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.
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.
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.