This weekend was my first attempt at Road Racing. At the start of this year I told myself I wouldn’t race because it was too dangerous and I didn’t think I would be strong enough to be competitive. After I was rooked into going out to a Spring Series race I quickly changed my mind. Since the spring race I’ve come quite far. I’ve averaged about 250km/week of riding and have spent a bunch of time doing intervals and hill climbs which have had a large impact on my speed, power, and endurance.
This weekend was the Devon Grand Prix which consisted of two independent races. The first was the United Cycle Downtown Criterium Provincials in the afternoon on Saturday. The second was the Juventus Gennesee Hills Road Race on Sunday morning.
The crit race was a nerve racking experience. Unlike a road race where there is a considerable distance to travel, the crit consisted of 15 laps of about 900m. This meant that the race would last for about 20 minutes making very little room for error in terms of positioning and pacing. The cornering was intense at high speeds, but I felt comfortable and strong making tough turns in the big group and never once felt really scared about crashing. My starting spot was another story, from the get go I allowed a bunch of other riders to line up in front of me, making it very difficult to move to the front of the group. After the one parade lap, the pace car pealed away and we were off. I felt strong in the corners but was at the very back of the 35 man group. My legs felt good for the first couple laps and I really worked hard to move myself to the front so that I was in a better position for the sprints that happened every 5 laps. I eventually made it into the top 10 as of about the 6th lap. By this point the lead pack had begun to breakaway from the main group. The guys, lead by Keegan, were really hammering and I was trying my hardest to hang on for dear life. At this point a gap of about 50m split the two packs apart. I was beginning to fade from the relentless speed and not getting on people’s wheels properly and was dropped from the lead group. I tried to fight my way back on but wasted a lot of energy in no man’s land between the two packs where I was also fighting unnecessary wind resistance. This went on for about a lap before the chase pack caught me. By this point I had went well over my red-line in terms of power output and heart rate and was really crashing hard. The weather was beautiful at 25 degrees, arguably the hottest day of riding this year. This mixed with the new black ERTC team kit I was wearing, and my insanely high heart rate left me feeling really terrible with well over 7 laps to go. I slowly was dropped from even the chase pack as I had nothing left in my legs. That, mixed with a lack of air, getting the shivers from over exertion, plus riding solo made for a rough last couple laps where I worked hard to catch and pass the other riders who had blown up early.
I came around the corner of the final lap with a Juventus guy who had been latched onto my rear wheel post getting dropped. He pulled out to sprint past me, I tried following, but the Juventus rider who crashed earlier was walking his bike across the line and neglected to look to see the last riders coming around the corner. I had to pull out at the last second to avoid putting the oblivious rider into his second crash of the day although he would have deserved it. I found out that Keegan scored enough points for 3rd overall and avoided a mechanical which was really exciting.
The take-a-ways from that race are to establish a good starting position as quick as possible, and then sit in for as long as possible while minimizing the amount of actual work you do until it becomes absolutely necessary. I also realized that once I got dropped off the front pack I should have allowed myself to join the chase pack that was working hard to bridge the gap and use them to my advantage. I was really shocked by my Garmin data and realized just how hard I had been pushing early in the race.
On Sunday I had completely different results during the road race. The race was to consist of about 72km of total riding with two massive climbs in the very middle of the ride. While my ability to produce massive power for a short time such as in the crit is not quite where it needs to be yet, I have developed quite a solid base of cycling endurance from all of the 130+ km rides I’ve done. The hill repeat nights I’ve done this year with ERTC has also made me into a decent climber, at least for Cat 5. In total ERTC fielded 5 riders for the Cat 5 race. Kyle, our strongest cat 5 rider is also a strong climber. Our game plan for the race was to stay out of trouble on the way out to the Gennesee Power Coulee, move to the front of the pack on the first hill, and then really attack hard on the way back on the second climb shortly after. We guessed we’d need about 6-10 people to make the break away work. Assuming that I didn’t repeat the previous days performance, that was about all we hoped for and didn’t really have a plan after that.
The race started pretty calm until after the first corner at which point the guys working hard at the front began to open up the throttle. We had a strong tailwind on the way out and were doing over 40km/h a lot of the time. As it was Cat 5, there were a lot of strange accelerations where a gap would open up by about 10m in the middle of the peleton but then the guys driving the pace would back off and the groups would rejoin. I realized after this had occurred for the 3rd time not to waste energy working hard to get onto the front group as it was just a useless waste of energy. I gradually moved into the top 10 or so riders nestling in behind Kyle so that I knew I had a non-sketchy wheel to follow. We were just far enough back so that we wouldn’t have to do any pulling and close enough that we could break out to chase down any attacks that may have occurred. Fortunately no serious attacks were mounted before the hills as I guess everyone else had the same plan as attacking on the hills.
We hit the first down hill and were flying, doing well over 60km/h. Things flattened out and then the 1km+ climb started. The strong climbers were all near the front and as opposed to waiting until the second hill, started to fly up the first hill. Not wanting to get dropped I stomped on it, cruising past other riders who weren’t climbing nearly hard enough to keep up. A group of about 15 people out of 40 made it up the hill quickly enough to separate from the lead pack. As soon as we crested the hill, our Cat 5 turn around came. I had just enough time to get my heart rate settled down enough not to blow up and we were descending again. One thing I’ve learned is that I descend quickly. I don’t know what it is, maybe my heavy aluminium bike or being slightly heavier than most riders, but I have an ability to descend fast. On the downhill, I pulled out around the pack and settled into a an aero position and began pulling away from the front of the group. I didn’t really have plans to go off the front, but thought maybe I could make the other fast guys do some extra work to catch up to me on the decline, wasting energy for the climb. This also allowed us to separate ourselves from the chase pack that was developing as a result behind us. The hill climb was nasty, I’ve never climbed that hard before for that long. I was red-lining again and barely made it over the hill but I figured everyone else was hurting just as bad and managed to hold on.
We managed to form an echelon among the lead group and held the chase pack off for the whole race. By the end there were a couple of guys skipping pulls who looked like they were hurting bad so we tried to up the pace so that we could ruin them for the sprint. Kyle and I talked about what to do with about 7km left in the race. If their hadn’t been such a strong wind I was considering trying to ride off the front as I felt like I had better long term power than in the sprint. I decided not to risk blowing up before the finish line and ruining my chance of finishing high. The 500m mark came quickly and the group took off really far from the line. A group of about 4 people took off and I managed to get around the guys who were maxed out to catch them. I made the mistake of not getting onto their wheels and spent about 300m in the unnecessary head wind. Kyle managed to pull away, easily pulling off to take first place in the sprint, along with another Juventus rider. I passed the other two guys who were on their tails, but with about 30m left another Juventus rider who had been drafting me pulled out and grabbed third place by about a wheel.
I was stoked on life, getting 4th place was much better than I expected, and Kyle taking 1st was awesome. We executed the game plan perfectly and everything went about as good as I could have possibly dreamed for my first race. The only thing I would have done differently would be to have moved a bit closer to the front of the break-away for the start of the sprint and then getting on a wheel until about 150m before I pull out to make my move.
Here’s the Garmin data for the race: http://app.strava.com/rides/11641433. I was really happy with being able to keep my heart rate for that long. I feel like my HR thresholds have been moving up because I have been feeling really good at higher heart rates that used to ruin me a lot quicker. I also managed to get my HR up to a new personal best of 193 on the final sprint which is the highest I’ve ever seen it on the bike.