I’ve always considered myself a cyclist, and was on the bike racing other unsuspecting riders on the roads since I was probably about 14 years old. But I never formally raced a bike race other than the races that come after a swim and before a run until last weekend in Edmonton at the Velocity Stage Race (I raced Cat 5). And here is how it went…
The Time Trial
If I had to consider myself any sort of specialist I would say it would be a time trial specialist. The type of training triathletes typically do lends itself very well to time trialling and there is something about the simplicity of just being you, the bike, and a clock that I love. In a time trial you bring yourself to your upper threshold and hold on for dear life until you finish the race, if it doesn’t hurt you’re not doing it right.
So at 8:42:30am I pushed off the start into a brutal headwind and went all out for 10km. About 4km in I caught the two riders ahead of me (30 second increments) and was feeling pretty good. Looked down at the powermeter and I was pushing about 290 watts which was roughly where I wanted to be. At around 7km I passed two more riders and was starting to feel the burn. The beauty of such a short time trial is that there’s very little mental endurance required, so 3km more just meant one last push.
Finished the 10km TT in 14:25 with an average heart rate of 183bpm, and average power of 299 watts. That was good for fourth place overall out of 54 riders and would have been a top 10 time all the way up to Cat 3 that day. 14:25 seems a little slow for that power but the winds that day were a force to be reckoned with… But we had no idea what was in store for the rest of the weekend.
So crit racing is tough. This was my first crit and I knew it would be technical and very challenging. My number one goal was to keep the rubber side down, and finishing in the peleton would be my second goal. I achieved only the first goal.
The first few laps I managed to stick with the group but was acutely aware of the fact that I was working when others were taking it easy, and ending up too gassed to work when others were attacking. It was probably the fifth lap where in one fell swoop I was passed by about 15 riders because I just wasn’t pushing hard enough. After that I was relegated to a chase group of seven riders where I stuck it out til the end of the race.
It was another brutally windy day and the closing stretch was always right into a headwind so when you rounded the corner it was like hitting a wall and then standing to sprint. I thought I had a strong sprint but I just couldn’t hang onto the wheel of some of those other guys even in Cat 5. In the end I was about a minute back from the main group of finishers. Not bad for the first time out, but not great, I really wanted to stick with the peleton.
The Road Race
It was a 70km road race with a peleton of 55 riders in the category. We knew it would be a windy day but no one had a clue of what the wind would do once the race began. The course was essentially 3 loops of a 23km square starting eastbound and going clockwise. The wind was coming out of the southeast which meant that at least half the time we would be going into it.
I was nestled in the middle of the peleton and stuck with it for the first 15km before the attacks started. I managed to keep with the group until then but after that things started fragmenting with the winds pushing guys into each other, and even off the road in some cases. Around 20km with a tailwind there was an attack and I fell about 10m behind which was enough to lose the draft with about 15 other guys. I was leading the group and motioned for someone else to come up when I started to fade but no one wanted to do any work which really pissed me off. As a result the 10m quickly turned into 100m. After a rest I tried to bridge but got swallowed up by the chase group I’d previously been leading.
After the first lap we were a ten man chase group about a minute behind the main group. But pretty early into the second lap, 10 guys turned into four which wasn’t nearly enough horsepower to deal with the strong winds. The course was prairie flat with little or no coverage to offer respite from the wind. Halfway through the second lap the guy in front of me flinched, so I flinched, so the guy behind me crashed. We stuck with him to make sure he was fine, and then he told us to go ahead. Down to three, it wasn’t long before we lost one more guy who couldn’t hold the pace.
So into the last lap it was me and one other guys from Mud Sweat and Gears. We worked together as well as we could in the winds and eventually he dropped me (oddly though I finished before him). I was exhausted and couldn’t keep my HR up during the last lap. I took in the gels that I had and just pushed through til the end.
I came in 28th out of 54 in the road race about 18 minutes after the first guy across the line. We found out after the fact that winds were sustained 45km/hr with gusts up to 70km/hr. I have never ridden my bike in that kind of wind, some of the gusts slowed us down to 10km/hr. Cat 5 had 11 DNFs and 7 DQs from centreline infractions. It looks like Cat 4 stuck together pretty well but had about 1/3rd of the field DNF, Cats 1/2, and 3 showed the real attrition though with about 60% of riders DNFing.
I came in 25th in the General Classification which wasn’t bad for my first outing I think. I was very happy with the TT, came away safe from the crit, and finished the road race. I took solace in the fact that one of the more experienced riders said I’ll probably never race in conditions that like that again. New guys (like me) racing in Cat 5 (aka Crash 5) combined with high winds made for an exceptionally dangerous race for newcomers. All in all though it was a great learning experience for me and I’ve gained a new level of respect for road riders and the level of strategy and pacing that goes into that sort of riding. I’ve got the engine but there’s way more to it than that. All in all, a great training weekend.
In closing, I leave you with a video a friend of mine sent me before the race, some inspiration for everyone riding this week.