Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2010 Hastings Highlands Hilly Hundred: Still the toughest ride around

Too beautiful not to share. This mist awaited us 2 minutes from the our abode, Jacques' farm.  T'was to be a perfect day, meteorologically speaking at least.
Since Rodd and I did the 4H four years ago, we were sold on the event. Sure, we, particularly I, suffered a fair bit that year, as we/I did the following year, but last year ended up being pretty good. Improvement was made each time, and we put in solid rides. However, we didn't ride with out team-mates much, and green bastards ended up strewn across the route. This year would be different, we had a new plan.
Krakalak. Daybreak at the farm. Pascal is up and attem, wollied and bearded; must be a Tall Tree guy. Yep.

Two groups, two objectives. The 'touring' group, composed of Rodd, Pascal, Jacques, Chris, and, by circumstance, Mike, had a clear mission: ride steady at a comfortable group pace and don't chase anyone. Group two, Rodd referred to as the 'pro' team, but the reality is we were and are just a bunch of masters dudes, three of 5 with children, who still like to hammer: Rob, David, Todd, Jamie, and yours truly, Matt. 'Prosers' might be apt. Having finished with the lead group the last couple years without team-mates, I was keen to ride as a team this time around. Rob, David and Todd were new to the ride, and Jamie was returning. I knew David and Rob would fare well, but Todd's lack of big miles this year and Jamie's still burgeoning form made their prospects unknown. From my perspective, success would mean the five of us would finish with the lead group, and our tourists further back would come in happy. Neither goal would be realized quite as hoped.

The 'tourists': Pascal, Rodd, Jacques (the most interesting man in the world), Mike. Notice the conspicuous absence? Read on.

Whoa, who are these studs? The prosers: Todd, Jamie, Matt, David, Rob. 3 steel bikes to two 'others.' Just sayin.

As seems to happen too often, my carload wasn't quite prepared for the 7:45am start, which led to a chase out of the parking lot. Only about 1 minute had been lost, so it didn't take a monumental effort to bridge up to the front. As Todd chased my wheel, Jamie jumped on as I overtook the TT tourists, and followed me up to David and Rob up front. Nathan Underwood, who joined us at Jacques' farm for the stay over, was up there too, spinning effortlessly. The pace was high to the first splendid checkpoint, as open roads allowed the peloton to cruise around 40kph. Selections were made in short order, sooner than previous years. I don't think anyone was trying to make this occur, but it did. Pulling into checkpoint one our group was about 20, and we moved quickly in and out. The pace continued briskly to checkpoint two, also typically 'manned' by friendly volunteers. Then we took it down a notch or two and settled into a more mellow all-day pace fit for the hills.

All were accounted for and faring well. Knowing the difference of a couple kilometers an hour could hurt Jamie and Todd too much, Rob, David and I made conscious efforts to maintain a steady moderate pace up a series of climbs. If others wanted to attack, that would be up to them. We'd set the pace when we could and keep it just shy or at tempo. It was working, and I could tell others were appreciating the manageable pace. Nathan was also setting a steady pace when pulling, measuring his efforts and avoiding surges. Consequently, our group was staying together well. More wind buddies for the open road sections sounded great to me. Then the tables turned.

Climbing a shallow grade on open highway after turning from a secondary road seconds prior, Jamie delivered unexpected news: Todd had dropped his chain and stopped. Rob and I eased up and looked back; Todd was hidden below the horizon. We agreed it would be hard to catch the pack if we waited much, but our choice was clear; Todd would not ride in purgatory, we'd work together and try to catch back up. Rob and I took the opportunity to take shot bloks and gel, preparing for the effort to come. Then we waited. When Todd emerged a couple minutes in, we rolled out and got up to speed quickly. Soon Dave was spotted ahead, preparing to join the chase. Meanwhile, Jamie was in the lead group, attempting to calm the horses. Time would tell whether he could. The pack was nowhere in sight.

The chase felt pretty good for a while, but my biofeedback was not sufficient to meter my effort well. After a series of hard pulls I realized I was digging myself into a deep hole. Rather than experience pain, my legs emptied. I was hollowed out, a translucent husk floating in the breeze. I swore. I felt like I jettisoned the team as I fast became the weakest link. Despite my implosion we were still gaining, and the pack, small as it was, was within shouting distance. Yet we dangled. Jamie floated back to help. We hung on...just barely. Then, turning a corner we spied a checkpoint. Elation. We'd done it, whether we could hang from there didn't matter, we were back on. Yet, elation turned to dejection as the others rolled out before we had finished filling our bottles. That was it, I knew it, WE knew it. We couldn't chase. I gave Rob an out: "You and Dave can go with them if you want." Rob's reply was emphatic, and carried a great deal of meaning: "No." It was settled, we'd ride on together, and if we caught them, fine, but our chase was done.

David picked up on my lost confidence as I lamented being thrashed. "Your legs will come back, they will," he said. I half believed him; I wanted to. Thing is, I'm not accustomed to the feeling of empty, useless legs, outside of the odd occurrence early in the spring at the end of long rides. I'm more accustomed to pain, and I'm perfectly content to feel that. You can push through pain, but you simply can't push through emptiness. I wanted Dave to be right. I did what I could, focusing on technique, eating, drinking, warding off the bonk hammer, and staying positive.

With perhaps 30k to go we picked up Edgars Apse and Don, both of whom I'd ridden with last year. Edgars was just wrapping up a flat fix so we waited and rode on, now seven. As foretold by David, my legs came around with about 20k to go, and we all managed to ride well for the duration. Edgars put in what might have been taken to be an attack as we rolled through town, leaving us waiting for a light and scratching our heads...hmmm. Regardless, we started as a team, and we finished as a team. Despite my personal disappointment about cracking, I had a lot to be happy about. David finished feeling awesome, meaning he's right on form for Crank the Shield later this week, his priority event for the year. I'm super happy for him and hope it goes really well. Todd rode his longest ride in years and turned himself inside out to hang in, showing grit, character, and astounding form. Jamie pulled off what had to be his strongest ride of his life, for which I am very proud. This has been a huge year for Jamie, and I can only look forward to new heights reached down the road. And of course, Rob was a consummate team-mate, demonstrating pure poise and class over the course of the day. The camaraderie we manifested exemplifies an integral part of cycling's beauty. 

Rob and Dave had to jet, leaving Jacques, Pascal, Todd, Mike, Jamie, Rodd and myself to take care of the eating. To my chagrin, there were no vegan veggie burgers again. I guess I should have emailed. I liken my un-burger of bun, onions, tomato pickles and condiments to a bad coffee; you just have to right the wrong with some proper food/coffee. My lovely wife and inlaws saved take-out from Green Earth back in Ottawa for me, so all was right again in the world by 8pm.

I suspect one of the TT Tourists will recount a tale or two from their perspective. Their day took a nose dive when Chris hit the ground at 50kph and sustained pretty heavy road rash on his right side. Locals were quick to help out, and Chris was well taken care of. Emails indicate he's got much more fight left in him and he'll be back on his bike as soon as he can. Live to ride another day!

Check out Rouleur Marc's great video here.

Our ride time was 5:53, at an average of about 32kph over 190k with 2500m climbing. 

Rodd's photos, including the a couple of first aided Chris, can be found here. 

Many thanks to Clive, Christine, and all the fabulous folks who volunteered their time to make the Hilly Hundred a great event, once again. There seemed to be more riders than ever this year, and it was great to see so many riders from Ottawa make the trip to Bancroft to ride. We'll be back in 2011.


David Stachon said...

"I was hollowed out, a translucent husk floating in the breeze"

LOL...that's hilarious.

A good story, and well told.

Andy said...

Hey Gang, it was great to see you there. This was my second time riding the event but I am pretty familiar with the roads because my in-laws cottage is just off the course. Last year I rode hard and stayed with the lead group until Wilno, but remembering how crappy the second half felt after not being able to hang on up the Wilno hill, this year I elected to drop back from the lead group just before the turn off the highway. With no warm up I didn't know if I could hang for long, and the pace in that first 30 minutes was pushing it for me (considering we had about 170 km to go). I decided it was preferable to ride at my own pace and enjoy the scenery rather than get shelled at the halfway point and experience that "hollow" feeling, as Matt describes it.

Fortunately, after riding on my own for only a couple minutes, I was caught by a fellow named Don from Vankleek Hill, and we ended up riding together for most of the day (kind of). Don was good company but he either lacked experience with or interest in group riding. He is primarily a mountain biker and did not seem too concerned with working together. He would let me draft him, and draft me on occasion, but then he would accelerate past, rather than maintaining his speed and letting me pull over when ready to rotate. Regardless, we were almost always within sight of each other which was enough motivation to keep the pace up. Sometimes I was the rabbit, but most of the time he was.

A group wearing yellow kits briefly made contact with us at the start of Fort Stewart, but they could not match our pace over the hills. Mountain biking pays off! Then, halfway between Combermere and Wilno we caught up with Russ and Jacques (from OBC, and my workplace) along with a Rapha-shod rider whose name I forget. Russ was just finished changing a flat tire and he soon charged ahead just after we made contact. Don and I leapfrogged them at the Wilno checkpoint, as Russ was putting more air in his tire. Surprisingly, they didn't catch the two of us again until the end of the highway 62 section. From there on, I rode with these three and Don dropped back, seemingly not interested in joining the group. I suffered a flat about 30 km from the end, and Russ and Jacques were glad for the excuse to stop. Don rolled past, after making sure I was taken care of. I felt strong right up to the end, when I got another flat just 2km from the finish! This time, I was unequipped to fix it so I just rode softly on a slowly-deflating rear tire, finishing up with average speed of 29.9 and an elapsed time of 6:20.

Anyway, it was definitely my best ride of the year, and I kind of felt stronger as the day went on. I don't know how I would have fared if I had stayed with you guys the whole way, but if your pace did indeed slow down after the initial highway section, I actually might have fared all right. Next year, guys... next year :)

Marc said...

Marc here from OBC/Rouleurs.

That last CP stop... CP#4 (or was it 5?)... I don't know what that was about!!! I got there had time to fill up one bottle, and Edgars, Nathan & Marc C. were already on the road as I was still filling up my second one.

Would have been cool to have a bigger group... Tall Trees was doing a really good job at keeping it steady & together, nulling out those surges guys like me and Egars would put in!

Video is here:

Matt Surch said...

We sure did our best Marc. There are few things more beautiful than a small peloton working in harmony, covering ground smoothly and quickly. I'd rather we come to be known as the guys who try to facilitate that sort of ride than a group of hammers taking no prisoners. I guess if hammers want to ride away solo they always can. I'm looking forward to another crack next year at rolling a nice fast group.

Aditi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.