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    >>>Race Report by Kevin Gibson & Mark Weymouth
    >>>(2016 WCC CycloCross Race Team Managers)

    Hell of the North Race Report

    Hell of the North is a 90 km road/dirt/gravel ride, very much in the same category as Paris to Ancaster and Steaming Nostril.

    This year once again Mark Weymouth and I (Kevin Gibson) were the only club members (crazy enough) to sign up for this early season test of form.  We did see some local KW riders from the Pedal Harder team, they had signed up for Heck of the North, a 70 km, road-bike friendly option.

    After getting our plates, signing in, and scarfing free food, it was time to group up for the starting notes.  The organizers once again reminded us, though it’s a timed event, it’s not a race.  The roads aren’t closed, and intersections are not policed. They reminded us there is a set of lights to be obeyed (foreshadowing…)


    The race/ride started with a neutral roll out from the Ballantrae community centre, following a race vehicle.  After turning north, the lead car pulled away and racing began. The pack stayed together for the most part, I think I caught a glimpse of a lone attacker off the front, though from my perspective -hiding in the pack- it was hard to be sure. (If we look left we can see this lone attacker. Pretty smart considering the initial stop signs and traffic light. Smart if you have the legs for it.)

    Then after turning west and riding 2 km, the traffic light showed up, and decided to turn yellow right as the front of the pack was crossing the line.  Screeching brakes and shouts of “Stopping” meant the leaders were gone, never to be seen again by us pack fodder at the back.

    30 seconds later (but it felt like an eternity) we were off again, on the hopeless mission of chasing the front of the pack.  Then we reached the infamous right hand turn onto kennedy road, and a short, sharp (max 20%) hill.  This of course split our half of the peloton further.  I was able to stay in the front half of this split, which I’m happy about as I’m not much of a climber.

    After the hill, Mark and I found ourselves among a group of maybe 20 riders.  Some guys were pushing the pace, and I found myself towards the front, working with about 4 or 5 others pulling the group.  It was still early in the race, so I felt good and decided to stay in the front rotation.  (This is my CX racing experience showing through.  It’s easy to go hard when you race for 45 minutes, too bad the race was going to take me 4 hours.)  Boy I should have stayed at the back of the group with Mark and saved more energy.

    This group stayed together for the entire northbound stretch of Kennedy, doing a solid 35 km/h on cross bikes for a good 15 minutes.  Our lovely pavement ride dreams were about to be shattered, with a right onto Boag road, which quickly ends with a dirt trail.  This is where it got serious.  The trail was snow covered enough that no one rode it (except these strong guys shown on the right).   We spent the next 15 minutes walking our bikes, either pushing or shouldering them, trudging through the too-deep-to-ride snow and walking along the edges around frozen pools, though not all the pools were frozen, I discovered as one foot plunged through.  (Hooray for Gore-tex socks.)  A few brave souls went by running or walking fast, but everyone around me just walked.  I checked the Strava segment “HOTN Boag Rd”. In 2015 I did it in 8:23, this year, 15:22.

    HOTN 1

    Exiting the trail onto McCowan road, Mark and I eventually found ourselves in a group of about 8 riders. This group stayed together for the northbound stretch towards Sutton.

    Getting closer to Sutton, I was starting to feel the effort of the day. An M3 cross race is 45 minutes – I should be done by now.  Snack time I decided as I rolled at the back of our group of 8ish riders. Too bad this was right at a nasty uphill coming into the town of Sutton.  (Did I mention I’m not a great climber?)  So I found myself with a mouthful of date turnover cookie, trying desperately to stay on the back wheel of our group. Fortunately, the rail trail was coming up, and the front of our group missed the small trail entrance, giving me the chance to catch back on as they figured out where to go with the help of some course marshalls.

    Now the real fun began. The 10 km of rail trail (affectionately know as the HOTN Trench) was snow covered, but it was a fairly thin, crusty layer.  Imagine riding through a shallow layer of sand.  Stick to a light gear, light touch on the handlebars.  Look ahead, and let the bike go where it wants, no sudden steering, or you’ll be on the ground.

    This is where I found out our group of 8 had a range of bike handling skills.  I quickly decided to get ahead of everyone – best place to avoid anyone falling, and plenty of line choices.  Mark managed to get stuck behind some others going slower, and as the trench went on, our group of 8 split more and more apart.  To say the trench was difficult is definitely an understatement. The 37 minutes felt like an eternity.  Arms vibrating, tires slipping, picking lines, correcting as your rear tires slides to one side or another.  But among the carnage of the “trench” there were moments of beauty.  The sun coming through the trees.  A pond on the right, with ducks floating by. The bridges over the flowing Black river.


    With a left turn on a spur trail, the trench was nearly over.  Anxious to get it over with, I pushed on for the end.  I went over a frozen pool, judging the ice to look thick enough.  Too bad my rear tire decided to start sliding.  Thankfully, I just made it onto snow and kept upright.  At the end of the trench, it was down to just me and a guy from Bateman’s. We got spoiled by a few ladies volunteering at the rest stop.

    With bottles topped up, and jersey pockets full of powerbar products, I headed out solo, the Bateman’s rider decided to wait for a teammate.  I knew the southbound leg was really hilly, and I was getting caught by Mark and the others eventually.  I mentioned I’m not a climber, right?

    Sure enough, 3 or 4 km out of the trench, the two Bateman’s guys caught me, and proceeded to drop me as the road went up.  I figured Mark would be right along anytime. Unbeknownst to me, he was on the side of the road, one boot off, trying to clean and tighten the bolts of a cleat before it fell off.

    Another big climb along Zephyr hill had a guy from Octto catch me.  We worked together a bit as we turned south from Zephyr road onto Concession Road 4.  I took the front on the downhills. I may not be much of a climber, but I sure can descend. Then another big hill saw the elastic break, and I was on my own, keeping an eye behind for Mark. (Mark here. Sitting on my butt at the side of the road allowed a small group to catch me. I worked with them down Concession Road 4 and made good time to the next off road section. I had to do some shouting to direct the group and prevent them from making the same mistake as Kevin below.)

    Eventually, the pavement had to end again, this time with a right onto a gravel road, and a quick left into a regional forest trail.  Too bad I missed the turn onto the trail.  Riding down the gravel road, I vaguely remembered last year. I kept my eyes to the left, looking for the trail entrance I remembered.  Too bad I started looking to the left about 50 meters after the turn. 800 meters later, the gravel road dead ended. Fuuuu**!  I turned around went back (uphill!), looking for the forest trail.  After one false try, I went further back, and found the entrance.  You know, the spot with the big pink arrows, the pink caution tape, and all the tire tracks in the snow. How did I miss it?

    So the forest was more snow, like the rail trail, but with the added fun of uphill and downhills thrown in. The snow gave me another chance of catching those with less confidence in the snow. (hey,that guy I just passed, wasn’t he behind me?)

    Another 10 minutes of snowy, rutted up and down hill through the forest and I was almost done. Just as the forest cleared, I saw the road ahead, and sure enough, the only other WCC jersey, on the road ahead.  While I was stuck looking for the forest entrance, Mark had caught up and passed me.  A dismount and a run up a steep bank (hello hamstrings!) got me out of the forest, and the long, slow chase through more ups and downs to try and get on Mark’s wheel began.

    At this point, we’d been riding for almost 3 ½ hours, over 80 km, and I was just ready for it to end.  But we still had some more off road sections.  As we snaked from paved concession roads onto connecting trails and back on roads, I could see Mark ahead, but despite his easing up, he wasn’t getting closer.


    (Mark here again…easing up is too nice a term. It implies that I could go faster, but that wasn’t the case. I had throughly bonked. I over dressed and ran out of water kilometers ago. On top of that my weak legs were twitching and cramping from all the power required to bike the off road section. I was in my own personal hell, just trying to stay upright through the last couple muddy, rutted, undulating sections as pictured to our right. By the time we got there the snow was mostly melted and the ground was a slippery, muddy mess. The entrance to one of these sections was barricaded by concrete blocks. One fittingly had “hell” and an arrow pointing into the forest spray painted on it.)

    The last off road section was tough. The ground was pretty grassy, and the afternoon warmth had turned the ground to mush. At the top of the hill, I saw Mark on an uphill ahead, walking his bike. My heart sank. If Mark was walking the hill, I’d have no chance.  Even with my 32 tooth cog, I wasn’t getting up the wet ground of the hill.

    Then over a concrete barrier, and back on road – no more dirt, thank goodness. As we continued towards the finish, I ever so slowly got closer to Mark, but I was worn out.  Coming around Musselman lake, a roadie in his immaculate kit on a clean bike whipped by me with a cheery “good morning!”. Here I was, filthy bike, snot covered-gloves, road spray up my back and not even enough energy to try and get on his wheel.

    Then, we crested the rise away from Musselman’s Lake, and I was on Mark’s wheel. 2 more KM and it would all be over.  Left onto Aurora road, and we rolled in, 4:13:44 after starting, coming in Mark 49th and me 50th.  Our gap to the winner, 1:17:25.

    Then we just rolled to the community centre, ditched some layers, laid in the grass, and snagged as many cookies, chips, and other goodies we found still leftover inside.

    Tech Information

    Since we had a few people say they would try HOTN next year (I know who you are and I’ll be heckling you next year – Mark) here is a brief list of stuff.

    Much like the other spring events, a cx bike with good frame clearance around the wheels is a must. Tires that are a file tread seem to work best. Directions of some sort are important for this event. Know the route. Mark made a cue sheet taped to his handlebars. It listed the road names, turns and distance along each stretch. Leave the road pedals and cleats at home. You’ll have a hard or impossible time clipping back in if you don’t bring your mountain pedals and cleats.

    I started the event with an “ass saver” mudguard, but I didn’t finish the event with one.  I have no idea when it came off.

    Tire and pressure choices

    Kevin – Specialized Trigger Pro 33mm Clinchers, 70 psi front, 75 psi rear.  I was happy with my pressure, given the amount of paved roads.
    Mark – Kenda Happy Medium Pro 35mm Tubeless, 65 psi front, 70 psi rear. A bit high, yes. The ride is 70 km of smooth road. Next year I’ll drop the pressures by 5 psi.



    Great report! I might do the road version of this next year. 🙂


    Kevin Gibson

    For Steaming Nostril I went down to 60 psi front / 65 psi rear. I’m thinking 65 / 70 for HOTN next year.

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