Monday, April 22, 2013

Spring Classics 2013 Part 2: The Calabogie Classic

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Update: photos here:

What should have been the cap to April's three classics wound up being the monkey in the middle on Sunday, the 21st. After a blizzard bumped the Almonte Roubaix to April 28th, the Calabogie Classic waltzed in as the go-between, the bridge to the ultimate match, Almonte. At least, so it was from the perspective of us odd men in green.

After racing Calabogie for the first time in 2012, I knew what to expect: wind, nervous riding, mixed abilities, and crashes. In 2012, I raced the Senior 1/2 spectacle, which proved breakaways are indeed possible on the race-car track. It also demonstrated that I was ill equipped for the sprint. However, while isolated then, the scene was different for this edition; Iain Radford and Alex Michel, fellow Tall Tree root-rockers, were also in the M1 category I'd joined. Meanwhile, Jim McGuire and Todd Fairhead set up for the M2 race, and Andy Brown struck off solo in the S4.

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News came in just before our 14:15 start that Todd and Jimbo had struck out in their race. Bunch sprint, no dice. They stayed safe, but that was about it. Hmmm. Andy was already on his way home, having missed the break and finishing in the pack. Could Iain, Alex, and I salvage Tall Tree's honour? We were embrocated, we had matching helmets (mostly), arm and leg warmer (mostly), and I even had coordinating shoe covers on; no excuses. Except Iain had been sick for the last few days, and resorted to one of my potions: Kombucha....

Lets enter the danger zone.

The start is mellower than 2012's S1/2 race. That's ok with me. In every turn riders seem to brake and steer unnecessarily. I note the guys who are proving to be dangerous, not in the bike race winning sense. In the crashing sense. John Gee, having won the M2 race in 2012, is in the field, looking to score another notch. Wheels of Bloor have about 6 guys, and there are about 8 Rouleurs, including Marc Brazeau, who always packs juice. 5km/hr wind? Not. Its windy. Riders are clearly labouring up front, while we hide and feel out the changes of wind direction in the turns. Plenty of time to work out the details.

John Gee is aggressive within a few laps, as is Brazeau and other Rouleurs, not to mention other guys we don't know. Lots of wild cards in the bunch form our perspective, as we don't race road around Toronto enough to get to know the guys. But we do know the WoB guys are good.

Plenty of dodging required to stay on two wheels, attacks are amounting to nothing, and its getting boring. Then not. Carnage unfolds on the back half, riders and bikes hurtled into the air. So many bodies in the way, its hard to see where riders are splaying. I overreact and lock up my back wheel as I slow, and feel a rider's bar hook onto my bike somewhere, somehow. Gawd, I hope he doesn't go down...I hear nothing more behind me, and all is well. Two seconds have passed. Alex is already standing, while his bike still bounced sickeningly across the grass. Iain and I agree he is ok; we can continue.

It seems like the pack is halved, but in reality, we lose something like 10 riders. Focus resumes. Only about 50 minutes have transpired.

Iain and I are both getting antsy, I can feel it. Nothing is happening. John Gee can't do it alone. Nobody else is showing the vital combination of aggression and power. With only 45 or so kilometers down, it still feels too early. I don't care about winning anymore. I'm riding at bike-path pace, if that. I just want to ride hard, somehow. Alex is out, we can't leave it to the sprint and roll the dice. 2 in 70 chance? That's crap.

A nonthreatening break is reeled in a lap later, and as I crest a rise, at the front, one of the guys remarks on the the pack's lack of attentiveness. That felt like the perfect segue into a full scale attack. No deliberation, pure pre-cognitive, reptilian reaction: GO. I skip my back wheel twice, holding back nothing, hoping only the strongest will follow. None do. Wider, wider, wider, the gap grows to 25 seconds as I realize my heart is pounding and I have to calm down. Breath. Breath. Just ride. Time trial mode is where I need to be; I tighten up my position, get narrow, and try to ride well. Not ballistic-fast; well. Tight lines, smooth effort, no braking, steady breathing. The little things. Nobody still after a lap, same gap.

After two laps I begin to understand nobody is coming up. It will be the pack or nobody. I feel good, smooth, but its still windy, and I'm averaging 42kph.  How long can I hold this? Unknown. How long should I hold this? I can't lose here. There are better and worse ways to play this. I can bury myself and hope to hold on for the 30 remaining kilometers. Odds? Not great, this is work. If I let them catch before I'm cooked, Iain should be able to counter, and I can recover in case that doesn't work. I don't want them to think I'm letting them catch me, so I stay low, keep my cadence up, and hide.

The catch is made after either 15k out alone, I can't tell. Iain goes right away! Perfect! I sit in while others make the chase, watching. The catch is made again, and my chat with Robbie Orange is over; I counter. Once that's caught, Iain goes with John Gee, three in tow. I bridge up, smack Iain and John on the ass, and hope they can accelerate enough to get on. Nope. Sitting up, things come together again, and before we know it - like, seconds later - we attack again. Neither Iain nor I know how it happened. We are in the flow state at this point, totally focused; reptiles.

We are three, and four are latching on. This is it! Lets Go guys! We have willing wheelmen, and we work together, 25k to go. The gap is 25 seconds and holding. I don't expect the pack to get organized enough to catch if we don't slow. Our comrades, two WoB, three other one-offs, are of mixed ability. The largest man, well over 6'3", had the power, but the rises hurt him. The man with the fashionable hair is good all around, while one of the WoB guys is putting in strong pulls. Iain and I want it, and they know it. We pull hard, but as smart as we can.

The gap is holding. Two laps to go, the others are trying to avoid work. They are smart. Iain and I will not accept the possibility of a catch, and they know it. We hold.

Final lap, 5k. Negative tactics are on tap, as one would expect. Iain and I, perhaps through naiivete, think a catch is still possible. But it is unlikely. We pull hard, the others hide. With 2k to go I am unwilling to leave it to the sprint, feeling I can ride away. I try: overconfident. I tow one WoB with me, the stronger. Naturally, he is disinclined to work, as would I be in the same position. I force a pass in the fourth-to-last turn, which requires slowing. He accellerates, and I wonder whether the twinges in my hip flexors will culminate in seizure. I follow, but as he kicks into the false-flat straight, I have no punch, and am forced to sit and roll it in. My fate was sealed when I failed to shake everyone in my final move....perhaps.

I roll across the line and gain a good vantage point to see the resolution for Iain and the others. Iain kicks hard against three, and takes it at the line for third spot. Excellent! He thinks I pulled it off, but alas, not this time. No regrets, rounding out the podium is an excellent result in contrast to the likely outcome of a field sprint. Not to mention, we got a quality hour of riding in, and learned a thing or three.

Congrats to Chris Firek of Wheels of Bloor for the victory, and gracious conduct. Big up to Iain for riding so well right out of illness. You are welcome for the Kombucha tip, Iain. Thanks to the CycleLogik organizing team for putting on the race! And my best wishes go out to all the riders who hit the deck. I am aware that one of the women was airlifted, which caused all of us concern. Yariv Wolfe (RwR) suffered a punctured lung, and I know we are all wishing him a full and speedy recovery. Kris Westwood and Alex Michel both knocked their heads, but I think both are ok today, which is a relief.

This Sunday will deliver the culmination of our spring classic 'campaign' (I wish we really did have a campaign...) in Almonte. The route should be splendorous in its fullness, and provide a true test of resolve, skill, and cunning. To say I, and we, are pumped, would be a gross understatement. Tire talk consumes us....

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