Posted by: John
Dirt roads and rolling hills of the Ottawa Paris-Roubaix
This past Saturday was the Ottawa Bike Club’s Ottawa Paris Roubaix Cyclosportif. This year’s race featured a slightly shorter 80 km course (compared to last year’s 90-odd km) over the usual mixture of pavement, gravel, sand, and mud. Given the cold temperatures, wind, and expected rain, I didn’t mind this in the least.
I have come to understand that this bike race is a little different than most. The race is relatively hard, featuring constantly rolling terrain and some pretty rough roads. Luck (or a lack there of) plays a huge role, as punctures, crashes and other unexpected hi-jinx can have a huge impact on the final result. For example, last year some local pranksters played around with some signage along the course. This resulted in a breakaway group of race leaders taking an unexpected side-trip a couple of kilometres down a rough gravel road, before hitting a dead end and realizing that something wasn’t quiet right… which understandably had a huge impact on the final rankings.
For me this year, luck would also play a big role. I benefited several times from being in right place at the right time, which led to one of my better finishes in a bike race.
I started off willing to put in a higher effort initially than last weekend, willing to experiment a bit and see if the hillier terrain and stronger winds wouldn’t result in a slower pace for the pack off the start. I think the pace was maybe a bit slower, but it wasn’t long before a gap soon opened up and a group of 40 or so riders went off up the road. While I wasn’t with them, I was well positioned near the front of the chase group.
As we hit the first really rough stretch of road about 20 km in, I was lucky enough to be second wheel (it was luck, not planning). This meant I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone crashing in front of me. I rode the 1 km trail comfortably, and came out the other end first. As I turned up the road and glanced behind, I was surprised to see the group behind totally strung out and a large gap between me and the closest rider.
I eased up a bit and rode comfortably, knowing that there was no way I wanted to ride the next 60 km alone. However, the group behind me never really came back together, and after a bit it I was joined by only two other riders… and lucky for me, both of them strong riders willing to help pace me along.
After another 20 km or so, we caught another group of 5 or so riders, and the bunch of us rode along until the next rough patch – a steep stretch of switch-backing lose sandy road. After we reached the end of this stretch, there were only 4 of us left together.
At the top of the switch-back
Then some more luck hit. We caught a stricken Ride with Rendall racer, and his teammate among our quartet (clearly the strongest among us) opted to sit-up and ride with him the rest of the way. And not long after that we caught a Tall Tree Rider, and again we shed a rider as his teammate opted to slow-up and ride with him to the finish. So it was just me, and a Cyclery Rider (Paul), whose wheel I had followed into the first wooded section.
The two of us worked together as the rain and ice pellets started to fall. I knew that there was one last rough patch of trail about 1 or 2 kilometres before the finish and planned to make any attack I could muster there. I glanced behind, and saw a group of 5 or 6 bikes closing in on us.
We hit the “sugar bush trail” just as the group caught us. Paul said he was cooked, and I led the charge into the woods and the mountain-bikish trail that stretched for maybe 500 or 600 metres. I heard bikes behind me, and pushed as hard as I could. Then luck struck again and I heard a commotion behind me, and then nothing except my ragged breathing.
I popped out the other side onto a gravel road and a strong head wind. I put my head down and peddled, stealing a look behind after a couple of minutes… I had a gap on 2 riders, but it was closing, and a decent gap on a longer string of riders that followed them. I looked down at my Garmin – 17 km/hr?? That couldn’t be right!?! The wind gusted and I almost went down.
My two chasers caught me with maybe 1 km to go, and I tried hard to jump on their wheel… but they were too fast. Then one of them attacked hard, and jumped away clean, with the other hanging a tantilizingly close 10 m up the road from me. We turned the final corner straight into the wind and the last uphill 150 metres or so and I knew I was done — 38th place and 2:40:58 (a big improvement from the 119th and 3:24:44 of a year ago).
Full results here.
Meanwhile on Sunday, Naomi and Simone braved the cold and windy weather to get their first race of 2011 out of the way by running in the Ottawa Physio Race, a race to “support local charitable organizations, physiotherapy research in Canada, and education initiatives for Ottawa area physiotherapists, while promoting physiotherapy in Ottawa and beyond”.
Naomi ran a strong 26:42; good enough for 24th overall among women and 4th in her category, while Simone wasn’t far behind at 27:57; good enough for 36th overall and 16th in her category… and combined the two were fast enough to win the coveted and uber competative “Fastest Physio Team” category. The prizes? Two Headsweats visors and two copies of “When a Back Goes Out… Where Does it Go?” Swwweeeeet.
Full results here.
Naomi all smiles at the start
SImone gets serious and the hat comes off...