Written by Dave Hamil, Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDogs Race Team, Road Squad
The first race of the season is always a gong show. After a long winter riders are eager to get back on the road; and those who have put in countless hours on a trainer are keen to show off their new legs. Most riders show up with their winter gear on, leg warmers and caps a since the weather is still just a few degrees above freezing, although you do see a few nutters wearing just their kit. Regardless of what they’re wearing everyone is keen for the starting whistle.
The problem with the M3 class is that you get a real mish-mash of skill levels and bike handling. If you look at the M1 class, most of the riders are svelte, and have excellent handling skills. They don’t get excited or make sudden, rash movements. With M3 you have beginner racers (everyone has to start somewhere) as well as experienced riders who don’t have the legs to advance to the upper levels or are just not interested in those longer, faster races. The combination makes for a fast, sketchy ride.
This was my second Good Friday race and considering the Hamilton Cycling Club had moved the race from Flamborough to Ancaster, I thought I would have a good shot at finishing with the peloton. The new course was flatter, very little in the way of inclines and the rollers weren’t anything to be concerned about. What I hadn’t counted on was the number of riders. The M3 class had something like 107 people in it. With the yellow line rule in effect, it meant that you only had one country lane within which to maneuver. The road was only wide enough to fit 3 people shoulder to shoulder meaning you could effectively have one rider break away and three teammates shut down the peloton.
The race started from the Ancaster fairgrounds with a neutral start. Despite this a rider crashed right in front of me within the first minute of the race. Not a good way to start. The issue was the first stretch of road was gravel. So now we have mixed skills, first race, and dodgy roads. Once we got onto the main road it was clear this race was going to go quickly. I was riding with race team director Dave Chong, as well as Wallace and Tim, and while we started together we were soon separated. Dave had moved somewhere towards the front and Tim and Wallace were behind me.
There is a phenomenon in a peloton where it moves like an elastic band. It stretches out and then snaps back together. This is caused by the riders at the front encountering something, like a hill, which causes them to slow down and the riders behind them bunch up. The leaders then accelerate when they reach the crest of the hill and the group stretches out again. This effect gets worse the farther back in the peloton you go, so it pays to be near the front. Every time the group bunches up however it is accompanied by shouting, squealing rubber and the smell of burning carbon. I guess some guys with new wheels didn’t realize you shouldn’t lock up your carbon rims.
As we rounded the corner to go back towards the fairground the commissares brought the group to a standstill. As we slowly navigated into the oncoming lane I could see a guy lying in the middle of the road, wrapped in a yellow emergency blanket in obvious pain. A sobering reminder what can happen if you let your attention slip. Lap 2 saw us also slowly navigate around the fallen rider who by this point had been accompanied by an ambulance. This scene was still present as we started the third lap; a testament to how severe the crash must have been.
By the third lap things had begun to pick up; it always does by this point. Another crash (again right in front of me), more snaps of the elastic peloton, a few flats… Anticipating the stretch and snap of the group I was able to slowly make my way up the peloton towards Dave who I could see about 10 guys in front of me. The peloton is probably moving around 40kms an hour which is fast, but not anything unusual. If you are on the leaward side from the wind it is actually not that much effort. If you’re the poor sap upfront however, you’re working like a dog.
One of the problems with the course this year was the gravel section I mentioned in the beginning every time we came around to the finish line there was a mad sprint as riders jockeyed for position (since this was really the only time to move up) followed by a 90 degree left onto gravel. Forty kilometers an hour on gravel is no laughing matter when you have two inches of rubber as the contact between you and the ground and that ground isn’t exactly stable.
Once we got on the road again for the last lap things really exploded. The leaders had really put down the hurt and anyone who wasn’t with the main group would struggle to bridge the gap or get left behind. I was one of those strugglers, luckily for me Tim came riding up from out of nowhere. It was a small relief to see the flash of the orange and green Lapdogs kit. I was able to catch his back wheel and let him pull me back towards the main group. With the help of another rider from Dark Horse I was able to get back into the peloton, but the speed was now in the upper 40′s so there wasn’t much in the way of recovery. Glancing at my Garmin I could see my heart rate was maxed out. I reminded myself that in boot camp we did a 20 minute all-out and I only had about 10 minutes left in this race, so I could hang on.
At this point I saw Dave sliding back from the group. I shouted something encouraging like “Keep going Dave!” But it probably just sounded incoherent. When it is all you can do to stay upright and moving you don’t really have much time or breath for chit-chat.
One of the issues I have with races like Good Friday is that they’re not closed course. First the yellow line rule makes it hard to move around but also cars get in the way. On the second to last turn towards the finish, police had stopped three motorists from proceeding. As a result the peloton had to slow down to pick it’s way around them and then start up again. This gave the leaders another opportunity to snap that elastic band and despite my best efforts I was not able to close the gap a second time.
It is bitter sweet to finish like that. I had nothing left, there was nothing else I could have done in terms of effort, I was spent. But if I had been smarter, more aggressive earlier in the race I might have been in a better position to finish. As it stands I ended the race in 50th place, half a wheel in front of Tim who had saved my goose earlier in the race, and just 28 seconds off the leader.
I learn something new every time I race. I learn about where to position myself, which riders to follow (and which to avoid), how the peloton is going to move…most importantly I learn to push myself. All in all I can’t complain too much. None of us crashed, none of us got hurt and this is after all only the first race.
Just wait until Calabogie!