Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2015 Niagara Classic - Race Report

What I've found about Bike Racing is that there are lessons to be learned from every race. I come from a Triathlon background where lessons-learned are dished out in a much more palatable fashion. In Bike Racing, the lessons smack you in the face. So it was with this year's Niagara Classic.

My main goal going into this race was to get a good Threshold workout in. As such, my plan was to look to get into a break. But I also wanted to be smart about it. Get in a break too early and I'd only be tiring out my legs only to have the pack hunt me and my break-away companions down just in time for the inevitable bunch sprint. I figured I'd treat a break more seriously after the halfway point or after 3 laps of the 6-lap race.

Fifty six riders lined up for the start of the 2015 Niagara Classic Masters 2 race with no fewer than 8 teams with 3 or more team members : Morning Glory with 6 members, Nacsworld with 5 members, B1 Evo, Erace Cancer, and Elite Health with 4, and Cyclepath Oakville, Team PBR, Waterloo CC, and Wheels of Bloort with three apiece. The race route consisted 6 laps of a 12.3 km course which was mostly flat except for the climb up Effingham Rd.

Niagara Classic Course Profile
Racing up Effingham Road the very first lap would just have been cruel. Still, I was on the lookout from an attack on the get-go. Thankfully, everyone was civil about the climb the first time around and I made it to the top without too much difficulty. Although, I have to say, it was harder than I was expecting even at a civil pace and I was closer to the back of the pack than I would have liked by the time we crested the top. Being at the back of a pack of over 50 riders with the yellow-line rule in effect, it took me half a lap just to get back near the front and it wasn't until the turn onto Kilman Rd that I was able to sprint my way to the front where I arrived just in time to witness a half-hearted break-away attempt. I watched this attempt with interest, curious as to the reaction this would prompt from the peleton. One by one, riders bridged across to the break, first one then a second and a third. Once the 4th or 5th rider tried to bridge up to the break, the peleton, predictably, had had enough and the break was brought back under control before the next turn onto Center St.

Niagara Classic Course Layout

The second time up Effingham, I suffered. The pace wasn't so hard that I needed to go 100% but it was hard enough that I felt it. I was thankful for the following downhill where I was able to pedal my way back to the front while everyone else was coasting their way down. The pace eased up once the road leveled out and a rider attacked the peleton followed quickly by someone wearing the unmistakable fluorescent green of the B1 Evo Cycling Club. As with the earlier break-away attempt, I waited to see how this one would unfold. As the pair seemed to be maintaining a gap of only 200 meters for about half a lap, I wrote this one off as another break-away attempt made too early. Crucially, however, they got out of sight after making the turn onto Center St. which became a strategic advantage for them. When we got the time check at the start of lap 3, they had a 25 second advantage.

My third trip up Effingham seemed even harder than the second and I spent considerably more time thinking about how it may not have been such a good idea to do a 100 km ride the pervious day than I did thinking about the break. The break, I was convinced, would be brought back. What I was less sure about was whether my legs would tolerate another 3 trips up Effingham.

My 4th trip up Effingham seemed slightly easier than the previous three. I was finally starting to feel good. It only took me an hour to warm up. Somewhere during this lap, I learned that one of the two break-away riders had come back to the pack leaving only a solo rider up front. There was chatter behind me about how there was no way this guy was going to last out there all by himself. Internally, I tended to agree. The guy had already been out there a couple of laps. He would basically need an additional 40k time trial in order to stay away. The peleton, with its strong contingency of teams, would not allow that to happen. Would it? On the other hand, we weren't going that fast. It seemed to be always the same few guys on the front and they weren't exerting themselves that much. "Not my problem," I thought. I'll let the teams worry about it.

My 5th trip up Effingham actually felt good. I could have gone harder but paced myself up. I felt strong and ready to do something. All I lacked was, well... something to do. It became apparent during this lap that a few riders were becoming concerned about the gap which by now had extended to a minute and a half. The problem was there was no concerted effort to bring the solo rider back. Number 244 (Sean Ryan) would take a strong pull on the front along with one or two of the PBR guys (I think it was the PBR guys - they changed the colour of their kits this year making it harder for me to pick them out) but, frankly, I expected more from the bigger teams, particularly Morning Glory who seemed to have a bunch of strong guys in this race. Two guys doing the work up front was not going to bring back a determined break-away. Maybe the last lap will bring out the effort I was expecting.

My last time up Effingham, I stayed near the front thinking this would be a good time for a second break to get away. But it quickly became apparent we would be all together again for the downhill. What became equally apparent was that the peleton seemed resigned to sprinting for 2nd place. "This is ludicrous," I thought. "How could they let this happen"?

I spent the rest of the last lap ensuring I stayed near the front. There was a break-away attempt, of sorts, on Center St (Sean Ryan), that I was kind of hoping would get a bigger gap but everyone was getting keyed up for the finishing sprint (for 2nd place) and he didn't get very far. I had thoughts of doing my own break-away attempt after the turn final onto Metler but that came to naught and I found myself in about 2nd or 3rd wheel passing the 500 meters to go sign. This was good positioning, I thought, for the sprint (for 2nd place). My legs felt good. I felt almost guaranteed of a good finish.

With around 400 meters to go, riders came flying by me on either side. WTF, why so early? Didn't these guys read my script? I dug in and sprinted, hands on the drops, profile kept low for aerodynamics. It didn't help. I crossed the line 18th out of the 26 left in the pack, 19th overall after accounting for the B1 Evo rider who managed to single-handedly holding off the peleton (kudos to Dorel Pop).

The hour and a half drive home gave me plenty of time to consider my lessons learned. First off, this was a training race. I should have been more aggressive about getting into breaks. No matter whether they were too early or looked destined to fail. There are only so many of these opportunities per race. Secondly, I too easily blamed "the peleton" for not closing this guy (the race winner) down. I am part of that peleton. What's more, I know a few of the guys in the peleton. What would have happened had I been even a little vocal about organizing a chase. "Come on guys, we need just 5 or 6 of us working together and we'll get the job done". But I kept quiet. And now I have to live with that.

No comments: