Posted by Editoress on 06/28/14
Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEdge) showed once again why he is considered the Iron Man of Canadian cycling with an incredible display of endurance as he won the Elite men's national road title on Saturday, in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. In heat and humidity, on a tough hilly course, Tuft rode the rest of the field off his wheel with a 120 kilometre solo breakaway. Ben Perry (NCCH p/b DEC Express) finished eighth overall to take the Under-23 title.
A field of 129 riders were on the start line for the 179 kilometre race, which started and finished in downtown Lac Mégantic, almost a year after the train derailment that ravaged the town's downtown core. A moment of silence was observed prior to the race.
Peloton strung out before the first time up the climb
The attacks started as soon as the neutral section was over, but nothing could stick in the 20 kilometre run out to the 15 kilometre Mont-Morne circuit, which the riders had to cover nine times before heading back to town. The constant attacks had already whittled the field down, but the first time up the two kilometre climb laid carnage to the peloton, as the top teams set a hard tempo.
By the third time up the climb, a select group of approximately twenty was left at the front, with all the top contenders in attendance. Tuft then attacked after the top as the race began to descend, carving out a gap along the flatter section of the loop and hitting the top of the climb on lap four with a 40 second lead.
Tuft w. 40 seconds on lap 4
"I was definitely questioning myself going that early," commented Tuft. "The thing is, [team mate] Christian [Meier] and I were in the group, but that group was all the strongest guys in the race. We couldn't ride together and let it be decided in the last few climbs. We had to keep attacking, to shake up the race. If you come down with the strongest guys in the race, you wouldn't have your work done yet."
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Behind, the chase was slow to get organized, since no one wanted to be responsible for doing the work. Thus, Tuft's lead started to grow, hitting three minutes with three laps to go. the group behind was steadily shrinking, as riders fell off the pace.
Defending champion Zach Bell (Team SmartStop) couldn't stay with the chase, and neither could Optum's top hope, Will Routley. By the time it was down to three laps remaining there were seven chasers left - Tuft's team mate Meier, who was getting a free ride, Antoine Duchesne (Team Europcar), Guillaume Boivin (Cannondale), Mike Woods (5-Hr Energy), Ryan Roth (Silber), Hugo Houle (AG2R la Mondiale) and Perry, the only U23 in the group.
The chase group
Woods attacks on the climb
Woods attacked on the second to last climb, marked by Meier and with only Roth able to bridge up. The other four chasers had nothing left and gradually drifted back to finish over four minutes down. Meier wasn't working, of course, so it was left to the other two to chase, with Woods going to the front on the climbs and Roth powering them on the flats. They were having little effect, with the gap staying at around two minutes as the race left the circuit to head back to Lac-Megantic.
Tuft was still ticking off the kilometres at the front, but the heat was starting to take its toll, as he began to look a bit ragged on the climbs, and was massaging and pounding his thigh, which was starting to cramp.
Meier attacked the other two with about eight kilometres to go, but Roth went with him, and they started to eat into Tuft's lead, so Meier backed off once again.
Tuft rolled in to the finish with a weary smile, raising only one arm above his head, and immediately looking for shade and water. He had averaged just over 40 kilometres an hour for the entire 179 kilometres, two-thirds of it solo.
Meier led into the final uphill sprint, with Roth coming around him in the final 300 metres to take second, a minute down on Tuft.
"Coming down the stretch, I was hurting for sure," Tuft agreed. "Eventually, you have a whole bunch of guys chasing, you're going to hit the wall. With the heat, the wind ... it all takes its toll. I was suffering. I knew my limit and stayed as close as I could to come home as strong as I could, which wasn't very strong at all."
The victory for Tuft came two days after he won his ninth Canadian time trial title, giving him the double win for the second time in his career, matching his feat from 2011 in Burlington, Ontario.
"This one I am more proud of the road title. In 2011, we had some good odds with [his team] SpiderTech. We had numbers, and we could take control of the race. Today, with two guys, we had to race the perfect race. Right from the beginning, Christian and I were always in the moves, and making sure that we wouldn't be racing from behind. I'd have to say I am proud of this one."
Of the 129 starters, only 39 would finish, with all but the first eight more than 17 minutes behind the winner.