I’m still riding on adrenaline as the grade drops a bit, remembering my conversation with Iain earlier in the week about how to deal with this exact situation: go really hard right after the woods, then ease up a bit and monitor the gap. Reality is starting to settle in as the ground levels and the wind begins to take its toll.
This year’s edition of the Ottawa Bicycle Club’s Almonte Paris-Roubaix was originally scheduled for April 10. It was still winter then, so it was bumped to Sunday, May 1. While I felt good on the original day, I wasn’t sad to not race in temps hovering around freezing. I’m pretty sure nobody else was sad about not freezing out there either.
But the weather couldn’t possibly ‘cooperate’ fully, could it? As of Saturday night the call was for 10-15mm rain over the day, and +5 at 08:00, race time. Ewww. I mean, yes, I have my custom Jampa waterproof jacket and leg warmers, but I don’t want to race in that. I will though!
Instead of rain from the go, we assembled our squad of 10+ club members at the early start wearing a mix of regular kit items and waterproofs. Iain Radford went for neoprene gloves and full leg warmers, while I went for Giro’s Blaze glove and embrocation on my legs. Different folks, different strokes.
Today’s main rivals are Derrick St. John (Ride with Rendall) and Osmond Bakker (Wheels of Bloor). DSJ appears to be on a tear with his training this spring, and he is a very strong attaquer, so he’s my main concern. Osmond is cunning, and essentially always on form. As a duo – neither having much if any team support – they are dangerous. On the other hand, we have our strongest squad ever: Iain Radford, Jim McGuire, Marc Hunt, Todd Fairhead, Dave Jones, Richard Grieve, Nick Bundza, Max Rubarth, Marcel Vautour, David Charles, Chris Simmons, Dom Fontaine, and Steve Bosworth.
I’m all dressed and ready to roll, checking tires. My front, a new Clement LAS, which I managed to mount tubeless and ride on Saturday, isn’t instilling confidence in me. It’s not holding air 100% yet; this usually takes a couple days. I’ve brought my old Woven cyclocross tubular, just in case this happened. Should I? I should. I make the swap, adjust the brake, and head to the line, confident that I’ve done the right thing.
Fast-rolling hard-packed dirt road delivers us to the first sector just 5 km into the race.
WHAM! We’re at the front, pushing hard into the s(el)ector. My line choice is terrible! I’m smacking these chunky white rocks hard; am I gonna flat?
Nick and I lead into the narrow lines skirting mudholes, stringing out the pack, Osmond behind, then Iain et al. Nick’s wearing black, some sort of light jacket, as are Osmond and DSJ. I like the pace we’re doing, it’s hard enough, so I turn around, see black, tell Nick ‘This is good.” Now a minute later, I look back, realizing that was Osmond I was talking to. Whoops.
We’re out of the sector with a small group, including Osmond, Nick, Iain, and more. I can’t see who else of our guys is here…ok, Jim. “Iain, figure out what we’re doing.” He can’t hear me. We’re not really riding, because we need to know whether to wait for more of our guys. “Derrick isn’t here.” That means we ride!
Too late, DSJ has made it up to us, and he didn’t have to work alone for long – if at all – to get here. That’s a bit of a bungle….. I’ve jettisoned my bottle – not the first time in there! – but it’s not warm enough out to care. I’ll snag a bottle from one of the other guys in a bit.
The group has balooned to 20. Jim and Todd have rolled off the front, and Todd is now solo about 20 seconds up the road. He’s great at time trial efforts, so this is good. Others might underestimate Todd’s abilities, or simply not know who it is ahead; we know.
Todd was out alone for a while before Warren MacDonald (9to5 PRO) bridged to him. Warren is a diesel who can pound the pedals for ages, so they’ll make a great duo. We know that if they can survive to the final woods sector, Todd should be able to take Warren in the woods. That’d be awesome!
There Cyclery guys have been trying moves to bridge up to Todd and Warren, but they’re not working out because we have too many guys to follow them. I’m biding time, waiting for DSJ and Osmond to realize that they will need to do the work at the front if this break is to come back.
Perfect, they’ve decided it’s time. DSJ and Osmond are taking turns at the front as we cross the 35k mark, working hard to close the 1 minute or so gap to the escapees. The longer Todd and Warren can stay away, the better. Because everyone else knows how strong the pursuers are, they’re left to it. I don’t think they are loving this.
We’re talking to each other as we roll through the course’s sweet dirt rollers, because Todd and Warren are now only about 10 seconds ahead. Once they’re caught we’ll have to start attacking and/or go with each attack. This will be the part of the race where we really need to leverage our numbers, taking turns to make it as hard as possible for DSJ, Osmond, and anyone else with designs on the cobblestone trophy.
On pavement rolling toward the switchback sector, the pack is back together, easily 25-riders. I’m reminding/informing our guys that the switchback will be a throw-down, and could easily see a split. This has happened before!
DSJ and Osmond get up the loose climb with Doug Van den Ham to my left, Nick to my right. I push Nick forward as he struggles with his front shifting; “C’mon, gotta go!” I don’t use my small ring for this one, too risky!
DSJ and Osmond are all-in, using this doubletrack sector to try to separate from the group and form a small selection. If they can isolate me, all the better for them. DSJ is pulling, I’m the caboose. I can tell Derrick is working hard, as is Osmond, and I’m finding it pretty hard too, but the main thing is to avoid smashing into anything. If we come out of this as 3 I won’t work, not with my team-mates chasing.
We’re just cresting the dirt road climb extending out of the sector as Iain catches on; nice riding! The four of us have a gap over the others, and it looks like this could be it. I’m ok with riding as 4, because DSJ and Osmond have already worked harder than we have. So as long as we don’t do too much, we’ll be good for the final.
I can see Jim pulling a small group behind us. Ok, that’s it, I won’t try to make this stick, they’re coming, we’ll work with our numbers, this is good. Easing up, the others see what’s up, and we’re now 10 or so, another group approaching. That’s fine, more of our guys in there.
This is now the biggest group I’ve been in heading into the final paved road that sets up the last forest sector, the Sugarbush. We’re certainly 25, and the guys have gotten on board with this whole ‘attack and counter-attack and counter-attack’ thing. Our rivals are forced to chase into the wind over and over as we get closer and closer to the right hand turn into the penultimate sector. I’ve not been feeling like I have much pop in my legs today, so hopefully DSJ and Osmond will be softened up well as we kick up and into the woods. I’ll have to let adrenaline carry me when I make my move.
Warren has attacked, Iain now on his wheel with perhaps 1.5k to the turn. Tijmen Moltmaker blasts off to bridge: noooo! I want Osmond and DSJ to be do that! I chase him down, nullifying the move and the break attempt. Later I’ll decide I should have left it…or should I have?
Iain and I are moving right up to take the right hander into the dirt road and Sugarbush, flanked by DSJ and Osmond. I’m thinking I want to go a little early so I don’t have to accelerate super hard; sounds like a good idea. The road kicks up a bit, my cue to step on it and take the lead position up the climb, DSJ close-by. I want a separation early, but I need to be smooth and calm.
I’ve got a bit of daylight right away – I’m surprised by this – and I feel good on this stuff. Of all the off-road terrain out there, this is my favourite sort. Big embedded rocks, roots, lots of lines…gnarly but fast. Really fast! I love jumping ‘the big rock,’ pumping the backside; sweet, that feels good!
Looking back, I’ve got seconds on Derrick. Yes, it’s working! I’m in a good zone here, calm, but going hard, focused. It’s really quite simple: keep doing what I’m doing. I don’t need to do more, keep it like this.
I can’t see Derrick behind me as I exit the woods, turning left, into the wind, onto freshly graded gravel. I’m still riding on adrenaline as the grade drops a bit, remembering my conversation with Iain earlier in the week about how to deal with this exact situation: go really hard right after the woods, then ease up a bit and monitor the gap. Reality is starting to settle in as the ground levels and the wind begins to take its toll. My glasses are covered in rain, falling gently, obscuring my view to the t-intersection I’m desperate to reach. Should I take them off? I want to see…. No! can’t afford the fumbling. ‘You’ll get there when you get there,’ I’m telling myself.
I’ve been looking back every 20 seconds because this is really hurting. Is it just me? The gravel is so loose and power sucking, and the wind is compounding it. I feel like I am going terribly slow; I must be, right?
Not really. Before it was just Derrick in chase, but I can see he’s tailed by Osmond and one of ours now, must be Iain. I can’t tell whether DSJ is doing all the work, but I can tell they are not gaining much or at all. So that must mean they are hurting too! Good/phewf!
Finally, the turn! This wind should be a bit lighter as I head toward the line. What, it’s the same?! I can’t puzzle this out, I’m in so much hurt right now! My legs feel like they are losing power by the second, paining and draining at once. I’m totally anxious on an emotional level, while my intellectual side keeps reminding me that they are not gaining enough to matter. As the finish is within spitting distance I allow myself to shift to an easier gear, lessen the load, and suffer just a little less to the line.
Arms up; I’ve won.
Osmond follows me in for second, surging past DSJ at the line, then Iain, and Jim next in 5th. We’re elated, we’ve done it again. If feels really, really good. We’re surrounded by press, pushing smartphones into our faces for sound bites and photos. Kidding.
As everyone trickes in, smiles and high-fives abound, not just between our own squad, but with many a fellow competitor and friend. That’s the kind of community we have here; we race for the love of the game. There have been thrills and spills – notably, Richard Grieve’s bail when he sheared 6 spokes on the back of Marc Hunt’s bike! – but no hard feelings regarding Dave Tomsic and others having run over him. No malice, no problem.
Jim’s son, Taegan has completed his first Roubaix, a momentous achivement for the 12-year-old lover of all things cycling. Jim’s had his best Roubaix ever, and can’t decide what he’s more happy about; his day or Taegan’s. Taegan’s, he confirms. Check out Taegan’s story on the site later this week.
I’m very proud of our team’s race. We rode with our brains turned on, and took on mighty strong competition. We don’t have many occasions to race together as one squad, so it’s special when we do. Almonte was the first ‘road race’ many of us ever rode, a catalyst for diving into the world of road and cyclocross racing, and the event continues to inspire everyone who shows up, from Osmond Bakker, 6-time winner, to Taegan McGuire, first-timer.
Capping it all off: coffee and treats at Equator Coffee, the most happenin’ place in Almonte every Roubaix Sunday in spring.
I’d like to thank my sponsors for their continued support; I love everything these folks do; their outstanding products instil me with confidence required to perform to my potential every time I ride and race: Giro, Woven Precision Handbuilts, Mad Alchemy, Vega, Compass tires, Silca (check out the video on Silca’s incredible new pocket pump). If you’d like to check them out on Instagram and perhaps give them a follow, they’re here: . Their fantastic feeds on Instagram will keep you stoked on riding: @girocycling, @wovenprecision, @madalchemy, @vega_team,@compasscycle, and @silca_velo. My account can be found at @cyclosomatic, and our club’s is@teknecycling.
A few weeks ago I did an in-depth interview about gravel racing and tires with Jan Heine of Compass tires and Bicycle Quarterly over on Off the Beaten Path. Check it out: Gravel Racing on Compass Tires
Full results from the race can be found here.
To read about this weekend’s race, the Clarence-Rockland Classic, which will wrap up our spring classics season, check out this post. For those wondering about my tire choice for this weekend, it’ll be the 26mm Compass Cayuse Pass.
Here’s the race on Strava.