Posted by Editoress on 08/6/11
On Monday, August 1st, Le Tour de Terra Cotta was held in Terra Cotta, Ontario. The main event was a 104 kilometre circuit race of 12 laps around an 8.68 kilometre four corner closed road course. This was an citizens event open to all categories, with 197 entrants (men and women). The race temperature was 35C under clear skies, with a steady wind of 25 kph blowing from North to South, which was not felt on the finishing straight located in a Valley on the King Street; the main road though charming Terra Cotta. The course profile featured a single climb of approximately 50 metres in elevation gain per lap up Heritage Road.
The event was well organized, with what seemed like the whole town participating as volunteers. In addition to being a well planned event it was well funded, with all of the main sponsors in attendance, including the title sponsor Desjardins Financial Security, who helped make this one of the largest cash purses in Canada, with prizes running three deep per age category (5 men and 5 women) and ten deep overall (both men and women). All riders received a T-shirt and a meal ticket for the barbeque after the race.
I had participated in the event last year and knew to line up early so not to be too far back for the mass start. I was less worried about the start this year, having witnessed how effectively the race had been neutralized all the way past the first climb on Heritage Road, which meant that the race stayed together through the entire first lap, despite an very fast lap. It was only on the second climb that the race broke apart.
I was lined up beside Darko Ficko (Jet Fuel Coffee / La Bicicletta) and Olympian Sue Palmer-Komar and her team. We were about two rows back, which turned into three rows back as riders nonchalantly backed into the front row, taking advantage of the smallest cracks to wedge their bikes in. I noted three Jet Fuel riders who were well positioned in the front row as they fended off their positions from would be 'backer-inners'; Ed Veal, Kevin Hazzard and Peter Morse. The organizer called out the rules on a loudspeaker and the event started right on time at 12:30 pm, as the pristine shiny red Ferrari convertible pace car sped off ahead of us.
I let about 20 people ride by me on the way up to the first climb and then moved up twenty spots during the climb. At the base of the climb I looked up to see a group of about 3 riders detached from the front going all out with another three riders trying to catch on. The neutral start from 2010 was nothing like the start this year, which may be attributed to the Ferrari pace car being unable to drive any slower than 60 kilometres per hour up the hill. The pace car last year was an older model convertible that did not exceed 30 kph during the neutral start, which lasted a few hundred metres beyond the top of the hill. With the pace car gone, the lead riders nailed it during the most narrow part of the course, creating gaps in the field as riders clogged up the hill.
Once we crested the climb the pace shot up to close to 60 kph, aided by the tailwind, as caught out riders (like myself) made a mad dash to join with the break, which had three Jet Fuel riders in it. At this point I was about 50 riders back, being sucked along by the pack and pedaling in my highest gear. After turning on Old School Road and into a pure crosswind, echelons quickly formed. Behind the lead group of six riders another group of six riders had managed to break free of the peloton. With the forming of the chase group the speed of the peloton had slowed considerably, as more teams were represented in either the break or the chase. The lead break must have had a 20 second lead at this point, with the chase group halfway in between the leaders and the bunch.
I moved up to the front of the peloton and launched an attack to try and get across to the chase, but the peloton was having none of it, and riders strung out behind me. I rested a little and tried again after we turned into the head wind on Winston Churchill Blvd with similar results. A few other riders were trying the same tactics with no success, as we watched the two lead groups increase their lead and consolidate.
By the end of lap one I came to the realization that I would need to find a group of motivated workers if I wanted any chance at catching the 12-man break. I started talking to the riders near the front, encouraging them to work in a pace line. I could only assume that the group up ahead contained at least eight workers, and that we would need a similar amount or more in order to be successful. Teammate Ian Scott (Wheels of Bloor) came forwards and rotated though regularly along with six other riders all taking fairly regular turns: Andrew Bradbury (Darkhorse), Ian Robertson, Brandon Spencer (Kalisto-Wheels of Bloor), another rider from Darkhorse, an independent rider in his first race. A few other riders made some contributions including Greg Cavanagh (SUL), Garnett Abbey (Oakville) and teammate Victo PWU; apologies to the riders who I missed. A couple of time a rider or two would shoot off the front in a doomed attack, only to be reeled in having wasted precious energy, just as I had done during the first lap. I tried to encourage each rider to keep working as a group.
We continued to work together until midway through lap five when I realized that I had gone too far into the red zone and faded back to the tail end of the peloton, which had about 40 riders in it, with a group of 15 chasing to catch on after the climb. I stayed in the back for about five minutes until I heard the unmistakable sound of Darko Ficko pushing a ridiculous high gear with ease as he started to move up in the peloton sensing that a break was imminent.
Darko navigated through the peloton like a barracuda does with a school of fish, silently from the perimeter moving in, yet hardly seeming to move at all. Darko seemed to take stock of the other riders to see who had the strength to break free and form a chase group, so that he would not miss an opportunity to be pulled along and counterattack, should the break get caught. Despite my feelings of fatigue I was drawn to follow Darko as he played the ultimate support role for his three teammates who were up ahead in the break. Darko's intuition had been correct as the peloton sped up as we closed in on a group of riders up ahead of us. We caught up with seven riders during the crosswind section, who had been dispatched from the break including Rob D'Amico (Z-Team Wheels of Oakville). I asked Rob if there were any left up ahead and he said four or five.
Many riders in the peloton were beginning to show signs of fatigue as a few of us pushed the pace up front. All of the sudden a gap formed as eight of us were able to break free. Teammate Ian Scott had seen the move developing and sat up to allow the break more of a lead. Encouraged by the unplanned gap we pressed the advantage over the next two laps. Seven of us took turns working the pace-line: Ed Makarchuk (Sound Solutions), Chris Firek (Gears), Ian Robertson, Brandon Spencer, Andrew Bradbury and Gaelen Merritt, while Darko rode in behind us since he still had three teammates in the break.
During lap nine we closed down 30 seconds on the leaders but still trailed by 50 seconds. We lost Firek and Merritt in lap ten. Some of us were no longer able to take regular shifts through the pace line, sitting out a turn or two and putting pressure on the rest of our chase group. By lap 11 it became clear that we were not going to catch the break. I feared that I might lose contact on the hill on lap 12, so I pushed on hard through the more gradual first part of the climb so that I had time to give back during the steeper section. The six of us stayed together and began to jockey for position. I attacked on the left side of the road on Winston Churchill but everyone responded so I shut it down as our pace slowed to crawl, each of us recovering and waiting for the other to move.
We made it to the descent as a group. I refused to move past Robertson into first and stayed on the left side of the road in a kind of parallel lead position. I saw Robertson start to kick and sped up in time to catch his wheel as we hit 70 kph. As we flattened out at the bottom of the descent, Brandon Spencer called out from behind that the three of us had a gap. I peered back to confirm and then pushed on full gas with about one kilometre to go.
The three of us rotated through, keeping the pace high and I got to the front again with about 300 metres to go. I gave it all I had and Brandon skillfully came around me on the right at the line. The three of us ended up 55 seconds back of the five-man break, ten second ahead of Ed, Andrew and Darko, 2:30 ahead of Firek and Merritt and three minutes ahead of the peloton. Of the 197 starters, 55 finished in the same lap as the winner.
Team Jet Fuel dominated the race with three of the five riders in the winning move. Ed Veal won the sprint with Ryan Du Toit (HCC) finishing second and Anton Varabei (Cycle Solutions) placing third.
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