The BCC colours were well represented on Saturday in Niagara, with Simon, Luke and I (James) racing in the M3 category. Simon and I wrote up our viewpoints of the race and Luke located a video from one of the MGCC riders that does a great job of capturing us on camera. At the end you'll find a selection of pictures we've picked up from the photographers there - with a bit of description of the situation. Enjoy!
Race Report - James
Long story short - Simon is a beast and took down 4th in his return to O-Cup racing, just being beat out by one of the MGCC squad in a hill climb finish that had him in great position at the front of the pack coming into it. Luke and I finished with the pack. The pack itself was blown to pieces, in what turned out to be a very hard race. I had a lot of fun, but just didn't personally have the legs at the end to get a finish where I wanted.
Now the long story (as always, from my perspective - I'm hoping the wordsmith Simon can write his version as well).
Most of you have raced this Niagara course, but for any who haven't, it's a 12.5 km circuit that starts at the peak of a hill and goes downhill west for ~4km, turns north on a slightly less of a downhill for another 2km, then back east for a mostly flat 4km. I say mostly flat, because at the end of the east stretch is a few hundred metres that I just put up a segment in Strava called "The Rollercoaster", because it is a semi-circle downhill that finishes with two 90 degree turns. Sketchy as all hell. Side note - it's both impressive and terrifying when someone to your outside and slightly in front of you bunny hops a rough piece of pavement at 50km/hr. We then turn south for the killer stretch: a short kicker to get you started, a false flat, then the final hill that crushes legs and dreams. M3 did this circuit 5 times.
Oh, and it was windy. Not quite P2A blow you off your bike windy, but strong to make things harder. Wind direction from the East / Northeast.
Going in, we knew that MGCC was going to try to boss the race. They had signed up a team of 10+ in a field of just under 50. Simon and I knew of two specific names to mark and that gave us a bit of intel when the first MGCC went off the front almost as soon as we turned north for the first time. It wasn't one of the guys we were worried about, so we could let him hang out there. However, near the end of the eastbound stretches I saw #24 (Mark #1) side up to #26 (Mark #2) and exchange a few words. Here we go. Sure enough, there was a hard move to bridge up to the solo and both Simon and I tagged along, as well as a few others. There wasn't much separation to the pack heading into the final hill, but Simon and the few MGCC guys hit that hill HARD. I was sliding back (a theme unfortunately repeated throughout the day) and when we crested it was Simon and three MGCC with a touch of a gap. I moved back through the pack that had passed me on the hill and started to head after it in order to join, but realized quickly that my "bridge" was really a "chase" as the pack was right behind me.
This was the first time I was able to make a "team" decision, and it felt absolutely great to be able to do so. I sat up and decided that Simon with 3 of the MGCC team, two of which we knew were strong, had as good a chance at any at making a break work. Especially with the rest of the MGCC team chilling out now. So for the next lap and a bit, I just made sure to stay close enough to the front to make sure no other dangerous bridge attempts went (mainly worried about a couple more MGCC heading up there). MGCC and I just let the other teams rotate through the working duty at the front. Quite fun.
Unfortunately, the break never got more than 100 metres or so and there were enough strong guys who would do work that shortly after I got to my "turn" at the front when we were heading west on Lap 3 things came to an end (btw - its amazing how long it takes people to realize that you're not really pulling your weight in these situations). Basically, the break was back to within 30m or so and two guys flew by me - one even yelling "come with me, lets go!". As soon as the 3rd wheel passed me I realized that this was probably the end and came in hard with them in case we hit some offchance where the rest of the pack missed the move enough that there was an extended breakaway pack or there was an immediate counter upon catch.
MGCC surprised me here as they didn't seem ready to punch again. I was ready for the counter and followed the eventual move that hit on the northbound stretch - but it was pretty weak and we didn't ever get a gap. So then it was a few laps of just covering any little thing that moved for me. By this point I unfortunately was in a bad mental position on that ending hill - I could not seem to hold the power needed to stay near the front. This meant a pretty poor confidence level at initiating anything for myself. So I just didn't want anything to get away without Simon in there. Luke was also climbing very well and I liked our odds if both him and Simon were in the mix by the end. So I covered and chased. Also took a few turns up front - just trying to keep things hard enough for a while that nothing got away for a while.
Whether anything I did mattered is debatable, but the finishing stretch was about as good as we could hope for. Simon was top 5 wheels in the false flat. I was fading hard and up there in top 10 before the final climb, but probably stopped being useful about a half lap prior.
We hit that final climb and I hit a wall. I fell so far back I didn't even see the finish for Simon (just a bike length away from the podium). Luke gave me a tap on the back right before the finish to congratulate me on the race and we crossed the line essentially together. 19th and 20th. Definitely not the personal result I wanted nor thought I could achieve but it was the result my legs deserved.
So how hard was this race? 45 started in M3. Only 21 finished "with the pack" by my count, so within ~1 minute. Almost 20 either didn't finish or finished 10+ minutes behind in 62km race. Basically - the group got absolutely blown up. The winner of the Good Friday race almost fell over me / ran me off the road on Effingham hill on lap 2 or 3 when he broke. I personally put out the highest normalized power I've seen at close to 255 watts. Not a high number for most, but for me that ranks up there as the most intense workout I've done over 90 minutes.
It's been a fun year for racing so far and this was the most fun yet, despite the intensity. It was so much damn fun to actually race as a team for once. I'm hoping we get a good crew out to KW to repeat the fun. I'll also be doing the crit next week to see how much I like that race environment, but think I'm solo there.
A huge thanks to Simon and Luke for making the race experience so enjoyable. Go BCC!
Race Report – Simon
Great Recap James. First thought are that it was great to race with James and Luke. Both super strong BCCers, even with Luke having 3 weeks or so off the bike leaving self diagnosed as a few Ws short of his usual beastliness.
My take was this...
I checked out MGCC's last tuesday training ride on Strava and checked their times up Crestwood hill, and identified Caners as the fastest on a punchy hill climb by 10 seconds. Therefore my race strategy knowing MGCC had a team of 12 and a professional coach would obviously be to get Caners in for the win. I decided to only chase when Caners went, and let the MGCC team essentially work for me too in that regard.
Knowing the course, I knew I was competitive on the hill climb, as I can usually hold some big watts for a couple minutes! I expected the race to come down to the last climb, so just wanted to sit near the front, and drop a big watt bomb in the finale, but on the first lap, and first time up the climb, 4 of us broke away at the top of the hill rather unexpectedly. There were 3 MGCC guys and me. Caners was there, so were Zaritsky and Lute. I knew they were all strong so we looked each other up and down, liked what we saw, and said "Let' Go!!" We went totally full gas for 15km rotating very well, but only really having 20 seconds on the peleton at best. I thought if we could back round ahead and get up the second climb alone and put another 10 seconds into the chasers then we could do the whole race distance, I would sit in more and more to let MGCC share the load, but it was not to be. I think despite 4 strong guys going full gas, the wind made it very hard, so there was little to no recovery between pulls. We got caught just after the long down hill in lap 3.
Lap3 - When we were back in the group I saw James immediately go up to the front, and I knew he did that for me to make sure nothing got away. MGCC should definitely have countered with all their racers, but It was a hard enough race that no one seemed to have the legs for it. And of course I had James up there marking breaks, which he did a few times that i saw. That was an awesome feeling to know i could relax and recover, with no reason to go back to the front for a while. I was kicking myself that i had used up so much energy in the break, and would have a harder time on the final climb. I relaxed at sat in for a couple laps, and amazingly by the penultimate climb, I felt great and knew i had my legs back, so went and parked myself in the front 8 or so riders again.
Lap5 -Last half of the final lap was so cool. I could see MGCC leading out for Caners from about 6-8km out into the headwind. It an obvious strategy, and I felt good. That totally suited me, as the longer and harder the pace the better, as i knew many others would be too gassed to smash the last climb. I need a fast lead out to get rid of the guys who saved their only match. I moved up to 4th-5th wheel on the downhill snakey section to navigate it safely (i almost got knocked off on lap 4 by a handlebar collision on the corner at 58kmh, and somehow saved the jump and wobble. Would be terrifying to see it on video) I entered the final 2.5km climb 3rd-4th wheel up the false flat until MGCC lead out man, Cuylle, pulled off, and it was the final push. basically a 2 minute effort maxing out at 15% gradient. Midweek's McLeod blew past impressively us for the win (didn't see him at the from the whole race), followed by a racer from Elite Health. I went past 2 MGCC riders, but was just off Caners' wheel, and managed 4th. The first 4 of us finished within 4 seconds of each other, and had quite a gap on the rest of the field. 4th is always bittersweet, as you might guess, but its still my best road race finish. So onwards and upwards! My power numbers surprised me, as my final 4.5 minutes of the race averaged 400W, and the final climb 510W. Better than I have done on the trainer this year. Amazing what a bit of adrenaline can do!
Final Reflections - A bit of race strategy and Recon using Strava was hugely helpful. Was perfect race with a bit of everything to make it interesting and super fun. James was totally stellar as a team mate, and I knew he helped really control the middle section of the race to help me recover after my breakaway. On a windy race, a first lap breakaway has very little chance of succeeding even with the strongest riders in the race. Next time I'll be more patient, or just do less work in the break.
Video Link – Luke
Here is the link to the youtube video from the race.
The guy who recorded it rode pretty much entire race beside me or on my wheel so you can see what things looked like from that 15-20th position.
- Luke powering through the Effingham climb while I suffer and fall back in the background
- The pack (mostly) together on the downhill early in the final lap. Simon holding a strong position near the front
- The chase group pulling back to that pack on the final lap. A gap had formed (again) at the top of the hill and a few of us just buried it coming down the downhill to catch back on (nearly setting downhill KOM's in the process). No hiding the pain faces here.