Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Centurion Canada 2011 C100 Race Report

The alarm was set for 5:30, I woke at 5:28, picked up the Blackberry and checked the forecast. Current temperature 6 degrees. Bib-shorts, socks, tri-top, cycling jersey, arm warmers, gloves, skull cap. It was going to be a cold start to the race. Most the other Falcons were in the parking lot of the Mountain Springs resort and by 6:40 we rode briskly through the cool air to the race site to watch the start of the early race.

Last year there were 1,041 participants in the C50 and C100 events combined. This year there were 2,159 in the combined events. The C50 race started at 7:00 am. It took over 8 minutes for 1216 cyclists to cross the timing mat, including Andrea Christie, Nicholas Marshall, his daughter Lindsey, Doug Foster, and Tony Lee. After a quick group photo, the rest of the Falcons took up positions in one of the C100 corrals.

“Racers Race and Riders Ride” is the Centurion Cycling slogan. There were a large number of cyclists in the “Racer” corral but most were there to ride the event a la Gran Fondo. The “dine in” feed zones had everything from cookies and pop to bananas and powerbars. The stops themselves became just as much a part of the event as the riding. This year we had two groups of Falcons “riding” the event with Peter Mueller, Peter Halferty, Colin Chung, Jim Dalzell, Brian Hastings, , Klaus Fritzsche, Ian Jay, Alex Botelho, Chad Hunt, and Jon Westwood in one group and Colin Moore, Judy Kuban, Mark Botelho, Brent Passmore, and Chris Day in the other. Ironman-Bill Vieira elected to ride most of the race by himself as did Ironwoman-Shanta Oudit. Larry Bradley and myself (Richard Westwood) elected to “race” the event this year. We had gotten our butts spanked at the Tour de Terra Cotta and were looking for some redemption of sorts at this race. My public goal was 5:15. My private goal was closer to 5 hours. But in reality, the time goal wasn’t as important as executing a sound race plan. I had the plan; I just had to execute it.

In running races, I would typically assert my “right” to be near the front end of the starting field by squeezing in ahead of others already lined up, even where there appeared to be no room. I earned my “right” to be there through placing well in races. Being new to cycling races, I was was one of the early ones to line up and it was other racers who squeezed in ahead of me, effectively pushing me back in the line up. I hadn’t yet earned my “right” to a front spot. I was soon joined by Larry and Sean Delanghe who was a friend of Larry’s.

The C100 event was delayed by 8 minutes to offset the 8 minutes it had taken for the C50 field to cross the timing mat, and so the race started at 7:38 am. There was a neutral roll out in effect for the first 4 km which meant no racing, but there was much jockeying for position among the Racer group. Sean weaved his way expertly through the peleton and was soon up the road and of sight. That was the last Larry and I saw of him. We made the right turn onto Grey Road 19 south. For about half a kilometre, there was nothing but cyclists across the entire width of the road. Ahead of the peleton, the flashing orange light of the motorcycle motorcade indicated the neutral roll out was still in effect. The continual surge and slow accordion effect was a direct result of the orange light that was keeping the lead riders in check. I was shivering, my lower back was aching, and I was anxious to get started. I think everyone was. Eventually, the wide throng of cyclists made the right turn that signalled the first climb of the day and I prepared myself for my first test.

Up until now, we’d had the luxury of full road closure but once we made the turn, we were restricted to the right side of the road. Though the slope at the bottom of the climb was gentle, the pace at first was fairly slow. The orange flashing light of the lead out vehicle was still visible which surprised and annoyed me somewhat because we were now over 6 km into the 3 km neutral roll out and I was still shivering. But as the climb steepened, the orange light disappeared from view as did the front of the peleton and the pace quickened. Ahead of me, Larry tapped out a hard but steady threshold tempo and I stuck to his wheel. We made good progress for about the first 3 km, passing many weaker climbers who courteously kept to the right. I was happy with Larry’s hard but sustainable effort until we hit a wall of “stuck” cyclists riding abreast across the width of the lane. Larry slowed up as we reached them. But I noticed a gap had opened to the group ahead which made me a bit panicky and I quickly swung by Larry onto the opposite side of the road and surged by the wall of “stuck” riders. Larry followed and we bridged up to the group ahead. My Powertap showed numbers in the high 300’s which was above threshold but I figured the effort spent now to maintain contact with the group ahead would translate to riding with a faster group once we reached the top so I dug deep. We finally crested the top of the climb and had to maintain a tempo effort just to stay with the back of the group ahead as they surged downhill. We powered over another “roller” before descending again towards the turn south onto Grey Road 2. Looking back, I saw we were among the last to make it into this group.

I breathed a sigh of relief for making it into what appeared to be a pretty good sized group of 30-40 cyclists. Looking up the road I saw two separate groups of what looked to be around 15-20 cyclists in each group but from this distance it was hard to tell for sure. With the sun still below the horizon, it was a pretty awesome sight. My adrenalin surged. It felt good to be alive and racing. For the next 10-15 kilometres, I stayed near the back of the peleton, allowing myself to recover from the climb. I tried to calm myself to let my heart rate come down but with the adrenalin surging through my veins it took a surprisingly long while. As Larry chatted up some of the riders in the peleton, I hovered near the back and started to think about nutrition. I consumed one of the half Powerbars I had in my back pocket and sipped some Eload (for great prices on Eload, visit EndlessEndurance.com - coupon code fmct_20). It was along this stretch that I realized that the diminutive but strong looking Jet-Fuel rider with the long, wavy black hair was a woman, Merrill Collins, who it turns out, ended up coming in first overall amongst the women.

The descent into Pretty River Valley was just plain fun. The road twisted and turned, flattened out and then steepened. I had to pedal where the road became less steep but for the most part I just let gravity do the work. I followed Larry who was descending very well. In fact, the whole group seemed to descend well and we made good time on the 8 km descent. The first feed zone was just passed the bottom of the descent and I kept to the left to avoid the riders who were slowing down to take on nutrition.

Section: 0km-40km
Distance 40 km:
Time: 1:08:20
Avg speed: 35.7
Avg watts: 223
Normalized watts: 258

Following the first feed zone, I settled in midway up the peleton and took stock of my situation. My goal was to conserve until the King of the Mountain hill as I knew from past experience that’s where things got tough. Riding east along Sideroad 33, there was a cross wind from the south-east so I manoeuvred myself into the left side of the peleton to shelter from the cross wind. I took in more Powerbar. The 10 km stretch along Sideroad 33 was uneventful, The sun was up by now, my heart rate settled, and I was beginning to enjoy this more as a ride than as a race. We began to pickup stragglers from the main peleton along this stretch of road.

Turning south onto Fairgrounds road we were hit with a headwind that crossed in from the south east and immediately, the group organized itself into a continuous rotation. I moved up the inside then moved over to the left as I reached the front of the peleton. The rider behind took his place in front of me and I began to move back through the peleton through the rotation. Unfortunately, after about 5 -10 riders deep, the rotation fell apart as the rest of the peleton were strung out single file along the right shoulder not taking their turn in the rotation. Disorganization ensued as the workers became confused about where to rejoin the rotation and the organization fell apart leaving a handful of riders to do the work with out any real coordination.

The road was very flat along this portion of the course and we could soon see the main peleton about a kilometre ahead spanning the entire width of the road. That group now looked to be even bigger than ours which seemed to spur some motivation amongst the leaders of our group to try and close the gap. Larry became a worker for awhile, taking a couple of strong pulls at the front and I thought about it but stuck to my game plan of conserving energy. By the time we reached the climb before Creemore, the gap to the main peleton ahead was reduced to about 500 metres but this was somewhat of a false impression as the lead group was at the top of the climb about to descend while our group had still to make the climb. That was the last we saw of the front peleton.

At the feed zone in Creemore, I tossed my empty water bottle and took a bottle of water from one of the volunteers. The road west out of Creemore, Grey Road 9, starts out straight and flat. We rode easy along here as riders took care of their nutritional needs but as we neared the windy section, one the bigger guys went to the front of the single-file peleton and began to push the pace. The pace remained quite high for awhile before going back to easy again. This was repeated a minute or two later as we weaved our way through some of the most the picturesque scenery on the course. Eventually, the bigger rider and one other broke off from the front and started to gap the peleton. It dawned on me that this was the Mark Botelho strategy. The heavier rider was trying to get a head start on the peleton, knowing he would eventually be caught partway up the hill but better than getting dropped at the bottom of the hill. He was a strong rider but his weight was a liability on the climbs. The peleton let the two guys go.

A few more turns and ups and downs along this section and then we were at the start of the climb proper. I moved my way towards the front of the peleton for the start of the climb. If there was a break going to be made, I wanted to ensure I was in it. But as we started the climb, the pace wasn’t as hard as I expected. I maintained tempo effort and was soon at the front of the group. We caught and passed the two break-aways and I was permitted to drive the pace up the hill for awhile but before long I found myself alone ahead of the group. I didn’t see any sense in wasting more effort than necessary and so I eased up and waited for the group to catch back up. I crested the top of the climb near the front.

Section: 40km-80km
Distance 40 km:
Time: 1:09:40
Avg speed: 34.5
Avg watts: 223
Normalized watts: 255

By the top of the climb out of Creemore, I was in second or third postion but after making the jog-left across Hwy 124, I found myself at the front which was not according to plan. I resigned myself to taking a turn at the front and settled into the drops for a strong pull. About 500 metres along the gentle incline, I glanced back to see that I had gapped the group. This surprised me as I was not pushing overly hard, just a steady tempo effort. Did they not want me taking a turn at the front? I “sat up” in order to allow the group to catch up and pass but in the process of passing me the tempo seemed to lift quite suddenly and I had to dig deep just to catch back on. I took a quick peek from the back and saw that we must have dropped some riders on the climb because there was a small group working to try and bridge the gap to our larger group. I don’t think that they ever did catch back on because from here to the turn at Eugenia, we seemed to have reduced out number to around 20 or so riders.

Making the right hand turn north onto Grey Road 63, I expected a tail wind but it turned out to be more of a cross wind which had most of the group strung out along the centre line of the road and even infringing into the oncoming lane. The leaders attempted to organize a rotation again, rotating counter-clockwise from the windward side out. I felt that the rotation was backwards. Riders would be reluctant to leave the relative shelter of the draft to work their way up to the front while fighting a cross wind. To me it made more sense to organize the rotation clockwise so that one would work one’s way towards the front in the shelter of the peleton and then drop back on the windward side. This meant not having to work as hard against the cross wind. I pointed this out but my suggestion was dismissed and ultimately the rotation dissolved and the pace, predictably, dropped. I suppose that had I been a worker from the start, I might have been taken more seriously.

As we rode this section, I took stock of my condition. I felt a bit of burning in my quads and my left knee and IT band had some soreness, probably from the effort of the climb at Creemore, but otherwise I felt pretty good. I knew that from here until the bottom of the King of the Mountain climb was flat to downhill so this was a good time to conserve and recover as much as possible.

We made the left turn onto 10 Line, and the cross wind was behind us. The woman in the group, Merrill Collins, pushed the pace. There were a number of times where she ended up alone out the front before someone in the group took it upon themselves to bridge the gap. It seemed that the group leaders were only willing to put in so much effort. I had participated in a “recon” ride of the course a couple of weeks earlier and the pace along this section for that ride was much quicker due to a much better organized rotation. I could have tried to organize the group myself but this would have required me to become a worker and this was not part of my game plan. If it wasn’t for the woman in the group pushing the pace, we would have been even slower along this otherwise fast part of the course.

From the earlier recon ride, I was aware of the 500 metre gravel section along this stretch but thankfully it had been recently paved. Shortly after that, we made the left turn onto River road and into Feversham. The 3rd feed zone was just after Feversham and most took on Gatorade. I grabbed a bottle myself and chucked my mostly empty water bottle. After the feed zone, Merrill Collins continued to drive the pace. I felt somewhat guilty and felt I should be going to the front to do some pulls. Instead, I occupied myself by surveying the jerseys of the riders in our group. We were represented by Flying Dogs, Waterloo Cycling Club, Nacsworld, Jet Fuel, Wheels of Bloor, Active Life Conditioning, and a number of other clubs who’s names I cannot remember. What was interesting is that they were all club jerseys. No Saxobank, Garmin-Cervelo, or Team Leopard-Trek jerseys to be found in this group.

The ride north along Grey Road 13 from Eugenia seemed even easier. We had picked up another group of about 5 or 6 riders just before the turn and there were some workers amongst the new 5 or 6 riders we picked up. I enjoyed the luxury of sitting at the very back of the pack. We had a tail wind and the road was either flat to slightly downhill which made things easier still. By now I was getting excited. The King of the Mountain hill loomed on the opposite side of the valley ahead and my plan to conserve up until now had worked better than I expected. My lower back stiffness was mostly gone, the ache in my knee and IT Band had dissipated and my legs had still lots of pep because I’d only really exerted myself on the climbs. On the long descent into Kimberly, I reviewed in my mind my race strategy from here to the finish.

Secetion: 80k-130k
Distance: 50 km:
Time: 1:13:29
Avg speed: 40.8
Avg watts: 175
Normalized watts: 219

At the base of the King of the Mountain hill, I discarded my largely untouched Gatorade bottle; I could retrieve a fresh one at the top of the climb. Larry and I were both at the very back of the group of about 30 riders to start the climb. My plan for this climb was to ride with the group and as before watch for any splits in the group. The pace was predictably fairly strong initially but the group began to stretch out as those without climbing legs dropped back. Larry again tapped out a steady tempo pace and again I followed his wheel as he made his way past slower riders. As we neared the front, a couple of riders began to slowly pull away from the group. I peeled off Larry’s wheel and bridged up to them on the inside. When their pace slowed up I kept going and went by at my own tempo effort. I was feeling good and continued at my sustainable pace to the top of the climb. My KOM time was 10:23, good enough for 46th overall and about 20 seconds ahead of the group. This gave me the luxury of taking my time at the feed zone to grab fresh bottle of Gatorade and a banana as I waited for the group to catch back up..

From the top of the KOM climb to Grey Road 40 we had the luxury of the tail wind but as we turned east onto 40, we were once again hit with a cross wind which felt a good deal stronger than it felt earlier in the day. The first part of the section along 40 includes a long but gentle climb. There were now perhaps 5-7 workers in the group, including Larry and me and we got a rotation of some sorts loosely organized and made the short climb at a good pace considering the cross wind.. We were rewarded for our efforts by a long descent of several kilometres which took us almost all the way to Grey Road 73 before the road flattened out again and our 5-7 person rotation was put back into effect.

Turning south onto Grey Road 2, we were hit with the head wind. This 7 plus km stretch of road consists of a 2 km category 5 climb followed by a false flat of about a kilometer and then a 5 km category 5 climb. It is not so much the steepness of these climbs that hurts, as they are not really overly steep, but rather where they occur in the race. On the first of the climbs, one of the workers broke away and just kind of hung out there until the false flat where he was reeled back in. His break might have gotten away if he’d had some help against the head wind but there was no one willing, or perhaps able, to go. As we traversed the false flat, I rode up beside Larry and let him know I was “going” on the next hill. He was going to just continue to ride tempo up the climb. I rode to the front as the group started the climb and kept on going, hard enough to discourage the entire group from following but with holding back enough to encourage one or two of the others to join me. Surprisingly, nobody did and I was left on my own out in front. I built up and maintained perhaps a 200-300 metre gap and as the group tried to reel me back in a quick look back showed me that riders were falling off the back. Ahead of me was a group of about 6-8 stragglers from the main peleton and I used these as rabbits.

Between Ravenna and the Scenic Caves descent, there are a series of 4 short but steep climbs with the first one being the hardest at about 15% and each successive climb after that progressively easier. I made the turn at Ravenna and the group in front of me were only midway up the the first of the four hills. I passed a couple of stragglers from that group halfway up the climb who were in obvious difficulty and bridged to the rest of the group on the following descent. A quick look back at the top of the climb told me my break seemed to have stuck. Bridging to the new group gave me a chance to rest a little at the back of the group. I noticed a “Hub” rider in this group and wondered if he knew Rolie Springall, another Hub rider who I knew from Chris Day. For some reason it didn’t occur to me that this might be Rolie himself (It was). At the second of the four short climbs I attacked. By the base of the third climb they had reeled me back in. The pace slowed again and this enabled 4 or 5 of my riders from my chasing group to bridge up up to this group so now we were about 10-12 strong.

An attack from one of the new riders was quickly shut down but following the fourth short climb, the same rider attacked again and was allowed to go. A second rider swung by to bridge the gap and was allowed to go. I decided what the heck and jumped out to bridge the gap myself. Though I was feeling extremely strong, It took a lot of effort to bridge the gap and I was pretty well spent by the time I reached the two break away riders. I glanced back and saw that we still had a gap and yelled out “we’ve got a gap”. We got a 3-man rotation going that just about killed me because the effort was about as hard as I could dig but as we reached the first corner leading into the Scenic Caves descent, I glanced back and saw that the chasing group narrowed the slender gap that we had and had just about reeled us in.

The start of the Scenic Caves descent includes a long sweeping right hand band that leads into a flat section of about 600 metres before the descent proper begins. I tucked in for the sweeping right hander but by the time I hit the flat, the chase group had caught me. By now I had nothing left from my break away effort and was unable to catch onto the chase group as they went by. Fortunately, the Scenic Caves descent was just ahead. I tucked in again and screamed down the hill, passing three riders along the way, and was able to catch the back of the group.

I made the catch to the back of the group at the left hand turn onto Winter Park road nearly taking out an orange cone as I took the outside line to catch the tail end of the group. Unfortunately, the guy at the end wasn’t aware I was there and veered from his line, forcing me to navigate between 2 cones into the oncoming lane. This impeded my progress and I had to dig deep to catch back on. I was able to recover slightly as we made the bend onto Mountain Drive but had to dig deep once again to match the acceleration towards the next turn. We slowed again for the left hand turn onto Jozo Weider Boulevard and then another brutal acceleration. Slow again as we took the final turn into Village Crescent and then a sprint to the finish line. I didn’t exactly sprint. I was at the tail end of the group and I had nothing left. I saw the flags and cruised in, coasted over the timing mats, heard my name and I was done. Under 5 hours (4:49:52). What a feeling!

Section: 130km-172km
Distance: 42 km:
Time: 1:19:05
Avg speed: 32.4
Avg watts: 227
Normalized watts: 265

Rolie finished about 6 seconds behind me and spent the next few minutes bent over waiting for the cramps in his legs to subside. Merrill Collins finished just over a minute later and it was then I learned she was the first woman in. What a strong and fearless rider she is, I was impressed by her ride. Larry came in not far behind her and the two of us congratulated her on a great race.

I would like to thank Larry for being a great wing man both during and leading up to the race. It really was an exciting journey and I’m looking forward to doing some more races next year as we venture into Masters racing in Ontario. I would also like to thank my son Jon for being my training partner for many of my rides as well as letting me "race" when it became clear he didn't have enough rides in his legs to "race" himself.


The sportif group riding in together.

The classic group riding in together.

Left to Right: Brian Hastings, Peter Mueller, Richard Westwood, Peter Halferty, Larry Bradley, Klaus Fritzsche, Jim Dalzell, Alex Botelho, Jon Westwood, Ian Jay, Bill Vieira.

Content with my race.

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