'Praxis'

How the Race was Won: Good Friday Road Race (M2)

re·demp·tion
rəˈdem(p)SH(ə)n/
noun
  1. the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.
    “God’s plans for the redemption of his world”
    synonyms: saving, freeing from sin, absolution

    “God’s redemption of his people”
  2. the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.
    synonyms: retrieval, recovery, reclamation, repossession, return

First of all a little background.  This past off-season I worked hard.  I know, we all work hard, we’re cyclists.  But I mean, I worked harder than I ever have before.  Within the constraints of shift-work, raising three kids, and trying not to drive my wife crazy, I planned my training, watched my diet more closely than ever, and monitored my progress as winter turned ever so slowly into spring.  I could see the numbers, power slightly up, weight slightly down, marginal gains.  Thats all you can really hope for when you are 45 years old right?  I’d had my best spring season to date last year, and outright won the Master B category in ‘cross.  And the numbers were telling me I was better.

You’d think the Steaming Nostril season-opener should have gone better than 35th place right?  In fact, in most respects it did. I was riding into a top ten until my back decided not to cooperate at the 50 km mark, and I made a conscious decision on course not to push through the pain and possibly cause more grief.  Accept it, move on to the next weekend.  This is one of the reasons I like spring racing season so much; if you have a bad outing you can probably set it right the next week.

The ‘next week’ for me would consist of a huge four day, three night, whole-family trip to Hamilton and Newmarket for the Good Friday Road Race and the Hell of The North.  I had done Good Friday two years ago, riding easily near the front in M2, but not really challenging for the win.  While I knew what to expect there, at Hell of The North….not so much.

It’s Good Friday morning and a beautiful day to race: a slight wind, sunny skies, dry roads.  I tinker with my race gear choices and set out for a warm-up ride of 20 minutes or so.  A bunch of different teams seem to be well represented, guys from London, Midweek, PBR, Centurion, and more.  I need to figure out a plan.  Riding the race solo makes things easier in some ways, and harder in others.  I’d love to sit in the weeds, but I’ve podiumed in this category before, so I’m a known quantity.  I likely won’t be able to fool anyone.  Warm-up goes great, I feel good, and start to gain confidence.  I roll back to peel off a layer of clothing and go to the line.  My wife and kids all wish me good luck and my oldest boy Taegan seems convinced I’ll win.  But I need to figure out how.  A long range break, late surge, final sprint, who knows?

We roll out slowly behind the neutral start car and get going without much drama, as expected.  The first laps go as I anticipated.   The London guys are active, and one strong-looking rider goes off solo mid-first lap.  I’m patrolling near the front and just watch him go.  Another solo rider I’ve met before sneaks a chat with me, seemingly recruiting me for a serious break.  Sure I’m game if he’s got some guys in mind.  The London solo eases back to the group,  and there are no more serious attacks for a while.  There seem to be several willing wind victims, guys riding fast on the front, maybe for a teamate, maybe because its safer there, and I’m happy to sit in around fifth wheel.  It goes predictibly like this for the first and second lap; now what to do?

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Photo: Ivan Rupes

Approaching mid third lap, I feel really good.  It’s been easy for me so far, so I decide I need to test the field to see who is serious.  I surge from a seated position almost as hard as I can, over a roller, and keep the power up for a minute.  Its not an attack, but a hard enough surge to count, and I have a couple followers, so I keep driving it.  A shoulder check reveals it’s now seven or eight guys, with a small gap of maybe 5 seconds.  I think maybe we can make this stick, so I keep shouting encouragment at the guys with me.  But it looks more like they were just covering me, not looking to ride a break, and we all come back together. Almost immediately there is a strong counter, a Midweek rider, out front hard, but solo, again. I wait for a few seconds to see if there will be more followers, but with nothing coming, I dont want the group to get well rested, so I counter as well, hard, on the yellow line.  I check after a minute, and I’ve pulled one rider with me, who I later learn is named Igor, and he’s pushing hard too, and we’re quickly bridging to Midweek.  We  group with him, but after one pull through he’s off.  I guess he went to hard on his counter.  I didn’t want to ride a break with only two riders, but now I’m committed to this, and we are off the front by 15 seconds or so; let’s see where it goes.

At the start of the fourth lap at the start/finish, its hard to tell, but the gap looks to be 15-20 seconds, and Igor is totally committed as well.  We have very little communication, but we both seem to know exactly what to do and it is a near perfect 50-50 split on workload.  This seems ideal, looking back, I see lots of yellow on the front of the peleton, London is working to pull us back.  So all I can do is stay steady, don’t overcook the effort, be efficient, and maybe London won’t get any help back there.

As we roll the start of the fifth and final lap it seems as though weve stretched the lead, the peloton now further back as we cross the line than last time, but I still dont know the split time. Was that someone yelling 24, is that our gap? Who yelled it? Is it growing? Its not enough information for my brain, eager to plan, so I forget it, just ride, stay commited, 16 km to go.

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Photo: Ivan Rupes

On the south bound straight now, looking back, it appears as though riders have pushed off the front in pursuit.  Its not London, the peloton seems fractured from what I can see.  I  later hear its due to a crash at the exit from the fairgrouonds.  To be fair,  that was a tight turn.  It seems Igor has labored ever so slightly to stay on my wheel over a couple of the rollers.  Hmmm. . . this is good, I think I can get him, but when?  As I shoulder check, I see the other riders coming from the peloton, now eastbound. Its confirmed, the peloton is broken, and two or three riders are out front chasing hard to us.  Its now about 8km to go; do we have enough gap?  This looks like its gonna be close.  They are fresher, whoever they are, and they’re gaining.

Igor and I have been out for over 30 km now.  Northbound, I can see for sure its only two riders, damn, they are close enouh that I can see that?  So I gotta stick with Igor, if I try and dump him now, maybe we both get caught.  Now we are westbound, this stretch is fast, tailwind, just go hard and maintain speed.  At the last right turn to go north it looks like they are close allright, but I’m sure well make it. . . just.  Now I have to chose my spot.  I want to win.  Maybe 2km from the line I throw an emphatic elbow, and Igor takes his turn again. This guy is nothing if not doing his share; I wait, sheltered, for a roller.

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Photo: Ivan Rupes

I’ve been the guy getting beat to the line by working too much or working the hardest on a number of occasions.  This sport is so tricky, you effectively become teamates with a complete stranger for 40 km, just so that you can fight it out at the end, not teamates at all.  Despite knowing all this, I feel guilt as I pass Igor, knowing I’ve worked him just hard enough that he won’t be able to match my move, knowing what that feels like.  On the other side, I know I’ve earned this; I’ve put in the miles, I’m the strongest on the day.  I should win, and for the first time, I roll the last 90 degree turn knowing I will win.  Igor crosses only seconds behind, the first chaser a mere 11 seconds further.  He was closing fast, but ran out of track.  Rolling past the finish to the grass, my boys have run over and can’t wait to high five me through the fence.  I’m glad to have won in front of them.

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Photo: Ivan Rupes

I know its not a field mixed with elite riders, but M2 is my category and a field of 70 strong guys, my peers, most of whom have been riding and racing for years.  Winning any race isn’t easy, and after my dissapointment the previous week, this feels like redemption for all the hard work that I had to believe would yield results.  Between my fitness, my race tactics and instincts, I’ve nailed it.

Thanks to Ivan Rupes for taking the time to capture all the racing action so vividly! Check out Ivan’s site for more.

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