Kev’s race report. Aug. 14, 2011
Once again the Wheelers fielded a team in Le Challenge Garneau, a 110km (or so) race from Quebec City to Trois Rivieres. This was the second year we entered and after last years experience where we realized what a fun race and great experience it was, we were eager to return.
The riders this year were myself, Rico, Marcel, ex-prez Chris and Hans. We would not have been able to do this race without the great support form the club in general, but Graeme and John in particular who provided car support.
As eager as I was to do this race, I was also extremely nervous starting. I have not had a great year on the bike, feeling at times totally unmotivated to train and ride, and also suffering from some minor medical things that kept me from maximizing training when I did go out. Still, I wanted to enter this race. The distance and generally flat course are within my range of ability. And the weekend away and the team atmosphere, well, it’t just really fun!
So 6 weeks out training got serious. Cynthia helped me out with a set plan that I followed pretty much to a “T”. The date was circled in the calendar, and that was that.
Most of us drove to Quebec Friday night early enough to enjoy a group dinner. Those that didn’t met us at the start line early Saturday morning.
I know I am going to have a good day on the bike when I feel loose and happy. When the jokes and smiles flow easy. That was not happening. I was really nervous… very quiet. And just kind of rolled around alone hoping the soreness in my legs would go away. I saw a few friends from other teams. Robbie O from Ride With Rendall, who rode as a Wheeler last year, had brought his own team with John Gee, Peter Conn and a couple others. We said hello chatted and hung out a bit. Of course the Ottawa area was also represented by the ladies from the Re:form body clinic team, my lovely wife Cynthia, Marcel’s partner (and Wheeler) Kelly and the others. I tried to just relax, eat and drink and stay calm, but it wasn’t happening. In the back of my mind I was wondering if I had enough fitness to finish the race, never mind be active. The goal today would be to get a decent pack finish…. and I was not sure I could actually do that.
about 5 minutes before start we lined up in the start gates. Cynthia and I were together. Hans came down and gave us all a pep talk. His experience is exceptional and we were all really glad to be racing with him. His goal was to do well today, and in my mind I decided to help however I could. He told me he would help me achieve my goal.
5…4…3…2…1 and we’re off. A right turn out of the Louis Garneau factory and we began our journey West towards Trois Rivieres on the Highway 138 – straight into a head wind. This kept the speed in check around 40km/h which was good as everybody settled in. I found the first 10-20 minutes really nervous. I was watching everybody else, looking for good wheels to follow, and bad wheels to avoid. There were a few of the first, many more of the second. John Gee along with a few other guys was trying an early breakaway, but the headwind and fresh legs in the peloton kept things together.
The race route is mostly flat but there are a couple of long roller type hills along the way. The longest and steepest is at Donnaconna about 28km from the start. I knew this and was nervous. I have been climbing hills like a brick this year so I was really afraid before this point. Hans found me in the pack and together we made our way to the front on the run-in to Donnaconna. I found a place about 6th in line from the front and stayed there before the hill. And I was really happy to find my legs were good – I came up out of the river valley feeling fresh and not having had to use all my energy. Confidence: +1 for me. I was able to now sit in the peloton, relax, stay away from riders that scared me because they were making jerky movements. I kept moving closer to the front. The constant headwind meant not too many breakaways were going and this was fine with me. About 50km in there was a long straight section of road open to the St. Lawrence river on our left. The wind forced everybody into a long line of 2 or 3 riders wide as the speed went up here. I could see some people suffering, but I was fine. I found myself beside John Gee and we chatted about the wind as we were doing about 45km/h. No problem for me, another +1 on the confidence meter. The peloton massed again and I was feeling fine.
By now, 60km in, my legs were feeling really good. And I got word that John Gee, a rider from the CIBC team and our own Hans were off in a breakaway. I could see it up the road, maybe 20seconds away or so. I saw Chris in the pack, told him about Hans, and then went to the front. Marcel was near there, along with the RWR guys making sure any chase attempts were kept in check. I joined in here, sliding in about 10th wheel behind riders from two of the Quebec masters teams that did not have a guy in the break. And that was how things stayed for about an hour. The three guys in the breakaway never got more than a one minute lead and the chase was being led by other teams, while RWR, myself and Marcel in particular kept the chasers from gaining ground as best we could. Marcel, in his first year racing, did a fantastic job blocking for Hans in the breakaway. He did not make any friends, but hey – that’s racing.
I started to feel really good too. Like I could have pedalled for hours at the front. Having Hans in the break and trying to help him was inspiring. I was hoping with our help he could stay away to the end and I was going to do whatever I could to help. The RWR guys and us kept trying to block, but eventually the break was caught. I did not have enough in my legs to counter a move, but I was able to stay at the front. I saw Hans in the pack, gave him a bug thumbs up, and kept moving forward. At about 100km into the race we crossed a bridge with a steel deck…. crap those scare me but I was at the front of the pack and made it over with no problem only to be one of the first over a short section of gravel. Again I was glad I was at the front here as I wasted little energy and had great position in the pack coming near the finish. My confidence was really high here.
The final 10km and it was clear the race was going to come to a pack sprint. The speed picked up and stayed high. There was lots of elbows and shoulders bumping. At moments it felt like a roller derby not a bike race. I kept losing position then fighting to get it back. Generally Marcel and I stayed good but it was tense. My race-spidey-sense told me there was going to be a crash. At 5km to go I told Marcel “game on!” and he made a little dig at the front. It was quickly shut down, But I was able to stay in the front few riders nearing the finish. Gave a little dig myself too, but not too much. Did not want to burn up too early.
At 2km to go there is a hard right turn towards the finish… this is where my day ended last year, but this year I was through the corner and with the front of the pack no problem. The next challenge was 500m later where there is a short, but steep hill. I was determined to stay in with the pack here… I followed Hans and the RWR guys leading to the hill and up. But…. my lack of fitness showed through and as hard as I could go I was not able to stay right with the pack. But I kept pushing as they rolled on. At 1km to go I went around the final left hand corner chasing the group only to hear that awful sound that only crashing bikes at speed makes. I looked up the road and saw bikes down across the whole road width at about 750m from the line. Dam. The RWR guys were all standing in the middle of the road. One of the first people I saw down was Cynthia…. it’s hard to describe the feelings that go through your head when you see your wife down in a massive bike crash. I stopped… she had gone down hard, but after a few minutes it was clear she was not badly injured. So I remounted, and finished.
Up the road, the race had continued…. Hans made it through the carnage and in the sprint became the second Master B. Chris was the 4th Master C. Rico and Marcel also finished in the pack. My final time is something like 5 or 7 minutes down… I don’t know and don’t care. Cynthia was my first priority, but I did finish. Without the crash I would have been pretty close to the pack (my goal).
Overall it was a great day for the Wheelers! A silver medal for Hans and a near podium for Chris is excellent. I think we all worked as a team and that helped contribute to their success. Personally I did not quite make my goal, but I was really happy nonetheless… I got stronger as the race went on, and in the last 1/4 of the race I was right in the mix. Satisfaction, yes. 112km in 2h40m…. fast race.
In typical Wheelers style, our support crew had found some beer that came in cans with the club colours… gathered around the back of the car and celebrated. We cheered when Hans got his medal, and enjoyed the day’s events. Moments like this are why we are Wheelers. Cynthia got lots of positive vibes from the guys too… she was headed for another win this year before the crash.
So once again, thanks to the club, to the guys racing, and to John and Graeme for all the support. I know I could not have done this without you.
John had my camera for the day, here are some pictures.