'Praxis'

How the Race was Won: Paris to Ancaster 2016

What’s rubbing? It’s so bad, what is it?

It’s not going away. 

This climb shouldn’t be this hard. The drag must be bad. They’re up there, I have to try. 

It’s hard to write this post on the heels of two great races, one that ended perfectly, the other almost so. Sunday didn’t go well for me between Paris and Ancaster, Ontario, and I’m disappointed. That’s normal, and it’s fine.

If I didn’t care I wouldn’t be any good at bike racing at all. On an intellectual level I know things are going to go sideways in bike racing, and I tend not to have a problem with that happening when it’s my fault. Last year at P2A when I crashed into a tree in the mud chute, dashing my chance at the win, it was my fault. I took a risk, went full speed, crashed. I was fine with it.

On Sunday I went into the chute in first position again, but this time with as many as 14 riders trailing. I took it a bit conservative, not aiming to gap anyone through it, but to make the difference on the final off-road climb and penultimate dirt road climb.

It didn’t work out that way.

Race Day

I had a terrible ‘sleep.’ It had to have been the kombucha I had at the Healthy Rabbit, the little cafe in Brantford we found for dinner Saturday night. I only had a bit, but I knew it was a bit risky. See, kombucha that isn’t fermented all the way is still caffeinated. And I’m ‘sensitive.’ I slept perhaps 4 hours, but since I don’t have the pain in my chest I get from really bad insomnia, I figure I should be ok.

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Pre-game huddle.

Jim McGuire, Marc Hunt and I arrived on Saturday and took in some of the course with Kris Gibbs and Christian Bernard. They flatted on the same rock as we headed in reverse down the final trail sector of the race course. I took a picture, posted it, any at least one person thought I had flatted. Me? No, not me.

Triple flat! Get it out of the way, I guess. #p2a recon. #springclassics #paristoancaster #TekneCC

A photo posted by Matt Surch Ⓥ (@cyclosomatic) on

It was to be a dry edition, but the mud chute was characteristically sloppy when we scoped it out. Is this thing ever dry? Probably not.

As we roll up to the Paris start location, throngs of riders milling about in anticipation of their starts. Marc and Jim are feeling up for it, psyched to try to make the break which will inevitably form after the first climb, the loose pitch that kicks riders up and out of the race’s first rail trail sector early into the race.

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© Peter Kraiker | Kraiker.Photography

Lots of fast riders are here. I’m pleased to see Caroline Mani get her call-up, along with Jamey Driscoll, representing Raleigh-Clement. Ellen Noble’s here with the Jam Fund and Aspire Racing team, including Jeremy Powers, Alec Donahue, and their alumnist, Anthony Clark (Squid Bikes). There are lots of young guns, none of whom I recognize. Thanks to my 3rd spot finish in 2015, I get a call-up, which will help a lot with getting to the first sector in front.

I’m squeezing my tires, a la Eddie, as I stand over my bike behind Jeremy Powers and Ellen Noble. The front is conspicuously softer than the rear, though I set them almost the same…. My stomach drops. I’ve got CO2 in my pocket – “Two minutes” – I squeeze the tire again; yep, it’s low. Did I run over something? The CO2 is in my hand, I’m reaching down to thread it onto the valve. “One minute.”

Shit.

I put it back into my pocket. I can’t risk having this thing attached when the gun goes off. Hopefully it stays as it is, not bad…..

Clark takes the whole-shot, but it feels easy to move up to the pointy end and lead into the first sector, a dicey turn into rail trail. I used my ‘voodoo floss‘ on my legs before heading to the start, and they feel good. I love those things!

We’re cruising the rail trail at about 35kph. The effort isn’t hard in the wind, but I’m not really keen on staying here the whole time. The thing is, if I slide back, others jump on the opportunity to shuffle forward, and I have to spend more energy holding my position. I like it better in the wind.

I”m looking back to find Jim and Marc. I can’t see either, but Jim will later tell me he was over my other shoulder. Should I just get onto the gas now and string it out so the climb sees a smaller group go over? Nah, that’s probably a bad idea. Sit tight.

Oh, good, unlike 2015, there’s a truck parked at the bottom of the 90-degree turn into the climb, clearly marking it. Stepping on the gas, I’ve got a clear shot into the turn, approaching at 45kph. Far left to right, heading up the slope, still leaning, my front wheel washes in deep gravel. Foot down, I keep pedaling with one leg while kicking myself up with the other, but it’s too loose, and I’m in my big ring. Hop off, run! Have I screwed this thing up already?!

A bunch of guys make it up, but I’m not alone on my feet. This is where the separation has to happen, so I’m all-in to catch on, then riding to the front to help Marc-Andre Daigle  drive the pace and tring to get others to work. My Garmin says my heart rate up to 196bpm; the highest I’ve previously recorded was 184 out of a calculated 185 max. Whether it’s accurate or picking up someone else’s, I don’t know. I do know I’m going hard (pretty sure now it was glitching).

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The drag after the first climb, probably the hardest or second-hardest part of the race. © Chyla Clarkson| www.photographybychayla.com
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© Chyla Clarkson| www.photographybychayla.com

I’m ‘encouraging’ some of the younger riders up here to go harder, and they either can’t or won’t. It’s often hard to tell the difference. We’re not driving it hard enough to form the break. When Garrigan was here he’d drill it, and you’ve have to do the same or come off. I’m doing what I can, but I’m not as strong as he was/is, and I don’t want to totally crush myself and then get dropped. The group is big as we hit the 12km mark, too big.

Nothing is working. The pace is never hard enough, long enough to break this pack up. The persistent headwind surely has something to do with it. Shannon Hunt (Morning Glory) has been dangling off the front for a while, now joined by one of the Centurion Next Wave kids. Overall, the aggression factor is really low. The woods are far easier at the pace we’re doing than in 2015. Marc-Andre Daigle (Garneau) and I definitely want to get out of this pack, and agree we should try to use the forest sectors to do that.

The two danglers have been caught, and Gaelen Merritt (Wheels of Bloor) is now off the front. I’ve already figured out that I am marked, and I can only get up to Gaelen and get a break going if I go where its hard. He turns into a farm sector, I step on it, bridge, try to get him to come, but he’s a bit gassed. I come out with Clark, who’s game, but we don’t have enough fire power to make the difference.

The group continues to expand and contract, Marc has made it up to us. Awesome! On a rail trail sector we ride up to a string of 6 fallen trees crossing the trail. Weird. Turns out it was sabotage! Someone literally went in and chopped trees down to bar riders because they don’t like us being there. Incredible.

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© Peter Kraiker | Kraiker.Photography

We’re finally down to about 15, Gaelen is dangling off the front again, and nobody seems particularly interested in doing anything about it. I’m having a hard time understanding why some of these guys are riding the way they are…. From recon I know what the entrance to the mud chute looks like, and that this will all come down to getting through it safe, then racing up the last trail sector and dirt road to the line. I feel like I’ve done too much, and am not sure how I’ll feel on the last climb, but I know what I need to do.

The speed ramps up as we swoop down, then up into the mud chute sector. I come from a few wheels back and accelerate hard to go in first. I’m going to hit it at 90% and try to get through clean.

I hate descending stuff like this in my drops. They’re too low, but my 10-speed SRAM hoods are not safe for descending like this. The new ones are superior for that. Things are going ok, it’s a downhill pinball slog.

Aaron Schooler (IWill Helmet Awareness) cuts from my right to left taking my line. I voice my disapproval while sketching out, momentum dropped. Marc-Antoine Nadon falls onto me, pinning my bike to the ground, his handlebar tangled. Really?! It’s not an intentional thing, of course, but four guys have gotten through while I try to extricate myself! That’s the race getting away!

I’m rolling, chasing Daigle, while Schooler, Clarke and Gunnar Holmgren are a bit further ahead, just out of sight. The traction is poor as the chute flattens, deep mud flinging everywhere, coating everything.

Something’s rubbing. It must be mud, it’ll clear.

It’s not clearing. It’s so bad, what is it?

It’s not going away!

Is it my wheel, did it get knocked crooked in the dropouts? It doesn’t look like it.

Is it something jammed between my seat-tube and the tire? I can’t see.

Should I stop and see?

No!

Descending fast gets me to Daigle, and I pass heading into the trail sector. It pitches up, and the drag on my back wheel is so strong I’m going into the red. He passes back. It levels off, and I’ve recovered slightly, so I pass again, leading as we head to the fallen tree that crosses the trail.

My pass maneuver doesn’t line me up well for the tree, so I have to jump while leaning left, and I land leaning right. The angle is too great for my front tire; it loses air as the bead pulls away from the rim. The dreaded ‘tubeless burp.’

I’m optimistic I’ve only lost a bit. Nope. The rest of the air is bleeding out as I pass through the gnarliest feature, a rooty dip through mud, where the tire rolls to the side, pitching me right, nearly crashing. I’m screwed.

Should I walk? No way. The rim can take this, it’ll be ok as long as the tire stays on. I need if for the rest of the season.

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The final climb isn’t harder than it would have been otherwise, it’s just slower. Alec Donahue approaches as I near the top, inspiring me to ride at the limit to the line. I suspect this is a top-15, but I hope it’s more like a top-10. 11. Naturally. © Chyla Clarkson| www.photographybychayla.com

The drag on my back wheel plus the front flat makes this one hell of a unpleasant effort. Guys are coming past, there’s nothing I can do about it. Gaelen offers a kind word as he rolls by. Class.

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© Chyla Clarkson| www.photographybychayla.com

Daigle, up the road, reels in and passes Schooler, Holmgren trailing Clark into the final climb. Holmgren puts hit watts per kilo to the floor, passing Clark as the road steepens to 20% for the win.

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Gunnar Holmgren wins! © Peter Kraiker | Kraiker.Photography

I’m not angry, I’m disappointed. Holmgren has won, Clark second, Daigle 3rd. I feel I had at least enough to get onto the podium. But I can’t know. I did everything in my power to prepare and race well, but there’s always another variable: chance. It wasn’t my day, but I put myself in a position where it definitely could have been. That’s all I can do. I come out of the race thinking about adapting to being a marked rider in races like this that stack all the hard features into the end.

#p2a is all wrapped up for 2016. Really different race this year without @mike_garrigan driving it up front. Rather than a break, we saw a split form off the first loose climb off the rail trail, and nobody seemed too keen on letting me get away in a small group or working with me to form one. A solid 15 of us headed into the final crux, the Chute, and I got into the front going in. Things went awry halfway down when a frisky rider passed and took my line, followed by another falling on me and tangling our bikes. I chased @marcodaigle81 out as he pursued @tweakn101 and two others. My back brake was screwy, dragging heavily on the rim; #wattagebazooka required to get to Daigle. Desperate, I passed, hopped the fallen tree on the final climbing trail, landed on an angle, burped my tire. It proceeded to flatten, I proceeded to almost crash. From there it was full gas to try to salvage a top 15 as riders caught and passed. 11th in the end, I’m quite disappointed with how it went, but it’s key to focus on what went well, and build on the lessons and small successes. @bmxjim and @duckhuntmarc rode great races, 49th and 38th, results they are happy with and keen to build on then. We’re all safe and sound, including our club-mates we didn’t really get to see after as we rode back to Paris to get our car. We’ll have unfinished business here in 2017; more fuel for the fire! #paristoancaster #springclassic #TekneCC

A photo posted by Matt Surch Ⓥ (@cyclosomatic) on

Marc and Jim have ridden great races, 39th and 49th, respectively. They are far happier with their outcomes than me, which is great. I don’t want to wallow, there’s too much to be happy about. Not being smashed or breaking our bikes are things to be happy about!

#p2a : there’s no getting around the mud. #paristoancaster2016 #springclassic #Ontario #TekneCC

A photo posted by Matt Surch Ⓥ (@cyclosomatic) on

Exchanging messages with Mike Garrigan after the race, I am consoled to have him tell me he’s flatted 4 times while leading the race. The unexpected always happens; that’s the nature of the race. I’m not getting any younger, so I can’t help but feel like my chances are numbered, but I am confident that I’ll have a few more solid cracks at P2A. It’s a unique race, no two editions will be at all the same.

In the aftermath, I’m happy to see my confidence in my rim’s durability was well founded. Removing the tire, I find zero damage to the carbon. My tire, on the other hand, is riddled with holes, as expected. An aluminum rim would have been dented all over. Yet again, I’m so impressed by the strength and durability of my wheels. Later this season I’ll be testing the new Clement tubeless LAS and PDX tires, which I expect to be harder to burp than the old one I was using. 

Many thanks to Tim Farrar, the P2A organizing team, all the volunteers, the photographers, the event’s sponsors, East Burke, and the Paris and Ancaster communities for collaborating on another fantastic edition of P2A! This event is a massive undertaking and inspiration for thousands, fueling many a workout through the winter. It’s well worth the 5 hour drive from Ottawa.

#p2a soil transfer. #springclassic #giro #wovenprecisionhandbuilts

A photo posted by Matt Surch Ⓥ (@cyclosomatic) on

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 tiresSilca (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 Almonte Roubaix, and the rest of the events we’ll wrap into our spring classics season, check out this post. For those wondering about our tire choice for this weekend, it’ll be the Clement LAS.

Here’s the race on Strava, the whole thing this time!

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