Road Nationals 2011

Last night I got back from Burlington Ontario, host to the 2011 Canadian National Road Championships.  This year would be my first time taking the start with the big guns, since I’m no longer a junior I now have to duke it out against the likes of Rollin, Veilleux, Meier, Tuft, etc. etc.

We had arrived in Toronto at the start of last week, and spent the first few days doing course recon, getting things organized for the weekend, and lots of driving (I coudn’t take the commuting in a big city)!  After a lot of prep, Thursday was finally time for the first event.  The individual TT was a 43km race, consisting of 2 laps of a tough course.  It was tough to put a finger on what made this course so challenging – sure it had a small climb near the start, fairly strong winds, and mostly rolling terrain, but there wasn’t one section that was really key…nothing super difficult.  I guess it was more just the combination of everything.  The small climb got the lactic acid building in your legs, and then there was just nowhere to recover.  It was the type of course where you could lose major chunks of time if you really blew up.

For me, everything was going great on the day of the event.  My legs were great, brain was focused, and everything seemed to fall into place perfectly.  After a good warmup it was time to roll down to the start line to get things underway.  I was one of the earliest starters, so would have a long wait to see the final results.  One plus, however, was that my minute man was a good friend of mine – Simon Lambert Lemay of Spidertech and there’s always a little extra motivation to catch a friend of yours. 

My main concern was the distance of the race – the longest TT I had done prior to this was 27kms, so pacing this one properly would be key.  In the end I played it perfectly, with both lap times nearly identical.  Being only the 3rd starter I was able to set the fastest time and was sitting in the lead for a good while.  However, as some of the other fast guys finished up I would bump back every now and then.  When all was said and done I was the 6th U23 and 14th out of all the elites.  I’m not going to lie, I was hoping for a podium but I am really pleased with my ride and can’t be too disappointed with the result either.  I have a lot of confidence going into the future.

After the Friday as a recovery day, Saturday featured the big show of the weekend.  Nearly 200 guys, 180kms of racing over a 13km lap with a monster climb up to the finish.  On top of that, the start wasn’t until 4 in the afternoon, just to add the posibility of darkness to the epicness of this race.  The start line was so incredibly crouded you could barely breathe…it was clear the first few laps would be very dangerous until the pack got whittled down a bit.

With 15 Spidertech riders on the line, it was their race to control.  They certainly did that with their big white and blue train hammering the front.  By lap one there had already been a huge selection, and every lap from there on splits were opening up left and right.  The climb was way tougher than I expected, but my legs were really good.  I made one mistake early on and it was a very costly one.  The first few laps I was climbing near the front each time and not wasting much energy.  Unfortunately that wasn’t the case on the lap where it counted though…I started the climb a bit too far back and tried to work my way up from there.  I was passing lots of guys, but looking up I could see a group of about 20 guys separating from the rest.  These 20 guys were not just anyone either, it was just about everyone who had a shot at winning the day.  I killed myself to get across the gap when it was small, but it wasn’t happening…they took off as if they had an extra gear.  Although the elite race was certainly gone at this point, and so was the U23 title, there were still many places in the top 10 for us U23s, and also a possible selection to the World Championships team. 

With that in mind our group continued to race hard.  We tried everything to distance ourselves from the others, and possibly catch anyone who would be dropped from the leaders.  Each lap probably got slower, but also harder as our once fresh legs became heavier and heavier.  It truly was an exhausting race and despite many attempts to get away, the riders who didn’t drop out from our group all pretty much came in together.  It was only the final climb that would decide the finishing order.  When the results came back I was 12th for the U23s.  Again, some disappointment, but I knew I could also be proud that I finished.  I think only about 20% of the starters actually made it to the line.  I’m still replaying things in my mind so next time I can make that split, I guess you learn things everytime you race but it’s tough when you’re so close, just missing that extra little kick to get across.

In any case, for a 1st year U23 I think things went well.  I know I can be up there with the best in the country, and as I become one of the older riders in my category I know the results will come.  For now, it’s time for a short break to recharge the batteries.  I’m home for a relaxing week and then head back over to France at the start of next week.  Not sure when the 2nd half of the year looks like, but I’m sure there will be many great races to come!  Thanks for tuning in!

Coupe des Nations du Saguenay

Last week I was back on the road, but thankfully not quite so far away this time!  I was in Saguenay, Quebec with the National Team for the 5th round of the 2011 Nations Cup.  Racing in our own country and with a strong team we had a lot to show, and it was pretty cool as the team who gets cheered for by all the fans!

This race was 4 stages from Thursday to Sunday, averaging about 140kms a day.  The race profiles were tough, punchy courses with short and steep climbs, and an absolutely incredible amount of wind.  Add to that a very small pack, making for nowhere to hide, and some of the best cyclists in the world and we knew we would have our hands full.  Having said that, the improvement in talent seen in Canadians over the last few years has been incredible, and we were there to compete.

Our big goal was to put someone on the podium for the GC at the end of the race, and in our team meeting before the first stage we all agreed our best chances would fall on a guy like Hugo or Dave.  Of course that wasn’t to say nobody else was allowed to take on that role with strong riding, but as a first year U23 I was hoping to gain as much experience as I could and work my butt off to help the team.

Stage 1 went very well for all of us, except for some bad luck from Dave.  He and I spent the first half of the race going back and forth from the team car doing bike changes because of a broken derailleur, and then a broken bike as the result of a crash.  Other than that, the team was aggressive and well represented in the moves.  I even thought it might be my lucky day as the race was winding down.  With about 20kms to go I was just routinely covering a move when it actually went clear.  I saw our gap go up from 10 seconds to 30, then to about 45 and all as the race was winding down.  It wasn’t perfect, there were many guys not pulling through and arguing with each other, but we were still away.  As the distance ticked down everyone had only one thing on their minds…throwing their arms up in victory for stage 1.  The attacks came from everywhere, but this constant game of cat and mouse slowed our overall speed, and our gap was now coming back.  In desperation riders would surge from the group, hoping their effort will be too much for the others and they can time trial to the finish.  In the end, the wind proved too strong for a small group, and we were overtaken by the pack with about a kilometer to go.  Things still ended fairly well for the Canadian team though, with Hugo taking 3rd in the field sprint after a solid lead out from the others.

The next 3 stages would be where the GC would be decided though, with more difficulties than the 1st stage that would split the pack into small groups and create time gaps.  It would take someone who could be solid every day, always making the front group and never losing time.  On stage 2 things went ok.  Hugo found the good move, but he was the only one from our team and he was pretty out numbered by the Danes and Khazaks.  The rest of us covered moves as much as we could trying to get across to him, but nothing went until the very end, and by then the damage was pretty much done.  Hugo did everything he could to mark the 3 Danes who were in his group, and that effort took a lot out of him as the day went on.

With that we dropped to 7th on GC, but certainly not without the chance of coming back.  For the next two days we threw everything we could at the strong Danish teams.  Attacking everywhere we could trying to put them under pressure.  The last two stages were long and hard, with the fatigue from the previous days wearing at everyone.  Each day riders become more and more exhausted, breakfast gets quieter, eyes grow heavier, and the stairs in the hotel become increasingly painful.  In the end we did what we could, but the Danes were the strongest this weekend…hats off to them.

Even though we didn’t achieve our goal for the weekend, I thought everyone raced really well together, especially for a team of guys who usually race against each other.  I was pleased with my form, feeling strong both on the flats and the climbs so that gives me some confidence as I finish my preparations for Nationals.  For now I’ll be focused 100% on getting ready for the end of the month, so lot’s of hard riding, eating, sleeping and stretching are in store for my next couple weeks!