Grey County Road Race, May 10th 2014

La Lanterne Rouge, C'est Moi!

It's not every day that I get to feel kinship with a real Canadian international pro cyclist, but the Grey County Road Race last season was my Svein Tuft moment. Dead last! but a proud accomplishment nonetheless. Sure, as sporting achievements go it's not exactly in the same universe as surviving the meat grinder that is 20 days of the Tour de France, but what the hell. It was a great race, for a couple of reasons.

Mostly, because I didn't give up.
Aerodynamic hill-climbing face
I stayed with the pack for the first 30 km or so, but I didn't keep moving up. I was fixated on the back of the guy in front of me, and as a result, I let rider after rider drift past me, so that when the break finally came on one of the many leg-burning rollers, it caught me totally off guard. And because I was so far back in the pack, I quickly got strung out with the stragglers. Then the stragglers dropped me. And in a flash, things got a lot harder and a lot slower. Lesson learned: keep your stick on the ice and watch what's going on. And be constantly surfing forward.

After a while a group eight or nine riders from the women's race caught up with me. Suffering and shameless, I latched on to the back of them, and hung on for 20kms or so until they finally tired of that and blasted away on one of the steeper climbs.

The course had a series of such climbs that paid off in the last 25 km of the race with a blast down Grey County Road 19. A perfectly smooth, fresh piece of 2-lane highway. I was completely alone by the time I got to it, and I had no idea what I was in for. Very quickly I got past any need to pedal (I was all for conserving energy at this point anyway), and before long I was going so fast I didn't dare look down at my speedometer. It was also a very windy day so as the road swooped down the hill the wind would seem to catch your back in spots and push you faster. Or alternatively, threaten to push you over, or into the gravel. I got into the tightest tuck I could, not for speed, but for stability. Slight movements of my elbows worked like spoilers on and F1 car. One blown tire or miscalculation on a turn and I was a road crayon. At the time, though, I was actually pretty relaxed and completely focussed, but not actually frightened. Kind of exhilarated, actually. Then, after the race, I looked at my data – turns out my maximum speed hit 92.5 km/h. That was the first time I've ever known retroactive terror.

It was a few more km to the end of the race, which rather sadistically ended at the top of a horrific climb called Scenic Caves Road. After 80+ kilometres (much of it time-trialling) I was looking at 11 km of 10-14% grade. I could have abandoned right there. But I thought, fuck it, I've come this far, damned if I'm not going to finish it.

I had never ridden up this beast before. However, the night before, my pal Michael & I drove up it on a reco mission to see what it was looking like. This meant I knew exactly how long it was, and where the turns were, and was able to calculate roughly how long it was going to take to get up it, or as I thought to myself as I approached it, "Just 20 minutes of pain, you can handle that!" It turned out to be the single most difficult physical thing I have ever done in my life. Grinding up that hill at about 10 km/h, counting out ten pedal strokes ten at a time, marking out targets all the way up (just get to that road sign!), and then, weirdly, running the last, flatter part to the finish near 40 km/h. Not sure where that came from except maybe desperation for it to finally be over.

And when it was, it was pretty damn good.
 (Note to self: put a cassette with a 28 on the bike next time.)

One of the greatest things I've ever seen.


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