Today I headed up to Bradford with Andy Mill to participate in the Ontario Provincial Road Race Championships at the Holland Marsh Challenge. The course was almost 12 km long and featured some fast flat and downhill sections before a 3 km steady climb towards the finish line. Although this hill was not too steep, it would be a challenge to keep pace with the field and maintain contact. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do it 8 times without getting popped. Unlike the previous O-Cup events, this race did not include subcategories based on ability, and all the Masters riders raced together according to age. This meant that I was riding with M1 and M2 racers as well as the M3 guys who had kicked my ass all year. I really didn’t know what to expect and was a little hesitant about signing up, fearing that I would not be able to compete… but I figured it was worth a shot… a fitting finale to my first year racing the Ontario Cup. Plus I was all out of Kick Ass coffee : )
The Master B race, for the 40 -49 year old age group, started at 11:02 am, so it was nice to not have to get up early. Bradford was only a 70 minute drive, so we left Guelph around 8:15am and arrived in good time. Our race was about 94 km long and included 8 laps. The weather was almost perfect except for a fairly strong wind. The temperature started out around 16 Celsius and went up to 20.
Once the race got underway we started with a furious pace. I was about a third of the way from the front, adrenaline pumping, riding on my limit. After the first lap I was not optimistic about my chances of surviving. To make things worse, there was a short section of really rough road about 6 km in, and I lost a full water bottle which got shaken out of the cage here. There was probably a dozen bottles strewn across that chunk of road on the very first lap. It was going to be tough to ride another 90km with just one bottle.
Shortly after that came the ascent back up to the finish line. The first time up the hill was definitely painful, but to be honest, I felt like I did a pretty good job of holding my position. I was even passing a few guys as they started to drop off near the top. I found a good gear and was able to stay in the saddle and grind my way to the top. When we finished the first lap I told myself “Just seven more times… you can do this”, but I was really having doubts. We had averaged 43 km/hr. Thankfully the pace backed off after that and my legs started to feel better. I settled into a rhythm and kept pace. On the fast downhill section I was hitting 85 km/hr and moving closer to the front, then I would lose some ground on the uphill climb. This was pretty much how things went for most of the race.
Seven or eight guys were off the front after the first ascent. Then Andy drilled it on the home straight and bridged over. Shortly afterwards another small group joined them and a break of about 15 riders was established. The gap would get up to more than two minutes at one point. Back in the peloton the pace seemed to drop considerably and it seemed like the team mates on the front were slowing it down to let them get away. Andy was up there too so I had no intentions of trying to bring them back. I was focusing on staying with the group. There were a few attacks launched here and there but nothing got going. Nearer the end of the race I tried to get away from the bunch when a couple of guys shot off, but nothing was successful until the last lap when a sole rider from Sound Solutions broke away on the downhill. A couple of us worked together to reel him in but his team mate was blocking any attempts to chase him down. It was actually kinda frustrating how this guy disrupted our efforts by getting into the rotation but refusing to pull, making it impossible to get any momentum going. We couldn’t shake him out either, so his buddy stayed away until the end. “Well done” I thought.
The breakaway was over a minute and a half ahead when the peloton hit the final climb. I was right at the front of the pack anticipating the surge and just hoping that I could hang on. I was riding strong and steady, just like every other lap, but somehow everybody cranked it up to a level that I do not possess. Halfway up the hill I started going backwards again. It was a situation I was very familiar with and I lost hope and was about to give up and let everyone go, and just limp to the end. As everybody was riding by me, Arthur Parsons yelled some encouragement “Come on… finish with the pack!… You can do it!” It really did help motivate me to dig a little deeper and find a little extra . My heart rate went higher than it ever had before as I struggled to maintain contact. I was redlining, ready to blow up any second… and I was so thirsty… I hadn’t had a drink for over 30 kms and my tongue felt like it was glued to the roof of my mouth. By the top of the hill, I was hanging off the back and the gap was starting to grow, but I was fighting all the way to the end. I had no chance of getting back on, but thanks to those words of encouragement I finished closer to the group than I would have. Thanks Arthur!
94 riders started the race and I ended up 45th out of 56 finishers, 2:02 down on the winner. Although it might not seem very impressive, I was actually quite content with the result and just happy to have finished. As usual, Andy did very well and finished 5th… good job!