The Tour de Hans in Kitchener was the last local road race of 2012 and it turned out to be my best race yet. I don’t know if I was just on form that day, or if I had actually improved that much over the year, but I found myself in a position I wasn’t prepared for… sprinting to the finish with the leaders.
I hadn’t actually planned on doing this race, but the weather forecast was looking so good… sunny and about 12 Celsius, so I signed up last minute. However, the night before the race, we had company for dinner and I ended up eating pizza with loads of hot peppers, drinking half a bottle of wine and a couple of shots of bourbon. I wasn’t exactly feeling race-ready the next morning and I got there a little late. To make matters worse, I needed a hot-pepper-induced-bathroom-break that made me late for the start. (I’m paranoid about needing to go during a race!)
The riders were already rolling out when I was still pumping up my tires and then I panicked and forgot my Garmin in the rush to get going. It was a neutral start for a couple of kms, so I worked my way through the pack to reach the front. I spotted two riders from our club, Bayden and Andy, and caught up as we reached the start banner and the race was on. Now I know these guys are fast, and I didn’t expect to ride with them for long. Two weeks earlier, during the Centurion at Blue Mountain, in a much bigger field, they immediately broke away with the leaders on the first big climb and held on to the end. This time however, the course was pretty flat, and only three riders got away. The peloton stuck together and seemed happy to let the break go at this point.
We were hammering along at a good pace and I found myself riding near the front of the peloton for about 75km. I even took a couple of pulls. I was really surprised to be hanging on with guys like Bayden Pritchard and Andy Mill… even pro rider from Spider Tech, Ryan Roth! In my mind, I kept thinking “enjoy it while you can, cuz these dudes are going to drop you soon”, just like they do every time I show up for a Tuesday night group ride : )
Not far from Maryhill there was a crash right in front of me. We were doing 50km/hr and a bunch of guys went down. I don’t know how I missed them… I didn’t have time to stop… desperately swerving my bike so hard to the left, my body was leaning to the right. I couldn’t believe I was still upright and moving, but I had slowed enough to lose contact with the group. A couple of riders from behind passed me as they chased back on, but for me the gap was widening. I was getting dropped. I can remember Ed Veal telling me to kill yourself to catch the draft if possible… so that’s what I did. I knew that I had to go for it, or sit up and wait for the next group. It took absolutely everything I had to get back on, but I managed to do it. My relief was short lived though. Shortly afterwards, Ryan Roth attacked on the hill out of Maryhill. I’m not sure if this was right after we caught the breakaway, or if he was trying to bridge up to them, but the peloton reacted and the pace shot up. Once again I found myself getting dropped. Once again I gave everything I had and thankfully they gave up the attack before I blew up. There was no way I could survive another effort like that. Thankfully I didn’t have to… I looked back and we had shed a fairly large group of riders… about 35 of us were left together at the front of the race.
With around 5km to go, we turned onto Bridge Street and it was a gentle downhill all the way to the finish. The pace was ramping up again and I’m thinking “what next?” I’d never got this close to the finish with the front group before. When I rode the course a few days earlier, I kinda dreamed of attacking before this turn and trying to go clear to the finish. It was obvious to me now that I did not have a remote chance of pulling that off, and I was just thinking “hang on and see what happens”. By this point I didn’t know if the big guns were going to hammer it and leave me in the dust, or if I could hang on and sprint with the pack. I was even starting to get my hopes up for the possibility of a top ten finish.
The last kilometre was pretty darn fast and people were starting to make their move. I was going hard but still in the saddle and had squirmed into the second row. With about 300 metres to go, the sprinters were coming from behind and Bayden was passing on my left. My instinct was to hop on his wheel. I know Bayden, and he was going for the win and he was capable of it too. Maybe I could hold his wheel and slingshot around him if I timed it right. But another rider was already on his wheel and others were fanning out around them. To be honest, I was afraid of moving laterally and taking everyone down. The crash before Maryhill was still fresh in my mind, and I had no experience in this situation. I did not want to be ‘that guy’… the rookie who takes everyone out. My hesitation cost me any chance of making a move and I ended up boxed in in the middle of the pack as riders rode around from behind. I felt like I had no control over my destiny… I had to go with the flow… the pace being dictated by the bunch all around me.
I ended up finishing in 24th place, 4 seconds behind the winner… Tim Burton of RealDeal Racing. It was my best result and the fastest I had ever ridden. The official result shows our pace was 43.6 km/hr. (however I suspect that the distance to and from the start/finish line was included in the overall race distance, and it should actually have been a bit lower) Nevertheless, I was very happy and ended the season on a high note.
I never once considered that I had a shot at winning that race. Not against so many elite racers. But I have to admit that I can’t help wondering what might have happened if I had been better prepared and positioned at the end. If I had had some room to get out of the saddle and give it everything. Maybe, just maybe, I could have made the podium : )