There is no mistaking it, fall is in the air. A few months ago, I was anticipating that the October 1st weekend would be a touch cooler so I was planning to race a XC Running event to ring in the season. As the race drew near, I continued to experience issues with my lower abdominal/groin region that has made running a little uncomfortable. A couple days before the weekend, Tyler and I decided to pull the plug on the Ontario Masters’ XC Race and take it easy on the running side.
Cycling, on the other hand, does not seem to bother the injury very much so I have ramped up the bike miles to stay active. I knew a large number of the Falcons were registered for the Tour de Hans 100k ride in the Kitchener/Waterloo area on October 2nd so I figured I would join the group and get in my scheduled long ride.
Coming off a successful Centurion Canada, I could tell I was growing as a cyclist so I wanted to add to my experience base and get aggressive out of the gate in the Tour de Hans to see how things go. If I fell apart because of a serious effort, I could accept it and walk away knowing what has worked and what has failed. My cycling partner in crime, Richard Westwood, and I had worked through this game plan a couple days before the event so we were prepared to push each other to maximize our efforts.
I had also spoken to my triathlon buddy, Luke Ehgoetz, who had mentioned that he was game for the challenge. This was his first cycling event and he was excited to see how his amazing triathlon bike skills translated on the road bike. Although, I am nowhere close to an experienced roadie, I passed along some pointers that I have picked up recently to help him join us to see if we could manage a three person team if we got into the same group.
On the morning of the tour, the air was a chilly four degrees with wind chills reported in the low negatives (CP24). Luckily, the predicted rain held off for the time we were out on the bike so it did not become a factor (unless you packed rain gear for the ride) and the roads were in fine shape for our race.
On to the race…
The opening 5k (out and back) portion of the event was used as a slow, warm up parade that was not timed. Guest rider, Simon Whitfield, led the group through a neutralized loop away from the staging area where I sat back a few rows from the front not wanting to miss out on anything once we returned to the actual start line of the race. When we wrapped up our warm up (although we were moving too slow to actually warm anything up as my hands were still numb), Simon continued to pull for a few hundred metres before the top guns gathered near the front of the peloton.
They were not blasting very hard, yet, so the group remained very large for the first few kilometres of the race as we continued on a straight away of rolling road. I was in close contact with most of the riders (Bruce Bird, Ryan Roth, Ian Scott, etc.) that I knew would be in the eventual lead group so I just stayed in among them as a few people attacked to test the waters.
Riding with experienced racers, you can see that they do not panic about breaks but monitor the rider out in front to see if they are going to stretch or come back to the group. During this stage of the race every minor attack came back quickly and the pack just kept pulling along until the 12k point, when things got interesting.
I saw a route marker on the side of the road that was directing us to turn right so I prepared and signaled that we would be doing so. Richard was right on my wheel so I knew he was committed to my every move. Unfortunately, for a bunch just ahead of us, the police escort did not turn and they kept following along. I was the first to turn right and started to doubt my move as a whole slew of riders continued straight for a few seconds. Luckily, a local rider pulled up with me and confirmed that I was heading in the correct direction.
The chaos to my left was kind of amusing to watch as riders scrambled to get back on route. Some were cutting across the grass in the ditch and on the gravel just to rejoin the front. This right hand turn put us dead into a strong wind so I was not really excited to be leading the charge now so I wisely slowed the pace and waited for the strong folks to jump back into the lead of the peloton.
This short connecting road into Wilmot was slightly up grade so things were finally starting to string out a little. When we entered the small town, we had a left turn that led us to a set of train tracks that looked pretty touch and go. I wanted to protect my rubber crossing these but was certain that the power riders would attempt a separation after the tracks.
As usual, the front runners took off after bumping across the railway and the race was on to stay in contact. I was hoping Richard and Luke would be right behind but I was struggling to hook on so I could not turn to peak back. I was on and off a few times as the lead group formed. Just as I was about to fall off on my last push, I got some help from a rider who managed to bridge across and grabbed his wheel. I thanked him for pulling me up and tried to recover for a few minutes before moving up to a protected position in the middle of the pack.
At this point, it was tough to tell what was happening behind us. I was not sure if the chase group had come up with us or where Richard and Luke had settled? With the strong winds most of us were battling to hold our lines so I didn’t feel confident enough to look back to see what was developing behind me.
During the next ten kilometres, I was fighting the cross wind hitting the right side of our group. I tried to get over to the left side of the train but just couldn’t find the right time to do so. At the 29k area, we finally reached the start of our longest climb on the course. It was not much of a hill, by Collingwood standards, but it was just enough to start shaking folks off the back as the leaders pushed the pace.
At the 32k mark, I started to fade to the back for a little breather. This quick lapse in judgment cost me again as I could not hold the wheel of the last rider in the group and watched as the gap grew inch by inch in front of me. As the peloton continued up the slope I noticed other riders slipping off as well. By the time we leveled off I could see several individuals on the horizon so it was now decision time.
Wait for a group (which I could not see coming up behind me) or just hammer and hope to work with others to create a group out of the shrapnel left from the peloton.
After the Tour de Terra Cotta, I could not waste another opportunity to push the limits in a cycling event so I opted to bury my head and leave it all out on the roads. If I blew up at least I did trying.
As I gained more speed, getting as aero as possible to cut the powerful wind, I passed a total of three riders all going solo. None of them seemed too interested in grabbing my wheel so I just kept pounding away as I could see a group of three making a left turn at the very top of our ascent. This was now close to 5km of time trialing up the slope so I was starting to feel the burn but not about to give up. Thankfully, I caught them a few hundred metres after the turn and pulled in front to show them I was very keen on making more ground.
I stayed out front for a minute and then waved the group through to catch a quick breather. Around the 40k mark we made a right turn and I could now see another bunch of three guys about 700m down the road. I figured this was our best chance to bring on more people so I moved up along the crew and asked if they were ready to follow up to the next few riders. I was happy to receive a positive response from the team and I got into TT mode for another hard effort.
As I pulled, I was encouraged by several of their comments as we made solid work of closing the gap between the two groups. I really started to feel the load of the effort when I got within ten metres of the last wheel ahead of me. I was hoping they would see us coming and let us hook up easier. No dice.
I really had to work hard to claim those final metres of the bridge so by the time we all moved across, to create a seven person pack, I was exhausted and having a hard time hanging on as we climbed a small hill before Linwood.
I watched as they began to increase the space and could not believe my luck as I worked so hard to create the bigger group and now there was a good chance I would be left solo with more than half the race left. To my relief, we crested the hill and started travelling down so I was able to get back on before rolling through Linwood where we turned right to finally catch some nice tailwind action.
Over the next several kilometres we became organized and started to work a pace line. I noticed one of our gang fell off during this quick period of time but we held a strong mix of six guys as we approached an intersection just after the half way spot. Unfortunately, we did not sight the rumble strips in the asphalt and the first set sent our group all over the place. Not exactly sure what happened (flat, loss of momentum, bike damage, etc.) to a couple of the guys but coming away from the intersection we were now down to four and looking unorganized.
(Note: I am throwing in the names of the gentlemen I worked with over the last portion of this race as I think I can tell by the finishing order whom they may be. I would like to point out that I had one of the most positive racing experiences of my short cycling life. These guys were total class and very supportive as we travelled the rest of the course as an efficient unit. Thank you!)
Not very far after the cross in the road, we started to get back into a flow but the Time Trial sign was too much of a carrot for Andy Mill and Phillip Hodgkinson to pass up. They sprinted ahead to test their skills but I told them I needed to recover and just kept my pace. Andy mentioned that they would wait at the top so that we could stay together so I was cool with that. Kent Bauman joined me and we worked our way up the hill not too far off their wheels so by the time we crested we were all ready to roll down the steep backside and round the bend.
Shortly after the sweeping bend, Andy got us organized again and we started a very smooth rotation through our four man collective. The pace was high and the communication was strong as we worked through the different cross and tail winds, changing our line position based on the direction of the wind.
During this stretch, in the 60-65k range, we picked up another rider from Toronto (I assume, based on his kit) and got the benefit of an extra man for several kilometres. I noticed just how much quicker we became with five people as the rotation gave us just enough of a break to recover between the short pulls we were popping off at the front. Unfortunately, this gentleman must have extended himself earlier as he was only on for a short period of time and soon we had to drop back to our four person ways.
Then in the early 70k’s, we picked up another three riders that were waiting around for some help. They got up to speed and joined us but did not offer much in assistance. As we continued along, I could tell some of our core group was starting to tire but Andy was still looking very fresh. Kent and Phillip had certainly done their fair share of the work to get us to this point so I figured if Andy and I could give them a rest we could get them back for the final 5k to 10k.
We continued to rotate along at a solid pace through the rolling hills leading back to the finish line. Kent continued to throw in his local knowledge of the course to give us key warnings of the upcoming turns so we could whiz around the roads without worrying about going off the marked trail. He was spot on with his orientation so I believed him when he mentioned the final 5k would be a battle into the wind.
With six of us left for the home stretch, I was not too concerned with my position. I was already very satisfied about my effort for this 102k ride and knew we were all beat up (except Andy, who seemed to have endless energy and the two guys on for the 30k free ride). Based on duathlon experience, I figured I had just enough in the tank to take it home through the wind so I got down aero again and wanted to see if I could pull the train home. Thankfully, Andy was more than game and we started a two man rotation into the wind. Kent and Phillip threw in some spot relief as well so we made quick work of this section.
On the very last climb about, 2k from the finish, one of the other guys launched an attack. I was not up for that challenge but Andy went across and then Kent pulled up beside me. He pushed me along mentioning I had done too much work to leave behind. It sparked a little extra energy and I jumped on his wheel. In seconds, we had caught the attack to reach the final turn together.
As expected, the final 500m (or so) quickly turned into a sprint for the fresh legs of the guys sitting in our draft. Only Andy (of our original four) was able to react and he made it to the line second in our group. I pulled in as the fourth rider as Kent and Phillip held their spots, even though I am sure they could have sprinted past me. We were racing so I assumed they would move up a few positions for fun but they showed me that there is some mutual respect among cyclists, contrary to many of the forums I have read.
In the end, we covered the 97km of timed course in 2:41, which was well ahead of my expectations in this type of weather. I crossed the line in 21st position of 182 finishers and was 3rd in my Age Group.
Most importantly, I gained more valuable racing experience and enjoyed a very positive cycling experience thanks to the team effort Andy, Kent, Phillip and I shared for 60k. Awesome job fellas!
I also applaud the efforts of all the Falcons and my friends for toughin’ it out on the Tour de Hans course. Bruce (2nd overall), Ian (3rd), Rolie (13th), Luke, Richard, Jon, Ian, Colin, Craig, Shanta, Lori, Ryan, Jim, Peter, Bill, Brent, Stuart and Bernie. Nicely done folks!