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.

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