The Niagara RR is the 2nd Ontario Cup road event, which means it attracts the best racers in the province. I, however, am obviously not one of them (see below). There were over 400 people at this race, all of whom paid an exorbitant $40-50 registration fee- St. Catharines Cycling Club gougers!
The previous day, I had just done 90km with the Donut Ride, the fastest-paced group ride in the Toronto area, full of elitists and snobs. I must admit, they were starting to rub off on me. Today, however, I ate a helpful serving of humble pie. I was still feeling the burn this morning as I got up at 5:30. A meagre breakfast later, I left at 7. It was a 90 minute drive down to Pelham, known as one of the hilliest regions of Ontario. I didn't have time to spare, as I had to get my very annoying numbers pinned on and because of the massive discrimination against Junior riders, I had check in with the commissaires to ensure that my biggest gear was only a 53x15.
I get to the line pretty pumped. I’m in the Under 17 Men category, so there’s only 16 of us. The race is 5 laps of a 12.3km circuit, for a total 61.5km. At 9:10 we depart, and immediately the pace is hot. We average 40-45 km/h (25-28 mph) for the first part of the lap (the downhill). Because I didn’t have enough time to warm up, I figure I’ll just throw an attack. This was a bad idea- I get no further than 200m from the pack before I get swallowed up- this will cost me later.
A little anecdote about Effingham hill- as you can tell by the profile, it is a rather short climb- 2.1km (less than 1.5 miles). The first part of the hill is a series of rollers (not visible on profile) that have a net gain in elevation. These themselves are nothing- but then throw in a massive 1km-long beast at 15+%- cramps, anyone? Oh, I forgot to mention I’m 185 lbs and that my smallest gear was 39x23.
I stayed with the pack until we reached the 10+% parts. It was raining earlier in the morning, the road was wet, and my rear tire started skidding all over the place. I snaked back and forth across the road in an futile effort to lessen the grade, but suddenly, as I picked myself off the saddle to deliver a quick burst of power, my tire lost all grip on the road and down I went.
Immediately, I pick myself up and jump back on the bike with nothing more than a bruised hip and scraped knees. Now, from personal experience, I can tell you that starting from a standstill on a 15% grade is... challenging. I somehow manage to do it, but I’ve lost the pack and essentially the race. Worse, I thought I may have damaged something on the bike because when I really hammered it on the next few km’s, there was an awful sound of grinding metal. I have yet to check the cause of that.
In any case, I was left to ride alone for the rest of the second lap until I was caught by the Senior 4/Master 3 (equivalent of Cat. 5) group, who started 3 minutes after the Under 17's. I used them to pace me (not really drafting, per se) for a few km’s before we reached Effingham once again. I, being the pathetic climber that I am, was dropped again.
Sometime in the 3rd lap, I picked up another couple riders who were dropped. Fortunately for me, it started to rain again- I was in a SS jersey and bibs in 15 degree Celsius weather and pouring rain. Nice. On the 4th lap, the road dried up and I managed to gain some time on Effingham. However, I recovered too slowly on the flat afterwards, and I was once again riding alone.
I then started getting massive cramps in the calves and quads. Every pedal stroke, even when no pressure was applied to the pedals, was an exercise in masochism as my muscles would suddenly burst into fits of pain at the bottom of the stroke. I spent some time stretching out on the bike, and then got back to work.
On the 5th and final time up Effingham, I learned how to drag my carcass up most efficiently- to quickly alternate sitting and standing to give certain muscles a break, and to weave back and forth across the road so that I’m travelling almost diagonally. I must admit that I have never quite felt so much pain ever. The scary thing is, I LIKED IT!
I got 12th of 16 riders. 3 others DNF’ed and cried for their mommies after a few times up Effingham, and I barely beat the 13th place guy by about a minute. I was about 12 minutes back of the winner, who in all likelihood weighs 100 lbs less than me and eats a pretzel for dinner. Anyways, I’ve learned a few things-
1. On hilly courses, keep out of the wind so that you can save energy for the big uphill efforts
2. Don’t let the pack go on the climbs thinking that you’ll catch onto them on the flat. You won’t- especially with my crap recovery time.
3. Get tires with some profile for rainy, hilly courses. Your race depends on it.