Calabogie Classic. Always an exciting race. This year the field was large and everybody was keen to come out guns a blazin’. For those who don’t know, the Calabogie Classic is held near Ottawa and takes place on a motor sports raceway. So, the course has tons of sweeping turns, the pavement is perfect, and for this race we have the entire stretch of roadway to ourselves.
I had finally gotten the FACTOR together and was excited to race it. Here’s the Factor cozied up to the fire. Factor frame, full carbon Black INC wheels, and OCTTO bar tape/cages. I’d ridden it the day before and it was super stiff, the wheels cornered well, and it was by far the nicest bike I’d ever ridden. Because I have the mobility of a 600 yr old, I can’t quite slam the stem the way I should be able to… much to my team-mates disapproval.
I had spent the morning killing time by stretching and rolling out my legs. I felt amazing. The only thing working against me thus far was that I hadn’t shaven my legs. Even though I knew it would be warm out on race day, I somehow couldn’t comprehend riding without wearing leg warmers…. given that it felt like it was still mid winter earlier that week. Every time I looked down and saw the hair on my legs I would feel sick to my stomach. I could tell other riders felt the same when they saw them too. I think a few might have even walked off to the washroom to vomit after they got a look. Anyhow, nothing I could do about it now. I just told myself that Sagan rode a race without shaving his legs and he seemed to be doing OK for himself.
The race started. Attacks went off almost immediately. We had 6 team members present at this race so based on numbers alone we were a strong team. Our strategy, just like pretty much every team’s strategy, was to get a guy in the break. And, we were sticking to the plan. Every break that went off the front had at least 1 or 2 of our guys in it. Although a few breaks in the first 5 or 6 laps seemed like they might hold, nothing had. To me, this race so far seemed relentlessly active; attacks were launched minute after minute and there didn’t seem to be any lulls in the pace. Within the first three laps I could already tell that this was going to be a painful day.
I had NO power data. This was the first race in my life I didn’t have a power meter on my bike. *Steve Roedde, you may as well stop reading now, as there are no numbers in this post * Given the nature of road cycling, rarely does power data make any sort of difference in the way you ride. Still, I’d become quite accustomed to looking down at my screen, if only to look down and see how screwed I was going to be. I had planned to still have heart rate data but while getting ready for the race I realized I forgot the monitor at home. So, in a last minute decision I just took the whole bloody Garmin off the bike and decided I was going to race blind. I was basically going to be riding like they did back in the days of the dinosaurs. Without a Garmin on my bike that meant no Strava upload, which technically meant I wasn’t even on my bike that day. Weird.
I made a few short attacks in the first 1/3 of the race and made it into a couple short lived breaks but so far nothing that had been all that costly for me. But, around lap 5, I put in a small attack up the side of the group while it was going into one of the only tiny hills on the course. Two riders came with me. We exchanged pulls for a bit and managed to distance the group by a little. The hope here was to get a gap and then get bridged to by a few more riders and then be in “the” break. I could practically feel the million dollar contract from Team Sky coming my way. Shit, nope. We lasted maybe 3 km out front and were easily pulled in by the group afterwards. As part of the group again I hid mid pack for a bit and drank some sugar water like a hummingbird. Within a few minutes in the pack my hands started cramping, which has always been a tell tale sign that the real fun will start soon.
As the race progressed more attacks were made and more breaks were formed, only to be caught shortly later. Team OCTTO was doing a great job at always having at least 1 guy in every break. At perhaps lap 8 or 9 or so, roughly half way through the event, is when the race changed shape. It’s hard to recall exact details so I’ll make them up, just like I do for most of my race report. I was moving towards the front when riders attacked off of the front. A sizeable amount of riders were involved and quickly distanced the group. I was moving up to help Larbi chase when I saw off to the side a small bridging group put in an attack and move away. By the time I saw it, they already had a bit of a gap but I still went after it. They flew forward and I felt like I was sprinting to try and catch it. I got within maybe 10 meters of them but was never able to connect to the back of the bridge group. But, in trying to my legs felt fried. The group came up from behind and I spent a few moments at the front trying to ‘chase’ but really I couldn’t do much at all. Larbi then told me to “bridge”. He must have mistaken me for himself, who probably could pull the group, get dropped and then somehow have the legs to attempt to bridge again. Not me.
At this point I couldn’t offer anything in the form of a chase and was actually worried I might end up getting dropped right here, barely over halfway through the race. So, I had to default to the most manly strategy I know of. Go into the middle of the pack, become as small as possible, disappear and conserve energy for a bit.
After probably a few too many minutes hiding away out of the wind, I came back alive. Or, at least I felt like I wasn’t going to get dropped and could now spare the effort to make my way to the front of the group to join in the chase. Up at the front I saw two team mates already at it; quite predictably were Larbi and Rivers working away. The breakaway group was already out of sight on the twisty course. We didn’t have a guy in the group and so it fell to us to reel it back in. A few other riders didn’t have a team mate in the break and seemed to be chipping in a bit of work as well. When I got to the front I started doing whatever my legs could to try and close the gap; which happened to be a bit less than I had hoped. By now our entire team had lined up at the front of the race and we were exchanging pulls trying to close the gap. While racing in Ontario, I’d never seen an entire team working hard on the front to close a gap like this. So, aside from the fact that we had tactically screwed up this race for ourselves, this felt like a pretty cool moment.
A picture of this moment can be see here.
Yes, I know our paceline looks more like what birds do when they fly South in the winter. But, it’s the intent that counts.
We all worked at the head of the pack for two laps or so. It was hard to tell if the gap was opening, closing, or staying the same. Since the story is way better if the gap was closing, that’s what happened. I could tell by the way I felt that I was going to have zero impact on this race, other than what I could offer by taking pulls for the chase. So, I did what work I could, riding that fine line between trying to help out and not doing too much that I’d be dropped into oblivion. If I had a Garmin at this moment it would show a little diagram of nails being driven into a coffin.
After a time, a few of us had done all we could, and we felt the gap wasn’t closing any. So, we went into self preservation mode. A few of the OCTTO guys stayed on the front and somehow continued working and keeping the pace up. I recall seeing Rivers and Larbi continuing to make attacks and work on the front long after I was back to my manly strategy of hiding in the group. After a lap or so, I knew I was screwed. The cramps were setting in and I was having trouble even staying on the tail end of the peleton. I tried to make a last effort move to get to the front to make a last few pulls or perhaps give my water bottle to a more worthy team mate… or SOMETHING more noble than just getting dropped quietly. But, there was no moving up to the front for me. Cramps. Lots of them. Both legs. I tried slapping the muscles to get them to go away which sometimes works. I tried standing. Nope, even worse. I thought about perhaps holding onto Bozek’s seatpost as he rode by and then resting but I didn’t think he would like that very much. For a moment my right quad fully seized up and I had to stop pedalling altogether. I fell off the back and my race was done. 24 more kilometres to go, slowly, cramping, and all on my lonesome. I grabbed the soother from my jersey, plopped it into my mouth and slowly spun that crank while I went over my racing sins.
Meanwhile, for the real riders, the race went on. I obviously wasn’t there but I heard stories. The chase continued. The gap continued to close and somehow Larbi managed to get into a bridge group and in typical Larbi fashion, put in the lions share of the work to catch part of the lead group. He put in a number of attacks but wasn’t quite able to get away until the finishing shoot. At this point he got away briefly and I think he split the pack, and was caught near the line by only a few of the riders behind him. He finished a very respectable 10th which is unbelievable to me given earlier efforts. Ed Veal solo’d away earlier on to win by more than a minute. Kudos to them both. At this point I was probably 3 kilometres away whining to myself.
I don’t think we will be missing a break again. Many lessons learned.