London-Surrey Classic

Yesterday was the Olympic Games Test Event for the road race in London next year, called the London-Surrey Classic.  I was there along with fellow U23 Jamie Riggs, and 3 of Canada’s top pros – Christian Meier, Dom Rollin, and David Veilleux.  Since the race is to prepare for the real thing next year, most of the countries who were there meant business and wanted to make the most out of the limited opportunity.  Because of that, there were names like Mark Cavendish, Henrich Haussler, Stuey O’Grady, Tom Boonen, and the list goes on and on.  For us, the CCA was also testing out the hotel they are thinking about using, so accommodations were no less than stellar!

The race started just in front of Buckingham Palace, worked it’s way through the city to get to Surrey, completed two laps of the Box Hill circuit which features a decent 3km climb, and then comes back to Buckingham Palace for the finish.  As they called riders to the line, it was really cool to see what riders look like in real life and most of them seem to be pretty cool guys who strike up a conversation with you.

In front of Buckingham Palace. Photo by Matthew Knight.

The race got going with a pretty hectic start.  There were huge amounts of road furniture the whole way, as well as hundreds of thousands of screaming fans lining the roads the whole way.  There was really never a moment of calm, always something the keep you on your toes.  A small break got away quite early though and the big teams seemed very content to let it go.  I think everyone wanted to see how easy it was to chase down a big gap on suck a twisty course, and the gap quickly got up to nearly 10 minutes as we soft pedaled along.

As the kilometers ticked by, teams started to form near the front to bring the break back by the finish.  The group went from being a big blob of riders all bunched together, to a long line strung out over hundreds of meters – a sign that can only mean that the speed is going faster and faster.  The first lap of the circuit, and also the climb was not too bad at all – just a steady tempo up to the top.  The rest of the circuit was quite narrow and windy, but thankfully I managed to avoid a crash that tied a few guys up.  We were quickly back to the base of the climb, and this time it would likely go a little quicker to bring the gap down some more.  This is where things started to very much go wrong for me.

Preparing for the climb I dropped down into the little ring just before turning left to start going up.  When I stood to re-accelerate out of the corner, my legs spun with no resistance at all.  Sometimes when you feel really good they say you have no chain on your bike – it’s so easy that the cranks just turn with no resistance.  Well the literal meaning of that is not a good thing.  I couldn’t get the chain back on with the derailleur, and had to jump off and put it back on.  It took way longer than it should have – I guess I panicked a little and got it stuck, then couldn’t find my pedal, etc.  All things that you could do in your sleep any other time, but when the race is getting away everything seems to go wrong!

With the added adrenaline, I was flying up the climb and found my way into the caravan of cars.  Usually this means you will soon be back with the group, and to just relax and take your time.  Unfortunately for me, there was a small group of riders who got dropped over the climb, and the caravan was not allowed to go past them.  This meant I could easily work my way back in with them, but then the gap was getting bigger and bigger to the rest of the riders.  With the chase for the breakaway now in full pursuit, my chances of getting back were now gone.

It’s tough to have such an awesome experience taken away so quickly, but in all reality it was probably not such a bad race to have some bad luck.  First of all – there was no way I was going to win when you have guys like Mark Cavendish and a sprint finish.  Secondly, there was a huge crash with 3kms to go, so avoiding is something that I don’t mind either.  Despite the bad luck, it was still a really cool day and I learned a lot about how pro racing goes, and also learned to just relax when something like that happens.  Maybe if I drop my chain in a race that is really important, I’ll be more relaxed getting things working again.

So now I’m back in Belgium preparing for the final selection races before the team is announced for Avenir.  A few days of training await me and then a little drive to Northern France for the weekend.  Thanks for checking in!

Tour de Namur

Stage racing is a unique monster when it comes to a sporting event.  No other sport in the world has athletes basically tune out of everything other than the event at hand for up to 3 weeks.  For me and the rest of the Canadian National Team, we had a minor taste of what the best pros in the world do in the Grand Tours, in the form of the 5 day Tour de Namur in Belgium which ended yesterday.  Although not quite as long as something like the Tour de France, the daily routine remains the same.  We rise, eat the amount of food that most people would in a day, we race, get our massage, eat another monstrosity of a meal, and we sleep.  Nearly everything else gets forgotten for the length of the race.  We know only what the day’s stage looks like, not the date, time or even month.  Aches and pains grow worse and worse; the stairs become more and more challenging to climb, and through it all a team can grow closer and closer.  As time goes on we start appreciating the small things more and more.  A special treat in our feed bag from the team’s soigneur, a nice cup of coffee before the start, a warm shower after racing in the cold rain for hours, etc. – it all can make or break your attitude and thankfully with team Canada we have some of the best support staff out there.

Namur was the first race on schedule for our pre-Worlds preparation and selection races.  A hard 5 days of racing through the hilly region of Belgium, which was sure to feature strong winds and tough weather conditions.  Since this is such an important race for Belgians looking to go pro, the quality of the field was much higher than you would see at a typical national level race.  There were current and former National and World champions, former pros, top up and comers, and numerous National Teams.  Each day was around 150kms and although the profiles would not be considered mountainous, they were just as difficult since an easy section was very hard to find.  It was always either climbing over short but steep hills, going through twisty and dangerous towns, or with cross winds that had riders chewing their stem riding millimetres from the ditch, desperate for any shelter they could find.

For our first race together I think things went fairly well.  We had riders in the break nearly every day, and were also able to hold our own when the big GC favorites got rolling towards the end of the stages.  We were all climbing well and getting riders into the front group as things would shatter of the top of the climbs or in the wind.  Our plan was to take each stage as a one day race, not concerning ourselves with GC.  Generally we would execute fairly well to have someone with a chance for a stage win, but we were also struck with some bad luck.  For the last 2 stages I had to make bike changes towards the end of the race, so things weren’t easy to get back into a good position at the front afterwards.  It always seemed to either be something like that, or getting caught behind someone blocking the narrow climbs as gaps started to open, and so on.  We didn’t manage to get any stage wins or anything, but it was still quite a successful week for our main goals which will come later in the year.  After 5 very solid days of racing we will be able to recover a little, and then truly reap the benefits of long rides at high intensity.

For now, Jamie and I got the chance to go to London where we will be joined by 3 of Canada’s pro riders – David Veilleux, Dom Rollin and Christian Meier.  On Sunday we will be competing in the London-Surry Classic, a test event for next year’s Olympic Games road race.  It will be really cool to line up against some of the biggest names in pro cycling, all here to do some course recon and get a feel for the competition.

Finally, before leaving you for a short recovery ride – I would like to say a big thanks to 2XU Canada for becoming a personal sponsor for the rest of 2011 and into the future.  I’m really excited to try out their line of recovery compression clothes and also their winter riding gear!  Stay tuned for reports and reviews on all their products in the near future, and be sure to check out their full line at www.2xu.com.

Pictures

Made it to Belgium yesterday after a long train ride – now just taking it easy before the start of Namur this weekend.  I thought a few pictures were long overdue so I updated the 2011 page in the photo section.  Check it out here.  I’ll keep updating it as I get more pictures from races!