Thursday, April 30, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Excellent race. Sub-excellent luck.
My wife, daughter and I headed South Friday morning. A pleasant drive through New York via Ogdensburg delivered us to our Hyatt in Malta, not far from Cambridge, where the race was to start begin and end on Saturday. After a sort drive over to Saratoga Springs, we were pleased o find a great health food store called the Four Corners that has a hot counter much like that of The Table and the Green Door here in Ottawa. We had an excellent dinner for a little more than $25 for two adults and child. It was nice to have complete that degree of control over what I was putting into my system on the eve before the race. To bed by about 10, I barely woke to hear Candace and Greg arrive some time around midnight.
A solid continental breakfast got us underway in the morning, and we were off to Cambridge to check in and get Candace ready to roll. The event was clearly as big as we had imagined; people were everywhere. The organizers had a very streamlines registration system going, and we were in and out. All we had to do was apply Candace’s cue sheet Greg has made up (mine is below), check her finicky rear derailleur, and get her bottles and food sorted. It was mild enough for a base layer under short sleeved jersey and shorts with knee warmers. Rain was a distinct possibility.
Candace left with her group at 10:55. They clumped the Cat 1s, 2s and 3s all together to fill out the field. After a few minutes, Greg was off with Candace’s and my bottles for the first of two feedzones. Before long, it was time to chamois up and spin around a bit.
My race was to begin at 12:05. The Cat 1s were to begin 20 minutes later. I wondered whether they’d catch our lead group.
Then it began. Rolling out of town, our field of Cat 2s headed for the addendum loop to the 100k route. Greg had marked the climb on the 32k addendum as fairly serious. It wasn’t. Its hard to really tell from the available information. The pace was steady on the flats, probably around 40 or 45k/hr, and the climb was not attacked. I was happy to see that I was having an easier time with it than some of the others. The rest of the addendum was pretty straighforward. Some fast downs, but fairly flat. I was a little perturbed about the way my legs felt – a little nervous, and barely warmed up. I was concerned I would not be ready for the real work to come.
After the initial 30k loop, we were onto the main route. The traffic was still very light, which was nice when we blazed downhills at speeds above 80k/hr on pavement and near that on dirt. I didn’t load up my legs anywhere, including a long dirt climb I though was Juniper Swamp, the steepest of all. I made the selection there, near the front, but the peleton regrouped anyway on the descent. Disaster struck soon after. Well, not disaster, more like misfortune. We turned onto a dirt sector, and I was positioned in the first third of the pack. I’d been making an effort to move up after repeatedly noticing I’d drifted to the back! Close to the wheel in front of me, I caught something dark in front of me just before I walloped whatever it was. The impact to my front wheel was so severe I knew I had to have flatted, even with my primo Challenge Paris Roubaix 28c open tubular! Hisssssssssssss. Of course. I made my way to the side and rolled over a ton of rough stuff before managing to stop. We were probably doing 45 at the time. I looked back and saw the wheel truck stopping for another rider. A moment of indecision. Fix it...don’t fix it...wait...fix it.... I pulled out my tube and C02, only to resolve to wait for a spare wheel. It took a couple minutes, but I knew I was out of contention anyway regardless. I wound up with a Taiwanese bladed spoked wheel of some description, with what seemed to be a 25c clincher on it. “Better not flat this sucker,” I thought. No computer now with the magnet gone. Chase.
Why chase? I was following my plan. I’d intended on staying with the lead group until the top of Juniper Swamp, then doing whatever I could. At the time I though that was what I had done. I suspect Juniper Swamp was actually a little further on now. I climbed it alone. It was fine. I don’t think it would have posed a problem. I knew in advance that a flat would mean I was going to be alone. If that happened, I’d try to finish strong and use the day as preparation for the Almonte Roubaix the next Sunday. So that is what I did. No negative thoughts, just: “This is how it is, so make the most of it.” I hammered as hard as I could sustain. I tucked all the downhills as tightly as I could manage; tight enough to bruise my chest. I caught riders – from my category, from others. One le Yeti rider from Montreal hung on until he could duck off to take a shortcut back. Why? I guess some prefer not to be seen off the back, for whatever the reason. I knew it might look like I got dropped because I couldn’t hack the pace. But looking like you are on it or off it is irrelevant to your capacity to ride hard. People likely saw me roll by and thought I was dropped. But I was getting incredible training in – certainly better than if I’d stuck with the pack – on my own.
After a long while the leader of the Cat 1 race passed me in a solo break. He was motoring, a BMC rider who had raced Roubaix and the other classics in Europe in the weeks prior. I resolved to keep him in my sights until I couldn’t. I kept that up for about 15-20 minutes. That was a small victory. Shortly after he was gone from sight the chase group of about 8 passed. I didn’t bother chasing them; that would not have been a good idea. Soon I was joined by a Cat 3 I had ridden and chatted with about an hour prior – he’d flatted too. He had dropped off my pace, but got back on with the help of a 53 year old racer I recognized from my field (I’m not an expert age-guesser, he told me his age later). As the rain came down we rode together, pulling equally for a while. Then the Cat 3 dropped off and it was just the two of us. We kept on the pace, but we had plenty of time to get to know each other a bit. We probably rode about 60k together, probably more. He had ridden the route the previous day and knew it well. He coached me on the upcoming sections, advising on pace. We reeled in many riders, and none got on.
The most difficult sections of the course were the stair step climbs. There were two sections, both near the end. One was dirt. I had switched to a new compact double 10sp SRAM drivetrain on Thursday; I was happy to have the 36x28 climbing gear. With that option I never loaded my legs up during the whole race. I’m not sure whether that’s good, but it was certainly odd. Rather than endure lactic acid pain, I just put steady hurt on my legs, and had to slug down lots of gel and shot blox to stave away cramping. And fluid. It worked. We crested the last dirt step and descended into the flats. My partner had prepped me: “Lets keep it under control up the last climbing section, then light it up with short pulls to the finish. I’ll lead you out so you can finish strong.” He was training for the Masters Nationals, which he plans on winning; I listened to him.
On the flat 5k or so into town I put it all into the pedals. He was driving hard and I was grimacing like a maniac to stay on his wheel. Falling off was not an option. I pulled as hard as I could, then dropped back, and on and on. He signaled the finish in the distance and I took the last pull. Within the last 100 meters I sprinted with everything I had, wobbling all over the place as my body struggled to control gross motor coordination. At the line my wind buddy took it with a wheel length. Awesome. I thanked him for being such a gracious wind buddy, and wished him luck with his season. 61st place for me. 68 finished. 101 were confirmed at the start.
Upon finishing I was eager to hear Candace's story. Turns out she rode well with the pack, and found herself in a chase group after a breakaway materialized. She endured some rather coarse coaching from one of the pro ladies, but learned from it. She was working hard with the group when she flatted. She fixed it, chased, and flatted again. She only had 2 miles to go, but no additional tube or support vehicle. I suspect she would have finished in the top 3 of the Cat 2s has she not flatted. She was happy with her effort and the overall experience, and I think she will be keen to take another crack next year.
I'll do everything I can to return to the race next year and try my luck again. Maybe I'll get to find out how it goes without a flat.
I'd characterize the event in the following way: rolling hills, nice dirt roads with no difficult turns, buff dirt, blazing downhills, scenic, well organized. I would use 28s again; it'd be nice if everyone did, as the smaller tires made riders respond to cracks and other roughness erratically. That's dangerous. The 36x28 climbing gear was nice, but a strong rider can get away with a taller gear if desired. I'd run a 37x27 if I had the choice.
Interesting sights seen: 1) On the way we spotted one serious rider, on a TT bike wearing a baggy wind breaker, tights, and an aero helmet over a baseball cap. 2) Amish horse and carriages. 3) A bat hunting mid-day over a pond. 4) Numerous laughable store names: Wise-Buys, Family Dollar, Save-a-Lot, Price Choppers.
After leaving Malta, my fam and I headed for the Lake Placid area to spend the afternoon and night. We found a great hostel in Keene Valley for $25 per adult per night. Laundry, showers, kitchen, great family running the place. Lake Placid was not interesting for us. Many say its great, but we were not impressed. No cool cafes or food spots. WIthout that we are not interested. 'Rustic' shopping and the Gap can be found there though, if that's your thing.
I took an early morning ride on Monday from Keene Valley to explore a bit. I found many private dirt roads lined with expensive cottages. One took my up for a while. Nice descent. Later I found a paved road that took my to Keene, the next town. It was winding and rolling - very scenic and fun. I took some pictures, below. This area might be a good place to stay and launch rides from. The Hostel is perfect. The question is whether there are enough backroads to get away from the traffic. We have far more dirt backroads around here, since it is less mountainous. Down there, any road that goes anywhere is paved.
Long dirt climb
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
Jamie and I headed for Toronto at 5pm on Saturday. At around 9:30 we pulled up to our host's place and settled right in for a little pre race bike related banter. Good times. Up by 6am, we broke our fasts efficiently and chammied up.
As the sun came up I took the photo above of my first generation Roubaix and Jamie's brand new one. I had no qualms about subjecting mine to whatever was in store, and neither did he. Good on em. I think he was a little surprised by what followed.
Rodd opted for his custom steel True North with 30c Grand Bois tires, and Brad (who also used to work for a Specialized dealer) had his Tarmac rolling on 24c Vittorias - just like the pros except in open tubular.
And off we went.
Getting up to Musselman Lake took no time. Registration was smooth, and we had opportunity to grab muffins and coffee to top up our levels. I could sense some apprehension in the air, but for most part the riders assembled seemed pretty relaxed about what was to come.
As we layered up for the weather and checked out tire pressures we took our last looks at our bikes in their undefiled states, and mounted to head over to the start. The main organizer from La Bici Squadra - who's name I did not learn - clarified all the necessary details... "This is a 'tour,' not a 'race;' the usual fare for sportif events. After that detail is take care of we can all go ahead and start calling it what it is: a race. Cool. Neutral start for a couple kms at most, then its to be game on. Cool. No butterflys, just ready to go.
We all stick behind the pace van as prescribed. Once we pass the designated Stop sign its go time. And people go. I positioned myself near the front to keep an eye on things. A few guys put the hammer down right away, but it was no problem for the pack to follow. The van paced rolled just in front of us to the left, filming the pack. This conjured recollection of the segment in Pure Sweet Hell (1:20) where the rider is being filmed hammering behind a pace motorcycle. Did we have pace motorcycles? Uh, no. But there were some dudes with huge legs! More on that later.
It seemed the camera solicited some Kodak Courage, as a few riders tried hammering off the front in what might have been confused for breakaway attempts. I didn't think so. It was too windy for that to stick. Instead, the attempts were just entertaining. One of the attackers was a stocky guy on a mountain bike with narrow tires. 'Whoa, that's weird,' I though to myself. I figured he was just trying to liven things up, because he had to know that he would not get any where. I could tell by his composure on the bike that he was an experienced rider. Sure enough, afterward he rolled over to chat with Brad; it was Adam Ruppel of Chico Racing. He'd ridden most of the way with Brad. They had a good time.
The attacks were quelled by the first climb. It was a pinchy one close to the entry of the first offroad section, and it definitely hurt people. When the pack entered the woods Hell broke loose. I was near, but not at the front, and this was a mistake. Most of those ahead braked hard upon seeing the snow an ice, and consequently had difficulty handling their bikes. Being an ex downhill mtb racer, I tend to like to carry momentum over really nasty stuff, and am not shaken by packed snow and ice, but not everyone has spent time working on that kind of riding. So riders were sliding out, crashing, and generally all over the place. I made it through the carnage, just skirting around an unfortunate fall a guy who took a header into an ice covered, water filled rut. Then it was pursuit time. Not for long though. Apparently, this section, Boag Road, pretty much runs through a swamp. a long section was deep water. I did not even consider riding it; wet feet could have ruined my race (I'm prone to cold extremities). Instead, I, like the others in front of me, ran along the sides. This was ok, but very slow. Rodd passed somewhere along here and pulled away. He is a superior runner compared to me, and always moves well on his feet. By the time I exited the bog Rodd was about 300 meters up the road. I chased and caught him without having to work too hard, then we worked together. We caught another guy and he joined us. As a trio we moved well, and progressed into and through 'The Trench' smoothly. This section was excellent. It was whoopy - I presume from snowmobiles - and a nice surface of soft yet quick dirt. Very few hazards came up to pinch tubes, and there were few sections that required dismounts. We rolled at a consistent 30k/hr, with Rodd setting the pace and picking the smooth/fast lines. A race with more sections like this with turns and elevation change would be a treat.
After the Trench we continued on, only to find ourselves turn a corner into a true Roubaix (2006) moment: a train crossing the route. Three riders were waiting while the lead group was up the road continuing on. In my mind this was a blessing: more wind buddies for us to work with. I don't know whether the three were close enough to have reeled in the other 5 up ahead; I'm thinking it could have gone either way. Once the train had crossed we continued, and got going fast right away. I felt good and did some work, and Rodd was right there, but a bit down the road, the group was down to four. There was a diagonal wind (there must be a proper term for that) blowing and we worked well together pulling through rapidly. Once we hit the biggest climb of the route I had to slow. The two strongest pulled away (one of which had monster legs!), and maintained a gap while the other rider and I had to take it down a notch. Ed, his name was, of the Sound Solutions team, was very strong. I suspect he was strong enough to hang with the other two, but probably lost his chance when he was behind me on the climb as they pulled away. He was very gracious, and put in the lions share of the work as we took on the remaining 20 odd kilometers remaining. At points we were cruising the flats at 45k/hr, and I thought of the Roubaix, where the winners tend to average around 43-45. We had a tailwind though. The final offroad sections were either too deep with snow or too sloppy with gooey mud to ride a lot of. A moment after remounting his bike, Ed's rear derailleur sheared off. He took it in stride and wished me a good finish. There was no way I was going to gun for his position, but I wound up with it by default. But not without effort. I turned back with about 3k to go, while in an offroad section, and saw another rider! After my lapse in Uxbridge late in the race I refused to be overtaken. Despite cramps coming on in my hamstrings and quads (I've never had quads cramp before???), I stayed focused and kept on it. The final dirt bit was fairly mental - in a good way - with a steep descent that was severely rutted and sandy. It was very difficult technically, and really spiced things up late in the game. I made it through with a dab and when I looked back the rider was gone. Nevertheless, I rode as hard as I could manage for the remaining kilometer or so and rolled through the finish properly destroyed. Rodd followed soon after, then Jamie and Brad. All had stories to tell, and were happy to have raced. Brad was smiling the biggest, having taken on the challenge despite uncertainty; it was a personal victory. His elation was the highlight of the day for me. Jamie was pumped too, having ridden really strong and smart. He loved the Trench and wasn't too sad about putting his brand new bike through the wringer on its maiden ride.
The day was muddy for the feet, but worse for the bike. Mid-reach calipers would have fared better, but I think cantis are the best option. I cleared frozen mud from my brakes at the train, but in the last section my wheels would not turn as I pushed it. Riding it took care of the mud pretty well over a couple minutes though. All of the riders ahead of me were on cross bikes. A nearly smooth center tread 'cross tire with minimal cornering knobs might be idea for days like yester. We'll see how things shape up next year with the weather.
The event was really well organized, the course clearly marked. All the racers received Rapha winter hats, and some scored additional draw prizes as well. Mike Barry was on hand to present the winner the trophy that had been used for the annual race he organized for so many years. It is an actual cobble from the Forest of Arenberg; very special indeed. There was plenty of soup and vegan chili (I was hoping there would be!) on hand for all the riders and volunteers. A great day in the saddle could not have ended in better fashion. If only we didn't have to drive home...
The Top 25:
Jamie ended up 32nd
Brad was 40ish
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
On Sunday Rodd, Jamie and I will experience the return of 'Toronto's Paris Roubaix Challenge' in its new instantiation: The Hell of the North. While this spring has failed to serve up hellish conditions for the coming weekend, some of us have put in our fair share of riding in the cold and wet; I think we are ok with riding in the sun. If this is the case, the route may not be anywhere near as nasty or epic as prior years - one where the riders had to endure freezing rain! - but rather dry. We shall see. Our trio will be running Challenge Roubaix 27c (Jamie and I) and Grand Bois 30c tires (Rodd), which should be perfect, on our rough roadies - two Specialized Roubaix's and a custom True North (I have a custom Steelwool Roubaix style bike in the pipe).
C'mon back Monday for a full report. Happy Easter weekend!
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Friday, April 3, 2009
Icebreaker 'Bobsled Run' on the 29th