The first race weekend of 2015, in Waterloo, ON, March 29, and indeed, Tekne Cycle Club, began with a frustrating car drive, and ended with a cathartic bike ride with $225 in my pocket four days later.
Traffic from downtown Ottawa to Alex Michel’s place in Hull (still feels more specific than ‘Gatineau’) was a gong show of construction and poor decision making. However, once rolling out of town en route to Toronto, Mazda 5 loaded with bikes and gear, anxiety melted into inevitable dissection of race scenarios, team tactics, and tire pressure.
Bruce Bird (Wheels of Bloor) and Osmond Bakker (Wheels of Bloor): how to beat them? We couldn’t pick Bird out of a line-up, but we knew what he was capable of. Big strong man willing and able to win the race solo. Osmond, from our woods, a known quantity, strong in every aspect.
It wouldn’t be a matter of developing a strategy to best these guys and whoever else. Realistically, there were three of us to work with – Alex, Jim McGuire, and myself – Mike Lowe surely cooked from the previous day’s Barry Roubaix in Michigan. Steve Bosworth was out for his first ride of the season.
It was a matter of considering how the best guys would likely want the race to go, and looking at how to work with those scenarios. First races of the year are always more dangerous than others, riders polarized in their abilities, unaware of their limits, and often having just come off a winder of only riding inside. Danger zone.
Strong riders will tend to want to escape this sort of melee early. Bird and Osmond would obviously want this to happen, so they’d either initiate an early move, or go with one. So the strategy was simple: be ready to go early, following or initiating.
“Ok, good, that’s Bird.” “Alex, that’s Bird in the black, red, white helmet.” We’re lined up near the front, all but Steve, further back. It’s above freezing, windy, and not raining. We’ve reconnoitered the final 2.5k of the course, featuring chopped up and sanded ice over pea-gravel, then a wooden 60 staircase, and a thawing grass cyclocross sector. ‘Dicey’ seems the appropriate term for the finale. It’s a good day to race.
Neutral rollout is surprisingly safe and devoid of incident. The wind is kicking, gusting around 30kph from the left, dissuading any real aggression. Soft moves come and go, Jim is active, Alex and I are staying near the front. Not knowing many of the riders, we don’t have much to go on when gauging the seriousness of attacks. Stay up front, out of the wind.
Jim’s just off a move, Bird is moving up on the left, one of his team-mates just having been brought back. Osmond has moved into a little splinter group of 6-7, dangling 4 seconds off the peloton.
Straight through the pack, I look back, directly at Osmond, signaling I want him to come with me, while slowing slightly to ensure he gets on. 12k into 70.
Baggyfluorojacketguy, pinkkitguy, someotherguy, Osmond and I have a gap, but I’m not overly confident in this mix. We’re holding it…we’ll see.
Banking left on dirt road, pulling into a 30kph cross wind from the left, hulking frame blows by on the right. Bird. He goes straight to the gutter as I close and try to get a degree of shelter from the wind. Barely avoid careening off the road and into a phone pole as the soft shoulder gives way. No draft, just ride.
Bird decides to stop guttering me, pulls left, lets me in, Osmond behind me. ‘Yes.” We are three, and I know this can work. We’ve already got 20 seconds.
Another Wheel of Bloor rider, Gaelen Merritt, has been towed up to us by a team-mate. Four. This is good. Gaelen chopped a bunch of the ice on Saturday, he knows every inch of this course, and provides commentary. We work together as a unit, full echelon most of the way, gaining, gaining, gaining. We have minutes now.
35k in, turning right into a tailwind, 0.5% descent. Bird attacks. “Shit, that’s earlier than I’d hoped….” As soon as I’m on his wheel, Gaelen counters. Catch. Bird again. “F#ck this.” I counter.
I’ve taken them by surprise. The gap is going up, and they are working. Hardpacked dirt, searching for the smoothest lines, my 45mm Woven wheels and 33mm Compass Extra leger tires are sailing, I’m flying. Phantom aero position as much as I can, focus on the lead car, smooth effort, being relaxed. Threshold, just like time trialing. “I’ve done a one hour TT at this effort before, I can do it now. I’ve only ridden an hour so far.”
5 kilometers down. “Shit, the car is turning right.” Crosswind. I keep the same tempo, feeling out the gap, but I know this isn’t good. If I go full gas, and they catch, I’m screwed. Better to make them work for the catch, recover, make sure 3rd is possible, revaluate.
They catch , Gaelen goes. “Fine. Can I still win this thing?”
“Ok. Don’t get 4th. Find a way. Right do nothing until 10k to go.”
Bird is pulling, letting the gap go out, but not massively. 15 seconds, 30, 45, 1 minute. We can still see Gaelen up there. Good. I hide off his left hip. Recover. Get those matches back. Get ready.
We’re turning left into a tailwind, and I am carrying more speed. Gap of 5, 7, 10 meters, I attack. “Yes, the car is turning right onto a dirt lane!” Opportunity.
Milking every iota of speed, turning, no crash, full gas. It’s dirt, rough, rutted, perfect. Turning into, out of the wind, cross, head, tail, it’s all over the place, Bird and Osmond are working hard to close. Now 3 seconds off me; “Ok, didn’t work…. Wait, f#ck that, they are not on, I just hold this, this is all I need.”
Into left turn, rutted, muddy track with ice piled up all over the apex. Gassed, I falter, slipping the front wheel, off the bike. Osmond passes, Bird crashes. Chain is off, ugh. Back on, go, Osmond has 10-15 seconds. Rutted, rough, on the rivet. Road pedals were a bad choice, confirmed.
Onto pavement into crosswind, Osmond is up there, Bird is back. Not too hard, reel him in. It’s working.
Turn into tailwind, catch stealthily, try to get a free ride from Osmond. He sees me, sits up. “Ok, attack! Shit.” We’re heading downhill, and I see we are about to turn into the pea-gravel-ice-sand sector that marks 2.5k to go. Must wait. “Calm down, wait until there’s a safe pass.”
45 seconds, rolling at 30kph over ice, there’s a window on the left, I jump through. Full gas, gap, more, more. “Great, now try to get to Gaelen!”
He’s up there, I can see him. 20 seconds. Spitting out onto pavement, fast as possible, see Gaelen into the stairs, now me. Death march, nothing in me to sprint these things, carrying bike. Up top, pedals suck, can’t make time. 20 seconds. 2nd. Feels so good. That was everything I could do.
Jim comes through a few minutes later, 10th, stoked. He’s done a superb race. So happy for him. Alex comes through seconds later. Polar opposite. He’s crashed at 50kph on dirt, knocked his head, torn his clothing, shaken himself into a spiral of pain, regret and self-loathing. Mike comes through, having also crashed into a tangle in front of him, taking a handlebar in a place than led to nausea that was not his stomach. Steve had a good first ride of the year.
So we’re split: two great rides, two marred with pain, lost skin, shredded kit. Meanwhile, Jim’s family have had a rollicking day, following the course, screaming encouragement, taking photos. We all rip into a panatone alongside our chilli and soup, take in the podia (Jim 3rd in Master 40+), say our good-byes, and head home.
45 minutes later, my car’s engine clunks, cuts out, and barely carries Alex and me to the shoulder of the 401 unscathed. Tow, bus to Ottawa for Alex, motel, ride downtown to Steve’s, ride to the U-Haul depot, drive to the garage, load the car onto a trailer, hang out at the Bicycle Depot while charging my phone, haul the car home late Monday night, take my kids to school Tuesday morning, drive the car to a scrap yard, ride home with $225 in my pocket. I feel lucky to be home.
Many thanks for Jamie and Kent of Woven for ensuring I had fabulous wheels for the race! Thank you to Dave Shirley and Giro for keeping my hands warm, Pete Smith of Mad Alchemy for the embrocation and #sockdoping, Imad of Rebec and Kroes for the incredible Smith glasses, and Vince and Rodd of the Cyclery for the Compass Extra Leger tires! Every little detail made a difference!
Race #1 down, back to being car-free, team-mates healing, ready for this weekend’s adventure in Vermont: the Rasputitsa. Then it’s back home for the Almonte Roubaix on Sunday. Assuming….
A few more photos here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/organize/ and on Instagram: @cyclosomatic @teknecycling