Racing the Ring

Calgary is currently building a new ring road around the city. A section that is currently under construction north east of the airport is connected on one end to some useful roads but the other end currently leads to a dead end, there’s a 20 km gap until it will join up with the rest of the ring road sometime in the course of the next year. One of the bike shops in Calgary made a request with the contractor building this road to close down construction on a portion of it and allow us to have a bike race there. The request was granted and on June 6 people came from all over Alberta to take this once in a lifetime opportunity to “Race the Ring”. How often do you get the chance to ride your bike on a six lane superhighway that is closed to traffic?

I traveled down with four others from the Triathlon club to take in the race… packing up and leaving a chilly and damp friday afternoon in Edmonton to arrive to a downright cold and soaking wet evening in Calgary. There was snow overnight but the race wasn’t canceled only postponed by two hours to let the pavement dry off a bit. We arrived and scoped things out, this was one sweet stretch of highway but everything else was complete mud! I swapped my carbon fiber wheels onto the bike and Stefan did the same. Pat and my Dad rolled their eyes at how long it takes to change wheels (and a cassette for me, and brake pads for Stefan) while they can just unload their bikes from the rack and ride. We did a little preview of the turnaround and practiced a few 180 degree turns on the morning of the event just to make sure I was feeling confident. I’ve practiced this before but it always takes a few tries to get in the groove so I made sure to get the motion correctly in my head because I only had to do 5 during the race and didn’t want to screw up and overshoot or go wide or shift incorrectly while the clock was running.

The cyclists were sent out in approximately reverse fastest order with the quickest guys going last, because the groupings at the bottom end are wide I was still pretty late in the group even though I’m just starting out in my quest for the acquisition of points. I wasn’t to start for 1:42 after the first rider so took my time and watched for the first hour and walked around and chatted while we sent off Lindsay, then Glenn, then Pat then my Dad and finally Stefan. I hopped on my rollers for a half hour warm-up prior to the race. Things went well and the weather was slowly improving. Warmup was fine with short sleeves and no gloves even though I was wearing a toque. After 30 minutes spinning the legs I felt pretty good and ready to go so hopped off the bike, elected to go without arm warmers and fingerless gloves and made my way over to the start line.

Soon enough it was finally my turn and I balanced with the extra hand of Mr. Adam in the start gate before setting off (and not tipping over unlike many of the first-timers). Up out of the saddle the goal is to get up to race pace as quickly as possible and not waste time during the acceleration. I am very quickly cruising along at 45 kilometers per hour up the gradual hill (0.5-1.0% grade) and then under the bridge and down a similar grade at 50 kph The wind feels to be straight on from the east as I head south for the first of 3 laps. I’m 5 kilometers in and at my first corner already before I can dial back the effort level a tad, I’m feeling really fresh and ready to go so I’m not worried about over-pacing it just a little bit out of the start. I nail the corner, correct gear choice on the exit and am quite pleased as I start heading north and realize I may have had a slight tailwind assisting me on the ride down. No problem I tell myself, just stay aerodynamic. The next two lengths of the road go smoothly and I’m already halfway but at the third corner the rain/snow mix has started again and the wind has picked up. My forearms feel like they’re burning from the chill with no covering although my legs feel fine so I try to ignore the arms. The snow turns to hail and I’m getting to the point where the race really hurts. I look down to see the hail bouncing across the road with the wind and scattering off the trispoke I’m running up front. It’s a kind of mesmerizing pattern but I am strict with the aerodynamics and put my head back again with the eyes down the road. I make my way out of the hailstorm by the fourth corner and know that I’m about to head directly back into it. I’m leaning way over, just like the photos show from Kona on really windy years and imagine for a while that it’s 35-40 degrees out and this is the Queen Ka’ahumanu but it lasts maybe 30 seconds before I’m trying to keep my lips curled into my mouth because the hailstones really hurt when they hit them. Down the road I really fly but take the last corner extra slow as the water is starting to flow on the road which means there is a chance of hydroplaning. Unlikely with a 21 and 19mm tyre I suppose but none-the-less I’m not going to crash. I try to use up all of my effort during the final 5 kms and am cruising up the ‘hill’ at 45 and once I crest the peak it’s only 2 kilometers to the finish and I pick up the pace to 55 and finally 60 kms per hour as I cruise through the finish an head directly for my hoodie to warm up my forearms. As I stop I realize I am completely soaked to the bone with a saturated chamois. It was a chilly ride. I have a rough estimate of my time being 42:20 which I’m pretty happy with at this point but there has been talk of a few guys planning to go sub 40 and maybe getting close to 39 so I’m not all that impressed with myself.

The Cat 1/2 guys head off and they’re all looking speedy in their skinsuits and it’s pretty fun to watch. Surprisingly a few make mistakes through the corner as we watch and one guy has his whole backend slide out and needs to put out a tripod leg like an out of control MTB downhill even though it wasn’t even wet at the north turnaround. They all eventually come back and we start to pack up the bikes. The hail begins to fall again as we’re loading bikes and just as the race announcements are being made we’re all trying to load bikes and get going. Stefan places third in Cat 5 (where he should have been in Cat 4) and I come first, total time 42:07.2 with an average speed of 42.735 kilometers per hour. I’m pleased with another paycheque but am now out of the category and will have to work much harder for my next win.

The rest of the gallery from the day is here.Thanks to: Satnam Sidhu, Torin Segstro and Nicole Burnham for volunteering to shoot photos at the event!

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