After completing the O-Cup TT on Saturday, Andy and I had the rest of the day to do nothing. We had lunch and chilled out at the B&B for a while before heading in to Almonte in the afternoon to watch the crit and cheer on our friend Bayden Pritchard who was racing for Octo-Cervelo. This event was only for the Elite racers who were doing the whole stage race. The 1.5 km course was fast and technical with tight corners through the streets of downtown Almonte. The finish line was located at the top of the hill on the main street and would be sure to sting the legs as the riders hammered up it 40 times if they were lucky to make it to the end of the race!
This race was explosive right from the start. Within a couple of laps, a rider from Stevens had gone clear and everyone else was strung out in four or five groups trying to close the gap on the bunch ahead. I have never seen a race get pulled apart like that so fast. Not long afterwards, another Stevens rider bridged up to his team mate and the two of them wreaked havoc on field. Everyone was riding their guts out to close the gap or just stay in the race. Eventually the chase bunch got back together but could not catch the two leaders who went on to lap the field. Stevens had a lot of guys at the front and seemed to be controlling the race from the start. There were a lot of casualties and probably a third of the starters were eliminated by lap 20.
The average pace was almost 46km/hr! Just finishing this race was an accomplishment. Kudos to Bayden Pritchard who finished with the chase group… 15th overall!
After the race, Andy and I headed back and had an early night in preparation for our race on Sunday morning.
The Pakenham Road Race was the fourth and final event in the Mississippi Mills Grand Prix stage race. M3 riders were able to participate but it was not an O-Cup event unless you were Elite 1/2 or Masters 1. The course was a rolling 43 km that featured a 5 km section of gravel road. The Elite/M1 guys did 4 laps while the Open A and B races were 2 laps for a total of 86 km.
Our Bed & Breakfast was only 4.5 km from the start line, so Andy and I enjoyed a good night’s sleep since we didn’t have to get up early. Our host provided another great breakfast before we headed to Pakenham to sign in and get our numbers. After getting ready, we went for a warm-up ride before going to the staging area. Although we had both registered for the Open A race, we discovered that we had been relegated to the B race and would be starting last.
After a bit of a delay, our race got started and 53 riders set off five minutes behind the A wave. Andy and I were right at the front and took turns pulling. After each taking several turns, nobody else would take a pull . The pace dropped and I was a little frustrated that nobody was willing to share the work. I decided that it wasn’t in my best interests to flog myself while everybody else sucked wheel so I dropped back and kept pace. Being the rookie, I didn’t have a lot of experience of how a race can develop and I was starting to think that a Wednesday night club ride would be faster and more exciting. One guy took a short pull but otherwise it seemed like Andy was the only one working. Then some guys suddenly surged forward and launched an attack about 10 km in. It looked like Euro-Sports was trying to get a man off the front as one of them took off while three more of them came up and tried to block . The move caused a reaction and the pace suddenly shot up as the peloton made sure that nobody got away. It came back together for a while and then a noticeble surge happened again as guys were moving to the front in anticipation of the gravel section that was coming up. When we hit the dirt the pace was high as everybody fought for position on the front, trying to get a line where the road was hard packed from the traffic. There was loose gravel in between, and on either side of the tire tracks and there was a high risk of going down while travelling around corners in a pack at 40 km/hr. The speed seemed higher than it had been so far and I was hanging on at times, hoping not to get dropped. Fortunately everybody made it through this section safely and many riders drifted back in the group again once we reached the pavement.
The pace seemed to relax for a just a little bit, but after we passed the feeding zone a bunch more attacks came from different riders, many of them from Euro-Sports who seemed deteremined to get a break going. The peloton responded every time and wouldn’t let anyone go. The pace was high for the rest of the lap, especially on the long flat stretch back to town. One guy blew a front tire on a fast section and crashed hard! (see video ~ 46′:35″) We were doing close to 60km/hr… I hope he’s ok. The lap ended with a 90 degree right hand turn onto the home straight where it was about 250 metres to the finish line.
We had shed about half of the field by this point. Lap 2 was similar to the first but faster. There were a couple of times when I lost contact with the leaders during attacks but I was able to get back on when they ran out of steam. I was working really hard at times and had depleted my two bottles. It was 29 Celsius and I needed more water. Hopefully there was neutral support at the feed zone. There wasn’t. All the bottles being held out were designated for their respective teams. I reached out hoping for some sympathy but everybody pulled back. I wasn’t on their team. Ok, plan B. At the start of the race it was mentioned that the broom car had water, so I dropped back and asked the official if they had any. He seemed a little surprised, and told me they hadn’t. Maybe I had misunderstood. I chased back on and rejoined the group, hoping that I could survive the last 30 km without water. A few minutes later the car pulled up alongside and sought me out. The commissaire handed me a bottle of water he had scrounged up from somewhere. He was such a nice guy! I almost felt like a pro for a moment… getting handed a bottle from the car : )
Now that the hydration crisis was averted, the focus switched to not getting dropped. Then my seat came loose! It just tilted up when I shifted my weight, or flopped around if I stood up. I had moved my seat as far forward as it would go for the TimeTrial and I mustn’t have tightened it up properly when I put it back. The gravel probably shook the bolts loose. It was a little unsettling but I figured I could continue.
The pace went up and stayed up, then it went up some more on the final flats. Andy and a couple of other guys were trying to string it out. By the time we got back to town I was on the verge of cracking and had fallen back in the group. There was a left hander followed quickly by the 90 degree right hander. The pack compressed as they slowed down to take the corner and I managed to catch up a bit. Everybody went wide for the final corner and had to back off the speed and I saw an opportunity to take the inside line and pass 6 or 7 guys. The problem with this strategy was that I had to slow down the most to make the corner. I needed to explode out of the turn to be in the running but I mis-shifted and stuttered to find the right gear for the sprint. I stood up and my bike sounded like it was coming apart as my seat flopped around, bolts rattling like crazy. I wasn’t able to make any ground on the leaders but I did get the same time and finished 17th. This was my best result so far. I felt pretty good. Andy finished 9th.
It turned out to be a heck of a race!