Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mississippi Mills Grand Prix 2012

I'm a big fan of the stage race. The Tour de France is the most obvious of stage races but more recently I've become aware of other stage races. So when I discovered that stage races were also run at the amateur level, it became my goal to do one. So when it was announced that the 4th O-Cup race of the year was to be a stage race, I circled the date on the calendar (so to speak - in actual fact, everything is done on Google these days, including my calendar) and awaited the date with anticipation.

The Mississippi Mills Grand Prix stage race is one of five races organized by the Ride With Rendall bike club. The format of the weekend's stage race for the M3/Elite4 category of which I was racing included:
- 18.5 km Time Trial on Sat morning
- 30 km Criterium on Sat afternoon
- 84.5 km Road Race on Sun morning

Heading into the weekend, it appeared that the race was going to be all about the rain. The forecast for the weekend was for heavy rain both Saturday and Sunday and judging by the 5 hour drive to the Ottawa area, it was not going to be a pleasant weekend.

My objectives heading into the weekend was 1) help Phil get upgrade points, and 2) finish high enough myself to be able to grab some O-Cup points. I was hopeful of achieving objective 2 as I felt the stage race format which included a time trial favoured my strengths of which time trialing was one. On the other hand, since Phil would be riding the time trial on a road bike, I wasn't too hopeful of him being in a position to challenge for a top 5 position. In truth, I felt he'd lose at least a minute and probably more with the disadvantage of no TT bike.

Stage 1 - 18.5 km Time Trial

I woke at 6:00 am with the alarm on Saturday morning with the same creaky body I've been getting accustomed to as the years wear on. The view from our 4th floor window didn't look good with dark, foreboding clouds as far as the eye could see. But my scheduled TT start time was 8:08:30 am so there was no time to ponder the view. By 6:40, we were on the road, driving the 40 km to Clayton where the TT was being held.

The heavens opened during the 40 km drive, dumping buckets of water on my windshield but by the time we arrived in Clayton, the rain had stopped. Registration went quickly and the three of us who were racing M3, Dave, Phil, and I, were were soon at the start of the TT course with plenty of time to get in a quick warm up as well as put our bike through the pre-check.

The UCI regulations regarding bike setup specifies:

The rider’s position for time trial on the road and for the pursuit, kilometre and 500 m time trials on the track is defined by two measurements of the bicycle: the position of the tip of the saddle behind the bottom bracket (- 5 cm minimum) and the advanced position using the extension (+ 75 cm maximum)... <snip> measured  from the vertical plane passing through the centre of the bottom bracket axle. 
I had measured my seat setback and aerobar extensions and was confident that my setup was within limits. So it was with some surprise that I received the news from the OCA commissaire that my bike did not meet the specs. He showed me. My seat and aerobar extension were both too far forward. Moving the seat back wasn't a problem and I was able to do that but there was no adjustment for moving the aerobar extensions backward. I went back to the commissaire and, mercifully, he gave me an excemption. But not before wrapping a piece of tape around the end of each extension. "If you grip any part of the extension beyond these pieces of tape," he told me, "you'll be disqualfied." I agreed profusely to adhere to this restriction and happily took my place in the start queue.

TT course profile showing a climb on the 'out' section and descent on the 'back'.

The18.5 km TT course was an out and back along smooth road and rolling hills. It really was quite a pretty course. The course profile showed the course with a long, but not steep, climb until the turn around with a corresponding descent from the turn around to the finish. I paced my effort over the front half of the course, holding a little something back for the expected climb. But the climb never materialized. Before I knew it, the turn around was just ahead and it was time to put on the brakes and make the return trip. The brakes, the brakes, THE BRAKES... With the turn around appearing at the bottom of a slight hill, the speed I was carrying, and the wet conditions, it took a bit further to slow down than I would have liked. Fortunately, I was provided some saving grace by a run off area between turn around and the road closure barriers and I was soon on the return trip with the rider who left ahead of me just ahead. I passed rider ahead and focused on the next one - three actually as the the rider to leave before the one I had just passed appeared to have caught and passed the two riders ahead of him. But I finished without passing any more riders.

I was pretty happy with my effort, especially considering I had done no training Thursday and Friday. I was afraid this might have left me flat but I actually had felt pretty good. And, indeed, I did have a pretty good TT, especially considering the rolling terrain. But what was surprising to me was Phil's time. While my time was good enough for 5th, Phil came in only 6 seconds behind me for 6th place. I was stunned. I had fully expected Phil to be way down in the standings given he rode the course on a road bike but here he was fully in contention for some upgrade points, possibly even a podium position. In fact, Stan and Andy also had good times with Andy bettering my time by 13 seconds and Stan beating my time by a full minute and 14 seconds, riding my own TT bike. All in all, we had a pretty good TT. Best of all, we didn't get rained on.


Elite 4 & Master 3 Men Results:

5  WESTWOOD, Richard
26 BERRY, David

Master 1 Men Results:
11 BLAZEK, Stanislav
25 D`ANGELO, Andy

Full Results:

Dave starts the TT on his hand-crafted carbon road bike (He even  crafted the carbon frame himself).

Stage 2 - 31 km Criterium

The start time for the M3/E4 criterium was scheduled for 2:00 pm. It was 12:30 pm by the time we finished eating lunch in Almonte, giving me just enough time to drive back to Kanata to pickup my road bike for the afternoon Crit. It rained on the drive to the hotel, heavily at times, and also on the way back. I was skeptical of a dry race this afternoon and in fact harboured a certain amount of apprehension about racing the highly technical circuit in the wet. Riding the circuit to warmup prior to the race didn't do much to reassure me.

Almonte Crit circuit. Start-finish line was more to the right of the green balloon after the dog-leg right.

The Almonte Crit circuit had 8 corners, at least 2 of which were sketchy in the wet. The first of these was corner 4, a tight 70 degree right-hander with several large puddles dominating the riding line going into the corner. The second of the sketchy turns was really a series of turns comprising "corner 8". After corner 7 there was a 300-400 m descent followed by a dog-leg right hander into a parking lot. The trip through the parking lot included a short gravel patch, a bumpy concrete patch, another dog-leg right, another short gravel patch and then the final turn onto the start-finish stretch. It was the two gravel patches I was concerned about which I could see had the potential of being dangerous when taken at speed in a pack.

Phil, Dave, and me warming up for the Crit.

As Dave, Phil, and I warmed up together the start time came and went. At first we were kept in the dark regarding the delay but it eventually came to light that somebody had stolen the hay bales that were to be used to make the course safe. We were waiting for a new shipment to arrive. We continued doing laps of the Crit circuit to keep warm until it began to rain again. So, back to the Kurzawinski tent to keep dry. By the time the hay bales arrived and been dispersed around the course, the new start time was set for 3:30 pm. Fortuitously, the rain had stopped by the time 3:30 rolled around.
The strategy going into the Crit was fairly straightforward. After the TT, there were 8 riders within a minute and a half of first place on GC. And while time could potentially be gained during the Crit, for certain time could be lost. It was therefore important to not let any breaks get away without both Phil and I being in the break.

1 SNIDER, Derek                                
2 BUDGELL, Glen               36" 
3 WOODLEY, Jj         01' 04" 
4 KIIFFNER, Carl         01' 06" 
5 WESTWOOD, Richard 01' 07" 
6 HODGKINSON, Phil 01' 13" 
7 BUSBY, Colin                 01' 19" 
8 MAROIS, Gilbert         01' 32" 

With technical nature of course and wet conditions, it was clearly important to stay near the front. Phil set the tone right from the start, jumping out into a lead and quickly establishing a gap. I quickly bridged up to Phil and for a lap and a half, the two of us worked together to stay ahead of the peleton. We were eventually caught us but in doing so the peleton was split with 10 riders in the front break in which Phil and I found ourselves.

Phil quickly establishing a gap right from the start.

Despite the wet conditions, with the exception of corner 4 where things tended to slow down, the pace remained fairly high for the next few laps. My anxiety regarding the parking lot section dissipated once we had gone through that section a couple of times. Whereas I was concerned about navigating that tricky section in a pack, in actual fact, all the riders tended to go through that section single file, all following the same line and the pace remained surprisingly high through that section. 

Laps 5, 10, and 15 were primes which meant sprint points were up for grabs. I was in a good position going into the final corner of lap 5, just behind Derek Snider. I stayed glued to Derek's wheel while heading towards the finish line and was all set to pass him on the inside of the dog leg heading into the short climb to the start/finish line. I dove to the inside of the dog-leg just as Derek cut the corner and we came together briefly at over 40 kph. I was sure we were both about to hit pavement but we just kind of bounced off each other. I was a bit annoyed at the time but let it go and Derek, to his credit, apologized during the following lap. "No worries," I replied but during the de-brief with Coach following the race, I discovered, much to my chagrine, that I was the one at fault. "Never try to pass on the inside line," Coach admonished me. One more lesson learned but, thankfully, not learned the hard way.

The next few laps passed uneventfully. I alternated between doing strong pulls at the front, and languishing at the back of the break to recover. It was about lap 10 while languishing at the back of the break that a gap opened on the longest stretch of the course, the section between corners 3 and 4. After making the turn at corner 3, I saw there were 5 riders about 100 m ahead with JJ Woodley in between. I came quicly around the 3 stragglers and dug as deep as I could to catch the break ahead which included team mate, Phil Hodgkinson. I passed close by JJ along the way thinking he might be able to grab my wheel but unfortunately for JJ, he did not make the break. Strategically, I should have passed wide of JJ to make it hard for him to grab my wheel but JJ is a good guy and I felt bad for him not making the break. As it turned out, JJ not making the break was good for both Phil and I as it effectively moved us both up in the GC. What made the situation even better is that second place on GC, Glen Budgell who was in the original break of 10, also failed to bridge to the new break which moved both Phil and I up 2 places on GC. All we had to do was stay in the lead group of six. And this turned out to be the turning point of the weekend for mine and Phil's overall standing.

As we approached the end of the race, I had lost count of how many laps were remaining and yelled to Phil asking how many laps remaining. Phil held up 2 fingers indicating 2 laps were remaining so as we finished the lap we were on, I aggressively moved towards the front of the break for what I thought was the last lap. By halfway through the lap, I was at the front and driving hard. I made the turn at corner 6, raced down the hill and through the parking lot leading the break. As I made the turn onto the start-finish straight, I could see the remnants of the peleton just ahead. I sprinted hard up the left side of the peleton while another rider from the break, Carl Kiffner, sprinted up the right side. I thought I had it but Carl out-kicked me at the finish line for the sprint win. As it turned out, though, we had another lap to go. But apparently the second last lap was a prime worth $70 which meant I had just missed out on $70.

Carl Kiffner (front left) outkicks me (front right) for the prime on  lap 19.

I eased up as we crossed the finish line, thinking the race was done. It didn't take long to realize the race was not yet over and now I had to dig deep again just to stay in contact with the break. This left me at the back of the break and there I stayed for the rest of the lap, crossing the finish line last of my breakaway companions, good for 6th place. On the plus side, my team mate, Phil, took second place. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon watching the other races, enjoying the festivities, and consuming various baked goods from Baker Bob's. And, we didn't get rained on.

Coach organizes an impromptu race for the kids as part of the Crit festivities.

Coach Kryz  making blender drinks as part of the Crit festivities.


Elite 4 & Master 3 Men Results:

6 WESTWOOD, Richard
26 BERRY, David

Master 1 Men Results:

2 BLAZEK, Stanislav
15 D`ANGELO, Andy

Full Results here:

Stage 3 - 85.5 km Road Race

The forecast for the Sunday showed rain in the morning and showers in the afternoon. But the skies did not look particularly threatening as we made the drive to Pakenham for the start of the road race. We arrived fairly early for the race which gave Coach time to find and setup the Team Kurzawinski tent. All of the other teams had set up their tents in the baseball field adjacent to the community centre where registration was being handled but Coach wanted something closer to the start-finish line. So we ended up putting up the tent in the driveway of some nice lady's house who Coach befriended, right next to the start-finish line.

Our race started on time and at 8:30 am. about 30 riders from the M3/E4 categories headed South along Hwy 15. From the start, I felt sluggish, as I knew I would. It typically takes me about an hour to get my cycling legs, especially after a hard ride the day before. I tried to hide from the wind as much as I could and spent much of the first 10 km or so near the back. For the most part, this was ok as most of the peleton seemed content with letting the pace develop of its own accord, the exception being when Derek Snider took a turn off the front. Then the pace would pickup dramatically and I'd find myself having to dig deep to compensate from the accordion effect.

After about 10 km, the road became hillier and, as I knew we were approaching the gravel section, I began to work my way towards the front. It was tough slogging I had the recurring thought that, at 55 years of age, maybe I was too old for this cycle racing stuff. But I also knew that as I was suffering, probably most others were similarly suffering and it was shortly after that I over heard Phil telling someone he'd "burnt a few too many matches yesterday" thus confirming that hypothesis.

The gravel section, when we hit it, was looser than I expected. Fortunately, I had moved up closer to the front by the time we hit this section so, when Snider did another monstrous pull off the front to shake things up, I was ready for it. The section through the gravel was hard. We lost at least a couple of riders from the peleton including, unfortunately, our team mate, Dave, so I was somewhat relieved when we hit the pavement at the other end.

Once we hit the pavement, the pace seemed to pick up with the front 10 or so riders forming an echelon and the rest of the peleton just hanging on. After a couple of turns through the echelon, I noticed the distinct absence of Carl Kiffner who I had been marking due to his status of second in GC. I was pretty sure Carl was back there conserving energy for later in the race so I let a gap open up to the rotating echelon ahead and sure enough several riders came around me, including Carl. Thereafter, I kept a closer eye on Carl, leaving gaps a couple more times until he seemed to get tired of having to bridge to the front group and thereafter maintained his place in the rotation.

The pace of the pelton slowed dramatically once we made the turn onto Waba Road and into a headwind. The pace remained slow through town, past the start-finish line, and all the way until the second pass through the gravel section. Paradoxically, it was during this part of the race that I started to feel my racing legs come back and, sensing that something would happen during the gravel section, I went off the front about a km before the start of the gravel section.

My intention ahead of the second pass through the gravel was to pick up the pace ahead of the gravel section but a quick look back following my jump showed I had about a 30 second gap on the peleton. It seemed nobody was interested in giving chase. This suited me fine. I maintained a low threshold effort through this section, enjoying the luxury of having the entire width of the road to negotiate the gravel and also not having to worry about other riders. About 1 km from the pavement, I was joined by Snider who asked how I was feeling. "Pretty good," I replied to which he said "Let's go!" and I hopped on his wheel. Our break didn't last long as some of those in the peleton sensed a threat with both Derek and I working together and a bridge was made just as we hit the pavement. It turned out that our break had caused a split in the pelton with 9 of us in a break away.

An echelon quickly formed with 8 of the 9 riders smoothly moving through a rotation. A quick scan of the riders present showed that this was pretty much the same group who had been part of yesterday's break so I was pretty confident of the break sticking. Indeed, the rotation went very smoothly and it was nice to be part of a group of riders all who knew how to echelon properly. After a few rotations, I motioned for the 9th rider to take his turn in the rotation but he yelled back that he was just hanging on and that he wasn't going for the sprint. This was good enough for me and I resumed my place in the rotation.

Things started to heat up as we approached the town for the second time. The first attack was made with about 1.5 km to go as Derek Snider did another of his monstrous pulls. But it was more of a strong pull than an attack and pretty much everyone in the group was still together as we made the turn towards town. Once in town, I knew from the first lap that the final corner heading into the long start-finish straight would be critical. This corner was quite tricky to negotiate, the way the barriers had been setup, and being at the front would be important. I moved to the front of the group but Phil was already ahead of me along with Colin Busby, the winner of the previous day's Crit. We were 1-2-3, heading toward that final turn when it occurred to me that Kiffner and Snider, the current leaders on GC, were both behind me. I purposely slowed more than I needed to ahead of the corner, hoping to give Phil some breathing room for the final 500 m sprint but Kiffner came around me before we reached the corner. Snider was just behind me and passed me as we exited the corner. It was a long sprint to the finish and, to his credit, Kiffner caught and passed Phil for second place while I crossed the line behind Snider for 5th place but good enough for 3rd place overall on final general classification.

The rest of the day was spent hanging out in front of the Kurzawinski tent, enjoying ice cream from the local ice cream shop, and just enjoying the day in general, made all the more enjoyable by virtue of us not getting rained on... again!

Hanging out in front of the Kurzawinksi tent. Right to left: Carl Kiffner, Derek Snider, Richard Westwood,  JJ Woodley,  and Phil Hodgkinson. 

All in all, the weekend was a smashing success. Phil needed a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd to get the upgrade points he needed to move up to M2. Though Phil came 4th overall on GC, he was 3rd of the M3's in the race and so earned his upgrade points. This put me second of the M3's giving me 20 O-Cup points. Stan and Andy also had good races with Stan taking 3rd in the M1 race and Andy coming in 10th. Most of all, it didn't rain during any of the races despite it raining, heavily at times, in the surrounding areas.


Elite 4 & Master 3 Men Results:

5 WESTWOOD, Richard

Master 1 Men Results:

3 BLAZEK, Stanislav
10 D`ANGELO, Andy

Full Results here:

Final General Classification Results:

Elite 4 & Master 3 Men Results:

3 WESTWOOD, Richard

Master 1 Men Results:

10 BLAZEK, Stanislav
17 D`ANGELO, Andy

Full Results here: