Posted by Editor on 07/5/11
Bruce Bird has once again sent one of his in-depth reports from the Masters B National Road Race on Sunday, July 3rd:
On Sunday, July 3rd, I competed in the Masters B (40-49) Canadian National Road Race Championship in Aldershot, Ontario. It was a beautiful sunny day, capping off three terrific days of cycling, including the Time Trial (June 30th) and Criterium (July 1st). There was a light breeze of 15kph coming in from the NorthWest and temperatures in the low 30's Celsius. My race computer recorded an average race temperature of 34.7 Celcius, which represented the heat we all felt on the road. Fortunately, the organizers decided to swich the start waves and have the Masters B category go ahead of the Masters A (30-39), which avoided the confusion of having 135 riders neutralizing 66 as they went by.
I delayed my warm-up until 15 minutes before the race to keep cool and conserve energy. When I did mount my bike I saw riders scurrying towards the start area, so I naturally called over to my teammate Ian Scott to come along as we tried to get as close to the start line as possible. With 135 competitors this was most likely the largest Masters B field of the year (Battenkill had 102).
We did our best to move forward but there were clearly more riders in front of us than there were behind us. There was no hiding from the sun as we all waited for the start on the overpass atop of Highway 403. Two years ago the Ontario Provincial championships were held on the same course and the yellow line rule was in effect, which made for some tight riding, often no more than three riders wide. Midweek (Race organizers) had secured the entire road for this, which was a luxury and also made for a safe race.
I was too far back to hear the start signal but started moving as the riders in front of me began pushing their bikes forwards like scooters, waiting for enough room to fully mount and clip in to their pedals. We got up to speed quickly after that and my heart jumped into my throat as my stiff legs were forced into motion with no warm-up.
I felt much better after the first few minutes and maintained my place halfway back in the peloton for the first ten minutes. When we hit the main climb on Snake Road I was moving up in the pack when I heard a honking in behind, which I feared was the Masters A race neutralizing us. Not wanting to get caught behind a neutralizing group while small group break off the front (as happened at Calabogie earlier this year), I moved up to the front to survey the situation. As it turns out the honking was from a motorcycle who was just trying to get past us as we took up the entire road on the climb.
The course profile was essentially all uphill on the way north and all downhill heading south, with a short level section at the south end of the course. The uphill gradient ranged from 2-6%, consisting of three main sections, the downhill gradient was more continuous and ranged from 1-4%. Each 11.2 kilometre lap had 157 metres of total elevation gain.
I reached the peak of the course with the first few riders, I then carefully descended the 4 kilometre stretch down Waterdown Road. By the time we reached the right hand turn onto Plains Road at the south end of the course there must have been 30 riders in front of me, most of whom took a breather on the flat section to get some water. I kept pedaling on the flat section and moved back to near the front; this scenario played itself out many times. I can't figure out why people race down the hill just to have a break when we hit the flat section, where putting in more of an effort reaps far greater rewards. It was also interesting to watch all of the heavier riders (like myself) surging forward down the hill aided by gravity past the lighter climbers who had an easier time on the climb.
You never know when the winning move is going to happen, but you do your best to be in a position to capitalize and be part of it. As we completed the first lap in 17:45 (the fastest lap of all ten) and turned left past the bottle exchange area, the first attack happened. Two riders went off the front, followed by two more who moved up the left side. I noted that Ron Amos and Michael Nash (Ride with Rendall) were at the front and looking to take part; Nash went and Amos allowed a gap to form. I went all in with a big effort weaving past Amos, I glanced back after 30 seconds and saw that the whole peloton was strung out behind me, not allowing me to go. My teammate Ian Scott countered the move by just keeping his effort steady while I slowed down. The peloton slowed with me, and Scott and Nash had a small gap. After a couple seconds of rest and Rob D'amico (Z-team) whispering in my ear "hit em again", I went for it. Once again the whole peloton sped up and seemed to be right on my wheel, not allowing me to break free.
I knew that this was going to be a key decision point in the race, but I did not realize that it was fated to be the key decision point for me. I sat up and watched Scott and Nash consolidating with two of the the other riders in the break and waited for someone behind me to make a move, but it did not happen. The peloton slowed along with me and we settled into a pace. Ian Scott is the 2010 Canadian and Ontario Provincial Road Race Champion, so I knew that our team was well represented in the break. I could see up ahead that the six riders who got away were now in a single group. The rest of the Wheels of Bloor team - Bobby Mrvelj, Victor Pwu, Weislaw Matusczcak and myself. along with Ron Amos - moved up to the front of the peloton to control the pace and allow the break a chance.
Steve Baker (Team Cross) came forwards and drove the pace valiantly up the hill, Paul Greene (Chain Reaction) also looked good on the climb, picking the pace up several times, while Brent Aquino (Z-team) drove us all down the hill. We finished the second lap in 17:47. Steve Baker kept coming up to the front and I could tell that he was getting frustrated as there was no organization in the main pack. I noted to him that many teams were not represented in the break and that they would no doubt come forwards soon.
Mike Mandell (Ride all Day) came to the front and turned a massive gear the third time up Snake Road. We completed the third lap in 17:59. On the fourth lap Greg Cavanagh (SUL) took the lead along with spurts from Baker and Greene and a few other riders. We were told from officials that the break was 45 seconds ahead but we were beginning to catch up to stragglers, which added an element of confusion. On the downhill we could clearly see the break up ahead and by the time we got onto Plains Road the break sat up and rejoined the peloton, however, there were only five riders in the break, one was missing.
Dan Martin (Safeway) had attacked from the break in lap four on a solo move. The other riders, who had been frustrated by a perceived lack of cooperation, decided to let Martin go, thinking that he could not survive more than half of the race out on his own and would surely succumb to the heat and exertion. The peloton finished the fourth lap in 18:30.
Once we turned right onto Old York Road, Dave Gazsi (Cyclelogic) tried to escape from the group with a solid move. I rode right onto his wheel and followed, he then pulled over to the right and told me to go for it. Dave was right - I should have used his move as a springboard to try and separate a smaller group of riders from the pack with the intent of working together to catch Martin. Unfortunately, Gazsi had not really pulled me along and the effort I put in to chase him down left me in need of recovery. I was also thinking that attacking with more than half the race remaining would be too hard in that heat. No one else came forward with a counter move and the pace slowed.
There were several move attacks and chases in lap five. Near the top of the climb I saw Mirek Mazur on the side of the road and he called out to me to chase NOW, as he feared that we were competing for the silver; he was right, of course. When we reached the summit I let a few riders know that I would attack on Snake Road in the next lap and that they should be ready. We finished lap five in 18:13.
On Old Fort Road during lap six the pace slowed to a virtual standstill as everyone waited for the next move. Cavanagh was active at the front and he told me that we had one of two choices, to either get the Wheels team together at the front to chase or get an elite group of riders together to chase. I knew given the lack of action in the peloton that the heat and climbing had been extremely draining and that there would be no way to organize a team move, nor did it make sense given that the entire peloton was chasing down one man. The prospect of dragging along an entire peloton with only a few helpers was extremely discouraging, especially after the effort that I put in at the National Criterium, just to see some of the other guys in the break do a better job than me at conserving their energy and easily dropping me long before the finish line.
I waited for what seemed like an eternity for us to get to the base of the climb on Snake Road; as the pace slowed to conversation level, we must have lost 45 seconds to Martin in that one stretch. Once I got at the start of the climb I steadily increased my pace until I was just about at 100% effort and kept it there for as long as I could. Looking back I saw that Baker and Matuszczak were right behind me and that we had a 100 metre gap on the field. I had hoped that the selection would have been a bit larger but was determined to make the best of it. Baker was willing and able to relieve me, while I could tell that Weislaw was red lined but determined to hang on. At the top of the hill I took over from Baker and drove the pace down Waterdown road. Despite the painfully slow start, lap six took us 18:26.
On the way back up the hill in lap seven Baker did the lion's share of the work up the hill, which dislodged Weislaw on the steepest part of Snake Road. The two of us continued on working well together and completed lap seven in 18:22.
In lap eight Steven pulled me all the way up the hill as I was beginning to suffer, but we had cut 45 seconds out of Marin's lead, taking it down to 1:45. I did not really think that we had a chance of catching him, but held out hope, as you never know what can happen. At the end of the downhill as we turned right onto Plains Road, a cop car pulled out in front of me with the sirens going and got up to speed just in time so that we did not have to slow down for him. It is not irregular to have a cop car lead out a race or even a chase group, especially at a National Championship.
Steven took over for me after the long downhill and followed the car. All of the sudden I realized that we were turning right but it seemed too soon. Half way up the 400 metre stretch on Plains Road is a entry way for a Tim Horton's which is exactly where the cop car turned. Steven was in auto-pilot as was I and we followed the car right off of the race route. I realized the mistake a second before Steven and was able to limit my losses by keeping my momentum as I looped around and back on the the course. Steven came to a complete halt and started apologizing. He then pulled his right thigh muscle as he got back up to speed in a bit of a panic state. I waited for him to catch up to me and tried to talk him into a calmer place as he screamed in agony and disappointment. I rode at a slower pace with Steven hoping that he could recover. We gave back all of the time we had gained in the previous two laps as the lead gap stretched back to 2:30.
At the start of lap nine in the water bottle exchange area Steve told me to go on ahead as he was unable to recover from the cramping thigh. Unfortunately, I was already at my limit and digging into my reserves, but I pushed onwards, holding out a slight hope that Martin was at his limit as well. The supporters who lined the course in patches willed me forward with their cheering. There was an extremely helpful guy with the hose on Old York Road who sprayed us down with cool water and I veered my bike right towards him on every lap. I finishing lap nine in 18:57.
I watch a lot of bike races and have heard Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwin describe the telling signs of a cracked rider in detail as they commentate on each race; a sore lower back that the rider keeps trying to stretch out, a lowered head that is no longer looking up the road but right down in front of him; an uneven pedaling style often referred to as 'pedaling in squares'. I was fully exhibiting all of these signals.
On lap ten I started using lower gears on the climb and staying to the left side of the course to catch as much shade as possible. I was no longer thinking about Martin up the road but worried about getting caught from behind. I started to take more glances behind me to see when the group would be coming. I kept my effort constant but felt as though I was barely moving up that climb last climb.
I looked over my right shoulder and to my astonishment there was Baker climbing nicely up the hill. Baker's effort provided me with a temporary lifeline as I moved in behind him and matched his pace. It did not take much more than 200 metres for me to realize that I was overheating so I moved back over to the left into the shade and watched him ride away. Despite not being able to match his pace, just having Steve ahead of me kept me focused as I struggled to limit my losses.
Steve moved about 100 metres in front of me and then stalled as the course flattened and I closed the gap. I caught up to him quickly on the downhill and he moved in behind me. We stayed together for the final five kilometres before I pushed past Steve (who was unable to accelerate due to his pulled thigh) on the final incline. The tenth lap took me 20:01 to complete.
Daniel Martin accomplished an incredible feat by riding the last 6+ laps on his own and finishing 2:29 ahead of the next rider and 6:01 ahead of the peloton; a truly epic move on an epic day that saw only 39 riders finish out of 135 who started.
The amount of support throughout the race was incredible, including all of the cheering, the couple of hundred people at the water bottle exchange,the great guy who had two cold water bottles at the finish line area who gave them to me as he judged that I needed then more than whomever he was getting them for originally.
Thank you. Thank you.
Another call out to the Midweek for organizing and all of those who pitched in making the events possible and memorable.
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