Monday, July 16, 2012

2012 OBC Grand Prix: Root Rocking Roundup

Cyclists compete during the The Ottawa Bicycle Club Grand Prix, held in Gatineau Park on July 14, 2012. It is the largest annual bicycle race in the country, with over 600 cyclists participating in various categories.
Image: Ottawa Citizen

The Ottawa Bicycle Club's Grand Prix returned to the Gatineau Parkway after a sinkhole on the North Loop kept the race away in 2011. Hot weather greeted riders from out of town, as did the Col de Fortune. Local riders know the climb well, but out of towners don't. Could it be used tactically? We'd find out.

A strong crop of Tall Tree Cycles riders were out to contest Saturday's race. In the Master 40-49 category: Jim McGuire, David Stachon, and Mike Abraham. We consolidated most of our firepower in the Master 30-39 race: Rob Parniak, Iain Radford, Jamie Pold, Andy Brown, Alex Michel, Todd Fairhead, and myself. Dave sprinted to our top placing in the M40, 8th, while big Jim moved one step closer to hanging on up Fortune each time. That's the dry stuff, lets get on to the juice.

We knew we had the potential to win, but we'd have to plan and execute. Emails flew, we did a couple of practice loops, and pretty much decided our plan was to wait and see. PRO. The thing is, the GP course is VERY difficult to get away on, unless you are head and shoulders better than everyone else, in which case you should not be sandbagging. One aggressive rider is not enough, many are required. There is virtually no flat road to consolidate a break, so the only way the race will really break up is if a strong group attacks hard off the top of Fortune and drills it. But deep teams seem to be required to do that, and it’s a gamble. We'd considered such a tactic, but a couple digs off the top revealed that other teams did not want to throw the dice. It would come down to a sprint.

Meanwhile, a bunch of racers from the Senior 3 and Junior men became 'entangled' in our peloton. I use scare quotes to mock their exhortations:

Me: "Are you off the front or off the back?"
S3: "I don't know."
Me: "Right. You guys can't use this group to consolidate your lead."
S3: "We're not trying to."
Me: "Right...."

Our pack had caught the S3/Junior riders, apparently the first occasion in 14 editions. Rather than letting us ride past, and continuing on their way, they incorporated into our peloton. Weeeeee, free ride! Many in our group were vocal about them leaving, but they made no real efforts to do so. Rather than sitting up, letting us go, and carrying on, they made half hearted attempts to get off by riding to the left, only to pull up front on climbs. In effect this nonsense neutralized our race, as we could not tell who was who, thereby making break attempts uncouth. We could not rid them until the fourth lap, their last, where we had to sit up to let them ride off the front. Meanwhile, there was at least one strong M40-49 rider in the pack for most of the race, attracting less attention. I didn't know what to make of that.

Ultimately, after attempts to draw out riders off the front on a few occasions late in the race, it was all about the sprint. Iain, was cramping, Todd was still good, Rob, Jamie and Andy were gone, and Alex looked fine. We drove the pace into the final 2k, then tried to organize. Inside the red kite, Iain, yelled 'GO,' so I began the leadout, ramping it up. Looking back, Iain was not there, nor was Alex, and I was off alone. Too early, there was no way I'd hold it. I sat up, waited for a wheel, Bill Hurley, got on and waited. The sprint opened up with about 300m to go, and I waited on Bill's wheel, then jumped off onto the Provincial Champ's wheel. I was good for one acceleration, but started to fade as riders pulled up and past, so I put my head down and dug deep, holding on as well as possible (apparently its OK not to look where you are going in a sprint). Meanwhile, Alex came up with speed, grabbing 5th; I trailed in 7th. Iain and Todd finished side by side a little outside the top 10, while Rob brought the second pack in.

The Grand Prix is a tricky race. On the one hand, if you can handle the climbs, you can opt to sit in and do your best in the sprint. Some will have no choice but to play this card. Others with teams and ambition will be tempted to make something happen. The tension is thus: race versus group ride and sprint. We were not strong enough to go ballistic off the top and hold off the peloton.

I've often been tempted to think that harder courses make for better racing. In reality, that does not generally seem to be the case. Take The Tour Divide race for example, possibly the hardest bike race anywhere. Exciting? No, not the appropriate term. Hard? Definitely. The Cote Lac Fortune is a hard climb at race pace, but for the Master 30-39 crowd, not hard enough. 30 riders finished within a couple seconds, showing that attrition definitely occurred, but tactics did not factor. So, in terms of fun-factor, I'd have to rank the race low. Organization-wise, great. What would it take to make it a fun race? Would fun for some translate into fun for all?

I believe the GP has been run in the opposite direction in the past. While I personally hate climbing Blacks at race pace, I would submit that this direction would make the race more tactical and fun. The obvious downside from the organizer's perspective is the Fortune descent. While it pales in severity compared to the descents we did at Sutton, the GP is an all categories race. Safety has to be considered across a broad range of abilities. The Fortune descent could be considered too fast and twisty for less skilled racers. However, if this concern were put to rest, I think Black, which follows a decent climb from Kingsmere Road, would serve to split up fields as early as the first lap.

This suggestion stems from my our experience in the Master 30-39 race, which proved two dimensional. I am aware the Elite race broke up, so those riders would likely have a different perspective. Perhaps other fields broke up too. If so, my argument might be undermined. Notwithstanding, reversing the direction might make the racing better all around, so I hope the option will be considered.

Next up, Andy and I hit the 220k SuperFondo on Saturday, where we will 'crank our quads.' There is still time to register, and a few distances are on offer. Visit GranFondo Ottawa for details.


Reid said...

A few comments:
The mixing of the fields severly took away from any tactically interesting racing on the weekend. With time contraints and a lot of fields not sure what can be done about this - it might have actually been better if we'd started with the juniors/three- at least then we'd have actually been racing them. The commaissaires did nothing to interviegn (normally they control these merges somewhat).

Also the problem with the GP isn't the climbing its the massive about of autobahn-esque descending. It makes it very very hard for an individual or small group to stay away from a charging pack. Again not much that can be done about that other then extend the distance of the race (which in large part is why the 1/2 breaks up- that and more horsepower).

Alex Gagnon said...

Nice round-up.

It was interesting to read the perspective from the 30s point of view. As a Cat-3 rider, I do feel the need to clarify that we were NOT trying to sabotage your race (where were the Commissaires in any of this?!), nor do I think we were getting a free ride from you guys. Both of our pelotons trimmed riders every time we hit Fortune.

I think the reason this happened is because 3/Jr races often start out slow, with cat&mouse games played (lack of organized teams, and most racers being independent could be to blame). 1 minute and 30s is simply not enough between starts.. In any case, we DID let you guys pass by on the first Fortune ascension. I actually was one of the guys with my arm up, shouting "3's behind me". We were able to neutralize ourselves and even soft pedaled for 2-3 minutes to let you guys move on ahead. Maybe your pace slowed down a fraction up Fortune, but I did not expect to see you guys again.

Perhaps it's because some of those 120lbs Juniors really pushed the pace on the climb, but we ended up catching back on to your group (at which point certain Juniors and Cat-3 racers decided to reintegrate). While I would have loved to keep neutralizing myself, I wasn't about to let these guys ride away in another peloton. (I think this is probably the same mentality everyone in our field had).

Anyway, unpleasantries were definitely exchanged between the fields throughout the race. I guess we can be thankful there weren't more crashes (the group had almost 130 riders at one point).

I hope they figure an alternative for next year's edition..



PeterT said...

Interesting read.

To clear things up, the Grand Prix has always run in the same direction (I raced every edition except for the first one in 1998). We can't really come down Fortune onto one lane of Dunlop Rd. Even if we did close Dunlop, I'd not want to be picking up the pieces in the Novice race.

2 minutes was the gap between the Sr3/Jr and Master A group (not 1:30).

More distance isn't always the answer - I recall the year that the Sr1/2 had a seven lap race - so they rode the first lap easier, and the Sr3/Jr peloton caught them about half way round the first (or second - I can't remember which) lap - that time the commissaries sorted things out quickly and correctly.

I'm the "they" who puts the schedule together (with a bit of help) - the schedule for the Grand Prix is tight because we really only have the park closed until 11 am. So unless you want a one lap drag race... you'll have to live with a chance of two groups overlapping.

Peter Tregunno