'Praxis'

Less is More: The El Camino Team Time Trial is Born

IMG_9465    Many readers will know that the Ride of the Damned has grown to a point that I, and a number of others within our club, can no longer participate in the ride. While supporting the event out on the road in a car is a unique and fun experience, there’s definitely a feeling of loss associated with not being able to ride the event, mainly because its format is fairly unique. Riding as a team in a time trial format has yielded some of the most spectacular ride experiences of my life, including the RotD, Riviere Rouge Raudax, and Rapha North-East Gentleman’s race. It’s a lot like being in a breakaway that has a chance to win, except the gentleman’s agreement between riders is never annulled. There’s no attacking, hiding, or waiting. Instead, it’s a beautiful balancing act of climbing at a pace that doesn’t pressure your team’s weakest rider too much, descending only as fast as your slowest rider is comfortable with,  and pulling into the wind just hard enough, just long enough, everyone arriving at the end equally crushed. Sometimes this means the fittest rider will need to feel like each climb is ‘easy.’ Other times the team will be so closely balanced each rider can work about the same amount on climbs. It’s always different, and always requires careful observation of each other, reminders to eat and drink, and avoiding putting team-mates into situations where they feel compelled to chase. The more varied the terrain, the more challenging the balancing act.

Given Iain Radford and I both find this sort of riding, especially with a competitive component, really fun, we decided early this season to host a low-key event that would allow us to invite a bunch of like-minded riders we know to come together to ride hard. We wanted to make sure we kept the scale small so that we’d not get buried with logistics, and to establish the event as one we’d always participate in. In addition, we hoped our approach would entice other club and team members to to host their own rides in the future. Perhaps it could be a template of sorts.

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Right off the bat, setting a tough but FUN route would keep the scale constrained, and also pose the sort of challenge we were looking for. Along with Richard Grieve and Mike Reeves, we rode our first iteration of the route in June to test it out. We wanted  a mix of trail, paved, and dirt roads, taking in the best bits we could in an 12—130km route. The idea was to create a pattern of alternating pace and riding style so that riders would never be on the same sort of terrain for long enough for it to become boring.

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It was a very rainy day, which damped our spirits a little for sure, but more than that, some of the trails we used simply made us ride too slow to be fun. There were too many embedded rocks, we had too many flats (even with 38mm tires), and there just wasn’t enough flow to the loop. The thing was, we didn’t want to create a hard route for the sake of being hard. We wanted the route to be fun. Sure, some of us have bikes that would work better (drop-bar mountain bikes with 2.0” tires), but it would have been pretty lame to set a route that only we had suitable bikes for. Instead, we wanted a route that work for everyone with a cyclocross bike and 35-38mm tires. So we chopped out the rockier trail segments and arrived upon a new version. Iain tested it out solo a few weeks later, and managed to ride it at an average speed of 30kph. Perfect! That meant the 118km route would take a bit under 4 hours for the fastest team, and under 6 for the slowest. Locked.

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Central to the route was of course the start/end point. We opted for Penguin Picnic area in Gatineau Park for a few reasons. First, it’s easy to access, even when the Parkway is closed to cars; second, it’s not generally busy; and third, because it would place us right at trail #1, which is ideal for cyclocross bikes. It also happens to be a really cool, pretty spot. We’d start the loop on trails, then close it with the steep pinch back up to Penguin from Old Chelsea. Nice!

What about afterwards? Obviously we’d want to do a BBQ and hang out! So, in line with our simple approach, we decided to have each team of four riders bring their own BBQ-ables and drinks, and we’d bring the charcoal and condiments. Easy.

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Photo: Rodd Heino

The cool thing about running the event as a ‘club ride,’ under the OCA’s insurance policy is that we could charge just $10/rider, and we didn’t have to care about whether we got 3 or 13 teams. With no overhead aside from time spent on the route and communications, there was no pressure to break even. Instead, we could use the money raised to buy some great handmade leather prizes from James Brooks for the winning team and consolation prizes for the team that had the roughest day. As event organisers, this is really where you want to be, not worried about having enough people show up to break even. We can be like, whatever, if we’re the only ones, we’ll have a great ride and a BBQ. No stress! The simpler we keep things, the more able we are to do different routes that might not have mass appeal, but are unique and really fun for those who attend.

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Photo: Rodd Heino

What about navigation? Again, the approach was simple: “Here’s the route on RidewithGPS, work out your navigation approach as you like.” No course marking, no stress. I emailed the route link out on Thursday, and everyone took care of themselves without incident. Fantastic! The side-benefit to this approach is that it gives riders who might be used to riding the same old loops, and/or following course markings in races to try out navigation with different tools, be they GPS units or cue sheets. This is a pretty handy skill to have, especially for those who can travel with their bikes, and do rides like D2R2, which is completely self-navigated.

And support? No support. This is the thing about organizing a ride over a challenging route: those who are fit and experienced enough to ride it should have enough skill to handle the typical mechanical and biological issues one might face on a 4-5 hour ride. With the support of three others, few problems should prove unsurmountable. The key – and a low cost of entry helps here – is for riders to think of this sort of event more as a typical group ride scenario rather than a typical ‘event’ scenario with all sorts of the support provided. We don’t need all that extra stuff to ride hard with our buddies. We need to take responsibility for ourselves and our equipment, just like any other Sunday ride.

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Everything worked out exactly as hoped form an organizing perspective. The GPS file worked, there were no significant navigational issues. Riders had mechanicals and dealt with them skillfully. Some rode hard, others a little less so. At the end we all busted out our coolers, shared food, and had a great time hanging out telling war stories. Special mention goes to the guys from Montreal who brought the most impressive food, and Osmond Bakker’s wife, Tammy, for bringing a beautiful salad for everyone. Who knows, perhaps as time passes we’ll see folks getting more elaborate with their food….or not. Whatever folks are into!

Our team – Iain Radford, Todd Fairhead, Richard Grieve, and me – wanted to beat Iain’s time of 4 hours and establish the course record. We knew Osmond Bakker’s squadt – Nick Bundza, Dave Jones, Phil Lanthier (a just-in-time fill-in) – would be motivated and fully capable of giving us a run for our money, but at the same time we’d recruited Todd Fairhead, who’d only ridden six times in June, one of which involved a heavy crash. So we knew we’d have to keep things mellow on the climbs, and leverage drafting on the smoother parts of the route. Todd never likes to be the anchor in a group, but every team tends to have one, right up through the ProTour ranks during any given team time trial. That’s part of the challenge.

By Lac Phillipe we’d surpassed every team that had started before us, with just Osmond’s team having started after, as they were waiting for Phil to arrive at Penguin as a fill-in. Iain managed to bottom his 38mm Compass front tire on an invisible pointy rock, which slowly leaked to the point of obviously going flat. We managed to get it changed quickly with the help of my Silca framepump (yes, it really does work well), but had to change out the spare tube due to its valve stem being bent inside its extender, preventing it from closing under pressure. Doh! Three teams streamed by as we completed the change. This only reinforced the importance of avoiding mechanicals, as it takes a LOT of extra effort to make 7 minutes up on a 4 hour  route!

We were not alone, however, on this front. Bill Hurley broke his chain on the 105, but that repair was ably handled with a master-link, something everyone should carry on rides out of town. Later, Nick Bundza would shear his derailleur off, necessitating a singlespeed fix, which would up falling prey to the dreaded ‘cog-climb,’ where the chain climbs up to the next cog, increasing tension to an extreme level. “Hey Matt, come over here and try to turn this,” Nick said upon arrival at Penguin. I’d have to guess it took at least 150-200 watts to just turn his cranks! And he rode that for 50km! You can see why we considered his team a threat for the fastest time!

Due to the positive feedback we’ve received, we’re considering another ride before we start to transition into cyclocross season. Perhaps something in teams of two, with drafting between teams permitted….

Matt’s photos

Rodd’s photos

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