Saturday, October 6, 2012

2012 Centurion Canada C100

Like most people, I like to impose organization around the events in my life. Centurion Canada 2011 was a milestone event in my cycling life so it seemed only natural to organize my 2012 season towards this year's event. So it was that I targeted this year's Centurion Canada event as my 'A' race of the 2012 racing season. I trained to a plan: big mileage in June and July, hill-repeat training in July and August, replaced volume with intensity throughout August, and enjoyed multiple visits to Collingwood throughout July and August. My game plan was to start near the front so as to stick with the front group on the first climb. By cresting the first climb in the front pack, a good placing would be pretty much secured. But just as "the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry," my plans went awry by the end of the 5 km neutral roll out.

Laura (L) arrived early to the start line. Andy, Phill, and I (towards the right in Kurzawinski kits) had just arrived.

Phill Hodgkinson, Andy D'Angelo, and I arrived at 7:55 am to line up for the 169.4 km event . Staging for didn't open until 8:00 but Laura Gazzola was at the front of the start line already, wearing her jacket and huddled by the fence talking to Shanta. There was a bit of a chill to the air but compared to last year, the temperature was bearable. We took up places in the 3rd row of the starting grid and were joined by Laura. With half an hour to go until the start of the race, there were already 30-40 riders ahead of us. After half an hour of "excuse me" and "can I just squeeze by" that number had swelled to between 60-80. Steve Fleck kept us both entertained and informed as M.C and the half hour wait went by quickly.

Course and profile of the 2012 C100 event.

Section 1 - Start line to top of Grey Road 19 - km 0-12.3:

C100 course profile. Section 1 is on the left to the top of the first climb.
The first and ,most critical section of the C100 course, marked 1. on the image above, was a 12 km stretch that started from the start line and finished at the top of the first climb on Grey Road 19. It started with a flat 5 km roll out that was the neutral zone, was followed by a 2 km false flat at the base of the climb, and ended with the climb itself which was a little over 4 km.

Start line for the 2012 C100.

I was fairly quick to clip in to my Speedplay pedals but no sooner had I gotten up to speed than I had to squeeze the brakes as the front of the peleton slowed drastically to maneuver around a traffic island. We got back up to speed and again I squeezed the brakes for a second traffic island. We slowed a third time going round the traffic circle that lead onto Grey Road 19. As one, the peleton flowed, each tiny gap quickly consumed by a bike and rider. I reduced my buffer zone in front to try and defend my position. On Grey Road 19, the peleton held as one to the right hand side of the road, leaving the opposite lane empty. I remembered the full road closure too late as a wave of riders flooded the open road to my left. Instead of 60-80 riders ahead of me, there were now 120-160. Feeling claustrophobic. I merged my way towards the left shoulder where I immediately felt more at ease. The road straightened on County Road 34. Riders improved their position using gravel shoulder to move up.  I thought about it but held onto to my current place in the pack. I'd be able to move quickly up towards the front once the pack strung out at the base of the climb, I thought.

The front of the peleton during the neutral roll out along County Road 34 (photo courtesy of Marc Landry).

The right turn off County Road 34 marked the end of the neutral roll out and the pace increased accordingly. The "yellow line" rule was technically in effect at this point in the race but the full width of the road was required to accommodate the massive peleton. I found a thin stretch of pavement along the left hand shoulder on which to move up. I made pretty good progress here but did have to slow a couple of times to get around oncoming vehicles that had been forced off the side of the road by the oncoming wave. We hit the climb and, as expected, the pack thinned out. I made my way to the right hand side of the road and went to work. This was what I had trained for. I passed a lot of riders (50-60) on the climb, making good progress, yet the front of the peleton remained always out of sight around the next curve. But climbing faster than those around me lent the illusion I was clawing my way back to the front. The top of the climb loomed closer and there became fewer riders to pass. Gaps began to appear. I dug deeper, afraid of the gaps. I reached the top of the climb and my worst fears were realized; the peleton had split with a large gap to the front. It was "deja vu all over again"; I had missed the front pack.

Section 1 stats20122011
Distance:12.3 km13.7 km
Avg. speed:24.3 kph27.6 kph
Normalized watts:291 W288 W
Average watts:229 W246 W
Watts for the climb:324 W307 W

Stats for section 1: What the table above suggests is that the neutral roll out was faster last year than this. Both average speed and average watts were higher in 2011 yet watts for the climb itself was higher this year. For the climb itself, 324 Watts is actually pretty good for me; it's a touch above my hill-repeat power but on a climb over twice as long.

Section 2 - Top of Grey Road 19 climb to top of Creemore climb - km 12.3-70:

Section 2, shown as 2. above, starts at the stop of the first climb and finishes at the top of the second major climb.

With the front pack still in sight at the top of the first climb, I continued to work hard with the vain hope of catching the tail end of the front pack. An IFG rider (Doug Blades) and, I working together, closed the gap to two riders ahead of us. Four of us now gave chase down the hill leading to Grey Road 2. It seemed we were making progress but the left turn onto Grey Road 2 disrupted our organization along with any hope of making it into the front pack.

Our small group of four quickly swelled as chasing riders joined our group. Merrill Collins, the female winner at last year's race, joined our group adding to my sense of Deja Vu; I had noticed Merrill in the pack last year at about this point in the race. More riders joined our group until we had a large pack of about 40-50 riders. I looked quickly took stock. JJ Woodley, who I had gotten to know at a couple of M3 races earlier in the yea, was present in the pack. Camilo Mondaca, the Vinylbilt rider I had met on a couple of Kurzawinski rides, was also present in the pack. There were other strong riders in the pack who I came to learn included Doug Blades of IFG, Adrian Jackson of Nacsworld,and a rider from the Collingwood Cycling Club who were quite active on the front along with JJ and I and the pack got into a fairly organized rotation with at least 10-15 riders taking turns at the front. The pace up to and including the descent off the escarpment was pretty fast.

After the first major descent, we turned onto Fairgrounds Road into a headwind. There seemed fewer riders now willing to take their turn at the front and the pace of the pack slowed noticeably. A series of smaller climbs along this section further added to the slowdown. Still, with about 1 km to go before the descent into Creemore, the front pack could be seen on the horizon, just cresting the final climb before Creemore. So close and yet so far; we had yet to make that climb.

In Creemore, the streets were lined with spectators making noise. This is what it must be like to ride a Grand Tour where spectators line the streets of every small town. I couldn't help but feel a surge of adrenalin. Through the aid station, I looked for gels but got nothing. Instead, I used up one of the gels I had brought with me. The pace relaxed along the 2 km flat leading out of town as riders took the time to eat and drink. The break in the action gave me some time to reflect. I started to get "bummed" about missing the front pack and briefly considered sitting up to wait for my "Falcon" friends. But I'd pulled out of races before when things didn't go as planned and it left a bad taste in my mouth. This kept me going.

The climb just past Creemore was well within my comfort zone. A lone rider went off the front but it was clear he wasn't going anywhere. Nobody else seemed to care so I didn't.

Section 2 stats20122011
Distance:57.7 km67.6 km
Avg. speed:37.2 kph37.0 kph
Normalized watts:267 W255 W
Average watts:228 W217 W
Watts for the climb:260 W275 W

Stats for section 2 are shown in the table above. The distance of this section was about 10 km shorter than last year due to a change of route. The pace of the pack was about the same but my overall effort, as measure in watts, was higher. This made sense as whereas last year I adopted the strategy of "hiding" in the pack, this year I made the conscious decision to be more active on the front thus the higher watts for this year. "Watts for the climb" was lower this year compared to last which made it easier for most of the pack to stay together. At this stage in the race last year, our pack shed more riders on the climb out of Creemore.

Section 3 - Top of Creemore climb to base of KOM climb - km 70-121

Section 3, shown as 3. above, starts at the stop of the second major climb and finishes at the bottom of the KOM climb.

Our downsized group of 30 or so made the left jog across I24 and were greeted with a cross wind. "Crosswind=nobody wanted to pull"

In an effort to inspire some organization, I pulled through the front rider. JJ followed. Nobody else did. I let a gap open between me and JJ and this prompted riders to come around me. But they then just sat on JJ's wheel. Resigned to this "Cat 5" pack mentality, I sat up and allowed most of the pack to come around me.

For the next 50 km I mostly just sat in the pack about 10-15 riders back. The speed going North on was 63 fairly fast but due more to a tail wind than group effort. The group slowed again once we made the left turn into the crosswind at 10th line. I grabbed a half banana at Feverhsam and tried to retrieve a gel just as the rider in front knocked the box of gels out of the volunteer's hand. There was another gel-dispensing volunteer further along and I was successful on my second attempt. I hadn't really been eating or drinking much and took some time to get some nutrition in me while the pace of the pack remained subdued.

We picked up Nancy Neuman, one of Laura's main competitors in the race for first female overall, about halfway between Feversham and Eugenia, I now had Laura's two main competitors, Nancy Neuman and Merrill Collins, in the pack with me but still didn't know whether Laura was ahead or behind me.

Approaching Eugenia, I went to the front for a couple of strong pulls. My second pull created a gap to the pack and with just one rider on my wheel. "Keep going," he said, "someone else might join us." I looked back to the pack but nobody seemed interested so I sat up. With 60 km still to go, it seemed a bit early for a break-away. My break-away companion carried on ahead, ultimately finishing the race 7 minutes behind lending credence to my decision to wait for the pack.

On the flat, approaching the base of the KOM climb, I chatted with Merrill Collins and told her I had been in the same pack with her last year. She commented that the pace seemed slower this year. "Maybe the KOM climb will stir things up a bit," I replied to which she merely grimaced as if not looking forward to that prospect.

Section 3 stats20122011
Distance:48.8 km48.8 km
Avg. speed:39.3 kph41.1 kph
Normalized watts:207 W218 W
Average watts:167 W172 W
n/an/a n/a

The stats for section 3 above show this to be the easiest section by far. Average watts for 2012 was only 167 W, putting my effort in the range of an easy club ride.

Section 4 - base of KOM climb to finish - km 121 - 169

Section 4, shown as 4. above, starts at the base of the KOM climb and goes to the finish.

As it turned out, the KOM climb did stir things up a bit. Three guys shot off the front as we crossed the timing mat. I continued steadily at my hill-repeat effort and reached the top of the 5 km climb with about a 10 second lead on the rest of the pack. Pausing in my effort to pick up up another gel and bottle of Gatorade, I continued to push along the false flat and picked up 3 guys who had crested the climb ahead of me. We got a  rotation organized and were joined by another 10 riders or so just as we made the right turn onto Grey Road 40. The pack was noticeably smaller now but included Merrill Collins and my friend JJ.

The section along Grey Road 40 was comprised mostly of downhill, roughly 7 km of it. Though I didn't have to pedal, I did have a fight on my hands as the crosswind played havoc with my 66 mm rims, buffeting my Cervelo S2 around like a kite. I stayed at the front for the descent, making the right turn onto Grey Road 13 at the head of the pack. Predictably, with a headwind, nobody wanted the front and it took a fair amount of sand-bagging to relinquish my place at the front. But as we approached the turn towards Ravenna, I resumed my place at the front and attempted another strong pull in a bid to stir things up a bit. "Ack, what was that?" I wondered. I immediately backed off and unclipped my right leg to allow the cramp in my hamstring to ease up. The pack passed by me. I clipped in and was able to catch back onto the back of the pack by pedaling a high cadence. Approaching Ravenna, the climb steepened, testing my legs and I found I was able to still climb quite well; I just couldn't push a big gear.

I stayed close to the front on the descent out of Ravenna and when the road turned upwards again, I gave my legs another high cadence test. My legs responded and I got a bit of a gap on the pack. Only one rider, a Collingwood Cycling Club rider, seemed able to follow. As I turned left onto Grey Road 19, I glanced back to gauge the gap. It was enough for me to push on. The Collingwood Cycling Club rider and I took turns at the front and extended our fragile lead on the pack. With just 12 km to go, we tucked in for the final descent,  hopeful of staying away but were caught on the long downhill.

Remnants of the pack giving chase. That's JJ, far right (photo courtesy of Marc Landry).

From the base of the Grey Road 19 to the finish was fairly uneventful. With 2 km to go, a Wheels of Bloor guy, who we had picked up just before Ravenna, tried to break free. I pushed hard on the pedals and my right leg cramped up again, putting my at the back of the pack. "Spin, spin, spin," I thought, just clinging to the back of the pack. I crossed the finish line with the pack but a sprint finish was out of the question for me and I crossed the line second last in the pack.

Section 4 stats20122011
Distance:48.3 km47 km
Avg. speed:35.6 kph32.4 kph
Normalized watts:255 W265 W
Average watts:212 W227 W
Watts for KOM climb:315 W309 W

Stats for section 4 showed I did the KOM climb with slightly more power than in 2011. My overall effort on the last section, hovere, was higher in 2011. In 2011, I sat in the pack until the base of the KOM climb before showing my best effort whereas this year, I made a more conscious effort to be active on the front, especially during the first half of the race. It would seem therefore that the 2011 strategy was the better one as it gave me better legs with which to finish the race. However, the difference could also have been in conditioning as the longer season this year seemed to have taken a toll both physically and mentally.


As I coasted to a stop just past the finish line, disappointment overwhelmed me; my result had failed to meet my expectations. Shanta greeted me with enthusiasm over how well Laura had done: second female overall and 1st in her category. This was good for Laura but only made me feel worse. I hung around for bit, had a beer with Phill, then went home, tired of cycling, both mentally and physically.

Just past the finish line, greeted by Shanta.

For one week, I did nothing. Then a funny thing happened; my love of cycling came back. Another thing that happened was a change in perspective about the race. My initial disappointment receded and I was left with some good memories. It was a beautiful day, a riveting course, had everything a challenging ride should have: a difficult distance, tough climbs, good people to ride with. I had done quite well on the KOM climb, came 3rd overall in my category and managed to get in a break-away. I found myself looking back on the event with satisfaction which, I think, is a good thing; it suggests there's hope for me yet.