Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

Friday, April 18, 2014

I've taken up a new sport!

Well, I know that most people probably don't realize that road bike racing is a new sport considering I'm a mountain bike racer, but it totally is! Now that I'm varsity athlete extraordinaire at Queen's, and that I've purchased a 1 piece skinsuit, and I get to ride with some cool (maybe silly) gear.
On the road, aerodynamics and helmets with burrito pockets are key!
The Queen's University Cycling Team competes in a race series called the  Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference in the US. This involved 3 weekends of driving 4-7 hours each weekend to stay in the spectrum of available hotels (one even had a pool!). I took charge of the rickety and jam packed (16 bikes) cargo van with Luke as co-pilot on the way down, arriving in style every time. The race weekends involved

I can't even begin to explain how nervous I was for my first road race; I've watched races before and heard all about them - to me it seems crazy to be in a pack of 50 or so riders all nudging and bumping into each other, it's completely up to the guy beside you to keep himself well under control or else you may go down - not my kind of thing. The worst is just the horror stories of a crash, apparently you hear it and just have to brace for a fall, bodies hitting the pavement and bikes getting wrecked. These are my thoughts as I join the start line for my first ever road bike race.

I started in the second last row of a 60+ rider field with the other Queen's University riders and was not happy about it.I knew that the safest place to be was the front of the race, and that if I wanted to win I would have to be at the front in case anybody broke away from the pack. Once we started rolling though I began to weave and be very assertive making my way through the pack. Jeff's comment on it summed up my road racing experience perfectly
"Yeah man we started the race, and we both started to make our way up through the pack, when I got midway through the pack I looked around to see where everybody was and I looked forward and there you were attacking up the side of the pace line 2 minutes into the race!"
That entire race I had a great time attacking off the front of the field, I thought that it was a totally novel thing go fast, make people chase you, and watch as the field gets smaller! By the end of the first lap I had singlehandedly split apart the field. I realized the errors in my ways though as a break away happened in the long climb section of the 3rd lap - nobody had the energy to catch a group of 10 or so riders who had been saving their energy for the right moment and attacked on the steep portion of a long climb. This is where tactics comes in, they waited for the opportune moment, and I was the only one left in the group behind that had the energy to try to chase down the breakaway group. There were a few riders that got spit out the back of the breakaway, but only one other rider was helping me to pull our group (through the wind) and I was unable to catch the break. I did however win the group sprint yelling in all of my glory!

The next day was the criterium (or crit) race. These races are 50 minutes of a short lap, and they are INTENSE. This being my first crit I had absolutely no idea how to race it, I just knew that I didn't want to miss out on any opportunities again. I went straight to the front of the pack, and  never let myself fall further than 3rd wheel from the front.

That race was at a blistering pace, right from the gun and I was determined to stay at the front of the race and not miss any chances this time. Turns out that while I was busy not looking back, I had broken off the group with 12 or so guys, leaving a field of 50 behind. This made things really interesting; I was in contention for the win! The break was a weird thing though – probably 4 of us shared the time at the front in order to drive us away from the main group, but once we had established a solid lead of around 30 seconds on the group behind, it was up to 3 of us to pull the break down the road. I spent a lot of energy doing this but found my strengths in the course; I was wicked fast through the technical and tight chicane on the course, and faster around the corners and down the small hill. I also realized that I could let someone get further up the road while climbing the hill, and someone would inevitably pull us all back together (“burning matches” is what it’s called to make an extra hard effort like this). Midway through the race I already had my winning move planned – I would get into the lead on the downhill then through the chicane, and sprint to the finish.
10 points if you can find the waterbottle that I threw!

Things didn’t go according to plan however, on the last lap by the time we were cresting the hill things got wild! Suddenly there were shoulders and bars and elbows everywhere and everyone was nudging eachother to get to the front. I took my opportunity and shot straight up the side of the road, with my tire about 3 inches from the ditch and got just ahead of the mayhem. Unfortunately I was only second wheel by this point, and I didn’t have the opportunity to get in front of the first place rider until after the chicane, leaving about a half kilometer sprint to the finish. I came into the final stretch blazing, gritting my teeth and pushing as hard as I could, eyes locked on the line. Unfortunately in the last possible moment a few guys got by me and I finished 4th, I guess I shouldn’t lead out sprints like that!

Oh well, I really loved that race and had so much fun being a total rockstar at the front of the race, leading through the spectator sections, and hearing all of the crowd cheering!
The other road races were much similar, I thought I had a handle on proper road tactics, but realistically my moves never won me any races – I was always close enough to be considered in contention, but never won anything. Road racing wasn’t so bad though, it kept me focussed all of the time, and it was so much fun to attack the group or make it in a break that I actually loved it! There was one bone chilling incident that happend when 5 or so guys went down at like 60km/hr and there were screams and 5 broken collarbones – I am VERY happy that I didn’t get tangled up in that!

Speaking of close calls, I’m racing a pretty awesome and special event this weekend - you just know it’s going to be crazy because it’s hosted by Red Bull. I’ll be competing in “Race the Place”; a road race through Ontario Place, which is an abandoned theme park an island on the shoreline of Lake Ontario in Toronto. This is going to be a full day and just nuts! It will be an 80 rider mass start through a course with tight bridges, a tunnel, hairpin turns, rollers, and many more crazy features. It’s a crit style race so I’m just going to try to get to the front of the pack before any crashes happen and aggressively hold my position. 
There are people from all over the world coming, and it’s being marketed at bike messengers (probably because they’re the only ones crazy enough for this kind of stuff).
Wish me luck!

(and maybe good health through this race too)

Also check out this really cool background video of the race here

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