First biking road trip and races of 2011 are in the bag! We kicked it off with four days of riding around the Central Okanagan and made a dash for the border on Thursday morning. As we pulled up to the border crossing we had a choice of two line-ups, both of which were only a few cars deep. At the rear of one line were two young guys driving a 1970s Econoline motorhome and pulling a suspicious looking trailer. Deciding they were ‘probably going to get grilled and searched’, we opted for the other line. Not only did that sketchy motorhome whistle right through the line-up, WE were randomly selected for a secondary search. Served us right! After successfully appeasing the secondary searchers, we continued our southward journey through the hills and orchards in Washington towards Oregon. About 100km away from our final destination we pulled into a service station and who comes screeching and bouncing up to the pumps behind us? The sketchy Econoline motorhome.
The Cherry Blossom Cycling Classic was amazing. Beautiful scenery, excellent courses, warm weather and great race-organization! Well worth the trip down.
Stage 1 kicked off on Friday with a 56 mile road race in the Columbia Hills. Time to spin those winter cobwebs out of the legs! The race consisted of three laps on a relatively flat course with only one substantial climb. Being a lone ranger in my 7th ever road race, my plan was to take a front-ish seat in the race so I could suss out the other riders and go with any early moves if they happened. Seemed simple and things were going to plan for the first 10miles. At the base of the aforementioned climb I quickly found myself eating dust at the back as a lead group sprinted up the hill. I wiggled out of the traffic jam and waged a solo effort on the windy climb, figuring I didn’t have anything to lose. I crested the climb a good 25 seconds behind the lead pack and naively still thought I could catch on. I plowed through the snapping wind for another few minutes (very unsuccessfully I might add) before wising up and latching onto the chase group. I ended up 13th overall in a field of 29, and 3rd in our chase pack, but almost 8 minutes down on the top-10. I would say the highlight of this race was when a big friendly dog wandered onto the course and a racer in the middle of the pack instructed us to start barking. We didn’t, so she took it upon herself to crane her neck skyward and bark. Not a mean growly dog bark, more like a poodle yap “woof, woof, woof!! GO HOME Doggy! woof woof”. Amusing, but seemingly effective.
Stage 2 was the Dufur Time Trial. My start time wasn’t until 10:15am but we were at the course by 7 am because Shawna started at 8:15 am. I had great aspirations of doing an hour long warmup including a substantial chunk on the road so I could get used to the aero bars. Instead, I entered my custom time-warp machine and dispensed of almost three hours before beginning a lacklustre 20 minute warm-up on the trainer. The wind was progressively getting stronger all morning and I contemplated ditching the disc wheel in favor of my borrowed Zipp404. Meh, that would have required a cassette change and clearly I didn’t have 3 minutes to spare, so I wobbled over to the start line on the disc wheel and aero bars, feeling sketchier than the Econoline motorhome. The first 200m of the race weren’t the smoothest, but I figured I would settle in by the 1km mark. Next thing you know, I was in those drops and hanging on for dear life as the wind whipped me around. I think I envisioned myself sailing along this TT course like the honorable Bluenose Schooner, but instead I felt like a rickety sailboat in the middle of a hurricane on the Atlantic Ocean. Additionally, I was cursing like a sailor every time a gust whipped me towards the ditch or centerline. Was I in a Time Trial or a Big Air Competition? We had went off in 30 second increments and I knew it was bad when I lost track of how many girls passed me. Not only was I in my drops and hoods, I was riding the brakes. Obviously I need to get cool and start commuting on the pathways in my aero bars. I finished a dismal 22nd place on this stage, 5 minutes slower than the winning time. That knocked me down to 18th place on the GC and 13 minutes down on the leader. Whatever, I was happy to be in one piece. And as Josh pointed out, it was my second best race of the year!
Stage 3 was the 35 minute criterium at 8pm on Saturday night. It was a flat, 4-corner course and we were racing under the lights! Not quite as much fun as ripping CX bikes down the Dark Knight pump track under the cover of darkness, but fairly close. We all stayed together and I crossed the line in 4th place. With 3 stages down I was sitting 17th in the GC, still 13 minutes down on the lead.
Stage 4 was the gruelling, but amazing, Orchard Run Circuit Race through the hills and cherry orchards above The Dalles, on Sunday morning. The race was 42miles long with upwards of 5000ft of climbing, including a dirt climb which took us up to Pleasant Ridge and dumped us onto a snaking 5km descent. We started out with two quick laps of a short circuit followed by two laps of the longer circuit. There was a particularly rude climb at the beginning of this long circuit which had me begging for mercy. Just when I thought I couldn’t hold the pace any longer, I looked behind me and realized there was a gap. Neat, I was in the main group…couldn’t ease off now! One of the Cycling BC riders who was sitting 6th in the GC broke away on the climb so I found myself in a group of 8 with the other GC contenders. It was a good learning experience. Our group of 8 whittled down to 6 by the time we hit the home stretch. Evidently I didn’t read the tech guide closely, because the finish line was actually around the corner and 200 m up a hill!? We carried our momentum around that corner and they opened up their sprint. I followed suit but instead of charging towards the finish, I started flopping around like a fish. It wasn’t pretty. The wheel car pulled up beside me and escorted me on my 200m slither to the finish line. Impressively, it took me an additional 43 seconds to cover those 200m than the rider who won our pack sprint. I think I was actually going backwards a few times, and if my bike was equipped with 4-way flashers I would have used them. Finished the stage in 7th place which bumped me up to 9th place in GC.
As if 4 stages of racing in 3 days weren’t enough, we hauled it all the way back to Calgary last night. There’s a part of me that has always been drawn to the life of a long-haul trucker, and I think there are some parallels between trucking and cycling:
- Long hours plodding along, only to get to your end destination and turn around;
- Recording those plodding hours in a Logbook;
- Enjoying the scenery as you plod along;
- Having a plethora of gears to choose from, but still running out of gears on climbs. Exception being that truckers can flip on their 4-way flashers and somehow be excused;
- Strategically planning your feeding and bathroom breaks to minimize stops;
- Nibbling on food you have stashed in your pockets while plodding along, and then binging when you arrive at one of your strategically planned food/bathroom stops.
Next up is for the sloppy snowy mess in Calgary to disappear so we can ditch the fenders and get on with riding!