Thursday, June 16, 2016

2016 Nationals Road Race

Sitting, in and of itself, has never really appealed to me. Fishing, watching baseball, yoga... these are activities I avoid. There are, however, two circumstances that elevate "sitting" to the top of my list of pastimes. One: after a really hard bike ride or race. The other: just prior to a race. Under both circumstances, I'm content to sit for hours on end. I'm not completely clear on the cause of this phenomenon but I'm fairly sure it has something to do with suffering. So it was on the start line of the 2016 Canadian Masters D Road Championships in St. Calixte, Quebec. I felt I'd rather be sitting.

I didn't sit, of course. Instead, I tried to busy my mind, surveying my competitors to pick out who were the "gamers". Peter Kofman was over by the barrier at the front of the pack. I knew he'd be game for trying to make something happen. Beside him, also on the front row a couple of riders over, was another very fit looking guy, Jim Laird, who also looked game. There was a guy, a couple of rows behind Kofman, in short sleeved jersey and shorts, no arm warmers, no leg warmers. On this 10 degree morning, I wore leg warmers, a long sleeved fleece-lined jersey plus vest and full fingered gloves and I was practically shivering. "That guy won't last long," I thought. I was wrong!

My strategy for this race was fairly simple. My plan was to "suffer" with the expectation that doing so would cause others to also suffer. The last thing I wanted was for this thing to finish in a bunch sprint with everyone on fairly fresh legs. The more suffering I could impose, the better for me.

The race finally started (after a 20 minute delay) and we cruised to the first corner of the 16 km loop and the first climb of the day affectionately nicknamed "the wall". This first time up the wall, the pack pretty much stayed intact with everyone still on fresh legs. About 3 km later was another wall followed by a crazy fast descent and then another hill which could be taken in the big ring and as such was not really a factor. The next couple of kilometers were reasonably flat and then a left turn onto another screaming descent at the bottom of which was a wooden-planked bridge followed by a couple more left turns that had us heading back towards town. The route back to town was mostly flat but with a bit of a crosswind which turned into more of a headwind the closer we got to town.

First time up the wall with Robert Anderson to my left.

The second time up "the wall", four of us got a gap: "Mr. bare arms and legs", Peter Kofman, some other guy, and myself. We got into a rotation, thanks in large part to Kofman getting the group organized, and opened a comfortable gap fairly quickly. I soon realized that "Mr bare arms" was Robert Anderson, winner of the TT the previous day and former National Champion (apparently 9x National Champion). He was clearly very strong. The 4th guy in our group, not so much, as he would skip a turn every so often so either he was faking it or he was struggling. My money was on "struggling". He was a bigger guy so I figured the climbing was exacting its toll. All of which meant I was in line for a podium spot. "Stop that," I said to myself, "don't count your chickens." I focused on following wheels and taking turns. That second lap was hard work but we did stay away from the main pack... barely.

The 3rd time up "the wall", we were about halfway up the climb when the main peleton swarmed the bottom as one. "Holy crap," I thought, "they're closer than I realized". Seeing the main pack so close injected a sense of urgency into my climbing and I reached the summit a few meters behind Anderson who was first to the top. He turned and tapped his rear end for me to latch on. I looked back to see Kofman a few meters further back. At first, I hesitated, preferring to be in a three-man break than a two-man break. But the distance to Kofman was greater than the distance to Anderson so I made my decision and surged up to Anderson. Anderson then took a good long pull that allowed me to recover from my effort as well as putting some distance between ourselves and the rest of the pack. The remaineder of the lap saw us alternating turns at the front with strong but steady pulls.

Anderson drilled it, the 4th time up "the wall" giving me pause to wonder whether he was trying to drop me. He drilled it again on the 2nd wall a couple of km later. But as hard as the effort was, I was able to match it. My attempts to lose weight over the Winter hadn't gone so well but my training had progressed very well and my 5 minute power, which has always been my best asset, was solid. "If Anderson was going to drop me anywhere", I thought, "it wasn't going to be on a climb". I surged to the front, after cresting the wall #2, to take the lead down the descent. Anderson and I seemed to have worked out a fairly efficient division of labour but one thing I noticed was that I was a better descender and so I made sure to be on the front for each of the two long descents. I also seemed better at cornering and so also took to the front ahead of each of the sharp left turns; there were about four of them. The rest of the time, we just alternated and pushed on. We weren't given any time gaps and so, not knowing how much (or how little) an advantage we had, we pressed on as hard as we could manage without completely imploding. But by the end of the 4th lap, I was beginning to feel the fatigue setting in.

We didn't have this information and so kept pedaling scared.

Apparently, Anderson was also beginning to feel the effects of fatigue because the 5th time up "the wall" he was noticeably slower. This suited me as it allowed me to better manage my effort. I think we both backed off a little for that 5th lap.

The last time up "the wall", I actually dropped Anderson and had to wait for him at the top. Coach would probably have not approved. I can hear him now, "Why you wait?" But not knowing how far back the main pack was, I stuck with the known. We had worked together well up to this point at holding the hounds at bay so I waited.

Anderson doing his turn at the front.

The rest of the last lap was easier mentally because it was the last lap but harder physically. I started to feel twinges in my calves as we got closer to town, especially during my pulls at the front, and wondered what I'd have left when it came time to contest for the win. I wondered how things were going to play out. I didn't think Anderson would try and attack me because clearly he was as tired as I was. But a pattern had developed over the previous laps whereby I would take the lead at the sharp left hander about 2 km from the finish. Anderson would then take over on the long stretch leading up to the Mac's Milk and I would again take over into the headwind. Anderson would again take over on the run-in to the start/finish. True to form, with 2 km to go, we both fell into the same pattern. I took the front into the headwind as we approached the last turn before the start/finish. I backed off a little, as we approached the final turn. I heard Anderson's gears click and similarly switched into a bigger gear. Anderson attacked the turn and I jumped on his wheel. I came around him about halfway to the finish line, handily beating him to the line. I heard my name broadcast over the loudspeaker. "Did that just happen?" I asked myself.

Last time across the start/finish line.

Coasting past a traffic cop, she asked: "Did you win?"

"I think so!" I responded, still unable to comprehend what had just happened.

The next hour or so was surreal. I kept waiting for someone to discover a mistake had been made. But nothing happened. I had won!

Robert Anderson (left), Me (center), Jim Laird (right).
1st place:
Richard Westwood / Kurzawinski Coach
temps 2:45.05
2nd place: Robert Anderson /Team Specialized
temps 2:45.05
3rd place:
James Laird / Peak Valley Racing team /Vancouver.
temps 2:50.57

After the race, I stuck around to watch Marco race in the Master C event. I volunteered as wheel mechanic for one of the support vehicles and so had a good vantage point from which to witness his race unfold. Three-plus hours of sitting in the support vehicle followed by a 6 more hours of sitting for the drive home. What bliss :)