LapDogs Race @ SpringBank

Here’s a look at the Springbank Criterium race written by Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDogs racer, Giordano Piccolotto.

Whew…so Springbank…What do they call it now? Blood-bank, crash-bank? Whatever, it’s a s#!tshow. An 18 lap criterium format race around a 2.2km loop at Springbank Park in London Ontario. This year’s race lived up to it’s previous monikers.

Our day started with a 5am wake-up (personally I’m not a fan of these. They screw with your sleep pattern and throw you off your groove. Just not my thing) and a two and-a-half hour drive to London (also not big on this). We arrived with a good amount of time to prepare for the coming test so we went to collect our numbers and go about our personal duties.

The day was really turning out quite nice. The sun was out the air was warm and the wind was pretty low. Good conditions especially for a crit. Walking to the start line our director(the illustrious Rick Froner) told us to watch out for the headwind in the finishing straight. I scoffed, there was hardly a breeze. Personally, I didn’t think it was going to affect the race.We went for our pre-ride of the course taking it easy, checking out the pavement conditions, and looking through the turns. Looked good. The sand that had cover sections of the road last year was gone, the asphalt was dry and warm from the sun. You couldn’t really ask for better.

We were called to the starting area and asked to assemble behind the line. Looking around I saw the familiar faces, the guys I knew I’d have to watch out for. But cycling is a weird sport. Some of the guys you race against are friends even though they are on an opposing team you align yourself with them because you know they have the ability to work hard and you can help each other out. Yet a part of your mind knows that you have to watch them because at some point in the race they will inevitably be forced to betray you. Friends and yet enemies. It’s a balance.

The commissaire reads out the rules for the days race cautioning and wishing us to be safe, a good omen right? And said the race would start within the next ten seconds. The whistle went and it was on. Hammering right out of the gate. This is the stuff I love about crit racing, hanging your guts out dry, giving an inch and losing a mile. It’s no quarter, as rough and tumble as road racing gets. The first lap showed that some of the participants were jittery, with some squirrelly riding getting the better of a few, particularly some of the junior racers. These guys are under 19 and apparently have no apprehension about losing their life. By the the third lap some still hadn’t settled down and were yelled at to either hold their line or get to the back.

A good chunk of this race is a blur with a key moments popping out in my memory. Somewhere around the sixth or seventh lap I heard what I could only assume was a gunshot. I next, heard a lone scream of what sounded like terror, then swearing from many voices behind me and the distinctive sound of carbon and aluminum meeting each other. Luckily this was all happening behind me, but it sounded bad. Like hospital bad. I was sure I was going to swallowed up by the crash that was happening behind me. I remember thinking of the fiery Death Star escape by Lando (you’re welcome Steve and Larry). It was still early, was this a mark of things to come?? Hopefully not but probably I thought. We hadn’t picked up the pace yet and there were still the final two laps which are always even faster.

The breakaways were starting somewhere this point, the pace was increasing and the day was getting hotter. I was glad to finally be racing in a bib and jersey only. This years bib shorts are amazing by the way. Sugoi has outdone themselves with the fit and materials, and quality with this year’s iteration. A few guys attempted to to get away but were left out to dry in the hot sun and reeled in without causing too much stress within the peloton.

This was the state of things for the next few laps, my teammate Marshall had moved up as well now and was relaying info and asking how I was. Apparently there has been another crash but it had happened while I was near to the front so I was barely aware of it. I was starting to feel a little fatigued though, my legs didn’t feel like they had the jump I was used to or maybe we were going that fast but it just seemed like holding my position was harder and harder to do. I found myself slipping into the middle of the group, a place I didn’t want to be in this kind of race. Boxed in with nowhere to go if one of my marked “allies” made a move. And that’s exactly what happened. One of the juniors attempted to break and guy I was supposed to be marking had managed to stay on his wheel and the two were off. I was left cursing the situation and hoping that they’d either blow up in the attempt and have nothing left for the finish or that the group would speed up and catch them. I got lucky this time and they we caught. The headwind on the finishing straight, the one that I had scoffed at Rick over, yeah that one, well it’s what I suspect allowed us to catch all the breaks that were attempted that day. I’d talk to Rick about it later.

After being caught with my pants down on the last break I decided I had to make sure I was in a position to react from now on. I knew there’d be more and that some I wouldn’t have to worry about, but I wanted to be there for the ones that I did. I moved up. I waited for the small hill and made my jump. moving up about seven positions within 10 In had to hold. I was in int top 10 leading into the final two laps but I knew I’d have to fight to stay there.

the peloton was together as we crossed the finish-line for the second last time. The bell was ringing letting us know it was the final lap. We rounded the first turn and the pace quickened again. It always the way. The last lap is always a hot lap. it’s exhilarating, scary, fast as all hell. Every one is uncertain, ad jockeying for position. Good thing about it being so fast is that it makes it just as hard for people to pass and come around you. i was able to hold my position into the final straightaway. At 200 meters the sprint started. Everyone was waiting for the sign no one had the guts to go any earlier, myself included. Out of the saddle everyone was mashing on the pedals willing their bikes to go faster. There were what seemed to be a lot of juniors in front of me, they didn’t matter. What did was that two of the men I’d marked at the start-line were. and they we strong sprinter too. To my right a rider in blue lost lost control of his front wheel(or mind, I’m not sure) and swerved very hard to the right. it looked like he was going to take out the entire right side of the sprint. He recovered but over compensated and was now swinging left, into me and the opponent slightly in front that I was beginning to overtake. I thought this was it. I had survived the entire race and was going to be taken out 50 meters from the finish, and hard too, we were going 55km/h at least. I don’t know how but he managed to recover a second time and jerked his bike right again, this time though he did plow right into the right side of the sprint taking them all out. I watched it all happen in an instant the initial wobble the recovery and the over compensation the second recovery and then carnage. All in an instant i felt a little bad but glad. may way forward was totally clear. not a rider to dodge I still was at full speed and I was gaining. Everything was perfect in my little slice of cycling heaven. I caught my marked man and kept pushing, I was gaining on the other but the finish line came just a bit too soon. Just missed him… and the podium. That’s the worst thing about finishing fourth, it’s knowing that the podium was just right there, and you just..just missed it. It’s frustrating deep down. I’d rather finish fifth than fourth, but I shouldn’t complain. Marshall came in just behind myself dodging the crashes and finished seventh in his first ever S3 race. Pretty impressive.

So that was race day, a good day, a 40km/h crapshoot around and around Springbank Park on a warm sunday morning.

PS. Springbank definitely earned its Blood-bank nickname this year. After completing my cool down lap I passed the bodies of racers that had been taken down in the sprint lying in the grass. One was being bandaged and another had his head held in place and was waiting for what I assumed was going to be a stiffboard. There were more, but yeah…

PPS. Rick Froner was 100% right about the finishing straight. I finished 5th and Michael Bandurchin finished 6th right behind him in the M2 category.