Date: July 26th, 2014
Start Time: 2:00pm
Location: Lincoln, On
Report By: Gaelen Merritt
With heat, humidity, and rain in the forecast, Bruce and I lined up along with ~50 racers at the start line of the provincial road race championships, which were being held on a very flat but somewhat windswept course just southeast of Lincoln, Ontario this year.
|Line up at the start (Photos courtesy of Jeremy Allen)|
Notable teams present at the start were Jet Fuel-Norco, NCCH, Ride with Rendall, and Silber Pro, including the defending provincial champion, 2012 national champion and 2014 national runner up, Ryan Roth. With him on the Silber Pro squad was Matteo Dal-Cin, a relatively young rider enjoying his first professional contract this year. Bruce and I had identified them as the strongest guys in the race, although Jet Fuel and NCCH would attempt to negate their strength with numbers. With only two Wheels of Bloor starters, our job was to be opportunists - let other teams dictate the race but make sure we were in the right moves when they happened.
With the flat course and terrible roads, it seemed no team was willing to animate the race at the start and as a result the early pace was very docile. A few haphazard moves were made off the front but no seriously threatening breaks went up the road for the first half of the race. One or two riders would get up to a one minute gap, but one team or another would peg it back. Bruce and I got in the mix when we could, paying special attention to Matteo and Ryan (pretty sure the entire peloton was paying special attention to those guys). At one point there was a crash in the feed zone at the back of the peloton, which unfortunately took Bayden Pritchard (Octto-Cervelo) and Eric Hueston (Waterloo Cycling Club) out the back. I can’t say I’m surprised a crash happened there, as the feed zone was in a crazy fast tailwind section of road and getting a bottle was WAY more chaotic than usual. I missed a few feeds early on and had already lost a bottle to the merciless potholes on the back stretch - dehydration in the heat and humidity was a concern for me and I’m sure for others as well so I’m not surprised the “get a bottle at all costs at 50 km/h” caused a bit of mayhem at the back of the peloton.
About 80 km in, Bruce moved up to the front of the peloton along with Matteo and jumped off the front. The pace picked up as the two big engines tried to get away, riders from NCCH and Jet Fuel chased after them frantically. I monitored the chase a few wheels back, along with Ryan Roth and Rob Gutgesell (Jet Fuel). As soon as the catch was imminent I braced myself for Ryan’s inevitable counter and sure enough he shot off with Rob on his wheel. I jumped right with them, passing Bruce with famous last words: “I got this.”
Once Ryan finished his hard attack, Rob pulled through and I came through as well. I glanced back and about 8 of us had a gap! We continued pulling and keeping the pace high as we turned right and headed east. After a few rotations I noticed Matteo (somehow) bridged across to us as well. I took stock of the break – ten riders, good representation of U23s, and all the major teams represented. Casey Roth (Ride with Rendal), Pete Morse (Octto-Cervelo), Connor O’Brien (Stevens), Travis Samuel, Rob Gutgesell (both (Jet Fuel-Norco), Jack Burke, Martin Rupes ( both NCCH), myself, and of course the two Silber Pro riders Matteo and Ryan had made the move. We got rolling quickly and I contributed passively, as there were three teams with 2 riders in this break and they therefore had a much greater impetus to drive it. After about half a lap, we had 45 seconds. We continued to roll along. A lap later we had 3 minutes. I focused on conserving energy and being ready for the inevitable attacks that were to come in the final hour of racing.
With two laps (~27 km) to go, and a ~5 min gap back to the peloton, the cat and mouse games within the break began in earnest on the tailwind section following the feed zone. I knew I had to gamble on which Silber Pro move would stick – and I picked the wrong one. I jumped on a Matteo/Travis Samuel attack and we were chased down. Immediately Roth took off with Rob Gutgesell on his wheel. Here’s when things got interesting. After recovering from Matteo’s move I put my head down and hammered after them, but ran out of steam. Casey Roth pulled through with everything he had in an effort to shrink the gap to Rob and Ryan. Connor O’Brien came through and contributed as well. Matteo and Travis did the part of good teammates and sat around on our wheels trying to interrupt our efforts. With Rob being a U23 you would think the TWO U23 NCCH riders in the break would contribute to chasing, but they wouldn’t chase an inch. That was their top spot on the podium going up the road on Ryan Roth’s wheel. And they weren’t interested in chasing it. It was pretty frustrating but there was no time to squabble and after a few choice words (much to Travis Samuel’s amusement) I resumed my chasing efforts with Casey and Connor.
Now it’s pretty crazy what you can do when you’re riding angry. The next last lap and a half I smashed the pedals trying to close in on Ryan and Rob – I was pissed that Ryan had gotten away (yet again) and I wasn’t getting any help from the team that should have been helping in the interest of the U23 title. The other riders in the break, Casey, Pete and Connor all made contributions but were clearly running out of steam. I got stung by a wasp/bee here but barely felt it (who needs an epi-pen when you have bike racing adrenaline!?). Turning onto the final lap I saw off in the distance Ryan had dropped Rob and he was coming back to us like a stone. Before the next corner we had caught Rob, thanks primarily to efforts made by the ONLY U23 rider chasing, Connor O’Brien. With Rob caught, I made sure to watch for attacks by Travis Samuel and Matteo, who had gotten free rides the last lap and a half while I flayed myself trying to close in on Ryan. On the head/crosswind section in the final ~8 km I watched Connor make a few desperate moves to get away but he was mercilessly chased down by Travis and the NCCH riders. Matteo and I also made a few moves, my main aim was to not have to roll the dice in the sprint for second, Matteo was probably thinking likewise. Matteo made one big move straight through the gravel patch of road that Travis and I chased down… and Travis punctured! Brutal for Jet Fuel I thought, they had played their cards perfectly right to the finale but were gonna be left with 4th place in the U23, as Rob was clearly toast at this point after his efforts driving the break and then breaking away with Ryan the previous lap.
Finally we turned right into the final kilometer, together as a group of ~8. My thinking going into the final sprint was that out of the non-U23s, I couldn’t outmuscle Casey in a sprint, I couldn’t outsmart Pete Morse, and Matteo was a complete wildcard to me but I didn’t think he had much of a kick based on the punchiness of his attacks earlier in the race. So I didn’t know what to do, really.
With 800 meters to go Matteo made a half-concerted effort to ride away and I jumped across with Casey on my wheel. Matteo gave up on this move and pulled off to the right, and I swung left to the far side of the road without increasing my pace (we had full closure at this point), and somehow no one followed my wheel – the U23s were marking each other, Casey was marking Matteo over me, and Pete Morse was at the back waiting to pounce! So with no one behind me and the full width of the road between me and the other riders I put my head down and took off with ~600 meters to go. I didn’t look back until the last 10 meters, and saw I had a nice gap over everyone. I crossed the line 3 seconds ahead of the rest of the break for second place, 1:33 behind Roth.
The race for second (Photos courtesy of Jeremy Allen)
What’s crazy was what happened behind me during all this. In the last 5 km, Travis had gotten a wheel change, and his dropped teammate Rob had given the last ounce of energy to pull him back to the group. He got on, and took the U23 sprint for the provincial title. Post-race I noticed my rear tire was down to about 50 psi as well – I had a sharp rock stuck in it but the sealant put in the night before had done the job. So don’t ever say your race is over when you get a flat tire!
Bruce had unfortunately had some pretty bad luck and finished the final two laps with a leaking rear tire AND no di2 battery – the merciless potholes on the backstretch sheared off the mount! He was the last finisher, about 12 minutes back of Ryan.
Overall, it was another successful day of bike racing. I’m happy to be on the podium sandwiched between two very talented professional teammates, but I’m hungry for more.