Can you believe it; spring is here. Sort of. Ottawa Gatineau has already seen some pretty sweet early spring weather, but it’s a weird one! The roads were clear for a week or more, the road riding was darn good, save the potholes, then it snowed! And iced! Now we’re back on track, but this winter has proven one hell of a wheel sucker!
Coming out of Easter weekend, some of us are making ‘final touches’ on our form with the intention of starting out strong on Sunday, April 3 in Waterloo at the Steaming Nostril. MArc Hunt has already launched our classics season with Easter weekend’s foray at the Hell of the North. Marc suffered a flat while riding in the top 15, slipping to 25th after his repair. Rough luck, but a good way to blow out the cobwebs! This weekend we’re off to St. Jacobs, Ontario for the Steaming Nostril. Here’s a rundown of the race and the rest of those on our spring classics schedule:
Sunday, April 3 – The Steaming Nostril
Cycle Waterloo hosts this ice-breaker, a 70km (also a 35km option) loop covering paved and gravel roads outside Waterloo (St. Jacobs). The course is quite flat, so wind will define the race (forecasted at up to 35kph!). Iain Radford, Marc Hunt and I will contest the race, likely with stiff competition from Wheels of Bloor.
What to expect: As above, wind riding skills will be key. Late into the route (61k), there’s a fantastic sector of farm lane that really spices things up! The finish is rather unique: riders ascent a couple flights of stairs and cyclocross to the line across grass. Some will prefer some tread on their tires for the farm track stuff.
Wayback Machine: The 2015 was a pretty fantastic start to the season, minus the part where Alex Michel crashed and hit his head, then my car’s engine blew up.
UPDATE: The season-opener went well! Check out How the Race was Won. After the race I did an in-depth interview with Jan Heine of Compass tires and Bicycle Quarterly over on Off the Beaten Path. Check it out: Gravel Racing on Compass Tires.
Saturday, April 16 – Rasputitsa Gravel Road Race
In it’s third year, and second from East Burke, Vermont, the Rasputitsa (Russian for ‘mud season’) has quickly built a cult following, and sold out early this year at 500 riders. The event’s afterparty is held at Burke House, a fantastic pub at the centre of the Kingdom Trails nexus. There will be a KOM and QOM competition for $100 (USD!) and a pair of Julbo sunglasses up the course’s toughest climb. For 2016, The race’s organizers have chosen Little Bellas and JAM Fund Cycling as the benefactors of all profits from the race. Check them out and give them a follow on social media to stay up on their great work growing cycling in the North-East. Iain Radford and I will represent club in what promises to be a tough edition.
What to expect: The course is a hilly 65km long, with 1230m climbing. Mostly dirt road, the route’s crux will be ‘Cyberia,’ a Class 4 ‘road’ that ascends 3km up Kirby Mountain Road and Victory Road. Vermont has had the most snowless winter ever, and it’s been quite mild through March, so most, if not all the frost might be out of the roads by the 16th. This means the dirt roads will likely be less soggy than usual, which should make for faster rolling than previous years. But you never know! The Cyberia climb will be free of snow and ice, unless the weather delivers more right before race day. There will be lots of enthusiastic volunteers along the route handing out fantastic treats and drinks, so if you are going for the first time, prepare to be delighted.
Wayback Machine: Iain Radford and I joined about 30 others in February for a pre-ride of the course. Check out the story, and more detail about Little Bellas and Jam Fund in that post. In 2015 we had a great race that ended up almost going to plan. Almost. Check out the How the Race was Won post to find out how that went down.
Sunday, April 17 – Calabogie Classic (Ontario Cup)
Typically the kick-off to road season in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, the Calabogie Classic is a unique ‘road race’ held on the Calabogie Motorsports track about an hour from Ottawa. Cycle Logik organizes the race, which sees riders from the Toronto area and western Quebec on top of those from our neck of the woods. Races range from 56 to 111km, over the circuitous track that features slight elevation change. Marc Hunt is keying on this race, with many of our riders racing across categories for this first time this season.
What to expect: The first time I raced Calabogie I thought the race was boring. But a friend reminded me that racing is what you make it. So from that point on, I have always tried to animate the race. The course is not hard in any manner, given the elevation change is slight, and braking is not required for any of the turns. But wind is almost always a key factor, rendering pack poitioning vital. Breakaways can work, and have won here, but more often than not the races come down to sprints. The final sprint is tough, as it’s preceded by a big turn and uphill. Expect many riders to be doing their first race of the season, and for some, first group riding of the season, even. Look for and stay away from those who are twitchy.
Sunday, April 24 – Paris-to-Ancaster
This race is pretty awesome, literally. The sheer size of participation is incredible (2000ish!), as is the astonishingly broad range of surfaces the race covers. With distance options from 20 to 70km, the organizers offer something for everyone, which is exactly what makes this event the hugely popular day of racing it is. We had a good squad out in 2015, and will have an even bigger one this year.
What to expect: The race goes off in waves, so if you are doing if for the first time, you might need to try to pull off a good result in your wave in order to move to one further up toward the elite wave. The elite wave will start out at a freizied pace, and a breakaway is certain. This should be a dry year, but one never knows…. If it is, expect the ‘chute’ to still be rocky and muddy! You’ll want to use tires larger than 30mm, with at least a bit of tread. The final climb will be hard, but the food and beer afterwards will be within reach!
Wayback Machine: 2015 was my first crack at P2A, and it was pretty incredible. I had a great race that could have been perfect. It wasn’t, so I will return in April with a lot of motivation, and more team-mates!
Sunday, May 1 (new date) – Paris-Roubaix (aka ‘Almonte Roubaix)
The race so many Ottawa-Gatineau cut their teeth on, and keep on coming back to year after year; a true classic. I must quote Ian Austen here, it’s just too good not to: “Like its inspiration, the 27th Ottawa Valley Paris-Roubaix Cyclosportif mixes well paved roads with abominations. The classic route includes mud, gravel, sand, rocks, woodlots and one switchback climb. The tentative route will likely the same as last year and is about 80 kilometers long. A shorter 40k route has been added for riders as an option and includes 3 woodlots.” We’ll probably have 25+ riders in this event, it’s massively popular.
What to expect: An adventure! Despite it’s not-so-epic-length, the Roubaix route is hard! A great deal of the route is on dirt roads, which vary from smooth to potholed, depending on the weather leading in. The first wooded sector falls about 5km into the route, and shakes up the race immediately. The rolling terrain tends to be rather tree-lined, so wind is not a huge factor in this race. Instead, its all about the rolling hills and forest sectors, which demand a full 35mm of tire width and some tread to ride fast. There’s too much to write about this one here! Click below and dig in if you want more info.
Wayback Machine: 2015 went rather well for us. Teamwork payed off big time!
Saturday, May 7 – Clarence-Rockland Classic
Rounding out the spring classics is Clarence-Rockland, a unique race in its own right. Ride with Rendall puts on this show about 45 minutes from downtown Ottawa just south of the Ottawa River. The course is quite flat, a mix of pavement and gravel, and normally about 85km, depending on subtle routing changes. This event pulls a lot of riders as one of the only ‘road races’ they’ll do in a season, making the event a great opportunity to try racing out in an open field format. The Ride with Rendall team is normally out in full force, as are we!
What to expect: Wind tends to be the name of the game at the CRC, as none of the climbs are long or steep enough to make a huge difference in how things unfold. However, crosswinds on gravel can make riding the gutter impossible, meaning wind skills are always at a premium. The hill the race descends at the start also serves as the final crunch-point, where riders can make enough difference leading into the final 5k. Since it’s the first race of the season for many, on gravel, and windy, watch out for nervous wheels.
Wayback Machine: Clarence-Rockland has never gone quite right for us. The course itself is not terribly demanding, but flats are almost always a factor, and the race’s dymanics are always different. Last year was dry and dusty, and a couple of our riders were involved in an early crash. I tried using my road bike instead of my cyclocross bike. Despite the wind, the aero didn’t help as much as I’d hoped….
So, how are you craking into spring?