The 2013 Niagara Classic Road Race was O – Cup # 5, held in Pelham on the Niagara escarpment. The course consists of a 12.5 km loop that starts with Effingham hill… a signature climb to this race which I would consider to be similar to the Cauberg at the Amstel Gold Race. It’s a real stinger, about 2 km long with a grade that exceeds 11% on the second half for a total gain of 100m. In previous years the race started at the top of the hill and riders had to race up it at the end of each lap and ultimately to the finish. This year however, the start/ finish line was located on Metler Rd about 600 m before the left turn onto the Effingham climb. I’m pretty sure I preferred this arrangement, feeling that it was better to get it over with at the beginning of the lap and hopefully recover afterwards. The M3 race was 5 laps for a total of 62.5 km.
Nathan Poultan from Speed River Cycling Club joined Andy Mill and myself for the drive down to this event. Nathan was competing in the E4 category which started right after we did. We left Guelph at 6 am and arrived in good time to sign in and get ready. It was a beautiful sunny morning, quite comfortable at start time, but expected to get pretty hot by afternoon. On days like this, the early race time for M3 is a real bonus. It was hard to believe that just one week earlier we were shivering at Lake of Bays where it was snowing sideways, hailing and raining!
Once we had gotten ready I took off for a warmup ride, wanting to check out the climb up Effingham Rd before the race. It was pretty challenging. I wouldn’t be surprised if this road was originally just named Ham Rd and the Effing was added later by cyclists : )
It was obvious that this hill would be a deciding factor in how well I might do in this race as I’m not a strong climber and always get dropped. It would be crucial for me to give it everything and not allow too much of a gap to open up. Then I would have a chance to chase back on during the following descent. Although it wasn’t ideal for me, I figured this course would break the race apart and would be better suited to me than most of the previous ones.
The M3 race was the first to get underway at 8:30 am and just over 50 riders lined up for the start. The rollout was neutral for the first trip up Effingham until the turn onto Tice Rd. The hill was tough! Once everybody was over the crest, the lead vehicle pulled off and the race was on.
The first descent was fast and straight with speeds reaching almost 80 km/hr. I was riding about a third of the way back, keeping to the right hand side and trying to stay out of trouble. The road levelled out after a couple of kilometres and was flat until about the last 3 km. This was the first time I had ridden the course and I was happy that the pace was pretty comfortable on the first lap. The asphalt was pretty chewed up in places and my bones were well shaken at times.
Then about three quarters of the way into lap 1, I see Nathan fly by on a solo mission from the E4 race! He passed us and rode out front for a while. Wow! Gutsy move I thought. At this point I didn’t know how long they waited between the start of the M3 and E4’s, but I found out it was not long at all… maybe a minute or so. Confusion ensued as a result and we found ourselves getting mixed up with the E4’s on several laps. The officials tried neutralizing one group or the other to separate us but it got kinda chaotic at times. More of that in a minute.
Before the final turn back onto Effingham there was a fairly fast downhill section with a couple of sweeping corners. I took the opportunity to move up the field here and get nearer to the front in anticipation of getting dropped on the climb. The bottom of the hill is not so bad and I was able to hold my position fairly well, but when it ramped up I started going backwards. Riding up this hill was tough enough, racing up it was painful! I actually hit my highest heart rate ever on this effort. This was our second time up so far and although I lost ground on the front group, I was able to chase back on as planned. I recovered in the bunch and got ready to repeat on lap 3.
Then it got confusing. This what I think happened… Nathan had been somewhat absorbed by the M3’s and a lot of the E4’s caught us by the third climb up Effingham. I was burning matches to get back on during the descent and just when I had made it, the officials were instructing the M3’s to back off and separate from E4. It took a while to figure out and I was hanging in no-mans land for a while until everyone complied. Lap 3 resumed but I think we had to back off the pace. But at the start of lap 4 we caught back up to E4 and it happened again in reverse. Now the E4’s had to back off so we could continue. During my trademark chase-back-on, three race vehicles appeared to be inserting themselves between the two groups on the road in an effort to separate us. The problem was I was off the back and caught in the middle.
Now it was time for a little more confusion. I don’t know all the rules of road cycling as well as I probably should, however I do know that you cannot cross the yellow line, and you can’t draft the race vehicles. My dilemma now was that I was trying to get back on during a fast downhill section and an SUV was blocking the road in front of me. I was doing 75 km/hr and the vehicle was actually slowing me down. I was drafting it for like, 10 seconds, and the official behind is warning me to stop drafting. What was I supposed to do? Hit the brakes and lose contact? That didn’t seem fair to me. I kinda thought that I would just hang on until the bottom of the hill and the vehicle would either speed up or move over, but under pressure from the official’s warning, I decided to squeeze by on the inside. It was pretty hairy at that speed, so close to the gravel edge with the asphalt all chewed up, but thankfully the vehicle moved over and gave me some room to pass. Finally I made it back to the group!
Now things seemed to return to normal. Near the end of the lap I moved nearer the front again and braced myself for the last climb up Effingham hill. This was do or die for me. I felt like I was riding my guts out, but like a bad dream I starting drifting backwards. Everyone else was also upping their game here in an effort to have a chance at the end. By the time I reached the top of the hill, the effort had taken it’s toll. I was breathing so hard my lungs hurt. Lactic acid was oozing out of my pores! I had to back off the effort for a few moments to recover. The hill had taken everything out of me. I saw the gap begin to grow as the frontrunners surged away. I gave it everything I could on the descent, but lost ground that could not be recovered. Once again my opportunity had slipped away. Now it was time to focus on staying ahead of everyone else. Don’t get caught!
I just kept riding as hard as I could. After a few kilometres I could see a rider ahead who had been shed from the bunch. He was looking back, waiting for help. I caught up to him with 5 or 6 km to go. I asked him if he wanted to work together to finish strong. He suggested waiting for more help but I was not interested. We were nearly done, let’s at least beat every one else : ) He got on my wheel for a bit, then when it was his turn to pull I thought the pace was too slow so I took over and dragged him to the end. I turned onto Effingham for the last time. I was so happy that I didn’t have to climb to the top this time. We turned left on Metler before the steep section and it was 600 m to the line. The guy on my wheel attacked on the corner and blew by me! I wasn’t expecting that. I immediately set off after him, determined to finish in front. I put my head down and dug in. The home straight was a steady uphill, not too steep, but enough to make it difficult for me. Luckily the other guy didn’t have any gas left in the tank and I passed him quickly. I could see another rider ahead and I resolved to catch them before the line too. I managed to catch them just before the line where I realized that it was one of the riders from the women’s race.
This race was pretty strung out thanks to Effingham Hill! I’d have to say that the Niagara Classic lived up to it’s name and was truly a classic experience for me. I ended up finishing 18th, 2:30 behind the winner. It wasn’t my closest time gap but was my highest place so far and the first time I had made the top 20. I was ok with that : )
Well done to Andy who finished in 6th place, and Nathan who finished 8th in his race!