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.
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.
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….
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.
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