Marc's Almonte-Roubaix Report

roubaix-preview

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.

Hell of the North...well it's in Southern Ontario, but whatever, it was hard as hell

Post race Hell of the North

"Raced" in the Hell of the North on Sunday. Wasn't all that much of a race for me really. Just an excuse to hammer myself to an excessive degree, and to get an "event" in the legs before Battenkill this coming weekend. It was a pretty awesome road trip. First time Janine and I did the typical race weekend. We have done big trips like BC Bike Race, and the Sea-to-Sky Gran Fondo, but those aren't so typical. So it was cool to just be throwing the bikes in a car and bootin off to a race. Hadn't been planning to do this one, but Janine signed up for the "Heck" of the North, which pretty much means I have to sign up as well. During our March eating, er, I mean training camp, one of our partners in crime, Tanya, brought the Hell of the North to Janine's attention, and as she usually does during fun times and fresh legs, basically signed up immediately! I am quite stoked that she did and dragged me along as it was a cool event to kick off the year with. Partly because of its low-key atmosphere, and partly because it is so hard (damn that interminable gravel rail trail!!!) that it is unlikely I will do a race this year as hard as this one. So, smooth sailing from here...well probably not. But it was a good ride to force me to HTFU.

Mind you, our race day was almost cut very short, as I had put our bikes in my Dad's bike shop the night before, so the bikes could have more room to get a good nights rest. However, my folks left super early that morning for a sunrise service, and so with the shop all locked up, I was scrambling through random keys left around the house at the front and back doors of the bike shop testing keys one-by-one. Having gone through all the keys on the front doors, I resorted to the back door. Getting to the last few keys and finally, "click", the lock gave way and I could get to the bikes through the back door. OK, Go Time!

Into the house, and J9 is totally relaxed, finger picking at her cereal, completely content with signing up for, and completely failing to start another event. Not this time!!! Coffee made, car loaded up, and our faith (mis)placed in the GPS, we were off. In the end, got to the race with plenty of time to spare. Then the race began to get through the sign-up line the fastest, as Janine and I both made a couple laps through it as we failed to bring ALL the necessary forms and waivers the first couple times. OK, sign up done. BAM.

Ok, my "race" report will be short. On the start line: familiar faces, usual instructions, good jokes. Off the start line: neutral start. Post neutral: hammer time, attacks from the get go (what's the rush!!??), gravel hell, survived in the front group to the first trail section. Each trail section: I would lose ground and come out with a new group. Road sections: I would hammer for training, which I would pay for later. Really really cool twisty turny road section through a town by the water, with a steep little climb outta town. Crazy long gravel rail trail section. Hill after hell after hill during the last third. Survived the finale with some help from a comrade, who was having a rough time on the steep hills due to some sore ribs from a recent crash. Got to the finish line. Shared a handshake with comrade.

Post race: Got to the car. Complained about how tired I was. Listened to how happy Janine was with her ride. Changed out of kit. Picture time to get evidence of how gross I am after racing. Inhaled some chili provided by the race (Thanks!!!). Chatted with Sam Watson (he's got some awesome racing stories). Complained some more. Ate some more chili. Blamed Tanya for how tired I was. Got in the car. Slept. Ate. Slept. Ate. Slept. Solid race day.

Thanks to Real Deal Racing and LaBicicletta for putting on this event! And if you got your own story and/or pictures from hell, send 'em along and I'll post them: charlie@nine2fivepro.com.

Oh, and slowdad.com has a good race report from hell as well: http://www.slowdad.com/

 

 

[caption id="attachment_150" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="Crusty salt face after Hell of the North"][/caption]