Sunday, April 22, 2012

Prairie Roubaix III

Race guide here

Would I have learned anything in the last two years, and how has my fitness improved?
No chance to taper for this event, as a few heavy workouts late in the week would reduce my ambitions for the race to *hopefully* a top 10 result.
After last year's cancellation I was really looking forward to this one, and curious to see if I could hang on a little longer this time.

If you read my 2010 post you might recall I placed something like 27/60(ish), so needless to say I had fairly low bar to exceed.
 Forecast of 20C and sunny; race is a go!
 Big bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, Mike picked me up at 0730, and after a quick stop at timmies, Lochend Road, here we come!
Parked a good 8-9k from the start, which made for a perfect 20 min warmup, including one pass over the gravel Glendale road, and once up the big climb immediately following.
Huge crowd awaited the start area, what must have been close to 200 racers. This being a pre-season race, did not segregate the riders by UCI rankings, rather, anyone could arbitrarily chose one of 3 divisions to race in. Cat A would do 5 laps, and was generally consisting of cat 3's and 2's. Cat B would do 4 laps, and would be 4's and experienced 5's. Cat C would be newer cat 5's and most women. Then again, it's an honor system, and anyone could enter wherever they wanted.
First time out I entered the B race because I thought C would be only women. Turns out quite a few cat 5s entered C and I probably should've too. This year, I wanted to fare myself against the 4's and better 5's in order to measure my offseason training.

Pre-race Strategy: Leave the 23mm tires on the front (as opposed to the 28s I had on training this week). This would hopefully allow me to hang on during the climbs. I would rely on my weight/handling ability to get me through the gravel section. I contemplated leaving the 28s on so I could attack more on the gravel, but figured my real challenge would be holding on during the climbs.

B group rolled out about 0915. Within meters, you face the first major climb, but everyone is so fresh and eager at this point that it does little to thin the pack. Following that is a slight downhill that typically used as a recovery section, tailwind included. Then you turn south for a series of rollers, into a medium headwind. Pack stayed together nicely at this point, and Mike and I sat comfortably in the top 20. Another turn West for a few Kms, then North onto Glendale Road, and the infamous gravel!
Mike and I taking a sharp corner - photo by Dan Alboiu
Having pre-ridden it once, as well as a couple of rides around Chestermere lake on gravel roads, I knew what to expect. Especially with such a big pack still together. Sure enough, BANG!! Now the race begins! Immediately, the pack of 40-50 was strung out in two dysfunctional lines, and although I was fishtailing a bit on the descent, I was moving up quickly!
End of lap 1, and we ascend again. At this point, there are less than a dozen in front of me, but I see a pack of about 6 forming at the front. Mostly Niklas Group it appears. A chase group forms of about 20 guys, including me, Mike, Andrew Paul, and another Speed Theory guy (Carl). We make it past the "recovery" section, and I go to the front to attempt a bridge. The lead group is close, maybe 200m ahead, totally doable for a group as large as ours. I pull for a while, but realize that I am pulling uphill. Okay, I may be many things but I'm not a climber. If I'm at the front on a hill, looking at my speed dwindling, this pack must be either scared shitless or exhausted. Nobody is surging by me to help bridge. Eventually, RMCC guy, Andrew Paul, and Mike take turns doing some pulling, but not with any kind of sustained effort, and the gap grew. Back on the gravel, I find a nice line and feel comfortable again.
Lap 3 was probably my favorite! Our group was now about 10 strong, and because we could no longer see the leaders, nobody tried any funny business. Very gentlemanly ride for the entire lap. Lap 4, not so much... Someone attacked during the "recovery" section, and we trimmed the group a little. The rollers were at first tame, but then a guy from a new team, Aerobic Powerhaus started putting in some attacks. These were pretty painful. I managed to hang on to Andrew Paul's wheel (no easy task I might add). Must have been 3 or 4 in a row, seemed like each turn he was going for it. With that in mind, I started taking the corners better to avoid getting a gap. It also dawned on me that it was Jack VanDyke doing all that damage. Yes, same JVD that I went to for brief coaching and power profiling last year. He is a cat 3 racer, powerful in crits and cyclocross races. Not a climber either. I knew I just had to hang on, and he would provide a good line through the gravel. Going into the gravel section, I was sitting around 4th, with Andrew and JVD, and Mike just ahead of me. He graciously let me in that 3rd spot, which was a great tactic and very selfless act. Chapeau! (he would lose ground on the gravel section whereas I would be able to hang on with the top 2. )
The plan worked, and at the base of the first ascent on the gravel, I attacked past Andrew and Jack. Was flying nicely, until all of a sudden my tank was empty! Andrew got a bit of a gap on me, Jack was behind me. That's all I knew. Few cat C stragglers in various lanes, forced me to change lanes too often... I just couldn't catch up to Andrew. Also, my bike cages seemed to be rattling something fierce!
I knew Andrew could push some big watts and showed no signs of cracking. I really hoped to stay with him and outsprint him at the finish. I suspect he considered that I would try this, so he never let me back on the wheel. Down the final descent, Andrew is 30m ahead, Jack 30m behind... and so it would stay across the finish. Ok, yes were racing for 6th, not 1st, but a spririted finish no less. Mike would come in a few seconds later, maybe 10th?
Noticed a funny thing too, upon crossing the line, restarting my heart and lungs, and inspecting my front wheel. Turns out the skewer was just barely hanging on and the wheel was quite loose. Another pass through the gravel section and it would have undoubtedly fallen right off!

The winner, it turns out, had separated from the lead group around lap 2 and soloed it in alone! Dang.
Guy was on JVD's new team, don't know who it is. Niklas had the next 4 positions.
Considering I know of at least 3 cat 3's in that top group, and the rest cat 4's, I felt pretty good with my 7th place result.

Next up, 20k ITT in Airdrie next weekend. Should be a great preview for the Velocity ITT and a final check to make sure all systems are running smoothly on the Orbea.

Hopefully pics to come. Here are the results, although there still appears to be some slight indescretions. For now, here is the Garmin report:

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