April 12, 2015
For myself and many others in our Teknē Cycle Club crew, the ‘Almonte Roubaix’ was the first ‘road’ race we’d ever entered. Being OG mountain bikers, the Roubaix, reputed to be gnarly and FUN, was an easy sell. But we’d do it our way fixed gear. Suffice it to say that it was an adventure, Speedplay pedals are crap in the mud, and the volunteers got tired of waiting for us.
After year one, perhaps 2008, most of us stepped up our game, adding gears and trying to be in the race. I remember struggling to even have a clue what was going on. A few years in, when I finally managed to get into the front group for a while, I got a taste of what understanding the race as it unfolded was like. Next came trying to be a part of the outcome.
Between 2010 and 2014, I was 3rd three times. Nerl Schoemacher(Rebec & Kroes) former Tall Tree Cycles West Wellington Village team-mate, was second. Iain Radford had a 2nd. Tantalyzingly close. ‘Close’…. something of a ‘four-letter word.’
After Saturday’s climbing and running down in Vermont, I was back home in the evening, cleaning my bike, following Ian Austen’s tweets about the final route, and wondering whether I’d have to change tires, from Clement Cycling LAS file treads to Compass Extra Leger 32s or 38s. Nope. Two sectors, the third and final, would remain. Excellent!
Off to bed at a reasonable hour, arnica embrocation on my legs to help recover overnight, things were going pretty well. Waking up in the middle of the night due to a burning sensation (shit, cayenne pepper!!!) in an area you don’t ever want a burning sensation put a wrinkle into my recovery sleep. Miraculously, I salvaged the night, and awoke feeling used but not adused Sunday, ready to race.
We’ve got a great squad on the line, perhaps 16 riders, including many first-timers: Nicola Coles, Max Rubarth, maybe more, most racing in Tekne kit for the first time. Game plan? Use our numbers into the last sector to take the edge off the hitters: Osmond Bakker (Wheels of Bloor),Doug van den Ham (Nine to Five Pro), Marc-Andre Daigle (Garneau, who I thought was Phil Philippe Lanthier! (Polo Velo), Steve StephenK Proulx(The Cyclery) etc.
The first sector is out, so we’re riding along too easy. ‘Damn, one of our guys needs to do something! Oh, great, there goes Todd up the right side. Nice work, Todd!’
Too much gas, nobody goes with Todd, so he’s dangling. Still dangling. Darn, this is not what we want. The pack is HUGE, and the hitters are getting a free ride.
‘Alex, Jim, Marc, bring it up.’ It’s hard to talk to the guys, the pack is so dense. We are putting in work, despite Todd being out, to bring the pace up, and try to bridge and force a selection. It’s too easy, there is nothing rough or steep enough to snap the elastic.
Jon and Charlie are rouleurs, and they can stay out for a loooong time. If out of sight, I will not be happy. I’m telling the guys they have to work to close before the switchback sector. Jamie, can you ride?’ ‘Not really….I’ll try.’ Jamie and Jim go up the road together, trying to bridge, forcing others to ride. Good.
Jamie and Jim are back, Marc Hunt goes off to take a shot at bridging. He’s dangling. Dangling. Ok, the pace is ok, this isn’t too bad.
The gap is coming down to 30 seconds, we’re approaching the switchback sector. We’ll have to run, that’s fine. We turn in, and I’m amazed how easy it is to move up. Nice. Jim and I go into the snow together as we pass Jon and Charlie, hop off to run.
Up top, jump on, full gas. This is the first crux of two, where the selection will be made, no question. I’m clear, and man, this is good! Packed snow, mud, ruts, puddles; so glad this sector is in! Osmond is chasing, then I see Steve Proulx a little further back. Osmond passes as I bobble, just have to stay on him. All good, we’re out
Osmond seems to want Steve on, which is ok with me. I don’t feel the need to drive it. Latching on, Derek Gee and Marc-Andre Daigle make the group 5. Ok, seems there’s a big gap to more, so let’s see how this goes.
The guys clearly want to drive it, but my guys are back a bit, so I don’t feel the need to do that. Osmond and Marc-Andre are the ones I’m concerned about having to battle through the woods.
Zoom! Just a few minutes ago, I couldn’t see anyone behind us. Alex just came out of nowhere on the left and blasted past our group of 5, creating a gap immediately as the others look at each other, confused! Where did he come from? This is awesome.
I turn around and see 8 guys have bridged! Jim is one of them – great! – as is Doug VdH, Rob Parniak (The Cyclery), Iain Loney (Ride with Rendall), Bruno Lafontaine (Trek-Fiera), Arno Turk, Stephen Keeping(Transports-Lacombe/Devinci)!
The guys from the break attempt to break off to bridge, but it’s not looking good on that front. Jim can’t get into his pedal, but he covers for me anyhow. Tank. Alex is holding his gap of 30 seconds as he turns off the paved road and heads into the final ‘Sugarbush’ sector. This is fantastic. Either he’ll ride away for the win, or I’ll take a shot.
We’ve turned right, heading into the sector. Derek waits for the incline and attacks, Daigle following. Wait, wait, ok, go. Leapfrog Daigle, then Gee, I’m heading into the woods first wheel, Alex out of sight, Osmond surely chasing. Yup.
I see Alex. “Gooo, Alex, goooo.” I seem to think he’s not already going as fast as he can; he is. He won’t be able to hold out, I will pass soon.
“Goooo!” urges Alex, Osmond about 10 meters back. The trail is about as gnarly as I’ve ever seen it. Packed snow on the sides, deep mud ruts, puddles, rocks, roots; well suited to both Osmond and me. But he’s chasing. That’s harder.
I almost bury it through a deeper than expected puddle, but get away with an ejected foot, and push on, knowing I have to come out with a gap. I’ve come out of here first before twice, and I didn’t ride full gas. This time I will.
Out, still 10 meters or more, on the rivet, it’s important to establish more space right away. Yes, it’s working! Pulling the gap out, I’m starting to feel confident, but I can’t get distracted. Ghost-aero, don’t easy up.
Turning right into the final drag to the line, I see I’ve done enough. Now halfway, I allow myself to ease off a bit and enjoy the moment, arm raised, realization of a dream. I win the 25th edition of the race that started me on this path of discovery, camaraderie, and marginal gains. Full circle.
The OBC’s Paris-Roubaix is a small local event that holds a special place in the hearts of many. To the ‘outsider’ who’s never heard of it, it will sound insignificant. Yet it’s the race many of us want to win more than any other. It takes a special blend of ability, luck, and tire volume to win. This year, we added another key ingredient that makes it all the more fun: teamwork.
Thank you to the Tekne team for making this win possible. Thank you to Bob, Cheryl, Rosemary, Ian, and all the other volunteers who made the race possible. Thank you to the local businesses who contributed prizes. Thank you to Woven Precision Handbuilts, Mad Alchemy Embrocation, and GiroSportDesign for helping me be my best. And last but not least, thank you to my loving and supportive wife, Danielle Chassin for all the sacrifices she makes that allow me to put all of the time and energy required to race with the best in the region, and my kids, for the joy they express when things go well, and the comfort they offer when things don’t. Not every race report will be this sappy, just the special ones…..