Mark Parmalee and I drove over to Canada yesterday for today's Paris to Ancaster race, near Hamilton, Ontario. I had done the race a few years ago and had a good ride so I was looking forward to going back. The race is a 60k point to point route through back roads, rail trail, singletrack, farmer's fields, and a few super muddy downhills. All capped with a long climb right at the finish. It's one of Canada's biggest races, drawing over 1500 racers.
We got to the registration area late in the afternoon and after picking up our number plate packets we changed into our riding clothes to check out part of the course, especially the finishing hill. It was then that I realized I had forgotten my tool kit and pump that I carry with me in the races. I thought maybe I could find something at a local store later. But first we went riding and down the finish hill and tried to find the rest of the route. The course wasn't marked yet so we ended up riding some rail trail and the rolling back roads. We finished our ride back up the hill, taking note of the lines to use due to the deep ruts caused by four wheelers.
Looking for a place to eat we found a sporting goods store that had closed but the employees were still inside. They were gracious enough to let me in and purchase a CO2 inflator to carry in the race.
On the way back from dinner we decided to check out a curling club just down the road from the motel. Neither of us had seen curling in person, only on TV. The parking lot was crowded and we walked inside to find the place lined with spectators at the glass watching the matches going on. Upstairs was the bar and another viewing area, also crowded. We managed to get close enough to see and struck up a conversation with some of the crowd, made up of mostly those probably in their 60's.
It turns out that the club championships were being held that night which is why they place was so crowded. The ladies we talked to were very nice and explained to us the finer points of the game and how it was played. There were a few younger people on the ice but not many. I guess the sport is a great place to go and hang out and have few drinks, which we were invited to join but declined. After watching the matches for a while we were impressed with the skill it takes to be able to throw the stones at just the right speed and direction. Also the strategy involved in placing the stones.
Race day morning Mark and I arrived at the finish area early so that we could get our bikes loaded on the trucks to take them to the start line. We took a bus over to the start area. We had purchased this service with our registration, it solved the problem of how to shuttle our vehicle from the start to the finish. But we both cringed when we saw that they were basically just standing the bikes next to each other in a big box truck. We were fortunate that there was no damage to bikes once we goth them off the truck.
Mark and I set out for a warmup ride and could see that we were in for a long day. The race is primarily a west to east route and the wind was blowing very strong from the east, or a headwind that would greet us for most of the race. The gusts made it very difficult to maintain much speed. Sitting in a group would be the best bet, if possible.
The start is a little crazy since they have the top 100 riders from the previous year up front, with another 250-300 riders right behind them, all starting at once. Then there are two more waves after that. Mark and I were in the first wave and he was a couple of rows ahead of me and I expected him to be a strong contender for one of the top 25 spots by the end of the race.
When the race started all 400 riders funneled out onto the road up a hill and then onto a dirt road, eventually reaching a rail trail that resulted in two long lines of riders stretching out for some distance. This part always made me nervous as there is a lot of dust and nervous energy at the start. It wouldn't take much for a big crash to happen. Fortunately we made it through that section but I almost hit a post head on that was in the trail entrance as we crossed from one section to the next. With all the riders in front of you it was hidden until others parted around it.
Out on the course it was difficult to make up much ground by yourself. I found my self in groups and then would be faster than them when we came to the hills, only to leave myself in the open and exposed to the wind. Eventually a group would catch me and I would fall in with them but I seemed to struggle some today on the flats but was strong in the hills. I seemed to drop back some every now and then.
There were some singletrack and muddy sections where the lines would slow down and I would just go around them, either on the bike or on foot. Cyclocross skills helped in these areas. I had forgotten from the last time I did the race just how many farm fields we went through to connect the roads and rail trails. You definitely wanted to wipe off the top of your water bottle before taking a drink, you weren't sure just what that brown stuff was that was on there. The smell of fresh manure was prevalent in many areas we passed.
I was surprised to see Mark on the side of the course at one spot. He had flatted earlier and then flatted again. He had only brought one tube with him so I stopped and gave him mine, hoping I didn't get a flat later. It wasn't too long before Mark caught and passed me. But later he was on the side again, now with his third flat. There wasn't anything I could do so I just hoped he was able to borrow what he needed to finish.
We finally came to the infamous mud chutes and I knew we were near the end of the course. I could ride the first one but the second one was pretty deep and chewed up. I opted to get off and run, passing quite a few riders on the way down. At the bottom it was short section of paved road before we turned off onto the final climb to the finish. I manged to pass more riders and dug deep near the top to pass a few more as many riders were now walking up the last steep section.
I finished in a time seven minutes slower than three years ago, hopefully due to the severe headwind. I finished lower in the standings as well 12th out of 144 as opposed to 4th last time. I know the winning times were slower as well. I'm not sure what happened exactly, maybe I exposed myself too often in the wind. I know I didn't feel quite as strong as a few weeks ago but at least I felt good on the hills.
I changed and waited for Mark to come in. I was worried as to how he would get back as it would be difficult to have a sag wagon on the course for much of it. It turns out that he had to wait a while to find the third tube and then a pump. All of the course marshals really had no idea how to help either or even give directions on the shortest way back to the finish. He ended up taking two hours, much of it on foot, to finally make it back. That is a tough way to start the racing season. I felt bad for him, especially due to time and cost for the race, plus he was running in the top 20 at the time he got his first flat.
He was talking about coming back next year though, and bringing someone else who can drive from the start to the finish so we don't have to take the shuttle.
Next week Chris, Jay and I are supposed to head down to Ohio to ride part of the Mohican 100 course. I think the next race for me may be the first Lake Orion High School race and then the Addison 12 hour.