Sunday, April 26, 2009

RaceReport: OBC Paris-Roubaix 2009

While I don't think we were pounded nearly as hard as the riders above in the OBC's great poster for this years edition of our local Roubaix, we were treated to plenty of dirt and gravel today.

Sure, we didn't get the +26 sun forecasted earlier this week, but we didn't get rain either. We did receive a sprinkle, but nothing significant. This was a nice improvement over last year's cold wetness.

This year brought the largest turnout yet of riders from our regular group, including none other than Kent from Phat Moose, out for his first ride of the year on his vintage Berma. The Tall Tree shop keepers and wrenches were all on hand - Will, Thom, Brad and Steve, along with TT team members Neil, Candace, Greg, Rodd and myself. The rest of the crew was rounded out by Glenn, Jamie, Jeff, Mark, Chris, Stu, Andy, Giacomo, Dom, Marco and my old friend Jim. every year seems to bring a few more for a taste of the action. I've only done the Roubaix three times now, so I don't know how the field size compares to years gone by, but the group did seem larger than before. It seems to grow each year. I know for certain that at least a couple riders from the Toronto area were in attendance who I recognized from the Hell of the North. One was the rider with massive legs I mentioned, the other, Sean, who I rode with for a long time before he suffered a sheared derailleur. He rolled up to me in the peloton today and said hi. That was cool; nice to see the race attracting riders from away.

So what happened? Well, the 'not-race' began with a neutral rollout for about 1.5k. In the previous two years we stopped at an intersection, lined up, then went. This time we didn't stop. This surprised a few people for certain. The first section was a fast loose gravel road that descended slightly. We were flying right off the bat. Gravel flew everywhere, striking bikes and bodies. Just like the other races I've done this year, I took a few stones in the face. It doesn't really hurt, but it makes me apprehensive about chipping a tooth. Oh well. Glasses are pretty handy. The pace settled in and riders were rolling pretty predictably. I was resolved to stay near the front, and this was going well. Good thing. The first offroad section was hit or miss. There were ruts of extremely sticky mud that nearly stopped me dead. One rider crashed on a rut, but was fine. We were strung out, but I maintained contact with Benoit Simard, so I knew I was ok. Benoit works for Specialized, and one of his roles is race team coordination. He was riding in the EMD-Sorono squad. I am aware of his skill and strength as a rider, so I knew I'd be ok if I kept close to him. It required some hard work to bridge up the the leaders out of the woods, but it turned out they sat up soon after anyway, so many of the stragglers go on. The group was still pretty large. Neil was up front, visibly strong. The other Tall Tree rider I expected to see in the group was Rodd, but he wasn't there. He didn't make it through the woods fast enough to stay on. He rides the technical stuff very well, but when you're not close enough to the front there is only so much you can do. He told me later that his group was 30 seconds behind us for a looooong time. That's gotta be frustrating.

As I'd suspected, the leaders tended to attack out of the right degree turns from road to road, but I kept myself positioned well enough to stay where I had to be. A few minor breaks materialized here and there, but nothing really stuck for a while. I tried to stay on Greg Reain's wheel as much as possible, hoping to learn a thing or two while staying safe. I also made a concerted effort to maintain my position in the pack, something I failed to do well at Battenkill. The trick is to keep your bars between the rider's bars on either side of you. Riders behind cannot move up on you when you are positioned this way. Cool.

There was far more dirt road this year than what I remember from the older route. Beside some fairly serious potholes, the surfaces were pretty good. There was a lot of loose stuff that produced some great fishtails. Action.

The next crucial section after cruising for a while was the switchback climb. It was in really good shape, which allowed me to pull off an unplanned ascent in my 50x26. Whoops. Should have tried to shift before the pressure was on. I got off lucky there. As expected, the leaders attacked off the top, but catching back up was not too brutal. Onto the road again, a break came together after a while. I couldn't see very clearly who was in it, but it looked like riders from each of the big teams were there. Before long, Neil and I could tell that the guys up front were trying to neutralize the pack in order to let their riders get away. It seemed that way anyhow. I told Neil the last woods section was coming up in about 8k, and that we'd want to be close to the front at the entry. He agreed.

My tip sheet put the woods at about 68.5k into the route. At about 62k Neil was dangling about 15 meters ahead of the peloton; nobody wanted to bother reeling him in. I was struck be a moment of inspiration: attack, take Neil and bridge to the break by the woods! I'm no tactician, being a neophyte when it comes to road racing, but it seemed like a great idea. I increased the pressure and threaded the needle up the middle between two riders and bridged up to Neil, calling 'Lets GO!' as I passed him. I didn't slow. He didn't get on. I turned around and there was no response from the peloton, so I stayed on the gas. Before long, I could see the break, but I could no longer see the pack. I was covering ground fast, but after a while I was no longer closing. I was dangling. I looked back - nobody. That continued for a while... a long while. 68k came and went. So did 70, 72, and so on. I had been away for at least 10k when I turned around to see a group of four chasers. Neil was one of them! Phewf. I slowed, they passed, and I got on Neil's wheel.

Before long we entered the woods. On of the riders was Aaron Fillion. I didn't see the other well enough to recognize him - I certainly don't know the bulk of the local racers. They pulled away in the woods as Neil and I maintained a steady, fairly smooth pace through the rocks. We were both tired. After exiting Neil was pulling hard and I saw two chasers. They caught us around the second last turn: Greg Reain and Benoit Simard. We latched on and hung on fine until Greg unleashed just after the last turn (I think - maybe just before). Benoit did not match it, so I was able to stay on his wheel. We finished like that, with Neil right there. Neil and I felt confident that we had made the top ten. 

Edit: The results went up today and they show that Neil and I were wrong about the number ahead of us. There had been a break earlier that we though was pulled back. The results show we were wrong. The chase group we went after was behind the initial break. I ended up 15th on the GC, Neil in 16th. This put us in 9th and 10th for senior men. Still a top ten on paper, but it would feel much better to make the top ten on the GC with the field so stacked. Maybe next year we'll have more team members to work with; that'd be a novel experience.

Stu came in next, followed by Rodd, Candace, Mark, Jamie, and the rest of the gang in a trickle. Candace was the third woman to finish. I think she'll be aiming to bump up from there next year. Of all, only Thom suffered a mechanical, a flat. He's listed as a Masters D rider - which puts him somewhere over 60 years old I think. Nice finish ol' timer!  Everyone seemed to have a good time of it, though I think Jim would have really preferred not to have bonked with 10k to go! All were thrown off by the total distance. My computer read just over 84 k from town, putting the route around 82ish. That's about 10 over the total based on the map, which I supplemented with distances of sectors from Bikely. I think we'll have to do recon in order to get accurate distances next year. Its important to know where the woods are.

A great morning of racing was capped by some great food and coffee at The Grounds on Main street. I couldn't have been happier with the result, having worked with Neil and finishing with riders I have much respect for.

None of us seemed to remember our cameras, so I have no before and after shots to share; sorry. I didn't see a single photographer on course, but if I find any shots I'll post them. I'll put up the results when they become available.

NOTE: Tall Tree is having their GRAND OPENING on May 9th. I'm not certain what sort of festivities will be in effect just yet, but I'll follow up. Whatever goes down, I suspect it'll be a fun event. I'll likely be there helping out, so if you're in the neighborhood, pop by and say hi.

It is likely that the following Sunday (May 17th) we'll do a big group ride to Paughan Dam. It'll be a moderate pace sort of thing, probably around 150-160k, with plenty of dirt roads. We'll have some posters up for that at the Grand Opening. If you fancy getting onto some backroads for a good dirt flogging, join us.


Anonymous said...

cool report...
couldn't make it to the race this year. I'm in Vancouver taking up some mountains. Love it!

Post the time and place for next Sunday. I'd love to hit up the dam!

csimmons44 said...

Results are up at, top 15 Matt not bad at all! It was chaotic, frightening and, a great time.

Matt Surch said...

Thanks Chris. I did some edits last night after getting the results list.

On the group ride front, I've set a tentative date for the Paughdan Dam group ride: May 17th. This is the Sunday of the Victoria Day long weekend.

It will be heretofore referred to as:

'The Ride of the Damned'

Details to follow.

Andrew said...

Had an awesome race, being my first ever road race and I ended up riding with Candace for almost the whole race. We missed a turn early on, and I had some minor cramps right before the final off-road so had to let up a bit for the final few km. Ended up finishing only 20 seconds back from Candace which I was quite happy with. 8th place independent!

Anonymous said...

good job out there Matt!
Keep'n cool on the wheels...

and, away from the glamor queens.

you kinda remind me of this guy:

wickedly fast rider.
Avoids the glamor (this guy could make it pro, but is totally grass roots)

I was telling people on the weekend that you guys go out in the winter for rides... they couldn't believe it that you guys ride from Ottawa down the 105 in the winter.

Good to see. We need more of that in Ottawa. Against the grain sorta stuff...
really pisses off the glamor queens.

Matt Surch said...

Thanks Anon. Everyone in our group is a cyclist foremost I'd say. We all started as mountain bikers, and integrated road into the mix through time. Whereas riding was just something some of us did a couple days a week at one time, its something we all do everyday now. We ride to work, to the store, to parties and shows. Our all-weather bent crosses over to road; we don't have the same lens most dedicated roadies do. Its a difference of perception. We know we can be comfortable in awful weather because we've done it before. So we ride in February if its safe enough and we can stay warm enough. The fact that there are others in the group who are willing to ride in winter conditions has a LOT to do with the results I've managed this month. I will ride alone, either by choice or necessity, but having friends along to share rides over 100k is really helpful...and more pleasant.

As to those who prefer the glamorous side of the scene, I say to each their own. Cycling attracts all kinds of people; I've encountered quite a broad spectrum while working in shops. Some are in it for the flashy bikes and kit, others for the silent satisfaction of effort well spent. I have no issue with people who are more into the style than the riding, as long as they have a good attitude about it. I've met many who openly admit that they are kind of lame on the bike, but just really love everything about the race scene - the bikes, the kit, the accessories. Cool, that's honest. The only people who I have issue with are those who fail to maintain perspective on who they are and what they are doing. Too cool for school isn't really that cool. I admit I don't speak as an insider when I say that I perceive this local scene as being quite core and down to earth. For example: Glen Rendall lent me a wheel last year at a cross race in Almonte after I'd destroyed my tire in the race and had a ride of the Roubaix route planned for after. Glen did not know me, but was happy to lend a wheel. That is something one would do because they love riding, and knows what it is like to have riding plans ruined. There is no glamor element there. Come to think of it, it seems the whole Ride with Rendall team is anti-glamor, and they are a force on the scene. I suspect my view on this glamor question is tainted by the fact that the only straight road race I've done is the Grand Prix, the others being Spring Classic type events that seem not to attract those who only ride in white kit. There was no glamor at the Hell of the North or Battenkill, just riders gettin it done.

Anonymous said...

some race just for glamour.
Harlan Price for example, has beat many many top riders.
Yet, his grass roots demeanor kind of inhibits him from moving into the pro scene where things (I suspect) are a bit more clicky...

truly admire him for that kind of.
But, it kind of limits him in other ways. Kind of loss to him.

ride to/from parties - hear yah there brother...
went to a bike party this weekend. With shooters while riding...
then a bike home at 2 in the morning through the gats to home...

just for the love of biking!

Anonymous said...

Opps, forgot this - I love riding in the US. It has some glamour clickiness... but, for the most part is pretty laid back.

picture a race - racing for 9 hours then eat a huge meal then free beer!
nothing beats that...

Anonymous said...

oh yah, let me define glamor though....

when you guys show up on your rides with those big azz fenders - just love it!!! that's not glamor. That's functional! It works!
And, its kind of against the grain!

when you guys show up looking much more different then everyone else - just love it!!! that's not glamor.
Just works! Against the grain.

People that sell glamor sell shit.
(its like a paris hilton thing... who would screw that anyhow... menu of infestation! that's not glamor, that's "shit")

I surely hope that tall trees is different from most other bike shops/clubs out there that sell glamor (not to mention any and not suggesting all).
I surely hope that tall trees starts developing good kick ass Canadian product that lasts. May not be glamorous. But, the stuff lasts and just kicks ass.

Harlan, for example, rides for IF. I have only heard good things about IF bikes. Not fancy bikes. No sparkles to them. Just good quality product that lasts and is engineered well.
That's what I talk about when I mean glamor.
There are many that sell "shit". And, then everyone buys into the "shit". It's like a complete fk fest of "shit" being sold on glamor.
I surely hope tall trees never deviates that way.
That's what I mean by glamor.

Andy said...

Hey Guys, I think I get what you're saying. I've been having trouble putting my finger on it but here goes:

As far as kick ass Canadian product that lasts that is what Steelwool is all about. I've been on my new Tweed for about a month now but I can already tell this bike will probably be with me for life.

Unfortunately, the big companies like Giant Trek and Specialized would not be so big if everyone just bought one bike for life. So they are really in the business of convincing people to buy the latest ultralight wunderbikes, the opposite of what the majority of riders would actually benefit from (ride quality, fit/comfort, durability).

When I walk into Tall Tree and see that half the bikes are steel and like 90% of them accept racks and fenders, I get the feeling that they're just a little more in touch with the "common cyclist". I think this is what drew me to Tall Tree in the first place.

However, as for "cycling glamour" I think that there are many different ways to define it. In many ways, the stylish urban fixies are the ultimate glamour bikes: