 km into the chase before the Peterborough Cycling Club colours came into focus. The lead vehicle just a short ways further up the road suggested that this PCC rider, Kieran Andrews, was currently leading the race. Meaning the other 3 from our pack must be behind us. There was a brief discussion behind me between Black and Cushing from which I overheard something like "No, we need him." It seemed that Black wanted to "blow-by" the lone Peterborough rider with Cushing suggesting a more practical option. Indeed, Black stepped up the pace a notch as we went by Andrews. But instead of preventing Andrews from latching on, Black's acceleration instead caused Cushing to fall off the back. So instead of gaining an extra rider we just swapped riders and remained a group of three.

Distance: 27.4 km
Duration: 42:42
Avg Speed: 38.5 kph
Normalized Power: 93.4% FTP
Average Power: 87.1% FTP

The catch

The next 15-20 km were again very hard. But I was at the front of the race in a break of three! "How sweet is that!" I thought. My part in the rotation was hard but manageable. Both Andrews and myself were doing "pulls" of around 1 minute but Black's pulls were probably more like twice that long. When Andrews shouted "Only 33 km to go!", I began to believe our 3-man break would go all the way, guaranteeing me a spot on the podium. But as "best laid plans" go, my "chicken-counting" was short lived. At about 90 km, we were caught by a group of about 9 riders, four of which included my previous break-away companions. Marco shouted something like "Good job, Richard!" as he rode by which made me feel good but my dreams of a podium finish were over.

Once the catch had been made, our pace slowed considerably; the next 10 km were very easy. The makeup of our group was now comprised of the original 7-man break plus Greg Woitzik (Indpendent), Timothy Templeman (Belleville Chain Gang) and the 3 Tower/Cipolinni Racing team members: Chris Herten, Peter Chae, and Marco Salvati. I was quite familiar with the bright lime-green jerseys of the Cipolinni boys from having raced with them at the Putnam Classic which had been my hardest race of the year to date and also probably the most fun.

Distance: 10.6 km
Duration: 18:38
Avg Speed: 34.1 kph
Normalized Power: 65.9% FTP
Average Power: 57.5% FTP

The home stretch

With about 13 km to go and everyone hugging the center line away from the cross wind, Kevin Black attacked the group down the right hand side of the road. Being close to the back of the pack at the time, I had a chance to see this unfold and reacted instinctively by chasing Black down the ride hand side of the road. I was about halfway to bridging up to the Occto rider when I hesitated. "How much further was there to go," I asked myself. "Do I really want to endure more suffering?" "Surely the pack will chase the two of us back down". Looking ahead, I could see that Black was pausing, waiting to give whoever it was in "no-man's land" a chance to go with him. This was my chance to go down in a blaze of glory. In hindsight... well, same old story with me. I hesitated instead of going with my instinct. One of these days I'll learn to trust my gut more but this time, again, I didn't.

About 2 km later, Casey Roth attacked the bottom of a 1 km climb that I didn't know about. The two riders ahead of me jumped after him. I also jumped but, once again, hesitated halfway across the gap. "Why should I be doing all the work," I asked myself and eased up, waiting for someone else to come around. They did! They came around and left me behind. Now, instead of digging deep to try and bridge to the second break, I found myself having to dig deep just to stay with the rest of the pack. I did make it to the top of the climb with the rest of the pack... barely. But the 3-man break away ahead had widened the gap and were a good ways down the road by the time the rest of our pack reached the top.

Whether everyone was saving themselves for the finish or they just didn't have anything left, as the 3-man break lengthened their lead, nobody in our pack (now down to six) seemed to want to take a turn at the front. My excuse was there were at least 2 riders in the pack, Andrews and Bent, who I thought to be stronger than I so why should I go to the front. Eventually, we did sort of get something organized and our pace picked up but, for the remainder of the race, the gap to the two groups ahead of us seemed to stay about the same.

Entering the Trenton city limits, our pace picked up. Much of this increase was due to the efforts of local boy, Timothy Templeman who took some monster pulls in an effort to try and close the gap to those ahead. But as strong as Templeman was, Casey Roth was just as strong if not stronger and the gap did not decrease appreciably. Templeman led for probably most of the last 3 or 4 km and I would have gladly taken some pulls myself to help out but such was Templeman's power that it was all I could do to keep pace. The last couple of kilometers were quite technical, taking us through the city center proper and here it got a bit hairy as we found ourselves racing down the center line between traffic. Nowhere to pass here! From here, we crossed a bridge over the Trent River, a quick right onto Ontario Street, a bit of a chicane and then another right (where I think I passed Chris Herten) into Centennial Park and the finishing stretch. I could see just ahead that Templeman seemed to fade approaching the finish line and both Andrews and Bent passed him Andrews taking 5th place and Bent taking 6th. I came in just behind Templeman for 8th place overall.

Distance: 12.8 km
Duration: 17.22
Avg Speed: 44.2 kph
Normalized Power: 97.5% FTP
Average Power: 82.9% FTP

Distance: 113.3 km
Duration: 2:59:04
Avg Speed: 38.0 kph
Normalized Power: 93% FTP
Average Power: 80.7% FTP

Full Results


Unless you finish in the top three, crossing the finish line always seems somewhat anti-climactic. I felt more relief that the suffering was over than anything else. What promised to be a comparatively easy training race turned out to be one of the hardest races of the year... and also one of the most fun despite all the suffering (or maybe because of it?). Following the race, the riders who had finished began to congregate in little groups, congratulating each other and bumping knuckles. It's kind of funny how out on the course we are all adversaries but once the race is over there is this high level of camaraderie and mutual respect. This was evident as we all exchanged war stories following the race. This, to me, is as much a part of the race experience than the actual pedaling. Some of these riders, I had just met. Others, such as the Cipollini boys, I had raced against numerous times throughout the year. It's this camaraderie that very much contributes to my love of racing.

After some barbecued pork on a bun with baked beans, we all gathered around as the podium award winners were celebrated. First to be honoured were 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the Youth category. Then the Adult category. It occurred to me at this point that I had registered in the Senior category (> 55). "Did I win?" I wondered. Sure enough, the announcer got to the Senior category and called out "Richard Westwood, 1st place in a time of 3:01:44". Woo hoo, I earned a medal and got my picture taken with the pretty young woman. To me, though, my real victory was making the break of the day :)

Award winners including me, 3rd from left.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

KW Classic - 2013 Report

"Were you satisfied with your race," Laura asked me on the trip home?

"Totally," I replied! "I wanted to race aggressively and that's what I did," I told her. Laura had just won her first O-Cup race in 4 attempts, finishing over 4 minutes ahead of the pack in a two-up break-away so I had a pretty good idea that she was satisfied.

A few days have passed and, with time to ruminate, I find myself still pondering the question. Given my plan going into the race, to "race aggressively", I should be satisfied. But the more illuminating question that needs answering is "Was I satisfied with my race plan?"

Ahead of the race, having scanned previous race results, I determined that this race was inclined to be yet another bunch sprint finish. I hate bunch sprints, mostly because I never do well in them. So, after looking at the course profile and reading a few race reports, I devised a plan to try and make the race hard for everyone with the expectation that by making the race hard: a) there would be fewer people to contest the sprint, and b) my fitness would put me in a better position to contest the sprint finish than those less fit than me. Chatting with Phill on the team bus prior to the race, I learned his thoughts on restraining his break-away urges until later on in the race.

On the team bus (right), pinning my race numbers on my jersey.

Sixty six riders lined up to start the 2013 edition of the KW Classic. Five teams were represented with 4 or more riders, Morning Glory Cycling Club with 8, Team CHCH with 7, and Cyclepath Oakville, Silent Sports, and Team London Cycling with 4 a piece. Team Kurzawinski Coach/PBNJ.ca comprised a team of two: me and Phill.

Things don't always go according to plan but it's important to have them. Since normally it takes a while for my body to get "up to speed" in a race, I intended to use the first few laps of a race to warm up. That part of my plan went out the window as a CHCH rider catapulted ahead to my left, sprinting flat-out towards the first corner. This pretty much set the tone of the day, ending my plan for a comfortable warm up.

Phill (left of middle) and I (3rd from right) lined up along the front of the start line.

Not wanting to be relegated to the middle of the pack, I did my best to stay towards the front. Though still able to manage the pace, this was definitely harder than I intended to go at this early part of the race. On the first trip up the climb, I found myself in that "uncomfortable" zone. By the second lap, the climb was more tolerable. And even more so by the 3rd climb though clearly I wasn't as comfortable with the climb as Phill as he not only led the pack up the 3rd climb but crested the top with a gap. So much for his plan of restraint. Phill wasn't about to allow an opportunity go wasted and he soloed off the front for the next two or three laps.

KW Classic course profile.

Loyal to my plan of racing aggressively, on about the 5th lap I bridged a one-man break just after the turn 1 switchback. The two of us quickly built a slender lead heading along the top of Hidden Valley Road. Our lead was just as quickly swallowed up by the time we hit the "hump" just passed the second curve. Not only did my break-away attempt not work, it also help close the gap to Phill; he was brought back towards the end of the following lap. Not to be deterred I jumped on pretty much anything that moved off the front, after that, in a futile attempt join each and every break-away attempt except the one that might have counted. 

KW Classic Course Map

Attempting a break-away anywhere along the back half of the course was doomed to failure. That part of the course was too fast and the pack too strong. The best places to try and break away were on the last part of the climb, the steepest section, and along the start-finish stretch where there was a cross wind. I found out about the start-finish stretch inadvertently. Twice, while trying to make the race harder, hugging the shoulder against the cross-wind and powering down the start-finish stretch, I found myself with an unintended gap to the pack. On the second of these unintended "break-aways", a lone CHCH rider bridged up to me and passed. I should have grabbed his wheel and gone for another break-away attempt but I hesitated. Past experience had taught me that CHCH closed down break aways; they didn't initiate them. So I let him go. As it turned out, Bryan Tyers, winner of the Niagara race in his first race since being promoted from M3, stayed away on his own for at least 3 laps and it took a determined effort by Team London domestique, Joe Narciso, to reel him back in, leaving me with another "what if" to ponder during this past week.

By the time Tyers was brought back into the fold, my legs were giving me signals. Up until now, I was able to hold anybody's wheel going up the climb but with couple of laps to go I started feeling twinges. Predictably, the pace picked up on the last lap. I stayed fairly close to the front down the fast part of the course and into the subdivision but not as close as I would have liked. The pace tended to slow down in the subdivision crescent, in anticipation of the climb, and I thought I would be able to make up a few places there. But on the last lap, as we rounded the crescent, instead of slowing down, riders attacked from the front and nobody slowed down. It wasn't a violent attack but it was enough that I found myself starting to drift back through the pack instead of moving forward. To make matters worse, with the wind coming from the left, I had instinctively moved to the right side of the road to seek shelter from the wind... along with everybody else. My way forward was blocked. By the time I got to the turn into the steepest part of the climb, I was at least halfway back in the pack, probably further. I was able to make up some ground on the steep part of the climb but cresting the top I could see I had missed the boat already. I pushed on anyway because, well because it's a race. Making the final turn into the start-finish chute, a rider went down ahead of me. I went wide around him and sprinted for the line, crossing in 20th place, somewhere around the middle of what was left of the pack. 

After the race, I had a chance to chat with a few of the racers. In general, everyone's spirits were up despite the crappy weather. It had been a pretty exciting race and the time had gone quickly by. Interestingly, the average speed of the M2 race was the same as that of the M1 race held later that day. It had been a fast, aggressive race and I had been towards the front for most of it so, yes, I was satisfied with my race. And maybe would be still had I not chatted with Charlie Squires.

I bumped into Charlie after the race. "How did you do," I asked?

"Second place," he answered.

Somewhat surprised, I shook his hand and congratulated him. I was surprised because I hadn't seen Charlie throughout most of the race and yet he had seemingly appeared out of nowhere to take second place. Moreover, the same thing had happened at Niagara; he was all but invisible until the sprint finish where he again took second place. The thing about Charlie is he's over 60 years old. Talking with Charlie after the race, we talked about what attracts him to Road Racing. "It's the strategy," he said. "You conserve, conserve, conserve... and then you go."

So this week I've been thinking... In two races this year in which I raced aggressively, I finished back in the pack whereas in the race in which I was obliged to "conserve, conserve, conserve..." on account of my team mate, Phill, being in the break, I placed top ten (6th). It's fun to race aggressively and be in the mix, but I've been asking myself this week: "Was I satisfied with my race plan"? I'm inclined to think, no.

Charlie Squires (left) takes 2nd place at the KW Classic

Monday, May 13, 2013

Lake of Bays Road Race - 2013 Report

In 2005, I participated in my first "Muskoka Chase" triathlon and fell in love with the Muskoka region. I've been coming back each year since that race to ride my bike at various times ranging from late Spring to late Summer. This was the first time I'd chosen to ride my bike here this early in the year.

Had the inaugural Lake of Bays Road Race been held the previous weekend, I'd be writing a different race report. That was the weekend we'd finally turned the corner out of the miserable Winter weather we've been experiencing all Spring into suddenly Summer-like conditions. But Old Man Winter returned with a vengeance with a sub-zero windchill, rain mixed with sleet, and winds approaching Gale force strength. The question of the day prior to the race was what to wear. On the one hand, I was inclined to stick with the more aerodynamic tight fitting race kit and layer up underneath to add extra protection against the elements. But after witnessing some of the early finishers of the morning races as they came shivering in from the cold, I chose discretion over valour and dressed for protection over aerodynamics adding a rain jacket, team jacket, leg warmers, a second pair of booties, and my thick Winter snow gloves to what I had initially chosen to wear.

I dressed warm for the start of the Lake of Bays Road Race, including my thick Winter snow gloves.
Even dressed as warmly as I was, the stiff 30 kph West winds made the wait for the race start an uncomfortable one. Only 2 teams were reasonably well represented on the start line: Team London and Team CHCH, each with 4 riders. Beaches Cycling Club had a roster of 3 but any of the other teams had at most two members, including Team Kurzawinski. The Team London guys had all been in M1 last year and had chosen to downgrade to M2 this year so I knew they would be strong. They had been a presence already at the Good Friday Road Race and Bloomfield Classic. I knew also that Team CHCH had some strong riders but I knew from Calabogie that they tended to chase everything down so while they were probably not a break away threat, they made the prospect of establishing a break more problematic. Eventually, 10 minutes after the M1 wave started and five minutes after the Juniors, the M2 wave rolled off the front to cover the 1.5 km neutral start distance. A few minutes later, we made the left turn onto Canal Road East and my team mate, Phill, shot off the front. The race was ON.

Trying to stay warm (front right) while awaiting the start.
It was a small field of 25 that started the M2 wave. Phill had mentioned on the drive up that he might try and break early if his legs were willing and apparently they were. But attempting a solo break this early in a long race is rarely a good idea and when nobody responded to Phill's attempt to initiate a break, he sat up and waited for the rest of the pack to catch back up.

The pace over that challenging first section of the course was hard. I think everyone just wanted to get warm and riding hard was the best way to do that. Knowing the technical nature of the first 18 km, I worked hard to stay at or near the front, particularly on the descents where I was always at the head of the peleton. There had already been some crashes in the M3 race and I didn't want that happening to us. And if it was to happen, I didn't want any part of it. Staying at the front kept me out of trouble. Still, I managed to lose my only water bottle on one of the fast decents from South Portage into Dwight. Once me made the turn onto HWY 35, I slipped back from the front and settled in somewhere around the middle of the pack. Losing my water bottle was a bit of a concern but I did notice that opening my mouth while following other riders provided an alternative source of fluids should I get desperate. I quickly learned to ride slightly to one side. I wasn't that desperate yet.

The section along HWY 35 from Dwight to Dorset went sort of how I expected with the pace settling down somewhat. But my reverie broken was frequently interrupted by a break away attempt by Phill, usually joined by at least one Team London rider, and inevitably there would be the mad surge to keep up with the CHCH guys as they chased the break back down. It wasn't always the CHCH guys closing the gap but often enough to be noteworthy. The plus side of all the cat and mouse was that a) it kept me warm, and b) the trip to Dorset passed very quickly.

Turning South West towards Baysville brought us straight into the 30 kph head wind. Having ridden the same Muskoka 70.3 bike course numerous times during the Fletcher's Meadow Cross Trainers (FMCT) annual pilgrimage to Muskoka, this was my favourite part of the course. It was the fastest, least hilly part of the bike course and I generally liked to go to the front of my "buddy" train and put in a long pull over this section. Not today! With the angry winds howling, I slipped to the very back of the peleton and hid from the wind. It was while at the back of the pack that I noticed Coach Kris in the wheel van behind us and I was able to drop back and retrieve a bottle of water from him. Thanks Kris! No more wheel spray for me, I was moving up to bigger and better things.

Coach Kris drove the Via Ciclante wheel van behind the M2 wave.
One moment, the weather would be dry...

...the next moment, it would be raining.

Somewhere between Dorset and Baysville, Phill broke away from the pack yet again, joined by one of the Team London guys, Carlos Goncalves. Perhaps it was because of the head wind but the pair managed to establish a bit of a gap. It seemed nobody was willing to put in the effort to chase the pair down. For awhile, the gap seemed to grow but such is the nature of this section of the course with it's long line of sight that Phill and Carlos were kept in check and basically allowed to dangle out front to tire themselves out. The catch was made just before Baysville but as we entered Baysville, another Team London rider, Kees Louws snuck off the front. I think nobody really noticed at first because everyone slowed down for the feedzone in Baysville but once we turned East onto Brunel Road, Marco from Cipollini Racing pointed out to me that there was a guy off the front.

As with Phill's break away attempt, the peleton didn't seem too concerned about chasing the Team London rider down and, as with Phill and Carlos, he was allowed to dangle of the front. Having rested myself most of the way between Dorset and Baysville, my legs actually felt pretty good. The last thing I wanted was for the race to finish in a bunch sprint, especially knowing the CHCH guys tended to be good sprinters (which probably accounted for their tending to chase down any breaks). I knew also that the course became increasingly more difficult from here to the finish with numerous short but tough hills. So I went to the front, in particular to try and make life a little more difficult for the CHCH guys. If I could tire them our by attacking on every hill then maybe somebody else, Phill or even one of the Team London guys (I liked their style) could take the win. As I attacked the next hill about a kilometer and a half from the turn onto South Portage, one of the CHCH guys made to jump on my wheel only to be held back by his team mate. "No, he's ok," I heard him say, meaning I wasn't a threat; let me go. With that challenge ringing in my ears, I time trialed my way up to the Team London guy, rested a bit behind him and then took a turn at the front just as we turned onto South Portage. I was hoping that the two of us could make a go of it but as I made the turn, I took a quick glance back to see the entire peleton barreling full speed towards us. It seemed at least somebody in the peleton did see me as a threat.

Up to now, the entire peleton remained intact; nobody had gotten dropped. I spent the remainder of the race (well, almost) at the front, attacking every hill. I'm not sure what the net effect on the CHCH guys was. I'm hoping I made them suffer but though bigger guys, they were surprisingly strong even on the hills and any gaps I did establish was immediately nullified once the road leveled off again. In fact, one of the CHCH guys seemed to take up my challenge and began to attack the hills himself ahead of my attacks and as we made the left turn onto North Portage road, it was a CHCH guy on the front followed by me followed by I don't know who else because somewhere along the way we had begun to jetison parts of the peleton. The climb up North Portage road was hard and I was starting to feel the cumulative effort of all my attacks in my legs. There wasn't much respite on the following descent as the CHCH guy kept pedaling and began to distance me. A Team London guys went by and I hooked onto his rear wheel before we made the left turn onto Canal road. Another climb, this one shorter but steeper and the CHCH guy was still on the front but as we reached the top of this climb, one of his team mates counter attacked. Surprisingly, nobody went with him. Maybe nobody could; the pace had been brutal the last few kilometers. But a short while later, Phill made a faux attempt to bridge the gap with the peleton in chase. Not wanting to do all the work himself, Phill sat up and the pace slowed a bit with the CHCH guy still out front. But the pace picked up again as we rounded the curve into the last major hill on the course and everyone went by me. At least, everyone who was left. I tried to respond but I guess I had burnt one too many matches and my legs had absolutely no power. What was left of the peleton, 11 guys, rode away without me. I tried in vain to catch back on during the following descent. The wheel van passed me just before the bridge and I was able to catch a bit of a draft just briefly (Thanks Kris) but my legs just had nothing. Fortunately, there was nobody behind me so it didn't really matter and my 12th place wasn't threatened in any way as I crossed the line.

Phill managed to finish strong with the front pack, finishing in 5th place. Apparently, the CHCH guy got caught before the finish and finished behind the front pack about midway between the pack and me. My friend and fellow training sufferer, Laura, came in 4th in her race.

Distance: 94.5 km
Duration: 2:44:11
Avg Speed: 34.5 kph
Intensity Factor: 99.9 % of FTP (I think it may be time to do another FTP test)
full results:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bloomfield Classic and Calabogie Classic - 2013 Report

Bloomfield Classic

With the UCI World Cycling Tour qualifying race fast approaching, Andy and I elected to add the Bloomfield Spring Classic Road Race to our already busy racing calendar. The Calabogie Road Classic was already on the menu for Sunday but the course is mostly flat and not good training for World Tour qualifier. The Bloomfield race, however, was very hilly and thus very suitable as a training race.

The alarm on my Blackberry blared angrily at 4:45 Saturday morning. I was packed already so it was just a matter of driving to Coach's home to hitch a ride in the club van. After a quick breakfast, we were on the road to Bloomfield, NY by 6:30 AM. Three and a half hours later, with Coach driving, we arrived at the school parking lot to sign in and pickup our race numbers.

This Spring has not been good for cyclists with below average temperatures and more rain than usual. On this morning, we had also to deal with 45 kph winds gusting to 60 kph. I took the time to swap out my front 66 mm Carbon race wheel and brake pads with my regular aluminum training wheel and pads, fearing how the strong gusts would affect my steering with the much wider race wheel. By 10:35 AM, I lined up with Andy for the 4 km neutral roll out.

Andy and I lined up for the start of the Bloomfield Classic.
Twenty six cyclists started the 5th wave of the Bloomfield Classic, comprised of 9 Masters 40+, 15 Masters 50+ and 2 Juniors. Interestingly, 9 of the 26 were from Ontario with 4 from Zuck Team, 3 form Team London, and Andy and me from Kurzawinski Coach. I found myself at the front of the pack for the neutral rollout but once we crossed the start-finish line, I quickly found myself at the back as the entire pack attacked en masse and I had to dig deep just to stay with the pack. That was my warmup.

Course profile of Bloomfield Classic.
The first couple of kilometers of the 18 km course include a couple of rollers which, done in the small chain ring at club-ride pace, probably aren't too bad. But big-ringing them at race pace, those rollers felt more like hills. I was able to work my way back to the front by riding up the windy side of the road but here I emphasis the word "work" as there was nothing easy about it. After the rollers was a long downhill where I was able to catch my breath and let my heart rate return to a more reasonable level. Steering became a bit of an issue on the long downhill with the wind gusts bursting in from the right side but not pedalling for awhile was a welcome relief. The fun began once we made the right turn into the head wind.

You would think that once the pack turned into the head wind that the pace would settle down as those at the front of the pack dealt with the strong head wind. But, no, we made that turn and the front rider attacked. I was about 3rd or 4th wheel going into the turn so it wasn't too bad closing the gap but that front rider put in such a strong pull that the entire pack was strung out single file for most of that "bottom" section of the course.

Bloomfield Classic - 1 lap = 18 km.
With the wind coming West by South-west, fighting the wind was easier over the second half of the course than the first but then there were the hills to deal with. At first, I attacked the hills with the lead riders but after doing this a couple of times, I discovered I could start the hill at the front of the pack, climb the hill at my own pace while drifting back through the pack, and save my "matches" for the inevitable attacks that I knew would come later and, in general, the second half of the course did become easier than the first.

The expected attacks came once we made the right turn to start the second lap. The first attack came right at the turn as the road pitched upwards. Closing that gap wasn't too hard for me, probably due to my new-and-improved power-to-weight ratio. When the second attack launched into the cross-wind, just passed the start-finish line, I didn't jump right away because Andy was ahead of me and, thinking he might make the break, I hugged the yellow line and blocked. I did jump once riders started coming around me on the windy side but by this time the gap was wider and I had to dig deeper than I thought possible to close the gap in that crosswind. When I finally did reach the front group, I was dangerously close to crossing the yellow line and almost seeing stars. I steered my bike over to the right just as the pack seemed to slow a bit and my front wheel got caught up against the rear wheel of the rider ahead. Boom! I went down.

I unclipped and stood fairly quickly, in time to see Andy barreling towards me. I nearly stepped right in his way as he crossed the yellow line to get around me but stayed my ground in time to avoid a second collision. Once Andy went by, I jumped back on my bike and began to pedal but didn't get very far with my handlebars twisted to one side. Off the bike, front wheel between my knees and the handlebars were soon straightened and I was back on the bike. Now I had to stop again to explain to the motorcycle commissaire that I was ok to go on. By the time I got going again, the front pack was already at the bottom of the long descent and making the turn onto the bottom section of the course. There was no hope of me catching them now.

Surprisingly, there were still stragglers riding by as I got going again and I was able to start working with one of them. We picked up and 3rd guy and between the 3 of us started to pick off stragglers ahead of us. I expected that as we passed stragglers that they would hop on the train and begin to contribute to our chase group but as it turned out we would pass them and drop them. Either they weren't strong enough to stay with us or they had no fight left. I suspect the latter.

Going into the 3rd lap, our pack of three became two as the heavier guy in our group wasn't able to keep pace on the hills. That was unfortunate but on the other hand, the remaining guy was pretty strong so I wasn't too disappointed. Half a lap later, the Pro peleton passed us and, rather than hitch onto the back as my riding partner did, I stayed to the right and let them by, as we are supposed to do, and just like that our chase pack was reduced to just me. It was at this point I considered calling it a day at the end of the lap. I've quit races before when things didn't go as planned and it didn't sit well with me afterwards so I steeled myself to finish.

As I crossed the finish line at the end of the 4th and last lap, Coach was there with the van. I was never so happy to see him. I was also extremely satisfied at having finished the race. As it turns out, I actually didn't do too bad either, finishing 8th in the Men's Masters 50+ out of 15.

Bloomfield Classic full results

Showing off my newly-air-conditioned jacket after the race.

Calabogie Road Classic

Waking up Sunday morning, with abrasions on my shoulder, elbow, hip, and knee, I had expected to be in more pain than I was but, after a good night's sleep, I didn't feel too bad at all. Moverover, upgrading to Master 2 meant my race didn't start until 11:17 AM instead of the 9:00 AM start I had last year so I was able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast before the race. And though it was cold on race morning, the wind was gone and the sun was out.

Relaxing before the call to the line.
Forty three riders started the M2 race of 75 km or 15 laps around the 5 km long race track. The peleton was well-behaved heading down the start-finish straight and around corners 1 and 2. The first attack didn't start until corner 3. After that, there were attacks on pretty much every one of the 19 corners for about the next 7 or 8 laps.

Calabogie Race Track
I could feel the previous day's race in my legs but happy to be able to respond to the attacks. While Phill and Camilo took turns in bridging and joining most the attempted break-aways, my plan was to just sit and watch for the first 11 laps. For the first 5 or 6 laps, I focused on staying near the front and with each attack, I worked hard to stay close to the front. But as I became accustomed to the rhythm of the attacks, I found I could sit further back in the pack, avoiding the dreaded accordion effect by anticipating attacks before they happened. I'd like to be able to say "before I knew it, lap 11 had come and gone" but in actual fact, it took some steely resolve to keep my focus and stay in the race. Lap 11 did come and go but I counted every lap.

By the time lap 11 came and went, it was pretty clear that nobody was going to get away. There were some strong riders in the pack but every time a group of riders went, there were equally strong riders at the front to chase them back down. It was a stalemate much as I expected it would be without much of a wind to make things hard for the chasers. I waited for the last lap.

Beginning lap 14, the pace picked up. Team CHCH, who had no fewer than 7 riders in the M2 race, marked each attack that was made and on for the last lap sent 2 riders to the front to make the race hard. I moved my way toward the front expecting all hell to break loose at any time. Things did start to get a bit hectic around corner 10 and as we turned corner 14 I stood to try and get a better position going up the small climb over 'Ralph's Bridge' but had to break as everyone moved over to the right side ahead of the right-hander on corner 15. From here, it was a fast downhill through corner 16 into the sweeping right hander at corners 17 and 18. I was on the inside of the track heading into the downhill but moved over to the outside to hide from the wind thinking also wanted to be sheltered from the wind as we came around corner 19 and onto the finishing straight. Unfortunately, everyone seemed to have this idea and, I had to brake as riders ahead of me cut the last corner to start their spin. In retrospect, I should have stuck to the inside of corners 17 and 18 to be on the outside for the last corner. I would have then been able to carry my momentum onto the finishing straight and might have finished higher up. As it was, I finished 18th, just behind Camilo and just ahead of Phill. All in all, though, it was a great weekend of racing.

Left to right, Camilo, me, and Phill.
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