Racing the Provincials Road Race

Written by Edmond Mellina, Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDogs Race Team Member.

The Provincials at the Holland Marsh was the last race on my road racing calendar for 2012. I had designed my training plan to bring me there with a second peak of form. Everything was going according to plan… until I got hit by a nasty bronchitis with less than two weeks to go. The doc put me on a 10-day regimen of antibiotics. The good news was that I would finish the treatment the day before the race, which hopefully would mean clean lungs to tackle the hills of the Holland March. I told myself there was nothing else I could do apart from getting as much sleep as possible, eating well and staying hydrated. At least I should have fresh legs.

The evening before the race I sorted the registration list on OCA’s website by team. The conclusion was clear: I could forget about the squads / competitors on which I keep a close tab when I race in M2. Indeed, the sorted list showed two large M1 squads: Wheels of Bloor and Sound Solutions. I knew there both were top teams. Since I didn’t know their strong men, I checked the latest O-Cup Master 1 standings as well as the results of the Master B Nationals in early July. I wrote down five names: Robert D’Amico, Ian Scott, Wieslaw Matuszcak and Chris Firek of Wheels of Bloor; and Chris Wood of Sound Solutions. I printed the headshots of the Wheels of Bloor guys (I found their racer profiles on their team’s website).

Given the hilly course and the fact this was a championship, I expected a hard race of attrition with a key move during the last three laps. At least one of my five-guys-to-watch should be in that move. So my strategy was simple: save as much energy as possible during the first five laps, stay near the front, move up for the last three laps, watch these five guys very closely, and try to go with the first one who makes a move.

I went to bed with mixed feelings: not sure I would have my legs given the antibiotics; but nevertheless confident I had done my homework in preparation for the race! Before falling asleep, I looked again at the headshots of the Wheels of Bloor guys to memorize the faces.

When I arrived on the circuit, the first thing I saw was fellow LapDogs racer Julie Marceau powering pass the finish line. She was leading a two-woman breakaway. I shouted some encouragement in French (“Allez Julie, vas-y!!!”). Given the gap they had on the peloton, I thought that Julie was on her way to collect a new championship jersey. I decided this was a good sign for all of us Lapdogs. At the signing table, I took the time to write down on my left arm the BIB numbers of the five guys I had decided to watch. The nice ladies handing out the BIBs must have thought: “What’s wrong with this guy?” In the parking lot, I recognized Wheels of Bloor’s Matuszak – thanks to the headshots I had memorized the night before!

Two other LapDogs were in the race: fellow M2 Roderick Grant and M1 racer Lorne Anderson. Unfortunately, we were unable to warm up together because the start time was fast approaching. As I completed my warm-up routine, I saw Julie who confirmed she was the Provincial Champion!!! Since she was going to take care of the feed zone for me, I told her she could find my bottles under the trunk of my car.

I went straight to the start line and positioned myself on the second row. I looked at the BIB numbers around me and was able to quickly spot the five racers I had decided to watch. In order to recognize them more easily during the race, I took note of the brand of their bikes, the colour of their shoes / socks and the shape of their legs. I was ready to go.

The race started at a good pace. As we climbed the steep hill for the first time, I did a quick check of my body: lungs were fine; legs not super, but not bad either. I had a brief chat with Roderick and Lorne. But as we reached the top of the hill the pace picked up so we had to focus on the wheels ahead. By lap four, I was finally able to move up near the very front – close enough to see a breakaway starting to form. I got concerned when I realized several teams were represented. I could see black jerseys – the colour of Wheels of Bloor! I spotted two of my five-guys-to-watch around me, but not the other ones. Were they in the nascent breakaway ahead? If such was the case, then I was missing the key move. Gasp!..

At that time the gap was only about 100 meters. So I decided to jump to try to bridge to the breakaway. I looked behind my armpit and saw that the peloton had not had any problem catching my slipstream. In an attempt to shake the racer on my wheel, I jumped again while moving quickly to the other side of our half-road. It didn’t work. I decided there was no point in pulling the peloton any further. Fortunately, during the next lap the bunch was able reel back in the breakaway. Phew…

Suddenly, as we started climbing the steep hill for the fifth time, I felt very hot. What was wrong with me? It was not a food or fluid intake issue. Indeed, I had been eating and drinking very well up to that point. Furthermore, I had the benefit of cold bottles: I had followed a friend’s advice by putting all my bottles in the freezer overnight. As we reached the top of the hill, a massive thunderstorm burst. There was nothing wrong with me, the humidity was simply at its maximum before the storm.

A few minutes later, the commissaire on the motorcycle drove up the peloton to tell us the race would be stopped at the end of that lap. So we rolled to the finish and stopped at the line. Another commissaire explained we would have a minimum of 30 minutes delay before the race resumed; and he strongly advised all of us to move away from the finish line: we were in front of the lightning-loving metallic structure used by the race announcer!!!

By then, we were drenched and starting to get cold! I took refuge under the Morning Glory tent (we didn’t bring our own tent that day!). Roderick was there too. He explained to me that him and Lorne had a technical problem: they could not brake anymore. They had opted for carbon wheels with carbon-specific brake pads – perfect for this hilly circuit in dry condition, but totally ill-suited to the same circuit under torrential rain!! I offered to go pick up my spare aluminium wheelset from the neutral car. But since the brake pads were not compatible with aluminum rims, my solution was not viable.

I got colder and colder. As I watched other racers keep warm on their home trainers under their tents I wished I had brought mine (I prefer to warm up on the road; the forecast was clearly saying no rain during warm up; and frankly I didn’t expect the commissaires to have to stop the race. Lesson learnt…). At that point I was so cold that I left the tent to go to the car. As I was about to get inside I heard the announcer say: “Racers, the race will resume in five minutes”!!!

Everyone was rushing back to the start line. I got there two minutes before the new start. The commissaire shouted a long series of BIB numbers, explaining these were folks who had fallen behind the peloton before the race was stopped and therefore would not be allowed to start again. I looked around to spot Roderick and Lorne, but I didn’t see them. I concluded they couldn’t resume the race given the wet roads and their equipment. I felt sad for them.

The commissaire told us we would just do two laps as opposed to the three laps that were officially remaining. He gave the new start. Right away a two-man breakaway formed. I had started in second row but with the yellow line rule and teammates of the attackers blocking, there was no space to try to join them.

I noticed the road was still quite wet. As we entered the first corner a Vinyl Bilt guy went down. As we got out of the corner, a Morning Glory racer did the same. We were going full gas and I was not cold anymore. I asked one of the Wheels of Bloor guy whether one of the two guys ahead was from their team, which he confirmed. I tried to move closer to the front but I couldn’t. With the yellow line rule, there was simply no space. A couple of guys tried to be smarter by passing from the other side of the line but the commissaire on motorcycle disqualified them right away. This kept everyone on the right side of the law!

We passed the finish line again and heard the bell – last lap. As we approached the first (right) corner, the bunch moved left in one big wave to cut across the apex of the turn. The Morning Glory racer immediately to my right decided it was the perfect opportunity: he jumped straight to the front of the peloton from the right. Remembering how the bike reacts in the tricky conditions of cyclocross, I thought: “With that speed there is no way he is going to make that corner on such a wet surface”. For a split second, I thought he was going to prove me wrong. But then his bike disappeared from under him and he hit the pavement quite hard. Things were starting to get pretty hectic. We were now descending at full speed. As we started to climb again, we could see the two breakaway companions just ahead. We caught them on the steep hill. With the yellow line, the positions were now set. Apart from a few guys who were losing their legs on the steep hill, it was impossible to pass anyone. We reached the top of the hill as a compact bunch. I thought: “Three kilometers left. Flat. Windy. Translation: bunch sprint. Conclusion: I’m stuck, nothing I can do now, no more opportunity at this stage…” I crossed the line in 26th position.

What about my five-guys-to-watch? Although one of them did not finish (maybe the same equipment challenge as Rod and Lorne?), the other four finished 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th. At least I was watching the right guys!! Wheels of Bloor swept the podium. Kudos to them.

That’s it, my road racing campaign for 2012 has come to an end. Although I didn’t bring back the results I had trained for, I had lots of fun fighting out there with my teammates. My focus in now switching to preparing my cyclocross season. I will be chasing podiums in the fall!!!

Photo Credit: Peter Kraiker, Studio f-Stop