Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tour de rimouski

The Tour de Rimouski was the biggest learning experience I have ever had. First off, just being in the race was incredibly fun. Despite coming out of this race exhausted, hurt, and frustrated I knew that this is what I wanted to do with my life.

First off, I should probably explain what it is. Le Tour de Rimouski is a international 15-16 stage race in Quebec Canada. A stage race is different from one day race in that it has multiple stages. It also differs from a Omnium (like TOAD) because the overall classification is determined by time, not points. Your finishing time each day is added up to a total. At the end of each stage the person with the lowest total time is awarded with the yellow jersey. That rider then wears the yellow jersey the next day to symbolize him being the race leader and depending on his time, may or may not be awarded it again. Whoever has the lowest time at the end of the stage race wins the race. A important rule in stage races is that you finish with the same time as the first rider in the group you finish with. This is important because the race leaders do not have to get involved in the dangerous sprints for the stage win and fight for every last second. So how do you win a stage race? A mixture of consistency and making the right moves.

There is also two other main jerseys, the King of the Mountains (otherwise known as the polka dot jersey, on account of it being white with red polka dots) and the sprinters jersey (otherwise known as the green jersey) both are points competitions. For the polka dots there is KOM (King Of the Mountain) points at the top of some of the bigger climbs. For the green jersey there is two or three sprint flags out on the course, usually on a flat. Plus there is points for the top three winners of the stage, as long it's a flat finish. The top three riders to these areas get points, and the rider with the most points wins.

I was invited to go to this race by the Mt Borah development team. The team is based in the Midwest, so I know almost everyone on it including the director Larry Martin. There was three teams, a women's 15-16 team with Danielle Mullis, Zoey Reeves, Racheal Jehnsen, and Hannah. The men's 15-16 team was Myself, Micheal Gaines, Ian Mcshane, and Alec Porter. (all of which are good friends of mine) and the women 17-18 team with Emily Elders, Karen Brocket, Emily Bramel, And Corey. The men's 17-18 team raced in L'abitibby.

At stage 1, things were very high strung. Whoever won this stage got to wear the yellow jersey. This is also the first opportunity to establish time gaps. Last year at Rimouski, the race winner soloed off the front, finished first with a time gap and ended up winning the overall classification. Because of this, riders who want to win the race (which is pretty much everyone) have to make sure that if a break-away gets clear of the peleton , or if a split happens on a hill, that they're in it.

The first stage was a Point to point, fully closed (which means no traffic) road race with a caravan (cars in front of and behind the race, mostly officials and team cars). All things I had never done. I had little warm up for the race, just seven minutes. Normally this wouldn't bother me, but there was a extremely steep hill just one and a half kilometers into the race and I wanted to be prepared for it. After the commiserre (french for official) jabbered out the race rules in French, we started.

I was immediately struck by the sound of a 90 some rider pack stretched across the entire road, the sound of almost two hundred wheels spinning, 90 riders breathing, the light buzz of French with a few English words, and a complete lack of wind noise. The result of all these elements, plus the fact that we were going 25-30 mph, was downright eerie. Entranced as I was by this incredible environment, the kilometer and a half passed by quickly and soon we were on the first hill. As we hit it I hear the sounds of everyone shifting all at once and the pace drops. My apprehension of this hill is unneeded though, I was more than strong enough to stay where I was in the pack.

The fist 15k or so goes by and all the sudden everyone starts accelerating. At first I think nothing of it, this has happened a few times. I'm in 30th or so position and too far back to see the very front, it's probably just a rider attacking. How ever, the acceleration continues. We are going about 50 kph and still accelerating! All the sudden it stops, and a see a green flag flash by. It was the first sprinters points.

About 30 minutes later, it's 10k from the first KOM. I want to try and go after the polka dots, so it was time to get to the front. However, this is easier said then done. Everyone was completely packed from white line to white line, just a few feet apart! The only way to move up is to be aggressive. Up at the front of the race is a completely different environment. There is a thin trail of riders who are working at the front to keep the race fast and react to attacks, then a slow widening until the pack covers the entire road. It's a violent place of attacks and wind. A few kilometers from the KOM a attack is launched. I react, thinking that this might be the move that gets the points. We established a small gap and began the climb.

Here is where I made my mistake, I based the speed we would be going up the climb on the speed we had been going up all the other climbs and thus thought this attack would stick. What I didn't take into account was that this would be the first time all the good climbers would be going hard. They passed us like we were not even moving, the entire pack strung out as the non climbers struggled to stay in contact. After just putting out a good effort to get in the break and stay in it I was even less prepared for the acceleration and found my self struggling at a break in the group. I made it to the top and at the acceleration through the top I knew this was the point where I would either get dropped, or not. There is no try. I made it back on.

Another thirty minutes later and it's raining. I'm sitting good in the pack, where I want to be and feeling strong about the finish. Allow me to change the subject and say something. There is two sounds that a bike racer dreads more then anything. The first is the sound of people hitting the ground in front of you. The second is the horrifying hiss of a flat tire. Put-hissssss. As I hear this sound, my first thought is a desperate hope that it was some one else. But I soon felt the literal sinking feeling of a flat tire and scream, “$#&@!”. Part of me was shocked that something so incredibly unfair would happen to me, and the other part was already in over drive. Hardest gear, right side of road, hand up, skewer loose! Because there is a race caravan, I can get my flat wheel changed with another, non flat wheel by our mechanic Oscar. After what seemed like ages of waiting, but what was only a few seconds I see our car pull over and Oscar run out with a wheel in hand. He changes the wheels and pushes me off in a matter of seconds, So I am still in the caravan.

The next 15k or so was a blur of cars, rain, and pain as I worked my way back up to the pack' drafting cars along the way. I saw many broken riders drifting back after the last KOM, to weak to get on my wheel. At two kilometers to go I finally see a group. Its not the lead group, But its something. I catch onto the back of it and see two of my team mates, Ian and Micheal. We are heading into the last corner, a sketchy affair being high speed and wet, when everything goes wrong. I don't remember much of the crash, or who's fault it was. I just remember hearing a scream and then hitting the ground, hard.

I get up and hear the sound of a rider screaming in french. He doesn't have any blood on him though. The rider, who I later met, escaped with nothing but three small scratches on his ankle. He said he had been screaming about a leg cramp. Covered in blood, clothes ripped and handles bars bent I got back up and finish the last kilometer, two minutes behind the leaders. I later found out that besides my severe road rash I had a hole, down to the bone, in my right elbow as a result of the other riders spoke stabbing me. I am fine though and so is my bike

Later in the evening, It's raining again and time for stage two, the team time trial. I'm all bandaged up and feeling ready to race. The TTT is short at just 7k and doesn't count in the overall classification, just the team classification. This makes it a good race to test my injuries and see how I feel. This will be my first TTT, which is different from a regular Time trail in that you start with your team mates instead of doing on your own. Your time is based on the third person across the line (since we have 4 people, its to the third. It would be different if the team was larger). Because we can draft each other, a TTT is much faster than a TT. It's also much more sketchy because we are all on aerobars which are much more difficult to handle on. Our team didn't have much time to practice beforehand but we all are good time trialists. The TTT went well, I felt fine from my crash, Ian and Micheal were both strong, Alec was feeling a bit sick and had to drop back, but we still did really well. Our result was farther back than we thought it would be, just in the top half of the 25 teams but we were still happy with our performance.

The next day was the hard stage, Stage three. Another point to point road race, this one with far more hills. We didn't start till 1:00 pm, so it was a pretty relaxed morning. I went over to medical and got my bandages changed. The hole in my arm was infected, I would need to start taking antibiotic cream. I got to the start line and listened to more incomprehensible french rules, then we started. The first 15k were flat and twisty, turns can be sketchy in a large pack so I stayed near the front. I started to really get the hang of moving around in the pack and was having a blast.

We neared the first KOM and I positioned myself on the polka dot jersey's wheel. As we reached the bottom I realized just how brutally steep this climb was. I drifted a good ways back on the climb, but stayed in the pack to the top. It hurt a lot and that was just the first climb. The next 20 minutes were the most painful of my life. We had about a kilometer rest, then went back up again. Another 1k of flat, another pitch. 6 times the road pitched up and 4 times I got dropped, then caught back on. My infection was sapping the strength out of me, I didn't have enough power to climb these incredibly steep pitches. At the very top I fought my way back into the group and took a look around. Just 40 or so riders were left, it was becoming a select group.

But the hills were not over. 10K later we hit the bottom of another hill. I was exhausted, but this hill was not as steep so I stayed at the front. We crested the hill into a down hill and I stopped pedaling and tucked as we broke 90kph (I hit 57mph).

I got to the bottom of the next hill and tried to pedal. Nothing. My legs were completely seized up from not pedaling down the hill. I got dropped, completely. After a few minutes by myself, I ran into a few riders and worked with them. On the last climb 2 riders and I broke off the front of this group. We finished as the first group behind the pack, five minutes back from the leaders.

Stage 4, Individual Time trail. The next morning I'm feeling a little better. My infection has gone down significantly. The TT is even shorter than the TTT at just 6k, so I'm not worried about losing much time. However, I still feel rather lacking in power, and I don't do all that well. I finish 30 something. However my team mate Ian has a much better day and finishes 20th, which is a good result.

Later that evening is stage five, a Criterium. This is familiar territory, something I know how to do. I have a bad starting position though and the first few laps are insane. First off, we are going very fast. So fast that we are spinning out our biggest gear (52-16). Second off, The Canadians suck at Crits. It sounds like a horrible thing to say, but it's true. The reason is there is almost no criteriums in Canada, where as in the USA that's a majority of the road races. A Crit is scary to the newcomer, you're almost constantly taking corners, going very fast in a big group for a short time. As a result every corner consisted of everyone slamming on their brakes, then accelerating out of the corner. It was the scariest, sketchiest, and still one of the fastest Crits I have ever done. Starting from the back made it worse, but by flying up the outside of the corners and risking getting forced into the curb, I was able to get to the front. The rest of the race was uneventful. We were all too spun out for any real attacks too happen, so it was just pure speed. I came into the last lap well prepared in 5th wheel, But got slammed into by another rider and lost momentum. I finished 20 something.

The final stage, number six, The circuit race. I was very very nervous for this race. It was a short loop, just 11k, but right after the start was a huge, super steep monster of a climb. The first section looked like a wall it was so steep. Plus it had a KOM at the top every time. Going to the start line and waiting there I was very nervous, I knew that it would hurt a lot, I just didn't want the shame of getting dropped again. The start was very chill, so I quickly positioned my self on the wheel of the yellow jersey and waited as we rode up to the massive wall.

The things I didn't take into count was that one; my infection had cleared up and two; by this point everybody was tired. The first three times up the hill I stayed with the group. It hurt SO much, but I stayed with it. Each time up it I thought I would get dropped and I didn't. The fourth time up was the hardest, I knew if I made it up I would only have to do it one more time. I made it to the top in the front group. Leading up to the final climb I looked around, there was only maybe thirty riders remaining from the once 90 man pack. I knew everyone was tired and that I could do this one last time.

I have gone back and replayed that final time up the hill a hundred times in my head and asked myself if there was anything I could have done better and each time the answer is no. Half way up the hill a split formed right in front of me. About 12 of the strongest riders were riding away, and I couldn't bridge the gap. I knew it would guarantee a top 15 finish, and maybe even top ten, but I just couldn't go any harder.

My group still had a lot of strong riders in it, but we didn't catch the front group. I finished with my best result, 21st 30 seconds behind the leader and was very happy, but I still can't forget that nagging feeling that had I done a little bit better, I could have had a top ten finish. I ended up 36th overall.

Thanks to Larry for putting together the team and taking care of EVERYTHING! Thanks to Oscar for being the best mechanic ever, and of course, thanks to my parents and coach.

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