so this was bound to be an adventure. The course is sorta undulating; no big hills to speak of. Four 16-km laps for about 63km total. The main challenges are the winds that can whip across the treeless farmers' fields, and one scrabbly section of road that is more suited to a cyclocross course that leads from the start line out of the Ancaster fairgrounds.
|GFRR course: 3 good laps in a 4-lap race.|
Generally the pack sticks together all the way and it ends with a bunch sprint. If there's a selection, it's usually decided by the strong winds that can be a feature of this race. So going in, my goal was to stick in the pack as long as possible, and if all went well, to finish there too. I didn't care about placing, but I really wanted to see a "00:00" time beside my name on the results sheet.
That would be the best-case scenario.
It was a cold and foggy morning, and I didn't really get enough time to warm up properly even though I had arrived ridiculously early. It was nice to have my DHFlyers/Cycling Gym pal Kris Henrnandez on hand to introduce me to some of the riders in my new team, Morning Glory CC, and warm up under their tent; and I met another familiar face in Steve Hart of Lap Dogs, in the starting pen. Steve is a super strong rider and a very nice guy, and he had a plan to stay at the front and cover any breaks. Which he could actually do. Whereas "get to the front and cover the breaks", even once, ever, is more like a lifelong aspiration and bucket-list item for me.
The race went off at a pretty good pace, and I had a good starting place near the front so I was able to stay reasonably close to the front as we got going. I had been warned about the way the race accordions over the undulating roads, and that was a pretty accurate assessment. Surge, brake... surge, brake... and it was a pretty tightly-crowded pack, so there wasn't much room to manoeuvre. With the crappy end-of-winter weather, not many of the racers had actual ridden in a group yet (me, for example), and all around me regular choruses of "HO-HO-HO" "WHOA" "OH" were accompanying some sketchy move or other. (As far as I could make out, I was not responsible for any of them.)
If you're not moving up, you're moving back
|Rush Hour at the GFFR. I'm the Mystery Rider the in no-name kit.|
Partly I wasn't confident about making any moves inside the peloton, but also I had more of a "just happy to be here, hope I survive" mentality. As a result I got strung out & dropped pretty quickly, and spent most of the race time trialling. This time I was determined to move up any time I had a chance, and fill in any space I saw. That strategy made a world of difference. Not only did it keep me up in the pack, it made me feel like I was actually racing.
Once we were into the second lap I started to relax a bit, as I was having no problem staying in the pack. The only thing I was looking at on my Garmin was my heart rate, and I knew that so long as I kept it under 163 bpm (around 80% max) I was fine. Where there were strong surges I was able to keep pace no problem. On lap three the pace heated up a bit as teams sent riders up the road; and on Book Road heading west there was a bit of a headwind that started to string the pack out a bit and I think that's where I blew it.
Racing with the brain. Or not.
I'm not sure if I got complacent, or just lost my focus, but I didn't notice a lot of riders slipping past me on Book Road. There's a sharp and narrow right turn on to Trinity Road, and immediately after that everybody opens it up to get a good spot going into the scrabbly fairgrounds. But the first couple of times around in a big pack it just meant another surge-and-brake. I think that's what I was expecting coming around that turn, but in fact most of the pack had slipped by me by this point and I couldn't hold the wheel of the guy in front of me, and suddenly I was off the back. I fought to get back in contact but slowly the peloton just rolled away. It's remarkable how a small gap very quickly looks like a gigantic chasm opening up in front of you. Throughout the race I hadn't ever looked back, so I assumed that once off the back I was dead last. As it turns out there were quite a few riders back, and I briefly hooked up with a trio that was working together, though I lost them too in the last couple of hundred metres, and the last lap ended up being mostly a time trial, with the emphasis on "trial".
In the end I finished 1:48:09, 5:33 off the winning pace, 55th of 84. Considering that last lap, not bad, and for the first race of the season, a decent result. In many ways, my best race ever.
That said: being happy with the race is not the same thing as being satisfied with the result.