Wednesday, July 13, 2016

2016 Syracuse Road Race

I've done four road races and one Eroica event (vintage bike ride) this year and the best weather has been for the first one back in April. We've had some gorgeous weather this year with some very hot days of late. Just not at my races. The weather for my latest race, the Syracuse Road Race, was a mixture of cool (16 C), drizzle, and 20+ kph NW winds. My entry fee for the Masters 35+/Cat 4 combined was waived because I won the last race I did, the Canadian National Road Race Championships. So, not only would the registration fee have been lower than the competing O-Cup race (the Campbelleville Crit) but by wearing my National Champion jersey, I didn't have to pay at all. How does that work? In any case, I found myself warming up (or trying to) on a cool Sunday morning with bib shorts and a somewhat breezy National Champion jersey. I immediately went back to the car to add more layers. I had brought an extra jersey so I wore that under my Champion's jersey and added arm warmers and leg warmers. I considered I may be overdressed but I hated being cold especially in the rain. Been there and done that, as recently as the Toras Mor this past May, and wasn't interested in doing it again. I also wanted to try and get more air into my tires but was having trouble with the valve extensions leaking air and so left them as they were. But I wasn't entirely happy doing the race on soft tires.

At the pre-race instructions (2nd from left), proudly wearing my Champion's jersey.

As with the previous 3 road races, I was doing this one with my team mate, Marco. And, as per usual, Marco was right up near the front as we rolled through the 2.5 mile neutral zone while I rode a little further back trying to stay out of the wind. Actually, at one point during the neutral zone, Marco even tried to roll off the front but the peleton were having none of that (even during the neutral zone). The race proper officially started once we made the left turn onto Song Lake Road but the pace didn't really change much until we made a right turn onto Song Mountain Road. Then the pace began to get hard. Going up the mountain (it wasn't so much a mountain as a long hill), I found myself putting in quite an effort in order to stay near the front. Looking down at my power meter, at one point, I noted I was well over 300 Watts. "What's going on," I wondered? "I don't remember this climb in the course profile," I thought. No sooner had the thought passed than a motorcycle escort rode by us to head off the pace car which had, apparently, taken us off course. "Oh well," I thought, "an extra kilometer of climbing for free".

Start and first loop around the course:

Once back on course, we continued our easy tail-wind assisted pace south along Song Lake Road past Preble Road. Oops, the pace car took us off course again. We turned around to get back to the turn at Preble Road where we headed West before another right onto Ottisco Valley Road and into a head wind. The attacks started almost immediately, despite there being a strong head wind. A Premium Mortgage Cycling Team rider went off the front. He didn't stay away long but, undeterred, he tried again a short while later. This time, the peleton seemed content to let him hang out off the front. Myself, I stayed hidden from the wind about 10 riders back but keeping a watchful eye on proceedings. Marco continued to mix it up at or near the front. Over the next several kilometers, Velo Racing Solutions, Dan Staffo, launched a few probing attacks without really making an effort to bridge up to the solo ride out front. I think he was waiting for someone to join him which, actually, was the smart thing to do. Eventually, on one of his probes, somebody did join him. It was Marco.

From my position, 10 riders or so back, I watched as Marco bridged up to Staffo."Damn," I thought. We had talked about this, trying to make something happen on the opening lap, on the drive down. Or rather, Marco had talked about it. I was against it as it meant attacking into a headwind, preferring instead to wait until the 2nd time up the climb on lap 2. But it looked like Marco was going for it so I eased my way up the shoulder until close to the front before launching my attack in an effort to bridge up to the pair out front. They weren't yet that far up the road and so bridging was fairly easy. Looking back I was somewhat surprised at no reaction from the peleton. They were probably of the mind that it was senseless to attack into a headwind. Personally, I shared that view yet here I was in a 3-man break attempting to bridge up to a fourth. You could not, however, say that the break was working well together. Staffo persisted in attacking the two of us. The first couple of times, we brought him back but on the 3rd attack I let him go to see what he would do. Damned if he wasn't trying to bridge up to the Premium ride out front. And it looked like he was going to make it. Which meant having to again work a little harder to close the gap. So Marco and I worked together and slowly reeled him in but not before he reached the rider out front. "I'm going to close the gap," I said to Marco as I took my turn on the front. I put in a solid dig to close the gap to the two out front. I looked back just before reaching them to make sure Marco was still with me. He wasn't. "Crap," I thought, "I did it again." I had a habit of dropping break-away companions by not rotating smoothly and it looks like I had just done it again. I hooked up with Staff and the Premium ride but sat on their wheels instead of working with them. They didn't much like it but I was waiting for Marco. Unfortunately, we made the right turn onto Oak Hill Road before Marco had bridged.

Starting the climb, I had a dilemna. "Do I go with them or wait for Marco?" I elected to wait. "Go Richard!" Marco yelled at me. But I had already made my decision. I waited and together we started the climb. But with Marco having just expended a lot of energy trying to close the gap just prior to the climb, he didn't have much left for the climb itself and the gap to the two leaders continued to stretch out. Looking back, I could see the peleton just starting the climb, about 500 meters back. I continued to set a steady but not too hard tempo up the hill, hoping that Marco would recover. About halfway up the climb, we were passed by another Premium Mortgage rider, Spencer Perry. I attached myself to his wheel hoping that Marco would do the same. But as Marco drifted off the back I heard him again repeat, "Go Richard!", and this time I went.

Man did I suffer. Spencer Perry was very young and very light. He couldn't have been more than 130 pounds. And he was strong. He just kept churning the pedals up the climb with absolutely no relief for me. "That's it," I thought on more than one occasion, "I'm done!". Wearing two jerseys, arm warmers, and leg warmers, I was definitely overdressed and was overheating. My O2 consumption was through the roof and I wasn't getting enough. But I held out for just a little while longer each time and managed to stay on his wheel. Once we reached the top, there was a bit of a flat section followed by a descent during which I was able to somewhat recover but a second climb was looming and I wasn't looking forward to that. But before reaching the 2nd climb, we were joined by a 3rd rider. "Where are these guys coming from", I wondered? Looking at him as he took a place in our rotation, I saw that he too was young and light. It was fortunate for me that he joined us because Perry dropped us on the 2nd climb and having someone to work with enabled the two of us to catch back on once the climb was done. Working together, the 3 of us then quickly closed the gap to Staffo and the other Premium rider.

With 5 of us working together and aided by a strong tail wind, our pace along this SE portion of the course was quite high. I personally wanted to push it even more but was basically asked to "cool it" by the other guys in the break. We passed the front Pro Women's group, shortly after making the turn onto Preble Road for the trip back up the NW portion of the loop but were caught not long after that by a chase group from our race. This was both good and bad. It was bad, of course, because our break-away was caught. But good because Marco was in the chasing group. After the catch, the pace slowed to a crawl and the Pro Women's pack passed us back. And though, physically, it felt good to not be racing (because racing hurts), it was hard mentally because we were in a race and "we should be racing, damn it," I thought. I looked down at my heart rate at one point during this stretch to see it was only 85 bpm which I thought was somewhat ridiculous. But eventually, we reached the turn onto Oak Hill Road where I prepared myself mentally to again dig deep.

As we negotiated the sharp turn, I rode over some rough pavement. "That didn't feel good," I thought. Sure enough, just as we started the climb, I felt the familiar feel of rim against pavement. My rear tire had gone flat. With soft tires, I had pinch-flatted on the rough pavement. "Go Marco!," I yelled, "I've flatted". He turned in acknowledgement and continued with the pack as I waited for the wheel vehicle.

"What's wrong," the wheel mechanic asked me?

"Flat tire!," I responded.

"Do you have wheels in," he asked? I shook my head. "Sorry, it's wheels-in, wheels-out," he replied.

"That's different," I thought. It was my experience from every other race I had done that "wheels-in, wheels-out" meant that if you got a flat you might get your own wheel, if indeed you had put wheels in the wheel vehicle, or you might get somebody else's wheel. I had never before been refused aid. "Is there a sweep vehicle," I asked?

"Yeah, the sweep vehicle should pick you up," he replied. Before leaving, he took my race number and then he was gone, leaving me wondering what to do next.

"Might as well try and get comfortable," I thought to myself. There was a guard rail a little further up the hill and I made my way there. After leaning my bike against the guard rail, I settled onto the shoulder and leaned back against the guard rail to begin my wait for the sweep vehicle. "At least it's not raining," I thought. In fact, the sun was trying to poke it's way through the overcast and it actually began to feel nice out. But that didn't last long, The clouds returned and it again got surprisingly cold. I was glad of my extra layers. I huddled from the wind against the protection of the guard rail and continued to wait.

I waited for about an hour, maybe less, until the Cat 3 peleton churned by. The wheel vehicle attached to that race stopped to ask if I needed anything. "I'm waiting for the sweep vehicle," I replied.

"It should be just a little ways back," he responded before driving on. I went back to waiting.

It wasn't long before the Men's Pro race peleton rode by. It was a fairly large pack with two race vehicles. The first vehicle, laden with bikes and wheels on the roof, was clearly the wheel vehicle. Behind it, four ways flashing, was a full-size SUV which I assumed to be the sweep vehicle. "Finally," I thought to myself. I stood as the peleton rode by in anticipation of the sweep vehicle stopping. It didn't!

"What the heck," I wondered out loud? I watched the large black SUV disappear up the climb and around the bend. "Maybe that wasn't the sweep vehicle," I asked myself doubtfully. I turned around to look back along the course. The view across Otisko Lake, one of the Eastern-most of the Finger Lakes, was actually quite nice. From my vantage point I had a clear view of the course. "There must be riders that had been dropped from the Men's Pro race. Maybe the sweep vehicle was behind the last of those," I hoped. I remained standing for awhile, on the lookout for dropped riders before the sky once again clouded over and the wind picked up forcing me to huddle back down behind the guard rail.

There weren't many dropped riders. A couple, maybe more. I don't really remember. I sat awhile longer after the last pair of dropped riders had ridden by before checking the time on my Garmin once again. By my calculation, it had been about an hour and a half since I had flatted. "Where is that wheel vehicle," I wondered? Glancing back down the hill, I noticed the Marshall who was stationed at the turn onto the hill was packing up his gear. "That doesn't bode well," I thought.

Over the next hour, several people stopped their cars to ask if I was alright and whether I needed help. A couple of very friendly women who had earlier walked passed me stopped on their way back to see if I needed help. "I'm taking you home to my place," one of them insisted. "You can't stay out here all day," she said. But I figured the best course of action was to stay put. I didn't have my mobile with me (mistake one) and didn't even recall the name of the town we had parked in. No, the best thing to do was to stay put until Marco came to find me. I politely declined, thanking them profusely and went back to waiting.

It had been 2 1/2 hours and still no sign of Marco. With lots of time on my hands, I ran some scenarios through my head. I estimated it could be more than a 15 minute drive to the start line where Marco was parked. He would assume I'd have gotten a wheel from wheel support. But by now, he must know that something wasn't right. So next, he'd think, like I did, I'd be picked up by the sweep vehicle. "He may have podium-ed," I thought "in which case, that would keep him side-tracked for awhile." "But 2 1/2 hours?" Then I remembered how Marco is with directions. "Oh great," I thought,"he's probably lost". I went back to waiting.

I was just thinking how glad I was to have added the extra layers of clothing when it began to rain. It wasn't heavy but with the cool temperatures and stiff wind off the lake, it suddenly got quite cold. By now, my head tilted up the road at every approaching vehicle. "Nope, Marco doesn't drive a pickup". Audi S6, "yeah, he wishes!" Nineteen eighties Honda Accord... "How the heck is that thing still on the road?" At some point I got tired of looking. That's when Marco finally arrived


  • I heard Marco's side of the story on the drive back. "I was still out on the course," was what he was told. What he wasn't told was that I was out on the side of the road with a flat tire with no means of getting back. He got suspicious that something was seriously amiss when they started packing things up back at the race site.
  • Marco did indeed get lost while trying to find me but was able to retrace his steps and get back on course.
  • Dan Staffo won the Masters 35+ race. Spencer Perry who came second overall in the break that had formed the 2nd time up the climb and earned enough points to be promoted to Cat 3. He deserved it, he is a strong, young rider who I expect has many more podiums in his future.
  • .Yes, I would do the race again. Though there were some holes in the organization, it's a great course and very friendly atmosphere. The race is run mostly by volunteers so you can't really fault them. Next time, I'm carrying a spare tube and cartridge along with my mobile. I'll also be putting wheel in, in future.
  • Marco came 3rd in the Masters 35+ race.

Third place for Marco (far left).