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!