The UWCT World Championship
The Amateur Worlds kicked off with a time trial on Thursday August 28th, followed by a team relay event on Friday evening all leading up to the road race on Sunday morning August 31st.
Being part of the over 1500 amateur athletes from 44 countries taking part in a World Championships is special. All the participants have trained hard and made significant sacrifices to be at the event many like me targeting the Worlds our top race for the season. Everyone is so excited. Everywhere you go in the town you see people with lean shaved calves, snapping selfies and smiles.
The Road Race (157km single loop course – Ljubljana, Slovenia)
The 19-34 year old men started first at 9am. Group left at five minute intervals, with the oldest category starting last. Our group of 150 riders between the ages 45-49 was in corral four, which started promptly at 9:15.
I rolled into the start corral at 8:45 to find half of the field already there lined up in front of me. It's crazy and even a little stressful to watch riders pull into the corral, move up to where they cannot advance any further, crane their necks while on tippy-toes looking for a team mate up front and willing the sea of riders in front of them to part. Riders were fighting for inches with their front tyres like their life depended on it, but not everyone, riders like Stephano Nicoletti (Italy) the race favourite, a great climber and the winner of the TT just three days prior, could be seen near the back having a laugh with friends completely at ease. I saw the same thing at the Canadian Nationals; riders who ended up finishing on the podium were super relaxed at the start, not wasting a speck of energy until the real racing began.
There was no neutral start and it was very safe thanks to the host Slovenians who had 40 riders in our age category. The Slovenians took control of the race right from the start putting three riders on the front and leading us through charming historic Ljubljana as we fanned out across the large boulevards behind them. There was no problem moving up to wherever you wanted to be in the peleton; I moved in right behind our host train into fourth or fifth wheel. There is something magical about a team working together towards the same goal; on this day the Slovenians were wizards.
After about 15km's of driving the pace at 45-50kph, Slovenia had burned through several riders. A couple of guys tried launching attacks off the front at this pace and I was thankful for it; it meant a few less guys to worry about when things heated up later on. My new favourite Slovenia, Iztok Kuret, took over at the front and put on a display of consistent power that I applaud. He paused for a short break as a team mate took over and then moved right back in front with me now sitting right behind him. Kuret then proceeded to drive the pace for another five minutes before looking back to see that no teammates were positioned to release him, so he shrugged his shoulders and went right back to pounding out the pace right up until the first climb...Awesome!
All Along the route thousands of people lined the streets of every town we rode through cheering us we rode by. At around kilometre 15 there we two eighteen wheelers on either side of the road facing us with their horns blaring, it was crazy and great at the same time.
The first climb was 4.5km's in distance with an average gradient of about 4% starting just past Vhnika heading towards Logatec. With the Slovenian locomotive fading backwards the group paused for an Instant before Richard Feldman (USA), 3rd place in the TT, took command of the group laying down a 400 watt average for the twelve minutes it took us to ascend. At the summit there was a lull in the group that was quickly put to rights by team Slovenian who send a rider to the front. I peered back to see that our group was down to about 75 riders.
Unbelievably the Slovenian locomotive Kuret had made the first selection and proceeded to take over the pace making again. He continued to lead us up through the beautiful countryside towards Godovic. A few other riders took over the pace of brief periods leading us to the first steep winding descent down into a gorge heading into Idrija. It was so much fun leaning into each corner and zipping down the smooth closed road, just like I have watched on TV so many times while on my trainer in my basement. When the switch backs ended I looked back to see about 25 guys in our lead group. I wondered if Nicoletti was with us as he had yet to show himself. Nicoletti had countrymen in the race that could potentially support him.
The Slovenians in the lead group were determined not to let our advantage go to waste, they kept driving our group, but they were starting to fatigue. A lone Slovenian shot off the front and I went with him deciding that now was as good a time as any to go for it with just 100 km's remaining. There were just over twenty kilometers remaining before a 7.5km 7% climb up to Kladje Hill. The Slovenian in the break with me was steady, strong and determined. We worked well together, never speaking, taking turns keeping the pace between 50-55kph as we descended along the river that would take us to Cerkno and the base of the climb.
Not long after we started our break we were joined by an equally devoted and powerful Ukranian; Ishchenko Hryhority. Despite the fact that the decisive climb was approaching, saving energy was out of the question. All we could do was trust that our legs would not fail us. Fortunately Team Slovenia had held the main group back to allow their rider in the break a chance to fly. Our three man break had built up a lead of 2:30 by the time we reached Cerkno and the base of the climb.
Hundreds of people were waiting for us in Cerkno to cheer us on. I had pre ridden the climb and the part that worried me the most was the first 1.3km's where the gradient was a nasty 10-12%. None of the three of us in the break were climbers. I hit the tough section first and pushed myself knowing that in five minutes the toughest part would be over as the gradient eased to 6-8%.
I distanced the Slovenian and the Ukrainian faded. I knew that going it alone was not a good idea but I still had 6km's to climb and a lot can happen in that time. The Slovenian caught up and took the lead once the nasty section was over. I got on his wheel an all of the sudden everything hurt more than I wanted it too. Fortunately the Slovenian and I were well matched and after struggling to keep pace for a few minutes, I was able to join in taking turns leading up to the top where hundreds of people lined the final kilometre screaming encouragements. I heard them call out Marko! Marko! Unbelievable, Greg Gannon, my coach had emailed me prior to the race providing me with Marko Baloh's email suggesting I connect with him as he was very strong and had raced the course many times. Now it was just Marko and I picking off riders from earlier groups driving our way up to the summit. I was energized by this realization and unlikely coincidence and took us over the final 500 meters.
At the summit I paused to drink and grab a gel as Marko came through saying let's go and led me through the start of the technical descent not wanting to waste any time. What we didn't know was that Nicoletti had closed to within 30 seconds of us cresting the climb third, taking two minutes out of our lead. Fortunately he also dropped everyone else in our category and most likely had no one to work with on the descent.
Marko and I kept pushing the pace on the descent with 65km's left to go, steadily picking off riders who had been dropped from earlier waves. Some of these riders tucked in behind us, which concerned me at first, but I was assured by the Moto Commissaire alongside us, with a shrug of the shoulders and tilt of the head, that it was okay, there was nothing that could be done.
Initially our descending group grew to five and then twelve and then with Marko and I driving the pace, we down to five riders again. We continued pushing the pace and bridged up to group after group. Marko was not playing games and neither as I, we knew what was at stake and we kept the pace close to 45kph. The kilometres started counting down and our group must have grown to a hundred riders as we neared Ljubljana.
The Finish Sprint
The other riders in our group started getting twitchy as we in the final five kilometres. Marko and I kept near the front and together. My mind was racing, it was going to come down to a two man sprint for sure, yet we were amongst a group of a hundred riders none of whom were riding for the rainbow jersey any more except Marko and Me. A solo move was not going to work here as there were way too many guys who had been sitting in for over an hour. With one km to go I locked onto Marko's wheel refusing, I mean absolutely refusing, to let anyone move me off as we made turn after turn snaking our way towards the finish.
I saw the final right hand turn approaching; Marko moved to the left near the front of the group and then opened it after he rounded the corner with just 300 meters of gradual descent remaining between us and the Rainbow Jersey. I stuck to Marko’s wheel. I navigated the partial traffic circle then moved left and pushed my pedals with everything I had. I started moving up beside him and then even with him and then ahead of him with 100 meters to go. By this time I started grunting willing myself to keep going faster almost not believing what was happening. I crossed the line ahead of Marko and let out big yell as I rode down past the finish line and then into the parking lot where Marko sought me out to congratulate me right away; what a honourable competitor he is. The next group from our age category came in five minutes later with Nicoletti taking fourth place just behind his Angelo Menghini (Italy).
Doping control took a while due to being way dehydrated. The medal ceremony took even longer but when it was my turn on stage, getting to put on the rainbow jersey as the World Champion and then hearing the Canadian anthem play.... it was over all too soon.
Thank you and 2015
Thanks Slovenia, Thanks Ljubljana, I will always treasure the four days I spent in your welcoming country.
I am working to make the Grey County Road Race, based out of Blue Mountain Village, Ontario the sole Canadian World qualifier event next May and then defend my title next September 3-6th in Alborg Denmark.
Full Results: http://www.timingljubljana.si/rezultati.aspx?IDtekme=2582&tip=B