I don’t know how many times I hear it, but every year on the start line it gets repeated 15 times “THIS IS NOT A RACE!” Hmmm… It’s a strange thing to get really excited about a race which isn’t a race; a ride so-to-speak that has no cash winnings and no incentive other than bragging rights to one of the most difficult “rides” of the classics season. Yet, every year local racers scrutinize the ever-changing course for the best places to attack or, the worst places to be caught in the back of the pack. Every year the excitement mounts for this classic, and every year it is hard as hell.
This year, the season has been mostly dry with the early melt of the snowpack, so potholes and thick mud were less of an issue. However, a last-minute change to the course had people nervous, and questioning if they even wanted to race such a section. The Challenge: a new rocky 2 km long double-track trail 10 km into the race that could wreak havoc on bike and body with what was described as a “lake crossing with a solid non-muddy base” right in the middle. Many people voiced their concern for the new section, and the reports back confirmed the worst. Well, for those that like gore in a race, it didn’t disappoint.
So, here’s my account of the 2012 Almonte Paris-Roubaix:
The skies were clear, it was cold, but enough above freezing that we didn’t have to worry about ice – what a relief considering the purported lake we had to cross. The usual mingling and change room conversations about how to do this challenge were part of the routine as Hans, Warren, Charlie, Jake, Richard, Gerald, Andrew, Doug and I met at various times to chat or say hello. We all knew, Doug was the man today – his form and fitness were proven, and we would try our best to rally around him and give him the best chance. Prior to the roll-out there were people mentioning the idea of being gentlemanly through the new section, which I wasn’t opposed to, but thought it best to be up front as much as possible when I hit that section.
As usual, the roll-out was a few minutes late. We rolled out, stopped at the re-grouping point, and then…hold onto your hats! The speed at the start was shocking (considering this was my first ‘race’ of the season). It settled a little after about 10 minutes, but it was clear - this was not a leisurely “ride”. I kept my nose out of the strengthening wind but near the front, keeping tabs on fellow nine2fiver’s and the would-be players in this ride. Soon enough, we came to an unfamiliar section to me. “Be smooth” is all I could focus on as the wheels I was following were ducking and dodging head-size potholes and rocks. I was rolling well until we came to the Lake. I slowed for the guys who were at a near stop in front of me, something I was trying to avoid by being near the front, then Whack! I got hit by someone rolling into the back of me; off my line I scrambled to regroup, but that was the last time I would see the front of the group; the lake had done its damage. By the time I rolled out of the section I had no idea what place I was racing for, but I chased as if the next guy was the leader. Eventually, I settled into a swelling group of 20 or so. This evidently, was the chase group.
Unfortunately, the work being done was not evenly distributed and frustration mounted in the group. All attacks thrown at the group increased the pace until the attacker was consumed back into the fold, then it would slow. At this point, I had a hard time deciding if this should be a ‘race’ or simply a ‘ride’, so I decided to ride my own pace and with a new plan; keep hurting, attack on Darling road to shed riders and if I had anything left in the tank, leave it for the last wooded section and final 3 km. After Darling road and the switchback climb, we had a decent group of guys who were working well together – though it was friendly, it was somewhat hostile for attacking.
The group seemed to be sweeping up some strong riders and we seemed to gain as many as we lost along the way. Some Nine2Fiver’s made appearances in the group – Jake, who showed his strength by sticking with such a topsy-turvey pack, Warren who’s legs fell off from chasing hard up front, and Hans who with Warren, worked himself to implosion up front. Through Hans I heard that Doug was well placed, and the race was being decided without our help – fair enough.
We hit the last wooded section, and I let it out. Trying to be smooth through the woods, I was the first one of the group out of the woods – then I hit the gas towards the finish…only to explode against the headwind in the final 2 km’s and get reeled back in. Finally, I set up for the final run-in to the finish - DONE! There I found Doug, happily chatting on the side of the road he was second overall! I was elated – his strength was certainly showing, and his smile was from ear to ear. Not bad for a new Father!
I didn’t care where I ended up. I just had another great day at the Almonte Paris-Roubaix, and lots of fun stories to tell.