This was my third time lining up to race at Pigeon Lake. I’ve raced here before in 2009 [link] and in 2010 [link]. Both were fun days and big successes. I guess today’s big success was that it was probably my most run race on the course, but my success in terms of performance was pretty lacking. Aaron pulled through for the team today in Cat3 and did snag a podium spot but it was pretty much in no part due to my contributions. The group riding today was really safe and I also found people to be very respectful in their behaviour, it was a great day to be out on the road. I didn’t have to consider the risks of drafting anyone at any time, everyone was predictable and very well mannered, if you rode today and somehow you’re reading this, Thank you. To jump back in a pack the first time after the criterium on Monday where a crash sent someone to the hospital in pretty rough shape it was really great to have a positive experience, a negative one would have really dampened the love of this game.
We were treated to great weather again and the Cat3 race was set for 111kms made up of four loops of the main piece of the course plus the ride out there from the staging area and then a ride back to the uphill finish. ERTC was represented by myself, Travis, Tim and Aaron. We rolled out and Calgary cycle kept the pace rolling over for the first little bit to get everyone warmed up. I took up patrol of the front of the pack on behalf of our team first and the others tucked themselves in at the back. Our strategy was to try and go with early attacks rather than simply cover them. The idea being that we wanted to try and encourage people to race rather than just shut things down. It worked alright and I threw in a few digs to try and create little gaps in the peloton when the opportunities arose however everyone was still fresh and nothing was really going to get away. After our first ascent of the big hill I was surprised to see myself still well towards the front of the pack and there were gaps everywhere. I leapt across to Tim who was in a break with two guys from Calgary Cycle and three more joined us including Stefan. There was a bit of a pause before people wanted to commit to the group. I think that pause is probably what kills tons and tons of the potentially exciting ways that a race can play out. The same thing likely doesn’t happen in Cat1/2 because there’s a slightly more aggressive all or nothing mentality there. But, because of the hill, the initial pause didn’t kill this one. Stefan started with the shouting of motivation and encouragement and pretty quick we had the pair of Calgary Cycle guys onboard as well as myself and Tim and Stefan. Five of seven were committed and I really demonstrated my commitment for doing a huge pull on the front on the downhill in my 53×11. 53×12 actually wasn’t a tall enough gear and I thought I was spun out for a moment before I decided I’d better check just in case to see if I had one more gear. Luckily I’ve gotten in the habit of buying cassettes with an 11 tooth and was actually happy it got put to good use today.
There were three more people who bridged up to us just as we were starting to get going as it was pretty clear that a group this strong and of this size had the potential to do some damage to the peloton. I don’t really know what happened, but some people either lost interest in the break or lost the ability to keep pushing, as pretty quickly I was taking every second or every third pull through to the front. Sadly that split never worked out, it was probably one of our best chances. We eased up through the uphill headwind section and everyone got to grab some food and drink from their pockets. Just past the feed zone after we’d turned the corner, I heard some guy chatting about his dog to someone else. I wasn’t very happy about that, we’re here to race bikes I thought and decided to launch a missile. I jumped from about 12th wheel back and by the time I had hit the front of the pack I was doing 60kph. I put in a solid 1 minute of effort hoping that someone was going to come with, I paused briefly about 100m up the road giving everyone an opportunity to come across the gap but no-one even tried. I was a bit frustrated and was about to sit up and drift back. I thought to myself a bit and then decided that if I want to have a bike race then it’s important to commit to it and mean it when I go off the front. I did, and put in a solid 5 minutes going full tilt to build up a gap, I was well out of sight pretty quickly but as soon as that happened I decided I needed to start to pace this as a TT to the finish rather than just trying to put time into the pack. If I explode I just have to limp in to the finish and if I get caught then I’ll also get dropped unless I’m riding sustainably. So, I backed it off at which point things started to come down a bit but then I started to hold my gap, and it was soon pretty clear that the pack was just leaving me out to roast as they quit gaining time. I checked at the top of the hill and decided I should try and be caught before we turned into the headwind and began the next gradual ascent. If I still had a gap there I’d be wasting a ton of extra energy. Indeed, I timed it to be caught just as we rounded the corner. The pace sagged to 20kph and I threw in another attack just to make a statement, I’d rather race than not race. That attack was pulled right back but things were still pretty much shut down and I drifted to the back to eat and drink while Travis took up patrol near the front.
The easy spin was great for getting some food down but it wasn’t much of a race for a while. Travis attacked into the headwind just before the corner and no-one went with him. Again. People eventually chased him back after the feed and Tim launched a great attack just as he was caught. That got people a bit nervous (I think, or excited, both are OK) and the pace started to climb and climb. I saw Travis going backwards and knew that he was going to hurt if the pace kept ramping up, there were two short power climbs just ahead. The pace was high and it was also pretty uneven, tons of gaps forming and being crossed, I was very quickly into a world of hurt and struggled hard to maintain at least a reasonable position within the pack in case big splits began to form. Every light on the dashboard was blinking orange, but I kept going, you`re not out until you`re out I said to myself. Masa launched an attack on one climb that really got me scared, it was in a great spot and was definitely selective as the guys who could go with were already at the front because of the prior hill. I was worried we were going to miss this opportunity as a team as it had the potential to be a good one, but luckily Tim was ahead even though I had lost track of him and he made the group. I think it was someone from Calgary Cycle who pulled that one back and I was lucky enough to get a draft. The pace stayed high but was a bit less jumpy for a stretch. Somewhere in here Travis got shelled out the back. I didn’t realize until about 10kms later that he was gone, it was taking about everything I had to maintain my own situation let alone think strategically or keep tabs on other people.
Inevitably things slowed down again just in time for the headwind climb and everyone got to eat and drink again with about 30kms left to race. It was not really a good situation for ERTC at this point, no-one really had a great uphill sprint but were all pretty good on the fitness front. Almost everyone was still with the pack, even though it had been hard it hadn`t quite been hard enough to inflict damage to the numbers, just to the quality of the legs. It was in our best interest to try and keep making the race hard and so we did our best at it. There was a Bow-Cycle rider who had snuck off up the road twice now and was maintaining a pretty sizeable gap. I pitched in my efforts to tow him back by keeping the pace high, instead of trying to just do the locomotive thing I did my best to surge in response to any slowing of the peloton. I wasn’t able to open very many big gaps doing this but I always was able to create something which forced people to do a bit of work to close down. I think by this point most of the snap had disappeared out of the legs of the peloton and so those gaps weren’t really propagating through the pack and forcing everyone to work, they were being pretty evenly shut down. It meant that we were able to make some people work hard but certainly not everyone. As we climbed and then turned south again Tim and I threw in a few 1-2 punches and formed a few more gaps. I felt like here we were probably pretty successful in inflicting a bit of damage because the tailwind and the general uphill weren’t contributing as significantly to the drafting effect.
On the run-in to the final climb of the big hill I went in at about 3rd wheel but was last over the crest. I had pretty much spent everything by this point on creating a race and creating excitement. I didn’t have much for the finish but knew that we’d likely get a chance to rest up on our final visit to the headwind. I was right, but unfortunately a rest for me means a rest for everyone else.
I stuck in with the pack until we had crested the final incline about 4km out from the finish. I knew I didn’t really have anything left to sprint with, especially uphill, and so I tried to make my final bid for glory at this point, launched an attack, opened up a gap and drilled it as hard as I could. As hard as I could lasted for maybe 20 pedal strokes and I was done. Oh well, I though to myself, I gave this race everything today. I was pretty much resigned to only pulling up on my pedals by this point as my quads started to feel the onset of cramping. Cruising in from there to the finish was interesting, I moved through a few gaps, tried to watch as much as I could about navigating a sprint, trying to learn about what to do if I had been here with legs to do anything with, but really I didn’t have much of anything left to even use to pretend to attack the final rise into the finish and just stuck in with the pack to be given the same time as the leaders.
Successful day? Not really, but fun? yeah! I’m looking forward to doing some more in a few weeks. I’m noticing already that I’m getting more and more snap in my legs when I try and put in a surge than I’ve ever had before. Unfortunately that “best ever” snappy acceleration is still pretty sub-par when compared against the guys I’m racing with. I`m not mad at all about how it played out. If it were to have been easy all day and I tried to go with 10kms left then everyone else would have been fresh and probably could have pulled me back. If I had stayed fresh right until the finish I still would have lost on the sprint in to the finish. ERTC`s best strategy was to try and make the race difficult and fast, we did that, and we were rewarded by Aaron`s great performance up the hill at the end. No regrets – only lessons.
Photos thanks to Keegan Brooks
who also passed up bottles for us
the day after running 50kms.