The Tour de Terra Cotta looks like it has become an August long weekend tradition and I was participating for my third time. Once again I signed up for the intermediate race… 52 km or 6 laps of the course… and for the second time I decided to ride the 40km from my house to the event in order to get in a good warmup.
The weather was looking good but it was pretty windy and I figured there was a possibility that things could split up in the crosswinds, especially if some of the teams that were well represented decided to have a go. But my biggest challenge was still going to be hanging on up the hill on Heritage Road. This hill is particularly bad for me because there’s no descent on the other side for chasing back on. Today there was a tailwind on this stretch and I still don’t know if that helped me or hurt me more, since the pace in the peloton was higher here.
I was positioned mid pack on the start line. The race began and we were paced by a lead vehicle for a neutral rollout until the right hand turn onto Heritage Road. I moved up as much as I could before the car pulled off and the race was on. The speed immediately ramped up for the first trip up the hill. My hope was to get near the front and stay in contact over the top. I’ve been experimenting with a higher cadence for climbing and it was time to put this strategy to the test. I dropped to the small ring early and it felt like my chain was off as my legs were flying. As usual I began to drift backwards but I kept downshifting until the grade got to its steepest. Then I stood up and continued to pedal at a higher rate than usual for me. My heart rate was close to max and my legs were burning, but I crested in the bunch and quickly recovered enough to start working my way back closer to the front again. “One down, five to go” I thought. There was some doubt in my mind that I could keep it up, and I knew I had to win the mental battle as much as the physical one.
By the time we reached the next turn, I was back where I wanted to be. Somebody on the front wiped out taking the corner onto Old School Rd and I saw a bike with no rider briefly as it bounced into the ditch. We turned into the crosswind and I shifted to the leeward side of the road and braced myself for the attacks. There were a few hard efforts and things strung out a bit, but everybody was together when we reached the downhill on Winston Churchill. Some riders, including myself, were trying to get to the front to try and avoid any drama on the fast descent. Despite the headwind I still hit 85km/hr.
The pace relaxed a little as we rolled through the village on King St, then it picked up for the second time up the hill. Things went pretty much the same as on lap 1 and I was still panicking about keeping this up four more times.
After the third lap I was still in it and now I was starting to get hopeful. “I’m halfway there!” The race was progressing as it had from the beginning. There were some hard efforts and some tempo sections but the peloton also seemed to be losing a few guys with each lap. Then, on lap 5, the hill took its toll and I was struggling. Either the pace went up, or I was slowing down, but I was off the back of the lead group as we crested. There were also fewer riders so the gap was pretty defined and was going to be a real challenge to close down by myself. I recovered a bit from the effort of the hill and started to time trial it, but I couldn’t seem to close it down. Fortunately there were riders behind me and one of them took up the chase. Hinkel Yeung from Sudbury Cycling Club blew by me and I couldn’t even catch his wheel, but it was motivating to see I was not alone and I dug in again and went after him. It took a while to catch him and it was still a fairly long, and very hard chase back up to the peloton. Thanks to Hinkel a few of us got back on before the turn onto Old School Rd and we got to do it one more time.
“Five down and one to go!” That last one almost finished me but I had a shot of finishing my first Tour de Terra Cotta with the bunch. By the time we reached Heritage hill I was a little further back than I would have liked, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered. I gave it everything but still went backwards. The gap was around 50 m at the top, but the peloton was booking it and it opened up to a few hundred metres in no time. I put my head down and buried myself for three minutes going flat out, but couldn’t seem to make up any ground. I was passing guys along the way who were getting shelled out of the peloton but I finally blew up. A few chasing riders passed me and I desperately hung on. It was a small group of 4 or 5 guys but I didn’t have much left to contribute. We chased all the way down Heritage and along Old School. At one point the peloton seemed to ease up and we almost caught them before the turn onto Winston Churchill, but they took off again and we were officially out of it. We passed a nasty looking crash at the bottom of the descent as we rolled in a minute behind the leaders. I finished in 36th place. Although it was disappointing, it was my best result in three years here.
I had lunch and rode home. Tired. Just another great day of cycling 🙂