Tour of Muskoka - Elite Men

Saturday Aug 23 – Brunel Time Trial - OCup #7

After a solid night’s sleep and a big breakfast, I rode the long way from my Grandfather’s place to the Huntsville high school. This was my first time on the TT bike in a while but was hoping to be able to put down a respectable time - I’ve yet to really put down a TT performance I feel representative of my ability/potential. The course was hilly enough to level the TT playing field between the smaller and bigger riders, being primarily uphill on the ~15 km out, then downhill and fast on the way back. Weather was perfect with no significant wind and comfortably warm and humid conditions.

About 10 seconds into my TT I realized that this one was not gonna be a breakthrough performance, as the holder must have moved my rear wheel out of place on the horizontal dropouts, and my rear wheel was seriously out of line and rubbing the frame to the point I could barely turn the pedals. I tried to think quickly, jumping off the bike, readjusting the wheel and retightening the skewer, but the damage was done and I had lost 50 seconds right off the bat. My confidence and attitude further deteriorated when Anton caught and passed my about 5 minutes later. I suffered on the way out and didn’t feel like I was going very well, but found some semblance of rhythm on the way back and made relatively good time. That didn’t stop Jack Burke and Ryan Roth from passing me with about 5 km to go. I mentally focused on keeping Jack close for the final bit and crossed the line maybe 15 seconds after him.

Results showed another mediocre TT performance – 6th out of 11 starters. Roth had torched the field as expected and Jack Burke had an impressive ride to take second ahead of Ed Veal.

Of course, I just had to crunch the numbers about my horrible start - if you take away the 50 seconds I had lost at the beginning I would have moved up to 5th and been within 15 seconds distance of 4th. Frustrating, but not the end of the world, I know I need to work on this discipline and still believe I have a ton of potential to improve here.

The rest of my Saturday was spent helping out Bruce and the rest of the WOB race organizers, I was a ride leader for the kid’s fun ride at Deerhurst (which was super awesome), then Anthony and I helped disassemble, load, unload, and reassemble the finish arch structure, as well as hand-bomb barriers and other heavy things necessary to putting on a bike race. I finished off the day back at my Grandfather’s place, eating a boatload of pasta with Grace, my parents and the 7 other racers/volunteers we were hosting for the weekend, and collapsing into bed around 10:30 pm.

Sunday Aug 24 – Lake of Bays Road Race OCup #8

Woke up around 6 am, and enjoyed a nice breakfast with fellow competitors Andrew House (Coach Chris) and Luke Van Lauwe (NCCH). I jumped into Andrew’s vehicle and we drove the 11 km to Deerhurst. It was a beautiful early morning with mist rising off the lake.

After a short delay waiting for first aid responders to arrive, our field of 31 elite 1/2 riders set off. Among the peloton were a number of heavy hitters, including Ryan Roth (Silber Pro), Ed Veal (Real Deal), Anton Varabei (Jet Fuel), Sean MacKinnon (Racer Sportif), and a huge contingency of NCCH riders including some serious young talent in Jack Burke, Ben Perry, and Will Elliot.

The ride out on North Portage Rd was nice and easy – NCCH, having approximately a quarter of the field on their team, set the early pace. We turned left onto south portage road and attacks began in earnest on the climb up to Dwight Beach Rd. My teammate Anthony Sreblowski got into the mix and I latched onto wheels as counter moves starting flying on the descent down to Dwight. I got into a small move going through Dwight but we were caught before starting the short ascent up to the main highway. After rounding the corner onto Hwy 35 Andrew House attacked in the exact same place he made the winning solo move the previous year. This time, Brian Trafford (Octto Cervelo), Brayden Bourne (Stevens Racing), and Stephen Welsh (NCCH) locked onto his wheel as they gapped the field. About a minute later Sean MacKinnon jumped and I went with him along with Will Elliot from NCCH. MacKinnon closed the gap down on the House break and I took over driving the pace. A few hard pulls from all 7 of us and our early break was established about 20 km in. I was ecstatic about the composition of this break as I knew all of the guys in it were solid workers and neither Roth nor Veal nor Varabei were in the move. With those guys being heavy favourites the peloton would look to them to do the chasing – and with seven of us working strongly together it would put pressure on even their collective talent.

The next 110 km of racing ultimately consisted of the six of us being chased relentlessly by the peloton (i.e. Ryan Roth). Our gap never broke the 3 minute mark, and after hitting the headwind on Hwy 35 (2nd lap) guys in the break were starting to tire. We did our best to keep rolling but many were struggling on the climbs and starting to miss turns even on the descents. We lost Trafford on the final climb before Dorset. Sean and Will were still going strong at this point, but Brayden and Andrew were clearly suffering on the climbs. Stephen Welsh continued to do his part.

Between Dorset and Baysville on the second lap things got crazy. We lost Andrew on a climb, then looked back to see the gap was down to 30 seconds or less. As the peloton closed in on us, Brayden was dropped. I thought we were doomed. But then Ben Perry (NCCH) suddenly appeared (having bridged solo across the 20-30 second gap to us), and started driving the pace. I was able to jump on along with Welsh, Elliot and MacKinnon. A few strong pulls from MacKinnon, Elliot and Perry and our gap went back out. I pulled through when I got to the front of the paceline but metered my efforts at this point as there were now 3 NCCH riders in our break of 5 (including the u23 national champion), and MacKinnon was clearly friends with these guys off the bike so I definitely didn’t want to do them any favours. We rolled through the final feed zone and turned onto Brunel. After a little while we noticed our follow car was back behind us which meant the gap had gone even further out. On South Portage Rd the labours of our breakaway finally took its toll on Welsh as he fell off our group. We were now down to just Elliot, MacKinnon, Perry and myself. We slowed considerably. At one point I got a small gap and tried to stretch it out but was chased down after a few minutes. We continued crawling along and our gap to the remnants of the peloton plummeted.

Finally we turned left onto North Portage Rd, and looking back at the top of that initial ramp after the left turn I actually saw the peloton! I couldn’t believe it but they were RIGHT behind us. At that point I knew if we dilly dallied we’d be doomed for sure so I made the decision to completely commit to getting to the line ahead of them. On the final major climb we started to pass the women’s elite 1 peloton. I didn’t get out of the big ring – I just hooned it at 60 rpm out of the saddle and just willed my body forward. Coming over the top I heard a voice shout out behind me “Gaelen, go!” I didn’t look back. I bombed the descent and took the corners as fast as possible, almost crashing into the lead moto on one of them. On the uphill ramps I went deep into the red, and then willed my body to get back up to speed for the next descent. I was all in and it hurt, a lot.

With ~1 km to go I made the final right turn onto the main road to Deerhurst, and looked back to see an empty road behind me. Complete elation.

It’s hard to put into words how special winning this race was to me. After spending my childhood summers, thanksgivings and many New Year’s on “Pen” Lake I will always hold the Huntsville-Lake of Bays area very dearly. With my Grandfather’s passing almost 2 years ago and his lakeside home now sold, Sunday August 24 2014 was the last day I had to spend there. And rinsing off in the lake and drying off on the dock one last time after standing on the podium above the likes of Roth and Veal had me contemplating both the past and the future.

Onwards and (hopefully) upwards.