Monday, April 16, 2012

Spring Classics Double Bill: New York Hills, Ontario Gravel

Act I

 Tall Tree Cycles' squad of five dwindled to three by Friday's departure for the upstate New York. Iain, Todd and myself were not ashamed to admit we were into the minivan we rented for the trip. It made a great team vehicle. In addition, it provided fodder for the 'funny' border guard who commented on his surprise that Todd, a physician, didn't 'own a fleet of minivans.' Uh, right, thanks, bye now.

Matt's Truffle Pig in Battenkill trim. Would have been two Challenge Roubaix tubulars had Clarence-Rockland not destroyed the front in our pre-ride.
Race day. After a decent breakfast at the Hyatt Malta - where Mavic neutral support stays, btw, always neat to see -  and a short drive, we were in Cambridge, the race town. Lining up behind a couple Cyclery riders with at least ten seconds to spare before the gun went off, we were dialled. Our field of Masters 30-39 dudes was 100 strong, so as expected, the riding was easy until we hit the first real climb.

Iain's Cervelo, apres front wheel change. Light, stiff, aero. That's how Iain rolls. 
I knew I'd suck on the climbs, as I went into the race weakened by a virus. At the same time, Todd had perhaps 500k in him, and new he'd get hammered pretty hard. Iain, on the other hand, went in with excellent form. He was our guy. We kept an eye on the Specialized factory guys Iain knew would be dangerous, tried to stay well positioned, and take opportunities as they came.

Todd's Kirk is a thing of beauty, and it rides great too! He'd have had his Pave tubulars if we'd had time to pump them up....

The reality is, the shit hits the fan at about 72k into the 100k route, Wrights Road. The real climbing starts, mostly dirt, and goes for about 6k at an average of 2.6%. Sounds mellow, but big chumks of it are rough. If you've put in too much effort to this point, you're in trouble. As predicted, I'd been sucking on the climbs. Iain was good though, but he'd disappeared a short time before we hit the big climbs. Todd had been up front, but was fading. I'd let people take me on the shorter climbs, then get back on over the descent and flats. While the group was big, this was not a problem. But like I said, it gets real at about 72k, and there is no faking it.

I took the stepping climbs as fast as I could without exploding, watching riders string out ahead and behind me (Strava shows I averaged 29kph for the 6k, and that was not good enough, to give you a sense...). It was clear that a group was getting away. No helping that. Once up, one goes down, providing the opportunity to get a chase together. The group I came together with was about 10. Or something. But the climbing was not done. Another bump, 'Stage Road,'  hits at 90k, a little over 2k long. The average grade on this one is 5.6%, plenty to drop my average down to just under 20kph. This one felt horrible, but I was reeling in riders anyhow; I think the steeper grade was better for me. From there it we consolidated, reeled and skinned riders, and headed into the final. There were clearly a couple sprinters in our midst, so I hung fourth wheel, and got ready. Then I was out front with a gap. How? I don't know. Really. Heading into the final turn I had enough gap to maaaaybe hold it. But which way? Straight or right? Unclear; I was flagged right as I'd committed to going straight, so had to brake hard and narrowly avoided the curb. With that much speed scrubbed, they were barrelling down on me, and my in the saddle 'sprint' wasn't enough to hold off four or five of them. 17th place. Happy with that; it was not my day. Iain had indeed flatted and time trialled it in, and Todd finished about 5 minutes back, a strong ride, as always.

Hit Saratoga Springs for some health food store buffet, and rip home in the mini(van). No lame border guards on the Canada side.

Act II

Photo: Rober Roaldi
We had a big corps of trees out in Rockland Sunday morning to get intimate with massive gravel. Tanya, Alex, Rob, Jamie, Jim, Dave, Mike, Neil, Martin, Andy and myself were on site with all manner of tires, the hot topic in the week preceding the race.  See, the Clarence-Rockland area isn't like other places.  In Clarence-Rockland the gravel is supersized, upgraded, pimped out. Its gnarly, its gets all up in your grill. If you and your machine aren't tough, it'll chew you up and spit you out, shattered and holding the lifeless remains of your precious tires and tubes.

So I ran 25s. Wha? Good question. Tubeless. That's the important part. No tube to pinch. Ridiculously thick tire casing. Sealant. It'd be a rough ride, but Hutchinson Intensives are built to ride through the apocalypse. Others on the team were on file tread Vittorias, Hutchy Gatorskins, Grand Bois, Panaracer Paselas in 35c....generally nothing smaller than 28. While the Paselas held up perfectly and provided an excellent ride for all, pretty much everything else flatted. Scores of others flatted too, many of them among the strongest in the field.

But that was later. First came Jamie's break with Duncan Beard and another less than 5k in. Not bad, everyone had a hard time telling which of us he was. He held on up there for a while before getting pulled back, Duncan coming back later on. The most vicious gravel was removed from the route, but some good rough stuff came up early, causing the first round of flats. Unable to split the group, we rolled pretty coherently until the eventual victor, Michael Woods, rode off the front. I didn't see John Gee, time trial guru, go off, but realized later he was up the road too. The wind made breaks on the pavement difficult to stick, though many were attempted. It eventually became apparent that the gap was too large to bring the other two back, as nobody in the peloton wanted to drive the pace. We were certainly encouraged to, but had Dave, Neil and myself taken up that task, we'd have nothing left at the end, and our team-mates remaining would not consider themselves sprinters. So we waited for an opportunity.

Opportunity met preparation with less than 10k to go, as I rounded a left hand turn onto a hideous gravel road that descended at a mellow grade. I got through the turn first, saw the brutal surface and immediately sprinted. My tires hit many an ungodly rock, but held. Within a few seconds I had a gap, put my head down, and got into time trial mode. The gap increased. More tt, breath, keep the effort steady. Turning left onto pavement, I knew I'd have to get up and over the final grunt of a climb fast enough to maintain enough gap to hold on the following two short descents and slight uphill finish. Dropping into my 34t ring, I knew I was going to go slow, but too slow? Up top, my heart-rate was under control, and I still had a gap, but only about 5 seconds! I considered sitting up, as the group was small. Perhaps I could recover and take the sprint? Doubtful.

I looked back again; still 5 seconds! I was holding it, to my surprise. So I made the decision: go 100% and take the spot. And so it went. Full pace tt mode, ghost aerobar position, full tuck for the descents, I increased my gap enough to hold on despite slowing on the finishing grade...right behind John Gee! I'd had no idea he was so close, and clearly fading, but I was already at 100% effort, so there was no other gear to find. He finished meters ahead, and this is after he'd flatted...heck of a ride. My chasers were close, but not close enough. 3rd. I was ecstatic about following my instincts and sticking the move for the team. I couldn't have made it stick had I not done time trials last season; they are invaluable for teaching how to maintain steady hard efforts.

Dave climbed with the strongest guys in the chase group, and finished strong in 10th. Neil followed in 17th, Rodd in 20th, Mike 21st, Jamie 36th...full results are here. Flats were suffered by everyone else but Tanya. Its all about the tires. Overall, we thought the team rode really well, particularly Jamie, Martin, and Mike, who spent more time up front than they have before.

Thanks to the Ride with Rendall crew, all the volunteers, and all the out of town riders for making the event a success. We look forward to the 2013 edition already. But next, it's the Roubaix in Almonte, our favourite event of the season!

Photos here and here.

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