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.