Monday, April 13, 2009

Toronto's Hell of the North: Sweet Suffering

What luck to have had opportunity to experience the revival of Toronto's Paris-Roubaix inspired race on Easter Sunday. The event was a success, and I think many will return for more next year. I plan to.

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.

Jamie, Brad, Rodd

Pinkie and Tarmattack!

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.

If I find the footage later and post here, you will likely see me riding on the front for a bit before the first offroad bit. Am I stupid? Well, yeah, often, but in this case, I was trying to warm up. My legs and feet were numb with cold to the point that I knew I was pedaling fine, but couldn't really feel anything. I figured I could get rid of the numbness and prepare my legs for the first real climb if I did a little extra work out front. One might suggest that it would be warmer to stay in the pack. I agree, now, but when I race I am dumber. I don't think this effort out front was a big mistake. I warmed up and was not cold again, and I felt ok on the first steep climb.

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.

Brad, happy!

Jamie, stoked!

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.

Not bad - miraculously dry

This bike might never look like this again. Awesome.

My computer worked despite this coverage. Radio waves are relentless.

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:
98 starters
1. Cameron Jette 2:55:47
2. Nathan Chown 2:58:11
3. Justin Hines 2:59:48
4. David Dermont 3:00:18
5. Bryan Rusche 3:05:12
6. Andrew Bradbury 3:05:13
7. Sean Kelly 3:06:50
8. Matt Surch (64) 3:10:14
9. Jamie Davies 3:11:00
10. Marco Li 3:11:16
11. Evan Mundy 3:12:30
12. Derrek Ivey 3:12:44
13. Rodd Heino 3:14:10
14. Kyle Douglas 3:14:59
15. Jay Murad 3:15:44
16. Tom McDonough 3:19:24
17. Rick Meloff 3:20:00
18. Paul Beit 3:21:10
19. Sam Bail 3:23:01
20. Mike Greenberg 3:23:02
21. Gary Fogelman 3:23:15
22. Craig Barlow 3:23:18
23. Keith Hopkins 3:23:24
24. David Anthony 3:24:00
25. Rod Olliver 3:25.58

Jamie ended up 32nd
Brad was 40ish


the original big ring said...

Great write up Matt - good times indeed!

Where did you find the results?


Matt Surch said...

Thanks Craig. We saw the results on-site. They were on the table up front.

Andrew said...

Wow, sounds like you guys did a hell of a job down there! Thanks for the great writeup as always, I was on the edge of my seat just reading it.

LOL.. the captcha phrase below is "hamma"... seems quite appropriate.

Matt Surch said...

Photos found here:

csimmons44 said...

An exciting spring season so far.

Ride out to Carp tonite? Lost your email.

The Vegan Vagabond said...

You have the best race reports Matt. I don't know how you remember the details so clearly. Felt like I was there. Exciting!
Those brake pictures are awesome.

Matt Surch said...

Thanks fellow Vegan crusher! Certain things stick while I've got big voids elsewhere. I was worried the length was approaching if not surpassing windbaggish, but since there is positive feedback I'll keep it thorough. Saturday should be the hardest thing I've ever done on my bike; I should have plenty to write about.