Monday, April 23, 2012

Calabogie Race Report

Calabogie is a tiny resort town about one hour north-west of Perth, ON. Located on the shores of Calabogie Lake, it boasts some modest downhill ski facilities, a year-round resort, and a race track. Given that the town is  situated in the middle of no-where, I suppose it's a good place to put a race track what with the noise and all. The noise wasn't at all that bad though for the second of eight OCA O-Cup races. A year ago, this was Phil's very first road race so I had heard a lot of good things about the race.

It's about a six hour drive and 420 km from Brampton to Calabogie. Jon and I were up at sunrise, packed, and out of the house by 8:00 AM for the drive to Markham to meet up with the rest of the Kurzawinski crew for a 50k tune-up ride starting at 9:00 AM. It was only 55k but I found the ride to Musselman's Lake, tougher than it should have been. I averaged only 157 watts, which is indeed indicative of a recovery ride effort but, for whatever reason, it was an uncomfortable effort for me. Nevertheless, I got through the ride and by 1:30, following "breakfast" at MacDonald's, we were on our way to Calabogie. By 9:00 PM, after a stop in Belleville for groceries, we arrived at Jockos Beach Resort in Calabogie.

Phil had booked two chalets at the resort. One of the chalets served purely as a sleeping area while the other chalet served also as the communal kitchen, dining, and bicycle cleaning and repair area. Though dinner was served on the late side, it was good. Coach made a salad and some chopped steak, Andy fried some salmon steaks, I made spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce and Jen made herself generally useful with just about everything. Phil brought out some of his Mom's home baked cookies. It was a good team effort. After dinner, Coach made us clean our bikes.

I had some last minute brake pad replacement to do and Jon's rear derailleur needed adjusting so now was a good time to do this. While Coach helped me to change my brake pads, Stan helped Jon with his derailleur adjustment. What should have been simple maintenance tasks quickly turned into a maintenance headache. Testing of my brakes following  pad replacement revealed a frayed rear brake cable. Coach had Stan take a look. The interesting thing about Stan is that, though he undoubtedly knows some really choice Czech curse words, he prefers to curse in English. So there was no mistaking the frustrating Stan was going through as he worked on repairing my brake cable. But eventually he got it working well before turning his full attention to Jon's bike. More cursing. Jon's bike derailleur was just not behaving as it should. "What the ..." Stan was getting frustrated again. And then the source of the problem revealed itself as the rear derailleur cable broke. It had been frayed and close to breaking which was the source of Stan's frustration at being unable to properly adjust it. The next problem was trying to remove the end of the frayed cable from the shifter. It was really jammed in there. More cursing! Eventually, Stan hit on the idea to loosen the rear brake cable and this allowed him access to the frayed cable end. Problem solved, new cable installed and Jon was back in business. I definitely owe Stan a huge thank you for the work he did the night before our race.

The alarm went off far too early on Sunday morning after what turned out to be a rather late Sat night. I got up and stumbled my way over to the next chalet in order to start breakfast going. I entered the "communal" kitchen to find Jen already up and making coffee. Trying not to get too much in her way, I gathered the things I needed to start breakfast and proceeded to make the pancakes and eggs. It wasn't long before Coach arrived to cook the bacon and make sandwiches and after wolfing down some breakfast and coffee, Phil, Jen, Dave, Martin, Jon and I headed over to pickup our numbers for the early race.

Registration went fairly quickly and we were soon on our bikes "warming up" in the parking lot. It became readily apparent that the North by North-West wind was going to be a factor in the race. The wind also made the cold a lot worse than it would have been. After only 2 laps around the parking lot, I went back to the car to keep warm reasoning that I could use the early laps of the race to "warm up". A big influence on my reasoning was my experience from the Good Friday Road Race, two weeks earlier, where I found the pace to be agonizingly slow. Mistake #1.

My experience from the Good Friday Road Race had influenced me more than I realized as it had given me the false impression that I was stronger than I really was. So in the days leading up to race #2, I began to think about how I could use that strength, along with Phil's strength, to forge a "break" from the main peleton. If you think about something long enough, it can seem like reality even if unproven. Such was my mind set going into this race. And, in part at least, it influenced my race decisions. Instead of my focus being on "hiding" from the wind and "keeping my powder dry" so to speak, I rode more aggressively, even testing the waters periodically with a few faux attacks. As it turned out, the dynamics of this race were completely different from that of race #1 and I made a number of mistakes.

Whereas, the race course of Good Friday RR was rectangular and hiding from the wind was easy, this race course was a highly technical 20-turn race course where hiding from the wind would prove to be elusive for all but the most experienced racers. Another major difference was the absence of the yellow line rule. At the Good Friday race, the yellow line rule had the effect of making the road very narrow and not easy to move up. Whereas this course, with its wide open road allowed riders to "move up" almost at will. This made keeping one's place in the peleton extremely difficult. A third major difference was the speed of the peleton in this race vs race #1. In the first race, the average speed was 36.2 kph compared to an average of 39.3 kph for this race. This race was much faster and it felt like it.

Mistake #2 was not making more of an effort to hide from the wind was due in part to the nature of the course, as described above. In part it was due to my being somewhat "gun shy" about merging with the peleton due to my crash during the 1st race. And in part it was due to my being overly aggressive during the early part of the race. Whereas the wind in race #1 wasn't really much of a factor, for this race we had a 25 kph N wind. And because of the many turns throughout the race, you'd have the wind coming from the left at one point and a few hundred meters later it could be coming from the right. Switching from one side to the other wasn't an option at the speeds we were travelling unless one was fortunate enough to be hanging off the back of the peleton (more on this later). This meant that, to hide from the wind, one had to ride in the middle of the peleton, sheltered on both side by other riders. I was not comfortable doing this instead preferring the comparitive safety of one side or the other. But this cost me in terms of not hiding well from the wind. I mentioned how the more experienced riders were able to find shelter even on this difficult course; several times throughout the race I noticed Martin staying up near the front seemingly effortlessly obviously sheltered from the wind. I would have done well to stay on his wheel.

Mistake #3 was being too aggressive from the start. In part this was due to the effort required to stay near the front and "out of trouble". As discussed, the pace was much higher at this race than the 1st. Also, you had riders taking advantage of the wide open road to freely "move up" at will and I found myself frequently having to go into the "red zone" in an effort to stay ahead of these other riders. On top of this, unlike race #1, there were several attempts during this race by other teams in the race to launch a break. On such occasions, the peleton would pick up the pace in order to "shut down" the break, once again requiring an intense effort to stay at the front. And finally, I my mind set of thinking I was stronger than I really am caused me to try a few efforts of my own to test the peleton's resolve and this too wasted precious energy as I took a few forays off the front. Such was the case that by the end of lap 6 of 11, I was feeling like this was turning into a really hard race and there were still 5 laps to go.

It was somewhere around corner 6 of lap 7 that I found myself at the back of the peleton. I had intended merely to take a bit of a breather but found myself quickly at the back. I wasn't in any hurry to work my way back to the front and decided to see what it was like back here. It turned out to be quite a nice place to be. For one thing, it was quite easy to hide from the wind. If the wind was a headwind, I had the whole peleton ahead of me to hide behind, If the wind was from the left, I simply moved to the right corner. If the wind switched to coming from the right, I simply moved over to the left corner. There was a lot of flexibility in hiding from the wind at the back of the peleton. I rode the rest of the lap at the back and conserved my energy. By the end of the lap, I started to feel like some strength was returning but still knew that this was one of those days where I just didn't have the legs. As we rode past the start-finish line though, I thought I heard Coach yelling at me to get moving and I cringed at what he must be thinking with me sitting at the very back.

For the next 3 laps, I sat at the back and had a free ride around the race course. It wasn't until the beginning of the last lap that I began to think about where I might move up for the sprint finish. On previous laps, I'd observed that the long stretch from corner 15 to 17 (see map above) would open up as the peleton tended to cut the corner at 16. This afforded a wide open space on the right where I was confident of being able to muscle my way to the pointy end of the peleton. While it would require burning some energy, I had been conserving energy for the last several laps and felt I had some energy to burn. About halfway through the last lap, I began to plan my attack, moving over to the right hand side of the course inching forward in preparation for my move. I was perhaps a third of the way from the back of the peleton when, just before corner 12, my plan came to a sudden stop. A couple of riders came together and at least one went down on the right hand side of the road directly in front of me. I put on the brakes (which thanks to Stan worked well) and came to a stop just before reaching the downed riders. I was able to stay on my bike, move onto the grass to get around the downed rider, and get going again but, being stuck in 53/12, it took me awhile to get going again and by this time the peleton was well up the road. I gave it a valiant attempt to catch back on, putting out close to 500 watts for over a minute, but it soon became clear that my race was over. In the end, I crossed the line with Dave (who had also got derailled by the crash) in 37th place.

As we crossed the line together, I saw Coach on the ride side just past the finish line. I was feeling pretty dejected, half expecting to get scolded but instead Coach was jumping up and down, excitedly screaming "We won, we won... Phil won!". I couldn't believe it. The winner of the Good Friday Road Race for the past 3 races was in this race and seemed really strong so anyone able to beat him had to be on his game. But Phil had done it. "This almost makes up for my terrible race," I thought. That thought quickly dissipated. No, it was still a terrible race performance. But Phil had won and that made me feel good. Congrats Phil!

Phil times it perfectly for the win.

So, it's back to the school of hard knocks next Sunday for the Tour of Bronte.

Phil accepting his well deserved win.

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