The Tour of Bronte was advertised as tough race on a mix of asphalt and gravel surfaces. Being relatively new to the bike racing community, I was a little nervous about this event as my bike handling skills are not quite as strong as many of the seasoned riders. On my road bike, I try to avoid rough road surfaces like this at all cost so I was going into the race with very little experience riding this type of circuit.
As Richard and I rode along the Bronte Park entrance roads, to get to the registration area, the “Beginner” race was sent off past us moving in the other direction. By the time we got around to the shed to pick up our numbers, the racers had made their way around to our location and were sliding around a hairy turn. From here, we could see firsthand how tricky the gravel cornering was. What had I signed myself up for?
Eventually, it was our turn to roll out and, as usual, I came to the line later than I should have and was stuck near the back of the pack. On a course like this, with an increased risk of riders going down, I needed to be up closer to avoid any breaks caused by an accident.
As the lead vehicle led us along the smoother, asphalt portion of the course, I slowly made my way to the middle part of the group. I could now see the front runners and the volunteer signaling our first right hand turn. This one was a little tight but was still on a hard top surface so we had enough grip to power up out of the turn only to have to brake just a few seconds up this path.
Into the next turn I could see a bunch of rear wheels sliding as many of the riders tested out their bike handling on the loose gravel. I took an inside line here and noticed a vehicle wheel rut on this line that seemed to hold my bike on course. Right after this turn was another sharp right turn that proved even tougher. I was stuck on the inside so had to slow down considerably to negotiate the tree growing beside the pathway. I could not afford to get brave here as I would have wiped out a good chunk of the peloton if I was not able to hold my line.
Getting through this turn standing up was a big confidence booster going forward. The boys picked up the pace right out of this corner but everyone appeared to get on the train and follow the group along the twisting gravel road through the park. There were a few other areas of caution during the rest of the 8km loop but the initial nerves settled and I just started to worry more about getting further up the field to avoid being left behind.
After the first lap most of the group was still sitting together so there were about forty-five (of fifty-one) riders sharing tight quarters moving through the winding park roads. For a few of the opening laps I was stuck near the back end of the peloton but I could see Richard and Phill working up near the front and wanted to get up to help them out. I waited for the group to get through the loose corner near the registration shed before making a move up the right side on a flat, straight section. When I finally got up near the pointy end of the pack I saw a few guys jump off the front. I had just put out an effort to move up to this point so I figured I would sit back and wait for more to bridge.
My slight resting hesitation would be a bit of a mistake. Just as I was catching my breath two more riders broke, including Phill. I just caught him out of the corner of my eye and instinctively powered up. Thankfully, Richard was right beside me and noticed that my weak effort to catch Phill’s wheel would have pulled a train across to ruin Phill’s break. I quickly backed off and gave Richard thanks for calling me off. We then worked the front of the group with another rider (who must have had a teammate in the break) to slow the chase down.
After a minute or so I heard rumblings in the pack that we had a member in the break so they decided to jump around us and pick up the chase. By this time the foursome had opened a good gap so the hunt was on. Richard and I held strong in the group for a number of the next laps as nobody really got organized enough to make a dent in the break consisting of Gaelan Merritt (Waterloo CC), Derek Snider (Indy), Phill and one other rider.
During those laps we were around twenty five riders deep with only one rider going down in the toughest corner. That wipe out happened to the left of my line so I was able to avoid the distraction and power up before getting dropped. It wasn’t too long after this that we started to lap some riders so it became tough to know if the break was still together or broken. When we finally got around to the asphalt section I could see the leaders coming back up the other side of the road but noticed it was down to two guys (Gaelan and Derek) and Phill was not there?
About a minute later I saw Phill sitting up saving some gas. I was not sure what had happened at this point but was hoping he would have the energy to jump back on with us. Thankfully, he had saved up enough to join our group of around twenty guys/girl. Having three guys in the chase gave us a nice edge so it was time to start moving.
After making the U-Turn (near the start/finish line) on lap 7 (of 8), Richard and I got out on the tip of the group. I pulled through but misunderstood Richard’s command as I started to hammer. I thought he was coming as well but he was trying to block. When I noticed a gap I pulled up to let him catch my wheel. Rookie mistake!
The peloton was now strung out heading into the three quick hitting turns. As I got through the corners, I powered up again to see what the group was interested in doing. Unfortunately, not much as they just sat on my wheel for a few hundred metres. Starting a solo break this far from the finish would have been a lost cause (I think) so I decided to save the legs for the last lap and just hang out on the front to cover any other breaks.
As we rounded the “registration” corner on this lap I could see Richard getting up beside me with a smaller group starting to form. I was hoping this would start an echelon and reduce the size of the peloton. Just as I was about to jump in I felt a loss of power in my rear tire. Things suddenly got a little wobbly and I looked down to see the tire had flatted.
Damn, there were only 1.5 laps to go and I was starting to feel very solid in my legs. I yelled out my flat so the group knew I was pulling out and slowly made it over to the side of the path. I was a little disappointed at first but then realized it was out of my control, especially, on a circuit like this.
I walked my bike back to the team’s tent and got into spectator mode to watch Richard and Phill work their magic. As they passed our vantage point, with about 4k left in the race, you could see Gaelan and Derek were not going to be caught but the Kurzawinski Coach/PBNJ.CA boys were looking very good in the chase.
After they made their last pass, we headed over to the finish line on the other side of the parking lot. Gaelan brought it home just fourteen seconds ahead of Derek and then the pack came down the stretch around three minutes behind the leaders.
On the final sprint, I could see Richard up front, battling it out for a podium. They came right down to the wire but he just missed out by a wheel, settling with an impressive fourth place overall. Phill also came in with the pack finishing seventeenth overall. He had fought hard all day (including a crash in corner three before re-joining the peloton) and backed off the sprint when he knew he could get open for safe finish.
Other Notable Finishes (folks I know)…
8th – Bruce Bird (Wheels of Bloor/Graywood Development)
9th – Stan Blazek (KURZAWINSKI COACH/ PBNJ.CA)
Mech- Adam Fitzsimmons (NINE2FIVEPRO.COM CYCLING TEAM)