The Devon stage race was to be my final race in Category 3 if all things went well. I was 2 points shy of the upgrade to race with the big guns in Cat 1/2 and figured that I should be able to pick up a couple points over the course of the weekend to make that happen. Instead of being my last race amongst the fast-but-not crazy-fast it was to be my initiation to the big leagues as the top 3 categories were combined as a result of a small field. The race would play out over the course of 4 stages in one weekend and allocate 5 sets of points, for each race, and for the general classification on time.
Friday night things got underway with a 2km “technical” prologue time trial. It included 11 corners and no TT bars were permitted, although we were allowed to run a disc and so I set up the Aerocat with my TT wheelset. After warming up I promptly got cold standing around waiting the three minutes for the start, it was drizzly and about 14 degrees. I had arrived too late to pre-ride the course so I would be riding it blind. That’s a dumb mistake, but I was out for beers with some guys from work after a long week… so at least I had a good excuse to show up to the start late. Right? I launched out of the start, took the first corner 80 meters down the road at 38 kph and the next corner, another 130 meters up the road at 43 kph. It was then time for the drag race, a 600 m straightaway and I rolled it up to a max speed of 54 kph. The next corner was a turn onto a road with a boulevard down the middle and I thought we were turning into the inside lane, but just as I set up my corner I realized I needed to go far, it cost me a fair chunk of speed as I had to get upright to handle the bike through there. The trip back was a series of corners none more than 200m apart. Some were 90 degrees and some were a bit wider than 90 degrees but I wasn’t sure which ones were which because I hadn’t ridden it. I quit pedaling for each one to make sure I didn’t clip a pedal but it was unnecessary for most of them and each time I’d be frustrated for backing off the power. It was over before I realized it, done in a time of 2:51. Enough for 4th overall and 1st among the Cat 3s. 20 upgrade points!
Saturday morning we had a TT. 16.4 kilometers long. I was hoping to do between 380 and 390 Watts and expected it would take around 23-24 minutes. I warmed up, lined up and then went hard. I caught my 1 minute man before 3 kilometers and was unsure if I’d catch my 2 minute man at all, it turns out that I wouldn’t. There was a little bit of a rise in the road at one point which took some thinking to make sure I was in an appropriate gear but otherwise it was very flat and very straightforward. I rolled home on the last stretch with a big fade in power and a bit of a tailwind. It was probably not my best paced TT of the year, but it’s better in a relatively short effort like this to get more energy out before the end than less. There’s no reward for finishing with anything in the tank. I wound up in second place to Jason Hargreaves from Cat 3, which wasn’t really a surprise, he’s a fast guy and so to be beaten was not unexpected, I thought I’d be closer than 20 seconds, but I only managed an average of 380 Watts, the bottom of my goal range, not 390. Second place was another 15 upgrade points.
Saturday afternoon I went for a bike ride with my parents who were visiting from Calgary, We did about 45 kms and I kept the effort low the whole way. We rode out to the Donut shop in Calmar which I like to go visit, unfortunately the donuts were all sold out and we got some other pastries and cookies before heading back to Devon, eating some dinner and getting ready for the crit.
The general classification for the weekend had Blaine, a team-mate in Cat2 in the lead and so the strategy for ERTC was going to try and keep the race together as much as possible for as long as possible. We wanted to shut down any attempts at breakaways quickly and come to the line as a bunch. Hopefully Jon Wood would be able to take the win and we anticipated that Nick would also score some bonus time, but our hope was that neither Colter nor Chris would be allowed to accumulate anything of substance. We were to do 40 laps of an 880 m square.
I lined up near the front and even on the first neutral lap with a lead vehicle out front it was crazy fast. The first 8 laps were just plain fast. No-one let up at all and when someone on the front backed off at all someone would take over and keep driving the pace. There was tons of single-file and on occasion we would bunch up to be two wide. We were hitting 50kph each time we came down the finishing straight with a bit of a tailwind and a slight downhill right into the tightest corner. I found myself well towards the back and just working as hard as I could to stay on the group. So much for trying to position yourself well. I knew where I should be but I just couldn’t be there, every time I moved up towards the front third of the pack for a bit better positioning I would immediately find myself being passed and shunted off towards the tail of the group again. Eventually the full-gas pace shifted and there was a bit of respite for a lap every once in a while while no-one would be attacking on the front. The group bunched up quickly as soon as the pace dropped by the slightest and we’d find ourselves four or five guys wide going around the corners. One of these bunchings was responded to by the only attack that formed a break all race. Three guys went off the front and put in maybe 100m on the group. It was about halfway through the race and it was unlikely to be successful. At the same time you say something is unlikely to be a success it means that someone has to do the work to bring it back. I watched from the back of the pack where I was stuck as a few team-mates put in some effort to pull down the gap. I then decided that I’d better put in my share of work despite having so much trouble just hanging on at the back. So, I went on the tailwind section and drilled it up the outside, moved all the way from the back of the pack to first wheel and went through the tight corner. I had been working about as hard as I could work at the back so figured that once I went to the front I’d have to keep working as hard as I could work if I was going to pull in the break. I overestimated the amount of power that was appropriate to pull the peloton along and gapped the group instantaneously. By the time I looked back at the first corner I was already halfway across the gap to the breakaway. Oh shit, I thought to myself. I was supposed to be trying to keep the race together, not go off the front. I made a split second decision to try and bridge. It took just one lap and I was there with the leaders. The next time through I could hear coach Cory yelling from the sidelines not to work for the breakaway. I didn’t work, but I did pull through at a mellow pace once when I found myself on the front by accident. Back in the peloton second and third place on GC were getting nervous and they did a bunch of work at this point to pull back the breakaway. I think I lasted off the front for maybe 4 laps and just as we were going to be caught the bell went for an intermediate prime. I lasted long enough off the front to secure third in the intermediate sprint and then went back into the peloton. I didn’t let myself drift quite as far to the back at this point and had an easier time staying within range of the front. The lap-count was starting to run out and the whole race slowed down for a while. Everyone knew that it was going to be a bunch sprint and people tried to rest-up as much as they could. I knew that there would be some crazy fast stuff again before the finish and that Jon Wood now shouldn’t be the person covering all of the attacks if we wanted him to sprint for the win. I think all of the other ERTC guys from Cat 3 had been lapped out by this point so that left just Steve, Blaine and myself to do the work. With 3 laps to go someone made their bid for glory, I ramped it up and pulled hard along with a few other people, we had him back with just over a lap to go, I drifted back to maybe 10th place as we began our final lap and then saw Jon Wood and decided I’d follow him as he was probably a good navigator in a crazy situation like this one. I picked the same route that he did, wound it up with two corners to go, 50kph going into the final corner, and hit 55kph in the final sprint which Jon won for ERTC. I was good enough for 7th overall, first place amongst the Cat 3 boys. 20 more upgrade points.
Sunday morning the situation was the similar to the beginning of the criterium. Blaine was first on GC and I was 5th. Jon Wood was one second ahead of me after racking up 16 seconds of bonus time at the criterium to my one second. Nick Jendzjowsky had amassed enough seconds to get within one second of me on GC. The plan was to try and keep the race together for as long as possible. No-one from ERTC was supposed to work in a break unless they were the highest person on GC from that group. Cory wanted me to try and get in a breakaway if the opportunity presented itself and gave me a list of good people to try and go with. We knew that the race would likely blow to pieces on the final hill but hopefully we could get Blaine there without having had to work very hard yet and a few people with him to chase back the few guys who would inevitably be able to climb that hill faster than him.
The wind was definitely a factor on race day. It was coming from the north-west meaning we started with a cross-headwind and we would finish with a long fast flat section of cross-tailwind. It also meant we’d have some opportunities to make the peloton hurt in the crosswind along the way. I found the start of the race to be very difficult positioning-wise. We were rolling mostly single or double-file down the yellow line, no-one wanting to work on the front. I kept getting pushed backwards through the field and would have to make an effort to move back up. It meant that I was never really near the front for more than a few seconds at a time and was poorly positioned to cover any attempts at breakaways. I had team-mates up near the front who were managing to do the job but I kept finding myself right at the back of the pack, never intending to be there. It mean that when a breakaway went that ERTC would have liked to have me in I wasn’t there. Rob went with the pack instead even though he was way down on GC. He took a free ride for the day on the breakaway train and didn’t have to work at all. He wouldn’t finish successfully with the leaders from that group and he wasn’t the best positioned on GC from the pack. It wasn’t a breakaway we should have been satisfied with but the leadership on the road from our team wasn’t giving instructions to chase it back while the gap was still small, that was our big mistake and it would cost us.
Through the southbound section of the course we descended the river valley and climbed out of it without having the pack explode. Then there was an explosion and the whole field shattered but eventually came back together. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get back on when it happened though and really had to go to my limits to stick with the pack. The accelerations and sections of coasting associated with that helped the breakaway gain time and the day’s winner, Jeff Barnes, bridged the gap to the break at this point. I was destroyed at this point and couldn’t go with any confidence that I’d even be able to get across the 90 second gap to the lead if I had someone to draft to get there, I was maxed out in the peloton. In retrospect I should have tried, both on behalf of myself, and on behalf of the team.
We then started rolling with a big tailwind and ERTC really started to contribute to the chase. At first it was mostly the other Cat 3 boys who were doing the work, Travis and Aaron. The problem was that we were just riding steady, not riding hard. The guys in the break were riding hard and with a tailwind they were adding to their lead. As we approached the turnaround into the headwind I went to the front and lifted the pace from steady to hard and started to reel things back slowly. We spun the 180 and headed back into the headwind, I stayed on the front for long periods of time working at between 160 and 165 bpm, go, go, go. I was taking splits on the break where we could see them and it started at about 2:15. By the time we were turning off of the headwind section into a period of sidewind I had brought down the gap with a few bits and pieces of help to 70 seconds. I was tired, but as we entered the sidewind section Jon Wood rallied me to try and gutter the peloton with Blaine in the draft at the front. We rolled a very serious pace for the next stretch. Much of it at or above my TT effort from the day before. What was left of our peloton was single-file right on the edge of the pavement, every single person trying to play a game of inches with how close they could ride to the side of the road without hitting the ditch to maximize their draft. Jon and I took turns on the front, 15 seconds at a time, drilling it and then drilling it again, and again, and again. It was, as Jon would later say, “What dreams are made of”.
We descended the river valley on the way back with a bit more than a minute deficit to the break. Our team rode alongside Blaine on the ascent and held him in our draft as some of the smaller guys attacked the hill and started to put in time. We rolled over the top having lost about 100 m to the fastest climbers, there were no big guys in that group to really haul ass along the flats so I was pretty confident that properly motivated with 4 ERTCs ($200 of beer money is pretty good motivation I think!) that we’d be able to reel them back. There were a few stragglers in between which we soon scooped up as we turned right, the speeds were consistently in the mid to high 40s and often while I was pulling through I’d see 50kph on the speedo. Drag race! It’s really fun to be riding with a tailwind and a good group like that. Your bike just handles a bit differently and even though it’s taking a lot of effort to keep it going it feels a bit like you’re riding a bike with a motor. Go Go Go. Then suddenly we have to stop pushing. Blaine is dropping off the back and he’s struggling. I shout to the guys rolling hard at the front of the group to ease up. At 50kph they can’t hear me… I drop back to Blaine, let him catch the draft and escort him back up to the group. Just as we’re catching back on he looses my wheel. Jon and Steve have now dropped back and the rest of our group puts a gap on us. Jon starts pushing Blaine and I’m trying to sit tall and create as big a draft as possible. It’s an uphill battle, our GC contender is bonking hard and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I get the go-ahead from Jon who’s acting like the brains on the road for our team to latch back on to the group we were with, don’t work are my only instructions. It takes me about 2 minutes at 50kph to latch back on and I sit there in the draft just rolling along, my HR comes down and I sit and wait. The wheel-truck pulls in between our group and my team-mates so I have no idea where they are. I just figure I’ve got to wait. I don’t really know what I’m waiting for but if anyone else from our team is going to catch back on it’s important that I’m not pushing the pace. Eventually Jon appears, he gives the go-ahead to start working again and we really ramp up the pace again and blast along the road on the run-in to the finish. We drop a couple guys in the final couple kilometers as the pace peaks. I’m second from our group across the finish line. First from Cat 3. 20 more upgrade points.
I wind up in first place on the general classification for a further 20 points for a grand total of 95 upgrade points over the course of the weekend. That springs me up to 171 points total and I got the upgrade to Cat 2.