Although I completed the Centurion C50 at Blue Mountain in 2011, I wouldn’t consider that my first race… I was really just there to challenge myself with the hills and the distance and to gain some experience riding in a group.
I would consider my first race to be the Tour de Waterloo in 2012. This was a 130km route that was fairly flat overall. By this time, I had just joined the Speed River Cycling Club and there were ten other members participating. (Most of whom I was just meeting for the first time since I was new) I carpooled with Rob, Thad and Drew and after we signed in, we got ready and waited around until it was time to line up at the start. I was pretty excited and a little nervous. I didn’t really know what to expect. I was paranoid about bonking or having to pee during the race. I must have peed 4 times before lining up with the other 225 riders. Unlike the Centurion, I had a plan this time, and positioned myself as close to the front of the group as I could get. The intent was to start at the front and try not to get dropped too far back. The horn sounded shortly after 8:30am and we took off in a huge mass, paced by a police cruiser, for a rolling neutral start through the city streets for about 5km. We were riding in a tight bunch with no room for error, when someone up ahead made a careless lateral move, causing a crash that took down quite a few riders. When I caught up, one of our team mates, Adam was standing at the side of the road, scraped up, clothes shredded, waiting for a new wheel before he could continue : (
At the edge of town, the cruiser sped up and the race was on! The pace quickened immediately and I was struggling to try and keep up. A gap formed pretty quickly, with about sixty riders getting away. I was in the second group and it was starting to break up. At this point my legs were burning and I found myself falling back. Then Rob rode by and told me to “get on”, Drew was right behind him. I dug deep and managed to keep up with the chase group as we pulled away from the rest of the field. After a bit of back and forth, a bunch of us got a pace line established and rode together for probably 30 or 40km. This was the first time I had ridden in a pace line, a rotating circular formation where each rider took a short turn at the front, before the next person eased ahead to take their place. It was incredibly efficient to ride in the slipstream of the others for most of the time, and we were humming along close to 40km/hr… the fastest pace I had ever ridden! I was pretty pumped : ) But it didn’t last forever… I’m not sure exactly when it fell apart… maybe after the feed zone, but eventually our little band became part of a larger group as we melded with the other chasing riders and a few others who had been dropped from the front of the race.
When we hit the feed zone, I almost crashed while grabbing a Gatorade from one of the volunteers. I came in too fast and there was a considerable amount of drag from the high-speed handoff which caused me to wobble sharply and I almost went down. Thankfully I managed to keep control and rejoined the others… bottle still in hand : )
There was just over 50km to go now, and our little peloton was ticking along with several of us taking turns pulling. I took my fair share at the front too… I feel like it’s the right thing to do, but it seemed like the majority were content to ride behind. We rode like this for about 35 kms until we reached the hill at Hawksville. Although it wasn’t very long, it was steep enough to break up the group and quite a few riders lost contact, including Drew. About twenty of us broke away and arrived back in town together. With less than 2km to go, we were back on city streets and the pace picked up. As we approached Bearinger Rd, Rob attacked and everyone else responded immediately. I had no clue how far the finish was and it seemed that Rob didn’t either, cuz he had gone too early and couldn’t hold the pace. By the time I got my bearings I was passing Rob and sprinting for the line with the others. It was an exhilarating feeling going under the banner at full speed. I could see my time and position flash up on the time-clock, but it was too quick for me to discern. Seven of us got the same time. I finished in 67th place, having averaged over 38km/hr. Rob came in 8 seconds later and Drew arrived about 6 minutes after that.
I was on cloud 9! This had been the greatest cycling experience of my life to date and I couldn’t wait to do it again. In fact the Tour de Waterloo would end up being one of the best organized events I would participate in. Everything from the course support and marshalling, to the breakfast and lunch, was top notch. Can’t wait to do it again next year : )
If you are interested in another perspective, from the front of the race, check out second place finisher, Gaelen Merrit’s report here.