Mettle was thoroughly tested!
The Lake of Bays Road Race was O-Cup #4 for 2013. It started and finished at the Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville and included a circuit around the Lake of Bays. The M3 race was 94 km long and included 1 loop of the lake. The course was rolling and included several categorized climbs for a total gain of about 800 m. In theory this course should have suited me better than any of the other shorter, flatter O-Cup events so far. Up until now, I was progressively faring worse with each race, constantly getting dropped when the pace ramped up at the end. Today I was hoping that the field would be more strung out from the hills, and that I would not be at the back!
I wasn’t 100% committed to doing this race… partly because I keep getting my ass kicked and am losing motivation… and partly because I had dinner plans with friends the night before. And, it was Mothers Day. Since I have four kids I’m pretty indebted to my wife to honour this day and pay her some homage. But being the amazing woman that she is, Carrie encouraged me to reschedule our dinner plans and race. For 2013 she has graciously committed to support me in my endeavour to race the entire O-Cup series. (I’ve already been informed that next year is a different story!… but for now she has been my biggest encourager and motivator.)
After checking the long range weather forecast for Huntsville, they were calling for 6 Celsius and rain on Sunday. It was currently 25 C and sunny so this was not very inspirational. I asked Andy Mill if he was in and of course he was, but I was still waffling until 30 minutes before the registration deadline on Thursday night. The forecast was now 3 C and snow! It was crunch time, but I realized that I had set a goal of doing all the races and that’s what I should do. I also realized that this was a perfect opportunity to experience what it is really like to be a bike racer. Cyclists race in rain, wind or cold. It’s supposed to be miserable… the more miserable the better! I thought about the cold Belgian classics earlier this year and the appalling weather at Milan San Remo and how much respect I had for the riders who participated. This was actually going to be an experience that I would appreciate forever. Right?
Ok, now I was signed up and starting to have romantic ideas of enduring the elements and battling for glory like a real man… tough as nails! It would be epic! (I went to Sportcheck and picked up one of those clear plastic rain jackets)
Huntsville was only a 2.5 hour drive so we had dinner before getting on the road around 6pm Saturday. Upon arrival in town we picked up some supplies at the grocery store and checked into our hotel and had an early night. It was sunny and warm. The window was open in our room. I had a great sleep!
At 6:45 am we awoke to sunshine! There was some dark clouds in the sky and it was 1 Celsius. It had already rained and the ground was wet… but maybe it wouldn’t be so bad and the weather would hold off until we were done. We got ready, loaded up the bikes and took advantage of the free breakfast provided by the hotel. After picking up our Tim Hortons coffee we headed 7 km down the road to Deerhurst Resort and signed in. I was feeling a little optimistic.
Andy was warming up on his trainer behind the truck and I took off for a warm-up ride down the road. After 2 minutes it starting raining pretty hard. I stopped and put the rain jacket on… I figured if I could stay dry, I could stay warm. When it was time to line up for the race everybody was shivering and eager to get going. It was snowing sideways now.
Todays weather would prove to be the strangest and most changeable I can remember. We got rolling. The first 1.5 km was neutral. The roads were wet and slick. Water was streaming off the wheel in front and I was trying to keep to the side out of the spray. The wind was strong and gusty. So far I was pretty dry and warm except for my fingers. I was riding near the front of the group and everybody stuck together.
We went over one roller after another. I was determined to stay with the group and not get left behind on any hills. For the most part I was hanging in pretty well. Losing ground in places but making it up on the descents. I had no intentions of pulling. My plan was to wait and see how things went. It was a pretty wet start and the pace felt really slow. I actually thought that it might be possible for the women’s race that started after us to catch up. But it was due to the strong winds and our pace would end up being on par with all the other categories.
After a while the rain and snow stopped and the sun began to shine. The roads became dry and it was almost pleasant except for the wind. I was starting to regret the raincoat. Almost half way into the race, nothing had happened. It felt like a Thursday night club ride and I was feeling pretty comfortable. As we approached a fairly long, not too steep hill, I decided to test my legs and try an attack. I went off the front and rode hard up the hill. By the time I reached the top I had opened up a considerable gap, but I was alone. Nobody moved. I still had some gas in the tank and thought about trying to get away on the descent, but I realized that I had no hope of soloing 50 kms to the end. I decided to sit up and take the opportunity to remove my raincoat.
Now I have to admit, I’m not very comfortable about riding with no hands on the bars. If I ever won a race I don’t think I could throw my hands in the air to celebrate without falling off the bike! So I was kinda scared as I sat back and pulled my arms out of the sleeves. Fortunately I got the jacket off without major embarrassment, but now it was proving a lot harder to roll it up small enough to stash in my pocket. The field caught up to me as I was flailing around trying to stow it away. Andy pulled alongside and offered to help. He managed to stuff it into one of the pockets but it was too bulky to contain. I tried again to roll it smaller and got some more help from another rider to get it into my jersey. Finally it was reasonably well contained and I could concentrate on pedalling again.
It started raining 5 minutes later!
We seemed to descend for quite a while and the speed was high as we rode together with the wind blowing us around. Another guy tried an attack shortly afterwards and I got on his wheel with a couple more riders in tow. I thought that if we worked to gather we might get away, but we couldn’t get anything going. It came back together and things settled down again.
It had been raining on and off. One minute sunny, then grey and wet. Then it started to hail. There was a strong headwind at this point and it felt like we were getting sandblasted. I tried to keep my head down as much as possible, but it stung. This lasted for an uncomfortably long time but soon turned to rain again. Now it was a soaking rain and it felt like the temperature was dropping. Maybe I was just getting wet through. I didn’t dare try to put my rain coat back on now that I was riding in the pack.
After the feed zone a couple of attacks were launched and the pace seemed to pick up. It also felt like it was getting hillier and I was starting to exert myself more. The cold had now become a limiting factor. My gloves were soaked through and my fingers were so numb I was having problems shifting. It felt like I would try one finger without success and then have to try another one until one of them worked. I mis-shifted several times and found myself riding up hills in too big a gear. I struggled to turn the crank a couple of times which caused me to lose ground. My legs were also getting numb and the extra force required to turn a bigger gear took it’s toll. Up until this point I had been doing pretty well to stay with the front group, but now I was starting to go backwards and riders were passing me. The hills seemed steeper and more frequent. Some other riders were struggling as well and I regained some ground on a few of them. But the leaders had gone clear and the field was strung out at this point.
I knew that Andy was up the road and I had no doubt that he would be in the mix at the end. It kinda felt like the end of a club ride when the fast guys take off and leave me and the others to fend for ourselves. On the steepest hill the race official pulled up to me and asked me what my number was. I was a little confused. Was I getting pulled? Surely I wasn’t that far off the back, let alone last. Turns out my raincoat was hanging out of my pocket and obscuring my number. He was probably just informing me so that I would get my result. I fumbled around behind my back to try and stuff the jacket all the way in. At this point the official told me to forget it and just focus on making it up the hill! He drove off and left me to the task.
A team van followed shortly afterwards and another detached rider in front of me drafted it for a couple of kilometres. I was jealous. I actually tried to get on myself but couldn’t make it : ) The end was near at this point and I just ground it out.
Andy finished in 4th place. Same time as the winner. He’s a strong rider and he keeps getting better. I was happy for him but a little bummed he didn’t win. It’s just a matter of time I think. I crossed the line in 22nd place. 1:50 behind the winner. I was happy with that. It was much better than previous results and I felt better suited to this course, so it was a relief not to be right out of it.
I pulled up and congratulated Andy. My hands were numb. I was cold and wet. I began to shiver. I went inside the resort to change and warm up. I stood for at least 10 minutes with my hands in cool water trying to temper the pain as my fingers thawed out. I looked at my filthy face in the mirror, my once clean and white Assos cycling cap was wet, brown and grimy. We had everything thrown at us today… rain, snow, hail, ice pellets and strong winds… even sunshine. I couldn’t help but smile as the experience of this race sank in. I felt good, strangely gratified. It was like another rite of passage into bike racing. Not like my first century or first crit, or biggest climb. It seemed like more than that… a different type of challenge. A test of will and determination. One that was confronted and overcome as a group. And one that would only be understood and appreciated by the members of that group.
The 2013 Lake of Bays Road Race was truly epic!
Kudos to all the riders who lined up to start this race, especially the Elite men, who rode 2 laps of the lake!