Banff Bike Fest is arguably Alberta’s most prestigious stage race of the year. It’s not necessarily a stage race that suits my strengths as there is a lot of climbing and I’ve got a lot of mass to move around but I was still very excited to race there, partly just due to the fact that it would be quite hard. The race was composed of 5 stages in the invitational mens race, and as a Cat 3 rider I’d have the opportunity to race 4 of them. I skipped the Thursday evening prologue because I couldn’t take two days off of work for this trip and so just raced Saturday (ITT (Individual Time Trial) in the morning, Criterium in the evening) and then again on Sunday morning (a short 78km hilly 6 lap circuit race).
Saturday morning we arrived early for the TT, and knowing that both myself and Travis had UCI illegal bikes we went an hour before the start to the commissaire to have them checked so we knew what we had to change and adjust before the start. We were both told that our bikes were barely legal. I was a bit puzzled, I was pretty certain that the seat setback was not 50 mm but the jig they had to measure the bike was the final ruling and so we went back to warm-up. I did 25 minutes on the rollers at about 220 watts, just enough to start to get sweating and then hopped off with 10 minutes to the race start, dried myself off and put on the skinsuit and rolled over to the start 3 minutes before my start. The rules are that you have to measure the bike immediately prior to the start, and so he popped it back up on the jig and now it was illegal. I reminded him that I had been there and hour before and it had been legal, now it was too late for him to make such claims, I picked up my bike off the jig and walked away. Travis had the same thing happen to him but he was sent off to go adjust his seat and thus missed his start by 15 seconds and also got his heart rate right up to maximum rushing around before he even started the race.
The course starts with about 2km of false flat out of town and then dips under the highway. We had a tailwind through this section and I found myself going 50kph at about 380 Watts and was content with that. I caught my 30 second man just as we turned right onto the Minnewanka Loop road. The loop begins with a quick descent past cascade ponds and then a very steep climb up towards the turnoff for Johnson Lake. Masa was shooting photos from there and gave me a good scream and I went really hard up that climb. I passed my 1 minute and 90 second guys at the crest of that hill but I was really suffering, I had loaded up the muscles way too much and could hardly keep the legs turning. As we came through a pretty fast section in the trees near Two-Jack Lake I caught and passed my next guy, he could have been my 2 minute man or 2:30. I wasn’t really sure the order of the people as they could have been passing one another by this point.
Leaving the edge of Two-Jack Lake I knew the next rise was the final one before we rode across the dam at Lake Minnewanka and went really hard again but this time managed to hold it together enough to get back up to 50kph across the dam. I caught another person just as we left the edge of the dam and then the descent began where I passed one more person. It was terribly fast and winding but nowhere did I need to touch the brakes, plenty of it required me to stop pedaling through the corners to prevent clipping a pedal on the pavement. The descent was interrupted with short flat sections or little rises which I really spiked my power on to prevent myself from loosing speed on the downhill. I ran 53×12 most of the way, 53×11 wasn’t really necessary. I had been thinking that the descent would be a bit of a break before having to deal with the flat into the headwind once back under the highway. The huge power spikes required to keep the speed up meant that I wasn’t getting any of that anticipated rest on the descent, and I reached the dip under the highway with just about no energy left and a couple kilometers yet to go. The final stretch really put me over the edge. I was doing everything I could to keep my head out of the wind, my forehead was right down on my hands for a few sections and I was just watching the white line beneath me and peeking up to take a quick look for upcoming corners and cars. It was the deepest I had dug myself in on a bike all year, possibly ever. I was killing myself to try and keep up 400 Watts, and if you check the stats I was almost able to do it. I’ll do an in-detail analysis of the power-output from this TT in a few days when I find some time. Perhaps along with the Devon TT next weekend for comparison. Across the line I could barely breathe hard enough and once I had finally got that under control I started coughing quite hard. Only afterward did I realize that this had been done at relatively high altitude compared to Edmonton. It’s nothing crazy high, but when you’re pushing the limit on VO2 max the difference matters. In Edmonton we typically work with 93% of the oxygen at sea level but at Minnewanka we were working with only 84%, the difference is non-negligible.
The comissaires took forever to deliberate about how they were going to rule on illegal bikes. I hadn’t been the only person to ride an illegal bike, that’s for sure. I had also done everything in my power to comply by the rules. In the end they decided that they had screwed it up badly enough that they couldn’t enforce the rule fairly so it wasn’t applied at all. Lucky for me. I figured my chances of winning were about 25%, 50% chance that I was the fastest person there from Cat 3 and a coin toss on whether or not I’d be punished by the ruling on bike legality. I think this begs the question regarding UCI legality in the best of circumstances. Is it possible to apply these rules fairly in the best of times? I don’t think so. Why are the measurements fixed and not variable by rider size? In some regard I feel like I should have to put my seat even further back the the average person. 50 mm for me will cause crotch pain, but 50 mm for someone who is 5′2” is going to destroy them. I also think it’s a bit of a farce that you’re allowed to cheat a rule about using “a bike that looks like a regular bike” by putting on a saddle (an Adamo) that doesn’t at all look like a regular saddle.
Travis and I got some coffee and then tried to nap in the hotel room for a bit in the afternoon before suiting up again and warming up for the crit. A discussion with Cory before the race had me settled on the following plan. Try and line up with a good position at the start and ride near the front for a while and get a feel for the fastest line through the corners. When an opportunity presented itself I was going to be ready to go for it. I anticipated that someone would go hard from the start and indeed one of the Calgary Cycle guys (I think it was Craig Fraser?) leapt from the gun and had a gap on the peloton. The chase was hard and we ran through in mostly single file for the first 3 or so laps. At this point things slowed down for two laps and people started to look around and scope out who was where. The slowing at the front meant that the group started to bunch up a bit at the back and I was not interested in being in the peloton going two people wide around the corners. I saw an opportunity on the back straight and went hard down the inside past everyone, held my gap and went full gas for a full three loops. A Bow/Cyclemeisters rider sucked my wheel but I was interested in having him along as we had 20 laps to go and didn’t exactly want to do the whole thing myself. It took a lot of convincing to get him to finally take a turn on the front, and even then he was only interested in doing the two easy corners on each lap. Another 5 laps went by, each of us doing a half-lap, and then I convinced him to switch which half we were going to do, but I needed to pull for a whole lap to do it. Our gap had stretched out to about 8 seconds by this point and a few people had tried to come across the gap but they were ultimately unsuccessful and got reeled back by the peloton. We were starting to gain a bit of time on each lap again, and I believe we were up to 12 seconds when my tyre exploded. It was on the third corner, and just as I went to commit to get around the corner my rear tyre went with a loud bang. I overcompensated so hard from skidding out that I tipped over the other direction and landed on my right hand side and slid to a quick stop before I reached the fence. I leapt up and was out of the way long before the next group came through. I guess I could have tried to get a new wheel and get back in the race but I just wasn’t interested at all. As I would learn later, the cable had slipped in the derailleur and I wouldn’t have been able to shift anyways. There was some minor road rash but nothing bad, I have some on my forearm and my greatest worry is that I won’t be able to rest it on the aerobars for the TT workout on Tuesday. When that’s your greatest worry, it’s not really a worry at all.
Sunday morning was the circuit race and we were all lined up and ready by 6:50 for a 7:00am start on wet roads with cloudy skies but the rain wasn’t actually falling. All of ERTC got lined up near the front and was positioned well so I felt the liberty to drill it a bit down the long flat approach to the first hill. Our team-mates would be well positioned by default from the beginning of the race and it would be a good opportunity to make some people near the back of the pack work harder than they wanted to to get up the first hill with the group. I did a lot of pulling on the front with some help from Tim, Travis, Greg, Brett, Neil… a lot of ERTC! We were able to stretch the pack out but unfortunately 50kph wasn’t fast enough on the big fat flat road to thin things out into single-file while everyone was still fresh. We didn’t exactly fly up the first hill but I came over the top about 12th wheel. I was happy with that positioning and the pace dropped, people were a bit gassed already I think. Either that or still in the process of waking up. Stefan then launched an attack and I went with, about 4 of us went for a while, it wasn’t enough to put in any time but we had formed a good gap and it needed to be closed down. The peloton needed to work to do it, not bad. By this point I was really starting to feel a bit worse for wear as a result of the crash the evening before. My hip, which had sustained minor road rash wasn’t feeling too good, one of the supporting muscles that goes around the outside in the glutes was under some duress. I debated pulling the plug and quitting, but then we got to the next couple climbs and descents and I was having quite a bit of fun riding in the rain and so I soldiered on.
Our first lap was fast and as it slowed down a bit Stefan went up the road with one other person. The gap went out quickly at first but rather abruptly it stopped growing and looked like about 30 seconds. It would hover between 30 second and a minute for the next 4 laps. It rained on and off, sometimes hard and sometimes not. We had a few people jump off the front of the peloton and go across the gap to the break which grew to six at its largest. On the penultimate lap I gapped the field on the final climb and descended the hill as fast as I could go off the front. I had put in some time and when coming through town I was joined by one Rundle-Mountain guy and Cory Dickinson from United. We agreed to give it a shot and took a few pulls each as we began the last lap before being caught by the peloton. I immediately went back to about 12th wheel and sat there biding my time. The last ascent saw the breakaway break apart into a few pairs. I stayed within myself on the final climb, positioned myself well and stayed out of the wind until Tunnel Mountain Campground. At this point I decided that it was time to go. The lead pair from the breakway still had about 15 seconds on the peloton. I attacked up the right and had a gap right away. I quickly leapt across the gap to Stefan and one other who had been in the break with him. I took a little pause here in the draft as a few other people had come across. I let someone else make the next surge to go across and followed a wheel for the next bit up over the second-to-last rise. It was now time to go full out all the way to the finish. The road through here was fast and curvy and the peloton began to shatter. I went as hard as I could over the top of the hill and got it in the big ring and turned the pedals as hard as I could. The final descent was definitely my fastest of the day. Coming into town I had two people on my wheel, the lead pair from the breakaway still had a gap on us by about 5 seconds as we flew along the road. I was positioned second wheel for the sprint and when the third wheel came around from the right I went from the left. In the end the guy starting from two lengths back took third at the line and I wound up third out of our trio (5th overall). I’m not unhappy about the result. If I wasn’t able to make that lead group I wouldn’t have been able to have the chance to sprint for third place. I’ve never made the lead group like that in a race before, and I’ve never won a sprint, so I’ve got to just take this stuff one thing at a time. I made the lead group this time, maybe next time I can make the lead group and have enough left in the tank to take away a few positions in the sprint as well. Good thing I only have to wait until next weekend for the next race.