The Tour de Terra Cotta is a popular Citizen’s event that is held in the Caledon area during the civic holiday on the first Monday of August each year. The 8.7 km course is on closed roads, so unlike most races, there is no yellow line rule. It turned out to be a very well organized event and included neutral feeding. The schedule included a Youth Cup series, a 26 km Beginner race, a 52 km Intermediate race and a 104 km Elite race which attracts many of the best racers from all over the place. I had read some reviews from previous years and figured that this event was a bit beyond my capabilities, but I thought I’d give it a go anyway, and registered for the Elite race the week before. Probably not the best idea in hindsight… especially after a very disappointing performance at the TJ Memorial Crit two days before.
I drove with Andy Mill and Bayden Pritchard. There were lots of other big guns there that I would never normally race with, like Ed Veal, Anton Varabei and Aaron Fillion etc. We lined up at the start. The weather was almost perfect. At 1:30 pm the race began and we started out with a short neutral rollout until the first turn onto Heritage Rd where we were immediately greeted by a short but steep hill that would eventually prove to be my undoing.
When the pace car pulled off, the race was on right away. The field surged up the climb and I was giving it all I had right off the bat. The grade probably averaged about 10% and maxed out around 15%. I made it to the top without really losing any ground, but I was deep in the red. What the hell had I gotten myself into? 12 laps of this would kill me! Once we went over the top there was a fast straight with a tail wind and the pace was high. When we reached the right turn into the cross wind, you had to hammer back on as the leaders pulled away. Another right turn and everybody started to jockey for position as we approached the downhill that took us back towards the finish line. It was a straight steady descent, where speeds reached around 75 km/hr. A wide right hand turn led onto the finish straight. I finished the first lap still in the pack and braced myself for the second time up the hill on Heritage Rd.
I was feeling a little better this time. It seems like I always need one lap to overcome the initial shock to my system and adjust to the pace of racing. I held my position more or less for the next eight laps. Surging constantly with the bunch in response to the attacks that were constantly being launched on the front. It didn’t take too long until a breakaway succeeded. I didn’t know who got away as I was in the middle of the field trying to survive. Every now and again I would see Bayden or Andy, so that was a good sign.
On the eighth lap a couple of guys attacked as we approached the corner onto Old School Rd. I was fairly close to the front and decided to try and go with them, hoping to get across before the gap got too big and make the corner with some distance between us and the peloton. As I reached the corner, I looked back and saw the bunch was coming with me, all strung out, but determined to keep it together. That was it for me. I decided that it wasn’t worth spending any extra energy at the front and I settled back in.
The start of lap nine didn’t feel any different than the previous laps, but when we hit the hill, it was the beginning of the end for me. I don’t know if I was just finally out of gas or if the pace went up, but I went backwards and crested the hill in last place. I lost contact and the distance was growing quickly. It took a while for the lactic acid to clear out from the efforts of the climb. I realized that I was about to get popped for good, so I gave it everything I had to get back on. I got within about 15 metres but couldn’t close the gap. I was about to give up and let them go when one of the race vehicles passed me and yelled some encouragement. “You can do it! You’ve got to get them before the corner” Once again it was enough motivation not to give up and after chasing alone for 2.5 km, I finally got back on just before the turn.
I managed to recover in the bunch during the rest of the lap, but got dropped again on the tenth trip up the hill. I was done. I sat up and let them go. Looking over my shoulder I saw another rider and waited for her to catch up. I introduced myself and suggested we work together and try to finish. We rode the next lap together. On the eleventh lap we picked up another rider, Marcus who had been dropped on the hill. Unfortunately we ramped up the pace a bit too much and ended up on our own. Sorry Carolyn!
I finally made it to the end finishing 82nd overall, 9:46 behind the winner. Although I was glad to finish without getting lapped, it was a really tough race for me… and many others. 130 riders started and 107 finished… many of them lapped several times. At the time I uploaded my ride to Strava I had achieved the second fastest time on the course, averaging 43.4 km/hr, so I can only assume that this must have been the fastest Tour de Terra Cotta to date. It sure felt like it! Maybe next year I will try the Intermediate race instead.