Race Report

April 30, 2012

Tour of Bronte win…the trend is set!

On Sunday, Adam picked me up at 10 am for the drive down to Oakville for the Tour of Bronte. Due to low turnout, the race format had been divied up into 3 divisions, beginner (45 km), sport (64 km) and an open, 80 km race. I had aspirations of riding the open race, but decided against it for several reasons. One, the course is a pancake flat 8 km loop, about 70% of it on gravel roads, definitely not an ideal parcours for a hill climber like me. Throwing inexperienced cat 4 me into a elite 1-2/ master 1 race on a winding, narrow, loose gravel course is just asking for trouble. I have very little (read none) experience in a race like this. Call me a sandbagger all you want, it’s only a matter of time before I’m mixing it up with the big boys (can’t wait J), but I need quality race experience more than anything to be able to do well against them. That’s what those lower categories are for right?

Another reason I did the sport race was that fellow WCCers Adam, Curtis Gloade, and Brian Pedersen were doing the sport race, and having teammates in a team sport is always a good thing.

So the race! Adam and I lined up at the very back of the field. This is rookie mistake number one. A breakaway could have formed right off the gun, or more likely a crash around the first few corners could have split the bunch. We got lucky this time, none of this happened. Everyone took the first few corners very slowly, likely thanks the race commissaires warning us that they were pretty sketchy. One right turn in particular was really bad – it would turn out to be a TSN turning point in the race.

On the first lap Adam and I slowly made our way to the front. I tried to get a sense of what I could get away cornering-wise on the loose gravel with prorace 3’s at 110 psi… I slid a few times but kept the bike upright… I attribute this solely to experience gained riding Paris Ancaster and bombing around the loose gravel corners on my cross bike on the Grand River Trails. About halfway through lap one Adam found himself at the front, with me a few wheels back. I wondered what Adam was thinking at this point, and quickly came to the conclusion that I should try to establish a gap off the front of his wheel here. I surged ahead and brought a strung out peloton along for the ride. I pulled off and merged back into the pack. In hindsight this was a stupid move as I burned a match, accomplished nothing, all on the first lap on a course I had never ridden before. But like I said this sport race was to gain experience, and I got a valuable lesson there.

The second lap there was a few attacks, and the pack surged after small break formed ahead of the field. A few teams chased this group down with a full gas effort for about 5 minutes. I then found myself near the front as soon as the field sat back up after this chase. I thought to myself; hey why not give it another go? So I stepped on the gas again and burned another match to see if I could establish a break. I looked back and saw that there were 3 others on my wheel with a small gap from a chasing peloton. I pulled off and encouraged the “next in line” Derek Snider to keep the pace high, as it was critical at this point for this gap to “be the breakaway of the day.” Derek happily obliged to keep churning at 45 km/h and the gap grew a bit more. The other two riders in the break, Greg Bishop (Peterborough Cycling Club) and I think Phil Hodgkinson (Kurzawinksi) took very short pulls, and I once again took over and drove the pace some more. We didn’t look back and kept on working fairly cohesively, but it was apparent from the very beginning that Derek and myself were doing the vast majority of the work. Fortunately as a unit of four we were able to establish a solid gap on the main bunch. I knew Adam, Curtis and Brian would be patrolling the front, discouraging any counter attacks and chase efforts. With four laps to go we were firmly established as a breakaway group, about 45 seconds to a minute ahead of the pack. It was here that our group was quickly halved, specifically on that nasty right hand turn at the very beginning of the unpaved section. Richard and Greg went down, their bike sliding out from each other on the corner (I was on the front at the time). I looked back and saw what had happened and made the very quick decision to not wait for them – they were doing maybe 20-30% of the work between the two of them anyways and by that point I had already been thinking of when I should try to get rid of them. I gestured for Derek to come along with me and he obliged. The two of us communicated well and rode very hard, trading pulls at what I would say was as close to 50-50 as you could get. With 3 laps to go, the race commissaire drove up beside us and informed us we had a 1:20 gap on the main bunch. We kept on working together. With two laps to go, we were informed that the gap was 1:45. I was starting to feel pretty fatigued on the headwind sections and the looser gravel sections at this point but I made sure not to overextend myself and do something stupid like get dropped. With a lap to go, we never saw the peloton through the entire “out and back” paved section of the course (on the previous laps we could see them). This meant that the gap had gone way up and I knew at this point that barring major catastrophe, the race winner would be one of us. Derek and I both agreed at this point to take the loose gravel corners super slow and safe for the last lap. There was absolutely zero point in taking big risks.

Now when you start feeling really fatigued in a race, you start to make compromises with yourself. Things like “well we tried our best to make this breakaway work” and “second place is still a pretty good finish” are prime examples of the excuses I had been making up in my head throughout the race. To quote Igor, winning this race now hinged on my ability to not listen to my brain.

Riding by the registration booth on the final lap I saw Bruce Bird cheering me and Derek on. Thinking back on all the pain and suffering him and Ian Scott put me through at the Tour De Hans last year only served as more reinforcement that I could, and would, somehow get Derek of my wheel and ride to the finish line solo.

So when we got to the back section I finished a pretty hard pull and got Derek to pull through to the front. I could hear him breathing and his pace was dropping slightly… and that’s when my “kick ‘em while they’re down” cycling instinct took over. I rode around him on the back straight and accelerated fairly sharply. I heard him mutter some four letter words behind me which only encouraged me to fully open up the throttle. I looked back once and saw I had maybe a 30 metre gap. There was about 3-4 km to go at this point, and I just put my hands on the drops and settled into time trial mode, making sure I carved the corners quickly and safely at the same time. I knew that as soon as I got onto the paved section there would be a decent tailwind and before I knew it I was spinning out my 53X12, absolutely hurtling towards the finish line. I crossed the line solo, 14 seconds ahead of my equally-deserving breakaway partner, and just over three minutes ahead of the rest of the peloton. Results are here: http://www.ontariocycling.org/web_pages/results/20120429-210149-tbresults.htm

I would not have wanted to be a part of the ensuing sprint for third place, as the finishing straight was less than one car lane wide, and really only had room for two riders side by side. Riders were forcing their way through tiny gaps and throwing elbows at very high tailwind assisted speeds. Adam played it safe and still wound up in ninth place. Curtis and Brian did not end up so lucky, as they both encountered different mechanical issues and were unable to finish. But their work patrolling the front with Adam while my breakaway was established remains a critical component to my success today. Thanks guys!

Looking back, I think racing the sport division was still the right decision, as it provided me with the very new experience of establishing, being in, and eventually winning a successful breakaway. Can’t wait for the next one…which is Niagara Classic May 20th. Time to work on that hill sprint!


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  1. mike_ch_1

    Congrats everybody 🙂

  2. bdoberst

    Great race report, Gaelen! We can live vicariously while learning a thing or two about racing strategy.

  3. Krisztian

    Really good read, thanks for the race report.
    Congrats !

  4. Rafrider~Just Crank It!

    Great job Gaelen 🙂

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