6k to go, Sunday, April 28, 2018. It’s a beautiful day to race a bike across dirt roads, forest tracks and farmers’ fields. Unlike 2017, I’m not wearing a veritable wetsuit, and it isn’t howling gale-force winds. Cool, yes, cold, no; the aromas of spring remain poised to waft, and with them, the bees that will have so much vital work to do. The taste of dates lingers in my mouth.
Today is my ‘big day’ of spring, and this is my ‘target race.’ This race, one of the biggest in North America, and among the best suited to my abilities and the most fun to contest, is about to get real.
It’s been going about as well as I could have hoped, a stark contrast from the sensations of 2017, which ended well, but perhaps took a couple months off my life. I’m through wishing Gunnar Holmgren, seeking his third victory in a row, becomes motivated to ride in a small group, not the 30 or so rolling toward the finale. The thing is, he doesn’t need to care whether 5 or 50 are behind him, because he’s confident that if he rides into the final series of off-road sectors at the front he’ll be able to do them faster than everyone else; he’ll win. He’s done it before, and is evidently planning to do it again.
In the past I’ve tried to cleave a small group to improve my chances on the final climb, but in today’s conditions (tailwind, mostly dry), and a lot of depth in the field, the only way a small group will get away is if a bunch of big strong guys who also don’t like the final climb band together and make it happen. Marc Brouwer and his team-mate have been trying to do just that all race, as have Jeremy Powers and Alec Donahue, working with Anthony Clark, and I’ve participated. I’ve attacked and gone with attacks, but I’ve also observed Gunnar holding back, and I’m cuing off that.
Do I really need to care how many people go into the first mud-chute? No, I don’t. The final climb isn’t my forte, but the preceding mud chutes and trail are, so my best strategy is to arrive at the entry to the first chute as fresh as possible and drill it from there. Meanwhile, those who are strong on the road but less-so off-road want to improve their odds be arriving at the final gauntlet in a small group.
I’ve narrowly avoided crashes twice this morning: first, mere moments into the race, when I nearly smashed into a steel post at the entry of the first rail-trail sector. Perhaps an extension to make these posts visible to rider behind other riders would be wise? Second, glancing down at my bib-shorts riding up over my knee warmers, overlapping wheels, careening, foot dabbing, dabbing, dabbing, ever-so-slightly avoiding taking myself and Nathan Chown down. Well done, sir, sorry ’bout that!
I knew coming into P2A that I had an opportunity to podium again, but it’d be as hard as ever. My form was perhaps a little better than each year prior, but the main thing I wanted to do was take a shot at the final 5k relatively fresh, for the first time. How would the final climb go if I wasn’t chasing because I’d just smashed my face into a tree on the second mud chute? How would it go if I wasn’t riding a front flat, having burped my tire on the last trail sector? How would I do if I wasn’t out solo into an epic headwind for 30k before the final climb? It’d probably feel better, right, I could probably do better, right?
Jeremy Powers has attacked numerous times, indicating clearly that he’s here to race today; sweet! Tyler Clark chops my front wheel as he follows Jeremy’s jump. We’re rolling along Highway 52, and there are cars coming in the opposite lane. A slightly delayed reaction from me as Clark cuts across my wheel could have sent me into incoming traffic. I inform him that his move was unacceptable, in no uncertain terms. It’s better when young riders can learn lessons from getting yelled at by old dudes than actually having to learn from causing a crash that might kill someone.
This episode is a distraction. I”m still angry as we turn right onto Mineral Springs Rd, and I’ve just refocused as Gunnar attacks. Shit, we’re already heading into the first mud chute!
Aaron Kyle, David Charles and I reconnoitered the final 5k on Saturday, and this first of two chutes was a quagmire. The mud was deeper than anyone had seen there before, but thankfully, not terribly viscous. It was possible to ride through all of it under power, but man, was it a big effort! Even though it was a downhill grade, rear tire traction for driving the bike forward was a concern. All the front runners are on file treads today, while I’ve chosen to run the Panaracer Gravel King SK 35mm tires I’m testing for a review on the site. They’ve been great all day, and should be as good or better than what the other guys are on down the chute.
Powers has followed Gunnar’s attack, and I’m on his wheel as we approach the boulders we must pass between, which mark the start of the first powerline/chute. I know more speed than we’ve got would be better, but opt not to barge in front of Jeremy. Anybody else, I would. Anthony is close behind Gunnar, followed by Tyler Clark [I think…]. There are more dudes in the mix, they won’t make it through clean; bodies are all over the place as we descend; it’s mayhem. Gunnar rides through the sloppy descent clean and fast, while Anthony runs, allowing Tyler, Jeremy and me to close in on him a bit. I bounce all over the show, nowhere near as controlled as I was in recon; no surprise. It’s a big effort, but this is going ok. I come out ahead of Jeremy and Tyler.
Gunnar has a gap, Anthony is trying to close in, but not making ground on Powerline Rd. As if this is what’s going on right now! Second spot is right there, Anthony, I just have to get to him!
Damn, Jeremy is on my wheel! And behind him, Tyler Clark! Ok, whatever, I want a crack at second, so I’m going to TT the shit out of this gap and hope I ride them off my wheel.
Jeremy, then Tyler come around as we head into the second Powerline sector, this one being much more firm than the first, and a lot faster. We’re right on Anthony, one chase group as a drop in. I’m trying to stick directly behind Tyler but it’s madness. Mud flies in every direction, including straight up under my glasses and into my right eye, rendering it bling. My interest in self-preservation kicks in as I frantically blink to clear the contamination; I back off a little, allowing more space between Tyler and me as we ricochet down the hill. Taking the outside line I chose during recon, my entry speed is a little low for the extra distance, which translates into their gap growing. Shit!
They’ve got a few seconds on me, but gravity is on my side! At least, it can be if I make it so. The intervals between Gunnar, the three, and me are about equal, and they’re in the position of having to share work out in the open, Gravel Pit Rd., to catch him. Are any of them willing to fully commit to chasing him down?
In this moment, in these moments, motivation is everything. With that, pain is pushed to the background, it doesn’t really matter. I’m motivated, because I know the three of them each want the other two to do more work, which presents the possibility for me to reconnect. Ride at 100% and see.
Yessss! I’m back on Tyler’s wheel on Old Martin Rd. as it transitions to the final trail sector, 2k to go! The trail bumps up ahead, and it was greasy there yesterday; will running be my move? Anthony runs while the rest of us ride, Gunnar visible ahead. It’s a crappy little climb, slow; I lose a couple metres to Tyler. At my limit, I don’t have an acceleration in me; this is going to be a grind-off!
Jeremy takes the wide left line around the ditch that poses some risk, the main line being over some roots. I follow Tyler’s line over the roots, my typical line, and get hung up in the ditch, losing another metre or two. Dammit! There’s little to work with from here, pretty much no terrain to take riskier lines on, brake less on. . . we’re heading uphill and it isn’t very technical.
We’re pretty much down to a battle of will and watts now.
Anthony attacks shortly after exiting the trail and continuing on dirt road. Jeremy and Tyler can’t match it, while I’m still just doing my thing, diesel mode.
Jeremy attacks Tyler, dropping him. Cool, maybe Tyler will overextend himself and blow up completely, I can get him! Meanwhile, Anthony is desperately trying to make ground on Gunnar, to no avail.
Damn, Tyler is keeping his shit together well, I’m not going to catch him.
The cheers along Martin Rd. climb really do help. I’m going hard, but hearing folks say nice things to motivate me makes it feel better.
This is good, 5th is good. Try to remember this feeling, because this is the truth of the matter.
There were so many opportunities to get things wrong today, but I got most of it right. I didn’t crash. I didn’t flat. I didn’t break my bike. I didn’t get lost. I could have done things a little better with 5k to go, and it might have mattered. Or not. 5th is good, these guys are friggin fast, I’m happy. I win the 40-49 category, so that’s nice too. I get to take a winner’s jersey home for my son; he’ll love it [he does].
Aaron had been with the front group, feeling good, when he double flatted. That was followed by another flat. Brutal. I hope he has much better luck next time, because this race is a good fit for his strengths, and working with teammates is way better than not!
Dave Charles rode to a strong 12th in the 50-59 category, his first time starting in the Elite wave.
Paris-to-Ancaster continues to be a race I really dig. The organization is PRO, the course is awesome, and the crowd that comes out to race is both immense and enthusiastic. It was a treat to speak to a bunch of you readers; thanks for taking the time to say hi!
A small aside: I’ve been testing Ontario’s Yo Fiit probiotic energy bars since our training camp in North Carolina in March 2018, and used them through all the races of 2018 (and felt great on them). I’ve relied on the bars for all my riding nutrition, and they’ve been a fantastic alternative to the typical high-sugar bars on the market most of us are accustomed to. I even brought a bunch with me to Europe to ensure I’d always have proper food with me for rides in the mountains. Falling into the ‘real food’ category, ATMO, they work great for those rolling on low-sugar and low-carb diets. I’ll publish a piece about the bars soon, but just wanted to make mention now. If you didn’t get a chance to try them at the Ride of the Damned in 2018 (thanks for the support, Yo Fiit!) check them out as we head into 2019. There’s no better time than winter for experimentation! And check out their chickpea-based milk too, high protein and versatile.
I’d like to thank all the fantastic people and brands that support my cycling aspirations and efforts: Woven Precision Handbuilts, Compass tires, Lake Cycling, Absolute Black, Kogel, Brodie, Handske, Silca, Mad Alchemy, YoFiit, Vega, Re:Form.
If you have any questions you’d like answered in my new MATTER of Fact series, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org