Friday, August 29, 2014

Lake of Bays Road Race - 2014 Report

This could be a "Tale of Two Seasons". This year's Lake of Bays Road Race was run on the same course, comprised of many of the same M2 racers but there the similarities end. Last year's race was held in early May under frigid conditions and Gale force winds.This year's edition featured clear blue skies, room temperature, and very little wind. The conditions last year served to nullify the numerous break-away attempts. This year's conditions were tailor made for a break away to succeed. But alas, this story is not a comparison with last year's race (which you can read about here). It's more the tale of an epic break away attempt.
Andy (left) and I (right) lined up for the start of the Lake of Bays M2 Road Race.
Thirty six riders took to the start of the Master 2 race at O-Cup #8, the Lake of Bays Road Race. Among them was myself and team mate, Andy D'Angelo. Charlie Squires was in the race so I knew to watch for either him or his Team London team mate, Carlos Goncalves as I figured either of them would be candidates for a break-away attempt should one arise. My plan wasn't to initiate a break-away myself but to be on the watch for one should the opportunity arise. I would be an "opportunist" (I think it was in one of Gaelen Merritt's blogs that I read of this term used to describe a cycling strategy. I quite like it). To make things more interesting, Andy and Charlie were separated in the O-Cup standings by just one or two points so a podium place in the O-Cup standings was up for grabs between the two of them.

The first kilometer of the race was neutral which was nice as it meant a nice easy start to the race. I knew this would change once we crossed the bridge to make the left turn onto N. Portage. This is where it got really hilly for about the next 15 km.

I made a conscious effort not to push myself too early as, at close to 58 years of age, it typically takes me awhile to warm up. But I found myself drifting back more than I liked and so elected to spend a little early effort in order to stay closer to the front. As we made the left turn onto S. Portage, I found myself actually at the front. So I did the same thing I did last year and led the way up the long climb in order to be first down the tricky Dwight Beach Road descent. Making the right turn onto Dwight Beach Road I heard a loud boisterous cheer from Jen (wife of last year's team mate, Phill Hodgkinson) which made me smile. Things settled down once we made the turn onto HWY 35.

Making the turn at the head of the pack for the turn onto the tricky descent down Dwight Beach Road

There was a bit of a head-wind/cross wind along HWY 35 but the wind wasn't strong and the pace wasn't hard which allowed me to take stock of the make up of the peleton. It was apparent that there were two teams to watch for: Team Possum Bike Racing (PBR), largely comprised of last year's CHCH team, and Morning Glory Cycling Club were each well represented with 7 riders apiece. That was close to half the peleton made up of just two teams. If a break was to succeed, each of these teams would need to be represented in the break. I wasn't certain of how strong the Morning Glory guys were but past experience told me at least some of them would be strong. From last year's CHCH team, I knew the PBR guys I knew were strong and quite capable of chasing down a break.

The pace remained fairly steady all the way along HWY 35 with more of the same along the first 10 km or so of HWY 117. Charlie was parked on Andy's wheel and I on Charlie's. I think that the three of us were half waiting for something to happen. At 50 km to go, something did happen. Lorne Falkenstein, who had been active on the front for most of the race, took a flyer off the front. Falkenstein got a bit of a gap when Arthur Parsons of Morning Glory and Lee Hooper of Team PBR both independently bridged up to him (not sure who went first). "Hmmm... ," I thought to myself. "Both Morning Glory and Team PBR represented in the break. This has a chance to go!" In past races, I've frequently finished the race chastising myself for not getting into a break that I thought at the time wouldn't make it. I didn't want that to happen this race and so launched myself off the front to try and bridge to the three riders ahead. Better to blow up trying, I thought, than to go home empty handed with plenty left in the tank. I closed the first 2/3 of the distance fairly rapidly and, taking a quick look behind to make sure I wasn't bringing the entire peleton, I pushed on to close the remaining distance. This proved a lot more difficult than I anticipated. With the 3 riders in the break now working together, I still had a good 20-30 meters to complete the bridge. This was the hardest part of the race for me. With my body screaming at me to give up, for a brief moment I considered throwing in the towel. But knowing from past experience how this would taste, I kept pushing and slowly but surely closed the gap. This was a psychological huge break-through for me this year and shows how I've improved in an area that's difficult to train for.

My 3 break-away companions had already established a rotation by the time I bridged and for the first several turns, I stayed at the back to recover from my effort. Once my heart rate and breathing slowed enough, I took my place in the rotation. It seemed we had a pretty strong group. At least, judging by how hard I was working, I thought we must have. Yet the peleton must also have been working hard to reel us back in because the gap to the peleton remained fairly steady at probably around 20-30 seconds for about the next 20 km. Through Baysville, and beyond, I kept looking back to see the gap pegged at around the same distance. In fact, with about 30 km to go, it looked like they were beginning to bring that gap down. It was about here that I was beginning to lose faith in the break succeeding. At least a couple of the guys, Falkenstein and Hooper appeared to be struggling a bit on the climbs and the pace of our group had eased up somewhat. On the plus side, this allowed me at least to recover a bit and on one of the longer climbs before the turn onto S. Portage, Parsons encouraged us to try and lift the pace back up a bit. I was able to respond and Hooper too but Falkenstein, unfortunately, drifted off the back and we were down to three.

The section of the course along S. Portage was much "choppier" with numerous short hills and turns. Parsons must have either done the course himself before or had previously reconn'ed the course because as we turned onto S. Portage he again encouraged us to pick up the pace in an effort to get "out of sight, out of mind". It seemed to work because we were able to stay away along this section. On the longer stretches of road, I would look back and unable to see the peleton. This was encouraging. On the other hand, Hooper, while ok on the flats, was struggling on the climbs. We needed Hooper in the group because without a PBR guy in the break those guys would surely chase Parsons and me down so I made a conscious effort to keep the pace steady on the climbs so as not to lose the PBR rider. To his credit, Hooper continued to take his turns on the front.

Turning left onto N. Portage for the final 9 km, Parsons continued to encourage us with "C'mon, we'll be the first M2 break to succeed this year" and similar words of encouragement and I have to say he was an inspiring break away companion. Still, I've been in too many failed break-away attempts to "count my chickens before my eggs had hatched" and it wasn't until the "x kilometers to go" signs started to roll by that I started to believe.

With 1 km to go it looked like I still might have a chance. The 2 guys to left and right were not in my race but the pack in the background was. 

At the 5 km to go sign that, as fate would have it, I looked back and saw the peleton coming. I notified the other guys and we put more effort into our pulls. At 4 km to go, I looked back and was somehow on my own with the peleton breathing down my neck. I really don't know how that happened but I learned later that Parson's got a hamstring cramp. There were a couple of climbs and turns where I became briefly out of sight but at 2 km to go I was still alone out front. With a little less than 1 km to go, while turning onto Deerhurst Drive, I took a quick look back across the bridge and was unable to see the pack (Apparently, I didn't turn my head far enough). "Could it be," I asked myself? I had no time to answer. I put my head down and pushed on. At 500 meters to go I was really starting to believe. There was a short but steep riser at 400 meters to go that I just had to get over and then I'd be just about there. And that was all she wrote!

At 400 meters to go, the pack went by me so fast that I couldn't even catch onto the back. I was done. I coasted the final 300 meters with victory cheers (not mine) ringing in my ears. But you know what? I wouldn't have had it any other way. That was by far my most satisfying race of the season. And the brief camaraderie I enjoyed after the race with my break-away companions suggests that it was a great race for them as well. And, btw, hats-off to Bruce Bird for organizing another epic road race.

This is what victory looks like. Congratulations to Andrew Auld of Team PBR.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

2014 Coupe Des Ameriques - Race Report

What a difference a year makes. I did the Coupe Des Ameriques Stage race last year at 153 pounds. This year I topped the scales at 166 pounds for the start of Stage 1. The Coupe Des Ameriques is a 4-stage Masters race held each year in Sutton, Quebec situated close to the border with Vermont. This is ski country, prime terrain for stage races, rewarding those with high power-to-weight ratios. At 13 pounds over-weight, I faced an uphill battle before the race even started.

Stage 1

Stage 1, with a start time of between 6:30 and 7:00 Friday evening  was comprised of 10.5 km of flat followed by 7 km of climbing. The road into town was smooth with wide shoulders and with a peleton of only 51 riders there was no urgency about being at the front for the run into town. I pretty much sat in and hid from what little wind there was until we got into town. From the town limit to the bottom of the climb was probably less than a kilometer so I moved to the front as we entered Sutton and stayed there until we made the turn onto Rue Maple for the start of the climb. It was here that the racing truly started. The first 3 km of the climb are hard but not "gasping for air" hard. It's all about positioning here. But 3 km into the climb, the road kicks up as does the wattage and it was here already that I began to come unhinged. The 13 extra pounds I was carrying was taking its toll. There was a bit of a reprieve with a bit of downhill before the truly nasty part of the climbing started but even here I was losing ground. Having not been my bike since the previous Sunday's Tour de Waterloo probably had something to do with my struggles but I think mostly it was the power-to-weight and I especially struggled up the switchbacks over the final 2 km. I crossed the finish line and kept riding until I ran out of road, gasping for air a good 2 or 3 minutes more before balancing the books on my oxygen deficit. I finished the stage in 17th place, 1:34 down on stage winner Miguel Sanchez. Last year at this time, I was in 7th place, only 39 seconds down. What a difference a year makes.

View from the top of the stage 1 hill climb.

After the race, I rode the 3 km back to the chalet with Marco who had had a similarly humbling experience and we drove down into town for some wine and beer with which to drown our sorrows. Tomorrow was another day.

View from our chalet.

Stage 2

The next morning was an early 5:30 AM wake up for an 8:40 Time Trial start. The 13 km TT course was mostly flat but not completely. There was a bit of a climb just 1.5 km into the course followed by a long downhill before a second set of start-case climbs about 6 km into the course. After that it was pretty much flat. My strategy this year was to give a little extra on the first climb, recover on the downhill and then give it again on the next climbs and try and hang on over the final 5 km. I'm not sure it made a lot of difference but I did have a slightly faster time over last year with a slightly lower average power. Interestingly, normalized power was about the same for both years. I finished the race 21st out of 50 (one rider was disqualified during the hill climb for going over the yellow line) but moved up to 16th on general category (GC) based on cumulative time. Ride With Rendall rider, Ron Amos put in an amazing TT time to take over GC from Miguel Sanchez.

Stage 3

The 52km circuit race was comprised of three 17.5km laps. The first half of the circuit consisted of a series of power climbs up a narrow country road. This was followed by a long, fast descent with speeds over 90 kph before the long, flat run in back to the start-finish line. I got caught a bit off guard for the start of the race, missing the 1:05 PM call up, and had to start from the back of the pack. This made for a nervous 1st half of the circuit as I tried in vain to move up on the narrow country road. I very nearly got caught up in a tangle as at least one rider ended up in the bushes just ahead of me. Fortunately, we weren't going very fast at that point and I was easily able to catch back on. Once we hit the fast downhill, I was able to move up and stayed fairly close to the front for the remainder of the race. The last lap in particular was fairly hard though and at least a few people got dropped. The race finished in a bunch sprint won by Robert Orange of Ride With Rendall and though I finished with the same time as everyone else, I moved up two places to 14th on GC at the expense of two riders who failed to finish the race. I suspect that at least one of them was the rider who ended up in the bushes.

Stage 3 finish line. This is the finish of the B (40-49) race.

Stage 4

Sunday morning was another 5:30 AM rise for an 8:30 start time for the 108 km road race. My first goal for the race was to finish as it was during the road race last year that I was taken down in a crash with about 20 km to go. But I also thought I had a chance to move into the top ten on GC. The key was to make it into the final selection at 80 km into the race. Whereas the previous year I had expended a lot of energy at the front of the race, my strategy for this year was to sit in as much as possible and save my energy for the penultimate climb at 80 km. This was the key to this race. The final climb would be a slug fest but you could lose more time by not making it into the front group at the 80 km climb.

The first 10 km was fairly flat and though there were a few attacks we were still all together going up the first climb 10 km into the race. But going up that first climb, two riders got away including yellow jersey leader Ron Amos. The rest of the peleton seemed to content to let them go, much to the frustration of 2nd place on GC, Miguel Sanchez. For the rest of us this made for an easy ride up until the penultimate climb and though the hilly section between 10 and 40 km was somewhat hard, the middle 40 km was more akin to an easy group ride. Unlike the previous year, I spent most of my time near the back where I had a chance to chat with Sylvan Adams who had apparently met Coach Kurzawinski at the World Track Championships in Portugal. Small world! I told Sylvan I'd say 'Hi'.

I started to move up towards the front, heading into the town of Frelighsburg just before the penultimate climb. In anticipation of the climb, Ride With Rendall rider, Jon Gee, had a gap off the front already. I was otherwise at the front of the pack as we started the climb. I had gotten dropped from the front group the previous year at this point and wanted to give it my best shot at staying with the front group this time around. When the road kicked up, Migeul Sanchez came around me and quickly closed the gap to Gee. Andre Lamarche and Sylvan Adams also came around but, though it hurt like hell, I was able to stay with them up the climb. The 3 of us were joined by William Thompson partway up the climb and as we crested the top there were 4 of us. We quickly established a rotation in order to try and solidify our advantage and it didn't take long before we had closed the gap to Gee and Sanchez. With 6 strong riders now in the rotation I thought we had a pretty good chance of staying away from the main pack.

For the most part we worked together but, with only seconds separating Sanchez, Gee, and Adams, Gee and Adams put in some attacks to try and wear down Sanchez ahead of the climb. I went with Gee on the first attack but we were brought back after a kilometer or so but I went again when Adams attacked a little later on and this time we stayed away until the final climb. We were eventually caught on the final climb, first by Gee and Sanchez who kept on going past us and then by Lamarche and Thompson. The 4 of us remaining stayed together for awhile but I was unable to hang on and had to let them go at some point. I was gassed and basically limped home 20 or 30 seconds behind them. Ron Amos ended up winning the stage with his break-away companion, Pascal Sauveyre, over 4 minutes ahead of the rest of us. Jon Gee's strategy of wearing down Sanchez worked as he took the final podium spot for 3rd place. I limped home in 8th place but put enough time into the main pack to move up to 7th overall in GC. Mission accomplished - Top 10 finish but, more importantly, I finished!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Grey County Road Race 2014 - Race Report

It's kind of funny that I had so much to write about for a race in which I didn't do so well and yet not really much to write about for a race in which I did fairly well: the 2014 Grey County Road Race. The M2 race was the first race of the morning wave and started at 8:00 AM. I set the alarm for 4:30 AM and awoke at 4:00 AM. I was thankful for the extra time because the drive to Blue Mountain Resort took longer than I'd planned for. I arrived with plenty of time to pick up my race kit and pin on my race number but I also needed to get a bit more detail on my volunteer obligations for the afternoon wave where my car was to be one of the wheel support vehicles. And so after speaking with Leo St. Germain about where to go after my race, I donned leg warmers, long-sleeved race jersey, bike shoes, skull cap, helmet and booties and headed over to the village square where the race was to start.

It was nice having a long neutral roll out and also nice not having to fight for position with a couple of hundred aggressive Centurions as is typical of the Centurion races I've done up here. Instead, I settled in about a third of the way back of the pack of 50 or so M2 racers, calmly waiting for the turn onto Osler Bluff Road which marked the end of the neutral roll out. I made sure to move up on the left side close to the front before the turn into what I knew would be a cross wind coming from the right.

Right off the bat, someone attacked and for a moment I thought my reverie was going to be interrupted and I would actually have to start racing but it appeared that the peleton wasn't overly concerned and seemed content to let the rider hang out there for awhile before reeling him back in. Even so, the peleton stretched itself out along the yellow line as riders tried to hide from the wind with really nowhere to hide on this side of the yellow line. Being close to the front I could make out the rider ahead. The kit looked familiar. I realized it was Andy, my team mate. "What the heck is he doing?" I wondered. I couldn't find an answer my own question and instead did my best to keep my nose out of the wind. Being close to the front but not at the front made that job a whole lot easier.

I had studied the course fairly well. The first real challenge didn't come until about 15 km into the race with the climb up Pretty River Road. If there was going to be a break-away or split in the peleton, it would come here. I didn't think there would be a break-away. Or at least not a successful one. While the potential was there for some good climbers to get away they would have to be pretty strong to stay away from a determined peleton, especially in this wind. And so I put in just enough effort to stay in contact with the front of the peleton but no more than was necessary. It wasn't until after we'd turned away from the headwind onto Grey Road 2 that I realized the peleton had in fact been split with maybe 20 or so guys in this front group. But whether they didn't know of the split or just didn't think of working together in order to stay away, the riders out front rode aggressively rather than cooperatively and as such the peleton was back together before we turned left onto Grey Road 19.

The short section into the headwind along Grey Road 19 was uneventful. The wind was very strong which kept the pace extremely slow. It wasn't until we made the turn onto the long stretch along 10th Line that things got interesting again. This was a long 7 or 8 km stretch of sandy, gravelly road with a stiff cross wind characterized by a long descent. The pace was furious with everyone lined up along the gutter. This section of the race was more reminiscent of a Midweek Crit than a hilly road race with anaerobic efforts required at times just in order to stay on the wheel in front. It was pretty exciting actually and also a bit hairy at times. But everyone seemed to survive unscathed.

I breathed a bit of a sigh of relief turning onto Sideroad 22. For one thing, we had our first tail wind of the day and for another thing we were back to climbing again which I think suited me more so than some of the other riders. But as we got into the stair-stepped climbs I was surprised by their difficulty. On paper, the climbs didn't seem so bad with gradients reaching no more than 4 or 5 %. But this is a good idea why it's a always a good idea to ride the course beforehand if you can because there were sections along this part of the course that were definitely steeper than 5 %. By the time we reached the feedzone at the top of this series of climbs, I could feel the fatigue in my and this had me somewhat concerned. If my legs were complaining now, what was the Scenic Caves Climb going to do to them?

I needn't have worried. My legs held up fine. The peleton split again just before the turn onto Grey Road 19 with me in the front group. I had to close a bit of a gap to get there but I did make it. This was a smaller pack than the first split with perhaps 10 riders at most and we managed to stay away from the peleton all the way to the bottom of the long descent down Grey Road 19 but shortly after turning back onto Osler Bluff Road we were all back together with the peleton once again.
I made it into the front pack for the long descent down Grey Road 19. Photo by Jeremy Allen.
The mood was jovial along this penultimate stretch of flat road, the joviality mostly coming from the peleton who had managed to close the gap to our front group. I kept my mouth shut as I didn't think there would be much laughing once we got onto the climb up Scenic Caves Road but still it was kind of fun to hear the camaraderie within the peleton. We turned into the headwind along Mountain Road and the pace slowed right down. For one thing it was a headwind but also I think that everyone was saving themselves for what we knew would be a brutal climb.

Making the round-about onto Scenic Caves Road, I wasn't in any hurry to get to the front. I figured the peleton would stretch itself out naturally and finding room to pass wouldn't be an issue. But almost as soon as we began climbing, 3 riders started to pull away from the pack including Alan Kriss who had been animating the race all morning with his climbing abilities. I couldn't risk letting this trio get away. I went onto the shoulder to get around the slower riders in front of me and powered my way up to the leading three. I was feeling strong at this point and as I followed the wheels of the 3 riders ahead of me without too much difficulty, I had visions of finishing on the podium... and then the road kicked up as we made the first turn in the road. I lost contact with the leading trio. I struggled up this steep section of road until the road eased up a bit as we made the second turn in the road. It was still steep here, just not as steep.
Alan Kriss putting the hurt on us. I'm back there with Marco just beside the grey car. Photo by Jeremy Allen.
After we made the second turn in the road, it appeared as if the road flattened out a bit but that was an optical illusion. The road in fact kicked up a notch here making it the hardest section of the climb. Though probably only a couple of hundred meters long, this section seemed to stretch on forever. It was all I could do to keep my bike in a straight line. Marco caught up to me. A Morning Glory rider caught up to me. My podium thoughts were swept away with thoughts of survival. Those 9 minutes or so of climbing were the hardest 9 minutes I've spent on a bike. With my body screaming at me to stop and climb off the bike, I just kept grinding the pedals. Then finally, ever so slowly, the road began to flatten out. Technically, things weren't much easier after that. There was still about a km of racing to do in which I had to keep the power up but psychologically it was a relief to reach the top of the climb. From here to the finish it was gravy. As I approached the finish line, I could see Marco ahead. I glanced back and saw nobody. That part was sweet. But not as sweet as crossing the finish line in 6th place, one place behind Marco.

Full results

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tour of the Battenkill - 2014

The Battenkill  (a ""kill" means a creek) is a 59.4 mile tributary of the Hudson River. Known for its fishing, it runs from Vermont into New York state. It's probably the covered bridge which crosses the Battenkill that is most identifiable in this 10 year old annual Spring road race that has quickly become a "classic" for North American amateur bike racers. The race is known as The Tour of the Battenkill. But whereas most of the 2200 participants rode the Tour of the Battenkill Road Race, I seemed somehow to have been teleported to some parallel universe that featured the Tour of the BattenHELL. This is my story of that parallel experience.

Shortly after 9:30 AM on a cold Spring morning, along with roughly 70 other Men's 50+ racers (of the 103 who had registered) I lined up behind the start line. Judging by the flags hanging limp on their poles there was no wind as of yet but with forecasted westerly winds of 17-24 mph gusting to 44 mph, I expected that to change. I found a spot near the front not far back from the green kits of 3 Team Keltic riders I recognized from my Coupes Des Ameriques debut last year. William Thompson, of Team Keltic, had done quite well at last year's Coupe Des Ameriques and was registered for this race along with at least 4 team mates; I expected the team to figure prominently in the race. My race strategy hinged on staying close to the wheels of Team Keltic. And so, armed with my race strategy, at promptly 9:38 AM, my epic "Battenhell" began.

My travelling companions, Joe and Phill, preparing for the race.

Officially, the neutral zone was 1 km but unofficially the first 10 km was for the most part neutral. The road along here was wide and paved with paved shoulders half as wide as the road itself. It should have been easy for me to stay near the front but I found myself drifting gradually towards the back of the peleton along this section. There's a degree of aggressiveness required to defend one's position near the front that was missing from my arsenal. And so it was that as we passed under the covered bridge at about the 10 km mark, I found myself towards the back of the peleton. Upon emerging from the far side of the covered bridge, it was game on.

I had trained hard over the Winter and felt confident going into this race. I was stronger than last year where I had a pretty decent finish placing 15th in my race with a time that would have won the Men's 50+ race that year. Thus, I had expectations of doing well in this year's Men's 50+ race. But as we raced over the soft dirt surface I found myself having to dig harder than expected just to stay with the pack. This wasn't supposed to be happening.

I also wasn't anywhere near the front which is where I should have been at this point in the race. Juniper Swamp Road, with the steepest and toughest climb to get over, was approaching quickly. I needed to be near the front for the start of that climb. But as previously mentioned, I was lacking in aggression on this day. I didn't feel quite ready to "mix it up" in the pack and rode somewhat tentatively. So, here I was close to the back and it was getting hillier. I clicked my left lever to drop into the small chain-ring. Nothing! I flicked both levers back and forth several times but still nothing. Crap! Doing Juniper Swamp Road in the big-ring was out of the question. I unclipped and kicked at the front derrailleur with the heel of my shoe. Clipping back in, I turned the pedals and the chain to shift over to the small chain-ring. "Phew, dodged a bullet there," I thought. I buckled down to catch back onto the back of the peleton.

The start of Juniper Swamp Road was fairly gentle but I could see up ahead where the road kicked up. The front riders were just about there already with the rest of the pack strung out in a long line. I was at the back. Damn! The peleton bunched up as we hit the climb. The yellow line rule was not going to be obeyed along this stretch of road. The full width of the road was required. The road surface here was terrible. It wasn't just the ruts in the road. Like quicksand, the dirt seemed to want to suck your wheels into the sludge. The thing to do was to keep pedaling because the slower you went the worse it got. About halfway up the climb, the entire road ahead became blocked with stuck riders spanning the full width of the road. It was mayhem, there was nowhere to go! Just as I was about to unclip a space opened up to my right. I kept pedaling, barely making it through the deep ruts onto the comparatively harder surface beyond. Up ahead, the rest of the pack was pulling away. I dug deep, past riders who were pushing their bikes, and finished the climb a short ways off the back but close enough to be able to get back on.

"Phew," I thought, "dodged another bullet there. I clicked the lever to shift into the big-ring. Nothing! "Wtf!!!" I reached under the down-tube to try and pull on the cable but my lobster claw gloves were useless to the task. Shifting into the smallest cog, I pedaled furiously to try and close the gap. But no amount of spinning could make up for losing the big-ring. I could do nothing as the peleton pulled away on the long descent.

Coasting down the descent, I tugging off my lobster claw gloves and was able to get enough of a grip on the cable under my down-tube to shift the chain back onto the big-ring. The peleton was still in sight so there was still hope. I went into time-trial mode in a vain attempt to try and catch them single handed. In actual fact, my effort was closer to VO2 Max than TT effort not sustainable for too long. However, as I barrelled along about as fast as I could pedal, I was passed by a Cat 3 rider from the race after mine (The Cat 3 race had race numbers in the 400's).

Since this was the first Cat 3 rider I'd seen I assumed he must be off the front in a solo break-away. Whatever the case, he was very strong and I jumped on his wheel. Being in the draft of this stronger rider didn't provide me much recovery. To make matters worse, I couldn't stay behind him indefinitely and at some point had to pull through to show him I was willing to work. For 2 or 3 km, I was able to hang on but it was getting tougher. But then we picked up another Cat 3 rider followed shortly by a rider from my own race. We now had a working group of 4 but instead of making it easier the pace picked up and I found it even tougher to hang on. Eventually, the pace riders proved to be too much; I was barely hanging on. With every pore of my being screamed at me to stop pushing, I gave in and pulled out of the rotation. I was gassed with absolutely nothing left with 3/4 of the race still to go. I pulled over to work on my front derailleur.

The support vehicle for the Men's 50+ race was already ahead of me but fortunately a neutral support vehicle pulled up just as I pulled off. This was fortunate. The mechanic was able to get my front derailleur working again by spraying it with water from both the top and bottom. It seemed that grit had gotten into the channel in the frame where the cable came through and spraying it with water cleared out enough of the grit that it started working again. I was back in business albeit with much less enthusiasm and confidence than what I started the race with.

The thing about the Tour of the Battenkill race is that even when you're off the back by yourself, you're never really alone. On the Saturday alone, 27 separate races were being run on the same course. It didn't take long before I had picked up a bunch of stragglers and had a working group of four. But such was my luck that it also didn't take me long to squander my opportunity. At the next turn onto pavement, a patch of gravel took away my traction and I ended up "in the rhubarb" as the saying goes. My companions cruised on down the road as I put my chain back on from the shelter of a decaying corn field.

While riding solo for the next 10 km or so, at least two groups passed me. The first group to pass was the Cat 3 race which had started 8 minutes after my race. The next group to pass was the huge group Men's 4B 40+ race which started 24 after my mine. I could have (and perhaps should have) hooked onto the back of this huge pack which would have made my race a lot easier but it didn't seem right. So I kept to the right and let them pass by. This was such a huge group it took a couple of kilometers for them just to get by. I soldiered on solo, somewhat dejected at having been already passed by at least 2 peletons with only a third of the race done so far. To add to my misery, the wind was starting to pick up.

Over the next 10-15 km, I passed a number of stragglers who didn't seem much interested or perhaps were not able to work with me. At about the halfway mark I spotted a rider in the distance who took awhile to reel in. But just I reached the Cat 3 rider, we hit a particularly bad section which seemed to slow me down much more than him and I had to reel him in all over again. But after reaching pavement together we began automatically trading pulls. This allowed me to stretch my aching lower back a bit and provided some much welcome relief to my overworked thighs. We rode in silence together for several kilometers until at some point he asked me how far we had to go. I was shocked not by his question but by how young he looked. Such was my mood that I hadn't even bothered to glance in his direction as we traded pulls but as I looked at him now he appeared to be not much older than about 16 and sounded as young as he looked. I replied that I didn't exactly know how far we had yet to go but that we hadn't yet reached the second feed zone which was at mile 42 (of 65).

A short while later, another Cat 3 rider went by with another rider from my own race stuck to his wheel. My young companion and I fell in behind them. Like the earlier Cat 3 rider, this rider was also very strong and just as I was beginning to think he didn't want any help, he sat up and pulled slightly to the left. Instead of pulling through, the other 50+ rider also sat up. The youngster ahead of me cut across my front wheel in an attempt to get around the two slower riders ahead of him. I went down! Hard!

To his credit, the young kid came back to make sure I was ok. In fact, I had to tell him several times that I was ok. He was very hesitant to leave. I felt almost bad for him as he looked devastated that he had caused me to go down even though I don't think it was his fault. But, reluctantly, he went on his way leaving me to straighten my handlebars and brake lever and make my way at my own pace. A few hundred meters down the road, I stopped to bend my rear derailleur into a semi-respectable position. Halfway up the next climb I discovered I wasn't properly clipped in and it took me until the next paved section before I could stamp my cleat on hard pavement to shake loose the grit in my cleat before I could once again clip in.

For the next 10 km or so, I pressed on alone. For a long while I could hear a couple of riders behind me. One of them in particular was quite a chatterbox. But by now I had not much interest in working with anyone. I was in my own zone, pushing the pedals against the wind and was semi-comfortable with that. But shortly before the second feed zone, the two finally caught up to me so I worked with them and as it turned out that was nice because once again it provided much needed relief for my lower back. I was ok riding on the hoods but as soon as I dropped into the drops my back started hurting. The problem was that the wind had picked up so much so that riding in the drops was essential when riding solo. Thus, my new riding companions allowed me to ride on the hoods and relieve my lower back.

At about the 73 km mark, we hit Herrington Hill Road which was part of the new section of the course. The climb started out steep then levelled off a bit not quite as steep but long. I lost my riding companions here. I wasn't even pushing it on the climb but the chatty one was unable to keep up and the other guy was just plain struggling. I got back into my zone and pressed on. The view from the top of Herrington Hill Road was astounding so I took the time to stop and take a photograph.

The view from the top of Herrington Hill Road. My photograph doesn't do the view justice.

From here to the finish, the course was either going up or down much of it on gravel which proved to be more a blessing than a hindrance as it afforded me some opportunities to stretch out my aching lower back. I also seemed to pick up a second wind along this stretch because the kilometers seemed to start going by much quicker. The Men's 4B 40+ peleton passed me somwhere around kilometer 79. Other than that I was but a single rider amongst a long line of stragglers. But unlike many of the others I passed, I actually started to enjoy the ride somewhat. Ok. so maybe "enjoy" is a tad over-stating it but it was certainly less painful than previously.

Just one in a long line of stragglers.

From Meeting House Road to the finish, I pressed on mostly alone. For a short time I worked with a small small group of 4 but that group disintegrated on the final climb up Stage Road. On the descent from Stage Road, I again picked up a couple of guys, including one from my own Men's 50+ race, but it was still me pretty much me doing most of the pulling. The guy from my own race didn't take a single pull. Finally, there was 5 km painted on the pavement. Then 4 km to go. I kept pedaling. Three km to go then two and then finally we were into the last kilometer. We turned onto the finishing stretch and my two riding companions sprinted for the line, including the guy who hadn't taken a single pull. I didn't expect anything less. I was happy just to cross the line, 50th of 64 starters, 47:44 behind the winner.

Tour of the Battenkill 2014, done and dusted.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Are We Having Fun Yet?

In my previous post, I outlined my intention for this year to put the fun back into cycling. With visions of group rides, stage races in a far off land (New York, Vermont, and Quebec are far-off for me), and fun-filled day trips, I optimistically filled my Summer calendar with just about every fun cycling event I could fit in. But with the crappy weather we've been having, I look at that same calendar for this month, every day filled with yet another trainer workout, and ask myself 'Are we having fun yet?'

Getting close to mid-March, I had expected to be riding outside by now. Instead, we get yet another snowfall.
Considering the unplanned extension to my Winter training, I've been coping surprisingly well. Having a hard date of April 5 for the first A race of the season, none other than the unforgiving Tour of the Battenkill, will do that to you. If it wasn't for that, I don't think I'd be as diligent about completing my scheduled workouts. It's amazing how strong a motivator that fear of "being noncompetitive" really is. It's caused me to dutifully continue my daily trudge down to the basement for each scheduled workout.

My "pain cave" has become an all too familiar haunt over the course of the past 4 1/2 months.
I've learned to keep my time on the trainer comparatively short this year with most workouts lasting between one hour and an hour and 15 minutes. If there's one thing that can be said about trainer workouts is that they are very efficient in terms of training time. You can get a pretty decent training effect over the course of an hour and 15 minutes on the trainer. But, dammit, I am more than ready for a nice outdoor ride in comfortable conditions. Yet, that ride looks to be a long way off. A quick check of the long range forecast doesn't offer much  encouragement with daily highs barely above zero through to the end of the month.

The long range forecast shows daily highs barely above zero.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, back in September of last year when I registered for a Tour pass for the Tour of the Battenkill and Tour of the Catskills races. Now, as I'm cranking out those all too familiar intervals, I find myself wondering what the heck I've gotten myself into. The Tour of the Battenkill is a fun race when the weather is decent as it was last year but in the tradition of the "classics" it's also a tough race with a number of significant climbs. And with less than 3 weeks until race day, I have yet to get in an outdoor ride this year. That's less than optimal preparation for a challenging A race.

The Tour of the Battenkill is a fun race with numerous gravel sections like this one but it's also very challenging.
Lest I convey the idea that all is doom and gloom, I have to confess I'm actually somewhat excited. Today I picked up the frame of my beloved Masi road bike after having it repaired. There is at least one advantage to not having any long rides in the near future. It gives me time to rebuild my Masi. It will be nice to have both a training bike (Masi) and a dedicated race bike (Cervelo S2).

The lack of outdoor ride time has given me more time in the bike workshop.
The other thing that has me excited is what's on my calendar. Rather than doing the usual series of O-Cup races this year as I've done that past couple of seasons, I'll be focusing on a series of stage races in Vermont, Quebec, and New York state. I did the Coupe Des Ameriques stage race last year and it was a blast. Moreover, these races tend to cater to my strengths as a cyclist, including at least one time trial stage and with road races that include a number of challenging climbs. Assuming I can get back down to the weight I was at last Summer, this gives me a competitive advantage whereas most of the O-Cup races result in sprint finishes and I've learned that sprinting is not one of my strengths.

While my Summer calendar is filled with many interesting and fun events, the front end so far looks rather gloomy

On top of the stage races, my season this year will also have a number of interesting cycling-focused activities including: an annual Muskoka weekend with the Usual Suspects, Rideau Lakes Tour again with the Usual Suspects, a day trip to the Annual Buttertart Festival in Midland (probably also with the Usual Suspects), separate day trips to visit my sister near Barrie and my parents in Kincardine, and a week-long cycling getaway with friends (most of which are the Usual Suspects) split between the Lake Placid, NY and Stowe, Vermont. So, yeah, the weather sucks right now and I'm feeling somewhat unprepared for my first A race of the season. But "are we having fun yet?" Well, I'm trying to keep an open mind :) Stay tuned!


Friday, February 14, 2014

Putting the fun back into cycling

Not that what I've been doing up to now hasn't been fun. I mean, I wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't fun... would I? But my approach to cycling as become increasingly clinical over the years. This is reflected in my blogs which tend more and more to have a technical bent to them. Don't get me wrong, I like the technical aspects of my training and enjoy explaining it in a way that makes it easier to understand for my readers. But I'm beginning to wonder whether I've strayed too far up the river. For example, I have 3 different posts from last year which are still in draft state because... well, they've just become too technical. So this year, rather than focusing on the technical aspects of my training, I've decided to try and put more fun back into my cycling... beginning with my blogs about it.

So what is it that makes cycling fun? Back in 2005, fun was doing the FMCT Sunday group ride. Actually, it started a bit earlier than that with the Sunday run. Prior to joining the fledgling triathlon club, I did all my swims, bikes, and runs by myself. Which was fine. I've always been somewhat of a loner and the solitude that came with training alone suits me. But that first Sunday group run injected a whole new social dimension to my training that quickly turned it into the highlight of my week. Weekly swims were added during the Winter but it wasn't until early April with my first group ride that I found my true love.

I bought my first decent road bike in time for my first ever group ride.

On a cool, damp Sunday morning in April, we met in the Fortinos parking lot. It was still early and the lot was empty. I drove there with my bike in the back of the van but there were several who lived close enough to ride. One by one, cyclists trickled in until within the space of about 10 minutes, we had a group of 8-10 cyclists ready to roll.

The parking lot at Fortinos was the designated meeting place for what was then the Sunday group ride.
As a group, we left the parking lot, hung a right onto Worthington, a quick left onto Grovewood and were soon turning right on Creditview which back then was still a country road. For me, the excitement of riding in a group hit before we'd even left the parking lot. Though we weren't connected through any physical means, we moved as one. An ethereal collection of spoked wheels spinning purposely towards some goal. I'm not sure what that goal was. I don't know that anyone knew. But the group seemed to know.

The roads that April morning were damp and sandy from having not yet been swept. With little to no traffic, we fell into smaller groups of two and three, chatting amongst ourselves over the quiet crunch of rubber on grit. A couple of punchy hills followed by a series of rollers served to briefly interrupt the conversation. But we all came together again in Terra Cotta to ride the river valley once again as a group before making the left to start the King of the Mountain hill. At just over 4 km long with an average gradient of 4%, our KOM hill couldn't exactly be categorized as a climb but it's what we had and was where the more nimble riders among us demonstrated their climbing prowess by racing to the top... only to turn around again to ride part way back down in order to graciously (sarcasm) accompany the rest of us slower riders the rest of the way up the hill. Having re-grouped at the top of the hill, we descended into Cheltenham where once again got organized into pairs for the easy ride back to the parking lot. Not, however, before the contesting the final sprint where I redeemed my lack of climbing prowess by taking the first sprint of the season on my first group ride.

Those early years with FMCT were a blast. I did more triathlons/duathlons that Summer of 2005 than in all the previous years 7 years combined. It wasn't just that I had discovered a new found enthusiasm for the sport which I had. There was more to it than that. Training, racing, road trips with my new friends was... just fun.

FMCT members pose for a group shot after finishing the 2005 Orillia Triathlon.

Things began to change for me during the Summer of 2007. I had been doing Ironman training with my friends who were training for Ironman but by no means felt ready to do an Ironman myself. I had done my first marathon the previous Fall and for me that was daunting enough. The prospect of doing an Ironman was terrifying. And yet somehow I got talked into signing up for Ironman France. Not that the prospect of two weeks in Nice, France was a tough sell but the training was a big nut to crack. I spent countless hours reading forums, blogs, books, articles on training for an Ironman, mostly out of fear. One area of my research that intrigued me was training with a power meter. The more I read, the more convinced I became of its benefit. And so I became the proud new owner of a wired Powertap purchased second hand off eBay for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000. That was probably the best investment in training equipment I have made. And it changed my approach to bike training.

This yellow hub became the focal point of my training.

Post Powertap, I became the "numbers guy". Instead of hammering up rollers and cruising down the other side, I would keep the watts steady, losing speed on the uphill but flying by everyone on the downhill as I continued pedaling with the same power. My friends all wondered what the heck had gotten into me and I suspect my new riding habits quickly became annoying. In fact, I "know" my new riding habits became annoying. But it worked! I started placing top five (often 1st) in my age group on the bike leg (of triathlons). I even starting placing top five in my age group overall which, given I was a mid-pack swimmer at best, came primarily from my strength on the bike. The Powertap paid dividends and the more successful I became, the more emphasis I put on training by the numbers. FTP. CTL, ATL, CSS, TSB, Watts/Kg, HIT, VO2 Max, 20, 30, and 40 minute Sweet Spot intervals all became an integral part of my bike riding volcabulary. I became a slave to the numbers.

So where was I? Oh yeah, I want to put the fun back into cycling. What's fun, you ask?

This is fun...

Rideau Lakes Tour
This is fun...

Start corral at Centurion Collingwood

This is fun...

Trail riding at Terra Cotta Provincial Park

Believe it or not, this is fun...

Stage 1 hill climb at Coupe Des Amerique (Sutton Stage race)

Doesn't get much better than having your own team bus...

Team Kurzawinski at Tour de Terra Cotta

And, sometimes you've just gotta stop and smell the coffee...

Enjoying breakfast at "The Scruffy Duck".

Now, I'm not about to throw away my Powertap... Ok, so I have four of them and I'm keeping them all. But for this year at least, it will be fun first, numbers second.

Have a great year, everyone!