LapDogs @ the Tour de Bronte

Here’s a look at the Tour de Bronte race written by Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDogs racer, Edmond Mellina

The Tour de Bronte is the “Strade Bianche” of Ontario: held at the Bronte Creek provincial park in Oakville / Burlington, the race is 50% asphalt and 50% dirt on winding, narrow road.

A few days before the race, the organizers announced the normal categories would be combined due to low registration levels. As a result, the last race (S1-2 and M1) became an “open race”. Marshall Eidinger and Giordano Piccolotto (both S3) and myself (M2) decided to join Christopher Bradbury (S1) and race with the “big boys”!!

Before the race, we talked race strategy via e-mail. Christopher led the discussion, sharing his insights and wisdom about racing at this level on this unique course. We had a sound plan and Marshall, Gio and I were committed to help Christopher as much as we could.

Last year in M3 I flatted after 20 kms, while in the lead pack that was chasing the eventual solo winner. I made the mistake of raising my arm too slowly, so the wheel car missed me and I ended up dead last and way behind everyone else.

This year I was better prepared, having bought a brand new pair of Vittoria Pave clinchers especially for Bronte. Well, that’s what I thought: I pinch-flatted 14 kms into the race! Contrary to last year, I put my arm up immediately and moved to the right side. The car saw me and gave me a new back wheel relatively quickly. But I lost a good minute in the process and I was now on my own. The first peloton was going at full speed: they were chasing a breakaway that had taken off after 5 kms, with four guys including the 2 nd from last year. That’s what is great about these top categories: a mere 5 kms into the race and the favorites are already taking risks by getting on the offensive. Kudos! When they took off, I was just beside them in maybe 8 th position of the pack; I hesitated a moment, but the pace was already pretty fast so I chickened out and decided to stay in the peloton.

Up to the time I flatted, I wasn’t doing too bad – able to keep and regain positions without too much effort in all the technical sections. It’s amazing how much cyclocross has helped me with both technical skills and confidence for this kind of courses. However I don’t know how long I would have kept up the good work if I hadn’t flatted. That 2 nd lap was not as easy as the 1 st one for me.

After my flat, I chased solo for a few kms. Just before the end of that lap, I reached Christopher who was cruising along on his own: unfortunately, with all the dust that day he had lung problems which forced him to pull out of the race.

I caught another guy and we worked well together for a couple of laps until a small pack came back from behind (about 10-12 folks). It was a mix of racers who fell, flatted or got caught behind. I was happy to see an orange, green and black jersey in the group: Marshall. Later on, we caught Gio back. The three Lapdogs in the race were together.

As it’s often the case, very few people were working with us at the  front. As usual, I got mad and yelled at the “slackers”. Gio advised me I should take it easy. He was right. So I moved to the back of the group to cool down my “hot head” a little.. and get some gels. Over the next few laps, I made several breakaway attempts with the stronger racer of our bunch. But we got caught back very quickly every single time. The “slackers” were not that “cooked” after all…

Two laps before the end, the same strong rider decided to do what he had to do: since none of us who were willing to attempt a breakaway with him were strong enough to make a clean break with him, he took off on his own. He got 15 seconds on us and kept it to the end. Well done!

In the last lap, because I’m not too keen on sprints, I tried two or three more times to take off. But the group reeled me back very easily / quickly every single time. I didn’t have the legs. My last attempt died a few kms from the finish, while exiting the last dirt section.

I was pretty tired with all my efforts throughout the race, so I thought that I would be drifting to the back and remain there safely. But, having just been caught, I got into the last left corner in 2 nd position (3 kms from the line, near the park’s entrance). Then I saw the “slackers” move to the front for the sprint… and the adrenaline took over! I stayed patiently in the top five-six positions. With about 1.5 km to go, Gio jumped hard, but he got caught back. Then another guy, same thing. At the 600m mark, it was Marshall’s turn to jump hard but he got caught with maybe 250 m to go. I was now in 3 rd spot, on the center-left of the very narrow finish straight…

One of the “slackers” jumped on my left and took a bike length. No way! I pushed as hard as I could on the pedals, put a smaller cog, got back to him with 25 m to go… and I left him behind with 10 m to go, i.e. finishing first of our small pack of “left-behind’s”. I didn’t know I had that in me! Granted, it was a sprint for the 32 nd spot. But most of the folks in that group were M1, i.e. one level above my regular category.

Overall I am happy with the experience, despite the fact I could only play in the first peloton for two laps due to the flat. But flats are part of racing. It was a hell of a workout though. It was also a good confidence booster: technical skills, overall fitness and small-pack sprint surprise at the end!! It was also great to race with fellow Lapdogs from the other categories.

One thing for sure: the big boys make their races everything but dull. It makes you want to progress to their level to play with them!!!