Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tour de Hans Report, 2011

In August, when we (FMCT club members) first discussed doing this race, every day was sunny and hot. And, though we were aware the race date was in October, there were no thoughts about it being a cold, windy, wet race. So at 5:15 am when the weather forecast for the morning predicted 25 kph N winds with a high of 7 degrees and occasional showers, the race lost a little of its lustre. Despite the sudden change in weather conditions, I was still excited about doing the race. My recent decision to focus on bike racing for next season had me eager to get my feet wet (no pun intended).

My Centurion 100 race, two weeks ago, was successful beyond  expectations. But, apart from the climbs, my race plan had me sitting back in the peleton conserving energy for the most part. My goal for this race was akin to throwing myself into the deep end of the pool. I intended to race aggressively. Larry and I had discussed the upcoming race and he was of the same mind. Let's go "balls to the wall," he agreed.

After shivering through the announcements for 20 minutes, the front corral was given the go ahead to roll out to the start line with the other three corrals lining up behind us. A few more minutes of shivering by the start line and we were off.

The course had us heading in the opposite direction, away from the start-finish line, for a 5 km out and back before the start-finish line was actually crossed. I liked this part because it served as a decent neutral roll-out and warmup. The pace picked up noticeably once we crossed the start-finish line.

Crossing the start line, on the left that's Larry in the red helmet and blue Falcons jersey, Simon Whitfield up front in black, and Luke Ehgoetz on the right in blue-white helmet.

For the first couple of kilometres, I lost Larry's wheel as other riders aggressively jostled for position. But I was  riding close to Bruce Bird, winner of the Centurion 100, and it felt pretty cool to be riding beside the Bird-man so I stayed put. But before too long I lost his wheel as well. "Not being aggressive enough," I thought. So I started poking my nose into any gap in the peleton I could find and made my way back up to Larry. Shortly after, we made the right hand turn onto Foundry Street. Well some of us did. Seems the lead police car was unsure of the route and led the immediate leaders straight instead of making the turn. There was some creative riding over ditches and lawns as riders scrambled to catch back on.

The next turn, onto Synders Road, had a railroad crossing and, I should have seen it coming, the lead riders hammered as soon as they'd made the turn. I pedaled hard, to bridge the gap, but in the back of my mind I was expecting the pace to slow again after the initial surge. This did not happen and riders flew by me on both sides before I realized that this was IT. I dug deep and buried myself for a hundred metres or so. Still not closing the gap. A rider went by on my left with Simon Whitfield on his wheel and I tried to grab onto the back of Whitfield's wheel. No dice! Another 3 riders went by and this time I was able to catch a wheel. The peleton was just ahead but we weren't getting any closer. We bridged up to Whitfield and the other guy and picked up a couple of others as we tried to rejoin the peleton but no good. It was as good as gone! And we weren't even 20 km into the race yet! Normalized power up to this point was 281 watts which meant I was working my ass off. To top if off, we were riding into a headwind.

After a few more kilometres, my breathing returned to somewhat normal and I was able to wipe the white froth that had been foaming at the mouth and actually take some pulls. I tried to limit my pulls to about 2 minutes as the pace was taxing and the wind was punishing. Ar one point, as Simon went by (we were on a first name basis by now), he told me "strong pull" which made me feel good. It may not actually have been Simon who said it but by the time I tell the story to my grandkids, it will definitely have been him that said that so I might as well start somewhere with the story.

There were maybe three or four riders in our group of about 10 who weren't pulling at all but, thankfully, there were two or three strong riders in the group including Larry's friend, Luke Ehgoetz who was as strong as a horse. I was wishing the group would get better organized and implement a rotating echelon but that did not happen and I was too busy trying to hang on to try and organize something myself. (Whitefield had peeled off to finish the 50k route by this point). We picked up 2 or 3 cast offs from the first peleton, one of which tried to get something organized but it seemed that some riders in the group just didn't "get it". And for it to work, everyone needed to "get it".

We turned SE onto Ament line and for the first time enjoyed a tail wind. The pace picked up. Ehgoetz went to the front again and took such a strong pull that he gapped the group. Nobody seemed to be doing anything about it so I went to the front and slowly bridged back up to Ehgoetz. At this point, I should have gone to the back again after the exertion of bridging the gap but I stayed on Ehgoetz's wheel. And when signalled me through I had to pull again. I did my two minutes and peeled off to let the next guy through. The pace picked up. I scrambled to get on the back. I was barely there but there was a cross-wind and I was having to dig deep just to keep pace. There was a hill looming (the KOM hill) and I could feel I had nothing left for the hill. I was right. And that was that. For the next 25 km, I rode alone, watching as the small group I had been a part of slowly pulled away.

After letting go of the group I was able to rest and felt much better after even a short rest. My legs felt strong and I got into time trial mode and started to grind out the k's. It was my lower back that was the weak link which made me wish I'd been more vigilant of late in completing my core exersizes. It's only 12 minutes of core I do each day (or at least intend to do) but I find it makes a difference both in terms of core strength and flexibility. Nevertheless, I was still making decent time and I was happy with that. One of my other goals for this race, in addition to wanting to be aggressive, was to not give up. I had given up at Tour de Terra Cotta and it left a bad taste in my mouth. So it was comforting, in a masochistic kind of way, that I was able to still push despite being dropped. Every once in awhile, during my solo stint, I would take a look back. If there was a group catching me, it didn't make sense to continue to time trial if the inevitable catch was going to be made. Better to sit up and wait for the group.

At around the 75km mark, I saw the next group. And it was a large enough group that it had its own police escort so I sat up and waited. But as soon as the lead riders reached me, I went to the front as part of my continuing aggressive strategy. It's a funny thing riding in a group. It's only a theory of mine but I suspect that, left to its own devices, a bigger group will push only as hard as it has to. Today, I found this to be frustrating and any chance there was to work with someone off the front, I took it. Usually it was the same guy. We would inevitably get reeled back in but I feel that it tended to keep the peleton honest as well as satisfying my aggressive urges of the day. It was following one of these mini break-aways that I noticed Jon come race up with the chasing peleton. He had been in the group from the start of the race and for the last 10 km I was completely unaware. Kinda cool to meet him in a race. For the next 10+ kilometres I continued to push the pace until we turned North on Queen street for the final 2.5 km. Here we had a headwind once again so I sat back and let some of the others work while I saved myself for the final sprint.

Just prior to making the right turn onto Bleam for the final 500 metres of the race, I manouvred over to the right to be sheltered from the cross wind. One of the stronger guys led out and I got onto his wheel. But after about a third of the way to the finish, I noticed another guy making a break and was able to grab his wheel. I stuck to his wheel and watched the finish line approach, getting ready to time my final kick and first ever sprint finish in a race. But a quick glance behind me told me that the two of us were alone out front. I eased up and let the other guy take the position ahead of me. He was the guy who I had worked with to try and break away and had done a lot of the work to motivate the peleton so I wasn't interested in taking a spot from him.

Overall, this was another fantastic race experience for me. I left this race feeling more motivated than ever to work hard this winter and make myself more race competitive. My power numbers demonstrated that I had indeed achieved my goal of being aggressive as my 20 min and 60 min watts were the higher than they've been all season as was the total average watts for the race (238 watts, normalized power 268 watts). We lucked out with the weather as the rain held off until we were finished the race. The post race food and beer was well received and it was great to socialize with the gang after the race. Congratulations to Larry Bradley and Rolie Springall who finished 21st and 13th, respectively, out of a field that included some tough competitors (the race winner, Ryan Roth, is a pro with the Spidertech team. Second place, Bruce Bird, was winner at the Centurion 100). Good job guys!

Bring on Tour de Pelham!


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