Sunday, April 8, 2012

Good Friday Road Race

This weekend marked the opening of the 2012 Ontario cycling season. The first event, The Good Friday Road Race, was a circuit race held just north of Hamilton. As I was in Toronto for family-related Easter festivities, I registered for this, my first ever O-Cup event.

The first race of the year always leads to reflection. Fitness level, season goals, even motivation for racing are all considered. Truth be told, I'm somewhat ambivalent about the season and racing. Racing is certainly a luxury. The commitment to prepare and compete requires sacrifice from family and other social pursuits. And yet, as a Masters racer, one never seems to be able to devote enough time to fully commit to reach their peak athletic potential. Races are won by those with a supreme genetic advantage, or those that have more time to train over their peers.

I went into the first race of the year with guarded expectations. My fitness level has increased over the past two seasons, but as usual, early spring training has been less than what was originally envisioned. I petitioned the OCA this year for an upgrade to the M2 category. While I didn't have any upgrade points, I felt capable of competing at a higher level and in longer distance events. Thus, I had a bit of anxiety about this choice and whether I was going to embarass myself in a category I hadn't really earned.

As it turns out, the race was well within my capabilities and even on the tame side. The 23 km/lap four cornered course had a few rolling hills, but nothing resembling the sustained climbing or relentless rollers of the Outawais. The biggest environmental factor was the wind, with a significant headwind-crosswind every half lap. A full 80 riders set off from the start in sunny, but cool weather and I spent the first lap re-learning how to maintain pack position. With 80 riders and the yellow-line rule in effect, moving forward in the peloton required some skill. I rode in the top third for the first lap and felt surprisingly comfortable on the hills. By the second lap, I had figured out how to hide in the crosswind and I defended my position against the yellow line, forcing those next to me to shield the wind. By half way through the third and final lap, I realized I was a bit further back in the peloton than I desired, although still nicely protected from the wind. As we approached the set of hills, I slowly inched up. A bit surprisingly, I was moving forwards rather than backwards as we started going up and I moved up into the top ten riders as we crested the final hill, with about 8 km to the finish. Three riders had slipped off the front during the ascent, but I had been too far back to participate in the break. I quickly joined the chase from the head of the peloton and even counter-attacked twice. Two of the three original escapees were quickly brought back to the main group, but one lone rider stubbornly remained 300 m ahead. And then no one wanted to chase. I'm not sure if everyone was counting on our sheer size to swallow up the escapee on the final run to the finish, if people were already conserving for the final sprint, or if people were truly tired, but we made no headway in catching the leader. I remained in the first five riders and contributed a few efforts to the chase, but when it was apparent no one would come around and maintain the momentum, it seemed rather suicidal, especially when I had no teammates in the race. So that's how we approached the final corner, with only a 500 m straight to the finish. I was nicely set up in about fourth wheel as we approached the corner, but as the pace inevitably slowed, we got swarmed and the peloton swelled from single file to four accross. I exited the corner in about 20th place and that's where I finished, not getting passed, but not passing anyone else. The lone escapee ended up taking the win, a lead that had shrunk to a 2 second advantage by the finish line.

So in the end, the race ended with my ambivalence. I still felt relatively strong and hadn't pushed myself to the limit nearly enough, and I didn't have a result to show for it. Perhaps better pack positioning for the final climb or a concerted time trial effort in a quest to catch the leader would have felt more satisfying, even if ultimately unsuccessful. The M2 category still felt a bit amateurish and filled with negative tactics. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that I'm strong enough to race M1, nor will I likely ever earn enough upgrade points.

The race was well organized and I met many friendly southern-Ontario racers. The steel bike was an anomally, but not unique, with a few Marinonis and a Colnago spotted. The Tall Tree kit was instantly recognizable and I received many complements. I'm excited and nervous for a more significant challenge next weekend at Battenkill.

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