A Hard Day in Niagara.

Written by Michael Bandurchin, member of the 2012 Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDogs Race Team, Road Squad.

I was looking forward to the Niagara classic. 6 laps of a 12km circuit, ending in an infamous climb that can demoralize riders and break up the pack. For the Lapdogs Masters 2 team, a lot of email discussion over the days before kept us speculating about how the race would unfold. What kind of attacks the larger teams were planning, and how we would need to react. Edmond Mellina and I both had ambitions for this race, considering ourselves strong climbers. Roderick Grant had more modest expectations for himself, and committed to do whatever needed to keep us in the game. Consensus was that we should expect a break to form with strong climbers from one or more of the bigger teams, and we didn’t know what lap it would occur on, so we had better get to the top of the hill in the top 10-15 each lap.

Sunday morning we arrived, got registered and warmed up with some of the Senior 3 LapDogs. It was a warm day, as we lined up at the start you could already feel the heat. Roderick and Edmond were lined up near the front, I rolled up near the back a few minutes later, already a disadvantage if anything happens early.

Riders rolled out in a compact group, with an official on a motorcycle repeatedly warning riders about the center line rule (the center line was hard to judge with no lines painted on the road, riders pushed there luck with occasional warnings). Coming along Kilman road is the last descent before the rollers and the big climb. The descent has a curve to the left then an S turn, with limited visiblity around the curves. Last year I was a bit terrified of this section, riders would be passing me left and right, I would be worried about crashing. This year I felt a bit better, seems I’ve learned my primary focus should be on where the road is going, not on the rider in front of me. I must be descending faster, because not many riders were going around me.

The route turns onto Effingham and I know I’ve got to advance on the rollers and on the long climb. The pack is all together at the start of the climb, but streched out as we turn to go downhill. No break this lap, but the field has spread out and thinned out. The second time up the hill is just as hard, and there seems to be more urgency about a possible break. As the course turns onto a flat section leading to the first downhill I catch the wheel of a couple guys hammering to catch the break, at the bottom of the hill I see Edmond behind about 5 MGCC riders starting a rotating paceline. One of the MGCC riders is looking back, evaluating the situation and seems to decide that now is not the time, too many riders have caught up. The pace eases a bit, but just a bit.

On the third climb I focus more on conserving energy, staying in the saddle and spinning as long as possible, out of the saddle just for the steepest part, rolling over the smoothest pavement. After this climb and the following downhill we’re down to just over 20 riders in the lead group, and some at the front are pushing hard. I see Edmond again, we are both staying away from the front. The pace is hard at this point, and it hurts, we’re passing some straglers from Senior 3, and eventually a big group of S3 riders. I’m reminded of jokes made at the start line, “I think I’ll do this one solo”… “solo off the front or the back?”, and the idea of just letting the group go, doing a “solo off the back” at 30Km/h until I get pulled becomes appealing. But I know I can keep going, and will feel better later.

My race ended soon afterward when I crashed in the rollers leading up to the big hill. Two riders in front of me went down, and I realized I would be going over the back wheel of a bike lying on the ground, I’m not sure why I couldn’t remain upright, it happened rather fast. When I got back up my seatpost and stem were both turned 45 degrees, wheels rubbing. In retrospect I probably could have got assistance to straighten things out and continue. The mishap started with a dropped chain, the rider reaching down to get it back on the rings, not one of the crash scenarios I had worried about.

Congratulations to Edmond, who finished 20′th despite severe cramping in his legs 5Km from the finish.