KW Classic

When I pulled up to the parking lot near the start of the KW classic road race, it began to pour rain. I can honestly say that not a single part of my being actually wanted to race today but I’d already paid good money to enter and I would be damned if I wasn’t going to squeeze out every bit of misery that I could. Despite the caffeine pills and pump up tracks on the drive over, I just wasn’t feeling it. In addition, I had gotten sick. God knows how this could have happened. Last weekend I spent over 4 hours racing in the hot sun. When I finished I was sunburned, dehydrated, exhausted, and starved. Those are all the things the body needs to stay healthy. And yet, 72 hrs later I wound up sick. What gives…

I showed up a little late, as always. Subconsciously, I think I was trying to miss this race. As I rushed to get my stuff together I had a choice to make. I had already filled my 2 jersey pockets with some rice cakes wrapped in parchment paper so this left me with 1 free pocket. Since I had neglected to arrange for somebody to pass me a water bottle during the race I needed to be self sufficient on this one. So, should I bring an extra water bottle, or should I bring my little bottle of pickle juice (combined with Makes Scents Maple Syrup as the key ingredient to prevent cramping, place your orders today…)? This was a 135km race and doing that on 2 bottles seemed like a mistake that I’d made many times before. Plus, it was rainy and cool – not ideal conditions for cramping. I ditched the pickle juice and grabbed the water bottle.

Well, time to start. I didn’t have a race plan for myself today. I felt the best I could hope for was doing a little work for the team early on and then let the OCTTO guys do their thing. When the gun went off I made sure I was right at the front. I suppose I’m a bit overly cautious when it comes to taking slippery, tight corners in a fast moving pack. Near the front was the place for me until we got a feel for the course. I had always wondered who rides out front at the beginning of a race, and what possesses them to put in extra energy as people draft behind them, making moves that clearly won’t stick, and chasing to get into breaks that clearly won’t last. And now I know, because for the first 5 minutes, that was me.

The first lap was pretty eventful. Fast pace, lots of little attacks, surges, short lived breaks. Nothing stuck. I tried to be useful by getting into some moves but in reality, I probably wasn’t. My bike looked nice though. OCTTO had a guy in every break and we were positioning ourselves well. On the end of the first lap, something happened. I won’t get into details but it resulted in me NOT being in a break, being absolutely gassed (at a new record of 15 minutes into the race) and in Larbi typically picking up the slack and bringing the race together (see picture). Then, all was well again.

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At the end of the 2nd lap a split happened and the front group opened up a large gap quite quickly. We had Graham Rivers in it!  Nothing to do now but slow down the pack and relax. Well, maybe that’s what real cyclists do. For me, just staying with the pack was a struggle in itself, even though it was Wheels of Bloor doing all the work to chase the break and not myself.

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The break was gone! It quickly built up over a minute lead. It looks like this was going to be “the” break for the race. So, with no moves to worry about, I spent the next 80km trying to figure out which part of the course I hated the most. It was a tough call. There was the first cross wind section where the pack strung out along the yellow line while trying to eek out a little bit of a draft benefit. Or there was the next section with a side wind in the other direction, where riders ended up hitting the gravel multiple times trying to draft. Ah, maybe it was the uphill headwind section shortly after, where you could draft, but only if you were willing to ride on a series of cracks and potholes in the pavement. I could tell during this section who was the most desperate for a rest by  whether they were willing to put their bike through this misery. You can probably guess who rode there quite often….

It rained on and off. As it did, spray from the ground covered us all. Then, something became apparent to me. We were probably all getting a great deal of horse-shit in out mouths. Yes, that’s right. There are tons of horse pulled carts around these parts. I love it. But, horses do what they do. When it rains, that manure must take on liquid form and some of it must fling off our tires into our faces. Those of us who are gasping for air the entire ride (me) probably end up worse than others. I again reflect on how well I treat my body.

At 50km in, it’s time for my first rice cake. It is soaked, of course. When trying to get it of my pocket, both my hand and my shoulder cramp. This is what I like to refer to as ‘phase 1’ cramps. Not an issue at the moment, but it usually is a fantastic sign of what is to come. And only 85 km’s left. I manage to get the rice cake out and find that it is hard to tell what part is rice and what part is the soaked parchment paper wrapper. I could probably figure this mess out had I been sitting down with both hands at my disposal. I didn’t. Instead, I could barely see through my glasses, which were covered with  dirt and rain and only one hand that worked. I really needed to eat something. Let’s just say that I washed down the horse shit with quite a lot of parchment paper.

By 70km, the split was over 2 minutes and Graham Rivers was still working hard in the break. OCTTO was sitting tight. New World had finally joined Wheels of Bloor in the chase and the pace was notched up a little. I was still finding it very difficult to even stay with the group. My body was protesting this entire ordeal. It must have had enough shit for one day. Time to move the cramping into phase 2 – out of the hands and into the hammies and the little muscles on the side. Craps in ‘phase 2’, come and go, but it’s not show stopping just yet. At times I’d have to stop pedalling or stand to get them to go away but they always did after a bit. Typically, after Phase 2 comes Phase 3.  I knew this next phase was on it’s way and I could hardly wait. I looked down at my full bottle of water and thought of my pickle juice….

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As I choked down some more parchment paper rice, I  wondering why this was feeling bloody hard. It dawned on me that the answer was simple.  Because of the steady chase, this had become like some sort of sick 3 hr time trial for me. No shelter in the pack, no real hills and no variety in effort.  I hate consistent efforts. I just don’t work that way. I would have preferred to do 3 hrs of intervals. While on this line of thought, I had to wonder what the hell I was doing in a 3 hr race in the first place. In University I was a good 400 meter runner and there was a joke on the team about what happens to me if they throw me into a longer distance. You make me do a 1500m and it starts to look ugly. You put me into a 5km and then I start getting beat by the public school kids. 3 hrs? That’s like a marathon. And with no hills! Shame on me. Anyway, there was no time for this sort of contemplation. There was horse shit that needed eating.

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I believe the next event happened at the 100km mark, when I had finally decided where my most hated spot on the course was. It was a little downhill before the final turn prior to the finish where people always drilled it. I was nearly dropped here many times on earlier laps and probably would have been out of the race had it not been for a hill after the turn where I could catch back up. Well, on this lap the pack was moving quickly and a little gap was opening up ahead of me. I tried to put in a little more effort. Then, my body kicked into a little bit of phase 3 cramping. I had to stop pedalling. Riders came around me as they tried to close the gap themselves. What I had just done was a sin in bike racing, opening up a gap like that. My apologies to Hamill, who I believe was right behind me at this point. He passed me and went ahead. I was able to take a few easy pedal strokes and the cramping got a bit better. I was able to make it up to Hamil and onto his wheel. Then there came the uphill after the corner. I made up some ground here. Then more cramping. I was pretty sure I was dropped. I think I would have preferred it that way. They were cooking burgers at the start line and I was hungry and sick of eating paper. This off and on cramping continued for another minute or two but I somehow clung on to the back of the pack on the downhill, recovered for a moment and survived with them on the uphill. As this was all happening, a split was forming in the group up ahead of me. Great timing! A great break away with Larbi in it.

Another few minutes go by and my legs, for the time being, ended their protest. I was now in a group of 7 and nearly half of the initial pack had been dropped. At this point, I wasn’t really sure if I should work with this group or not. The group ahead was perhaps catchable if we were really motivated. There were some strong guys in my group though and I was clearly useless. It seemed like bad strategy to help them catch up as then Larbi would have more riders to compete with. After a few minutes, this consideration became irrelevant as it became clear that Larbi’s group was gone and we were not going to catching them. So, trying not to be one of ‘those’ guys, I contributed in whichever way I could to keep us moving… which was not much. The cramps would come and go and I took the tiniest pulls I could manage. I mostly sat on wheels. Big kudos to Gaelin Merrit for chasing most of the race, and then working hard on the front to keep this group moving. Andrew House seemed to do more than his share of work in this group. After a lap and a bit with this group I had converted into “ultra-leech” mode. I’m not proud to say it. I didn’t even bother going to the front any more because I just knew I’d cramp and mess everybody up.

On the last lap, while going up the only little hill on the course, 1 leg seized up nearly fully. Some blessed soul with a pink helmet gave me a little push to get me over the top. Ten minutes after that comes a big, phase-3er, double leg bout, as we had to stand to avoid a giant puddle that had formed. I actually yelled out as this one was so bad. I think by now the group I was with probably wanted to drown me in the puddle but they were kind souls and didn’t do that. I assume they saw me eating paper earlier in the race and thought that I had enough problems.

The finishing line was coming up. Normally, I love to sprint, even if it’s for last place. Most races, this is the only fun I have during the entire event. This time around though, I could not in good conscience ‘race’ the last part after being so pathetic the last lap and not helping the group get to the end. I was OK to pull up the rear as we went over the line. When we got near the end though, a dude from the back attacks the group. A few guys go with him. Then another goes after that group. I couldn’t resist the competition and figured ‘what the hell’. I went for it. I gave it a good ten second effort but the Karma gods must have witnessed my insolence and struck me down with phase 5 cramping, which I didn’t even know existed until now. My legs had seized so badly that I could barely make it over the line. Once I finished, I managed to get off my bike only because some kind spectator helped move my bike from underneath me and put it on some grass where I was able to collapsed down beside it. But, even though I was yet to move,the gods weren’t finished with me yet and my legs kept seizing. I tried not to look too pitiable while this was happening but clearly I must have because a friendly local man in a wheelchair seemed concerned enough to come over and make sure I was OK. Something about receiving sympathy from this nice man because of my own self inflicted misery didn’t seem deserving. This was a final pathetic moment to polish off another great day of racing.

There was some pickle juice waiting for me in the car after the race, so I didn’t linger long to get the details of what happened up ahead. My understanding was that Larbi’s group some how caught up to the initial break with Rivers. Then, Ed Veal attacked this group and went off to win the race. Rivers, taxed from the effort of working hard all day,  got passed by a few of the fresher guys from the bridging group in the last lap. He ended up finishing a very respectable 13th. Larbi continued to battle the group and finished with the team, best result of 8th. 16 riders DNF’d this race. If I was smarter I would have been one of them.

More great photos taken by Ivan Rupes can be found here

If you want to read about Grahams day in the group then check out his blog here 

 

 

 

Grey County Road Race

Well, I’m happy to report that there were no real shenanigans before the start of this race. A bit out of character suppose. But things were normal – my bike was working flawlessly, I wasn’t carrying any sealant. In fact, my tires were brand spankin’ new. I suppose if I had to be picky I would point out that despite sleeping 500 meters from the start line and being up for 2 hrs BEFORE the start, I had somehow found myself looking (unsuccessfully) for a bathroom 3 minutes before the starting gun went off. Not the tuck behind the bushes kind of bathroom either. The calculations for how much this extra baggage might cost me on all the climbs would come later on. For now, I was just excited to start this race. The course looked amazing. Starting at Blue Mountain resort, the course would take us up scenic caves road (the elevation of Blue Mountain) 3 times, and wind 140 km’s through the nearby country side. This looked like the most challenging course I’d ever seen in Ontario and I could tell it was going to epic. Whether it was the ‘landing a place on the podium’ sort of epic or the ‘soiling my bib shorts’ sort of epic, I would soon find out.

The race started and within 2 minutes we were already faced with the first ascent up the scenic caves climb. Here we go. This is a big climb for Ontario and I’m going to go ahead and say it’s the biggest climb in Ontario. I know full well that that isn’t the case but I’m saying it anyway. So, we are going up the largest hill in Canada and as we go up, the effort I need to do to stay with the group, even at the base of the climb, was much higher than expected. I thought we all had a sort of unsaid agreement we’d take it easy on this first time up. I guess not. I was going close to 400 watts… and this was a 9 minute climb. After a minute or so I had to stop looking at my Garmin because numbers this high this early in a race were starting to bother me. By halfway up, the group had already strung out in a long line up the road. To be perfectly honest, I felt OK at this point and was slowly working my way closer to the front in case a split happened near the top.

After a full 9 minute effort, we’d made it to the top. Somewhere on the climb, one dude opened up a nice gap and was gone. Kudos to him for having such big balls. Within a few KM’s the majority of the peleton had re-formed, with the exception of some smaller groups who were still chasing back on. Tommy was in the group with me, and I believe Larbi and Rivers were also in the bunch at this point. Frake unfortunately had gotten his wheel nicked soon after the climb and was forced off the road. He seemed really strong going up the hill and I think he would have been a factor in the race had he been able to continue. Actually, he probably would have broken away with me and won by 10-15 minutes at least.Over the next 30-40km’s we did a few more big climbs, some small breaks went out and I believe some masters riders got away but nobody in our age group seemed keen to chase them.  Everybody knew that the 2nd time up scenic caves would be where the big stuff would go down. In accordance with my ‘feed zone portables’ book, I had bought into the rationale of eating food high in water content so it digests easier. So, I had cooked up some sticky rice, thrown in some sugar and packed it all up in some paper. Although this little treat agrees well with my stomach it also must be one of the worst foods to try and consume while moving in a tight pack going 40km/h. As had happened many times last year, I ended up with sticky rice all over the place and only managed perhaps get half of it down the hatch. Luckily, the Factor bike I was riding comes with what we like to refer to as a ‘dual vein’. It was designed by the Aston Martin race car engineers to have an aero advantage and be super stiff and all that good stuff. A true marvel. What I didn’t realize until now was that the dual vein also had rice shedding properties. Within a few KM’s and the rice had shed itself through the dual vein and was gone.

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The course took us up another full climb of the Blue Mountains elevation. Although the full elevation gain was there, the grade this time was more gradual than that scenic caves nonsense. A few riders were shed from the pack at this point but by and large, the group was still stuck together. We continued on through rolling hills and me, scattering rice all over the place. We eventually ripped through an aid station and I successfully grabbed myself a nice cold bottle of water. Scenic caves round 2 was coming… but first there was a long, fast descent back to the resort. I remember going over 90km/h on this section 2 years ago. Larbi and I both had the same idea and didn’t want to be behind anybody for this descent. So we both did a little extra work to stay at the front for the downhill. Well, he did a little extra work while I mostly rode his wheel. Down we went. Once down the descent it was time to start thinking about the 2nd time up scenic caves – the biggest climb on the continent.

As we neared the climb I got myself close to the front of the pack. I figured a tiny effort here to move up 20 meters would be much easier than to make the same gain at the end of the hill. I’m all about saving energy. This time going up was going to be MUCH harder. I dialled in at 350 watts or so, thinking I was being conservative and that at this pace I wouldn’t risk blowing up. Within 2 minutes or so, a few riders passed me and were setting a faster pace. For a moment I match this effort but could tell it was too much.  I had to set the dial lower. At about this time is when I started making calculations about how I could have been lighter. Sure, I’m pretty light already and certainly I have an advantage over heavier riders. But every lb counts on something like this. Did I really need to eat the full loaf of banana bread in one sitting? Why didn’t I save some of that tub of ice-cream for Kim? 8 pieces of baklava in 5 minutes… was that really necessary? Did I really have to drizzle maple syrup on everything that I ate? (absolutely I did, but only because it’s Makes Scents Maple Products maple syrup – wood fired evaporator, carbon neutral, and as close to sugar that you can get in syrup form – mmmm mmm place your orders now).

A few riders, Merritt and Brouwer amongst them were continuing to distance me on the climb. I knew that this was the race winning group. I checked my bike for a hidden motor switch but there was none to be seen. So, they were gone, there was nothing I could do about it and I couldn’t wait for this bloody hill to end.In any other endurance sport I’ve done, things aren’t quite like road racing. Running, triathlons, rowing  – they are different. In those, you pace yourself properly. The first third is usually fine, it get’s hard around the middle and then you push yourself to your limit by the end and then the last chunk is awful. Not quite so with road racing. With cycling it’s like a bunch of little races within a race. Many times within a race you think you’re done, you’ve pushed to your limit and have nothing left and it sucks. Then, the pack will slow and you are able to recover, sit in and do the same thing again. You can keep getting pushed to your limit. Well, 2nd time up scenic caves was like that. After an eternity of watts/kg calculations, and thinking about which part of my body I could cut off to make myself lighter, I had made it up. At this point I was with a small group of 10 or so and the break was established well ahead of us. Others joined, and we all continued on at a good clip over the last portion of the smaller up hills. Tommy from OCTTO was here with me but no Larbi or Rivers. I had seen Larbi earlier on in the hill and he didn’t seem so hot. I figured he would convert into TT mode once he made it up and eventually join the fun.

The main group was now 20 or so and the lead group could be seen in the distance ahead at least a minute or two on us. Nobody in our group seemed motivated to try and chase them. In fact, it was quite the opposite… everybody seemed pretty fried from the hill effort and didn’t want to do anything but sit in. I wasn’t quite sure how to play this one. If I chased now then it was very unlikely I’d make any real ground on the lead group and would probably drop myself while I was at it. If I did chase, somehow manage not get dropped and by some miracle actually caught the break, then I’d be useless for the final climb at the end and have to stop part way up and hitchhike to the top. But, if I didn’t chase, then I wasn’t racing to win. I rationalized to myself that Larbi and Rivers were probably closing the gap on us and I’m sure they would just love to do all the chasing work themselves when they bridged up. As I was debating all this I could feel my legs starting to cramp and my decision was made for me. I was going to do what I do best, make myself as small as possible and do no work at all. Meanwhile, the cramps kept coming. I remembered I had brought a little bottle of pickle juice to drink for just this occasion. I’d never tried the whole pickle juice thing before but figured it was worth a shot. Damn it tasted good. And the cramps seemed to go away for the time being. Looks like I’ll have to add this to my potion collection for future races.

After 20 minutes or so of a flat/downhill section into some headwinds, it was time for a few more hills, the final aid station and then the big descent down to the resort. After that, it would finally be time for the the third summit attempt of the biggest mountain outside the Himalayas. It was pretty damn hot by now and I heard people talking about how they were all out of water. Hell, I looked down and I had nearly two full bottles. Ditching one of those before the climb was probably one of those strategic moves that makes the difference between a real cyclist and myself. I can only assume if I wasn’t weighed down by those 3lbs of water on the climbs that I would have easily won the race by now. Too late I suppose. I wasn’t particularly thirsty so I started giving myself a shower instead. After only a moment into my shower,  the tired, overheated, dehydrated cyclists around me couldn’t take it and started asking if they could have some. Have some of MY water? That I hauled up that damn mountain? Hell no. But, good nature got the better of me and I stopped my bathing and handed the bottle away, hoping the Karma gods would take pity on my soul and move the finish line to the bottom of the hill.

In 10km’s or so the descent would be coming and it looked like no OCTTO boys were coming to save the day.After another screaming fast ride down towards the resort it was time to get ready for the final climb. I asked Tommy how he was feeling. “Shitty, you?”. “Shitty”. “OK”. And then he says something that gets quote of the race. “I think you can go faster up this hill than me, but if it’s a sprint finish then I think I can take the sprint”. Now, let’s think about this. It’s 135km into a race and we are about to tackle this thing for the 3rd time. Personally, I’m not even sure I will actually make it up the hill or if I will cramp up and have to hide in the ditches until the race is over. And Tommy is thinking about the sprint finish at the top. Kudos to him. I tell him I’m pretty sure this thing is going to string out and I doubt there will be a need to sprint.

Just before the hill I make sure I’m well positioned at the front. I start out at what I thought was a fairly conservative pace and start the climb. After 2 minutes of climbing it already really sucks. A few guys are starting to pass me and there’s not much I can do about it. I alternate standing and sitting and try and match their effort… nope. A group of 4 or 5 get ahead while the rest are losing ground behind me. I’m kind of stuck in the middle. Then the cramping takes hold. Shit. Both quads and hammies and some weird muscle in-between – that’s the worst one. Am I done? If I get off my bike then I’m never getting back on… Then, I remembered my pickle juice and gulp it down. Sweet sweet nectar of the gods it was delicious. I continued standing, afraid sitting would cause more cramps and seemed to be able to continue at a moderated pace. I stared down at my watts and just tried to keep them in a consistent range. By 2/3rds of the way up, I’d already figured out the prices I was going to sell all my bike stuff at. I wouldn’t need it because after this I was never touching my bike again.  The group ahead had a gap which I knew I wouldn’t be able to close. The best I could hope for was to stay ahead of the group that was behind me. I hit the steepest part of the climb which was paired up with a nice headwind this time around. I was moving slow. Really slow. I looked at my Garmin and saw that it was dipping below 10kph on this steep section. I tried to shift into an easier gear but I knew there was none. Then I got an idea. I could probably run faster than this. 9km/h… there’s no way this would be hard to do on foot. Although I gave it some thought, I decided against this option due to wearing road shoes that cannot be run in. I’m still curious…

Eventually, I made it up. The cramps were held at bay and I didn’t need to hide in the ditch.  I was so happy that hill was over. When at the top, I charge around the last bend and and got over the finish line finishing 8th in my category. Tommy finished shortly after with a group and beat them out in a SPRINT to take 10th.  The dude who went solo on the first hill got caught and his relatively well rested teammate went solo to win. Nice strategy. Mark Brouwer took 2nd. Well done to both. I never soiled my bibs.

Gremlin photo

A photo can be seen here of my finishing face. Clearly I was at the brink of insanity by this point and was converting into a gremlin or something from too much pickle juice.