Provincial Championships

I’m late. Like, not the typical Nigel Roedde late, as has become the norm for me this year, but the type of late that may just result in me driving 3 hours North to miss the start of the Provincial Championships road race. I had left Orillia with ample time and expected to arrive a record setting 1.5 hours early. Halfway along my route though, my GPS lost contact with the skies above and I was left to navigate like they did in the caveman days. Like us all, I’ve become totally dependent on my GPS to find my way around, and my sense of direction is no more. So, I relied on another, even more instinctual sense to find my way. The smell of pain… which I thought would be emanating from the Masters road race at that very moment. I unrolled the window and sniffed the air to see if I could tap into this long lost skill. I couldn’t. So, instead I looked at some road signs. Plus, I’d been here a few years ago… and I looked at the map last night.

With another 50km of driving to go, it appeared as if I would make it with time before the start of the race. Not with much time, but perhaps with just enough. During my calculations, it also struck me that I had forgotten to bring any substantial amount of food for the race. I was left with 1 cliff bar, and I was already really hungry and was having a debate with myself whether it was more important to eat this bar now or during the race. Screw it. I wasted a few precious minutes and stopped in to a convenience store and grabbed a bunch of brownies and some jube-jubes. Not ‘special’ jube-jubes for athletes like myself – the ones that cost 5 times as much because they have a picture of a cyclist on the front, but these inferior, ‘normal’ people jube-jubes. Just mere ‘candy’ really. They would have to do.

Over the next 40 minutes I ate all my brownies, took a few wrong turns and swore some profanities at the top of my lungs… a few times. I had already worked myself up into a sweat. Perfect, no need for a warm up. I pulled into the race parking lot with 30 minutes to go before the race start. I still needed to grab my numbers, pin them on my jersey, get changed, go to the washroom, clean/oil my chain, put air in my tires and load up my non-athlete specific jube-jubes and my sole cliff bar into my jersey and then make my way to the race start. Go!

While ferociously pinning my numbers to my jersey I stabbed myself with one of the safety pins. I couldn’t help thinking that I might really need those little oxygen carrying drops of blood today. Sigh.

Within 25 minutes I had accomplished all my tasks. God knows how I did it all, but I did. I made it to the start line….. just in time to wait 15 extra minutes for the delayed race to start…..

This course would have us cycling along the waterfront near Wiarton. It was an absolutely gorgeous course, with views of the bluffs across the lake. The pavement was great, the traffic was almost non existent. It was a perfect venue. I took it all in while I could, because I knew in a matter of minutes all the beauty would be covered in a shroud of misery and I wouldn’t care if I was cycling in the Pyrenees of France or in circles around a parking lot.

The race started rather quickly. We had to complete five 30km loops and I thought perhaps there was an unwritten rule that we would at least take the first few minutes easy, you know, to warm up a bit. Nope. It seems as if this is not a written or an unwritten rule. It’s a made up rule that doesn’t actually exist except in my mind. I was at the back rather quickly, but wasn’t worried as it was mostly flats and downhills for now and my legs were fresh. The pack was strung out for only a few minutes and then came together again and things eased up.

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Now, this may be a good place to explain my rather unknown level of fitness at this point in the season. As you may have noticed, my race reports fell off the face of the earth for the last few months. This was not because I wasn’t racing, but rather because I started school in May and couldn’t bear to sit at my computer writing anything that wasn’t mandatory to complete my courses. I suppose my training regressed along similar lines as these race reports. Sadly, I had to temporarily abandon my destined path to be subbed into the 2016 Tour De France to replace Froome as the team leader where I would likely have won the tour and probably the Olympics as well. Instead, I decided I would make sure I trained just good enough to not embarrass myself. My ‘training’ now involved a 1 hr commute each way to school a few times a week and the occasional interval session. A few weeks before the race I had a break from school and so picked it up a bit more and did a few good group rides and snatched a few Strava KOMS. All of this to say…. I didn’t really know what sort of shape I was in at the moment.

So, in attempts to not let down the team with a lack of training, I did something I didn’t think I would do until perhap I was 40. I chose to join the ranks of many Masters triathletes and time trialers before me. I did something there was no going back from. Instead of training to get faster, I was going to waste money on some frivolous bike equipment in order to save what was probably an irrelevant amount of energy while riding my bike. All in an attempt to convince myself that I might be technically ‘faster’ than before. So, I shaved off at least 10 jube-jibes worth of weight by upgrading to a carbon stem. I got a set of those aero carbon handlebars that would probably improve my aerodynamics even more than if I had pinned my numbers correctly on my jersey and/or wiped away the blood. In addition, I removed some spacers on my headset and instead of being somewhat comfortable on my bike,  I dropped the handlebars down an inch so that my neck and shoulder hurt as much as my legs when I was riding. I was way faster now.

Within a few km’s some riders started making moves. I had somehow positioned myself close to the front of the pack which meant it was my duty to cover a move if we didn’t have a guy in it. My legs felt great and I was easily able to jump into any short lived breaks early on in the first lap. Nothing stuck of course. Not even close. Then came the first go around at the hilly section of this course. The first pitch was short and steep, then a flat section followed by another steep pitch. The first time around is always easy. No problem.

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Halfway through the first lap and I was back at the front where I found myself covering what seemed to be a lot of moves. Many times a small group would attack and we wouldn’t have any guys in it, so I’d hammer off to try and catch onto the back. We were always caught quickly but as soon as we were, it seemed another group would charge off the front. Since I still seemed best positioned, I felt like it was my job to make sure we had a guy in THAT potential break, so off I’d go again. After 15 or so KM of this my legs were already feeling this race and it was REALLY early on for that sort of stuff. Perhaps even a new record of misery, having made it only 20% into the race.

At this point, my mind couldn’t help replaying our ‘team strategy’ discussion where I confessed to the group that I was probably in baby mode right now and could probably not hang with any breaks. Breaks really aren’t my thing to begin with and I thought of myself as a bit of a liability in them. NOTHING is worse in road racing then getting dropped from a break that’s up the road. As it were, I thought it would be better if somebody ELSE, perhaps somebody a bit more reliable, got into a break instead. I would defend and perhaps survive a race of attrition if the cards fell that way. After the first lap though, I seemed to have taken up the role of the ‘sucker’ who’s responsibility it was to represent us in as many short lived breaks as possible and then chase down ones we weren’t represented in, at least for the first part of the race.This seemed a bit contrary to our initial strategy but perhaps I was missing something. As I thought more about it I started to think maybe the team was just playing a joke on me and wanted me dead. Perhaps this was my punishment for showing up so late. Maybe Larbi, who I have come to realise normally ends up doing the lions share of all this work in races, was getting back at me. I bet he was back there right now with an evil grin on his face. I probably deserve it.

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Usually, it takes me 5-10 repeats of doing the wrong thing before I learn from my mistakes. I think I was born with the memory of some sort of goldfish. Well, it seemed that this season the same things kept happening to us, race after race after race: we’d get into a few breaks that wouldn’t stick… then the one break we WEREN’T in would get away. We’d be the suckers chasing it down with little help from anybody else and if it got caught, we’d be toasted, if it didn’t, we’d be racing for mediocre spots. Well… this must have been the 5-10th time I had learned this lesson because this was NOT happening again. So, although we were only 30 km’s into a 150km race and my legs felt dead already, I refused to let any breaks get away without one of our guys in them…

35km in and my legs were already feeling really fried. I had decided that it wasn’t likely that I would have anything left for the latter part of this race, so the best I could do was keep doing what I was doing and hope my efforts might contribute to keeping another OCTTO rider’s legs a bit more fresh. So, I jumped onto another attack. This group seemed to quickly gain a bit of a gap. This little breakaway looked like it just might have the right composition of riders so that nobody would bother chasing it. Within a minute or two we had a pretty decent gap. There were 6 or 7 of us. 20 seconds up. Then 30 seconds up (so Strava tells me). Everybody seemed to be working hard and I did what I could but was already struggling to take my turn on the front. I am a useless breakaway companion. These poor riders were stuck with me. Had this breakaway lasted for more than 10 minutes, they would have probably chosen to just get off their bikes and wait for the group rather than deal with me.

The one or two teams that were NOT represented chose to chase this one down. So, after a few more KM’s it all came back together. Then, back up the hilly section which was a bit more painful this time around. Only 3 more times and over 90km to go…. I was ready for the race to end already. I felt rough. So, I drifted towards the back of the group and let the team know I was going to neglect any more chasing/attacking/bridging duties and hoped that somebody else would go on patrol near the front. They did. Now, this race had become like most others for me. I was just trying to keep my spot in the pack. It was painful and I was dreading the next few hours and I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

I saw Bozek, Tommy and Larbi all move up to the front and they all worked like animals attacking and covering moves for the next bunch of KM’s. I hid and drank my sugar water.

I can’t recall if it was this lap or the one before, but at some point Gaelen Merritt and a DC Bank dude made a wild 2 man breakaway and quickly gained a 40 second on the group. How they can do that, I will never know. Team New World seemed to do most of the work to keep the gap from growing too large.

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Nearing the 3rd time up the hill I was getting worried that this might be where it would end for me. So, I used an opportune slow movement of the pack to go off the front and get a few seconds up on the group heading into the climb. By midway up the climb, riders were catching up and passing me. By the top of the climb I was barely holding onto the tail end of the group. But looking back I saw half the peleton behind me. What the heck? I recovered a bit and slowly moved up towards the front. I was the only OCTTO guy in this ‘sorta’-breakaway group of 15-20 riders. Even more oddly was that all of the big names didn’t seem to be in this group. I couldn’t quite figure out what was happening but considered it bad news non the less. I took stock of my situation. There were 75km to go and my legs were fried. I had a bit of water left, but had eaten all my non-athlete specific jube-jubes, as well as my sole cliff bar and what I really wanted to do was bail out of the race and go swimming. OCTTO’s chances weren’t looking very good at the moment.

Thankfully, after a few km’s our bizarro-sort-of-not-really-a-breakaway was caught and OCTTO’s hopes came back alive. Larbi, Tommy and Bozek were all present and looking strong. A few more KM’s in and the feed station was coming up. This was an important bottle to grab for me. Expert bottle deliverer, Joan, had my bottle in hand. I could see it from 100 meters away and zoned in. My hummingbird liquid was within reach. But, as I reached for the bottle she pulled it back. What the heck? Maybe the team really was trying to kill me. Was this some sort of conspiracy? No. Another rider was coming up behind me and had I gone further for the bottle we might have crashed. Smart move on Joan’s part but I had the feeling I was going to be thirsty soon. Bozek offered me a bottle, but at the time I felt I had enough to last me another round of torture. I soon realised I had lied to him and myself. My “full” bottle was basically an “empty” bottle.

The next lap the only thing of relevance that I recall was Larbi making a move right before the climb. He got a bit of a gap but it didn’t stick. I recall him saying later “I’ve only done one stupid thing so far”. This was a new record for him. Thinking back on the race, I recall seeing Larbi being uncharacteristically cautious with his attacks. I don’t recall seeing him countering his own attack even once. Perhaps he was subdued by his 40km TT the day before. There is probably a lesson somewhere in all of this but we won’t have any idea what it is until 5-10 more repeats of it.

110km in and cramps hit pretty full on. Why? Did it have something to do with having not enough water, or perhaps because I had been out of food for over an hour. Maybe something to do with all the earlier efforts I put in? No, it was definitely because those stupid jube-June’s weren’t packaged specifically for bike racers and they didn’t cost nearly enough and so, I was paying the price in a different way.

The cramps were escalating quickly. They skipped stage 1 and stage 2 and went straight to stage 3 on the ‘Nigel’s cramping scale’ (patent pending). I figured this was my last lap. Going into the final feed zone I felt like I was a drowning swimmer trying to catch the last throw of a safety line. I couldn’t screw it up. Feed zones can be tricky though. There are tons of people in the feed and they all have bottles, only one of which is meant for you.. I couldn’t quite see Joan yet when while looking for her, somebody stuck out a bottle right in front of me, within arms reach. I couldn’t resist. I grabbed it and tucked it away for safe keeping  . Then MY bottle came up and Joan expertly passed it over to me. Two bottles! I was a biking water station now. I was also off the back of the pack by about 30 meters and was beginning to cramp again. Shit….

*(I have a grey bottle with a black lid that isn’t mine – if you know the owner then #1 Thanks! and #2 I’ll get it back to you if you let me know who you are)

While trying to get back to the pack, a New World rider came up beside me and asked if I had any water to spare. Did I ever. Then, I made the move of the day. Perhaps the greatest move in all of my cycling career. I said I would trade my extra bottle to him if he would ride us back into the pack. What a brilliant move. I gave him his bottle and then I rode his wheel for a minute, and we were back in. I chugged my bottle instantly and felt much better. At this point I thought perhaps I was a bit frivolous with my extra water and perhaps should have traded better. Next time.

The last lap was FAST. There seemed to me to be lots of attacks to the base of the hill. Or, perhaps I was just slow. It was all I could do to stay connected to the back of the group and not get dropped. The cramps would come and go but I felt they were getting slightly better as things went on, no doubt a result of the expensive sugar that I put in my bottles – it had a picture of a cyclist on the front of the package and cost a lot so I knew it was the right stuff. For now, it was keeping me going.

The hill was coming up. I knew this was where the moves would happen. I tried as hard as I could to get positioned nearer to the front. Attacks went out and the group was starting to split up. I pushed as hard as I could. Gaps started to form ahead of me. I went around a few riders to try and close them. I could see Larbi just 50 or so meters ahead. I knew that if I could reach him by the top I could snag onto him before he converted into Larbi TT mode and maybe make it back to the group. All this would take is one more solid effort from the legs. But, I did a quick count and realised I had approximately zero more efforts left. I thought back to the frivolous use of my energy earlier on in the race. I thought about that time I went 20 seconds all out to catch onto a clearly doomed 3 man break…. and the time I started attacking just because somebody behind me told me to….

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After struggling through the remainder of the hill, bridging to the group ahead looked impossible. I worked with one other racer in a last attempt to chase back on. We held the gap steady for a minute but it was clear things were happening up ahead and that the lead group was charging forward, not to be caught by us. The gap grew. Then, a few riders from behind joined us, a few riders who got spit out ahead of us joined in and we were left with a group of 7 or so. We worked well together and all took turns pulling at the front (even me) in a desperate attempt to make it to the group ahead. Of course, this wasn’t going to happen.

I was absolutely fried. My body was covered in salt. I was completely out of water and very out of food. We still had 15 KM to go. When the other guys weren’t looking, I snuck a few licks of salt off my arms. Maybe that’s all I needed to keep the cramps at bay for a little longer. Or maybe that would make the dehydration worse, who knows. Would eating part of my arm would result in a net gain or net loss? We continued to work together and slowly people stopped taking pulls and instead started looking at one another. The 3km marker had come up and a few guys got dropped. Then the 2km marker. Then 1km left. Finally, I could see the finish line. I fought cramps over the line to finish 3rd in our little group which placed me 11th place overall for the Elite men.

In the ‘real’ part of the race, Larbi went on to bridge to the front group after the climb. A few guys attacked at some point and bridged to finally catch Gaelen who had been in the all day break (who still managed to hold onto 2nd!). Larbi attacked the remainder of the group going down a hill and succeeding in opening up a gap. He went on to finish 4th for the elite men, less than a minute behind the winner. Not a bad day for Team OCTTO.

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As this is probably the last race report for me this year, I’d like to thank the companies that sponsored our team.  Truly, we were set up right this season. All of the equipment was flawless.  Our Factor bikes were outstanding. Fast, aero, stiff. With smooth ceramic BB bearings, a split down tube that sheds rice and increases aerodynamics by splitting the wind that comes off the front wheel. What a marvel of engineering it is. The Black Inc wheels were the best wheels I’ve ever ridden on. They cornered beautifully and handled perfectly in winds. I’m sure their superior ability to corner saved me from going into at least one ditch. The Kallisto clothing and Garneau helmet kept me as comfortable as possible amidst the racing misery. OCTTO is to be thanked most of all and holds the team name for a reason – the owner brought it all together. Among many other carbon components, OCTTO sells the sweet bar tape we were all riding with this year and supplied us with those super nice carbon bottle cages. Those cages are the best. Seriously. They have a little rubber part in them to guarantee bottles can’t bounce out. I’ve never seen others like it but will always use these suckers because I hate dodging bottles in races when lesser cages can’t hold onto their cargo. Not to mention that I don’t like losing bottles, forcing me to use my arms as a salt lick. Great equipment all around. Thanks

And thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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